Bubble Watch: Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Atlantic-10 (Cont.)
Locks: Ohio State, Wisconsin
The BIG has a legitimate national title contender and a team that's No. 1 in Pomeroy's rankings -- and they're not the same team. Ohio State has looked tremendous all season when Jared Sullinger has played. He may be the most indispensable player in the nation (unless you want to argue for Kansas' Thomas Robinson). The Badgers (Pom's BFFs) lead a very deep cadre of clubs trying to stop the Buckeyes.
SHOULD BE IN
Indiana (12-0, 0-0; RPI: 53, SOS: 269)
The Hoosiers have looked much better than I expected and have the trump card of the buzzer-beating win over Kentucky in their pocket. Getting a win at NC State is also credible. The rest of the sked has been very weak, but the strength of the Big Ten will more than mitigate that. We'll know very quickly what we have here. IU opens league play at Michigan State on Wednesday, then hosts Ohio State and Michigan.
GW: Kentucky, at NC State?
Michigan State (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 21, SOS: 35)
ZOMG! The Spartans are 0-2!! #lameNovemberheadlines. The Spartans held their own against UNC (They're on a boat!) and Duke (at Cameron Square Garden) and settled in after that, picking off Florida State and winning at Gonzaga for some profile meat. The Spartans could keep rolling for awhile --three of their four games with Ohio State and Wisconsin come on or after Feb. 11.
GW: at Gonzaga, Florida State
Minnesota (12-1, 0-0; RPI: 18, SOS: 61)
Credit the Gophers for exceeding expectations so far, in large part thanks to a savvy scheduling job. They've feasted on solid-profile mid-majors like South Dakota State, Bucknell, Fairfield, Indiana State and North Dakota State (all top-80 in RPI at the moment). Seven of their first 11 in league play are on the road, so things could look a lot different in five weeks or so.
GW: Virginia Tech (for bubble purposes)
Michigan (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 46, SOS: 100)
Going 2-1 in Maui against Memphis, Duke and UCLA sounded awesome, but the Tigers and (especially) the Bruins have been disappointments, although the UCLA grease fire probably needs a stronger adjective. They had a post-Maui hangover loss at Virginia and here we are. Five of UM's first seven league games are at home, and one of the two away games is at Iowa, so they need to make some hay early.
GW: Memphis (probably will look OK in March), Iowa State?
BL: None, really
Illinois (11-2, 0-0; RPI: 43, SOS: 94)
The Illini have struggled since knocking off Gonzaga for a good profile win. In the five games since, they have lost "neutral" site games to UNLV and Missouri and barely scraped past St. Bona and Cornell. Blossoming big man Meyers Leonard and Co. will have to do damage against the front end of the league slate. The back stretch is much more demanding.
IN THE MIX
Northwestern (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 37, SOS: 85)
The Wildcats could ride the Big Ten tide to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Their nonconference performance was typically meh -- they scheduled almost no one and lost at home to Baylor and at Creighton. The win over Seton Hall may become a surprise plus. Nonetheless, it's all in front of them. They only face Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana once each and the schedule is front- and backloaded with winnable home games. Get to 10-8 and they're likely going to dance.
GW: Seton Hall (for now)
Purdue (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 70, SOS: 117)
The Boilermakers are a couple of huge blown leads from having a really good profile. Wins over Iona and Temple in Puerto Rico should hold up well. They only play Ohio State and Wisconsin once each, so their record at season's end may need a dose of adjustment against some of their peers.
GW: Temple, Iona?
Locks: None (and this is unlikely to change all season).
There's no way to sugarcoat how poorly this season has gone. Overall, the league is 2-20 versus the RPI top 50 and just 12-38 against the top 100. What's the league's best win? Texas on a neutral floor? Denver? Colorado State? At New Mexico State? You get the point. And there will be no good Ws to get in league play, either. With only two teams in the RPI top 85 and no one in the top 50, the "WAC-12" is going to collapse on itself -- kind of like an actual black hole, but with much less density. A one-bid league is in play if the regular-season champ also wins the auto bid.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Arizona (9-4, 0-0; RPI: 57, SOS: 34)
Are the Wildcats the league's best hope as they continue to adjust to life without Derrick Williams? Their four losses have all been competitive and to solid or better teams. They only have one top-100 win, though, and Duquesne's not the fanciest pelt on the wall.
California (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 65, SOS: 108)
They were thrashed by Mizzou (N) and at UNLV and lost a tough one at San Diego State. Beating Denver, UCSB and Weber State is better than most believe, but those aren't great anchors for an at-large profile.
BL: None, although margins against best competition are a red flag
Oregon (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 86, SOS: 155)
The Ducks missed on a shot to cash in Ezeli-less Vandy and suffered a tepid home loss to Virginia, but the largest loss may be that of star recruit Jabari Brown, who bailed on the program after just two games. I liked the Ducks as a dark horse league champ, and that remains possible.
Stanford (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 97, SOS: 253)
The Cardinal's schedule has been pretty soft, but the numbers would have looked substantially better if they had handled Butler at home. Wins over Colorado State, OK State and NC State are something.
GW: Colorado State?, NC State?
Colorado (6-4, 0-0; RPI: 89; SOS: 58)
A technical requirement due to RPI at this stage. Can't see the Buffs as a legit NCAA at-large contender, but maybe they'll prove everyone wrong.
BL: Maryland (N)?, Wyoming?
