College Basketball Bubble Watch
Five bubble teams to watch during BracketBuster weekend
The Saints play at Butler on Saturday and probably need to upset the Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse to have any chance at earning an at-large bid if they don't win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. After losing at Niagara by 13 last week, there are certainly questions about Siena's at-large worthiness. Beating the Bulldogs on the road would start to address those concerns. 2. William & Mary
The Tribe upset Wake Forest and Maryland on the road and defeated red-hot Richmond at home. But William & Mary sits in third place in the Colonial Athletic Association, which might only be a one- or two-team league. The Tribe play at Iona on Friday night and can't afford a loss to the second-best team in the MAAC. 3. Northeastern
The Huskies sit in the same boat with fellow CAA bubble team William & Mary. At 13-3, Northeastern is tied with Old Dominion for first place in the CAA standings and has a couple of nice victories over ODU and Utah State. But it also lost to fellow bubble teams like Rhode Island, Siena, Saint Mary's and William & Mary. The Huskies host Louisiana Tech in Boston on Saturday. They can't afford to lose any of their remaining three regular-season games. 4. Northern Iowa
The Panthers are 23-3 after losing at Bradley 68-59 on Saturday. But Northern Iowa has only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent (Siena), leaving at least a little doubt as to whether it would receive an NCAA at-large bid if it doesn't win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The Panthers can really help themselves by defeating Old Dominion at home on Friday night. With victories over Georgetown, Charlotte and a sweep of William & Mary, the Monarchs seem to be in much better shape in terms of the NCAA bubble. 5. Wichita State
The Shockers remain in the NCAA bubble discussion, but they certainly haven't passed the eye test during the past two weeks. Wichita State nearly lost to lowly Evansville for the second time in eight days, before beating the Purple Aces 76-70 in overtime at home on Wednesday night. The Shockers lost at Evansville 65-62 on Feb. 9; the Purple Aces are 0-14 against all other Missouri Valley opponents. Wichita State plays at Utah State on Saturday night and could really use a quality road victory to restore its confidence and reputation.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Xavier, Richmond|
Work left to do: Rhode Island, Dayton, Charlotte, Saint Louis
A couple of surprising upsets on Wednesday night further muddled the A-10 bubble picture. Charlotte lost to Duquesne at home, and Rhode Island became Saint Louis' latest victim. As a result, Richmond, Temple and Xavier are pulling away from the A-10 pack. Those three teams remain tied in the loss column atop the conference standings, one game ahead of the 49ers and Billikens. Saint Louis faces long odds at earning an NCAA at-large bid, but the Billikens are making a late push and spoiling other A-10 teams' chances in the process.
Xavier [18-7 (9-2), RPI: 24, SOS: 25] 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 three home victories over RPI top-50 opponents: Rhode Island, Dayton and Cincinnati. Xavier has won six of its past seven games and doesn't have a loss to an opponent ranked worse than No. 62 in the RPI ratings. The Musketeers are 3-6 against the top 50 and 7-7 against the top 100. Xavier is in very good shape after beating the Gators on the road, but probably could use another victory or two. It plays at Charlotte on Saturday and hosts Richmond in what might be a very important A-10 game on Feb. 28.
Richmond [21-6 (10-2), RPI: 29, SOS: 80] The Spiders remain red hot, beating Fordham 84-56 at home on Wednesday night, their ninth victory in 10 games. Richmond picked up two road wins last week, beating Rhode Island 69-67 and St. Bonaventure 68-49. The Spiders have four wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Temple (home), Rhode Island (road), Old Dominion (home) and Missouri (neutral court). The Spiders are 6-5 in road games, 4-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-6 against the top 100. The Spiders host George Washington on Saturday and then play three more A-10 contenders: at Xavier on Feb. 28, home against Dayton on March 4 and at Charlotte on March 6. With one or two more wins, the Spiders will probably punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Rhode Island [19-6 (7-5), RPI: 25, SOS: 33] The Rams are falling apart at the seams at the worst possible time. Rhode Island lost its third game in a row Wednesday night, falling at Saint Louis 62-57. 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 4-6 against the top 100. It might be victimized by the A-10's unbalanced schedule, as it plays Dayton, Richmond, Xavier and Charlotte only once, decreasing its chances to pick up signature wins. Only one of Rhode Island's last four regular-season games will be played against an A-10 contender: home against Charlotte on March 3.
