College Basketball Bubble Watch
Bubble contracting as time runs out for at-large hopefuls
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Xavier, Richmond|
Work left to do: Rhode Island, Dayton, Charlotte, Saint Louis
The best conference race few people are talking about should begin to shake out this week. Three teams are tied in the loss column for first place in the A-10 standings. At least one of them will end the week with a third loss in league play, as Xavier hosts red-hot Richmond on Sunday. Temple, the other team with two losses in A-10 play, hosts Dayton on Wednesday.
Xavier [19-7 (10-2), RPI: 20, SOS: 25] The Musketeers remain in pretty good shape after winning at Charlotte 81-67 on Saturday. Xavier plays two big A-10 games this week -- at suddenly dangerous Saint Louis on Wednesday night and home against Richmond on Sunday -- and can go a long way in "locking" up an at-large bid by winning both. Xavier is 2-6 against RPI top-50 foes, beating A-10 foes Rhode Island and Dayton at home. The Musketeers also have a good road win at Florida. All but one of Xavier's seven losses came against RPI top-50 opponents, including five against top-25 foes. The Musketeers close the regular season with a road game at Fordham on March 3 and a home game against St. Bonaventure on March 6.
Richmond [22-6 (11-2), RPI: 27, SOS: 85] The Spiders remained one of the country's hottest teams, beating George Washington 74-70 at home Saturday, their eighth victory in a row and 10th in their past 11 games. 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. UR gets a week of rest before a difficult three-game stretch to close the regular season: at Xavier on Sunday, home against Dayton on March 4 and at Charlotte on March 6.
Rhode Island [20-6 (8-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 54] The Rams stopped their recent bleeding by beating Fordham 101-75 at home Saturday. That victory ended a three-game losing streak, which really put a dent in Rhode Island's at-large hopes. 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 fellow A-10 bubble teams Xavier (road) and Richmond (home). URI 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 played 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 [18-8 (7-5), RPI: 42, SOS: 37] The Flyers' at-large chances are dwindling after they suffered their second loss to an RPI sub-75 opponent in eight days, falling at Duquesne 73-71 on Sunday. That loss came on the heels of Dayton's 68-65 overtime loss at Saint Louis on Feb. 13. The Flyers have a decent résumé, with 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 5-7 against the top 100. The Flyers also will have to overcome one eyesore on their résumé: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 193 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23. Dayton is going to have to finish strong to have any chance at an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. It plays at Temple on Wednesday and hosts Massachusetts on Saturday. The Flyers close the regular season with a road game at Richmond on March 4 and a home game against the Billikens on March 6.
Charlotte [18-8 (8-4), RPI: 55, SOS: 108] Charlotte's late-season swoon continued Saturday with its 81-67 loss to Xavier at home. It was the 49ers' third straight loss after they had won seven in a row. Charlotte has three victories over RPI top-50 foes, defeating Temple (home), Richmond (road) and Louisville (road). Seven of Charlotte's eight losses came against RPI top-50 opponents, but they weren't competitive in many of them, with losses by 42 at Duke, 33 at Old Dominion, 17 at Tennessee and 28 at Dayton. The 49ers are 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-7 against the top 50 and 4-8 against the top 100. Charlotte can't afford to lose either of its next two games: home against Saint Joe's on Wednesday and at George Washington on Saturday. It also needs to win at least one of its last two regular-season games -- at Rhode Island on March 3 and home against Richmond on March 6 -- to have a chance on Selection Sunday.
