College Basketball Bubble Watch
MSU, Neitzel show what it takes to dance
It's true -- there is very little separating the teams in contention at that point. They've all lost their fair share of games and shown their fair share of weaknesses.
That's why, oftentimes, inclusion in the dance comes down to isolated moments of brilliance. Typically, they come during Championship Week. Just last season, Syracuse more than likely was saved by Gerry Mac's crazy 3 that beat Cincinnati in the first-round of the Big East Tournament (we'll ignore, for now, that several crazy shots and three more wins later, 'Cuse went from out of the bracket to a 5-seed, which was ridiculous -- unless you were a thrilled Texas A&M fan).
Every now and again, though, the regular season has one of those moments. We witnessed one Tuesday night.
Michigan State's upset of Wisconsin was huge for the Spartans' at-large hopes, as it's a quality of win that very few in the bubble mix will have. The bigger thing from my standpoint, though , was the performance of Drew Neitzel down the stretch.
Why? Well, when push comes to shove, and 10 men are trying to differentiate between numerous teams with similar and so-so profiles, are you going to take the nice, nondescript team? Or are you going to take the team with a fearless player who has shown the ability -- against both teams currently ranked No. 1 in the nation -- to completely take over a game and try to will his team to victory?
Neitzel didn't quite get the Spartans there in Columbus, but he did last night. That piece of Michigan State's overall profile -- having a stud who can carry a team in huge spots -- could be worth just as much on Selection Sunday as Tuesday's win itself.
Without further ado, here's the current bubble picture. And yes, Michigan State gets a bump up (for now), as did several others teams as overall positioning becomes clearer:
|The Bubble Breakdown|
|CONFERENCE||LOCKS||SHOULD BE INS||AT-LARGES TAKEN
(assuming no auto bid outlier)
As always, I've tried to be as inclusive as possible while only including teams that would have a reasonable chance of at least being discussed if this were Selection Sunday. If your team's not on here, there's probably a good reason (or three) -- start with the RPI and SOS numbers and work your way down.
(Please remember, per selection committee criteria, that records displayed are Division I only. Next update: Feb. 26)
If you have a legitimate grievance, or just like talking bubble, send an e-mail. Polite ones with fact-based arguments have a much better chance of receiving a response. I apologize in advance if I can't get back to all of you.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College|
Work left to do: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech
Duke moves back into the locks after winning at BC and beating Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils' profile (top-10 RPI, No. 3 SOS and NonConf SOS, seven RPI Top 50 wins) simply is better overall than three of the teams ahead of them in the ACC standings. Virginia Tech could have gotten there had it not been destroyed by NC State (again). Likewise, BC needs to wait after missing both big home chances this weekend. Virginia looks very solid to get in, too. After that? It's Maryland, which looks in much improved shape. If none of Clemson, Florida State or Georgia Tech rally big at the end, could that be where it ends for the ACC?
Should be in:
Virginia [31-2 (17-1), RPI: 1, SOS: 13] Huge home win over Florida State on Saturday has all but punched UVa's dance card. Tied for first in the ACC, it's not unthinkable that the Cavaliers could win their last four (at Miami, Ga Tech, Va Tech, at Wake) and win the regular-season crown outright if UNC loses again. They also have beaten Arizona and Gonzaga, if they need anything extra, which they won't.
Virginia Tech [21-11 (10-8), RPI: 57, SOS: 79] What kind of odds could you have gotten on an ACC team sweeping North Carolina and getting swept by NC State? The Hokies still seem almost certain to get in, but the inconsistency is unreal. Computer numbers aside, common sense sees separation at the top of the ACC and the top four teams (plus Duke, now) all looking exceedingly likely to dance. A win at Duke, along with a handful of other decent W's, help offset a couple of curious losses in nonconference play.
Maryland [18-13 (8-10), RPI: 74, SOS: 36] Enormous road win at Clemson gets the Terps back to .500 in ACC play and has them in much improved position to get into the dance. They still visit Duke and face UNC at home, but given the overall state of the bubble, the Terps are in solid shape right now. The CvC title does seem like ages ago, but it counts.