Dayton [17-7 (6-4), RPI: 34, SOS: 29] After picking up an important 75-47 victory over Charlotte at home last week, the Flyers suffered a loss they couldn't afford, falling 68-65 in overtime at Saint Louis on Saturday. The Flyers have three quality wins over RPI top-50 foes, beating Xavier (home), Georgia Tech (neutral court) and Old Dominion (home). But Dayton is only 1-4 against RPI top-25 opponents, 3-5 against the top 50 and 5-6 against the top 100. The Flyers also will have to overcome one eyesore on their resume: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 194 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23. Dayton probably has to sweep this week's games against La Salle at home on Thursday night and at Duquesne on Sunday. They 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 [18-7 (8-3), RPI: 51, SOS: 116] After losing at Dayton by 28 points last week, the 49ers were embarrassed again on Wednesday night, losing to Duquesne 83-77 at home. As a result, Charlotte's at-large chances are probably on life support. Charlotte has three victories over RPI top-50 foes, defeating Temple (home), Richmond (road) and Louisville (road). Six of Charlotte's seven 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 4-7 against the top 100. Charlotte faces the most difficult remaining schedule among the A-10 bubble teams: home against Xavier on Saturday and Saint Joseph's on Feb. 24, at Rhode Island on March 3 and home against Richmond on March 6. It needs to finish strong if it's going to have a chance on Selection Sunday.
Saint Louis [17-8 (8-3), RPI: 84, SOS: 133] With a No. 84 RPI rating, Saint Louis is definitely a fringe bubble candidate at best. But the Billikens' 8-3 record in A-10 play can't be completely ignored. Saint Louis has three home victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Richmond, Dayton and Rhode Island. The Billikens are 3-5 in road games, 3-1 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-5 against the top 100. The Billikens also have three unsightly losses against RPI sub-100 opponents, losing to No. 114 Iowa State (neutral court), No. 132 George Washington (road) and No. 177 Bowling Green (road). The Billikens will have a few chances to improve their profile before the end of the regular season. After playing at Massachusetts on Sunday, Saint Louis plays three straight home games against Xavier on Feb. 24, Duquesne on Feb. 27 and Temple on March 3. It closes the regular season at Dayton on March 6.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia Tech|
Duke stayed in first place in the ACC standings by coming from behind to beat Miami 81-74 on the road Wednesday. While the Blue Devils were preseason favorites to win the ACC, not many college basketball pundits expected very much from Maryland and Virginia Tech this season. But with five games to go in the regular season, the Terrapins and Hokies are only one game behind Duke in the loss column. Virginia fell out of the NCAA tournament bubble discussion after getting pounded twice in three days: at Maryland on Monday and by Florida State at home Wednesday. With an RPI rating currently sub-100, the Cavaliers will probably have to win the ACC tournament to go dancing.
Georgia Tech [18-8 (6-6), RPI: 28, SOS: 15] The Yellow Jackets got back on track by blasting defending national champion North Carolina 68-51 at home Tuesday, holding the Tar Heels to their lowest scoring total in the Roy Williams era. Georgia Tech plays at Maryland on Saturday, where it will try to improve its 1-5 record in ACC road games (3-6 overall on the road). Despite losing three of its past five games, Tech seems to be in OK shape. The Yellow Jackets have four wins over RPI top-50 teams (Duke, Wake Forest, Siena and Clemson) and are 8-7 against RPI top-100 foes. After playing at Maryland, Tech plays two of its last three regular-season games at home. It plays at fellow ACC bubble contender Clemson on March 2 and hosts Virginia Tech on March 6. Tech will have to win two of its last four games to finish .500 in ACC play.
