By Zach Hayes, Rush the Court
Locks: Temple, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Wichita State, Creighton, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Murray State, Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga.
Note: all RPI/SOS numbers compiled Sunday.
Saint Louis (22-6, 10-4)- The worst thing a bubble team can do this time of year is sustain a “bad” loss. Bad doesn’t even begin to describe Saturday’s setback at sub-#250 RPI Rhode Island. The overall record, #36 RPI, high KenPom/Sagarin rating and wins over fellow bubble teams Xavier, St. Joe’s and Dayton are positives, but the URI loss is undoubtedly a black mark on the resume. The winner of their rematch with Xavier on Tuesday will feel much more secure about their chances.
Xavier (18-10, 9-5)- The Musketeers haven’t exactly impressed lately, barely dodging Dayton and Richmond at home in between a seven-point defeat at UMass. Their resume is boosted by a difficult non-conference schedule which includes wins at Vanderbilt and home vs. Purdue. Xavier sits firmly on the cut line with an RPI of 53, SOS of 50 and a 5-6 road record. If they fall short at SLU, they’ll need to beat Charlotte at home and at least one game in the A-10 Tournament.
Saint Joseph’s (19-11, 9-6)- The Hawks jumped back into the bubble hunt with their win over ranked and red-hot Temple on Saturday and their computer numbers (51 RPI, 44 SOS, 41 non-conference SOS) suggests they could be around awhile. The win over Creighton is also helpful, but St. Joe’s lost five times to sub-#80 RPI teams, including Richmond, Charlotte and American. They’ll need to avoid a potential pitfall at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday and forge deep into the A-10 Tournament. St. Joe’s beat Dayton and lost to Xavier.
Dayton (18-10, 8-6)- Dayton’s mid-season four game losing skid keeps them on the outside looking in for now and the Flyers also have the worst RPI (61) of the A-10 bubble teams. Dayton’s lost four games to sub-100 RPI competition including #232 Miami (OH) and #251 Rhode Island. The 3-6 road record also stings. Keeping them afloat are wins at Temple and at home against Alabama, Saint Louis and Xavier. Winning their final two at Richmond and vs. George Washington are musts.
Virginia (21-7, 8-6)- The Cavs have three chances to lock up a bid to end the season: North Carolina, Florida State and at Maryland. They fell painfully short in the first opportunity, losing to the Heels by three in Charlottesville. Only one RPI top-50 win over Michigan from back in November and a #223 non-conference SOS will hurt their seed, Virginia should get in at 9-7 in the ACC in this bubble climate. Virginia also won at Oregon and beat Miami at home. A win over FSU locks up a bid.
Miami (16-10, 7-6)- Despite Reggie Johnson’s suspension, the Canes soundly handled Florida State, a win tremendously important to their at-large chances. Prior to Sunday, their second-best win after Duke was #81 RPI Massachusetts. Miami has a stellar #48 RPI and #32 SOS, but they’re far from comfortably in with a 4-7 road record and a 4-10 record vs. the RPI top-100. Their Wednesday trip to Raleigh is huge. They can’t afford another road setback after losing at Maryland last week.
NC State (18-11, 7-7)- Mark Gottfried’s bunch had three chances for resume-building wins at Duke and home vs. UNC and Florida State. They lost all three and compounded the problem by falling at #144 RPI Clemson this past Saturday. NC State is 0-8 vs. the RPI top-50 and now stands at 7-7 in the ACC with a #67 RPI. A loss in either of their final two games vs. Miami and at Virginia Tech would all but eliminate them from bubble contention. They’ll need to claw their way to 9-7 and defeat one of the ACC’s big three in the conference tournament to have a chance.
Texas (18-11, 8-8)- Give credit to Texas. Despite their incredibly young roster, the Longhorns have beaten every team they’re supposed to this season with one lone exception at Oklahoma State on February 18. Their other seven Big 12 losses have come at the hands of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas State. The Longhorns barely stayed in the field by edging pathetic Texas Tech in overtime and they face another must-win Wednesday vs. Oklahoma. Texas holds a #54 RPI, #25 SOS and #100 non-conference SOS. They beat Temple, Iowa State and Kansas State all in Austin, three of their four wins vs. the RPI top-100.
South Florida (18-11, 11-5)- The Bulls are an incredible 11-5 in the Big East and competing for a double bye in the conference tournament, yet they remain firmly on the bubble because of their soft league schedule (home-and-home’s with perennial contenders Pitt and Villanova didn’t turn out to be helpful) and a poor non-conference performance. Even Sunday’s huge win over Cincinnati is limited in its impact by the Bearcats lackluster RPI. Their profile (50 RPI, 28 SOS, 55 non-conference SOS) also screams bubble. Assuming they fall short at Louisville, a bid could come down to their season finale vs. West Virginia.
Cincinnati (20-9, 10-6)- The Bearcats are in at the moment, but their margin for error down the stretch is thinner than most teams due to a #322 non-conference SOS dragging down their RPI to #74 in the country. Their profile is certainly at-large worthy after Thursday’s win over Louisville coupled with wins at Georgetown, at Connecticut and home vs. Notre Dame and Seton Hall. They have a golden opportunity Wednesday with Marquette coming to town. Mick Cronin should be punished seed-wise for his scheduling, but if Cincy beats the Golden Eagles to get to 11-7 minimum in the Big East, they deserve a bid.
