Bubble Watch: Quality wins may lead under-the-radars to NCAAs
Quality wins will often outweigh bad losses and poor RPIs come Selection Sunday
Virginia has a chance to lock up a tournament bid with a win over UNC or FSU
After a win over Ohio State, add Michigan to the Big Ten's locked-in list
Note: Bubble Watch updated as of Tuesday Feb. 21 games.
Every year, one of the most interesting sidebars in the final few days before Selection Sunday is the hunt for the "mystery team," the under-the-radar squad the committee is eyeing for one of the last, precious at-large spots. Last year, it was USC, a pick that confounded many bracket watchers (although SI.com's bracket had the Trojans in) because of their number of bad losses and poor RPI.
Essentially, the committee made a statement that the Trojans' quality wins were more impressive than their losses hurt. In related news, Dayton remains in this week's bracket.
Yes, Dayton, the .500-in-the-A-10, perpetually frustrating, inconsistent Flyers who just lost for the 27th straight season at Xavier. Why? Because they have a bunch of quality wins.
In a bubble world where teams like Arizona (third in a weak Pac-12, one top-50 win), Colorado State (.500 in the Mountain West, one top-50 win) and Texas (3-9 against top 100, under .500 in the Big 12) are in consideration, are you going to turn your nose up at a team that's beaten Temple, Saint Louis, Alabama, Xavier, Mississippi and Minnesota? When eight of the 10 members of the committee that took USC last year are back for this season? ... Yeah, didn't think so.
That's the magic of this final stretch run. Teams can come out of nowhere to grab bids. They may go on a late run that improves their profile or, in the case of Dayton, they've racked up some decent wins and not enough teams pass them. It doesn't matter how you get there. It just matters that you're one of the best 37 on March 11.
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, Florida State
There's still a three-way atop the league, but there will be some shuffling this week with Duke at Florida State and some other tough matchups for the trio. Virginia is in decent shape to get in, too. Could it end there?
SHOULD BE IN
Virginia (21-6, 8-5; RPI: 42, SOS: 104)
The Cavaliers held off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg for a big stabilizing step toward the NCAAs. If they can get either the North Carolina or Florida State games at home, they should be in strong shape.
GW: Michigan, at LSU?
BL: Virginia Tech?, TCU(N)?, at Clemson
IN THE MIX
Miami (16-10, 7-6; RPI: 46, SOS: 29)
The Hurricanes ate a damaging loss Tuesday night, falling at Maryland. This is their first loss that can be considered questionable, but they don't have a ton in the plus side of the ledger, either. Now they really need to grab these next three, including home to Florida State and then a possible quasi-elimination bout at NC State.
GW: at Duke
BL: at Maryland?
North Carolina State (18-10, 7-6; RPI: 58, SOS: 40)
The Wolfpack had three straight shots at a profile-defining victory and couldn't get any of them. Now even if they can win their last three and finish 10-6 with a sweep Miami, they'll need to do some solid work in the ACC tournament to feel like they have legitimate at-large hopes.
GW: at Miami?
BL: Georgia Tech
Locks: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor
It's showtime at the top of the league when Missouri heads to Lawrence to take on Kansas, likely with the league lead and the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Saint Louis regional on the table. Classic "If you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ" spot for the Tigers, although a loss here certainly wouldn't dampen enthusiasm for a deep March run. Baylor's more than safe as far as inclusions, but the Bears' slide continues with a frustrating home loss to Kansas State.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Kansas State (19-8, 8-7; RPI: 50, SOS: 61)
The Wildcats just wrapped up the best back-to-back road wins in the nation this season, backing up the victory at Baylor by completing a sweep of Missouri with a win in Columbia. Things look really good now, and will look even better if they can handle Iowa State this weekend in Manhattan.
GW: Sweep of Missouri, Alabama (N), Long Beach State (N), at Baylor
BL: Swept by Oklahoma?
Iowa State (19-8, 9-5; RPI: 41, SOS: 55)
The Cyclones won their only game of the week (vs. Oklahoma) and head into the homestretch well-positioned. They should handle Texas Tech at home to get to 10 wins, and then have road cracks at Kansas State and Missouri and a home date with Baylor to add to the resume. The date in Manhattan is a huge separation chance, as it would be a sweep of the Wildcats and a huge gap in the league standings.
GW: Kansas, Kansas State?
