Early returns aren't encouraging for mid-majors across America
Beyond Duke, it's impossible to project what will happen in a wide-open ACC
There are already 5 tourney locks in the Big East, and 3 more that should be in
The A-10 has suffered a disappointing nonleague run after a huge season in '09-10
Bubble Watch is back and your satisfaction is 100 percent guaranteed!
OK, maybe not, especially this early in the season, but it's never too soon to start parsing through growing profiles and see what the macro landscape looks like for this season's NCAA tournament field. At this stage, the early returns for the smaller guys are not good. Through weak scheduling and/or blown opportunities, there are very few legitimate mid-major at-large candidates at this point. Teams will have to be nearly perfect in league play to force their way into contention.
Please note at this point that a lot of the data available is still fairly limited and a solid dose of subjectivity needs to be added (both here and in the updated bracket projection) for wild situations like Marquette having an RPI of almost 200 or Cincinnati going unbeaten against a horrible schedule. We'll have enough credible data soon enough when the rest of the leagues start conference play, so hang tight.
Remember, records listed are Division I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS (Strength of Schedule) data are from Sunday's realtimerpi.com RPI report.
GW = good wins
BL = bad losses
(N) = neutral-site game
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Even without Kyrie Irving, the Blue Devils are the best team in the nation (although Ohio State is starting to creep up on Duke). Anything more than three losses heading into the NCAA tournament would be a shock, as would anything less than yet another No. 1 seed.
After that? It's impossible to figure out which is the league's second-best team, let alone how many teams will ultimately make it, given the parity and lack of top-end quality.
SHOULD BE IN
Boston College (9-2 overall, 1-0 conference; RPI: 10, SOS: 4)
The Eagles have really responded since a surprise early loss to Yale, taking down four credible major-conference foes in a run of eight wins in their last nine.
GW: Texas A&M (N), Cal (N), at Maryland
IN THE MIX
North Carolina (7-4, 0-0; RPI: 18, SOS: 2)
The Tar Heels are rooting for Kentucky's freshmen to continue to improve because the two-point home win over the Wildcats is all they have to show for a nonleague campaign that includes losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois and Texas.
Maryland (7-4, 0-1; RPI: 103; SOS: 73)
The Terps played well in neutral-site losses to Pitt, Illinois and Temple, but they don't have anything helping them at the moment beyond noble efforts. Losing the ACC opener at home to BC was a misstep.
BL: Boston College
Florida State (9-2, 1-0; RPI: 118, SOS: 232)
We'll know more about the 'Noles after this week's Diamond Head Classic. They open with host Hawaii and could face some combo of Butler, Mississippi State and/or Washington State. FSU had two home chances to impress and its offense failed in both of them. Will seven-footer Jon Kreft be the difference?
Virginia (7-3, 1-0; RPI: 55, SOS: 72)
The Cavaliers made up for two early blowout losses with solid wins at Minnesota and Virginia Tech. The next ACC game, home to UNC on Jan. 8 could be big. It's the only matchup between the two teams and precedes a trip to Duke.
GW: at Minnesota, at Virginia Tech
BL: at Stanford (by 21)
Virginia Tech (6-4, 0-1, RPI: 49; SOS: 16)
The Hokies' beefed-up schedule has provided mixed results, with a couple wins over possible at-large competitors and some notable misses, including the ACC opener at home to Virginia.
GW: Miss. State (N), OK State (N)
Miami (7-3, 0-0; RPI: 22, SOS: 20)
The 'Canes have a mixed bag of results and they may regret the neutral site loss to Central Florida, even with the Knights still being undefeated. Miami has a tough start in ACC play, so by the end of January, we should be pretty certain whether the 'Canes can contend for an at-large.
GW: West Virginia, Ole Miss
BL: at Rutgers
N.C. State (6-4, 0-0; RPI: 33, SOS: 47)
Sunday was troubling for the Wolfpack, with a home loss to Arizona followed by coach Sidney Lowe calling out injured senior Tracy Smith, saying he has to decide whether he wants to play with pain. The raw talent is here. The experience, chemistry and coaching may not be for a team that's whiffed on its four biggest opportunities of the season.
