College Basketball Bubble Watch
Welcome back to Bubble Watch
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Wednesday, Feb. 4.
With February upon us (and we all know what month comes after February), it's that time in the college hoops season for a little housecleaning. Conference races are beginning to take shape, and as we sift through the pretenders and contenders, upstarts and also-rans, it's a perfect opportunity for the unveiling of the first Bubble Watch of 2009.
Before you is an entirely merit-based environment. Teams mired in long losing streaks, don't fret. Get back that winning feeling and check back next week. Preseason prognostications and expectations carry no weight inside the Bubble (good-bye Notre Dame, Wisconsin), while surprise tourney wannabes will be welcomed with open arms (hello Dayton, Utah State).
Here is this week's Bubble Watch:
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton|
Work left to do:
Dayton [9-10 (3-4), RPI: 96, SOS: 5] Dayton avoided a slip-up against La Salle before emerging with a 63-61 win Wednesday night. The Flyers already have won 21 games and have one huge feather in their hats -- an 89-75 victory over Marquette on Nov. 29. The Atlantic 10 figures to be at least a two-bid league, and the Flyers would fall behind Xavier right now. They beat Saint Joseph's on Sunday and have so-so victories over George Mason and Miami (Ohio).
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Miami, Florida State, Maryland, Boston College, Virginia Tech|
The ACC isn't as deep as the Big East, but the league's top four teams are capable of sustaining long runs in the NCAA tournament. Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Wake Forest seem assured of receiving NCAA at-large bids, and barring a late-season collapse, each probably will be a top-four seed. Five other ACC teams are fighting for what might be as many as four more at-large bids.
Work left to do:
Miami [14-4 (3-3), RPI: 20, SOS: 40] Miami's surprising 79-52 rout of Wake Forest on Wednesday night, which ended a three-game losing streak, really bolstered its case. The Hurricanes will get some help from their 73-67 victory at Kentucky on Dec. 6, but that win isn't as valuable as it was two weeks ago. ACC victories at Boston College and against Florida State at home certainly will help. Miami can really move in the right direction by winning one of its next two games -- at Duke on Saturday and home against North Carolina on Feb. 15.
Florida State [14-5 (3-4), RPI: 38, SOS: 76] The Seminoles have surprisingly good computer numbers, along with a pair of pretty solid nonconference victories (California and Florida). FSU also is 5-2 on the road, a stout mark that will be tested during the remainder of the ACC schedule. FSU plays at Clemson on Saturday and still faces possible road traps at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Duke. If the Seminoles win at least one of those road games and protect their home court, they should be in pretty good shape on Selection Sunday.
Maryland [14-7 (4-5), RPI: 52, SOS: 52] Maryland's season keeps slip-sliding away. The Terrapins have lost six of their past nine games, including a 108-91 defeat at North Carolina on Tuesday night. They have a couple of quality nonconference wins (Michigan State on a neutral court and home against Michigan), but they are 0-4 on the road and haven't beaten a team in the upper half of the ACC standings. Oh, and there are these black eyes on the résumé: a 66-65 loss to RPI No. 182 Morgan State and 41-point defeat at Duke.
Boston College [13-7 (3-4), RPI: 63, SOS: 84] The Eagles' once-fading season has been resuscitated by their current five-game winning streak, which includes victories over fellow ACC bubble teams Maryland and Virginia Tech. Boston College has some so-so nonconference victories (UAB and Providence), but it will get the most mileage from its surprising 85-78 win at North Carolina in the Jan. 4 ACC opener. But will the Eagles be haunted by their two baffling defeats -- at RPI No. 154 Saint Louis and RPI No. 270 Harvard?
Virginia Tech [14-6 (3-4), RPI: 77, SOS: 150] The Hokies squandered a golden opportunity to move to the right side of the bubble by blowing a 15-point lead in the second half of an 86-82 loss to Clemson on Jan. 29. Virginia Tech followed that gut-wrenching defeat with a 67-66 loss at Boston College on Saturday. The Hokies have ACC road wins at Wake Forest and Miami but little to show the selection committee in terms of nonconference victories. They need to win the ACC games they're supposed to win, including their next two home contests, against NC State and Georgia Tech.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Missouri, Texas|
Work left to do: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Baylor
After Oklahoma, which is competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 is really difficult to gauge. At times, Texas seems to be the league's second-best team, but defending national champion Kansas has played better recently. Oklahoma State has good computer numbers but too few victories to support them. Baylor and Texas A&M need to turn things around quickly to save their postseason hopes.