Boston College [19-15 (7-11), RPI: 95, SOS: 72] The Eagles still are all but a lock, but I'm glad I waited to bump them up, as home losses to Duke and UNC leave the Eagles a win short of where they need to be -- and the final three games (at Va Tech, Clemson, at Ga Tech) are not easy. The loss of Sean Williams is really manifesting itself on the defensive end, and BC has been unable the last two times out to overcome that with superior offensive production. BC has held only one of its last eight ACC opponents to under 1.10 points per possession, which is awful. For perspective, a season rate of 1.10 points allowed per possession ranks in the bottom 10 nationally (out of 336 teams, per midmajority.com).
Work left to do:
Clemson [23-9 (11-7), RPI: 10, SOS: 12] It's very bad news now for Clemson after dropping the game it needed to get at Wake Forest and then getting clobbered at home by Maryland. That makes it seven losses in nine games after the 17-0 start, and the Tigers are rapidly hurtling toward the NIT. They now almost certainly need to beat Duke at home, as road trips to BC and Va Tech remain. There are no great nonconference wins, but ODU, App-State, Miss. State, South Carolina and Georgia are all respectable W's. That might not be enough now, though.
Florida State [20-11 (9-9), RPI: 52, SOS: 87] The Seminoles' fourth straight loss, this time by three at UVa on Saturday, might have been a bubble life-threatening wound. Wins at Duke and over Florida will resonate, but FSU now is in ninth place in a league that looks like it will tap out at seven or, max, eight. Two of the final three are on the road (at Maryland and Miami), where the 'Noles continue to struggle, and they'll need at least a 7-9 mark to harbor any hopes of a bid. They probably will need all three, barring an unexpected run in the ACC tourney. The computer numbers are weakening Beyond Florida, they thrashed bubble buddy Providence, but there's not a ton beyond those two games that will help. They didn't show well in big-time opportunities against Pitt and Wisconsin (before the Florida win).
Georgia Tech [13-19 (6-12), RPI: 159, SOS: 35] Couldn't get it done at Duke, which ended a four-game winning streak. The Yellow Jackets are up against it now and will be strongly favored in only one of their final four (home vs. Wake Forest). Wins over Memphis and the Blue Devils help, but the middling RPI and SOS don't.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Texas|
Work left to do: Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Texas A&M and Kansas are golden. I was all set to move Texas into lock status, but the last three are tough and the computer profile's a touch light for my comfort to assume they could absorb four straight L's to close out the campaign. Oklahoma State suddenly is in significant amounts of hot water. K-State bounced back and then got bounced by KU again. Texas Tech took a big step back Tuesday night in Austin. Oklahoma's out. Missouri has some winnable games left, but even 9-7 probably isn't enough with its weak nonconference schedule.
Should be in:
Texas [19-14 (8-10), RPI: 51, SOS: 22] The 29-point win over Texas Tech all but stamped the Horns' ticket, but we'll hold off for now, as losses in the last three games would leave Texas at 3-8 against the RPI Top 50 and with a NonConf SOS close to 200. The last three -- at Oklahoma, Texas A&M and at Kansas -- are all losable. The Horns beat LSU and Arkansas in nonconference play and six of their losses are on the road or at neutral sites. Again, they're basically there. I'm just being super-careful.
Work left to do:
Texas Tech [24-9 (11-7), RPI: 21, SOS: 62] Problem time again for the Red Raiders, who inexplicably are 3-0 against Kansas and A&M and 3-7 against the rest of the Big 12. Tech will be an incredibly interesting bubble case -- it has the three huge league wins but not a lot in nonconference play (against Arkansas in Little Rock being the best win, by far). Would .500 in the Big 12 be enough? Probably depends on which last two they get and how they do in the conference tourney.
Missouri [19-12 (10-8), RPI: 40, SOS: 39] The Tigers pop into the watch on the strength of their third win in a row, this time over Oklahoma (knocking out the Sooners). There's not much to get excited about in nonconference play (Miss. State is the best win) or in the computer profile, but the next two games (at Nebraska, Colorado) are winnable, which would give them a chance to win six in a row and get a huge statement win at A&M in the season finale. The chances are slim, but we try to be all inclusive and the Tigers have a chance with more wins and a good tourney showing.
