College Basketball Bubble Watch
Numbers alone won't save some teams
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Wednesday, Feb. 11.
It's an indication of how fluid the at-large environment is this season that this week's Bubble Watch welcomes only two members to "lock" status. Villanova, on the heels of convincing home wins over Syracuse and Marquette, joins the club as does Missouri. The Tigers turned the Big 12 marathon into a three-team sprint to the finish line with a win at home over Kansas.
Many teams remain precariously placed on the Bubble, however, and with the regular season winding down, opportunities to earn signature wins are becoming rare. Georgetown and Wisconsin, despite suffering five- and six-game losing streaks respectively this season, still find themselves in the tourney mix based on their gaudy computer numbers and daunting schedules. This time of year, however, the most valuable currency comes in the form of wins, and while the Badgers are starting to get back on track with a three-game winning streak -- the Hoyas are in danger of fading out of the Bubble discussion altogether.
Here is this week's Bubble Watch:
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Dayton|
The A-10 is suddenly a three-team race after Xavier dropped its last two road games, including a 71-58 loss at Dayton on Tuesday night. Saint Joseph's currently sits in first place with a 7-1 record in league play, but the Hawks lost at Dayton and haven't yet played Xavier. With losses at Holy Cross and Alabama, Saint Joe's hasn't done enough yet to garner serious at-large consideration. But by beating the Musketeers, the Flyers moved much closer to locking up an at-large bid.
Dayton [22-3 (8-2), RPI: 25, SOS: 126] The Flyers probably put themselves on the right side of the bubble by blowing out No. 14 Xavier 71-58 at home on Wednesday night. It is Dayton's second victory over an RPI Top-25 opponent; the Flyers beat Marquette 89-75 on a neutral court on Nov. 29. Dayton also has so-so victories over George Mason, Miami (Ohio) and Saint Joseph's. If Dayton hadn't gotten caught looking ahead last week -- how else to explain a 79-66 loss at RPI No. 180 Charlotte on Sunday -- it might have locked up an at-large spot. Dayton moved into a second-place tie with Xavier in the Atlantic 10 standings. The teams play again in Cincinnati on March 5.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Florida State|
Work left to do: Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Maryland
Third-ranked North Carolina took control of the ACC race (and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament) by winning at Duke 101-87 on Wednesday night. Wake Forest once seemed like a potential No. 1 seed, but it has suddenly lost four of its last six games, including a surprising 82-76 defeat at NC State on Wednesday night. Florida State moved a couple of steps closer to securing an at-large bid, and four other ACC teams remain in the hunt.
Florida State [19-5 (6-3), RPI: 20, SOS: 32] The Seminoles' patience with coach Leonard Hamilton is finally paying off. Thanks to its current three-game winning streak, FSU is poised to play in its first NCAA tournament since 1998. After rallying from a 19-point deficit in the second half to upset Clemson 65-61 on the road Saturday (which improved FSU's record to 9-2 away from home), the Seminoles beat Virginia 68-57 in Tallahassee on Tuesday night. FSU improved to 6-3 in ACC play and, barring a late-season collapse, should receive an at-large bid for the first time in Hamilton's seven seasons.
Miami [15-8 (4-6), RPI: 42, SOS: 13] The Hurricanes squandered a golden opportunity to get on the right side of the bubble last week, blowing a 16-point lead in the second half against Duke on Saturday before losing 78-75 in overtime. Miami has lost four of its last five games, but its lone victory during the slump was a 79-52 rout of Wake Forest on Feb. 4. Miami is 4-6 in the ACC heading into Sunday night's game against North Carolina. The Hurricanes need to keep their heads above water in their next three games (after playing the Tar Heels, they play at Florida State and host Boston College), before finishing the regular season with games against the ACC's three worst teams. A finish of at least 8-8 would seem to be necessary for an at-large bid, so Miami can't afford many more losses.
Virginia Tech [16-7 (6-3), RPI: 43, SOS: 46] The Hokies avoided a huge setback by rallying from an 18-point deficit in the final 14 minutes against NC State on Sunday before winning 91-87 in overtime. Virginia Tech followed that comeback with a 76-71 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, which improved its record to 6-3 against ACC foes. The Hokies split two games against fellow ACC bubble team Boston College and beat Wake Forest and Miami. The Hokies don't have a lot to show from their nonconference schedule, other than not-so-great losses to Georgia and Seton Hall. Virginia Tech plays three of its next four games on the road, starting Saturday at Maryland.