Clemson [18-7 (6-5), RPI: 35, SOS: 34] Clemson seems to be back on the right side of the bubble after winning its past two games. It hosts reeling Virginia at Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday. Clemson's overall profile isn't yet good enough for "lock" status, but the Tigers are getting pretty close. They have 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 the Cavaliers, 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 [18-7 (8-3), RPI: 37, SOS: 30] The Terrapins passed the first two legs of their busy week, routing Virginia 85-66 at home on Monday and rallying to win at NC State 67-58 on Wednesday. The Terrapins close their three-game stretch at home against Georgia Tech on Saturday. With the victory over the Wolfpack, Maryland assured itself of finishing with at least a .500 record in ACC play. But because of its dearth of wins over RPI top-50 foes (only two victories over Florida State), Maryland might need to finish 10-6 in league play to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. The Terps are only 2-7 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-7 against the top 100. There isn't much that is impressive about the Terps' nonconference profile, either, with their best victory coming against RPI No. 103 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 [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 40, SOS: 56] The Seminoles moved back above .500 in ACC play by throttling UVa on the road Wednesday night, keeping their NCAA at-large chances alive. FSU will have myriad opportunities to impress the NCAA selection committee before Selection Sunday. Florida State gets a week off before playing at UNC on Feb. 24 and then plays consecutive home games against Clemson on Feb. 28 and Wake Forest on March 3. The Seminoles close 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 at home. 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 [21-4 (8-3), RPI: 47, SOS: 193] The Hokies continue to surprise everybody but themselves, beating Wake Forest 87-83 at home on Tuesday. The win over the Demon Deacons gives Virginia Tech a much-needed signature victory and solidifies its position as an ACC title contender. The Hokies' strong play in ACC action is probably enough to overlook their soft nonconference schedule, but they might want to finish at least 10-6 in conference play to feel really good about getting an NCAA at-large bid. The Hokies have only one other 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. The Hokies can really help themselves over the next two weeks. They play at Duke on Sunday night and play at Boston College on Feb. 24. Virginia Tech hosts Maryland on Feb. 27 and NC State on March 3, before closing the regular season at Georgia Tech on March 6. The Hokies are 2-2 against RPI top-50 opponents and 8-4 against the top 100.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Missouri|
Work left to do: Oklahoma State
The reconstruction of Baylor basketball is complete. After struggling in the aftermath of one of the worst scandals in college basketball history, the Bears are headed back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. With a 20-5 record and RPI rating in the top 15, Baylor has done more than enough to deserve an at-large bid. The Bears won for the fifth time in six games by beating Texas Tech 88-70 at home on Tuesday night. Missouri also moved much closer to an at-large bid by beating Texas on Wednesday.
Missouri [19-7 (7-4), RPI: 38, SOS: 50] After narrowly losing at Baylor on Saturday, the Tigers picked up a big victory on Wednesday, defeating Texas 82-77 at home. It was Missouri's fifth victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, after also beating Kansas State (home), Oklahoma State (home), Texas Tech (road) and Old Dominion (neutral court). The Tigers are 2-5 in road games, 5-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-6 against the top 100. They play at Nebraska on Saturday and host Colorado on Feb. 24. Missouri will have a couple of more chances to impress the selection committee with a Feb. 27 road game at Kansas State and a March 6 home game against rival Kansas.
Oklahoma State [18-7 (6-5), RPI: 32, SOS: 40] The Pokes stayed on track this week, even after losing freshman guard Ray Penn to a stress fracture in his right knee. The Cowboys beat Iowa State 69-64 on the road on Wednesday, giving them some much-needed momentum heading into a very difficult four-game stretch. 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. Okie State is 3-5 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.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, South Florida, Marquette, Notre Dame|
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is back on the bench, and the Huskies are back in the NCAA tournament bubble debate after stunning Villanova 84-75 in Philadelphia on Big Monday. The Huskies will have to do plenty of work between now and season's end, but their schedule strength and two big victories (Nova and Texas) at least make them a fringe candidate. The rest of the Big East bubble picture is as muddled as ever, although Louisville and South Florida continue to help themselves. Notre Dame's at-large chances seem to be on life support, especially with star Luke Harangody sidelined with an injured knee.