Saint Louis [18-8 (9-3), RPI: 82, SOS: 142] The Billikens' improbable late-season run toward an NCAA at-large bid continued with a 69-56 win at Massachusetts on Sunday. Saint Louis has won six games in a row. It has three home victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Richmond, Dayton and Rhode Island. The Billikens are 4-5 in road games, 3-1 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-5 against the top 100. The Billikens also have three losses to RPI sub-100 opponents, losing to Iowa State (neutral court), George Washington (road) and Bowling Green (road). The Billikens will have a few chances to improve their profile before the end of the regular season. SLU ends with three straight home games, starting with Xavier on Wednesday night and followed by Duquesne on Saturday and Temple on March 3. It closes the regular season at Dayton on March 6.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Maryland|
Work left to do: Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Duke took a big step toward winning the ACC regular-season championship by beating Virginia Tech 67-55 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday night. The Blue Devils maintained a one-game lead in the loss column over Maryland and opened up a two-game edge over the Hokies. The Terrapins won three games last week to move up a line to "should be in" status. Clemson also looks to be moving closer to that status, while Georgia Tech continued to struggle on the road.
Maryland [19-7 (9-3), RPI: 36, SOS: 32] The Terrapins sure looked like an NCAA-worthy team last week, sweeping three games against Virginia (home), NC State (road) and Georgia Tech (home). The win over the Yellow Jackets, which came on Cliff Tucker's buzzer-beater at the Comcast Center, was especially big. It was Maryland's third victory over an RPI top-50 foe (the others were a sweep of Florida State). The Terps are 3-6 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-6 against the top 100. There isn't much that is impressive about the Terps' nonconference profile, though, with their best victory coming against RPI No. 107 Fairfield. The Terps host Clemson on Wednesday and play at Virginia Tech on Saturday. They play Duke at home on March 3 and finish the regular season at Virginia on March 6.
Georgia Tech [18-9 (6-7), RPI: 33, SOS: 16] Because of their strong computer profile and four quality victories, the Yellow Jackets still seem to be in good shape for an at-large bid. But if they end up making the NCAA tournament's 65-team field, they might hope to get shipped as far west as possible. Georgia Tech probably doesn't have any chance of winning near an ACC opponent's home floor. The Yellow Jackets lost at Maryland 76-74 on Saturday, their sixth defeat in seven ACC road games. The Yellow Jackets have four wins over RPI top-40 teams (Duke, Wake Forest, Siena and Clemson) and are 8-8 against RPI top-100 foes. Georgia Tech plays two of its last three games at home, hosting Boston College on Saturday, playing at Clemson on March 2 and hosting Virginia Tech on March 6. It would be highly advisable to win at least two of those three.
Clemson [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 33, SOS: 34] The Tigers did what they needed to do on Saturday, blasting Virginia 72-49 at Littlejohn Coliseum. As a result, Clemson stayed on the right side of the bubble with four ACC regular-season games to go. 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 7-6 against the top 100. They have only one RPI sub-100 loss, falling 75-69 at Boston College. Clemson has won four of five games and travels to Maryland on Wednesday. It plays at FSU on Sunday, before hosting Georgia Tech on March 2 and closing the regular season at Wake Forest on March 7.
Florida State [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 40, SOS: 47] The Seminoles moved back above .500 in ACC play by beating Virginia 69-50 on the road in their last game, keeping their NCAA at-large chances alive. FSU will have myriad opportunities to impress the NCAA selection committee before Selection Sunday. Florida State had a week off before playing at UNC on Wednesday. The Noles play consecutive home games against Clemson on Sunday and Wake Forest on March 3. The Noles 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 6-6 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 [21-5 (8-4), RPI: 44, SOS: 156] The Hokies' 12-point loss at Duke on Sunday night might have cost them a shot at playing for the ACC regular-season championship, but it shouldn't damage their chances at an at-large bid too much. The NCAA selection committee knows the Blue Devils rarely lose at Cameron Indoor. While Virginia Tech's overall body of work is still somewhat lacking, its surprisingly strong play in ACC action is probably enough to overlook its soft nonconference schedule (ranked 337th). But Virginia Tech can't afford to lose the game it's supposed to win, starting with Wednesday's game at Boston College. The Hokies have just two wins over RPI top-50 foes, beating Wake Forest and Clemson at home. Other than a so-so win over Seton Hall (neutral court), there really isn't much else to crow about on Tech's resume. After playing at BC, the Hokies host Maryland on Saturday and NC State on March 3. Virginia Tech closes the regular season at Georgia Tech on March 6.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Oklahoma State|
Can No. 1 Kansas finish unbeaten in league play? That's about the only drama left in the Big 12, where half of the league has done enough to probably secure a spot in the NCAA's 65-team field. Baylor and Missouri became the latest teams to join the "lock" line, and Oklahoma State took a big step toward doing so by beating Baylor 82-75 at home Saturday. Texas Tech, which fell to 4-8 in league play after losing to Texas 71-67 at home this weekend, is off the bubble board.
