College Basketball Bubble Watch
Mid-majors look to rebound with BracketBusters matchups on tap
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, Feb. 14.Can one defeat spoil a college basketball team's nearly perfect regular season? It can if that team is from a mid-major conference. Teams like Cornell, Northern Iowa, Saint Mary's, Siena and Wichita State are a lot more anxious than they were a week ago after losing games in the past few days. As the NCAA tournament bubble contracts and expands over the last three weeks of the regular season, teams from mid-major conferences have very little margin for error. Surprisingly, each of the aforementioned teams slipped last week: • Siena (22-5, 15-1 MAAC) had won 15 games in a row, the longest winning streak in the country at the time, before falling at Niagara 87-74 on Friday night. It was the Saints' first loss of the season in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play and prevented them from becoming the first team since La Salle in 1989-90 to go undefeated in the MAAC. Siena rebounded to beat Canisius 74-57 on the road Sunday, but its loss at Niagara makes Saturday's BracketBusters game at Butler even more important. Like Cornell, the Saints don't have a win over an RPI top-50 foe. • Saint Mary's (21-5, 8-3 WCC) lost twice last week, seriously damaging its hopes for an NCAA at-large bid. The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a second time, falling 80-61 on the road Thursday night. A second loss to the Bulldogs might have been forgivable, but Saint Mary's followed that ugly performance with an 80-75 overtime loss at Portland on Saturday night. The Gaels have two victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating San Diego State at home and Utah State on the road. But they probably need to reach the finals of next month's West Coast Conference tournament to have a chance. • Northern Iowa (22-3, 13-2 MVC) seems to be in great shape, even after losing at Bradley 68-59 on Saturday. The Panthers had won six games in a row before losing and have the best computer profile of the bubble teams from mid-major conferences. But Northern Iowa can breathe easier if it wins its BracketBusters game at home against Old Dominion on Friday night. • Wichita State (21-6, 10-5 MVC) suffered a defeat bubble teams just can't absorb this late in the season, losing at Evansville 65-62 on Tuesday night. The Purple Aces were 0-13 in Missouri Valley Conference play before shocking the Shockers. Wichita State has two quality victories, beating RPI top-50 foes Northern Iowa and Texas Tech at home. The Shockers can really help themselves by winning at Utah State in a BracketBusters game Saturday. • Ivy League leader Cornell (21-4, 7-1 Ivy) had its eight-game winning streak end with a 79-64 loss at Pennsylvania on Friday night. The Quakers were 3-15 before upsetting the Big Red. Cornell hadn't lost since a 71-66 defeat at Kansas on Jan. 6 and had won its previous six Ivy League games by an average margin of 25 points. "There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Cornell coach Steve Donahue told The Philadelphia Enquirer after his team's loss to Penn. "We've got to turn the page." The Big Red did turn the page, winning at Princeton 48-45 on Saturday night. Of course, Cornell can still earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the Ivy League regular-season championship. The Big Red still plays three big Ivy League games: at Harvard on Friday night and home games against Princeton and Penn next week. Without a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, Cornell might have to win the Ivy League title to feel confident on Selection Sunday. The good news for bubble teams from mid-major conferences? At this point, the bubble seems to be contracting instead of expanding. Traditional heavyweights like Connecticut and North Carolina are falling off the board, and bubble teams such as Notre Dame, Florida, Illinois, Ole Miss and Virginia seem to be stuck in reverse. Teams such as Cornell and Siena can only hope their 20-win seasons are more impressive to the NCAA selection committee than a .500 record in a watered-down power conference.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Xavier, Richmond|
Work left to do: Rhode Island, Dayton, Charlotte
It is looking more and more like the A-10 might get as many as five (maybe even six?) teams into the NCAA tournament. Four teams -- Richmond, Temple, Charlotte and Xavier -- are tied for the A-10 lead with two defeats in the loss column. Rhode Island and Dayton, which also are sitting on the NCAA bubble, are two games back in the loss column. There are plenty of important games left during the last three weeks of the regular season, so the A-10 race figures to be one of college basketball's most entertaining battles to watch.
Xavier [17-7 (8-2), RPI: 20, SOS: 18] The Musketeers' 76-64 victory at Florida on Saturday will catch the attention of the NCAA selection committee. It also gives them a nice nonconference win to go with four home victories over RPI top-50 opponents: Rhode Island, Dayton, Charlotte and Cincinnati. Xavier has won five of its last six games and doesn't have a loss to an opponent ranked worse than No. 57 in the RPI ratings. The Musketeers are 1-5 against RPI top-25 foes, 4-6 against the top 50 and 6-7 against the top 100. Xavier is in very good shape after beating the Gators on the road, but can't afford to slip against Saint Joseph's at home on Wednesday. The Musketeers play at Charlotte on Saturday and host Richmond in an important A-10 game on Feb. 28.
