Big wins hoarded by elite programs this season, more Bubble Watch
Few middle-of-the-pack teams, save Indiana, have notched big-time wins this year
The Big East continues to boast seven legit bids for the NCAA tournament
Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State are all poised for tourney bids come March
As a remarkable number of at-large candidates continue to have "None" as their best win of the season, the big bubble question of the week is ... where have all the good wins gone?
So far, they've been hoarded by the elites. There has been a jarring amount of loss incestuousness this season, as the nation's heavyweights take turns beating each other and falling to almost nobody else. Just take a gander at the losses for the highest seeds in this week's bracket:
Syracuse and Baylor are undefeated; Ohio State lost to Kansas and Indiana; North Carolina lost to Kentucky and UNLV; Kentucky lost to Indiana; Duke lost to Ohio State and Temple; Indiana lost to Michigan State; Michigan State lost to North Carolina and Duke; Kansas lost to Duke and Kentucky (as well as Davidson)
Get the picture? Other than Indiana making a name for itself with two monster home wins, no one has emerged from the middle of a major conference to stake a claim with a true marquee win, and no mid-majors have done any real significant work, either. It makes parsing through the mediocrity very difficult at this stage, but thankfully we have most of conference season left to sort things out.
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 Sunday'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
Even the heavyweights looked a little suspect this past week in what's revealing itself to be a mediocre year in the league. Duke lost "at" Temple and struggled past Georgia Tech on the road while UNC needed some time to dispatch a bad BC team. Below that? It's Hoos on first, whatever's on second and I don't know's on third.
SHOULD BE IN
Virginia (14-1, 1-0; RPI: 37, SOS: 193)
Last Monday's win at LSU and then squeaking past Miami in the ACC opener repaired the damage to the Cavaliers' RPI from the previous week, and those are games middle-tier teams need to win to make the NCAAs. On Thursday, the Cavs get a shot at Duke at Cameron. A loss clearly won't really impact its current position, but let's see how Virginia does in a tough spot against an elite foe. GW: Michigan, at LSU?
IN THE MIX
Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-1; RPI: 41, SOS: 45)
The Hokies suffered a bad loss on Saturday, falling at Wake Forest, breaking their pattern of winning and losing the games you'd expect. This makes the two games this week -- against Florida State and at BC -- crucial, as the next five are UNC, BYU (nonleague) and Duke at home alternating with trips to Virginia and Maryland.
GW: None, really
BL: at Wake Forest?
North Carolina State (12-4, 1-0; RPI: 57, SOS: 32)
The Wolfpack got off to the right start by edging Maryland at home. With Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest and BC up next, N.C. State easily could be 4-0 heading to Miami on Jan. 22, with a trip to Chapel Hill after that. The Pack only plays at Duke this season, so the UNC return game is the only reasonable chance for a marquee win.
GW: None, really.
Florida State (9-6, 1-1; RPI: 86, SOS: 34)
The Seminoles have been one of the more disappointing teams nationally, and that trend continued with a 20-point pounding at mediocre Clemson on Saturday. They're going to have to take advantage of the pair of games against Duke and the home chance against UNC, or this profile could look very, very thin come March.
BL: Princeton at home?, at Clemson
Miami (9-5, 0-1; RPI: 59, SOS: 39)
Tough way to open the league slate, falling by a point at Virginia. The reward? A trip to UNC on Tuesday. The five after that -- Clemson, N.C. State, at Georgia Tech, at BC, Maryland -- will pretty much determine at-large viability.
Wake Forest (10-5, 1-0; RPI: 89, SOS: 70)
The nice win over Virginia Tech on Saturday would feel even better had the Demon Deacons not lost at home to Wofford earlier in the week. Still, a very solid start to league play for Wake. Now they get two more tests against the same strata, with a trip to College Park and then home to N.C. State.
Locks: Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri
The first head-to-head meetings between the top of the league ended in comfortable fashion for the home teams, with Kansas taking out K-State before the Wildcats, in turn, pounded Missouri for the Tigers' first loss. No harm, no foul until someone loses a home game. The early surprise is Team Transfer's 2-0 start.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Iowa State (12-3, 2-0; RPI: 43, SOS: 87)
Strong week for the Cyclones, who beat Texas and then crushed A&M on the road to open 2-0. That makes this week -- home to Mizzou and then at Kansas -- even more interesting, especially the first game with Missouri coming off the beatdown in Manhattan, Kan.
GW: None, really
BL: at Drake?
Texas (11-4, 1-1; RPI: 76, SOS: 126)
Lost in Ames and then handled fading Oklahoma State at home for a split. Still not too much to look at in the Longhorns' profile. Wednesday's game at home to A&M is an absolute must-win. The six after, starting at Mizzou and at K-State, are brutal.
BL: Oregon State?
Oklahoma (10-4, 0-2; RPI: 67, SOS: 76)
Losing at Mizzou and home to Kansas is no disgrace, but the Sooners are here for one more week as an RPI technicality before the standards around here get a bit stiffer.
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Seton Hall
The Big East has seven legit bids at the moment, but is that the max the league can get this season? Pitt is falling apart and the league's other eight teams are currently outside the RPI top 100, meaning that even if they rack up some league wins, the resumes may not be as shiny as in the last couple of seasons. In other news, UConn was swept on a New Jersey road trip for the first time in forever and Seton Hall is making an argument to be the second-best team in the league. Other than that, business as usual.