Louisville [17-9 (8-5), RPI: 30, SOS: 5] The Cardinals seem to be turning it on near the end of the regular season, which is when coach Rick Pitino's teams traditionally play their best basketball. After upsetting Syracuse 66-60 on the road Sunday, Louisville survived a scare with a 91-89 double-overtime victory over Notre Dame at home on Wednesday. But the Cardinals aren't out of the bubble woods by any stretch of the imagination. They have only three wins over RPI top-50 foes, beating Syracuse on the road and No. 48 UConn and No. 50 Cincy at home. Louisville is 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-5 against the top 50 and 6-8 against the top 100. The Cards will try to improve their 2-6 road record when they play at DePaul on Saturday. Louisville's last four regular-season games -- home against Georgetown on Feb. 23, at Connecticut on Feb. 28, at Marquette on March 2 and home against Syracuse on March 6 -- will decide its postseason fate.
Connecticut [15-11 (5-8), RPI: 48, SOS: 1] After saying he was embarrassed by his team's performance in a 60-48 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, coach Jim Calhoun watched the Huskies stun Villanova on the road on Big Monday. The win puts UConn back in the bubble discussion, but it will need to accomplish a lot during the last three weeks of the regular season to have a chance. The Huskies have three wins over RPI top-50 opponents, also beating Texas and William & Mary at home. UConn is 1-5 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-8 against the top 50 and 8-9 against the top 100. The Huskies have played the country's toughest schedule, which will earn them some points with the NCAA selection committee, and eight of their 11 losses came against top-50 foes. The Huskies play at Rutgers on Saturday and host West Virginia on Monday and Louisville on Feb. 28. UConn closes the regular season with road games at Notre Dame on March 3 and at South Florida on March 6. The Huskies need a sizzling finish to feel good on Selection Sunday.
Cincinnati [15-10 (6-7), RPI: 50, SOS: 18] The Bearcats' at-large hopes took a hit when they lost at South Florida 65-57 on Tuesday night. The Bearcats host fellow Big East bubble team Marquette on Sunday and DePaul on Feb. 24. They still haven't beaten one of the league's upper-echelon teams, so their last three regular-season games -- at West Virginia on Feb. 27, home against Villanova on March 2 and at Georgetown on March 6 -- stand to be ultra-important. Cincinnati picked up four wins over RPI top-50 foes by beating Vanderbilt and Maryland at the Maui Invitational in late November and sweeping Connecticut. Cincinnati is only 2-7 in road games, 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes, 4-6 against the top 50 and 6-10 against the top 100.
Seton Hall [15-9 (6-7), RPI: 54, SOS: 16] The Pirates moved to within one game of .500 in Big East play by winning 59-50 at St. John's on Wednesday night. Seton Hall has one of the least-attractive profiles of the Big East bubble teams, so it has very little room for error down the stretch. The Pirates have won three games in a row (after losing three straight) and play at West Virginia on Saturday. The Pirates could really use a victory over a team like the Mountaineers to go with home wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville. Seton Hall is 3-5 in road games, 3-8 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-9 against the top 100. The good news for the Pirates: three of their last five regular-season games come against teams in the bottom four of the Big East standings. They play at Rutgers twice and play at Providence in the March 6 finale. Beating either West Virginia on Saturday or Marquette at home on Feb. 28 would really help the Hall's at-large chances.
South Florida [16-9 (6-7), RPI: 56, SOS: 49] The Bulls ended a two-game losing streak by beating Cincinnati at home on Tuesday, which earned them a split in the season series with the Bearcats. 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, 3-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-8 against the top 100. It hosts St. John's on Saturday and plays at Villanova on Feb. 24. The Bulls could really use a win over the Wildcats or Connecticut at home on March 6.