Should be in:
Missouri [12-6 (3-3), RPI: 36, SOS: 29] The surging Tigers have won 10 of their past 12 games, including a big win at Texas on Wednesday night. Other than victories over USC and California, Missouri didn't do much during nonconference play. But the Tigers are 4-2 against RPI top-50 teams and already have head-to-head victories over fellow Big 12 bubble teams Oklahoma State and Baylor. There's work left to do -- Missouri still plays Kansas twice, Oklahoma at home and Texas A&M on the road.
Texas [13-7 (4-4), RPI: 42, SOS: 24] The Longhorns have done almost enough to be considered a "lock" for an at-large bid, but they stubbed their toes in each of their past two games. After losing to Kansas State 85-81 in overtime at home on Saturday, the Longhorns lost to Missouri 69-65 in Austin on Wednesday night. Those losses dropped Texas to fourth place in the Big 12 standings. Texas' overall body of work is still pretty impressive. It has a 4-3 mark against RPI top-50 teams, including victories over UCLA and Villanova.
Work left to do:
Texas A&M [13-6 (2-5), RPI: 28, SOS: 15] The Aggies are in a bit of a precarious position after dropping four of their past six games, including a deflating 77-71 loss at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. But Texas A&M might get surprising mileage on Selection Sunday from nonconference wins over Arizona and LSU. The Aggies also have beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State during Big 12 play. Their remaining schedule might lead to a strong finish; they don't play Big 12 leaders Oklahoma or Kansas and play Texas and Missouri only once.
Oklahoma State [13-6 (3-4), RPI: 83, SOS: 131] Oklahoma State might have saved its season when it rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat Texas Tech 81-80 on Wednesday night. The Cowboys' lofty computer numbers are inflated by a very difficult nonconference schedule. Unfortunately, they didn't beat any of their toughest opponents. Their most impressive nonconference victory came against Siena, another team with a schedule-inflated RPI rating. Oklahoma State beat Texas A&M at home but has otherwise feasted on the Big 12's lesser teams. The Cowboys really need a couple of signature victories during Big 12 play to support their computer numbers.
Baylor [11-8 (2-6), RPI: 90, SOS: 55] The Bears' at-large hopes might be on life support because of their current four-game losing streak. Baylor has lost six of its past nine games, including a 75-65 defeat against Kansas on Monday night. The Bears have a couple of decent nonconference victories (Providence and Arizona State), but they are only 2-7 against RPI top-50 teams. Worse, Baylor has beaten only one Big 12 team of consequence (Oklahoma State) and lost to three other teams (Texas A&M, Missouri and Kansas) in NCAA at-large contention.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Villanova, Syracuse|
Work left to do: West Virginia, Cincinnati, Providence, Georgetown
Clearly the country's best conference from top to bottom, the Big East could send as many as nine teams to the NCAA tournament. Four Big East teams -- Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Louisville and Marquette -- seem headed toward NCAA top-two seeds. Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia seem in good shape for at-large bids, too, but other teams have to reverse late-season slides to stay in the hunt.
Should be in:
Villanova [18-1 (5-1), RPI: 2, SOS: 42] The Wildcats' strong numbers suggest they should be a "lock" for an at-large bid, but their overall résumé leaves a little to be desired. Their 67-57 victory over Pittsburgh on Jan. 28 might go a long way in moving them off the bubble, but they accomplished little before then. They are only 2-4 against RPI top-50 teams, and only seven of their 18 victories against Division I teams have come against RPI top-100 opponents. Playing in the rugged Big East gives Villanova myriad opportunities to improve those areas -- seven of their final nine regular-season opponents are RPI top-100 teams.
Syracuse [13-6 (2-4), RPI: 41, SOS: 21] The Orange had lost four of five games before beating West Virginia at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night. But Syracuse still seems to be in pretty good shape. It has three very good nonconference victories (Florida and Kansas on neutral courts and at Memphis). The Orange probably could use one or two victories over the league's top five RPI teams to improve their seeding. They will have a chance to do that the next two weeks, when they play Villanova (twice), at Connecticut and home against Georgetown.
Work left to do:
West Virginia [16-4 (5-3), RPI: 21, SOS: 43] The Mountaineers' computer numbers are great, but they've dropped five of their past nine games, including a 74-61 loss at Syracuse on Wednesday night. Still, West Virginia probably only needs to finish above .500 in Big East play to garner an at-large bid. The rest of the schedule gets easier, as West Virginia plays one of the league's top four teams only twice in its final nine games. The Mountaineers bring a couple of decent nonconference wins (road victories at Ole Miss and Ohio State) and a win at Georgetown to the table, but they might need another signature victory to feel safe.