Richmond [20-6 (9-2), RPI: 27, SOS: 51] Few teams have done more to improve their NCAA at-large chances over the last month than the Spiders, who have won six games in a row. Richmond picked up two road wins this week, beating Rhode Island 69-67 on Wednesday and St. Bonaventure 68-49 on Saturday. The Spiders have four wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Temple (home), Rhode Island (road), Old Dominion (home) and Missouri (neutral court). They also beat SEC bubble residents Florida and Mississippi State. The Spiders are 6-5 in road games, 4-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-6 against the top 100. The Spiders will be favored in two home games this week against Fordham on Wednesday and George Washington on Saturday. They finish the regular season with a very difficult three-game stretch: at Xavier on Feb. 28, home against Dayton on March 4 and at Charlotte on March 6.
Rhode Island [19-5 (7-4), RPI: 22, SOS: 42] The Rams took a couple of steps back this week, losing to Richmond 69-67 at home on Wednesday and getting trounced by Temple 78-56 on the road on Saturday. As a result, URI fell two games behind the leaders in the A-10 standings and fell a couple of notches in the league's pecking order for at-large bids. Rhode Island still seems to be in pretty good shape, but its overall profile lacks as many signature victories as the other A-10 bubble contenders. The Rams have only two wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Dayton (road) and Oklahoma State (neutral court). Worse, the Rams were swept by Temple and lost to Xavier (road) and Richmond (home). Rhode Island is 0-3 against RPI top-25 foes, 2-4 against the top 50 and 4-5 against the top 100. Only one of its remaining five regular-season games will be played against another A-10 contender: home against Charlotte on March 3. With three weeks to go in the regular season, the Rams have very little room for error.
Dayton [17-7 (6-4), RPI: 32, SOS: 32] After picking up an important 75-47 victory over Charlotte at home on Wednesday, the Flyers suffered a loss they couldn't afford on Saturday, falling 68-65 in overtime at Saint Louis. The Flyers have four quality wins over RPI top-50 foes, beating Xavier (home), Georgia Tech (neutral court), Old Dominion (home) and Charlotte (home). But Dayton is only 1-5 against RPI top-25 opponents, 4-5 against the top 50 and 4-6 against the top 100. The Flyers also will have to overcome one eye sore on their resume: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 193 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23. Dayton probably has to sweep this week's games against LaSalle at home on Thursday night and at Duquesne on Sunday. The Flyers still play two very important A-10 road games -- at Temple on Feb. 24 and at Richmond on March 4 -- and could really use a sweep to enhance their at-large chances.
Charlotte [18-6 (8-2), RPI: 41, SOS: 120] The 49ers were playing good basketball, winning seven games in a row until getting blasted 75-47 at Dayton on Wednesday night. Charlotte has three victories over RPI top-50 foes, defeating Temple (home), Richmond (road) and Louisville (road). Each of the 49ers' six losses came against RPI top-50 opponents, but they weren't competitive in all of them, losing by 42 at Duke, 33 at Old Dominion, 17 at Tennessee and 28 at Dayton. The 49ers are 1-3 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-6 against the top 50 and 4-6 against the top 100. Charlotte can't afford to lose to Duquesne at home on Wednesday and still plays three difficult A-10 games: home against Xavier on Saturday, at Rhode Island on March 3 and home against Richmond on March 6.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia|
Duke took control of the ACC race by blasting Maryland 77-56 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. The Blue Devils have a one-game lead in the loss column over three other ACC teams, but Wake Forest might be their biggest threat. The Demon Deacons have won six of their last seven games, including a 75-64 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday night. Wake has joined Tobacco Road neighbor Duke in "lock status," while Georgia Tech and Maryland are struggling to get there. Virginia's winning record in league play keeps it in the bubble discussion for at least another week, but the Cavs are running out of time.
Georgia Tech [17-8 (5-6), RPI: 29, SOS: 7] The Yellow Jackets' sometimes-maddening season continued last week, as they lost at Miami 64-62 Wednesday night on James Dews' jumper at the buzzer. Then on Saturday, Georgia Tech had a 62-61 lead with less than six minutes to go at Wake Forest, but was outscored 15-2 the rest of the way. The loss at Wake dropped Tech into eighth place in the ACC standings and dropped its record to 1-5 in ACC road games (and 3-6 overall on the road). Despite losing three of its last four games, Tech seems to be in OK shape. The Jackets have five wins over RPI top-50 teams (Duke, Wake Forest, Siena, Clemson and Charlotte) and are 7-8 against RPI top-100 foes. But Tech can't afford to lose the games it is supposed to win down the stretch, starting with Tuesday's home game against defending national champion North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets play at Maryland on Saturday and play at Clemson on March 2. They could use another road victory before Selection Sunday.
