A very early look at who's looking good and who needs some help
Because it's so early in the season, the bubble watch is grainy
The Big East and ACC lead the country with four locks a piece
The SEC has no locks and only two teams that are likely to get in to the tourney
Selection Sunday is still almost two months away, so the first bubble picture of 2008-09 is understandably grainy. That said, there already is one aspect to this season's selection process that seems a virtual certainty: It's going to be a terrible year for mid-major leagues.
Even at this early stage, the pool of bona fide at-large candidates outside the traditional big six conferences and their half-brothers, the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West, is extremely small. In a scenario where Memphis (Conference USA), Butler (Horizon), Davidson (SoCon) and either Gonzaga or Saint Mary's (West Coast) all win automatic bids, virtually every one of this season's 34 at-large bids could end up in the hands of the eight biggest leagues.
Will there be the inevitable surprises over the next two months? Surely, but this season, that might just mean passing bids within the big leagues, not outside of them.
To make this first cut a bit cleaner, here are a few guidelines:
BCS conference teams had to have an RPI of 75 or better, as of Sunday. The worst RPI for an at-large was 74 (New Mexico in 1999). That excludes teams like Nebraska, Maryland, Penn State and LSU.
Teams outside of those leagues had to have an RPI of 50* or better, as conference play in those leagues doesn't help drive RPIs nearly as much. That excludes teams like Bradley and VCU.
Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. Conference records are in parentheses. All data per Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.
Teams only achieve lock status when it appears a virtual certainty they will make the NCAAs.
(* -- St. Mary's sneaks in at 51 this week, as an unexpectedly low SOS has dragged down the RPI of a 17-1 club that could be the best team in what looks like a two-bid conference.)
Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson
These three Carolina schools will be in the bracket, and while Clemson started this way two seasons ago and missed, these Tigers look like a lock with one loss. It gets a bit messier after that in a league with considerable depth but not a ton of top-end quality after these four.
SHOULD BE IN
Florida State (15-3, 2-1; RPI: 20; SOS: 31)
There's nothing wrong with the Noles' profile at this point -- a loss at improved Northwestern and close defeats at home to No. 1 Pitt and No. 2 Duke -- and solid nonconference wins over Florida, Cal and Cincinnati (the last two on a neutral court). Saturday's overtime win over Maryland was important.
IN THE MIX
Miami (12-4, 2-2; RPI: 30; SOS: 19)
There is no shame in the Canes' four defeats (UConn, Ohio State, Clemson and North Carolina) other than star guard Jack McClinton's ill-conceived swipe at a Buckeye that got him ejected from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge affair when Miami led 19-7 at the time. Other than a win at Rupp Arena over Kentucky (something VMI also has done) though, there's not a ton of nonconference heft.
Virginia Tech (12-5, 2-1; RPI: 50; SOS: 59)
The Hokies' best nonconference win is probably over St. John's. Losses to Xavier (on a half-court buzzer-beater), Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Georgia by a total of eight points may be a big factor on Selection Sunday should Tech finish in the middle of the ACC. The next three (at Wake, at Miami, Clemson) are very tough.
Boston College (13-6, 1-3; RPI: 69; SOS: 57)
The upset of North Carolina is the calling card, but there's not a ton to like in the Eagles' profile beyond that. BC has some decent nonconference wins, one really curious loss (at home to Harvard) and hasn't done enough in league play. BC better make some ACC hay soon before the mid-February gauntlet of Wake, Clemson and Duke. Maryland's probably better positioned at the moment despite its RPI issue.
This is a one-team conference right now at the top. While Oklahoma fights for a No. 1 seed, it's a scramble everywhere else to determine the pecking order. Texas and Oklahoma State look better than the rest at the moment.
SHOULD BE IN
Texas (13-4, 2-1; RPI: 27; SOS: 30)
There's lots of quality (and variance) in the Horns' non-league slate. They have impressive wins over UCLA, Villanova and at Wisconsin and close losses at Arkansas, Michigan State and to Notre Dame in Hawaii. Compare this to Oklahoma State's slate and the computer numbers don't make any sense. The Horns lost big in Norman but will get numerous other solid tests before March.
Baylor (13-3, 2-1; RPI: 35; SOS: 49)
The Bears got the (significant) benefit of the doubt down the stretch to win an important home game against Oklahoma State ahead of a brutal stretch of Big 12 play. They took out Arizona State and Providence in Anaheim and won at Washington State. A non-league loss to Wake Forest won't hurt and a one-point setback to South Carolina shouldn't much, either.
IN THE MIX
Oklahoma State (12-4, 1-1; RPI: 22; SOS: 14)
The Cowboys are one of the leaders right now in the race for the "Best computer profile with nothing actually in it." Oklahoma State's RPI and SOS are great, even though its best nonconference wins are over Siena, Tulsa and Rhode Island. The Cowboys lost to Gonzaga and Michigan State at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando and got rolled at temperamental Washington. They also got hosed late at Baylor on Saturday and lost in OT.
Kansas (13-4, 2-0; RPI: 38; SOS: 45)
The defending champs aren't nearly as formidable this season, but the young Jayhawks are still pretty good and should keep getting better. Non-league wins over Tennessee and Washington help offset a loss to UMass and a blowout by mediocre Arizona. Unlike A&M, Kansas has a very manageable Big 12 slate.
Missouri (14-3, 2-1; RPI: 39; SOS: 80)
Had the Tigers not dumped their Big 12 opener at Nebraska, there would be a lot more buzz because Mike Anderson has things going in Columbia. Nonconference losses to Xavier and Illinois are no shame, and two Pac-10 wins (Cal and USC) and a victory at Georgia help the cause.
Texas A&M (14-3, 1-2; RPI: 42; SOS: 81)
The Aggies beat Arizona and Alabama. Even with a modest nonconference schedule, they definitely won't be able to say they didn't have enough chances for quality wins. A&M's conference schedule contains home-and-homes against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor and a roadie at Kansas all in the first 11 games. By the time the Aggies get to the softer final part of their league slate, it might not matter.