Bubble Watch: Big Ten, Big 12 could flex muscles come March
North Carolina and Duke are without question the class of the ACC this season
Helped by Baylor, Kansas, the Big 12 is 68-3 against teams outside the top 100
Missouri will need some quality wins if its going to lock in a tourney berth
Bubble Watch is back! And while it's awfully early to make concrete judgments about many individual teams, there are some definitive trends from nonconference play that will significantly shape the real bracket you see in March:
-- The Big Ten could be this season's Big East, with a rising tide that carries a lot of its teams. With nine of the league's 12 teams in the RPI top 100 and no true weak sisters at the bottom, any BIG teams that finish at .500 or better will look pretty compelling come March. The Big 12 could prosper similarly.
-- Leagues like the Big East and SEC are already showing separation between the haves and have nots, creating a cap of sorts on the number of possible bids. The ACC has gone the other way, with no one clearly emerging from a soft middle to join Duke and North Carolina.
-- The Pac-12 is making the last couple of seasons, when the league was down, look like vintage Big East campaigns. Check out the details below on why we could be looking at the first one-bid "major" conference in the 64/65/68-team era.
Those last two bullets are welcome news for leagues like the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and West Coast, all of which have multiple legit candidates and that could usher in three-bid (or better) seasons.
A quick reminder on the standard rules of engagement:
-- RPI cutoffs for early Bubble Watches: Top 100 for BCS football conferences, top 75 for remaining conference breakouts, top 50 for smaller-conference standouts.
-- Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Monday's collegerpi.com RPI report. GW = good wins. BL = bad losses. (N) = neutral-site game.
-- Auto bids go to the best RPI of the conference leaders (based on fewest league losses).
Locks: Duke, North Carolina
Nothing has happened to suggest the Blue Devils and Tar Heels aren't the clear class of the league, nor has any team clearly stepped up to fill in the No. 3 spot. Overall, the league's a bit overrated by the computers at this stage, going 73-11 against teams outside the top 100. That will help bubblers come March, even though the league is just 10-22 versus the RPI top 50 right now.
SHOULD BE IN
Virginia (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 29, SOS: 109) The Cavaliers' record is nice, but the underlying quality is modest. They lost the Paradise Jam opener to TCU and only really have Michigan at home as a solid win. That said, Bennett Ball is taking hold. Virginia shoots well inside the arc and is second in defensive rebound rate. I had the Cavaliers in SI.com's preseason bracket and I still think they'll make the real one.
IN THE MIX
Florida State (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 48, SOS: 19)
The Seminoles have been moderately disappointing as fears of a post-Chris Singleton, ineffective offense have been founded. The four losses are to Harvard and UConn in the Bahamas and at Michigan State and Florida. Best win? Ummm ... hmm ... UCF?
North Carolina State (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 63, SOS: 21)
Mark Gottfried has things looking up in his first season in Raleigh. The Wolfpack beat Texas at the IZOD Center, which makes their resume more or less the equivalent of the entire Pac-12's. No bad losses, but picking off at least one of Vandy, IU or Stanford (also lost to Syracuse at home) would have helped.
GW: None, really.
Virginia Tech (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 56, SOS: 63)
The Hokies are 56th in RPI with no good wins? Cut and paste that anytime between December and March in any season and be close to correct. The three losses are Syracuse (N), at Minnesota and against K-State. No shame there, but the only top 100 wins are St. Bona and MEAC member Norfolk State.
Miami (7-4, 0-0; RPI: 55, SOS: 31)
Now that Reggie Johnson is back, we can start to properly evaluate the Hurricanes. They did nothing to help themselves without him, but at least they won the games they were supposed to.
Note: Maryland, currently outside the RPI top 100, can be evaluated better going forward now whole.
Locks: Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas
Don't freak out Missouri fans. I just wanted to use this week as a platform to elaborate on the surging Tigers. The Big 12 looks like the second deepest league, top to bottom, this season and NCAA bid representation should be strong even if there's no nationally elite team in the league (although Baylor could become one). The league is an astounding 68-3 against teams outside the top 100, so everyone is holding up their RPI bargain, and the double-round robin hooks everyone up.