Clemson [18-7 (6-5), RPI: 34, SOS: 33] After losing four of five games, the Tigers got back on track last week by beating Florida State 77-67 on Wednesday and Miami 74-66 on Saturday. Clemson's overall profile isn't yet good enough for "lock" status, but the Tigers are getting pretty close. Clemson has three victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating Butler (neutral court), Maryland (home) and FSU (home). The Tigers are 1-3 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-5 against the top 50 and 6-6 against the top 100. Clemson has only one RPI sub-100 loss, falling 75-69 at Boston College on Jan. 26. After hosting Virginia on Saturday, the Tigers close the regular-season with a brutal four-game stretch. They play at Maryland on Feb. 24 and at FSU on Feb. 28, before hosting Georgia Tech on March 2. Clemson closes the regular season at Wake Forest on March 7.
Maryland [16-7 (6-3), RPI: 42, SOS: 29] The Terrapins won't have much time to recover from their ugly 21-point loss at Duke on Saturday. Because last week's home game against Virginia was postponed because of a snowstorm, the Terps will play three games this coming week. Maryland hosts Virginia on Monday night, plays at NC State on Wednesday and hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday. Even with a surprising 6-3 record against ACC foes, the Terps have plenty of work to do before Selection Sunday. Maryland has only two victories over RPI top-50 foes (beating Florida State twice) and is 2-6 against RPI top-50 opponents. There isn't much that is impressive about the Terps' nonconference profile either, with their best victory coming against RPI No. 107 Fairfield. After this week's three-game slate, the Terps still play road games at Virginia Tech and Virginia and home games against Clemson and Duke. Maryland could use a couple of more signature victories to impress the NCAA selection committee.
Florida State [18-7 (6-5), RPI: 45, SOS: 60] The Seminoles are just kind of plodding along after a week that saw them lose at Clemson 77-67 and then beat Boston College 62-47. But they will have myriad opportunities to impress the selection committee before Selection Sunday. FSU still plays road games at Virginia on Wednesday and at North Carolina on Feb. 24. It plays consecutive home games against Clemson on Feb. 28 and Wake Forest on March 3, before closing the regular season at Miami on March 6. FSU has three wins over RPI top-50 foes, beating Georgia Tech at home and on the road and defeating Virginia Tech in Tallahassee. FSU is 3-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-6 against the top 100. It probably needs to finish at least .500 in ACC play and knock off one or two of the league's better teams to have a real chance at an NCAA at-large bid.
Virginia Tech [20-4 (7-3), RPI: 50, SOS: 199] The Hokies reached the 20-win plateau and finally cracked the RPI top 50 after defeating Virginia 61-55 at home on Saturday (completing a sweep of their rival). But after playing one of the country's softer nonconference schedules, Virginia Tech might need to finish 10-6 in ACC play to feel confident on Selection Sunday. The Hokies have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Clemson 70-59 at home on Feb. 6. Other than so-so wins over Seton Hall (neutral court), Miami (home) and North Carolina (home), there isn't much else to crow about on Tech's resume. That makes its upcoming four-game stretch (home against Wake Forest on Tuesday, at Duke on Sunday, at Boston College on Feb. 24 and home against Maryland on Feb. 27) so important to its at-large chances. The Hokies are 1-2 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-4 against the top 100.
Virginia [14-8 (5-4), RPI: 95, SOS: 107] At this point, Virginia's winning record in ACC play is the only thing keeping it in the bubble discussion. The Cavaliers have a woeful computer profile, which has only gotten worse after losing four of their last six games. The Cavs lost at rival Virginia Tech 61-55 on Saturday, dropping them only one game above .500 in ACC play. The Cavaliers will have to overcome three unsightly losses, dropping games to RPI sub-150 opponents Stanford (neutral court), Penn State (home) and Auburn (road). The Cavs have only one victory over one of the ACC's non-bottom feeders, beating Georgia Tech 82-75 at home on Jan. 13. The Cavs have to make up a snowed-out game at Maryland on Monday, then play Florida State at home on Wednesday and travel to Clemson on Saturday. Two wins during that stretch would greatly enhance their fading NCAA at-large chances.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Baylor|
Work left to do: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri
Texas A&M became the fourth Big 12 team to "lock up" an NCAA tournament at-large bid this week, after defeating Texas Tech 67-65 on the road Saturday. The Aggies have been one of the country's hottest teams, winning six of their past seven games, including two victories over the Red Raiders, and a road win over Missouri. Baylor seems pretty close to locking up an at-large spot too, after winning a couple of nail-biters this past week.
