Posted: Tuesday January 31, 2012 12:40PM ; Updated: Tuesday January 31, 2012 4:59PM
Andy Glockner
Andy Glockner>BUBBLE WATCH

BracketBusters cause trouble for mid-majors, more Bubble Watch

Story Highlights

Mid-majors are often hurt more than they're helped in BracketBuster matchups

With wins over Duke, North Carolina will FSU take the ACC league title this year?

Four straight league losses have damped the tournament hopes of Seton Hall

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Murray State needs to win its matchup with Saint Mary's to validate its otherwise weak conference schedule.
Murray State needs to win its matchup with Saint Mary's to validate its otherwise weak conference schedule.
David E. Klutho/SI

My biggest annual complaint with BracketBusters is that the games between the best teams are set for TV purposes and/or geography rather than what most helps the teams in their quest for NCAA tournament bids. Generally speaking, the games become net losses for the mid-majors, with the losing team often being hurt (or completely KO'd) more than the winning team gains in profile cred.

To ESPN's credit, it nailed the two best matchups this season. Both Saint Mary's at Murray State and Long Beach State at Creighton will be incredibly compelling and also provide strong, fair opportunities for all four teams to impress. Murray State is at some risk of a dip if it loses at home, but that's the risk the Racers need to take on for potential validation of their weak conference schedule.

Unfortunately, a few other possible at-large contenders didn't get treated nearly as favorably. Wichita State gets a complete no-win trip to Davidson, a very good team that probably won't garner an at-large even with a win while a loss will ding the Shockers. Teams like Nevada and Iona needed a bigger opponent than each other, especially considering the cross-country trips involved in this matchup and next season's return game in Reno. Elsewhere, George Mason got a truly curious (and useless) matchup with Lamar, and VCU brings in Northern Iowa, which has faded badly in the Valley. No help at all.

So while there will be some additional eye candy -- Drexel-Cleveland State should be a fascinating fight and non-TV matchups like UNC-Asheville-Ohio features tasty guard matchups -- the overall effect will be the same as always. Two teams will be greatly helped, at least two will be hurt by what happens, and a whole bunch of teams are assigned random nonleague games that double as schedule-filler for next season.

I'm all for mid-majors getting national showcases and I think the overarching premise of BracketBusters is a good one. But until teams aren't hurt for losing games to good teams and the pairings beyond the first game or two make sense for more teams involved, the event will remain BracketEliminators to me.

A quick reminder on the standard rules of engagement:

1) Auto bids go to the best RPI of the conference leaders (based on fewest league losses).

2) Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Monday's RPI report. GW = good wins. BL = bad losses. (N) = neutral-site game.

Send your feedback to @andyglockner on Twitter or Fact-based comments stand the best chance of a response.


Locks: Duke, North Carolina

Order is being restored to the top of the ACC, at least if you believed the preseason polls. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State share the lead at 5-1, although with the Seminoles already having beaten the other two teams, they have the inside track at the moment for the league title. Virginia had an important week to remain settled in the top four, which should amount to an NCAA bid if it holds.


Florida State (14-6, 5-1; RPI: 24, SOS: 8)

If the Seminoles have truly found themselves, they should seriously threaten to win the ACC. They don't return the game to North Carolina and they get Duke at home, where they usually bedevil the Blue Devils. The next five are four home games (starting with Georgia Tech and Virginia this week) wrapped around a trip to Boston College. The 'Noles should be at least 9-2 heading to N.C. State on Feb. 18.
GW: North Carolina, at Duke
BL: Princeton at home, at Clemson

Virginia (17-3, 4-2; RPI: 38, SOS: 122)

The Cavaliers held off N.C. State last Saturday to bounce back with a 2-0 week that stabilizes their bracket position. Virginia still has home-and-homes left with Florida State and North Carolina, plus some other sticky games, so this profile could move a lot either way before March. There isn't a ton of meat behind the gaudy record at the moment.
GW: Michigan, at LSU?
BL: Virginia Tech? TCU(N)?