Kansas State [22-11 (10-8), RPI: 53, SOS: 89] Couldn't get it done at home against Kansas (again), but still is in decent shape. The Cats can see 10 league wins in the distance with at Colorado and versus Oklahoma still left on the schedule. The Cats also have a potential KO shot at OK State in Stillwater. The win over USC looks good. The 30-point loss to Cal doesn't. The RPI should improve a touch if they get to 10 league wins.
Oklahoma State [19-14 (8-10), RPI: 91, SOS: 69] This is one of the biggest developing stories on the downside. OK State was a lock team fairly recently, but the home loss to Missouri pushes the Cowboys -- still without an actual road win this season -- down below .500 in Big 12 play and very much onto the bubble. Up next? Texas A&M, and then three of the last four on the road. There are some good nonconference performances to lean on, specifically beating Missouri State and Syracuse on neutral floors and Pitt in OK City, but this is disintegrating quickly. If the Pokes can't right this soon, they could find themselves in the three-letter tournament.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Louisville, Notre Dame|
Work left to do: Villanova, West Virginia, Providence, Syracuse, DePaul
Georgetown and Pitt remain dead-solid locks. Marquette got back on track by handling Villanova, which is starting to see its position weaken. Louisville and Notre Dame get bumps up due to overall bubble position.
Should be in:
Louisville [20-13 (9-9), RPI: 36, SOS: 14] The Cardinals are the bubble mover of the week after backing up the upset at Pitt with an equally surprising win at Marquette. Knocking off two of the league leaders on the road dramatically improved the Cards' profile in every way: Marquee wins, computer numbers, record against Top 50 (still only 2-5) and Top 100 (helped a ton by a 6-3 mark against 51-100). The last three are very winnable, and two of them would get the 'Ville to 11 league wins, which surely would be enough.
Notre Dame [19-14 (8-10), RPI: 68, SOS: 53] Big spanking of DePaul has the Irish in very good shape. With a trip to Rutgers left, they don't even need to beat Marquette to get to 10 Big East wins, which should be enough. The main nonconference wins are over Maryland (recovering) and Alabama (middling), which helps, in part, to explain the modest RPI.
Work left to do:
Villanova [30-4 (14-4), RPI: 2, SOS: 19] Things are starting to get rather sticky for the Cats, as they dropped one at Marquette to fall back under .500 in league play. A softish last three (Rutgers, at UConn, Syracuse) should help the W/L, but will maybe weaken the RPI, so Nova can't mess around. The Cats have beaten Texas and swept the Big 5 (never easy in Philly), but have a couple of losses to bubble teams (Xavier, Drexel), too. I still think they'll be OK, even possibly at 8-8, but getting to 9-7 would very much help.
West Virginia [24-10 (11-7), RPI: 29, SOS: 52] Let a possible road win get away Tuesday night at Providence, which won't help the cause. With the next game at Pitt, the home finale against Cincy might loom large to get to 9-7. Even then, they might not be able to afford a first-round loss in the Big East tourney. WVU vs. Syracuse would be an interesting debate, as the teams don't play in the Big East regular season. WVU has the best win and the better RPI, but the 'Cuse has played the much better schedule. The UCLA win was great, but where is anything to back that? NC State is the only other halfway-decent nonconference win and most of the Big East wins have come against the bottom tier.
Providence [21-13 (10-8), RPI: 32, SOS: 11] Gutted out a home win against WVU to hang around for now. They very well might have to win their last three, though, barring an unexpected run to the Big East semis or so. The RPI, bad already, won't be helped by playing St. John's and South Florida in the final two league games. The next game, though, is the season's only meeting with Syracuse -- a team with a difficult last two after this one. That's a huge one for both squads.
Syracuse [20-13 (8-10), RPI: 39, SOS: 15] The final three (at Provy, G'town, at Nova) are not easy, and with the relative lack of nonconference heft and the weak computer numbers, Syracuse might need to get two of those to get on the right side of the fence. The good news is that the Orange are in a three-way tie for fourth right now (in the loss column) in a conference that will get many more bids than that.