Cincinnati [17-2 (6-0), RPI: 25, SOS: 132] The Bearcats still have some hefty work to do, but they moved a step closer by beating Notre Dame 93-83 on Wednesday night. They moved to .500 in Big East play with their fifth victory in their past seven games and probably knocked the Fighting Irish out of contention for an at-large bid. Cincinnati has a couple of so-so nonconference victories (UAB and UNLV) and beat Georgetown at home. But the Bearcats probably need to finish better than .500 in Big East play to garner serious consideration.
Providence [14-6 (5-2), RPI: 37, SOS: 30] The Friars are off to a surprising 6-4 start in the Big East, but they might need a 10-6 finish to secure an at-large bid. They won't bring a single quality nonconference victory to the table. Providence has two victories over Cincinnati and beat Syracuse last week, but a 33-point loss at Connecticut on Saturday obviously won't help. The Friars missed a big chance to make a statement by losing to Villanova 94-91 on Wednesday night.
Georgetown [13-6 (3-5), RPI: 146, SOS: 251] The Hoyas finally ended a five-game losing streak with a 57-47 victory over Rutgers on Tuesday night. But Georgetown still has lost seven of its past 10 games and is 4-6 in Big East play. However, it might take a complete collapse for the Hoyas not to receive an at-large bid. They have victories over Memphis, Connecticut and Syracuse, and are playing the country's third-toughest schedule.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois|
Work left to do: Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State
The Big Ten isn't nearly as bad as many thought it would be this season. Michigan State is talented enough to reach the Final Four, and Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue seem to be getting better every week. Overall, the Big Ten might garner as many as six NCAA bids, which might rank behind only the Big East and ACC.
Should be in:
Purdue [19-2 (8-0), RPI: 11, SOS: 53] With one more big victory, the Boilermakers probably will find themselves in "lock" status. Purdue is one of three teams tied for second place in the Big Ten standings after losing at Ohio State in overtime on Tuesday night (without injured forward Robbie Hummel). Purdue's 71-64 win over Boston College is looking more and more impressive, and it defeated Davidson 76-58 on Dec. 20. Purdue already has won Big Ten road games at Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Ohio State [18-4 (9-0), RPI: 15, SOS: 27] The Buckeyes really helped themselves by beating Purdue 80-72 in overtime on Tuesday night, their third consecutive victory. Nonconference wins over Miami and Notre Dame aren't as impressive as they once seemed, although the Buckeyes will get good mileage from beating Butler 54-51 on Dec. 13. Ohio State is 3-5 against RPI top-50 opponents.
Minnesota [14-8 (3-6), RPI: 74, SOS: 87] Minnesota fans have to be laughing at their Kentucky counterparts, many of whom couldn't wait to chase coach Tubby Smith out of town. The Gophers are 6-4 in the Big Ten after getting routed by 29 points at Michigan State on Wednesday night. Minnesota still might need only one more signature victory to secure an at-large bid. A victory over Louisville carries a lot of weight, along with wins over Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois.
Illinois [9-11 (0-8), RPI: 164, SOS: 70] The Illini are in really good shape after a 6-3 start in the Big Ten. Their nonconference résumé isn't very impressive (victory over Missouri), but they've done more than enough in conference play. Illinois won at Purdue and beat Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. The Illini could use another quality road victory to improve their NCAA seeding.
Work left to do:
Michigan [16-5 (6-3), RPI: 39, SOS: 75] The Wolverines have lost five of their past six games, falling to 4-6 in the Big Ten going into Thursday night's game against Penn State. Early season upsets of UCLA and Duke will carry a lot of weight with the selection committee, but Michigan has to start beating some of the Big Ten teams its competing against for at-large bids. The Wolverines are only 1-5 in road games and 3-6 versus RPI top-50 teams.
Northwestern [11-9 (3-5), RPI: 122, SOS: 93] After starting Big Ten play with an 0-4 record, the Wildcats have won four of their past five games to get into at least the at-large discussion. Northwestern will get surprising weight from its 73-59 win over Florida State on Dec. 3, along with a rare victory at Michigan State on Jan. 21. A top-six finish in the Big Ten standings might be enough to earn an at-large bid.