Seton Hall (19-10, 8-9)- Saturday’s crushing home loss to Rutgers doesn’t quite cancel out the huge win over Georgetown earlier last week, but following it up with another defeat at DePaul would complete the trick. The Pirates are rooting for Dayton, VCU and Saint Joe’s to somehow sneak into the field, three fellow bubble teams they beat in the non-conference. Hall’s resume also contains wins over West Virginia and Connecticut that look increasingly mediocre. They’re still in the field as of today with a 8-8 record vs. the RPI top-100 and #45 RPI, but absolutely must handle DePaul next Saturday.
Connecticut (17-11, 7-9)- The Huskies haven’t won three in a row since December 22-31 but must accomplish that feat to make the NCAA Tournament. With a visit to bottom-feeder Providence, a home date with Pitt and a potentially easy first round Big East Tournament game, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Getting to 10-9 in conference play with a #30 RPI, #1 SOS and wins over Florida State, Harvard, at Notre Dame and over bubble teams West Virginia and Seton Hall is likely sufficient for a bid.
West Virginia (17-12, 7-9)- Once perceived as a surefire NCAA team, West Virginia is making it interesting. The Mountaineers have lost seven of nine starting with that blowout at St. John’s and blew a golden opportunity to beat a Marquette team ravaged by suspensions on Friday. Much like UConn, their numbers – 48 RPI, 9 SOS, 24 non-conference SOS – appear NCAA-worthy. A home date with DePaul is just what the doctor ordered followed by an enormous bubble meeting with USF in Tampa to end the regular season. An 8-10 Big East record would mean it’ll come down to their performance in New York.
Purdue (19-10, 9-7)- No team sitting firmly on the bubble helped themselves more on Saturday than Purdue with their win at #16 RPI Michigan. Prior to that breakthrough victory, all they really touted was a November win over Temple and a sweep of Northwestern after losing home games to most upper echelon Big Ten opposition. Now the season finale at Indiana isn’t quite as crucial. With a #40 RPI and #18 SOS, defeating Penn State on Wednesday and winning their first Big Ten tournament game would clinch a bid.
Northwestern (17-11, 7-9)- Much like Texas, the Wildcats narrowly avoided a loss that would have pushed them to the NIT, edging Penn State by one on Saturday. Their January 14 win over Michigan State, strong computer numbers (44 RPI, 12 SOS, 52 non-conference SOS) and the general failings of other bubble squads keeps Northwestern barely in the field. The path to 9-9 isn’t easy: arguably the biggest basketball game in school history vs. Ohio State followed by a trip to Iowa where the Hawkeyes have upset three ranked teams.
Long Beach State (21-7, 14-0)- This is admittedly a guess on my part, but I strongly believe that The Beach will garner an at-large bid should they somehow stumble in the Big West Tournament. The 49ers played the strongest non-conference SOS in the country and did manage to beat Xavier in Hawaii and at Pitt with Travon Woodall. They also boast the #34 RPI and could very well run the table in their league. The committee always harps on mid-majors taking advantage of the part of the schedule they control and Long Beach should be rewarded for heeding the call.
Drexel (25-5, 16-2)- Normally CAA teams that win 22 of 23 are a lock for the tournament, but Drexel’s schedule is a massive anchor. Not only did they play the #227 ranked non-conference SOS (best win: Cleveland State) but didn’t have to face either VCU or George Mason on the road as a result of the CAA’s unbalanced scheduling. They faced one RPI top-50 opponent losing 49-35 to Virginia back in November, while 21 of those 25 total wins have come vs. sub-100 RPI competition. I expect the committee to dig deeper than their inflated record.
VCU (25-6, 15-3)- The Rams have a slightly better RPI (58 compared to 65) and SOS (178 compared to 235 ) than Drexel, but lost their lone meeting and finished a game behind the Dragons in the CAA. VCU does have a win over bubble team USF and likely MAC winner Akron, but unless the committee goes against their rules and votes the Rams in based on past years’ performance or recent CAA success in the tournament, their profile is simply not at-large worthy.
Memphis (21-8, 11-3)- The Tigers picked up a crucial road win Saturday over a Marshall team looking to climb back into the bubble discussion. Josh Pastner’s team is alone in first in CUSA with really helpful numbers: #20 RPI, #20 SOS, #5 non-conference SOS and #13 KenPom. They’re 1-6 vs. the RPI top-50 with a 6-4 road record and wins over Southern Miss, Miami and Xavier. Two tricky games vs. UCF and at Tulsa remain. As long as Memphis splits those two final games and avoids an early stumble in the league tournament, they’ll go dancing.
