Mid-majors smiling after nationwide weekend of carnage
Does Duke's blowout loss at St. John's make the ACC look even softer?
With the muddle in the middle, could the Big 12 end up receiving just four bids?
Will Michigan State's continued struggles put the Spartans in bubble trouble?
Five years ago, Doug Elgin and Tom Yeager were the talk of college basketball.
Elgin, the Missouri Valley Conference commissioner, saw his league grab an astonishing four NCAA berths in a season where six MVC teams had a legitimate claim to dance. Yeager, his counterpart at the Colonial Athletic Association, only got two teams to the NCAAs after Hofstra's near miss, but one of those teams -- George Mason -- became the first mid-major Final Four participant in the 64/65-team era.
Since then, both leagues have settled back down into more standard mid-major lifestyles, scrapping hard to get even one at-large berth in any given year. As such, those two men may have been chief among those who enjoyed the weekend of carnage that went on in conferences all across the nation.
Both men's leagues are engaged in brutal multi-team tussles for the regular-season crown. As the bottoms of other leagues (Hi, Big East! Hello, SEC West! What's up, Big 12?) rise up and take bites out of their NCAA contenders, the openings for regular-season champs elsewhere become more pronounced. This week, Wichita State and Old Dominion both received at-larges in the bracket, and as long as the teams on top of their leagues keep beating everyone else besides each other, the survivors very well could have resumes worth at-larges should they not survive their conference tournaments.
An extra team for these leagues is not just window dressing. There are real media and cash benefits. Plus, the softness of the current bracket after the 4- or 5-seeds means this year's tournament could be ripe for double-digit seeds to make runs. So if you see the Colonial or Valley champ still standing on the tournament's second weekend, recall this past one. The smiling commissioner will be a good reminder.
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 collegerpi.com RPI report.
GW = good wins
BL = bad losses
(N) = neutral-site game
The sandblasting the Blue Devils took from St. John's on Sunday elevated some discussion points. In the bigger picture, with what Duke has done in the ACC, even without Kyrie Irving, does this result make the rest of the league look even softer? That's probably an overreaction, but for those relying on Duke as their marquee win (like Florida State), they probably feel a bit less comfortable now.
SHOULD BE IN
North Carolina (15-5, 5-1; RPI: 15, SOS: 18)
The Heels were the league's big movers this week, edging past Miami on Harrison Barnes' late three and then hammering N.C. State to move into second place, tied in the loss column with Duke. Three of the next four are on the road, including a trip to Cameron coming on Feb. 9.
GW: Kentucky, at Miami?
BL: at GT (by 20)
Florida State (15-6, 5-2; RPI: 50, SOS: 71)
With a full week to prep for a trip to Clemson, the 'Noles delivered a complete clunker, getting shoved around and shut down in a 62-44 loss. The schedule remains favorable, though, so even with some modest computer numbers, FSU remains in solid shape.
GW: Duke, at Miami?, Baylor (N)?
BL: at Auburn
IN THE MIX
Boston College (14-7, 4-3; RPI: 34, SOS: 23)
BC got routed at Duke in its only game of the week. That happens to a lot of teams, but the Eagles' overall positioning is worsening. This is a huge week, with home games vs. UNC and VT to right things. Road trips still remain to Clemson, UNC and VT, and they don't get Duke at home.
GW: Texas A&M (N), at Maryland?, at South Carolina?
BL: Yale, Harvard?
Virginia Tech (14-6, 4-3; RPI: 68, SOS: 80)
The Hokies held on for an important home win over Miami after a disappointing L at Ga. Tech. Road games at N.C. State and BC await this week as the Hokies try to hold on to position and record.
GW: OK State (N)?
BL: Virginia, at Georgia Tech
Maryland (14-7, 4-3; RPI: 70, SOS: 61)
The Terps grabbed two double-digit road wins to get back above .500. Now they host Duke in a game they really need to win. Home dates with Wake Forest and Longwood after that are profile killers.
BL: VT (at home by 17)
Clemson (15-6, 4-3; RPI: 68, SOS: 100)
The Tigers won solidly twice at home to bounce into the mix, and the schedule remains very favorable. Very winnable trips to Virginia and GT this week will be key with BC and UNC visiting after that.
GW: at College of Charleston?
BL: Michigan (at home)?, at South Carolina?
Locks: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M
The Aggies remain fine even after a disappointing loss at scrappy Nebraska. Texas remains really good. Kansas took out some frustrations on K-State and put another dent into their in-state rival's hopes. Could the league get tapped out at four bids, though? The muddle in the middle will need to clear in positive fashion for one or two teams to bump that total up.
SHOULD BE IN
Missouri (16-4, 3-3; RPI: 27, SOS: 66)
The Tigers worked hard but weren't very close in Austin on Saturday. Texas' abysmal free-throw shooting kept the score tighter than the game really was. Have we found the ceiling on the Tigers? Fair or not, the loss didn't help Mizzou's rep as a bully team that can't handle superior athleticism/talent.
GW: Vanderbilt, vs. Illinois, Old Dominion?
BL: None, really
IN THE MIX
There are different gradients of this category across the board. In this conference, there's a huge drop-off at this point from Missouri to this group.