Boston College [18-8 (6-5), RPI: 51, SOS: 48] After winning five games in a row to get back into at-large contention, the Eagles were beaten soundly in their last two games. Boston College was routed 93-76 at Wake Forest on Sunday, and then lost to Clemson 87-77 at home on Tuesday night. Things won't get any easier Sunday night, when the Eagles host Duke in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles' 85-77 victory at North Carolina in their ACC opener will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee, but they'll also have to overcome ugly losses to St. Louis and Harvard. Boston College might need a 9-7 finish in the ACC to feel confident about securing an at-large bid.
Maryland [15-8 (4-5), RPI: 74, SOS: 72] The Terrapins kept their fleeting at-large hopes alive with a 57-56 victory at Georgia Tech on Sunday. But Maryland still seems to be in pretty big trouble after losing five of its last eight games. The Terps can get back into serious contention (or get eliminated from at-large discussion altogether) in their next four games, starting with Saturday's home contest against Virginia Tech. After hosting the Hokies, the Terps travel to Clemson and then play North Carolina and Duke in College Park. Maryland beat Michigan and Michigan State during nonconference play but have largely feasted on only the ACC's lesser teams. A 1-4 record in road games and 2-6 mark against RPI top-50 teams won't help, either.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Texas, Nebraska, Kansas State|
By winning its last four games, including a 62-60 victory over Kansas on Monday, Missouri joins Oklahoma and the Jayhawks as "locks" to receive NCAA at-large bids. The rest of the Big 12 is a mess. Texas finally got back on track with a rout of Oklahoma State, and Nebraska and Kansas State have come out of nowhere to get back into contention. But Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are fading fast and are out of the bubble picture for now. The Bears and Aggies play in Waco on Saturday. The winner might move back into the bubble race; the loser might be done altogether.
Texas [16-7 (5-4), RPI: 37, SOS: 30] The Longhorns ended a three-game losing streak by blasting Oklahoma State 99-74 in Austin on Tuesday night. The victory moved Texas back above .500 in Big 12 play and leaves it in pretty decent shape for an at-large bid. The Longhorns will get a lot of mileage from their victories over UCLA and Villanova, two of their five victories over RPI top-50 opponents. But Texas really hasn't done much during Big 12 play, beating slumping Baylor and Texas A&M and the league's lesser teams. The Longhorns lost to Big 12 leader Oklahoma and fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Nebraska. The Longhorns play consecutive road games in three days, at Colorado on Saturday and at Texas A&M on Monday.
Nebraska [15-7 (5-4), RPI: 69, SOS: 61] The Cornhuskers' body of work looks similar to Kansas State's résumeacute;. Nebraska's best victories came against Missouri and Texas, and it has won three games in a row to get back into the bubble picture. But Nebraska still has much work to do. Like the Wildcats, the Cornhuskers have little to show from their nonconference schedule. They have a so-so victory over Creighton, but six of their 10 nonconference wins came against teams ranked No. 200 or lower in the RPI ratings. Worse, Nebraska lost to RPI No. 212 UMBC 66-64 on Dec. 23.
Kansas State [17-7 (6-4), RPI: 72, SOS: 96] After starting Big 12 play with four consecutive losses, the Wildcats have worked themselves back into contention with a six-game winning streak. Kansas State beat Texas Tech 85-73 on Wednesday night, which moved it into fourth place in the Big 12 standings. But the Wildcats might have to finish 10-6 in the Big 12 to have a legitimate chance at earning an at-large bid. Kansas State did nothing even remotely impressive during nonconference play, losing to Kentucky, Iowa and Oregon. In fact, eight of its 10 nonconference victories against Division I opponents came against teams ranked No. 150 or worse in the RPI ratings. With that kind of résumeé, the Wildcats will probably need more than victories over Missouri and Texas to show the selection committee.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Providence|
Say hello to Villanova, which becomes the fifth Big East team to earn "lock" status by blasting Marquette 102-84 at home Tuesday night. Say goodbye to Notre Dame, which becomes the country's most disappointing team with a seven-game losing streak and a 3-7 mark in Big East play. If Georgetown doesn't turn its season around quickly, it will join the not-so-Fighting Irish on a growing list of underachievers.