Southern Miss (23-6, 10-4)- USM is playing their worst basketball at an inopportune time, losing three games in the last few weeks to sub-100 RPI opponents UAB, UTEP and Houston. They narrowly avoided another resume-killer by edging Rice 58-56 on Saturday and another win during that stretch came in overtime over NIT-bound Tulsa. Larry Eustachy has to be hoping the committee values the numbers (13 RPI, 49 SOS, 35 non-conference SOS) over the eye test at this point. They need to beat SMU and win at Marshall in their final two games to feel secure. No team has ever been left out of the field with an RPI that high.
Harvard (24-4, 10-2)- Most prognosticators seem to think Harvard can pick up an at-large even if they finish second to Penn in the Ivy League, a scenario that just became very plausible after the Zack Rosen Show visited Cambridge on Saturday. I’m not as convinced. The #38 RPI is stellar, but other than Florida State their top-100 wins consist of St. Joe’s, UCF, Penn, Princeton and Yale twice. That’s not exactly a robust resume. Harvard’s non-conference SOS is just #171 in the country, so it’d be a close call, especially if they lose another Ivy League contest. They better play it safe and win the auto bid.
Colorado State (17-10, 6-6)- Similar to Southern Miss, the Rams have had the lofty numbers in their back pocket all year. After they beat New Mexico to go with an earlier home triumph over San Diego State, CSU has two decent wins to go along with an enviable #29 RPI, #6 SOS and #26 non-conference SOS. The Rams are a respectable 6-8 vs. the RPI top-100 but a huge issue is their 2-9 road record (only wins: UTEP and Northern Colorado) and, if the committee pays attention, poor efficiency ratings (#90 on KenPom). They welcome UNLV to Fort Collins on Wednesday for an enormous game and then finish the season at Air Force. An 8-6 MWC record looks a lot better than 7-7. Lose both and they’re likely NIT-bound.
Washington (20-8, 13-3)- After losing to Duke, Marquette, Cal, Saint Louis and Nevada in the non-conference, the Huskies have not beaten one team currently in the projected field. Washington has two wins over Arizona and beat Oregon at home to go with a #52 RPI, #74 SOS and #71 non-conference SOS. With Cal’s loss Sunday, Washington is currently the Pac-12′s auto bid, a league where no at-large spots are guaranteed.
California (23-7, 13-4)- With a #36 RPI and #55 non-conference SOS, the Bears boast the best numbers of any Pac-12 team. They have a leg up on their conference rivals in the bubble chase by sweeping Oregon and beating Washington on the road in their lone meeting. Similar to Washington, Cal squandered all their chance for marquee wins in the non-conference, falling to UNLV, Missouri and San Diego State. The Bears have long been considered the most likely at-large candidate in the Pac-12, but following up a loss to Colorado with another setback at Stanford in the season finale would put that to the test.
Arizona (21-9, 12-5)- Arizona’s resume just isn’t quite good enough at this point, not with a #70 RPI, #96 SOS and losses to UCLA and Colorado. In case of a close call on Selection Sunday, getting swept by Washington and losing to Oregon could really sting. Their season finale at Arizona State is a must win and reaching the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament is essential.
Oregon (20-8, 11-5)- The Ducks have skated by Stanford and Oregon State in two tricky road games to stay alive for an at-large bid and now they finish with Colorado and Utah at home, so 22-8 (13-5) is very plausible. Unfortunately, they don’t boast a single top-50 win after getting swept by Cal and losing non-conference games to Vandy, Virginia and BYU. Oregon did split with Washington and they currently rank higher on the S-Curve than Arizona by virtue of their win in Tucson on January 14.
Alabama (19-9, 8-6)- The Tide have persevered through the dismissal of second-leading scorer Tony Mitchell to win three in a row over Tennessee, Mississippi State and at Alabama, the most important a convincing 17-point triumph over the Bulldogs. Anthony Grant’s squad now boasts nine wins over the RPI top-100, although only Wichita State and Purdue are surefire tournament teams (both neutral court victories). Still, with a #27 RPI, #13 SOS and two winnable games vs. Auburn and at Ole Miss to conclude the season, the Tide are in good shape.
Mississippi State (19-10, 6-8)- The Bulldogs are falling fast. Earlier in the season they could counter lackluster numbers (#68, #61 SOS, #187 non-conference SOS, #80 KenPom) with an impressive overall record, but after five straight losses – including regrettable setbacks vs. Georgia, at Auburn and at LSU – State sits at a lackluster 6-8 in SEC play and are trending the wrong direction. The silver lining: they SHOULD get to 8-8 with games at South Carolina and vs. Arkansas to end the season and those stellar wins at Vanderbilt and vs. Alabama, West Virginia and Arizona won’t disappear. They need to win three in a row to get in.
BYU (24-7, 12-4)- The Cougars are your prototypical bubble team at the moment with a #47 RPI, #105 SOS, #74 non-conference SOS and an RPI top-25 win over Gonzaga (worth noting they beat #52 RPI Oregon and #56 RPI Nevada). Their only chance to make a serious move is to upset Gonzaga again in the WCC Tournament semifinals, otherwise they leave themselves up to the discretion of the committee. Helping BYU is a 9-3 true road record and five of their seven losses came to respectable teams (Baylor, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Saint Mary’s twice).