Baylor [19-5 (6-4), RPI: 17, SOS: 24] The Bears can thank junior forward Ekpe Udoh for putting them back on the right side of the bubble this week. Baylor survived a pair of two-point decisions, and Udoh had the winning baskets in both games. His jumper with 25 seconds left beat Nebraska 55-53 on the road on Wednesday and his tip-in with 1.3 seconds to go beat Missouri 64-62 at home on Saturday. The Bears are in great shape now, with four victories over RPI top-50 foes (Xavier, Texas, Oklahoma State and Missouri). They're 4-3 in road games, 4-3 against RPI top-50 opponents and 8-4 against the top 100. Baylor begins a difficult stretch against three fellow Big 12 bubble teams: home against Texas Tech on Tuesday night, at Oklahoma State on Saturday and home against Texas A&M on Feb. 24.
Texas Tech [16-8 (4-6), RPI: 37, SOS: 11] If the Red Raiders are going to improve their middling NCAA at-large chances, they're going to have to do it over the next two weeks. After winning a close game and losing one last week, the Red Raiders' room for error is diminishing each and every game. Texas Tech beat Oklahoma 72-71 on Tuesday (only its third road win) and then lost to Texas A&M 67-65 at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Oklahoma State 81-74 at home on Feb. 6. Tech is 3-6 in road games, 0-4 against RPI top-25 foes and 1-8 against the top 50. It plays at Baylor on Tuesday, followed by home games against Texas on Saturday and Kansas State on Feb. 23. The Red Raiders might need to win two of those games to have a decent at-large chance.
Oklahoma State [17-7 (5-5), RPI: 39, SOS: 36] The Pokes took care of business in the Bedlam Series on Saturday, routing rival Oklahoma 97-76 at home. The Cowboys play at Iowa State on Wednesday, and then play four straight games against Big 12 contenders, which will go a long way in determining their postseason fate. OSU hosts Baylor on Saturday, plays at Texas on Feb. 24, hosts Kansas on Feb. 27 and plays at Texas A&M on March 3. The Pokes could use a couple of more signature victories to pad their resume. OSU is 2-5 in road games, 3-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-7 against the top 100. The Cowboys' 73-69 win at Kansas State on Jan. 23 will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee, but their overall resume is still somewhat lacking.
Missouri [18-7 (6-4), RPI: 46, SOS: 70] The Tigers' computer profile isn't as good as that of fellow Big 12 bubble teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, but Missouri might be sitting in better position with three weeks to go. The Tigers have four wins over RPI top-50 teams and beat the Red Raiders and Pokes in head-to-head meetings. Missouri also has impressive nonconference wins over Old Dominion and Illinois, which were both played on neutral courts. The Tigers are 2-5 in road games, 4-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-6 against the top 100. They host Texas on Wednesday and still play Kansas State on the road on Feb. 27 and Kansas at home on March 6.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Seton Hall, Marquette|
With five teams sitting in the top 14 of the RPI ratings, it's hard to argue that the Big East isn't the best basketball conference in the country. But do any other Big East teams want to join Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown and Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament? Few of the league's midlevel teams are making a serious push for NCAA at-large bids. In fact, most of them keep taking steps back. Louisville certainly helped itself Sunday, but Seton Hall and South Florida can't afford many more bumps. Connecticut is out of the bubble watch for now, after losing to Cincinnati 60-48 on Saturday, its eighth defeat in 11 games. And after Sunday night's home loss to St. John's, Notre Dame is also out for now. And with Luke Harangody out for at least another game or two, the Irish might not be coming back.
Louisville [16-9 (7-5), RPI: 31, SOS: 4] Louisville showed very little pulse in a 74-55 loss at St. John's on Thursday night, but then upset No. 3 Syracuse 66-60 at the Carrier Dome on Sunday. How important was beating the Orange on the road for Louisville's NCAA at-large chances? The Cardinals have only one other victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Cincinnati 68-60 at home on Jan. 24, and it was only their second road victory this season. The Cards also beat fellow Big East bubble teams South Florida and UConn at home, but have accomplished very little else that would impress the NCAA selection committee. UL is 2-6 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-8 against the top 100. Louisville hosts a Luke Harangody-less Notre Dame on Wednesday and plays at DePaul on Saturday. Even after upsetting Syracuse, it might have to win home games against Georgetown on Feb. 23 and the Orange on March 6 to feel absolutely confident about its at-large chances.
Cincinnati [15-9 (6-6), RPI: 49, SOS: 20] The Bearcats beat Connecticut on the road on Saturday to move to .500 in Big East play. But UC still hasn't beaten one of the league's upper-echelon teams, so there's some work left to do before season's end. Cincinnati picked up two wins over RPI top-50 foes by beating Vanderbilt and Maryland at the Maui Invitational in late November. The Bearcats also split games with fellow Big East bubble team Notre Dame, beat South Florida at home and swept UConn. But Cincinnati is only 2-6 in road games, 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes, 2-6 against the top 50 and 6-9 against the top 100. The Bearcats face a big week, playing at South Florida on Tuesday and home against Marquette on Sunday. They'll have plenty of opportunities to impress the NCAA selection committee in their last three games: at West Virginia on Feb. 27, home against Villanova on March 2 and at Georgetown on March 6.