West Virginia [16-8 (5-6), RPI: 15, SOS: 6] The Mountaineers might seem to be safe based on their strong computer numbers, but those ratings are pretty inflated because they've played the country's sixth-toughest schedule. West Virginia is only 6-6 in its last 12 games, losing four of its last six, including a 70-59 loss at Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Mountaineers are 2-7 against RPI top-50 opponents, and one of their victories (Georgetown) isn't carrying as much weight as it once did. The good news: West Virginia's toughest stretch will be over after Friday night's home game against Villanova. The Mountaineers play only one of the Big East's top seven teams (Louisville) in their final six regular-season games, although a Feb. 26 road game at Cincinnati (coach Bob Huggins' old school) might prove to be pretty significant.
Syracuse [18-7 (6-6), RPI: 22, SOS: 21] The Orange's computer numbers are still very good, but they have to start winning some games. Syracuse has lost six of its last eight games, including a 63-49 loss at Connecticut on Wednesday night. The Orange dropped to 6-6 in Big East play, and they've beaten only one league foe (West Virginia) in contention for an NCAA at-large bid. Syracuse's victories at Memphis and against Kansas (neutral court) are looking better and better each week. The Orange are 4-5 against RPI top-50 opponents, but their 6-6 mark in the last 12 games raises a red flag.
Georgetown [13-9 (4-7), RPI: 34, SOS: 2] If not for playing the country's second-toughest schedule, Georgetown probably wouldn't even be in the at-large discussion. The Hoyas are only 4-8 in their last 12 games, losing six of their last seven. Georgetown is 3-7 against RPI top-50 foes (wins at Connecticut and home against Memphis and Syracuse) and is 1-5 on the road. Four of Georgetown's final seven regular-season games will be played away from home, and it will have to beat at least two of the Big East's better teams (at Syracuse and Villanova and home against Marquette and Louisville) to have any chance of finishing 9-9 in league play. History suggests the Hoyas aren't done yet. The 2000-01 Georgia team finished 16-14, losing seven of its last 10 games, but still made the NCAA tournament field largely because it played the country's toughest schedule.
Cincinnati [17-8 (7-5), RPI: 49, SOS: 29] The Bearcats' next four games -- at Pittsburgh, home against Louisville and West Virginia, and at Syracuse -- will go a long way in determining whether they're legitimate at-large candidates. Cincinnati has won five of its last six games, including a 71-61 victory over St. John's on Wednesday night. The Bearcats swept two games against Georgetown and also have so-so victories over UAB (home), Mississippi State (neutral court) and UNLV (road). Each of Cincinnati's eight losses came against opponents ranked No. 64 or better in the RPI ratings, but six of its 16 wins came against foes ranked No. 200 or worse.
Providence [15-9 (7-5), RPI: 64, SOS: 44] The Friars' résumé looks a lot like what Cincinnati will put before the NCAA selection committee. But Providence owns the tiebreaker, having beaten the Bearcats twice last month. The Friars are 3-5 against RPI top-50 foes (they also beat Syracuse 100-94 at home Jan. 28), and each of their nine losses came against an opponent ranked No. 77 or better in the RPI ratings. With a 7-5 record in Big East play, Providence can get to 10 wins by beating slumping Notre Dame and sweeping two games against Rutgers. The Friars also play road games at Louisville and Villanova and a home game against Pittsburgh, so there's little room for error.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue|
Work left to do: Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State
Illinois and Ohio State might have made up more ground than any other teams in the country over the last few weeks, and both teams seem very close to locking up at-large spots. Purdue seemed close to doing that before losing forward Robbie Hummel to a back injury. Wisconsin is back on the way up, but Michigan and Penn State are now fading fast.