Penn State [13-8 (3-5), RPI: 132, SOS: 162] The Nittany Lions' first victory at Michigan State on Sunday put them in serious at-large consideration. Penn State has won four games in a row and beat fellow NCAA bubble teams Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan. The Nittany Lions will be hurt by their soft nonconference schedule (a two-point road win at Georgia Tech is about as good as it gets), but it might be a moot point with a solid Big Ten finish.
|Work left to do: Arizona, Arizona State, USC, California|
Surging Washington and UCLA seem to be pretty safe, but the Pac-10's other four teams in at-large contention still have much work to do. USC seems to be the league's third-best team, and Arizona continues to show a pulse. California and Arizona State are really struggling heading into the second half of Pac-10 play.
Work left to do:
Arizona [16-4 (6-1), RPI: 17, SOS: 41] Give interim coach Russ Pennell credit for trying to salvage what might have been a really bad season at Arizona. The Wildcats went 4-5 in the first half of Pac-10 play and start the second half with road games at Oregon State and Oregon. They might need to beat a couple of the league's top teams to get serious consideration for an at-large bid, as they're only 4-6 against RPI top-50 opponents. They'll also have to win at least a couple of road games to improve an 0-6 record away from Tucson. Victories over Gonzaga, Kansas and Washington certainly will help.
Arizona State [15-4 (3-4), RPI: 31, SOS: 95] A team that seems talented enough to win the Pac-10 is once again teetering on the NCAA bubble. The Sun Devils were left out of the NCAA field with a 19-12 record last season, and they have plenty of work to do to avoid a similar fate this season. They are only 4-4 in their past eight games, falling 2 1/2 games behind UCLA in the Pac-10 standings. A neutral-court victory over BYU and road wins at UCLA and Arizona should help their cause, though.
USC [15-6 (6-2), RPI: 40, SOS: 38] After an up-and-down start to the season, the Trojans had won five of seven games before getting walloped at rival UCLA on Wednesday night. USC has quality wins over Arizona, Arizona State and California, but it probably needs to improve its 2-4 road record. Upcoming road games against Arizona and Arizona State loom large. There isn't much to brag about from the nonconference slate, other than a one-point loss at Oklahoma.
California [7-12 (1-6), RPI: 167, SOS: 46] After a 4-0 start in Pac-10 play, the Bears have lost four of their past five games to fall into bubble trouble. Overall, California's résumé is pretty strong, with road victories at UNLV, Utah and Washington, and home wins against Arizona and Arizona State. The Bears need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule -- five home games in a seven-game stretch -- to improve their chances of an at-large bid.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee|
Work left to do: Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, LSU
The SEC rarely has been in such a precarious position as Selection Sunday nears. Only Florida, Tennessee and perhaps South Carolina currently resemble NCAA tournament teams, and each of those squads has noticeable flaws. LSU probably will finish with more than 20 victories, but much of its success has come against the country's weaker teams. Kentucky suddenly is struggling to stay in contention.
Should be in:
Tennessee [13-5 (4-3), RPI: 12, SOS: 6] The Volunteers seemed to be in serious bubble jeopardy when they lost five times during an eight-game stretch in January. But Tennessee rebounded to beat Florida 79-63 in Knoxville on Saturday and then won at Arkansas 74-72 on Wednesday night. Tennessee's computer numbers are really good, and it owns a hat trick of quality nonconference victories (neutral-court wins over Siena, Georgetown and Marquette). None of Tennessee's seven losses are too bad (losing to Gonzaga twice, Temple, Kansas and Memphis in non-SEC games, and Kentucky and LSU in league play).
Work left to do:
Kentucky [14-5 (4-3), RPI: 18, SOS: 12] Kentucky's current three-game slide, which includes consecutive defeats at storied Rupp Arena, puts it in serious jeopardy of missing the 65-team field in coach Billy Gillispie's second season. The Wildcats' only quality nonconference victory came against RPI No. 19 West Virginia, but they lost to RPI No. 131 VMI in their opener. Tuesday's home game against Florida will be important in improving the Cats' slumping RPI rating.
Florida [14-5 (6-1), RPI: 23, SOS: 22] The Gators' 97-93 victory over South Carolina on Tuesday night probably went a long way in securing them an at-large bid. But Florida's soft nonconference schedule (ranked No. 219 nationally) and the SEC's lack of overall depth don't afford the Gators too much room for error. They don't have much to boast about other than a two-point victory at Washington and the win over the Gamecocks. The Gators are only 1-4 against RPI top-50 opponents, and 14 of their 19 victories have come against teams ranked outside the RPI top 100.