GW: George Mason?
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State
A second-half offensive meltdown against Florida shouldn't alarm Wildcats fans as far as making the NCAAs, and while Kansas' addition of Josh Selby looks timely, let's not hand the league to the Jayhawks just yet. Not with the league's depth, especially in the north, where Kansas, K-State and Missouri will play a double round-robin.
SHOULD BE IN
Texas A&M (9-1, 0-0; RPI: 26; SOS: 116)
The Aggies have quietly compiled a decent profile with wins over Temple and Washington, and the two-point loss to BC in Orlando doesn't look nearly as bad as it once did.
GW: Temple (N), Washington
Missouri (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 42, SOS: 57)
The Tigers blew the Georgetown game at home and held off Vandy in their other test against a comparable foe. Let's see what comes of the Braggin' Rights showdown with Illinois on Wednesday.
Texas (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 32; SOS: 74)
Skip the weird hiccup at improving USC and the 'Horns had a nice nonleague run, with two quality neutral-site wins and a near miss against Pitt. They have a huge chance at Michigan State on Wednesday to improve their positioning.
GW: Illinois (N), North Carolina (N)
BL: at USC
Baylor (7-1, 0-0; RPI: 94; SOS: 239)
The Bears failed in their first real test (losing to Gonzaga) and their point guard play remains a concern, but they are still a solid team with a lot of quality size. They should get a couple good games in Hawaii this week, assuming they dispatch San Diego in the opener of the Diamond Head Classic.
IN THE MIX
Oklahoma State (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 53; SOS: 184)
The Cowboys have a nice record but flopped against Virginia Tech in their only big opportunity. They get another one at Gonzaga on New Year's Eve before a really tough opening stretch in Big 12 play.
Iowa State (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 124, SOS: 267)
The Cyclones have been a nice story in Fred Hoiberg's first season , but have beaten no one and also lost to Northern Iowa and Cal.
BL: None, really
Locks: Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Connecticut
UConn very well may regress toward the mean as league play moves forward, but the Huskies have to be in the lock category right now. These other four look like the solid top quarter of the league and should safely make the NCAA tournament.
SHOULD BE IN
West Virginia (8-2, 0-0; RPI: 5, SOS: 6)
It's been a so-so season so far in Morgantown, with a couple of solid wins and a couple of games that got away late. There's still a January nonleague game with Purdue plus many chances in Big East play.
GW: Vandy, Cleveland State
BL: at Miami?
Notre Dame (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 24, SOS: 97)
The experienced Irish got a lot of solid work done at the Old Spice Classic, taking out Georgia, Cal and Wisconsin, plus they beat Gonzaga. The lone loss to Kentucky (in Louisville) is understandable.
GW: Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgia
Louisville (9-1, 0-0; RPI: 38, SOS: 98)
They haven't left home, but wins over Butler and UNLV are credible. The home loss to Drexel is disappointing, but the physical Dragons are sitting at 8-1.
GW: Butler, UNLV
IN THE MIX
Cincinnati (10-0, 0-0; RPI: 90; SOS: 328)
Unbeaten and mostly untested, the Bearcats should remain unbeaten heading into the new year. There's a long way to go, though, before NCAA talk becomes serious, as they are the Virginia Tech of this season.
Marquette (8-3, 0-0; RPI: 183; SOS: 262)
Team Bubble Watch is more or less 0-3 this season, despite looking very capable in the losses to Duke, Gonzaga and Wisconsin. A trip to Vandy later this month is an important game for resume purposes, because the Eagles' RPI and overall profile at this point are really weak.
Providence (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 54, SOS: 155)
The Friars have a couple of OK wins. Losing to La Salle in Cancun isn't great. Either way, they'll need to do some significant work in league play to buttress this profile.
BL: La Salle (N)?
Seton Hall (6-4, 0-0; RPI: 95, SOS: 67)
The Pirates will be judged heavily on their work when injured leading scorer Jeremy Hazell returns. Three of their four losses have come in his absence.
BL: at Arkansas
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