Illinois [19-5 (7-4), RPI: 14, SOS: 27] The Illini will probably move to "lock" status if they win their next two games, at Northwestern on Thursday night and at Indiana on Sunday. Illinois is 8-4 in its last 12 games and 5-4 against RPI top-50 opponents. The Illini beat Purdue 66-48 on Sunday, their second victory over the Boilermakers this season. Illinois also beat Missouri (neutral court) and Ohio State (home), and each of its five losses came against teams ranked No. 52 or better in the RPI ratings. After playing two of the Big Ten's lesser teams, the Illini face a difficult five-game stretch -- two games against Penn State sandwiched around a road game at Ohio State and home games against Minnesota and Michigan State -- to finish the regular season.
Ohio State [17-5 (7-4), RPI: 21, SOS: 37] The Buckeyes have won four games in a row to move into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten standings. Coach Thad Matta's young team is hitting its stride at the right time of the season, winning eight of its last 12 games. The Buckeyes are 4-5 against RPI top-50 teams, and their 54-51 victory over Butler on Dec. 13 will carry a lot of weight with the selection committee. So will Big Ten victories over Purdue and Minnesota. Ohio State needs to finish strong to improve its seeding, which won't be easy. It plays four of its last seven games on the road and has home games against Illinois and Penn State.
Minnesota [19-5 (7-5), RPI: 28, SOS: 55] The Gophers ended a two-game losing streak with a 62-54 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night. Minnesota faces a pair of potentially dangerous road traps the next two games, at Penn State on Saturday and at Michigan on Feb. 19. If Minnesota can win both road games, it would move pretty close to "lock" status. The Gophers are 7-5 in their last 12 games and have solid wins over Louisville (neutral court), Illinois (home) and Ohio State (home). Minnesota's only questionable defeat was a 74-65 loss at Northwestern on Jan. 18.
Purdue [18-6 (7-4), RPI: 31, SOS: 47] The Boilermakers finally won without Robbie Hummel on Wednesday night, beating Penn State 61-47 at home. Purdue clearly isn't the same team without Hummel, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, who has missed the last three games with a stress fracture in his lower back. Hummel, who averages 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds, hasn't played since a 67-49 win over Michigan on Jan. 31. The Boilermakers are 6-1 against Big Ten foes when Hummel plays; they're 1-3 without him (Hummel also missed a 67-64 loss at Penn State on Jan. 6). The NCAA selection committee will consider Hummel's absence when evaluating the Boilermakers, who still seem to be in very good shape for an at-large bid. They won at Minnesota and beat Davidson on a neutral court, and four of their six losses came against teams ranked No. 15 or better in the RPI.
Wisconsin [15-9 (6-6), RPI: 29, SOS: 4] The Badgers are back in the bubble discussion after winning their last three games, including a 69-52 victory over Iowa on Wednesday night, to get back to 6-6 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin's computer numbers are very good because they've played the country's fourth-toughest schedule, losing games to Connecticut (neutral court), Marquette (road) and Texas (home). The Badgers beat Illinois 63-50 on Feb. 5 and will get help from their 74-72 victory at Virginia Tech on Dec. 1. But they might need at least one or two more signature victories to bolster their at-large chances. Wisconsin will have ample opportunities in its last six regular-season games, which include road trips to Michigan State and Minnesota and a home game against Ohio State.
Michigan [15-10 (5-7), RPI: 54, SOS: 12] The Wolverines have defeated three of college basketball's better teams (Duke, Illinois and UCLA), but they haven't beaten enough of the rest. Now, Michigan is in serious trouble after losing seven of its last nine games. Winning one of the last two games, against No. 1 Connecticut and No. 9 Michigan State, obviously would have helped tremendously. The Wolverines lost to Ohio State twice and fell to Wisconsin and Purdue. Michigan plays the Boilermakers and Badgers again and faces Minnesota twice.