South Florida [15-9 (5-7), RPI: 54, SOS: 47] After winning four games in a row, the Bulls have fallen back on the wrong side of the bubble with two straight losses. South Florida lost at Marquette 63-52 on Saturday and heads into the final three weeks of the regular season with very little room for error. The Bulls have two high-profile victories, beating Pittsburgh 70-61 at home on Jan. 31 and Georgetown 72-64 on the road on Feb. 3. But the Bulls didn't fare well against the Big East's other bubble teams, losing twice to Notre Dame and dropping road games at Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette. USF is 3-5 in road games, 2-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-8 against the top 100. It hosts Cincinnati on Tuesday and St. John's on Saturday, both of which are probably must-wins for USF at this point.
Seton Hall [14-9 (5-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 15] The Pirates' NCAA at-large chances are probably remote at best, but they've done as much to deserve one as some of the Big East's other bubble teams. Seton Hall won its last two games, beating Notre Dame 90-87 at home on Thursday and DePaul 79-71 at home on Sunday. The Pirates have three wins over RPI top-50 foes, defeating Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh at home, and have played one of the country's 10 toughest schedules. Seton Hall is 2-5 in road games, 1-6 against RPI top-25 opponents, 3-7 against the top 50 and 5-9 against the top 100. The good news for the Pirates: Four of their last six regular-season games come against teams in the bottom four of the Big East standings. They play at St. John's on Wednesday, play Rutgers twice and play at Providence in the March 6 finale. To be included in the NCAA field, though, Seton Hall will likely have to win each of those aforementioned games and defeat West Virginia on the road on Saturday or Marquette at home on Feb. 28.
Marquette [16-8 (7-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 71] After nearly a half-dozen close calls against the country's top teams, the Golden Eagles are trying to make a late push toward an NCAA at-large bid. Marquette won its fifth game in a row on Saturday, beating South Florida 63-52 at home. The Golden Eagles have two wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Georgetown (home) and Xavier (neutral court). They came close to beating five other top-50 foes, losing to Syracuse by five points (road), to Villanova by two twice (home and road), to West Virginia by one (road), to Wisconsin by nine (road) and to Florida State by one (neutral). The Golden Eagles have two RPI sub-100 losses, losing to RPI No. 120 NC State 77-73 at home and to No. 170 DePaul 51-50 on the road. Marquette hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday night and plays at Cincinnati on Sunday.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Illinois, Northwestern|
Ohio State became the fourth Big Ten team to lock up an NCAA at-large bid by blasting Illinois 72-53 on the road on Sunday. The Buckeyes have played exceptionally well since star Evan Turner returned from a back injury in early January. The Illini were headed in the right direction before losing to OSU, and still seem to be in decent shape to become the league's fifth entry in the NCAA tournament. But Northwestern has a lot of a work to do between now and Selection Sunday for the Big Ten to have six teams in the Big Dance. Minnesota is all but done after blowing a 13-point second-half lead to the Wildcats on Sunday.
Illinois [17-9 (9-4), RPI: 70, SOS: 79] The Illini were red-hot before getting routed at home by Ohio State on Sunday, losing for the first time in six games. Before the OSU loss, Illinois beat Michigan State 78-73 at home and upset Wisconsin 63-56 on the road, which ended the Badgers' 18-game winning streak at the Kohl Center. The wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin give the Illini four victories over RPI top-50 foes, after they defeated Vanderbilt (home) and Clemson (road) in early December. Illinois is 4-5 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-7 against the top 100. The Illini have three losses against teams ranked No. 90 or below, falling to Georgia, Bradley and Utah on neutral courts. The Illini have three more chances to impress the NCAA selection committee, starting with Saturday's game at Purdue. They close the regular season at Ohio State on March 3 and home against Wisconsin on March 6. It wouldn't hurt their chances to beat at least one more of the Big Ten's top teams.
Northwestern [17-8 (6-7), RPI: 76, SOS: 96] The Wildcats survived what might have been a Big Ten elimination game, beating Minnesota 77-74 in overtime at home on Sunday night. That victory came on the heels of a 75-68 loss at Iowa on Wednesday night, which seemed to really take the wind out of Northwestern's sails. The Wildcats have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Purdue 72-64 at home on Jan. 16. They also have victories over Illinois (home) and Notre Dame (neutral court). Northwestern is 2-5 in road games, 1-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-7 against the top 100. Northwestern might be poised to finish the regular season strong, as only one of its final five Big Ten games will be played against a team with a winning record. It still plays Penn State twice, Iowa at home and Indiana on the road. The Wildcats host the Nittany Lions on Wednesday night and play at Wisconsin on Sunday.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Teams that should be in: UNLV|
Work left to do: San Diego State
BYU and New Mexico keep winning, and all signs point to the MWC regular-season championship being decided when they meet at Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Feb. 27. The Cougars have won 18 of their past 20 games, and the Lobos have won nine games in a row. Meanwhile, UNLV missed its chance to lock up an NCAA at-large bid by losing a pair of games last week.