North Carolina State (15-7, 4-3; RPI: 63, SOS: 31)

When your week is most notable for a player asking a reporter if his wife ever cheated on him, that's a bad sign for your NCAA hopes. The one-point home loss to Virginia may loom large down the road. Since the profile right now is reliant on bulk wins instead of quality, the Pack have to get the next three: at Boston College, vs. Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech. Then they travel to Duke before hosting Florida State and North Carolina in the stretch that will determine their fate.
GW: at Miami?
BL: Georgia Tech

Miami (12-7, 3-3; RPI: 52, SOS: 40)

The Canes get to stay around after picking up two needed road wins. Now they need to beat someone good. That can start this week. They get Maryland at home and then head to Duke.
GW: None
BL: None, really

Big 12

Locks: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor

The top three remain clear locks for high seeds in the NCAAs, even with Missouri's midweek slip-up at Oklahoma State and Kansas' loss to Iowa State last weekend. What happens below? One or more teams need to separate from the morass in the middle. Still a good chance to get five bids.




Kansas State (15-5, 4-4; RPI: 42, SOS: 64)

The Wildcats lost at home to Oklahoma, giving the Sooners a sweep of the season series. Now the game in Ames Tuesday night is huge for both teams. If the Wildcats lose that one, they will have to do some credible work to get to 9-9 in the league. The schedule in mid-February gets much tougher.
GW: Alabama (N), Missouri, Long Beach State (N)
BL: Swept by Oklahoma?

Iowa State (15-6, 5-3; RPI: 49, SOS: 55)

The Cyclones picked up a huge marquee win, taking down Kansas in Ames last Saturday. Things would look a lot better had they not lost at Texas earlier in the week, but this was the desirable split if they couldn't get both. Now Kansas State arrives tonight in what's now a very important bubble game. Road games with Baylor, K-State and Missouri still remain, so all wins down the stretch will be at a premium.
GW: Kansas
BL: at Drake?

Oklahoma (13-7, 3-5; RPI: 71, SOS: 53)

The Sooners have a lot of work left to do, but finishing off a sweep of Kansas State with a win at the OOD is a nice start. Of course, beating K-State three times last season didn't save Colorado. The Sooners have a huge opportunity at Kansas Wednesday night and still have home-and-home with Iowa State plus games against Missouri and at Baylor, so the path to at-large consideration remains in their hands.
GW: Sweep of Kansas State
BL: at Oklahoma State?, at Texas A&M

Note: Texas falls off the chart after losing at home to Missouri on Monday to drop to 3-6 in the league.

Big East

Locks: Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown

I tried to keep faith in Seton Hall last week and the Pirates paid it back with two home losses that substantially dented their profile. They're still very much in the bracket for now. Elsewhere, Marquette bumps into this category. I know, it feels so wrong to anoint #TBW a lock. But they should be one. Beyond these three? There's a pretty sizable profile gap at this point.


Louisville (17-5, 5-4; RPI: 28, SOS: 42)

Cardinals fans didn't take very kindly to my Twitter query as to why they were going ballistic after a late three to ice a game against a league bottomfeeder. That said, it was a nice moment for Jared Swopshire and any win for the Cards is important while they get healthier. They backed that up with a nice road win at Seton Hall to really help lock in their position.
GW: Vanderbilt, Long Beach State, Memphis?, at Seton Hall
BL: Home to Notre Dame?, at Providence by 31


West Virginia (15-8, 5-5; RPI: 17, SOS: 3)

A three-loss week included controversy as a clear goaltend on what should have been the tying basket late at Syracuse was missed. That said, the Mountaineers had several chances to tie/win the game after that, and even if the basket was ruled good, would have needed a stop and then win in overtime, so it's a bit much to say it cost them the game. That said, it's a loss. The 16-point setback at St. John's and Monday's home loss to resurgent Pitt are much less palatable.
GW: Georgetown, Kansas State (N)
BL: Kent State, at St. John's, Pitt?

