Pac-10 outlook grim in first Bubble Watch (cont.)
Locks: Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Georgetown
This league looks certain for six bids and a couple of other teams should notch enough wins to be strongly in the mix, if not clearly in, by Selection Sunday. With one No. 1 seed in the NCAAs really up for grabs at this point, the winner of this league could very well grab it.
SHOULD BE IN
Connecticut (11-4, 2-2, RPI: 7, SOS: 1) is a computer beast, thanks to its top-rated SOS. There's no shame in any of the Huskies' four single-digit losses, by a combined 17 points, to Duke, Kentucky, Cincinnati and G'town, all away from home. A couple of their close nonleague wins (over William & Mary and Harvard) look better as those clubs continue to win. The Huskies also still have nonleague games at Michigan and, more importantly, home vs. Texas in which to impress outside of Big East play.
Pitt (13-2, 3-0, RPI: 11, SOS: 18) has been the big surprise of early conference play after taking out Syracuse and then Cincinnati, both on the road. Next up? A trip to UConn. Thanks, schedule-makers. There's not a ton to lean on in nonleague play, although the neutral-site loss to Indiana is the only possible blemish. The other loss is in Kansas City against Texas.
IN THE MIX
Maybe the rough-and-tumble loss to Kentucky was the kickstart that Louisville (12-4, 3-0, RPI: 38, SOS: 21) needed? The Cards showed resilience at Rupp and followed it up with league wins at Providence and over St. John's. There's basically nothing in the Cards' nonconference profile that will help them, and a couple of weak home losses that will hurt, so they'll need to beat some of the league's upper crust.
Cincinnati (11-5, 2-2, RPI: 61, SOS: 58) may look back on this week, with losses to Pitt and at Seton Hall, as a costly one. The Bearcats were off to a 2-0 league start and their schedule really stiffens in the backstretch. They need to grab wins now when they're more readily available. Out of league they beat Vandy and Maryland on neutral floors and had tough losses to Gonzaga (OT) and Xavier (2OT).
The same applies to Notre Dame (14-3, 3-1, RPI: 55, SOS: 102), which lost at home to Northwestern and Loyola Marymount and didn't have a quality win to counter them until the Irish held off West Virginia on Saturday when DeSean Butler's banked three spun out just before the buzzer.
Marquette (10-6, 1-3, RPI: 77, SOS: 32) is a solid team with a profile that's headlined by excruciating losses (to Florida State, N.C. State, West Virginia and Villanova twice by a total of 10 points, as well as one to Wisconsin). That only leaves a neutral-site win over Xavier as real help. The Golden Eagles still have to travel to Syracuse and UConn this month, but remember this section when all the "Look out for Marquette!" features start appearing a month from now. Kenpom.com has them 22nd right now, in part because they've been the third-most "unlucky" team in Division I.
Seton Hall (10-5, 1-3, RPI: 85, SOS: 45) really needed that win over Cincy. The Pirates are a solid team that hasn't made the most of its opportunities, dropping close home decisions to Temple, West Virginia (OT) and Syracuse before falling in OT to Virginia Tech in Cancun and playing UConn tough on the road. The Pirates' best nonleague win, by a large margin, is at Cornell.
You hate to use the term "must-win" in mid-January, but St. John's (10-5, 0-3, RPI: 60, SOS: 34) might be looking at two of them in upcoming home games against Cincinnati and DePaul. The schedule after that gets brutal, and wins over Temple, Georgia and Siena won't be enough to carry a mediocre league mark.
Providence (10-6, 2-2, RPI: 72, SOS: 39) is a very fringe candidate at this point. The Friars' profile is completely barren.
SHOULD BE IN
It was kind of a mediocre nonconference run for Michigan State (13-3, 3-0, RPI: 23, SOS: 67), which beat Gonzaga but lost to Florida (in Atlantic City) and at North Carolina and Texas. The Spartans are starting to find their stride in the league, though. They outslugged Wisconsin at home and easily handled Northwestern and Iowa away. Now they get three straight at Breslin and very well could be 6-0 heading into a stretch of seven road games in their next 10, including visits to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Purdue.
Wisconsin (13-3, 3-1, RPI: 16, SOS: 23) should be pleased with the split last week, battling at Michigan State before taking down Purdue at home. The Badgers have a better nonleague profile than the Spartans, with wins over Duke and Marquette, among others, and the local rivalry helps explain the OT road loss at UW-Green Bay. The back half of their league slate is soft, so accruing a few more wins ahead of back-to-back rematches with the Spartans and Boilermakers could lead to a very strong NCAA seed (and the first two rounds in Milwaukee).
Minnesota (12-4, 3-1, RPI: 43, SOS: 50) got handled at Purdue and then took out Evan Turner-enhanced Ohio State, which was nice. The win over Butler has lost a bit of luster, so league play will be the better read on the Gophers; so far it looks pretty good. Up next: home-and-home with Michigan State stacked around a trip to Indiana.
IN THE MIX
Forget Ohio State's (11-5, 1-3, RPI: 88, SOS: 146) overall profile numbers. The Buckeyes are 8-2, 1-1 with star Evan Turner in the lineup. They'll have several chances in the next two weeks to enhance their Turner profile (win over Cal, close loss to UNC) with trips to Purdue and West Virginia and a home date with Wisconsin.
Despite losing center Kevin Coble early in the season, Northwestern (12-3, 1-2, RPI: 75, SOS: 140) had positioned itself as an NCAA contender by winning at N.C. State and beating Iowa State and Notre Dame. Then the Wildcats blew a huge lead at Illinois and were pounded at home by Michigan State to start league play. They got a big win at Michigan on Sunday ahead of home dates with Wisconsin and Purdue and then a trip to Ohio State. In three games, we'll probably have a clearer answer.
Hey, you have to beat who's on the schedule, and Illinois (11-5, 3-0, RPI: 69, RPI: 59) has done that in league play. Wins over Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana won't get the Illini into the dance, but victories over Clemson and Vandy will at least help offset nonleague losses to Utah, Bradley and Georgia.
This league, when all is said and done, likely will be worse than last year's SEC, which is really hard to imagine. There's going to be a huge influx of teams from the East playing in the Spokane and San Jose subregionals.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
California (10-5, 2-1, RPI: 28, SOS: 2) is the best-positioned team in the league right now, even after a bad OT home loss to UCLA last week. Injury issues or not, there's no shame in any of the Bears' other four losses (neutral to Syracuse and Ohio State and at New Mexico and Kansas). Unfortunately, there's not a lot of good in the mix, either. Best nonleague win ... Iowa State?
What is going on at Washington (10-5, 1-3, RPI: 51, SOS: 25)? The Huskies' only good nonleague win, over Texas A&M, was marred by a leg fracture to the Aggies' second-leading scorer. The Huskies lost at Texas Tech and to Georgetown. In league play, struggling Oregon came to Seattle and won by 11. Then the Huskies were swept in Arizona, losing both games by 17 points. Their only league win is by six over Oregon State, which then lost at home by 51 to transitional D-I Seattle ... and then won at Oregon.
Who else deserves a look? Here are your options:
Oregon (10-5, 2-1, RPI: 94, SOS: 147)
Arizona State (12-5, 2-2, RPI: 99, SOS: 131)
Washington State (12-4, 2-2, RPI: 80, SOS: 193)
Not sure there's much more to say at this point ...
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