BL: at Drake?, at Oklahoma State?
Texas (17-10, 7-7; RPI: 51, SOS: 26)
The Longhorns may lament getting Keiton Page'd at Oklahoma State. Things are now looking much more like 9-9, and as good as the Temple win is looking now, it's not clear that will be enough without beating much of anyone at the top of the league.
GW: Temple, Iowa State?
BL: Oregon State (N)
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame
Time to start being reasonable. Neither Louisville (solid profile) nor Notre Dame (with 11 Big East wins and counting) is missing the NCAAs now. That makes five in for sure. How much deeper can the league go?
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Connecticut (17-10, 7-8; RPI: 27, SOS: 1)
Don't mistake the difference between being a good team (which UConn isn't at the moment), playing well down the stretch (which UConn clearly isn't) and a good at-large profile (which UConn currently still has, in comparison with other options). Shabazz Napier's 35-footer that beat Villanova could ultimately be what keeps the Huskies on the right side of the cutline. Of course, they can go beat Syracuse at home on Saturday ...
GW: Florida State (N), at Notre Dame, Seton Hall?, West Virginia?, Harvard?BL: at Rutgers, at Tennessee
West Virginia (17-10, 7-7; RPI: 41, SOS: 7)
The Mountaineers won at Pitt in their only game of the week, which won't help the profile much, but levels them at .500 heading into a pivotal week for their at-large hopes. Wednesday at Notre Dame isn't a bargain at all and neither is Marquette at home on Friday. With a season finale at surging South Florida, the 'Eers need to be careful here. A 9-9 league record "probably" will keep them safe, but this overall profile is weaker than many perceive. WVU only has one top-150 road win.
GW: Georgetown, Kansas State (N), Miami?, Cincinnati?, Oral Roberts?
BL: Kent State?, at St. John's, Pitt?
Seton Hall (19-9, 8-8; RPI: 34, SOS: 29)
The Pirates picked up an enormous home win with a romp of Georgetown, getting back to .500 in the league and adding another high-quality win to the profile. Now with Rutgers at home and at DePaul remaining, 10-8 looks very attainable. That should be enough to get the Pirates into the NCAAs.
GW: Georgetown, UConn?, West Virginia?, Saint Joseph's??
BL: None, really
Cincinnati (19-8, 9-5; RPI: 82, SOS: 124)
The Bearcats' 320th ranked nonconference SOS stands out like an Alabama 2011-sized sore thumb, so the best plan for UC is to keep winning league games. Handling Providence and bubble battler Seton Hall at home this week was needed work. Now it's all in front of the Bearcats, with a home date against Louisville and then a surprisingly important game in Tampa against South Florida before Marquette comes in next week. As they stand, the Bearcats would be, by a decent margin, the worst RPI team ever taken as an at-large.
GW: at Georgetown, at UConn, Notre Dame, Oklahoma?, Pitt?
BL: St. John's, Presbyterian, at Rutgers
South Florida (16-10, 10-4; RPI: 50, SOS: 40)
The Bulls, as of Tuesday, are a top-50 win. Commence celebrating, Southern Miss and VCU! Can South Florida pull a Craig Biggio and aggregate its way to the NCAAs? The Bulls will have every chance to solidify their standing down the stretch: at Syracuse, Cincinnati, at Louisville, West Virginia. And no, I have no idea what a 12-6 USF team would look like in the at-large picture entering championship week.
GW: Seton Hall??
BL: Old Dominion (N)?, Penn State (N), at Auburn
Locks: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
Add the Wolverines to the lock list after they handled Ohio State at home. Road woes aside, there's too much quality in this resume to have any chance of missing. The greater intrigue is at the bottom of this league's at-large pool, where a group of nine may end up winnowed down to ... five??
SHOULD BE IN
Indiana (20-7, 8-7; RPI: 19, SOS: 25)
The Hoosiers are going to make the NCAAs, but let's let them get one more league win to make it a certainty. First up, the long-awaited nonconference clash with North Carolina Central! Then the weekend has a trip to Minnesota before home games against Michigan State and Purdue next week.
GW: Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame (N), at N.C. State?, at Purdue?
BL: at Nebraska
Wisconsin (20-7, 9-5; RPI: 23, SOS: 20)
The Badgers also are pretty much good to go, although this week provides interesting tests at feisty Iowa and then at Ohio State. Home dates in the final week against Minnesota and Illinois should help add a win or (probably) two to the ledger.