DePaul [11-20 (4-14), RPI: 184, SOS: 71] A bad performance at Notre Dame probably ends most reasonable at-large hopes for the Blue Demons. They have beaten Kansas and Cal (right after the DeVon Hardin injury) earlier this season, but also have lost to bubble competition Bradley and Purdue, among others. The last two are at home against South Florida and Cincy, but 9-7 won't be enough without a fairly deep tourney run, it seems.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Michigan State, Indiana|
Work left to do: Purdue, Michigan, Illinois
Wisconsin and Ohio State are beyond locks. Good thing I waffled on Indiana and kept the Hoosiers out; back-to-back road losses followed that decision. Who's fourth now? Seems like Michigan State after the upset of Wisconsin. Yes, Purdue won the only meeting between the two teams by 24, but MSU's overall profile is a bit better and their schedule in conference has been harder. Can the Big Ten get more than four? It seems likely to get at least that many now.
Should be in:
Michigan State [29-4 (16-2), RPI: 15, SOS: 112] The Spartans got a gigantic home upset of Wisconsin Tuesday, and get a bump, but they're not out of the woods yet with a final three of Indiana, at Michigan and at Wisconsin. They might want to take out the Hoosiers to close a great homestand to feel more at ease, as MSU is only 1-6 away from home this season (and has lost its last six). Beating Texas early will hold up well, as will the rout of Bradley and the win over BYU, but will 8-8 be enough? Could be now with the marquee W in hand. The computer numbers are good and should continue to improve.
Indiana [16-15 (9-9), RPI: 123, SOS: 76] Oops. Losing at Purdue and then at Michigan leaves the Hoosiers feeling less safe. With home games left against Minnesota and Penn State and a road game at Northwestern all tucked in the last four, IU should be fine, but unexpected losses down the stretch will be very damaging, given the opponents.
Work left to do:
Purdue [28-6 (15-3), RPI: 9, SOS: 45] The Boilermakers got the big home win over Indiana and now can put themselves in great shape if they can escape with a win at Carver-Hawkeye on Wednesday. The last three are a home-and-home with Northwestern sandwiched around a home game versus Minnesota, so wins should be readily available. However it gets there, a 9-7 finish would leave Purdue with a solid shot heading into the conference tournament.
Michigan [27-7 (13-5), RPI: 12, SOS: 61] Pushed to the brink, the Wolverines took out Indiana to live to see another bubble day. The game at Illinois Wednesday night now is huge for both teams. Michigan is at Minnesota after that and then gets Michigan State and Ohio State at home. There is no marquee win yet in the profile and the Wolverines were splattered in several games against name opponents. Weak computer profile fueled by a lack of road wins isn't helping, either, but things look a touch better than they did before the IU win.
Illinois [13-18 (4-14), RPI: 179, SOS: 65] The Illini are taking care of business. The home game against Michigan on Wednesday is enormous for both teams. This is another team that has beaten Bradley, but the Illini also have lost to bubble-buddies Maryland and Xavier. A 9-7 mark and a semifinals trip in Chicago could be enough with the computer profile hanging in there, although Purdue's surge and the Illini's 17-point loss in West Lafayette likely puts Illinois behind the Boilermakers right now.
|Teams that should be in: Arizona, USC, Oregon, Stanford|
Work left to do: Washington
Is it time to start being a little nervous in Tucson and Eugene? Maybe more so for the Ducks, who don't have the nonconference profile to back what's become an ugly losing skid. Six bids still seems extremely likely, though.
Should be in:
Arizona [27-7 (14-4), RPI: 17, SOS: 68] Let me start off by saying there's no way Arizona would miss the NCAAs if selections were made today. That said, after getting swept at home by the L.A. schools, Arizona's now 1-7 against the four highest-rated Pac-10 schools (UCLA, USC, Wazzu and Oregon) and 5-8 in its last 13 games, including the disaster against North Carolina. The SOS is tops in the country, which is a huge part of their No. 10 RPI, but the final three are on the road. Arizona State just won its first game in league play and has played very well in its last six. Then 'Zona goes to the Bay Area. 9-9 probably is more than enough, but what happens if that also includes a quarterfinal loss in the Pac-10 tourney as a 5- or 6-seed, meaning the Cats would have lost 11 of their last 17? This has been an ugly ride for a team that beat UNLV, Louisville, Memphis, San Diego State and New Mexico State in nonconference play. Again, the Cats deserve to get in, but what's the limit on benefit of the doubt?