Oklahoma State [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 29, SOS: 36] The Pokes really helped themselves by beating Baylor 82-75 at home, improving to 3-2 against RPI top-25 foes. They will have three more chances to impress the NCAA selection committee: OSU plays at Texas on Wednesday, hosts No. 1 Kansas on Saturday and plays at Texas A&M on March 3. OSU is 3-5 in road games, 4-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-6 against the top 100. The Pokes have three high-quality Big 12 wins (they also beat Kansas State 73-69 on the road on Jan. 23 and defeated Texas A&M 72-69 at home on Jan. 27), but their nonconference work leaves a lot to be desired. OSU's best non-Big 12 victory came against RPI No. 110 Bradley.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Louisville, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Marquette, South Florida, Notre Dame|
Pittsburgh's 70-65 victory over No. 3 Villanova on Sunday gave Syracuse a one-game lead in the Big East standings. But the real drama comes in the middle of the 16-team league, where five teams are tied for eighth place with a 6-8 mark against Big East foes. All of those teams -- Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall and South Florida -- remain in contention for an NCAA at-large bid. UConn, which was left for dead just nine days ago, has taken a couple of steps forward -- while most of the others have taken steps back.
Louisville [18-9 (9-5), RPI: 30, SOS: 9] The Cardinals keep winning and their computer profile keeps improving dramatically. Louisville won its third game in a row Saturday, beating DePaul 68-59 on the road. The Cardinals can really separate themselves from the Big East bubble pack (or fall far behind) in their last four games. They host Georgetown on Tuesday and play at Connecticut on Sunday. Louisville closes the regular season with a road game at Marquette on March 2 and a home game against Syracuse on March 6. The Cards could really use a victory over one of the Big East's top-end teams. They're only 2-5 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-8 against the top 100. Louisville could also use a road victory or two to improve its 3-6 record in true road games.
Connecticut [16-11 (6-8), RPI: 45, SOS: 2] The Huskies have very little room for error, and they played with that kind of mindset in a 76-58 rout at Rutgers on Saturday. The road gets much tougher during the last two weeks of the regular season, though, with a home game against West Virginia on Big Monday and a home game against Louisville on Sunday. The Huskies finish the regular season with road games at Notre Dame on March 3 and at South Florida on March 6. UConn is only 2-6 in true road games. It is 3-6 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-9 against the top 100. The Huskies' three wins over RPI top-50 opponents are against Villanova (road), Texas (home) and William & Mary (home). The Huskies have played the country's second-toughest schedule, which will earn them some points with the NCAA selection committee, and six of their 11 losses came against top-50 foes. The Huskies need a sizzling finish to feel good on Selection Sunday.
Seton Hall [15-10 (6-8), RPI: 51, SOS: 13] The Pirates missed a chance to really impress the NCAA selection committee, losing at West Virginia 75-63 on Saturday. 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 lost four of their past seven games, but nine of their 10 losses have come against RPI top-50 foes. Seton Hall is 3-6 in road games, 3-9 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-10 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 Rutgers twice (home on Tuesday and road on March 4), play at Marquette on Sunday and close the regular season at Providence on March 6.