GW: UNLV, BYU (N), at Illinois, Indiana
IN THE MIX
Purdue (17-10, 7-7; RPI: 52, SOS: 23)
The Boilermakers are in the best position of this batch, having gone 5-0 against Northwestern (sweep), Illinois (sweep) and Minnesota (road win). That said, add in the sweep of Iowa and they haven't beaten a single team in league play that looks headed to the NCAAs. It's the consummate "average team" profile. Beating Nebraska and Penn State at home will get them at least to .500, but what would that really mean if they also lose at Michigan and Indiana?
GW: Temple (N), Iona?, sweep of Northwestern?, Miami?
BL: Butler (N), at Penn State
Northwestern (16-11, 6-9; RPI: 43, SOS: 9)
The Wildcats had a win in their grasp, but couldn't close out Michigan and lost in overtime for a very damaging home defeat. Now if they can't beat Ohio State at home next week, they'll finish under .500 in the league, which makes them a dicey bubble proposition. They're no certainty to win at Penn State and Iowa, either. The streak may continue thanks to the latest in a series of tough Ls this season..
GW: Michigan State, at Seton Hall (N)?, at Illinois?
BL: Illinois?, swept by Purdue
Illinois (15-12, 5-10; RPI: 69, SOS: 28)
The Illini got pasted at Ohio State and now need to win at least four in a row to have any legitimate at-large claim. A complete collapse in league play.
GW: Ohio State, Michigan State, Gonzaga, at Northwestern?
BL: at Penn State, Northwestern?
Minnesota (17-10, 5-9; RPI: 72, SOS: 57)
Time's running out on the Gophers after a home loss to Ohio State and then a defeat at Northwestern. The good news, if there is some, is that the next three games (home to Michigan State and Indiana and at Wisconsin) provide a platform to make a late surge. More likely, it will end legit at-large hopes.
GW: at Indiana
Cal and Washington have established some room between them and the rest of the Pac. That's good news for them. The whole discussion could become fascinating, though, if Washington goes on to win the league (softer schedule down the stretch), as Cal's profile is better than the Huskies. A non-Cal/Washington auto bid winner will set the discussion aflame.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
California (22-6, 12-3; RPI: 29, SOS: 79)
After edging Oregon in a crucial game, the Golden Bears finished off a home weekend sweep by topping Oregon State and stay tied for first. Cal's finish is tougher than Washington's, though, as the Bears still have to travel to Colorado and Stanford. Finishing second behind Washington would open all sorts of Pandora's boxes in at-large discussion. The best move: win out.
GW: None, but a handful of OK ones
BL: at Washington State, at Oregon State, Arizona??
Washington (19-8, 12-3; RPI: 54; SOS: 69)
After taking down the Arizona schools, the Huskies also finish with three on the road, but at Wazzu, USC and UCLA is relatively easier than Cal's run, so there's a solid chance for at least a share of the league title. What will that mean if they end the season with just three top-100 wins and some worrisome blips on the resume, if an at-large is needed? Only the selection committee knows. The Huskies are also 60th in Sagarin and 65th in Pomeroy, so the RPI isn't an isolated rankings weakness.
GW: Sweep of Arizona?
BL: Home to South Dakota State by 19
Colorado (16-8, 10-4; RPI: 76; SOS: 111)
Home to Stanford and Cal are obviously must-wins this week for any hope. Nonleague accomplishments are minimal and the Buffaloes don't have a top-150 win away from home.
GW: None, really
BL: at UCLA?
Oregon (19-8, 10-5; RPI: 55, SOS: 72)
Similarly, the Ducks needed to win at Cal and couldn't. They can still get to 13-5 if they handle at Oregon State and then a visit from Colorado, but with only three top-100 wins in that scenario, seems very thin.
GW: at Arizona?, Washington by 25?
BL: Oregon State
Arizona (19-9, 10-5; RPI: 67, SOS: 88)
The Wildcats needed to win at Washington and couldn't do it. Road wins at Cal and New Mexico State are better than what most others in this conference can offer, but a third-place finish (at best) in a league that fits all the criteria for two bids (max) is likely not going to be enough to convince.
GW: at Cal, at New Mexico State?
BL: at UCLA?