UNLV [19-6 (7-4), RPI: 36, SOS: 55] The Runnin' Rebels probably missed a chance to "lock up" an NCAA at-large bid by losing two games last week. UNLV lost to New Mexico 76-66 at home on Wednesday and fell 68-58 at San Diego State on Saturday. Before the two-game slide, the Rebels had won five games in a row. UNLV should still be in very good shape, with an 8-2 record in road games, a 4-4 record against RPI top-50 foes and an 8-5 record against the top 100. UNLV beat traditional powers such as Louisville (home) and Arizona (road) and won in tough environments like The Pit at New Mexico. UNLV should be heavily favored in each of its last five MWC regular-season games. As long as it doesn't collapse down the stretch, UNLV should be included in the NCAA's 65-team field.
San Diego State [18-7 (7-4), RPI: 40, SOS: 68] How important was San Diego State's 10-point win over UNLV at home on Saturday? The victory earned the Aztecs a split with fellow MWC at-large contenders UNLV and New Mexico. The Aztecs lost to BYU 71-69 at home on Jan. 23, but play the Cougars in a Feb. 24 rematch. San Diego State's nonconference profile isn't as strong as the MWC's other bubble teams, so it needs to do all it can during conference play. The Aztecs will have to overcome to ugly losses: 71-63 at RPI No. 124 Pacific on Nov. 25 and 85-83 at No. 224 Wyoming on Jan. 9. San Diego State is 2-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-5 against the top 100. It plays at TCU on Tuesday and hosts Utah on Saturday.
|Work left to do: California, Washington|
It's looking more and more like only one Pac-10 team will play in the NCAA tournament, unless California keeps on winning. The Bears seem to be the league's only team with a legitimate chance of receiving an at-large bid, after it defeated Washington 93-81 on Thursday night. The Huskies are still in the discussion for another week, but they're a fringe bubble candidate and probably can't afford another defeat in the regular season.
California [17-8 (9-4), RPI: 24, SOS: 1] The Bears remain the Pac-10's best (and only?) real hope for an NCAA at-large bid. And California's chances nearly went out the window before it rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat Washington State 78-60 at home on Saturday. The Bears beat Washington 93-81 on Thursday to take a one-game lead over Arizona State in the Pac-10 standings. The Bears have a great computer profile and have played one of the country's toughest schedules. But Cal hasn't beaten an RPI top-50 opponent and is 0-4 against such foes. The Bears are 4-7 against the top 100, with their best nonconference win coming against RPI No. 82 Murray State. The Bears play at Oregon State on Thursday and at Oregon on Saturday.
Washington [17-8 (7-6), RPI: 52, SOS: 45] The Huskies' at-large chances all but ended with their 12-point loss at Cal on Thursday, but their mediocre computer profile will keep them in the bubble discussion for at least another week. Washington rebounded to beat Stanford 78-61 on the road on Saturday. The Huskies have a couple of RPI top-50 wins, beating Texas A&M and Cal at home. Washington's 1-6 record in road games definitely won't help its cause, nor will a 2-3 mark against RPI top-50 foes. The Huskies play home games against USC on Thursday night and UCLA on Saturday, followed by three straight road games to end the regular season.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee|
Work left to do: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Florida
After losing at Georgia on Feb. 6, Vanderbilt returned to its winning ways by beating Tennessee and LSU at home this week. The Commodores now have 18 victories overall and an 8-2 mark in SEC play, which is good enough to "lock up" an NCAA at-large bid. The Dores join Kentucky on the top line, and Tennessee seems pretty close to doing the same. But it might be difficult for the SEC to send more than three teams to the NCAA tournament if Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida don't turn it up a notch during the final three weeks of the regular season (or win the SEC tournament).
Tennessee [18-6 (6-4), RPI: 21, SOS: 23] Even after losing a pair of road games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky last week, the Volunteers seem to be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. They have three wins over RPI top-50 teams, including a 76-68 upset of No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10. The Volunteers also beat Charlotte and Ole Miss at home. The Vols haven't lost to an RPI sub-100 team and they're 3-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-6 against the top 100. Tennessee plays Georgia at home on Wednesday and plays at South Carolina on Saturday. Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, the Vols should feel pretty confident on Selection Sunday.
Ole Miss [17-7 (5-5), RPI: 48, SOS: 59] The Rebels can only hope the NCAA selection committee likes their 86-74 upset of Kansas State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Nov. 20 as much as they do. That is the one victory Ole Miss is hanging its hat on with only three weeks left in the regular season. The Rebels lost at rival Mississippi State 71-63 on Thursday night, giving the Bulldogs a sweep in the in-state series. Ole Miss has a couple of decent wins over UTEP (neutral court) and South Carolina (home), but not much else to show the committee. Ole Miss is 4-4 in road games, 1-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-6 against the top 100. The Rebs host Vanderbilt on Thursday and Florida on Saturday and really can't afford to lose either game.