SHOULD BE IN
Missouri (12-0, 0-0; RPI: 51, SOS: 267)
The Tigers would obviously make the NCAAs and be a solid seed with their current profile, but what's really going on? Mizzou has looked really good for the most part and has beaten some "name" teams, but as you can tell from its SOS, actual quality has been missing as Notre Dame and Villanova endure down years and Cal and Illinois have been rocked by most of the good teams they've played. The next seven games (including trips to Old Dominion, K-State, Iowa State and Baylor) will help the evaluation.
GW: Illinois (N), Cal?
IN THE MIX
Texas (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 87, SOS: 158)
The Longhorns beat Temple and the win at UCLA may gain a bit of juice by the end of the season. The 0-fer in the Legends Classic dampens things a bit. A split there and this would look considerably better, and they likely would have had at least that had J'Covan Brown not lost his head against NC State.
BL: Oregon State?
Oklahoma (9-1, 0-0; RPI: 35, SOS: 119)
Lon Kruger missed out on #MikeMoserMania but he's enjoying a nice payday and doing a really good job early in his first season in Norman. There's no marquee win yet, but the Sooners have beaten some credible opponents. They'll need to be ready when Big 12 play opens. Their first nine games in the league include home-and-homes with KU and K-State and trips to Mizzou and A&M. Ouch.
Iowa State (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 62, SOS: 74)
Not much to say for Team Transfer yet. Iowa State had two chances to nick a solid win (UNI and at Michigan) and didn't get either, plus it lost at Drake. The team also has a rough start to league play, but needs some quality wins, so that's not a bad thing.
BL: at Drake?
Note: Texas A&M is 245th in RPI and hasn't beaten any team better than No. 266 (Alcorn State). That harkens to Kentucky in 2007-08. Those Cats lost seven times in nonleague play (although five were credible) and needed a 12-4 record in a down SEC just to make the NCAAs.
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, UConn
Much like Missouri, Seton Hall wouldn't miss with its current profile, but it's worth an examination to see exactly what's happening. The league has had some surprises -- both good and bad -- but should reap a solid haul of bids again, thanks, in part, to shortfalls in other major conferences.
SHOULD BE IN
Seton Hall (11-1, 0-0; RPI: 8, SOS: 44)
The Pirates are 8th in RPI, before Big East play starts! How'd they do it? Beating the teams in the 70-125 range. The W over Saint Joseph's looks very solid now, too. The beginning of Beast play looks manageable, too -- after Wednesday's trip to Syracuse. Rutgers and DePaul are two of SHU's three repeat matchups, as well. Could be a good story for the next few weeks, at least.
GW: Saint Joseph's?
Georgetown (9-1, 0-0; RPI: 50, SOS: 44)
The Hoyas are one of the upside surprises, with just a tight loss in Maui to Kansas as a blemish to go with a neutral-and-home sweep of Memphis and a good win at Alabama. Insert your China brawl quip here, but this team looks more together and athletic than recent G'town vintages. Good team with some chances early in league play to find wins to stash in the bank.
GW: at Alabama, sweep of Memphis (home and in Maui)|
IN THE MIX
West Virginia (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 36, SOS: 27)
The early loss to Kent State wasn't a shock given quality of opponent and experience, and the win over Kansas State will keep giving all season. The Mountaineers have a very soft (by Beast standards) road slate in league play: Seton Hall, Rutgers, UConn, St. John's, Syracuse, Provy, Pitt and ND, so they could be a sleeper candidate to finish in the league's top quartile.
GW: K-State (N)
BL: None, really
Pittsburgh (11-2, 0-0; RPI: 69, SOS: 147)
Pitt's proving the truth about the NCAA's RPI formula: It benefits those who don't lose at home more than it helps those who win on the road. The Panthers have lost at home to Long Beach State and Wagner, and you can't get away with that when you only play four top-100 games. Add losing freshmen center Khem Birch unexpectedly to transfer and things are much dicier than expected.
Villanova (7-5, 0-0; RPI: 85, SOS: 46)
Mouphtaou Yarou has improved a lot, but this is not a good 'Nova team to this point. They take a lot of threes, but have no one who can shoot them. The neutral-court loss to Santa Clara is the only questionable defeat, but the team doesn't have a top-100 win yet, either, so five losses is a lot at this stage.
BL: Santa Clara (N)
Note: Providence and Cincinnati are well outside the top 100 at this point, but bear watching.