A Missouri-Kansas showdown, a one-bid Pac-12 in Bubble Watch
Austin Rivers' buzzer-beating three at UNC significantly changed ACC title race
Road tests at Baylor and Missouri could determine Kansas St.'s NCAA prospects
Was Michigan State's win over Ohio State a sign of things to come in March?
While we're deep enough into league play to see the shape of the Field of 68 starting to come into focus, any "as of today" projection is going to have its quirks and flaws. There are no conference tournament upsets budgeted into the picture, which makes the at-large pool as large as possible, and more importantly, there are still schedule imbalances that will be resolved and evened out over the upcoming weeks.
Here are a few explainers for this week's bracket:
Despite what happened in today's version, the chances of the Big Ten getting nine teams into the actual field while the Pac-12 gets only one are extremely small. The teams in the middle of the Big Ten will keep facing off and squeeze one or more out, and a one-bid Pac-12 relies on Cal winning the league and the auto-bid -- and even then, someone else might make it in as bids open up.
Missouri and Kansas are heading toward a showdown for the path to the St. Louis regional. Kansas has the advantage of the remaining league meeting being in Lawrence, but this might not be settled until the Big 12 Championship Game. Also note that landing the No. 1 seed means likely avoiding a semifinal with Baylor.
The two marquee BracketBusters games coming on Saturday evening have taken on a much more critical air for several teams, particularly Murray State, which dropped to 55th in the RPI after losing at home to Tennessee State last week. The Racers have a (relatively) difficult home stretch in Ohio Valley play, so if they lose to Saint Mary's at home, wiggle room for an at-large (if needed) could be gone. Creighton, loser of three straight in the Missouri Valley, also could really use a home win over Long Beach State.
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 collegerpi.com RPI report. GW = good wins. BL = bad losses. (N) = neutral-site game.
Locks: Duke, North Carolina
Up by 10, two and a half minutes left to play at home, and UNC looked like it had the game in hand. A 13-2 run ending with Austin Rivers' three at the buzzer and Duke had stolen a win that significantly changes the ACC title chase and likely will impact the NCAA tournament picture, too. Note to Florida State: Locks don't lose at Boston College. That result also changes the league picture, as now the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Seminoles are all square at 8-2 (with Florida State having beaten both).
SHOULD BE IN
Florida State (17-7, 8-2; RPI: 28, SOS: 21)
Losing in Chestnut Hill is a disappointing development for a Seminoles team that seemed to be past its early-season inconsistency. Thursday's home date with Virginia Tech is important ahead of a tough stretch that includes three solid road games around a visit from Duke.
GW: North Carolina, at Duke, Virginia?
BL: Princeton?, at Clemson, at Boston College
Virginia (19-5, 6-4; RPI: 34, SOS: 99)
Splitting the expected way (easy win over Wake Forest, loss at North Carolina) leaves the Cavaliers in solid NCAA position. The remainder of the schedule is very favorable, starting Tuesday night at Clemson. North Carolina and Florida State have to come to Charlottesville and a home-and-home with banged-up Maryland also remains.
GW: Michigan, at LSU?
BL: Virginia Tech? TCU (N)?
IN THE MIX
Miami (15-8, 6-4; RPI: 35, SOS: 34)
The Canes gave it a good shot at Florida State but fell five points short. Can they take down North Carolina at home on Wednesday? They also have the Seminoles at home along with two "should wins" in Coral Gables. This team is clearly different with Reggie Johnson, but they need more quality wins.
GW: at Duke
BL: None, really
North Carolina State (18-7, 7-3; RPI: 51, SOS: 56)
The Wolfpack finished off its mini-run against the league's underbelly by taking out Georgia Tech. This week is not so docile. First up: trip to Duke. Then comes Florida State at home ahead of next Tuesday's visit from North Carolina. They definitely need at least one of these. Preferably two to avoid looking like Virginia Tech's annual profile that always missed.
GW: at Miami?