Penn State [17-8 (6-6), RPI: 81, SOS: 128] After winning four games in a row, the Nittany Lions have dropped three straight, including a 61-47 defeat at Purdue on Wednesday night. At this point, Penn State's at-large chances are on life support. It can show the NCAA selection committee only two really solid victories -- at Michigan State and home against Purdue -- and a so-so win over Michigan at home. There really isn't much else to the Nittany Lions' body of work. Their nonconference schedule ranks No. 329 in the country, and their best non-Big Ten victory came against RPI No. 123 Mount St. Mary's (which really doesn't say much for Georgia Tech). Penn State still plays Illinois twice and Ohio State once, and it might need to win two of those games to keep its fleeting at-large hopes alive.
|Teams that should be in: Arizona State|
Work left to do: California, USC, Arizona
Not much has changed in the Pac-10 -- UCLA and Washington seem to be the league's two best teams. Arizona State got back on track, albeit with victories over rebuilding Oregon and Oregon State. The Pac-10 race will begin to shake out this week, after UCLA and USC play each of the Arizona schools.
Arizona State [18-5 (7-4), RPI: 41, SOS: 101] The Sun Devils put their season back on track last week by doing what NCAA tournament-worthy teams are supposed to do -- easily win road games against rebuilding programs such as Oregon and Oregon State. Arizona State has one really good victory (at UCLA) and two solid wins (BYU and San Diego State). The Sun Devils are 3-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 against top-100 opponents. They have a 6-2 record on the road but can probably lock up an at-large spot at home. Arizona State plays its next three games at home, starting with Thursday night's contest against UCLA and followed by visits from USC and Arizona. If the Sun Devils win at least two of those games, they can feel awfully good about their postseason prospects.
California [18-6 (7-4), RPI: 27, SOS: 40] If not for the Bears' January slide, in which they lost four of their last five games in a two-week span, they might have already locked up an at-large spot. California turned it around last week by sweeping home games against Washington (its second victory over the Huskies) and Washington State. Along with the win over Washington, Cal has an impressive road victory at Utah and home wins against Arizona State and Arizona. The Bears are 4-4 against RPI top-50 teams and should be in good shape if they take care of upcoming games against Stanford at home and Oregon and Oregon State on the road.
USC [15-7 (6-4), RPI: 40, SOS: 23] The Trojans haven't played since they lost badly at rival UCLA 76-60 on Feb. 4. USC faces a really important four-game stretch, starting Thursday night at Arizona. After playing the Wildcats, the Trojans play at Arizona State on Sunday and play home games next week against Washington State and Washington. The Trojans really need some quality wins to feel confident about their at-large chances. USC is only 2-5 against RPI top-50 teams, with both wins coming during Pac-10 play (home victories over California and Arizona State). USC played a difficult nonconference schedule, but lost to Oklahoma on the road and against Missouri and Seton Hall on neutral courts. In fact, USC's best nonconference victory was a 61-57 win over RPI No. 92 North Dakota State.
Arizona [16-8 (6-5), RPI: 53, SOS: 69] The Wildcats stayed in the bubble discussion last week by winning road games at Oregon State and Oregon. Arizona could really help itself by winning at least one of its next two home games, against USC on Thursday night and UCLA on Saturday. The Wildcats have two nonconference victories (Kansas at home and Gonzaga on a neutral court) that will catch the committee's eyes, along with home wins over Washington and San Diego State. But with its upcoming home games against the California schools and road trips to Arizona State and Washington looming, the Wildcats still have work to do.
|Teams that should be in: LSU|
Work left to do: Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky
Finally, the SEC has a team that seems worthy of earning an NCAA at-large bid. Surprisingly, it's not Tennessee, Florida or Kentucky, which seemed to be the league's best teams earlier this season. LSU, behind first-year coach Trent Johnson, moved to 8-1 in the SEC West with a 97-94 double-overtime victory at Mississippi State on Wednesday night. Just as importantly, Kentucky stayed on the bubble with a 68-65 victory over Florida on Tuesday night.
LSU [20-4 (8-1), RPI: 46, SOS: 113] While the Tigers' RPI numbers suggest they still have some work to do, they took complete control of the SEC West with Wednesday night's 97-94 victory in double overtime at Mississippi State. LSU is 2-3 against RPI top-50 opponents, and nine of their 20 victories came against teams ranked outside the RPI top 200. But the Tigers won at Tennessee, beat South Carolina at home and swept games against Mississippi State, which should be enough in the mediocre SEC. The Tigers still play Florida at home and Kentucky on the road, and a victory in either game would probably secure an at-large spot.