Cincinnati [15-11 (6-8), RPI: 56, SOS: 17] The Bearcats' at-large hopes are probably on life support after they lost to Marquette 79-76 in overtime Sunday. Cincinnati has lost five of its past seven games, falling two games below .500 and into a five-way tie for eighth place in the league standings. The Bearcats host DePaul on Wednesday in what is absolutely a must-win. They really need some high-end victories, so their last three regular-season games (at West Virginia on Saturday, home against Villanova on March 2 and at Georgetown on March 6) stand to be ultra-important. Cincy picked up four wins over RPI top-50 foes, 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 7-11 against the top 100.
Marquette [17-9 (8-6), RPI: 59, SOS: 55] The Golden Eagles continued to make a late push toward an NCAA at-large bid, beating fellow Big East bubble team Cincinnati 79-76 in overtime on the road Sunday. Marquette has won six of its past seven games, but is 3-7 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-7 against the top 100. The Golden Eagles' three wins over RPI top-50 opponents are against Georgetown (home), Xavier (neutral court) and Connecticut (road). They came close to beating six 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), to Pitt by seven (home) and to Florida State by one (neutral). The Golden Eagles have two RPI sub-100 losses, losing to RPI No. 116 NC State 77-73 at home and to No. 182 DePaul 51-50 on the road. Marquette plays at St. John's on Wednesday and at Seton Hall on Sunday. It closes the regular season with home games against Louisville on March 2 and Notre Dame on March 6.
South Florida [16-10 (6-8), RPI: 68, SOS: 52] The Bulls' at-large hopes, like Cincinnati's, seem fleeting at best. They've lost three of their past four games and looked really bad in a 74-58 loss to St. John's at home Saturday. 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, 2-3 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-9 against the top 100. The Bulls need to fare very well in their last four games: at Villanova on Wednesday, home against Providence on Saturday, at DePaul on March 2 and home against Connecticut on March 6.
Notre Dame [17-10 (6-8), RPI: 80, SOS: 66] Star forward Luke Harangody can't get back from a knee injury soon enough for the Fighting Irish. After losing to Louisville in double overtime without him last week, the Irish remain a fringe bubble candidate at best. The only reason they're still in the discussion is because they played the Cardinals so well without Gody, who remains questionable with a bruised knee. 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, 1-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-8 against the top 100. Notre Dame begins a difficult close to the regular season with a home game against Pitt on Wednesday and a road game at Georgetown on Saturday. The Irish play Connecticut at home on March 3 and at Marquette on March 6. They 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, Minnesota|
With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Big Ten race remains hotly contested. Four teams are within two games of front-runner Purdue in the league standings, and all but Illinois has probably done enough to lock up an NCAA at-large bid. The only other drama in the Big Ten is whether the Illini and Minnesota can do enough damage the rest of the way to make the NCAA's 65-team field.
Illinois [17-10 (9-5), RPI: 71, SOS: 60] After an impressive swing that included victories over Michigan State at home and Wisconsin on the road, the Illini have lost consecutive games to put their at-large chances in jeopardy. Illinois lost at Purdue 75-65 on Saturday, dropping its record to 4-6 against RPI top-50 foes. The Illini are 5-3 in road games and 6-8 against the RPI top 100. The Illini need to take care of business this week -- at Michigan on Tuesday and home against Minnesota on Saturday -- before their difficult two-game stretch to close the regular season. They play at Ohio State on March 2 and host Wisconsin on March 6. Illinois has four high-end victories, beating Vanderbilt (home), Wisconsin (road), Michigan State (home) and Clemson (road). But the Illini have four RPI sub-75 losses, falling to Georgia, Bradley and Utah on neutral courts and losing to Northwestern on the road.
