Bubble watch (cont.)
Congrats to the Tigers, who captured the regular-season title in style and put a hurt on Florida and Kentucky's at-large hopes. LSU was one of the biggest upward movers in this week's bracket.
SHOULD BE IN
The frazzled foursome has split into two dueling duos, which means we'll bump the first one up. South Carolina (20-7, 9-5; RPI: 44; RPI: 79) blistered Kentucky but then got trucked at Vandy, missing a chance to really stake a claim. The Gamecocks now host Tennessee (18-10, 9-5; RPI: 29; SOS: 3) on Thursday in a game that very well could be for the SEC East crown after the Vols' huge win at Florida on Sunday. A Vols win would give them a sweep of the Gamecocks and a home game remaining against Alabama. A South Carolina win means the Gamecocks just have to win at Georgia to grab the division.
IN THE MIX
Both teams now are clearly ahead of Kentucky (19-10, 8-6; RPI: 66, SOS: 64) and Florida (21-8, 8-6; RPI: 42; SOS: 97), which both lost twice this week and meet in a death match in Gainesville on Saturday. The loser of that game is in serious danger of missing the NCAAs. Florida first needs to handle a trip to Mississippi State, which is anything but a given considering the Gators' road form. If Kentucky somehow loses at home to Georgia mid-week, all bets are off.
Xavier's playing for seeding, but could have a very real impact on who else gets in from this league with a home game against Dayton on Thursday.
SHOULD BE IN
Dayton (24-5, 10-4; RPI: 27, SOS: 108) was tripped up at the buzzer at Rhode Island but managed to nab a crucial five-point home win over Temple. That more or less condemns the Owls to auto bid-or-bust, and gives Dayton a bit of a cushion to work with heading to Xavier on Thursday. If the Flyers lose that game, there's a very real chance they'll finish in third place, behind Rhode Island, in the league, which makes things pretty interesting. Double that if the Rams and Flyers meet in an A-10 semifinal, where the winner almost certainly would be in the NCAAs.
IN THE MIX
Rhode Island (22-8, 11-4; RPI: 60; SOS: 136) validated its mention last week, notching a huge pair of two-point wins over Dayton and at Duquesne. The Rams are now in pretty good position regardless of what happens in Thursday's Xavier-Dayton game. If the Flyers get the road upset, URI can nab at least a share of the league crown by beating UMass at home on Saturday. A win by the X-men means the Rams clinch the two-seed and can finish sole second ahead of the Flyers with a win or another Dayton loss. The series of excruciating near-misses earlier in the season leaves URI without a marquee win, so they very well might have to win a potential A-10 semifinal with Dayton. What a game that would be.
Utah's still in position to win the league, but BYU closed the gap on Saturday. This looks to all the world like a multi-bid league so the Cougars join the Utes in the next category.
SHOULD BE IN
Utah (20-7, 11-3; RPI: 9; SOS: 9) split the week and saw its RPI rise again to an incredible No. 9 overall. With a home finale Saturday against TCU, the Utes should get the one more win they need to grab at least a share of the league crown and would lock up a spot in the NCAAs. They can do some serious damage to New Mexico's late charge at The Pit on Tuesday night. Rival BYU (21-6, 10-4; RPI: 21; SOS: 45) had a huge week, winning at San Diego State and then handling Utah at home to jump up a category and position itself very strongly for an NCAA bid. With games at Wyoming and home to Air Force left, there's a decent chance they can catch Utah for at least a share of the league crown.
IN THE MIX
It's pretty simple for UNLV (20-8, 8-6; RPI: 52, SOS: 81) and San Diego State (17-8, 9-5; RPI: 48, SOS: 56). Both teams need to win their last two, which means the winner of Saturday's game in San Diego still has a chance for an at-large and the loser doesn't. The Rebels are ahead of the Aztecs at the moment, but that's irrelevant given the upcoming meeting. There's no way UNLV's better résumé can overcome, at best, a fifth-place league finish and at least seven losses in the conference. The MWC is good, but not that good. SDSU has two home games remaining and needs to get them both.
Where does New Mexico (19-10, 10-4; RPI: 69, SOS: 93) fit in after surviving at Colorado State in double overtime to stay on track for a share of the league title? It's hard to say, but fortunately the Lobos host Utah on Tuesday in a must-win game, so we'll have a better sense soon. They have won 10 of their last 13.
Locks: Memphis, Gonzaga, Butler
Butler took care of business in the Horizon League, winning the regular-season crown and moving back into lock status.
SHOULD BE IN
Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-4; RPI: 53; SOS: 186) had a really big week, winning twice and getting two Portland losses, which means sole possession of second place in the WCC and two rounds of tourney byes in Las Vegas. Let's put it out there right now: If the Gaels have Patty Mills back and beat Portland (or someone else) in the WCC semis, they should get into the NCAAs. They'd be, heading into the final, 19-1 with Mills with wins over bubble brothers Providence and San Diego State.
IN THE MIX
Utah State (25-4, 13-2; RPI: 30, SOS: 126) clinched the WAC crown by beating Hawaii, but then lost at rival Nevada, and may have burned its final lifeline. Ten days ago, it looked like USU needed to win at either St. Mary's (which was without Patty Mills) or at Nevada to give itself a fallback should it lose in the WAC tourney (not so conveniently held on Nevada's home floor). Now the Aggies are begging to be left out should they lose again. Is that fair? No, but it's reality when you only have two top 50 games all season.
Creighton (25-6, 14-4; RPI: 39, SOS: 113) edged Illinois State to make it 10 in a row and grab a share of the Missouri Valley crown with Northern Iowa, although the Panthers will be the No. 1 seed in Arch Madness. That could be important as a third meeting with the feisty Redbirds could happen in the tourney semis. Would a championship game loss to UNI be enough? Creighton beat New Mexico and hammered Dayton in non-league play. A comparison with Utah State should both be in the at-large pool would be very interesting.
Siena (23-7, 16-2; RPI: 28; SOS: 57) is another team that might now have to win the automatic bid after losing by 15 at second-place (and RPI top 75) Niagara. The Saints are the top seed in the MAAC tourney, which will be on their home court, so a loss there, unless it's in epic fashion in the final to Niagara, won't look very good for a team that missed on every big chance in non-league play.
Davidson (23-6, 17-2; RPI: 67; SOS: 156) clinched the SoCon crown, but probably needs the automatic bid from the tourney in Chattanooga. Non-league wins over West Virginia and NC State don't feel like enough as the bubble continues to strengthen around the Wildcats.
ON THE PERIPHERY
It's hard to see anyone else with a chance after UAB (20-9, 10-4; RPI: 43, SOS: 60) lost at home to Memphis. Neither the CAA nor the MAC is getting an at-large, and Niagara (24-7, 14-4; RPI: 54; SOS: 145) probably doesn't have enough schedule juice (4-2 vs. top 100) to make it out of the MAAC sans auto bid.
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