We'll drop trio of teams this week after subpar results to look closer at their profiles.
SHOULD BE IN
West Virginia (12-4, 3-1; RPI: 15, SOS: 6)
This was the big step-forward week the Mountaineers needed. First, they rolled at Rutgers (where Florida and UConn stumbled) and then they handled Georgetown at home for another marquee win. Suddenly, tonight's game at UConn is very interesting for both teams.
GW: K-State (N), Georgetown.
BL: None, really
Connecticut (12-3, 2-2; RPI: 7, SOS: 7)
After a two-loss week, we'll take a moment to discuss the Huskies, who clearly would be a strong seed if the bracket was crafted today, but have a surprisingly vacant profile for their computer numbers. Best win is ... Harvard, Arkansas or Wagner at home, or budding disappointment Florida State in overtime in the Bahamas? Yeah, exactly. Other than West Virginia at home, they don't play a top team until February, so there's time for the talent and leadership to blend into what this team could become.
BL: at Rutgers
Louisville (13-3, 1-2; RPI: 27, SOS: 26)
The offensively challenged Cardinals have regressed to the mean a bit as the scoring dries up even further. Scoring only 0.90 points per possession against a mediocre Notre Dame defense at home is alarming. That said, their defense keeps them in every game and there's only one team in the league that's clearly better than they are, so expect the Cards to stabilize, even with a challenging road schedule on tap.
GW: Home to Long Beach State, Vandy and Memphis are all decent
BL: Home to Notre Dame?
Marquette (12-4, 1-2; RPI: 21, SOS: 15)
Seriously, guys. Being Team Bubble Watch is not so exciting that you should strive for a three-peat. Losses at Georgetown and Syracuse are not cause for alarm unto themselves, but the way the Golden Eagles lost the Hoyas game and got buried early at Syracuse indicates the wild variance #TBW fans have come to know the last few seasons doesn't seem to be subsiding anytime soon. Chris Otule's injury is a big factor, too.
GW: None, really. Ole Miss (N)?
BL: at LSU?
IN THE MIX
Pittsburgh (11-5, 0-3; RPI: 83, SOS: 84)
The Panthers are in free fall after a galling last-second loss at DePaul made it four losses in a row and an 0-3 Big East start against a very soft schedule. You can spin the strengthening schedule as the chances Pitt needs to build a resume, or admit the team is in considerable danger of missing the NCAAs.
BL: Wagner?, at Notre Dame?, Cincinnati?, at DePaul
Locks: Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State
The top of the league remains strong. Indiana continues to find a way to nab big wins at home and Michigan State hasn't lost since the season-starting UNC/Duke exacta. Below that, there's some movement occurring. Michigan has looked strong in spurts and Illinois is doing just enough to keep winning. That's more than Wisconsin can say at the moment.
SHOULD BE IN
Michigan (12-3, 3-1; RPI: 26, SOS: 48)
The Wolverines lost by a bucket in Bloomington before shellacking Wisconsin on Sunday in Ann Arbor. After Northwestern's visit on Wednesday, nine of the Wolverines' final 14 games are on the road, so John Beilein's crew will have to do some work to maintain a strong seed.
GW: Memphis (probably will look OK in March), Iowa State?, Wisconsin?
BL: None, really
Illinois (14-3, 3-1; RPI: 16, SOS: 25)
The Illini have this close game thing down, escaping Evanston by a point before "cruising" past Nebraska at home by a rugby try. Continuing to win the games they should will be a clear path to the NCAAs, but as Ohio State enters the ring in Champaign on Tuesday, let's see what the upside is here.
GW: Gonzaga, a couple other decent ones.
Wisconsin (12-5, 1-3; RPI: 64, SOS: 65)
Whatever the program and player say, I don't believe Jordan Taylor is healthy. The drop-off around him with Leuer and Nankivil gone can't be enough to have turned senior-year Taylor into sophomore-year Taylor after what junior-year Taylor looked like last season. He looks slow and his jumper seems screwy. And now the Badgers have lost three in a row in the league after getting smothered at Michigan on Sunday.
GW: UNLV, BYU (N)?
IN THE MIX
Purdue (13-4, 3-1; RPI: 48, SOS: 69)
After a dreadful performance at Penn State, the Boilers split the road trip, getting a Sunday win at reeling Minnesota. Now Wisconsin, itself in bad ways right now, comes in before a visit from Iowa. Big chance to build up some equity here before the schedule gets tougher.
GW: Temple, Iona?
BL: Butler?, at Penn State
Northwestern (11-4, 1-2; RPI: 33, SOS: 14)
If the Wildcats miss the NCAAs, games like the one-point loss at home to Illinois will be a prime factor. That's not a "should win," but it's the kind of game you need to get at home to get to the dance. The Seton Hall win may be the gift that keeps on giving as the Pirates are rolling in the Beast.
GW: Seton Hall
Minnesota (12-5, 0-4; RPI: 38, SOS: 35)
Now at 0-4 in the league, it's hard to reconcile the Gophers' at-large hopes, even with some solid overall profile numbers and a win over Virginia Tech, which remained in this week's field.
GW: Virginia Tech?