Minnesota [16-10 (7-7), RPI: 77, SOS: 53] The Gophers worked themselves back into the bubble discussion by beating Wisconsin 68-52 at home Thursday night and following that with a blowout win over Indiana 81-58 at home Saturday. The Gophers have three quality victories, defeating Butler (neutral court), Wisconsin (home) and Ohio State (home). They're 3-5 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-8 against the top 100. The Gophers face a big week, hosting Purdue on Wednesday and playing at Illinois on Saturday. They close the regular season at Michigan on March 2 and home against Iowa on March 7. The Gophers have two RPI sub-100 losses, falling to Michigan 71-63 at home on Feb. 11 and losing at Indiana 81-78 in overtime on Jan. 17.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: San Diego State, UNLV|
BYU and New Mexico are tied in the loss column for first place in the MWC standings, and those teams might play for the league championship in Provo, Utah, on Saturday afternoon. First, the Cougars must survive Wednesday night's home game against hard-charging San Diego State. The Lobos play at Colorado State on Tuesday.
San Diego State [20-7 (9-4), RPI: 38, SOS: 77] The Aztecs have won four games in a row and eight of their past 10 to make a real push for an NCAA at-large bid. San Diego State beat Utah 68-61 at home Saturday, improving its record in MWC play to 9-4. SDSU split games against New Mexico and MWC bubble team UNLV and lost at home to BYU on Jan. 23. The Aztecs could really help themselves by winning at BYU on Wednesday night. San Diego State's nonconference profile isn't as strong as others in the MWC, 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. 123 Pacific on Nov. 25 and 85-83 at No. 211 Wyoming on Jan. 9. San Diego State is 2-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-5 against the top 100. After playing the Cougars, San Diego State closes the regular season with a home game against Colorado State on March 3 and a road game at Air Force on March 6.
UNLV [20-7 (8-5), RPI: 43, SOS: 68] The Runnin' Rebels blasted Colorado State 70-39 at home Saturday, perhaps taking out their frustrations from a recent three-game slide. 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. The Rebels split games against MWC leaders BYU and New Mexico, as well as fellow MWC bubble team San Diego State. UNLV should be heavily favored in each of its last three MWC regular-season games: home against TCU on Wednesday, at Air Force on Saturday and home against Wyoming in the March 6 finale.
|Work left to do: California, Arizona State, Washington|
Arizona State joined the Pac-10's bubble candidates this week, but the Sun Devils have hardly done enough to garner serious at-large consideration. California and ASU are tied in the loss column for first place in the Pac-10 standings, but neither team looks NCAA-worthy at this point. The Bears lost at Oregon State by 16 points Thursday. Washington, another bubble team, lost to USC at home with so much at stake. Both bounced back with wins over the weekend, but the overall resumes are thin.
California [18-9 (10-5), RPI: 23, SOS: 4] The Bears' at-large chances really took a jolt with their 80-64 loss at RPI No. 181 Oregon State on Thursday. Cal bounced back to beat Oregon 64-49 on the road Saturday, but the Bears' loss to the Beavers was their second to an RPI sub-100 opponent (the Bears also lost to UCLA 76-75 in overtime on Jan. 6). 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, going 0-4 against such foes. The Bears are 5-7 against the top 100, with their best nonconference wins coming against RPI No. 77 Murray State and No. 97 UC Santa Barbara. The Bears play home games against Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday, before closing the regular season at Stanford on March 6.
Arizona State [19-8 (9-5), RPI: 58, SOS: 79] The Sun Devils' overall body of work hardly suggests they're a legitimate bubble team, but it's hard to ignore a team that is tied in the loss column for first place in the Pac-10 standings. Arizona State beat rival Arizona 73-69 on the road Sunday, improving its record to 9-5 against Pac-10 foes. The Sun Devils have just one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, defeating San Diego State 55-52 at home on Dec. 19. It has only three other wins over RPI top-100 teams, beating Washington (home), UC Santa Barbara (home) and Arizona (road). The Sun Devils have won five of their past six games and play their next two contests on the road: at Stanford on Thursday and at California on Saturday. ASU closes the regular season with home games against USC on March 4 and UCLA on March 6.
