Bubble Watch: Harvard, Murray State poised for high seeds?
Will Murray St., Harvard's stellar records translate into high seeding come March?
Virginia still has some work to do to lock in its No. 3 spot in the ACC
Texas will need a strong start to Big 12 play for an at-large tourney bid
How high can they go? That's one of the most frequently asked early bracket questions this year about Murray State and Harvard, both of which are poised to post gaudy records for consideration.
The Racers are one of four unbeaten teams remaining in Division I and are playing in the Ohio Valley, one of the nation's weakest conferences. After Wednesday's home game with Eastern Kentucky, Murray State is not scheduled to play another team in the RPI top 200 for the rest of the season. The one caveat is the to-be-determined BracketBusters matchup in February, but Murray State is a home team in that event, which means a significant chance of beating anyone who comes in. Before knowing the BracketBusters opponent, Ken Pomeroy gives the Racers a 31 percent chance of finishing the regular season undefeated, which is incredibly high for having 14 games left.
Harvard is in a similar boat as the overwhelming favorite to win the Ivy League. The Crimson are playing in a much better league, where five of the eight teams are well inside the RPI top 200 (and six of eight in Pomeroy). Pom gives the Crimson a 12 percent chance at this point to run the table from here. The Ivy does not participate in BracketBusters.
So what are we talking here if Murray State wins the OVC and conference tournament to finish 29-0 in D-I games and/or Harvard wins out (no conference tournament) to end up at an official mark of 28-1? RPIForecast.com has the Racers around No. 31 in the RPI with a strength of schedule of 227 if they lose one OVC game in the regular season. Best case scenario in 10,000 simulations is an RPI of 13. Similarly, Harvard is projected to finish at No. 45 with an SOS of 233, but that's with two Ivy losses. The Crimson's best case scenario in the sims is an RPI of 18.
Here are some historic comparables for gaudy records from non-major conferences:
1998 Princeton (Ivy): The Tigers went 25-1 overall and were undefeated in the conference. The only loss was by eight at No. 1 North Carolina. They finished No. 21 in RPI against the 188th SOS. They got a No. 5 seed.
2006 George Washington (Atlantic 10): The Colonials went 26-1 and unbeaten in the A-10 before losing their first conference tourney game to Temple. They ended with an RPI of 37 against an SOS of 207. They received a No. 8 seed.
2007 Gonzaga (West Coast): The Adam Morrison-led Bulldogs ended up 27-3, going unbeaten in league play and winning the conference tournament. They had an RPI of 9 and an SOS of 95. They got a No. 3 seed.
2008 Drake (Missouri Valley): The Bulldogs came out of nowhere to finish 28-4 and won the Missouri Valley at 15-3. They also won the conference tournament. They finished at No. 10 in the RPI with an SOS of 68 and received a No. 5 seed.
2011 Belmont (Atlantic Sun): The Bruins went 30-4, dropping one game in the Atlantic Sun before winning the conference tournament. They finished 51st in RPI and a weak 261st in SOS and got a No. 13 seed.
Each year is different, but these examples provide some pretty solid parameters. Gonzaga's No. 3 seed looks unapproachable, but both teams should be well ahead of last year's Belmont, even with a couple of losses. Realistically, the range between Princeton and George Washington looks reasonable. On first examination, it looks like both Murray State and Harvard would have legit shots at landing a No. 5 seed if they win out. Lose once and maybe a 7. Lose twice (depending on the L's) and it's probably closer to a 9.
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
The top two teams keep chugging along, but mostly everyone behind them looks pretty winded at this point. Virginia has emerged, for now, as the clear No. 3 team in the pecking order, but the Cavaliers still have some proving to do. Everyone else is mediocre or worse at this point.
SHOULD BE IN
Virginia (13-1, 0-0; RPI: 66, SOS: 253)
The Cavaliers' RPI dropped 37 spots from last week despite two wins. That's what happens when you play Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-10) and Towson (0-13). They'll get a boost, though, from Monday night's win at LSU, UVa's 11th on the trot. Virginia should find a good number of wins at home in ACC play. The Cavaliers don't play Duke at JPJ and don't get UNC and Florida State in the final 10 days of the season.
GW: Michigan, at LSU?
IN THE MIX
Florida State (8-5, 0-0; RPI: 71, SOS: 28)
FSU played once and lost a triple-overtime affair to Princeton at home after scoring only 10 points in the first half. That drops FSU to 0-2 in the Ivy. Good thing the 'Noles play in the ACC! They get Duke twice and only play UNC at home, so they will have a couple chances for a marquee win, plus numerous opportunities to emerge from a pretty average middle of the league. Disappointing so far, though.
BL: Princeton at home?
Virginia Tech (11-3, 0-0; RPI: 41, SOS: 61)
@JayBilas posed an interesting question on Twitter after the Hokies won at Oklahoma State: Will they get the same credit a mid-major would get? My answer is no. First off, Oklahoma State isn't a top-100 (or good) team at the moment. It's also a lot harder for a mid to win a guarantee game and they only get a couple chances at quality wins, unlike major-conference teams. That said, it was a win Virginia Tech needed to get, and any win on the road is a decent one.
GW: None, really
North Carolina State (10-4, 0-0; RPI: 49, SOS: 24)
The Wolfpack picked up a couple modest nonleague wins and have one more warmup against Delaware State before league play starts. ACC play opens with Maryland, Georgia Tech and BC at home around a trip to Wake, so anything less than 4-0 will be a disappointment. No truly quality wins yet (Texas?); no bad losses, either.
GW: None, really.
Miami (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 61, SOS: 46)
The Hurricanes picked up an easy win in their only game. After a tune-up against UNC Greensboro, Miami has a tricky start to league play with trips to Virginia and UNC before the next five lighten up.
Wake Forest (9-4, 0-0; RPI: 85, SOS: 113)
More technical inclusion than actual contender at this stage, but winning most of the games they should win is a step forward for the Deacons. The first three in league (Virginia Tech, at Maryland, N.C. State) are a reasonable proving ground.
Note: Maryland remains outside the RPI top 100. Keeping an eye on the Terps.
Locks: Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri
A road win at physical Old Dominion is the latest piece of validation of Missouri's start, and the Tigers assume their proper place in the lock category after last week's omission-for-discussion-purposes. The rest of the leaders continue to roll, as well. Baylor remains perfect after handling Texas A&M on Monday. Things get real on Wednesday night when K-State visits Kansas (and then hosts Mizzou and Baylor).
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Texas (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 77, SOS: 154)
The Longhorns enjoyed their holiday meal with a side of Rice and now start Big 12 play with fairly reasonable stretch at Iowa State and then home to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The slate gets very difficult after that, so a strong start may be paramount for at-large hopes.
BL: Oregon State?
Oklahoma (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 51, SOS: 134)
OU suffered a tough loss at Cincinnati when it looked like Cashmere Wright got away with a travel on the game-deciding play. Still, it counts as a loss and a missed opportunity. Now comes the potential pain. The first nine in Big 12 play include six against the league's four locks.
Iowa State (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 70, SOS: 123)
Beating a SWAC team at home by two isn't impressive, but it's not a profile-cracking loss, either. Now the Cyclones have some chances to impress with Texas and Missouri at home and trips to A&M and Kansas to open league play.
BL: at Drake?
Note: Texas A&M was 253rd in RPI entering the Baylor game. It lost. This is not happening right now.