USC [23-11 (12-6), RPI: 34, SOS: 44] Ugh. Bad loss at improving (but still 1-14) Arizona State did some serious damage to the profile. The Bay Area teams come in next week ahead of a trip to the Washington schools to close the regular season. The Trojans have swept Oregon and Arizona, and also have beaten GW and Wichita State (neutral), but might want to split their last four just in case. Remember, this team is being judged mostly on its work since Gabe Pruitt became eligible again, so the overall computer numbers are not exactly accurate.
Oregon [22-12 (10-8), RPI: 70, SOS: 82] The Ducks better be careful. The weekend sweep in the Bay Area means six losses in eight games, with one of the victories coming against then winless Arizona State. I know their last three are at home, but the upcoming weekend features a Wazzu team looking for the Pac-10 title (and steamed about the one that got away in Pullman) and a desperate Washington team. Does Oregon really want to <i>have</i> to get the Oregon State game just to get to .500? The Ducks also are playing their way into a difficult spot for the Pac-10 tournament. A sixth-place finish doesn't give them a "freebie" win in the opening round and they could draw a USC team that already has swept them, in L.A. Other than the win at G'town, the nonconference schedule is devoid of any real legitimacy. Computer numbers are slipping. I still think the Ducks will be OK, but they're no longer an absolute lock to get in.
Stanford [18-15 (11-7), RPI: 88, SOS: 38] Critical home thrashing of fading Oregon ahead of the tough L.A. road trip. With a home game against Arizona State left, Stanford still is in very strong position to get to at least 10 league wins (and likely an NCAA berth), but getting to 11 would be much more comfortable. The Cardinal have nonconference wins over Texas Tech and at Virginia to lean on, although they lost badly to Air Force and Santa Clara at home.
Work left to do:
Washington [20-12 (10-8), RPI: 67, SOS: 46] The Huskies are all but dead after close losses to Wazzu and at Pitt. If they can get three of the last four to claw back to .500 and then make a deep run in the Pac-10 tourney, maybe they'll be worth a look, but that's a lot of work to do before then.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee, Vanderbilt|
Work left to do: Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia, Ole Miss
How are you supposed to make heads or tails of this conference? The league could get five bids -- and they all could come from the SEC East. Just bizarre. Tennessee's overall profile keeps it in the mix, but the Vols better not play with much more fire. Even with three straight L's, Kentucky's overall profile (No. 8 RPI, No. 2 SOS, 20 Top 100 games) keeps it a lock right now.
Should be in:
Tennessee [25-7 (13-5), RPI: 8, SOS: 28] The Vols are like mini-Arizona, riding a great schedule and some good nonconference wins to a tremendous computer profile that doesn't reflect how inconsistent the Vols have been in SEC play. The home game against Bama on Wednesday is enormous, as this is the only meeting between the two, and Tennessee then has at Arkansas, Florida, and at Georgia to close. Vols need some more wins ...
Vanderbilt [12-20 (6-12), RPI: 129, SOS: 2] The most impressive part of Vandy's poleaxing of Florida was the way the Commodores finished off the KO. No hesitation, no dragging out of possessions to run clock, just a devastating barrage of punches that finished the Gators. Given that they are in second in the SEC now, and added a big trump card, they get a bump up in class. The schedule is very doable, so double-digit league wins very well should happen.
Work left to do:
Arkansas [23-11 (10-8), RPI: 30, SOS: 42] Got smoked at Miss. State, and of course then turned around and thwacked Ole Miss. That's the way of the world in the SEC West. Where does that leave the Hogs? Not in very good shape. Yes, they have beaten Southern Illinois on a neutral court in nonconference play, but they have losses to a number of other bubble teams and they are going to struggle just to get to .500 in the very weak side of the SEC.
Alabama [19-15 (8-10), RPI: 41, SOS: 4] Let Florida off the hook in Gainesville, but rebounded nicely to handle Kentucky on Saturday. This sets up a really big meeting with Tennessee in Knoxville on Wednesday. The last three after that are versus Auburn and Ole Miss, and at Miss. State, which means Bama has an OK chance to get to nine wins, which very well could be enough to dance. There's still no signature win on the profile, but that might not matter this season. Computer profile overall is solid still.
Mississippi State [21-11 (9-9), RPI: 72, SOS: 106] Why not? The Bulldogs have the schedule down the stretch to add more wins, and if no one wants to win the SEC West, why not them? That one-point L at Alabama might end up being a killer, but they have winnable games down the stretch and no horrible losses on the ledger.