Washington [18-9 (8-7), RPI: 60, SOS: 50] The Huskies had a mixed bag of results last week, losing to USC 67-64 at home Thursday before drilling UCLA 97-68 on Saturday night. With a 1-6 record in true road games and a middling computer profile, the Huskies remain a fringe bubble candidate at best. The Huskies have a couple of RPI top-50 wins, beating Texas A&M and Cal at home. But Washington's woeful record in road games definitely won't help its cause, nor will a 2-3 mark against RPI top-50 foes. The Huskies finish the regular season with three straight road games: at Washington State on Saturday, at Oregon on March 4 and at Oregon State on March 6.
|Work left to do: Florida, Mississippi State|
Kentucky took a big step toward claiming yet another SEC championship by winning 58-56 at Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Wildcats will carry a two-game lead over the Commodores in the SEC East standings into the final two weeks of the regular season. Florida might have been the league's biggest winner last week, sweeping games against Auburn at home and Ole Miss on the road to move to the right side of the bubble. The loss to the Gators knocked the Rebels out of the bubble discussion for now.
Florida [19-8 (8-4), RPI: 54, SOS: 72] The Gators won twice last week to bolster their at-large chances, beating Auburn 78-70 at home Thursday and defeating Ole Miss 64-61 on the road Saturday. The Gators probably still have some work to do, with only two wins over RPI top-50 foes. UF beat Michigan State (neutral court) and Florida State (home) in November, but hasn't beaten many teams of consequence since. Florida still has chances to improve its profile. It hosts Tennessee on Tuesday night and plays at Georgia on Saturday. It hosts Vanderbilt on March 2 and plays at Kentucky on March 7. The Gators are 2-6 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-7 against the top 100.
Mississippi State [19-8 (7-5), RPI: 65, SOS: 125] After wasting a great chance to beat Kentucky at home last week, the Bulldogs nearly squandered their at-large chances altogether before rallying to beat LSU 60-59 on the road Saturday, courtesy of Phil Turner's 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds to go. The Bulldogs' at-large chances still seem remote because of their dearth of quality victories. MSU's only win over an RPI top-50 opponent came against Old Dominion in the South Padre Island Invitational in late November. Besides sweeping rival Ole Miss 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 1-3 against RPI top-50 opponents and 5-4 against the top 100. MSU hosts Alabama on Wednesday and plays at South Carolina on Saturday. The Bulldogs close the regular season at Auburn on March 3 and home against Tennessee on March 6.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Northern Iowa, UTEP|
Work left to do: UAB, Utah State, Old Dominion, Saint Mary's, William & Mary, Cornell
Say goodbye to Siena, Northeastern and Wichita State. They might have been the biggest losers of BracketBusters weekend. All three teams will finish the regular season with gaudy records, but they have hardly done enough to deserve NCAA at-large bids. All of those aforementioned teams would be well-advised to win their respective conference tournaments to earn NCAA automatic bids.
Northern Iowa [24-3 (14-2), RPI: 15, SOS: 122] The Panthers went a long way toward "locking" up an at-large bid by defeating Old Dominion 71-62 at home in a BracketBuster game on Friday night. The win over the Monarchs was UNI's third over an RPI top-50 opponent (it also defeated Siena by 17 points at home and beat Wichita State at home). With the aforementioned victories and a 9-2 record in true road games, the Panthers should feel pretty good about their NCAA at-large chances. The Panthers are 3-1 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-1 against the top 100. UNI has two losses to RPI sub-100 opponents, falling to No. 110 Bradley 68-59 on the road on Feb. 13 and 60-52 to No. 182 DePaul on a neutral court. The Panthers will be heavily favored in their last Missouri Valley Conference regular-season games: at Evansville on Tuesday and home against Illinois State on Saturday.
UTEP [20-5 (11-1), RPI: 52, SOS: 133] The Miners won their 10th game in a row Saturday, beating Tulsa 78-70 on the road, maintaining their one-game lead over Memphis in the Conference USA standings. UTEP is 1-2 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. 66 New Mexico State (road) and No. 105 Oklahoma (neutral court). The Miners play at Southern Miss on Wednesday and host Rice on Saturday. They close C-USA play with two potentially difficult games: at Marshall on March 2 and home against UAB on March 6.