Marquette [16-8 (7-5), RPI: 61, SOS: 68] 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 three wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Georgetown (home), Xavier (neutral court) and Connecticut (road). They came close to beating five other top-50 foes, losing to Syracuse by five points (road), to Villanova by two (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. 129 NC State 77-73 at home and to No. 181 DePaul 51-50 on the road. Marquette hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday night and plays at Cincinnati on Sunday. Huge games.
Notre Dame [17-10 (6-8), RPI: 76, SOS: 65] After losing to the Cardinals in double overtime on Wednesday, the Irish remain a fringe bubble candidate at best. The only reason they're still in the discussion is because they played Louisville so well without Luke Harangody. Regardless, Notre Dame will have to do a lot of work between now and Selection Sunday to have a decent chance at an NCAA at-large bid. It has one win over an RPI top-50 foe, beating West Virginia 70-68 at home. Other than beating Cincinnati at home and sweeping games against fellow Big East bubble team South Florida, there just isn't much meat on the Irish's resume. Notre Dame is 1-6 in road games, 2-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-8 against the top 100. Notre Dame gets a week off before a difficult four-game stretch to close the regular season: home against Pittsburgh on Feb. 24, at Georgetown on Feb. 27, home against Connecticut on March 3 and at Marquette on March 6. It might have to win three of those games -- or beat Pitt and Georgetown -- to have a real chance on Selection Sunday.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Illinois|
Northwestern will probably have to wait at least one more season to play in its first NCAA tournament (unless, of course, the Wildcats win next month?s Big Ten tournament). After surviving a Big Ten bubble elimination game against Minnesota on Sunday, the Wildcats lost at home to Penn State 81-70 on Wednesday. With a middling computer profile, Northwestern couldn?t afford losing to the Nittany Lions. Meanwhile, Purdue is making a late push for a Big Ten title, beating Ohio State 60-57 on the road to stay even with Michigan State in the loss column in the league standings.
Illinois [17-9 (9-4), RPI: 71, SOS: 76] The Illini were red-hot before getting routed by Ohio State 72-53 at home 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 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 RPI sub-90 losses, falling to Georgia, Bradley and Utah on neutral courts. The Illini and their shaky 71 RPI rating 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.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: San Diego State, UNLV|
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 19 of their last 21 games, and the Lobos have won 10 games in a row. UNLV remains in pretty good shape for an at-large bid, while San Diego State is firmly on the bubble.
San Diego State [19-7 (8-4), RPI: 39, SOS: 75] The Aztecs won at TCU 68-51 on Wednesday night, keeping alive their late-season push toward an at-large bid. San Diego State beat fellow MWC bubble team UNLV last week, which could be huge on Selection Sunday. That 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 two ugly losses: 71-63 at RPI No. 123 Pacific on Nov. 25 and 85-83 at No. 223 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 Utah on Saturday before playing at BYU next week.
UNLV [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 44, SOS: 66] The Runnin' Rebels lost at Utah 66-61 on Wednesday night. They probably missed a chance to 'lock' up an NCAA at-large bid by losing two games last week, and the loss to the Utes puts them in a much more precarious position. UNLV lost to New Mexico 76-66 at home on Feb. 10 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 pretty good shape, with an 8-3 record in road games, 4-4 record against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 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.
|Work left to do: California, Washington|
It's looking more and more like only one Pac-10 team will play in the NCAA tournament if California wins the league tourney. At the moment, the Bears seem to be the league's only team with a legitimate chance of receiving an at-large bid, after sweeping the Washington schools last week. The Huskies are still in the discussion for another week, but they're a fringe bubble candidate and probably can't afford another defeat. Arizona State might have an outside shot, but the Sun Devils have only two wins over RPI top-100 opponents.
California [17-8 (9-4), RPI: 21, SOS: 2] The Golden Bears remain the Pac-10's best (and only?) real hope for an NCAA at-large bid. And California's at-large 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 also beat Washington 93-81 to take a one-game lead over Arizona State in the Pac-10 standings. They 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 (0-4 against such foes). The Bears are 4-7 against the top 100, with their best nonconference win coming against RPI No. 78 Murray State. The Bears play at Oregon State on Thursday and at Oregon on Saturday.