Georgia [18-15 (7-11), RPI: 75, SOS: 48] Got past Kennesaw State (which probably would be in the hunt in the SEC West) in nonleague play and then beat Auburn to get to 7-5. The next two are at Ole Miss and versus Miss State. Can they get those before finishing at Kentucky and vs. Tennessee? 9-7 is an absolute must and I would feel much better about the Dawgs' chances if they got to 10 SEC wins. Beat Gonzaga, but lost to ACC bubblers Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Ole Miss [12-20 (5-13), RPI: 140, SOS: 10] Ole Miss was the hottest team in the West Division after beating LSU to run its winning streak to four, but the Rebels got worked at Arkansas to drop back to .500 and into a tie for first in the division. The Rebels still have fate in their own hands, but it probably will take at least three wins for there to be real at-large consideration.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: BYU|
Work left to do: Xavier, New Mexico State, Davidson, San Diego State, Old Dominion, Wright State, Hofstra, VCU, Utah State, Winthrop, Massachusetts, Drexel, Appalachian State, Santa Clara
Memphis, Air Force, Butler, UNLV and Nevada remain locks. BYU is all but there, too.
Beyond that, here's the best approximation of the teams that have a reasonable shot at an at-large bid at this point.
Worth noting: There's still probably no reasonable at-large candidate in the MAC or C-USA (outside of Memphis). The WCC is now very interesting. The CAA champ very well might have a fairly legit case. Beyond that? It could be a big year for the middling high-majors; this field is not terribly inspiring.
Should be in:
BYU [24-10 (11-7), RPI: 69, SOS: 121] Rolled past New Mexico to stay on track. Just getting the two remaining home games at the inpenetrable Marriott Center might very well be enough -- or just get one at SDSU or Air Force. The lack of any nonconference heft is the only thing holding the Cougars back from lock status, but that might not matter. The Mountain West looks very good to get three bids this season.
Work left to do:
Xavier [28-5 (15-3), RPI: 3, SOS: 20] Pounded Richmond to enter the showdown with Rhode Island on a four-game winning streak. The next three aren't easy, but Xavier might need to get three of four down the stretch and get to the A-10 finals to have a legit claim. X beat VCU, Villanova, Illinois and K-State in nonconference play, so there's some solid heft there. If it wins the league's regular-season title and shows well in the tourney, it could happen.
New Mexico State [25-5 (12-2), RPI: 38, SOS: 209] Roared back from down 18 at the half to Ohio in BB to grab the win, but it could be too little, too late for the Aggies in the at-large hunt. This team is better than its computer numbers indicate, but a loss as the host of the conference tournament would be a killer.
Davidson [20-11 (13-5), RPI: 59, SOS: 100] The Wildcats are a win away from clinching the SoCon regular-season crown and look very solid to finish at 17-1. Not being in BracketBusters might really hurt, and they don't get another shot at App-State, the only SoCon loss, until the conference tournament. You could have a final where the two teams have a combined 53 wins or so. Amazing.
San Diego State [21-10 (11-7), RPI: 63, SOS: 119] Is it too little, too late? The Aztecs won in OT at New Mexico Tuesday to stay alive after the crippling loss at Wyoming. They get BYU next for a quasi-statement win chance. Don't discount SDSU's chances of winning its last three to get to 11-5 -- or of winning the MWC tournament and stealing a bid.
Old Dominion [25-7 (15-3), RPI: 77, SOS: 234] Critical late rally at Toledo in BB keeps the Monarchs' at-large dreams alive. They remain in second place in a very solid conference, none of the nonconference losses is bad and the win at Georgetown was very nice. Getting a piece of the CAA regular-season crown would be a huge boon (see: George Mason, 2006), but 15-3 might not be enough with VCU's soft last two.
Wright State [23-9 (14-4), RPI: 99, SOS: 253] An impressive rout of Fullerton in BB capped a very impressive week for the Raiders. A win at Youngstown State is all they need for at least a share of the Horizon crown. The overall profile really lacks substance (1-3 vs. Top 100, with Butler as the only win) and the Raiders have suffered three road losses by at least 26 points (as well as losing at Chicago State by 16), but winning good leagues weighs well with the committee, especially when you win a league over a team that could be a top-5 seed. Don't be fooled -- this team can play, and Dashaun Wood is as good a nationally unknown player as there is in the land. If they win out and get to the Horizon finals and lose a close one to Butler, could it happen? Probably not, but we'll see ...