Note: Washington and Oregon State are outside the top 100 (as are UCLA, Wazzu, USC, etc.). The Bruins are actually 200th, which again shows how punishing the RPI can be if you lose at home (or neutral). Only one of their losses is bad -- Loyola Marymount -- and the SOS isn't bad at all.
Locks: Kentucky, Florida
I can't wait to see the two Wildcats-Gators games. The contrast in size and styles could be incredibly compelling. The league should get at least three more beyond those two. Vandy and Alabama likely are hurting their seeding, not selection, and Mississippi State looks very promising. Can anyone else sneak in, too?
SHOULD BE IN
Alabama (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 13, SOS: 11)
The Tide have struggled to score for most of the season, but it's the defense that's been surprisingly porous during the recent run of three losses in five games. The three defeats are the only time this season that 'Bama has allowed opponents to break the 1.00 points per possession barrier. None of the losses are poor, but they've caused people to pump the breaks a bit on the Tide.
GW: Wichita State, Purdue?
BL: at Dayton?
Mississippi State (12-1, 0-0; RPI: 60, SOS: 179)
The nation thought "same ol' Bulldogs" when they lost at home to Akron in the second game of the season, but they haven't lost since, beating Arizona and West Virginia along the way. They have a huge shot "at" Baylor (in Dallas) Wednesday night. The SEC still plays an unbalanced schedule this season (even with one division), so the Bulldogs only play Kentucky at home (but play at Florida and Vandy).
GW: Arizona, West Virginia
BL: Akron at home?
Vanderbilt (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 39, SOS: 8)
That the Commodores are that solid in RPI even with three home losses shows how solid their schedule has been. That said, this team looks a lot more like what I projected in the preseason than most others' top-10 predictions. Festus Ezeli's return will not solve other limiting factors, but Vandy is clearly a better team with him available.
GW: NC State? At Davidson? Oregon??
BL: Cleveland State and Indiana State at home?
IN THE MIX
Mississippi (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 42, SOS: 65)
A bit of a computer profile monster despite losing their last two games (at Southern Miss and home to Middle Tennessee State), the Rebels' best win is over Miami (Fla.) in OT. They're also on the old "West" side of the league, so they get Florida and Vandy at home only, but travel to Rupp Arena.
GW: Miami (Fla.)?
BL: MTSU (although the Blue Raiders are solid), at Southern Miss (No. 3 in RPI)?
LSU (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 59, SOS: 87)
The Tigers were just puttering along and then -- BLAM! -- home upset of Marquette. Make it six wins on the trot now and they're being discussed heading into league play. And this is with freshmen Johnny O'Bryant and Anthony Hickey struggling offensively. Iowa State transfer big man Justin Hamilton has really helped, though.
BL: at Coastal Carolina, South Alabama
Georgia (7-5, 0-0; RPI: 80, SOS: 39)
An RPI technicality at this point. The Bulldogs' only top-100 win is over South Dakota State (although they also beat Notre Dame and USC -- which would be a much more notable accomplishment in football.)
BL: None really, but GT and Cincy have terrible RPIs.
The league looks primed for multiple bids with Saint Joe's, Saint Louis and Dayton joining presumed heavyweights Xavier and Temple as early potential at-larges. The A-10 is deeper than it has been in awhile, so if teams can get some separation at the top, they should compile strong profiles.
SHOULD BE IN
Saint Joseph's (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 22, SOS: 26)
The Hawks made the news last week as the Todd O'Brien case blew up, but should be making it for how well they're playing. A few possessions here and there and things could be even better, but the win over Creighton really adds heft to an early profile that has a couple of names that are having down years.
BL: at American
Xavier (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 64, SOS: 88)
Speaking of making news for the wrong reason, the Musketeers have fallen off badly since the #zipemup brawl with Cincinnati. Losing at RPI 279 Hawaii after getting routed by Oral Roberts (while short-handed) and worked by Long Beach State is not very impressive. Expect a rebound -- this team looked too good early to let the whole season derail due to the fight fallout.
GW: at Vandy, Purdue
BL: at Hawaii
Temple (7-3, 0-0; RPI: 25, SOS: 41)
The Owls haven't looked the part of A-10 favorite yet. The win over Wichita State is solid, but it came in the middle of a 1-2 Puerto Rico Tipoff. Losing at Texas sounds OK, but it's a game a legit top 25 team can get this season. The league will test them on more nights than it did the last couple of seasons.
GW: Wichita State (N)
BL: at Bowling Green
IN THE MIX
Dayton (9-4, 0-0; RPI: 49, SOS: 22)
Brian Gregory is gone, but the Flyers remain all over the performance map. Win the Old Spice Classic and beat Alabama, lose at RPI 248 Miami (Ohio) and at home to Buffalo by 29. The Flyers have an interesting bubble game this week when they host Ole Miss. Another name nonconference pelt would be nice.
GW: Minnesota (N), Alabama, Fairfield (N)?
BL: at Miami (Ohio), Buffalo by 29?
Saint Louis (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 52, SOS: 208)
The names look better than the opponents' actual quality this season (as the SOS can attest), but the Billikens manhandled Washington and took down the 76 Classic by beating BC, Villanova and Oklahoma. Their New Year's Eve showdown at The Pit in Albuquerque should be a great contrast in styles.
GW: Oklahoma (N), Villanova?
BL: at Loyola Marymount
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