Mississippi State [18-7 (6-4), RPI: 58, SOS: 130] The Bulldogs suddenly look like the team to beat in the SEC West, after they defeated rival Ole Miss for the second time this season. But Mississippi State still has a lot of work to do if it's going to secure an NCAA at-large bid. MSU's only other win over an RPI top-50 opponent came against Old Dominion in the South Padre Island Invitational in late November. Besides sweeping the Rebels and beating the Monarchs, the Bulldogs' best victories came against Wright State and Georgia. That's probably not enough to impress the NCAA selection committee. The Bulldogs are 3-2 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-4 against the top 100. MSU hosts Kentucky on Tuesday night and plays at LSU on Feb. 20. It hosts Tennessee in a March 6 regular-season finale, and would probably have to beat either the Wildcats this week or the Volunteers to have a chance on Selection Sunday.
Florida [17-8 (6-4), RPI: 62, SOS: 77] The Gators squandered a great opportunity on Saturday, losing to Xavier 76-64 at home. Beating the Musketeers would have given Florida a much-needed third victory over an RPI top-50 opponent. Instead, the Gators are left hoping wins over Michigan State (neutral court) and Florida State (home) will be enough to impress the NCAA selection committee. Florida still has three chances to improve its profile, with home games against Tennessee on Feb. 23 and Vanderbilt on March 2 and a road game at Kentucky on March 7. The Gators are 2-6 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-7 against the top 100. They host Auburn on Thursday and play at Ole Miss on Saturday.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Northern Iowa|
Work left to do: Old Dominion, Siena, UAB, Saint Mary's, Utah State, William & Mary, Cornell, UTEP, Northeastern
Life on the NCAA tournament bubble can be hard for teams from mid-major conferences. Just ask Northern Iowa, Siena and Cornell, which were feeling pretty confident about their at-large chances before losing unexpectedly last week. UAB, Saint Mary's, Wichita State and Northeastern can't feel too confident about their NCAA tournament hopes either, after losing games last week.
Northern Iowa [22-3 (13-2), RPI: 25, SOS: 126] The Panthers suffered a pretty big setback on Saturday, losing at RPI No. 109 Bradley 68-59. But it was only Northern Iowa's second loss in its last 23 games, so it should still feel pretty good about its NCAA at-large chances. The Panthers are 2-0 against RPI top-50 foes, beating Siena 82-65 at home on Dec. 12 and beating Wichita State 59-56 at home on Feb. 3. UNI can really help itself by winning its BracketBuster game against Old Dominion at home on Friday. First, the Panthers host Creighton on Tuesday night in a game they really can't afford to lose. The Bradley loss was UNI's second to an RPI sub-100 team; it also lost to RPI No. 170 DePaul 60-52 in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 20.
Old Dominion [20-7 (12-3), RPI: 33, SOS: 74] After beating up George Mason over the weekend, the Monarchs are tied with Northeastern for the Colonial Athletic Association lead with a 12-3 record in conference play. But ODU is in much better shape than the Huskies in terms of the NCAA bubble because of its nonconference work. ODU has two high-quality wins, upsetting Georgetown 61-57 on the road on Dec. 19 and blasting Charlotte 81-48 on Dec. 23. It swept games against fellow CAA bubble contender William & Mary, but lost at Northeastern and VCU. ODU is 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-6 against the top 100. It hosts Towson on Tuesday night before playing at Northern Iowa in Friday night's BracketBuster game.
Siena [22-5 (15-1), RPI: 35, SOS: 122] Can one loss outweigh 24 or 25 victories on Selection Sunday? Siena had the country's longest winning streak (15) before losing 87-74 at Niagara on Friday night. Even though the Saints rebounded to defeat Canisius 74-57 on the road on Sunday, they might be holding their breath if they don't win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament early next month. Siena doesn't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent; its best wins came against No. 62 Northeastern and a sweep of No. 96 Iona. But the Saints could probably end any at-large doubts by winning at Butler in Saturday's BracketBuster game. After playing the Bulldogs, Siena plays at Rider on Feb. 26 and hosts Marist on Feb. 28.
UAB [19-5 (7-3), RPI: 38, SOS: 88] The Blazers fell two games in the loss column behind UTEP in the Conference USA standings after losing to Marshall 81-74 at home on Saturday night. The Blazers can't afford many more losses with three weeks to go in the regular season. UAB is riding two victories over RPI top-50 opponents, defeating Butler 67-57 at home on Dec. 22 and Cincinnati 64-47 at home on Dec. 16. It also has so-so victories over Tulsa (home), Marshall (road) and Georgia (home). The Blazers are 5-5 against RPI top-100 opponents and 14 of their 19 victories came against sub-100 foes. UAB plays at Southern Miss on Wednesday and hosts Houston on Saturday. It plays UTEP on the road in its March 6 regular-season finale.