Baylor (14-6, 4-3; RPI: 86, SOS: 95)
The Bears edged Colorado after losing at K-State, but still haven't accomplished much of anything to help their profile. Right now, the best thing they have going for them is league standing and perception, so if they can string some more wins together, they could get benefit of the doubt on a soft bubble.
BL: at Iowa State (by 15)?
Oklahoma State (14-7, 2-5; RPI: 56, SOS: 62)
The one-point OT loss at league minnow Texas Tech may be a killer. The Pokes basically have to beat Missouri and Oklahoma at home this week ahead of a rough four-game run after that.
GW: Shorthanded K-State?, Missouri State?
Colorado (13-8, 3-4; RPI: 95, SOS: 112)
The Buffs gave their all, but four-point Ls at home to Kansas and at Baylor may be cripplers. Beating Iowa State at home next is a must ahead of a really difficult four-game stretch.
GW: Missouri, at Kansas State (sans Kelly)?
BL: at San Francisco, at Oklahoma
Kansas State (13-8, 2-5; RPI: 42, SOS: 14)
Beating Baylor but getting blistered at Kansas leaves the Wildcats still needing wins quickly. The Ws over the Washington schools in nonleague play are decaying as quickly as K-State's resume. Better beat Nebraska at home before heading to Iowa State and Colorado.
GW: Gonzaga (N), at Washington State?
Nebraska (15-5, 3-3; RPI: 80, SOS: 145)
That one-point loss at Texas Tech looms even more now that the Huskers took out A&M on Saturday. I had Doc Sadler as my coach on the hot seat in our season preview and he's done a nice job. If they can win at K-State, they get a very meaningful home game with Kansas next weekend.
GW: Texas A&M
BL: Davidson (N), at Texas Tech
Locks: Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, Notre Dame
The league's top four have switched, with Notre Dame taking Syracuse's place after the Orange's four-game slide and the Irish's continued impressive form. If Villanova is a lock, ND has to be at this point with seven Top-50 wins. And the Irish can consolidate a really good seed profile over the next couple of weeks with a run of winnable games. Somewhat surprising losses for the others listed may dent their seeding a bit, but not overall safety by any means.
SHOULD BE IN
Georgetown (16-5, 5-4; RPI: 6, SOS: 2)
Very impressive week for the Hoyas, who routed St. John's and then slipped past Villanova on the road. The Hoyas' remaining schedule is somewhat favorable now. Home games against Louisville and Providence are up next.
GW: at Villanova, at Missouri, Utah State, at Memphis?
Syracuse (18-4, 5-4; RPI: 22, SOS: 33)
Relax, this doesn't mean the Orange are expected to miss the NCAAs now. It just means a 3-6 finish against their remaining schedule is not impossible, which means they're not a lock to make it. Up next: a trip to irritated UConn and then a trap game in Tampa.
GW: Notre Dame, Michigan State (N)?, at St. John's?
BL: Seton Hall (by 22)
West Virginia (14-6, 5-3; RPI: 13, SOS: 4)
Peyton Siva's H-O-R-S-E-style layup beat the Mountaineers at the death in Louisville, but they bounced back with a convincing win at Cincy. They don't have many soft spots left on the schedule, so this team could move a lot one way or the other before Selection Sunday.
GW: Vandy (N), at Georgetown, Purdue, Cleveland State?
BL: None, really
Louisville (17-4, 6-2; RPI: 24, SOS: 32)
It's amazing what a couple of possessions can do. The 'Ville easily could be on a stretch of five losses in six games. Instead, they have impressively grabbed wins against Marquette, St. John's, WVU and UConn and are in very strong position to make the NCAAs. There aren't very many "should win" games left on the slate, though, so with this team's small margin for error, volatility could be big.
GW: at UConn, West Virginia?, UNLV, Butler
IN THE MIX
St. John's (12-8, 4-5; RPI: 28, SOS: 3)
Sure, lose five out of six and then crush Duke on national TV. Makes sense. The Johnnies have four very good wins on their resume, but not enough of them overall at this point. That said, they have Rutgers, DePaul and South Florida left at home, there are wins to be had to pad the overall number.
GW: Duke, at West Virginia, Notre Dame, Georgetown
BL: St. Bonaventure, at Fordham
Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4; RPI: 44, SOS: 123)
Because of the Bearcats' nonleague schedule, the home loss to West Virginia complicates things more than you'd think. Cincy still visits Pitt, G'town, Marquette (and revived Providence), and also hosts UConn, G'town, St. John's and Louisville. That's a fancy way of saying 9-9 is no lock, and 8-10 very well isn't enough with their profile at the moment.
GW: Xavier, at St. John's?, Dayton (by 34)?
Marquette (14-8, 5-4; RPI: 58, SOS: 31)
What else is new? Marquette had a lead on UConn and couldn't hold it. Then TBW had a lead on Syracuse, blew it and then Jimmy Butler hit a couple of Js to ice it. I love this team. What fun can we expect on the three-game trip to Villanova, USF and G'town? Regardless, 11-7 could happen again. If it's 10-8, they might need it to be the "right" 10-8, so these road shots are important.
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