South Carolina [11-7 (3-4), RPI: 54, SOS: 60] The Gamecocks lost a golden opportunity to get themselves into at-large contention by losing at Florida on Tuesday night. But a second-place finish in the SEC East might be good enough to get South Carolina into the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks have beaten Florida at home and won at Baylor and Kentucky. High-scoring guard Devan Downey gives them a chance to win each time they take the court.
LSU [11-7 (2-4), RPI: 89, SOS: 81] The Tigers have separated themselves from the rest of the SEC West, and it's hard to imagine a division champion not making the 65-team field. But LSU might have to finish 10-6 in SEC play to feel confident about an at-large bid. The Tigers' best nonconference win came against RPI No. 91 Washington State, and nine of their 18 victories have come against foes ranked No. 200 or worse in the RPI ratings. Road victories at Ole Miss and Tennessee and a home win over South Carolina should help.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Davidson|
Work left to do: Saint Mary's, Utah, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah State, Siena
Should be in:
Davidson [10-7 (5-1), RPI: 105, SOS: 148] Unless the Wildcats falter badly down the stretch, it's hard to imagine the NCAA selection committee leaving them out of the 65-team field. Davidson came within one victory of reaching the Final Four as a No. 10 seed in 2008, and guard Stephen Curry is the country's leading scorer. Davidson has dominated its Southern Conference foes, winning 12 games by an average of 17.6 points. The Wildcats don't have a bad loss, losing at Oklahoma, Purdue and Duke. They probably can cement their case for an at-large bid by beating Butler in a Feb. 22 BracketBusters game.
Work left to do:
Saint Mary's [19-2 (8-0), RPI: 43, SOS: 186] The Gaels were a very good team in their first 19 games, when sophomore point guard Patty Mills was still healthy. But Saint Mary's hasn't been good since Mills broke his right hand in a 69-62 loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 29. The Gaels lost to Portland 84-66 on Saturday, which dropped them to third place in the West Coast Conference standings. They probably will be without Mills until at least the last week of the regular season. The NCAA selection committee will consider Mills' injury when deciding St. Mary's fate, but the Gaels can't fall off the map without him. They have a couple of so-so nonconference wins (Providence and San Diego State), but they need to finish strong.
Utah [12-7 (4-4), RPI: 57, SOS: 58] It's hard to believe a team that opened the season by losing to Division II Southwest Baptist was able to beat Gonzaga and BYU. The Utes also have a 30-point victory over LSU and 11-point win over Ole Miss. Utah is one of five teams in contention in the suddenly deep Mountain West Conference, and given its strong computer rankings, should secure an at-large bid with a strong finish.
BYU [17-4 (6-2), RPI: 72, SOS: 201] Despite solid computer numbers, the Cougars can't feel too confident after losing to New Mexico, UNLV and Utah in the first part of Mountain West play. BYU figures to be battling those aforementioned opponents and San Diego State for as many as two at-large bids. The Cougars have only two wins over RPI top-50 teams (Utah State and San Diego State), and 10 of their 17 victories have come against teams ranked outside the RPI top 100.
San Diego State [10-7 (3-4), RPI: 121, SOS: 136] If the Aztecs weren't tied with Utah for first place in the Mountain West, they probably wouldn't be an at-large candidate. San Diego State didn't do much during the nonconference season but have beaten Utah and UNLV during MWC play.
UNLV [14-5 (3-3), RPI: 163, SOS: 323] UNLV's marquee win (at Louisville) was as good as its signature loss was bad (at Colorado State). But the impression left by the Rebels' performance in Freedom Hall might resonate come Selection Sunday, especially with the MWC race so up in the air.
Utah State [9-11 (3-5), RPI: 169, SOS: 110] The Aggies are well on their way to their 10th consecutive season with at least 23 victories, but they probably will have to win the WAC tournament to feel really good about their chances of playing in the NCAAs. The Aggies have only one quality victory of note -- a 66-64 win over Utah at home on Dec. 22. Even more damaging, 15 of their 20 victories against Division I opponents have come against teams ranked No. 150 or worse in the RPI ratings.
Siena [6-15 (2-6), RPI: 262, SOS: 156] If Siena doesn't win the MAAC tournament to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs, it will be an interesting case study for the selection committee. The computers are giving the Saints a lot of credit for playing a treacherous nonconference schedule, which included road losses at Pittsburgh and Kansas and neutral-court defeats to Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Siena is 0-4 against RPI top-50 foes but does have seven wins against top-100 opponents. The selection committee probably wouldn't admit it, but the Saints' 83-62 rout of No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in the 2008 NCAA tournament is probably still fresh in some members' minds.