Connecticut (14-6, 4-4; RPI: 29, SOS: 10)

Things are starting to get worrisome in Storrs (and Hartford) after the Huskies lost at home by a bucket to Notre Dame on Sunday. The offense is completely out of kilter and the lingering leadership concerns don't seem to have been addressed. Now trips to Georgetown, Louisville and Syracuse await around a visit from increasingly desperate Seton Hall.
GW: Florida State (N), West Virginia, Harvard?
BL: at Rutgers, at Tennessee

Seton Hall (15-6, 4-5; RPI: 33, SOS: 18)

Uh oh. What was a stunning feel-good story two weeks ago is in a bit of free fall after four straight league losses, with home defeats this week to Louisville and Notre Dame dampening the profile. It doesn't get any easier now with three in a row on the road at Marquette, UConn and Rutgers.
GW: UConn, West Virginia
BL: None

Notre Dame (14-8, 6-3; RPI: 65, SOS: 46)

Well, this is unexpected. The Irish, more or less left for dead after Tim Abromaitis' season-ending injury, have ripped off three straight big wins -- over Syracuse and then at Seton Hall and UConn -- to force their way into the bubble picture. The Irish still have DePaul, Rutgers and Providence at home, so getting to at least 10 wins seems very reasonable. With their quality wins, that may be enough.
GW: Syracuse, at Louisville, at Seton Hall, at UConn
BL: Georgia (N), at Rutgers

Cincinnati's 61-54 loss to Rutgers is another ding against the Bearcats'  tournament profile.
Cincinnati's 61-54 loss to Rutgers is another ding against the Bearcats' tournament profile.
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Cincinnati (15-7, 5-4; RPI: 101, SOS: 129)

Losing at Rutgers is another demerit on the Bearcats' increasingly dicey profile. They have several solid wins, but the computer numbers are horrible and there are some disappointing losses scattered in, as well. Home to DePaul is an absolute must-win ahead of road games at St. John's and Marquette.
GW: at Georgetown, at UConn, Oklahoma?, Pitt??
BL: St. John's, Presbyterian, at Rutgers

South Florida (12-9, 6-3; RPI: 74, SOS: 33)

The Bulls are 6-3 in the Beast, but their profile is not nearly as good as Notre Dame's. They need to keep winning games, and will have a number of chances coming up. There are home-and-homes with (resurgent) Pitt and Providence, plus a home date with Villanova, all in the next six games.
GW: Seton Hall
BL: Old Dominion (N), Penn State (N), at Auburn

Note: Pitt probably needs to win its next three against modest competition to get back into legitimate discussion.

Big Ten

Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State

The Buckeyes have emerged as the class of the conference -- and maybe the country, although Michigan State has continued to look very formidable. Beyond that, the deck keeps shuffling as the depth and quality of the league continues to takes its toll on the less-than-elite.


Indiana (16-4, 4-4; RPI: 20, SOS: 37)

It's rare to see a team double its score from its previous game, but that's what happens when you play at Wisconsin (57-50 loss) and then host Iowa (103-89 win). This week -- at Michigan and at Purdue -- will determine just how comfortable the stretch run will be for the Hoosiers.
GW: Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan, at NC State?
BL: Minnesota?, at Nebraska

Michigan (15-6, 6-3; RPI: 19, SOS: 16)

The Wolverines pinched a tight win at Purdue and played pretty well at Ohio State before fading late. A home game on Wednesday against Indiana is a chance to start to create some real separation from the chase pack, which would be good for seeding. This is a team no top seed wants to draw in March.
GW: Michigan State, Memphis (N)?, Iowa State?, Wisconsin
BL: at Iowa, at Arkansas?

Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3; RPI: 25, SOS: 17)

Amazing that the Badgers are perceived as having a bit of a down year, and they're 17-5 and right in the thick of the Big Ten race. They can't look past a trip to spunky Penn State ahead of a shot at the Buckeyes on the weekend.
GW: UNLV, BYU (N), at Illinois
BL: Iowa

Illinois (15-6, 4-4; RPI: 37, SOS: 26)

Was it a foul? I thought the call was fine, or at least understandable. Others disagreed. Regardless, Meyers Leonard never should have been anywhere near the Minnesota drive that ended in a game-tying and-1 with .04 seconds left in what became a damaging OT loss. This is now a huge week for the Illini, with Michigan State and then Northwestern coming to Champaign. Road games remain at Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
GW: Ohio State, Gonzaga, at Northwestern?
BL: at Penn State


Purdue (15-7, 5-4; RPI: 51, SOS: 51)

The Boilers split a pair of two-point games last week, but in the wrong order for RPI purposes, dropping the home game with Michigan before edging Northwestern in Evanston. This week's home bout with Indiana is huge. There are three other relatively winnable home games left and the road slate is brutal.
GW: Temple, Iona?
BL: Butler, at Penn State

Minnesota (16-6, 4-5; RPI: 38, SOS: 43)

The Gophers' impressive resilience continued as they stole a game from Illinois at home. The next seven feature winnable road games at Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern plus big home chances against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. This profile could move a ton in either direction quickly.
GW: at Indiana
BL: Iowa


Locks: None

Cal's continuing to play like the best team in the league. A league title should see the Golden Bears into the dance. After that? With no one in the RPI top 70, this is getting very dicey for a second team in, let alone more than that, as teams elsewhere continue to add quality wins.




California (17-5, 7-2; RPI: 30, SOS: 64)

It wasn't beautiful, but the Golden Bears pushed past rival Stanford to stay atop the league and put a dent in the Cardinal's at-large hopes. Their profile, despite no top-50 wins, isn't terrible. They've beaten a lot of OK teams and only have two league road losses as demerits. Another bucket in that one-point loss at San Diego State could have made things look much better.
GW: None, really, but a solid handful of OK ones
BL: at Washington State, at Oregon State

Stanford (15-6, 5-4; RPI: 86, SOS: 145)

Other than the Rams themselves, no one was happier with Colorado State's upset of San Diego State than the Cardinal, who continue to ride that nonconference win as the anchor of a ho-hum profile. They missed on a big chance at Cal last weekend. Now they probably have to go 7-2, at worst, to have any kind of legitimate at-large claim.
GW: Colorado State?, NC State??
BL: Butler, at Washington State

Oregon (15-6, 6-3; RPI: 74, SOS: 91)

This one's going to sting. With a chance to remain tied for the league lead, the Ducks let archrival Oregon State come into the Matt and leave with a profile-denting upset. Now they need to do some work on the Utah/Colorado road trip. Margin for error is extremely small at this point.
GW: at Arizona? Stanford??
BL: None

Washington (14-7, 7-2; RPI: 72; SOS: 65)

The Huskies are the poster children for the underachieving league this season. Now 7-2 in a "major" conference, Washington barely has one top-75 win (Oregon) for the season, let alone a top-50. And only two of their remaining nine games are against top-100 teams. How do you even value this potential profile? That said, winning at Arizona and sweeping the road trip was huge. Now the L.A. schools come calling in what needs to be two more wins.
GW: At Arizona?
BL: Home to South Dakota State by 19

Arizona (14-8, 5-4; RPI: 85, SOS: 77)

Losing at home to Washington moves the Wildcats to the brink. They have no good wins and are lagging behind the league leaders. Now they travel to the Bay Area for two this week, which could end things. Or revive them.
GW: None
BL: at UCLA?

Colorado (12-7, 6-3; RPI: 78; SOS: 79)

Losing at UCLA was not a good idea. A home sweep of the Arizona schools is now mandatory with five of their final seven on the road. The "good" news: They actually play five top-100 teams down the stretch.
GW: None
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