BL: Georgia Tech
Locks: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor
My Saturday tweet about Kansas clearly being the best team in this league (understandably) rankled Missouri fans, but I'll stand by that analysis. Their quants are better and if Jeff Withey is playing like he did this past week. That said, Frank Haith's the clear pick for National Coach of the Year and the Tigers are an excellent team in their own right. Both are aiming for No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs and just might be able to get there. Baylor? I said my piece on Saturday. Obvious lock for the NCAAs, some red flags for a deep run.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Iowa State (18-7, 8-5; RPI: 38, SOS: 50)
The Cyclones couldn't get it done at Baylor Monday night and are still looking for some additional heft to support their overall resume. This week is not about quality, it's about winning two home games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Get to 10 league wins and then take shots at Kansas State and Missouri on the road and Baylor in the return game at home.
GW: Kansas, Kansas State?
BL: at Drake?, at Oklahoma State?
Kansas State (17-8, 6-7; RPI: 63, SOS: 65)
Losing at Texas on Saturday and then at home to Kansas on Monday has weakened the Wildcats' profile, but they have enough solid work to stay in the bracket for now. After this coming week, we can readdress it, because serious road tests at Baylor and Missouri are on tap. Need a split here.
GW: Alabama (N), Missouri, Long Beach State (N)
BL: Swept by Oklahoma?
Texas (16-9, 6-6; RPI: 49, SOS: 16)
The Longhorns got a crucial home win over Kansas State on Saturday and now are back at .500 and inside the RPI top 50, for whatever that's worth. Not that much is easy in this league, but the Horns' remaining schedule is quite favorable, albeit with four out of six on the road. This week's two-game trip to Oklahoma will be a big factor in whether Texas' at-large hopes are OK.
GW: Temple, Iowa State?
BL: Oregon State (N)
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette
The top of the league is pretty easy to figure out, but the middle is confounding. Cincinnati has one of the more bizarre at-large profiles you'll see, while UConn and West Virginia have to be evaluated on the work done and not the unseemly conference marks. The dramatic unbalancing of schedules in this league makes comparisons based on league play especially tricky (see: South Florida)
SHOULD BE IN
Louisville (20-6, 8-5; RPI: 23, SOS: 28)
The Cardinals' six-game winning streak ended Monday, but not without a fight, as they botched a final possession and lost by a point to Syracuse at home. They'll get a second crack in the Orange in the regular-season finale, but this week the Cardinals are at DePaul and Cincinnati. If the Cards keep winning, they likely will close things out as a top-four seed in the NCAAs.
GW: Vanderbilt, Long Beach State, Memphis?, at Seton Hall?
BL: at Providence (by 31)
Notre Dame (17-8, 9-3; RPI: 40, SOS: 37)
Another 2-0 week, including a win at West Virginia, has the Irish in prime position to make the NCAAs after a poor nonconference run. The remaining schedule looks like it has some wins in it, and 11 Big East wins should be enough. It would be a surprise at this point if that's all the Irish ended up with.
GW: Syracuse, at Louisville, at Seton Hall?, at UConn, Marquette, at West Virginia
BL: Georgia (N), at Rutgers
IN THE MIX
Seton Hall (17-8, 6-7; RPI: 31, SOS: 20)
Two wins last week halted a massive slide, perhaps in time to salvage an NCAA bid. The rest of the schedule is, by Big East standards, really soft. Georgetown at home is the only chance at a win of considerable substance and the game at Cincinnati on Saturday could be a quasi-eliminator.
GW: UConn?, West Virginia?, Saint Joseph's??
Connecticut (15-9, 5-7; RPI: 21, SOS: 1)
Playing the nation's toughest schedule (on paper) doesn't do you any good if you can't win enough of the games, and right now, UConn is on the short end of the output stick. Despite strong computer numbers, there's simply not enough quality here to survive an under-.500 league mark (without another huge Big East Tournament run). DePaul and Marquette at home this week more or less constitute must-wins, considering Syracuse (at home) still remains on the schedule.
GW: Florida State (N), at Notre Dame, Seton Hall?, West Virginia?, Harvard?
BL: at Rutgers, at Tennessee
Cincinnati (17-8, 7-5; RPI: 92, SOS: 124)
The Bearcats are one of the more confounding at-large cases thanks to their budget-fueled cupcake platter in nonleague play. Cover up the ghastly RPI and there's an arguable case here. Splitting last week's road trip was big, because the last six games break very favorably. Home games against Providence and Seton Hall this week start the fun.