Hofstra [18-12 (12-6), RPI: 117, SOS: 178] Beat Holy Cross in the final seconds, but the Pride won't get any real pop from it. I don't think the overall profile is good enough for them not to have a piece of the CAA title, which almost certainly isn't going to happen.
VCU [18-15 (9-9), RPI: 133, SOS: 102] The home loss to Bradley hurts the at-large hopes, but winning the CAA still should override that (in my opinion, anyway). The final two games are against CAA minnows, so a league crown is there for the taking. There's no real heft anywhere in the nonconference win column and the overall SOS is bad for an at-large candidate, but it seems like the Rams are going to get in if they continue to handle their business -- and since Old Dominion has a better at-large profile, this might be working out well for the CAA.
Utah State [16-17 (8-10), RPI: 152, SOS: 116] If NMSU is in this mix, then the Aggies surely have to be as well. You remember them, the WAC team that came from way back to slip in as an at-large last season. Jaycee Carroll leads the show as possibly the nation's most efficient big-time scorer. They may have too many losses to overcome, but the Aggies do get shots at NMSU and vs. Nevada down the stretch. They just won at Oral Roberts in BracketBusters, which is one of their two best nonconference wins of the season -- which is a problem. Losing at BYU and at Santa Clara doesn't help bubble position, either.
Winthrop [16-12 (12-6), RPI: 170, SOS: 271] Winthrop rallied past High Point to stay unbeaten in the Big South, which will be pivotal. The Eagles grabbed maybe the biggest win of BracketBusters weekend, torching MO State from the arc Friday night as the nation watched. The Eagles probably still need to win out until the Big South title game to have a really legit chance at an at-large, but this team should be dancing. It's good enough. The four non-DI wins may be a killer, though. Missing on all four marquee nonconference chances won't help either, but ask Wisconsin or North Carolina if either wants to see this team again in the first round (if that were allowed).
Massachusetts [13-20 (5-13), RPI: 236, SOS: 152] Won at Fordham and Dayton to stay in the mix. UMass probably needs to run the table and get to the A-10 finals to have any kind of legit claim. The Minutemen are 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and only 3-4 against the Top 100.
Drexel [12-20 (6-12), RPI: 239, SOS: 170] I still don't know if they can get there after the devastating loss at William & Mary on V-Day, as it likely would require leaping at least one team ahead of them in the CAA, but that was a huge (and surprising) win for the Dragons at Creighton in BracketBusters. With a final three in the CAA including a home-and-home with W&M and at Towson, 14-4 is very possible. The Dragons have a number of very good wins (including at Syracuse, at Villanova, versus Saint Joe's) and several curious losses (at Penn by 19, at Rider) in nonconference play. They also have 12 road wins, which ties them for the nation's lead in that category. The Dragons also are 6-6 against the RPI Top 100. Another very interesting at-large case.
Appalachian State [13-18 (9-9), RPI: 250, SOS: 290] The Mountaineers continue to win and need to be taken more seriously. They got a very big win at Wichita State in BracketBusters to provide another quality W to go along with VCU, Virginia and Vanderbilt. It's also very worth noting that the Mountaineers are now 17-3 (one non-DI win included) since Virginia transfer Donte Minter became eligible. That makes it easier to ignore the thrashings that Va Tech and Clemson put on them early in the season. They do have three non-DI wins, but they also have that Puerto Rico tournament title. If the SoCon final is Davidson/App-State, that's must-watch TV for any good basketball fan -- and could see both teams make it to the NCAAs, which would be amazing.
Santa Clara [10-19 (8-10), RPI: 265, SOS: 205] The Broncos beat San Diego and now must win both ends of a roadie against the league's bottom two clubs (although LMU won at Santa Clara) to win the WCC. Just like Wright State, the overall profile looks like a no-go, but the Broncos are positioned to win a good league. They beat Stanford at Maples, but also lost to Nevada, Kentucky and split with Gonzaga and, more damagingly, got mauled by Cal, Missouri State and Air Force.