Washington [17-8 (7-6), RPI: 52, SOS: 42] The Huskies' at-large chances were certainly hurt with their 12-point loss at California last week, but they did bounce back to win their first road game of the season (78-61 at Stanford on Saturday). The Huskies have a couple of RPI top-50 wins, beating Texas A&M and Cal at home. But 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 (they need to win both), followed by three straight road games to end the regular season.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee|
Work left to do: Ole Miss, Florida, Mississippi State
The SEC bubble seems to be contracting with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. Mississippi State missed out on a great chance to improve its profile by losing to Kentucky in overtime on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs, Ole Miss and Florida have very little room for error down the stretch. Tennessee has probably all but locked up an at-large bid, but the Vols could use a couple of more victories to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
Tennessee [19-6 (7-4), RPI: 19, SOS: 23] The Volunteers moved a step closer to 'locking' up an at-large bid by beating Georgia 69-60 at home on Wednesday night. The Vols have two 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 2-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-6 against the top 100. Tennessee plays plays at South Carolina on Saturday and at Florida on Feb. 23. They host Kentucky on Feb. 27, which will be a golden opportunity to impress the NCAA selection committee. Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, the Vols should feel pretty confident on Selection Sunday.
Ole Miss [17-7 (5-5), RPI: 49, SOS: 69] 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 so-so 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. Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt on Thursday and Florida on Saturday and really can't afford to lose either game after dropping three of its last four.
Florida [17-8 (6-4), RPI: 63, SOS: 73] 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.
Mississippi State [18-8 (6-5), RPI: 64, SOS: 107] The Bulldogs squandered a great opportunity to move to the right side of the NCAA bubble, losing to Kentucky 81-75 in overtime on Tuesday night. Aside from a series sweep of No. 49 Ole Miss, MSU's only other win over an RPI top-50 opponent came against Old Dominion in the South Padre Island Invitational in late November. Other than that, the Bulldogs' best victories came against Wright State and Georgia. That's probably not enough to impress the NCAA selection committee. The Bulldogs are 3-3 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-5 against the top 100. MSU plays at LSU on Feb. 20 and hosts Alabama on Feb. 24. It has one more chance to pick up a signature victory: home against Tennessee in the March 6 regular-season finale.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Northern Iowa|
Work left to do: UAB, Siena, Utah State, Old Dominion, Saint Mary's, William & Mary, Cornell, UTEP, Northeastern
Four teams from mid-major conferences barely avoided back-breaking upsets this week. Wichita State nearly lost to woebegone Evansville for the second time in eight days. CAA contenders Northeastern and William & Mary had to come from behind to win road games, and UAB pulled away late to win at Southern Miss. Mid-major play really cranks up this weekend with BracketBuster games from coast to coast.
Northern Iowa [23-3 (14-2), RPI: 23, SOS: 134] The Panthers bounced back from their first loss in more than three weeks, beating Creighton 70-52 on Tuesday night. Northern Iowa's 68-59 loss at Bradley on Saturday was only its second loss in its last 23 games. The Panthers should still feel pretty good about their NCAA at-large chances. They beat Siena by 17 and are 9-2 in true road games. UNI can really help itself by winning its BracketBuster game against Old Dominion at home on Friday night. The Bradley loss was UNI's second to an RPI sub-100 team; it also lost to RPI No. 181 DePaul 60-52 in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 20.
UAB [20-5 (8-3), RPI: 31, SOS: 93] The Blazers avoided a C-USA road disaster on Wednesday night, pulling away late for a 59-54 win at Southern Miss. The Blazers can't afford many more losses with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. UAB is riding a 67-57 victory over RPI No. 22 Butler at home on Dec. 22 and so-so wins over Tulsa and Marshall. The Blazers are 1-0 against RPI top-25 foes and 6-4 against the top 100. UAB's 8-3 record in road games will help its chances. UAB plays two key C-USA games in the final week: home against Memphis on March 3 and at UTEP on March 6.