GW: at Georgetown, Notre Dame, at UConn, Oklahoma?, Pitt?
BL: St. John's, Presbyterian, at Rutgers
West Virginia (16-10, 6-7; RPI: 41, SOS: 6)
This has become a very big uh-oh all of a sudden after the Mountaineers lost at home to Notre Dame and Louisville to make it five losses in six games. Road games this week at Pitt and Notre Dame are now enormous, with a visit from Marquette looming after that. Finishing under .500 in league is not advised.
GW: Georgetown, Kansas State (N)
BL: Kent State, at St. John's, Pitt?
South Florida (14-10, 8-4; RPI: 63, SOS: 38)
It's a (really) soft 8-4, but man, the Bulls have a) come a long way since their 0-2 weekend at Mohegan Sun in November and b) could create annoyance for teams multiple games below them in the standings if they get to 11 or 12 wins. The Bulls are home to Villanova and then at Pitt this week
GW: Seton Hall??
BL: Old Dominion (N)?, Penn State (N), at Auburn
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State
Expectations may have changed in two hours in Columbus on Saturday when Michigan State bullied the Buckeyes around in their own arena. If you can single-cover Jared Sullinger effectively (and most teams can't), things look a lot different for the rest of the Ohio State attack. Are we primed for another dose of the Izz of March?
SHOULD BE IN
Indiana (19-6, 7-6; RPI: 15, SOS: 31)
The Hoosiers topped Illinois at home and continue to march toward a solid NCAA seed. Trips to Iowa and Minnesota now sandwich that sweet nonconference tilt with North Carolina Central. The Hoosiers get Michigan State and Purdue at home to close the regular season, so they could pop a bit more with another marquee win.
GW: Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame (N), at N.C. State?, at Purdue?
BL: at Nebraska
Michigan (18-7, 9-4; RPI: 14, SOS: 10)
The Wolverines beat Illinois after cruising at Nebraska and are looking very good at 9-4 in the league. Now they get a home shot at Ohio State on Saturday.
GW: Michigan State, Memphis (N), Iowa State?, Wisconsin
BL: at Iowa, at Arkansas??
Wisconsin (19-6, 8-4; RPI: 24, SOS: 25)
The Badgers got past Minnesota in overtime in their only game of the week. Now they get a trip to East Lansing for their troubles. Jordan Taylor's bounceback in league play is a good sign for March, though.
GW: UNLV, BYU (N), at Illinois, Indiana
IN THE MIX
Illinois (15-9, 5-7; RPI: 46, SOS: 15)
Losers of six of their last seven, the Illini are now in serious danger of sliding all the way out of the NCAAs. This week's games (Purdue and at Nebraska) appear to be absolute must-wins now, especially with road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin still left on the schedule. The Illini have wins over the two league heavyweights, but will that be enough to prop up a potential 8-10 league mark?
GW: Ohio State, Michigan State, Gonzaga, at Northwestern?
BL: at Penn State, Northwestern?
Minnesota (17-8, 5-7; RPI: 61, SOS: 62)
This team scraps and scraps, but ultimately might not have enough wins to make the dance. A tough overtime home loss to Wisconsin is the latest setback. They still have home shots at Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana, though. It starts Tuesday night against the Buckeyes.
GW: at Indiana
Purdue (16-9, 6-6; RPI: 56, SOS: 32)
The Boilers really could have used that game at Ohio State, but at least they beat Northwestern in a bubble-laden weekend showdown to sweep the season series. Now they get another bubble game of significance, at Illinois, before they host Michigan State on Sunday. If they can't beat the Spartans, the Boilers will need a win at the Illini, Michigan or Indiana to get to 9-9.
GW: Temple, Iona?, sweep of Northwestern?
BL: Butler, at Penn State
Northwestern (15-9, 5-7; RPI: 44, SOS: 14)
The Wildcats are through about six of their nine lives in their Sisyphean quest to make the NCAAs. Getting swept by Purdue isn't going to help matters. Wednesday at Indiana is an enormous chance for a validating road marquee win. They also get Michigan and Ohio State at home down the stretch.
GW: Michigan State, at Illinois?, Seton Hall?
BL: Illinois?, swept by Purdue