UAB [21-5 (9-3), RPI: 31, SOS: 94] The Blazers swept a pair of Conference USA games last week, beating Southern Miss 59-54 on the road Wednesday and defeating Houston 75-66 at home Saturday. UAB is still riding a 67-57 victory over RPI No. 18 Butler at home on Dec. 22 and so-so wins over Cincinnati (home), Tulsa (home), Georgia (home) and Marshall (road). 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 very winnable conference games this week: at Central Florida on Wednesday and home against Tulane on Saturday. Then the Blazers play two key C-USA games in the final week: home against Memphis on March 3 and at UTEP on March 6.
Utah State [22-6 (11-2), RPI: 34, SOS: 76] The Aggies picked up a pretty big win in a BracketBuster game Saturday night, defeating Wichita State 68-58 at home. The Aggies have won 12 games in a row and now have two victories over RPI top-50 opponents. They also defeated BYU 71-61 at home on Dec. 2, a victory that will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee. Utah State's schedule strength is still questionable, with 13 of its 21 victories coming against RPI sub-100 opponents (seven against sub-200 teams). The Aggies play at Hawaii on Thursday and host Fresno State on March 1. They close the regular season at home against New Mexico State on March 6. The Aggies probably can't afford a single loss in the regular season and need to win at least a couple of games in next month's WAC tournament.
Old Dominion [21-8 (13-3), RPI: 41, SOS: 82] The nine-point loss in the BracketBuster game at Northern Iowa might raise ODU's anxiety level, but the Monarchs still have a shot an NCAA at-large bid. Old Dominion has three victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating Georgetown (road) and sweeping William & Mary. ODU has only one loss to an RPI sub-100 opponent, losing 71-55 at George Mason on Jan. 2. It also has so-so home victories over Charlotte and Marshall. ODU is 3-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-7 against the top 100. It closes CAA play at Georgia State on Wednesday and home against VCU on Saturday.
Saint Mary's [22-5 (9-3), RPI: 46, SOS: 131] The Gaels' decision to pull out of a BracketBuster game could really come back to haunt them. After losing two of their past three games, they could have really used a marquee victory over another team from a mid-major conference. Saint Mary's beat RPI No. 222 San Diego 61-49 on the road Thursday, but that win didn't do much for its schedule strength and won't raise an eyebrow with the NCAA selection committee. Saint Mary's has two victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating San Diego State 80-58 at home Nov. 16 and beating Utah State 68-63 on the road 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 9-2 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. It plays its last two regular-season games at home, against Pepperdine on Thursday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
William & Mary [19-8 (11-5), RPI: 48, SOS: 83] The Tribe's 69-53 loss at Iona in a BracketBuster game Friday certainly didn't help their long-shot NCAA at-large chances. William & Mary had three big victories before the new year, winning at Wake Forest and Maryland and defeating Richmond at home. Those are significant wins against NCAA tournament teams. But the Tribe haven't beaten anybody of real consequence since and also have two really bad losses, falling in road games at RPI No. 236 North Carolina-Wilmington and at No. 252 James Madison. The Tribe is 3-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-6 against the top 100. They close CAA play at home against Towson on Wednesday and at UNC Wilmington on Saturday. Getting to the CAA finals is likely the only hope at this point -- and that might not even be enough.
Cornell [23-4 (9-1), RPI: 49, SOS: 188] Cornell took a big step toward winning the Ivy League regular-season championship -- and claiming the corresponding NCAA tournament automatic bid -- by beating Harvard 79-70 on the road Friday night. After defeating Dartmouth 88-70 on the road Saturday night, the Big Red maintained a one-game lead over Princeton in the Ivy League standings, and the teams will play at Cornell on Friday night. The Big Red have a couple of so-so victories over teams from BCS conferences, winning 71-67 at Alabama and 71-66 at St. John's. Cornell 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. Its 11-3 record in true road games will help its chances of earning an at-large bid if it doesn't win the Ivy League crown.