Bubble Watch (cont.)
The Wildcats remain the league's biggest story as they move toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but Tennessee's surge despite all the legal issues is the most compelling current one. After that? There's room to roam.
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Tennessee (14-2, 2-0, RPI: 21, SOS: 60) not only held its own while shorthanded, it backed up its upset of Kansas with a thumping of Auburn and an overtime victory over Ole Miss. Now that two of the suspended players have been reinstated, the Vols have more depth for this week's road swing to Alabama and Georgia.
IN THE MIX
Very quietly, Vanderbilt (13-3, 3-0, RPI: 22, SOS: 29) has won eight straight after a road sweep at Alabama and South Carolina. Beating Auburn at home on Saturday should be a priority, as the next two-game trip after that is at Tennessee and Kentucky. We'll find out everything we need to know there. Nonleague was a mixed bag, with losses to Western Kentucky and Illinois) and wins over Missouri and at Saint Mary's.
It was far from easy, but Mississippi State (15-3, 3-0, RPI: 44, SOS: 128) held off Arkansas and rallied past Georgia to stay perfect in SEC play. That's important since the Bulldogs didn't do very much out of conference, with losses to Western Kentucky, Richmond and Rider and only a win over Old Dominion worth all that much. Four of their next five are now on the road, so we'll see.
Let's just say that Mississippi (13-4, 1-2, RPI: 42, SOS: 77) won't be showing its final possession of regulation at Tennessee on its season highlight video. Or the last two possessions of OT. The Rebels had a real chance to take a huge road win but couldn't close the deal after edging past Georgia, a team that will pick off more contenders this season. That puts some more pressure on Wednesday's home game with South Carolina, as the two after that are back on the road. The nonleague win over K-State is very good and beating UTEP (with Derrick Caracter) is valid, too.
Alabama (11-6, 1-2, RPI: 87, SOS: 51) is very fringe at this point after losing at home to Vandy by a point and then getting handled at Arkansas. The next three are at home, which could very well be the Tide's season, even this early. Six of nine after that are on the road.
Florida (12-5, 1-2, RPI: 81, SOS: 93) gave Kentucky a good run, but ran out of steam. Beating LSU was needed and the near-term has some winnable games. Maybe the best thing for Florida is Michigan State's rise, as the Gators beat the Spartans in Atlantic City. Losses in three straight games in the state of Florida -- to Syracuse, Richmond (both technically neutral-site) and South Alabama -- don't help.
South Carolina (11-6, 2-1, RPI: 79, SOS: 55) split home games with LSU and Vandy, which isn't going to do it. This week's trips to Ole Miss and Florida give the Gamecocks two chances to take a step forward. USC beat Western Kentucky and Richmond, but lost at Wofford and BC in nonleague play.
There's no real separation yet behind (or even slightly in front) of the Owls, who remain perfect in the league. That should make upcoming tussles among the league's top flight very fun.
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IN THE MIX
Richmond (14-5, 3-1, RPI: 30, SOS: 59) won a pair of hard-fought games at home -- UMass in overtime and La Salle by four. The Spiders have four more winnable games before Temple comes calling on Feb. 6. Out of the A-10, the Spiders beat Missouri, Mississippi State and Florida (all on neutral floors) and also topped Old Dominion at home. They also couldn't hold leads at Wake Forest (OT loss), VCU or William & Mary, but they still have the best profile depth in this grouping.
Rhode Island (14-2, 2-1, RPI: 20, SOS: 57) got a taste of life in the oversized A-10, crushing lightweights Saint Joe's and Fordham and dropping 17 spots in the RPI. The Rams should take care of Duquesne at home and then head to the Ohio proving grounds, taking on Xavier and Dayton. URI will need some quality wins in their A-10 run. The Rams beat Oklahoma State at Mohegan Sun Arena, handled Providence at home, and also won at BC and a decent Akron team, but there's no marquee W there.
Temple's not the league leader right now -- although that could change when the Owls host Xavier (12-5, 4-0, RPI: 16, SOS: 3), which handled Charlotte ahead of beating in-state rival Dayton for the 25th straight time at home. Crazy. Winning some close games lately is a nice departure from nonleague play, where the X-men lost in the "clock game" at Butler, at Wake Forest in 2OT and also vs. Marquette, leaving their nonleague profile leaning mostly on a win over Cincinnati (also in 2OT).
Yup, you read that right. It's 25 in a row at Xavier for Dayton (13-4, 2-1, RPI: 31, SOS: 46) after dropping a four-point decision on Saturday. Beyond the historic context, that's a missed chance for the Flyers, who are riding wins over Georgia Tech and Old Dominion for nonleague credit. The good news? Dayton doesn't have another road game against a contender until Feb. 24 at Temple. That means chances for wins, just not truly marquee ones.
Charlotte (12-5, 2-1, RPI: 83, SOS: 155) lost at Xavier before edging La Salle at home, and needs to do some work on the upcoming trip to Richmond and La Salle. Crushing shorthanded Louisville by 22 at Freedom Hall is more or less the extent of the 49ers' candidacy at this point, so they need some good league Ws.
William & Mary continues to win, but with three other teams also just with one league loss, even the regular-season crown is far from a certainty for the terrific Tribe.
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Two seven-point home wins over bottom-half teams keep things going for William & Mary (14-3, 6-1, RPI: 28, SOS: 86). A trip to desperate VCU followed by a home game against 5-1 Old Dominion will be good measures of how serious the Tribe's NCAA crusade will be.
IN THE MIX
After a trip to Delaware, Old Dominion (13-5, 5-1, RPI: 40, SOS: 67) has a home-and-home with W&M and a trip to Northeastern in its following four, so we'll know whether there's more than one serious at-large hopeful in the league. It would have been a lot better had OSU backed up its win at Georgetown, but they dropped nonleague games vs. Missouri and Miss. State (in South Padre) and at Richmond and Dayton.
VCU (12-4, 4-3, RPI: 47, SOS: 105) remains a fringe candidate, despite two league wins and Oklahoma's mini-surge, which helps improve the Rams' home thumping of OU. They're still two games in the loss column behind four teams in the CAA, and they almost certainly need a top-two finish to be a legit at-large hopeful.
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