Siena [22-5 (15-1), RPI: 33, SOS: 127] Can one loss outweigh 24 or 25 victories on Selection Sunday? Siena had the country's longest winning streak at 15 games in a row 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 MAAC tournament early next month. Siena doesn't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent; its best wins came against No. 59 Northeastern and a sweep of No. 100 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.
Utah State [21-6 (11-2), RPI: 36, SOS: 84] The Aggies stayed in the bubble discussion by beating better-than-you-think Louisiana Tech 67-61 at home on Wednesday night. The Aggies have won 11 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. Louisiana Tech was only the fourth RPI top-100 team other than the Cougars to lose to Utah State; the Aggies also swept games against No. 68 Nevada and No. 72 Weber State and have a home win over No. 95 Morehead State. In fact, 13 of Utah State's 20 victories came against RPI sub-100 opponents, including seven against sub-200 teams. The Aggies host Wichita State in a BracketBuster game on Saturday. They will probably have to reach the finals of next month's WAC tournament to feel remotely safe on Selection Sunday.
Old Dominion [21-7 (13-3), RPI: 41, SOS: 95] By beating Towson 78-67 at home on Tuesday night, the Monarchs remained tied with Northeastern for the CAA lead with a 13-3 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 four victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating Georgetown (road), Charlotte (home) and William & Mary (home and road). ODU is 3-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-6 against the top 100. It plays at Northern Iowa in Friday night's BracketBuster game and closes CAA play at Georgia State on Feb. 23 and home against VCU on Feb. 27.
Saint Mary's [21-5 (8-3), RPI: 45, SOS: 114] The Gaels' NCAA at-large chances are probably all but dead after they lost two games last week. The Gaels really needed to earn at least a split with WCC 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 NCAA at-large bid.
William & Mary [19-7 (11-5), RPI: 46, SOS: 85] The Tribe continue to live on the edge, rallying from an 11-point deficit at the half to beat George Mason 63-60 on the road on Tuesday night. William & Mary won its fourth consecutive game heading into Friday night's BracketBuster game at Iona. William & Mary has three victories that will outweigh most of the other at-large contenders. 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. 230 UNC-Wilmington and at No. 244 James Madison. The Tribe are 3-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-5 against the top 100. They close CAA play at home against Towson on Feb. 24 and at UNC-Wilmington on Feb. 27.
Cornell [21-4 (7-1), RPI: 55, SOS: 200] 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 on Friday night. 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 to 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 3-3 against the top 100.
UTEP [19-5 (10-1), RPI: 57, SOS: 137] The Miners have won nine games in a row, knocking off C-USA contenders Memphis (road), UAB (road) and Tulsa (home) along the way. The Miners defeated SMU 62-51 on the road on Feb. 10 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. 88 Oklahoma (neutral court). The Miners play two key road games next: at Tulsa on Saturday and at Southern Miss on Feb. 24.
Northeastern [18-9 (13-3), RPI: 59, SOS: 89] The Huskies came from 14 points back to beat UNC-Wilmington 65-56 on the road on Tuesday night, earning them a first-round bye in the upcoming CAA tournament. Northeastern remained tied with ODU for first place in the CAA standings, but it might sit behind the Monarchs and William & Mary in the league's NCAA at-large pecking order. Northeastern's at-large chances were hurt by its 53-52 loss at William & Mary last week. 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 four losses to RPI top-50 teams, losing at Siena by six points, at Rhode Island by three, at William & Mary by one and against Saint Mary's by 11 on a neutral court. But the Huskies also were swept by RPI No. 102 Drexel and have three other losses to sub-100 opponents, falling to No. 109 Providence (home), No. 141 Western Michigan (neutral court) and No. 169 Boston U. (road). Northeastern hosts Louisiana Tech in a BracketBuster game on Saturday and finishes CAA play at home against Hofstra on Feb. 23 and at George Mason on Feb. 27.