Tennessee [15-8 (6-3), RPI: 24, SOS: 3] Based on their five victories over RPI top-50 teams, and the fact they've played the country's third-toughest schedule, the Volunteers are still in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. But Tennessee remains one of the sport's most maddening teams. After blowing out Florida and beating Arkansas on the road, the Vols lost at Auburn 78-77 on Saturday. Tennessee recovered to blow out Georgia 79-48 on Wednesday night, but the Bulldogs haven't beaten anyone during SEC play. The Vols are far too talented to have eight losses, but unless they completely collapse down the stretch, they should be pretty safe.
Florida [19-5 (6-3), RPI: 35, SOS: 103] Somebody from the SEC has to go to the NCAA tournament, and the Gators are in better shape than most of the league's other teams. But if Florida played in another conference, it would probably be just a very average team this season. The Gators are 2-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 2-4 on the road. They beat Washington on a neutral court and South Carolina at home. Really, that's about it as far as quality wins. In fact, nine of Florida's 19 wins came against opponents ranked No. 200 or worse in the RPI, including four foes ranked No. 300 or worse. Florida would have helped itself by finishing at Kentucky on Tuesday night, but the Wildcats won 68-65 on Jodie Meeks' late 3-pointer.
South Carolina [17-5 (6-3), RPI: 44, SOS: 83] As expected, the Gamecocks beat Georgia 79-68 on the road on Saturday. But South Carolina might have received more help from Charleston's 77-75 victory at Davidson on Saturday. Before the Cougars' upset of the Wildcats, South Carolina's 82-80 loss in overtime against Charleston on Nov. 28 looked like a big blemish on its resume. The Gamecocks have only one victory against an RPI top-50 opponent, 70-69 over Florida on Jan. 21. Unfortunately, the SEC schedule won't help much in terms of schedule strength, with only one remaining opponent (Tennessee) currently ranked in the RPI top 60. Because of its weak schedule strength, South Carolina might need at least a 10-6 finish in SEC play to have a real chance at an at-large bid.
Kentucky [17-7 (6-3), RPI: 62, SOS: 85] Jodie Meeks' late 3-pointer against Florida on Tuesday night might have saved Kentucky's NCAA at-large hopes. The 68-65 victory over Florida gave the Wildcats their third victory over an RPI top-50 opponent and kept them from losing three consecutive SEC games at Rupp Arena for the first time in their storied history. Kentucky still has some work to do, as their mediocre RPI numbers would suggest. The Wildcats are 3-4 against RPI top-50 teams, and eight of their 17 victories have come against opponents ranked outside the RPI top 200. Kentucky plays four of its last seven games on the road, including Saturday's game at struggling Arkansas. The Wildcats also play fellow bubble teams South Carolina and Florida on the road and play Tennessee and LSU at home.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Utah, Davidson|
Work left to do: Siena, Utah State, UAB, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV, Saint Mary's
With three wins over RPI top-50 opponents, Gonzaga still seems like a safe bet for an NCAA at-large bid. But the Bulldogs sure didn't put up much of a fight in their 68-50 loss to Memphis on Saturday night. Davidson and Siena also suffered tough losses, too, leaving them little room for error down the stretch.
Utah [17-7 (8-2), RPI: 11, SOS: 11] The Utes stayed in first place in the Mountain West with a 67-55 victory over San Diego State at home Wednesday night. The Utes have won five games in a row and have a one-game lead over the Aztecs and New Mexico in the MWC standings. Utah seems pretty close to securing an at-large bid after playing one of the country's most difficult schedules. The Utes are 4-4 against RPI top-50 teams, having beaten BYU, Gonzaga, LSU and San Diego State. Utah lost at Oklahoma and Utah State and fell to California at home. Utah still plays MWC contender UNLV at home and plays road games at BYU and New Mexico, so its work isn't completely done.
Davidson [20-4 (13-1), RPI: 50, SOS: 144] The Wildcats had their 43-game winning streak against Southern Conference opponents end with a 77-75 loss to Charleston at home Saturday. Davidson blew a 14-point lead in the second half of the loss, which ended its 10-game winning streak. The Wildcats don't have great computer numbers and have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent (West Virginia). But with Stephen Curry leading the country in scoring, and given what the Wildcats accomplished in the 2008 NCAA tournament, it's hard to imagine their being left out of the 65-team field. That being said, Davidson probably can't afford another loss in conference play to feel really confident about its chances.