Saint Mary's [21-5 (8-3), RPI: 43, SOS: 111] The Gaels' NCAA at-large chances are probably all but dead after they lost two games this past week. SMC really needed to earn at least a split with West Coast Conference leader Gonzaga, but instead lost 80-61 in Spokane, Wash., on Thursday night. Worse, Saint Mary's fell at Portland 80-75 in overtime on Saturday night. Saint Mary's has two victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating San Diego State 80-58 at home on Nov. 16 and beating Utah State 68-63 on the road on Dec. 5. The Gaels are 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-5 against the top 100. Saint Mary's will get some help from its 8-2 record in road games, but probably needs to do some serious damage in the WCC tournament to have any chance at an NCAA at-large bid.
Utah State [20-6 (10-2), RPI: 44, SOS: 106] The Aggies have won 10 games in a row to climb into the NCAA at-large bubble discussion, but they have absolutely no margin for error down the stretch. The Aggies have one big feather in their cap: a 71-61 victory over BYU at home on Dec. 2. Utah State has only four other victories over RPI top-100 teams, sweeping games against No. 67 Nevada and No. 73 Weber State. In fact, 14 of Utah State's 19 victories came against RPI sub-100 opponents, including seven against sub-200 teams. The Aggies host Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night and then host Wichita State in a BracketBuster game on Saturday. It will probably have to reach the final of next month's WAC tournament to feel remotely safe on Selection Sunday.
William & Mary [18-7 (10-5), RPI: 51, SOS: 94] The Tribe won their third game in a row Saturday night, beating Northeastern 53-52 on Kendrix Brown's jumper with seven seconds left. The victory kept William & Mary within two games of CAA leaders Northeastern and ODU in the league standings. William & Mary has three victories that will outweigh most of the other at-large contenders' best wins. The Tribe won road games at Wake Forest and Maryland and defeated Richmond at home. But the Tribe also have two really bad losses, falling in road games at RPI No. 228 North Carolina-Wilmington and at No. 238 James Madison. The Tribe are 3-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 against the top 100. They play at George Mason on Tuesday night and at Iona in a BracketBuster game on Friday.
Cornell [21-4 (7-1), RPI: 53, SOS: 191] College basketball's feel-good story of the season hit a major road bump Friday night, as the Big Red were stunned 79-64 at Penn. The Quakers were 3-15 before their improbable upset and ended Cornell's eight-game winning streak. The Big Red can still earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the Ivy League regular-season championship. They rebounded to defeat Princeton 48-45 on the road on Saturday and remain at the top of the Ivy League standings with a 7-1 mark. Cornell plays at Harvard on Friday in a game that will probably go a long way in deciding the Ivy League title. The Big Red won 71-67 at Alabama and 71-66 at St. John's. They also lost at Syracuse by 15 points and at Kansas by five. Cornell is 0-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-3 against the top 100.
UTEP [19-5 (10-1), RPI: 56, SOS: 143] The Miners have won nine games in a row, knocking off Conference USA contenders Memphis (road), UAB (road) and Tulsa (home) along the way. UTEP defeated SMU 62-51 on the road on Wednesday night and crushed East Carolina 100-76 at home on Saturday, opening a one-game lead over Memphis in the loss column of the C-USA standings. UTEP is 1-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-4 against the top 100. It doesn't have much to show the NCAA selection committee from its nonconference schedule, though, with its best wins coming against RPI No. 76 New Mexico State (road) and No. 87 Oklahoma (neutral court). The Miners play two key road games next: at Tulsa on Saturday and at Southern Miss on Feb. 24.
Northeastern [17-9 (12-3), RPI: 61, SOS: 80] The Huskies are tied with ODU for the lead in the Colonial Athletic Association standings, but they might sit behind the Monarchs and William & Mary in the league's at-large pecking order. Northeastern's at-large chances were hurt by its 53-52 loss at William & Mary on Saturday. Northeastern has two home victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Utah State 64-61 on Nov. 21 and Old Dominion 74-64 on Jan. 30. It also has so-so victories over Virginia Commonwealth (home and road) and Kent State (neutral court). The Huskies also were competitive in three losses to RPI top-50 teams, losing at Siena by six points, at Rhode Island by three and against Saint Mary's by 11 on a neutral court. But the Huskies also were swept by RPI No. 100 Drexel and have three other losses to sub-100 opponents, falling to No. 101 Providence (home), No. 142 Western Michigan (neutral court) and No. 172 Boston U. (road). Northeastern plays at UNC-Wilmington on Tuesday night and hosts Louisiana Tech in a BracketBuster game on Saturday.
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