Siena [19-6 (13-1), RPI: 30, SOS: 51] The Saints lost at Rider 90-88 on Saturday, their first loss against a MAAC opponent. Siena rebounded to beat Loyola (Md.) 73-60 on Monday, its 14th victory in its last 16 games. Siena is still ranked inside the RPI top 30 because it played the country's second-toughest nonconference schedule, losing at Pittsburgh and Kansas and against Tennessee and Oklahoma State on neutral courts. But the Saints' best win came at RPI No. 68 Saint Joseph's on Dec. 28. In fact, all but six of their 19 victories came against opponents ranked outside the RPI top 100. Even with the inflated computer numbers, Siena might not feel truly safe unless it wins its league tournament and the corresponding automatic NCAA bid.
Utah State [23-1 (11-0), RPI: 32, SOS: 190] The Aggies keep winning and winning, and they take a 23-1 record into Thursday night's game at Idaho. Utah State's problem is that it has beaten only two opponents ranked inside the RPI top 100 (Utah and Boise State) and both victories came at home. Utah State is undefeated playing in the WAC, which ranks No. 12 in conference RPI ratings. The Aggies won't play another team ranked inside the RPI top-50 during the regular season but do have a Feb. 21 BracketBusters game against Saint Mary's to bolster their profile.
UAB [16-8 (6-3), RPI: 33, SOS: 28] The Blazers, who haven't beaten an RPI top-50 opponent, are a fringe bubble candidate at best. But UAB seems to be the second-best team in Conference USA, and might have to beat league leader Memphis in Birmingham on Feb. 26 to have a realistic chance of earning an at-large bid. The Blazers played one of the country's tougher nonconference schedules, certainly more difficult than their computer rankings would indicate. UAB lost at Butler, Louisville and Cincinnati and fell to Oklahoma and Boston College on neutral courts. But without an RPI top-50 victory, UAB's postseason fate might rest on beating Memphis.
BYU [18-5 (6-3), RPI: 39, SOS: 68] The Cougars stay in the picture with convincing wins over Air Force and Colorado State. BYU remains in fourth place in the highly competitive Mountain West, and might need to avenge a couple of its first-half losses to remain in the hunt. BYU beat San Diego State but lost games to Utah, UNLV and New Mexico. Those four teams are BYU's main competition for a MWC regular-season title. BYU will get help from its 68-63 win over Utah State, which is the Aggies' only loss of the season.
San Diego State [17-6 (7-3), RPI: 47, SOS: 62] The Aztecs' bubble hopes took a big blow Wednesday night with the loss at Utah. San Diego State could have swept the regular-season series from the Utes and tied them for first place in the Mountain West standings. Instead, San Diego State fell one game behind the Utes and failed to win a second game against an RPI Top-25 opponent. San Diego State just doesn't have much on its résumé. Its best nonconference victory came against RPI No. 169 San Diego, and eight of its 15 victories against Division I foes came against teams ranked No. 200 or worse in the RPI ratings.
UNLV [18-6 (6-4), RPI: 52, SOS: 93] The Rebels ended their two-game skid with a 71-57 victory over TCU on Tuesday night. UNLV beat BYU (road) and Utah (home) last month and will get a lot of mileage from its 56-55 victory at Louisville on Dec. 31. The Rebels' 79-64 rout of Arizona in Las Vegas on Dec. 20 is looking better and better. UNLV does have two unsightly losses -- 80-73 at TCU and 71-69 at Colorado State.
Saint Mary's [19-4 (6-3), RPI: 59, SOS: 232] The Gaels' struggles without sophomore Patty Mills continue, as they've lost three of four games without their star point guard. Saint Mary's will probably be without Mills until at least the last week of the regular season. The NCAA selection committee will consider his injury when deciding St. Mary's fate, but it can't afford to completely collapse without him. But that's what Saint Mary's has done over the last two weeks, losing to RPI No. 197 Santa Clara 70-52 on Saturday. The Gaels play Gonzaga on Thursday night and really can't afford to lose badly.