Bracket Ladder for February 26, 2011

So yeah, this is really late because I’m actually starting to get tired of the whole enterprise. But I will press on for you all! Next two ladders will be out Tuesday and Friday.

Three developments on this ladder compared with Monday. First, St. John’s rockets up the board again and turns the Big East’s Big Eight into a Big Nine. There just isn’t enough of a case to be made against them, and frankly, the Big East has an unfair advantage in the seeding since they have so many teams on the top few seed lines. Second, Connecticut’s loss to Marquette finally gives me an excuse to dislodge them from the top seed line. Third, we’re finally starting to see those ugly profiles I mentioned the last two ladders. On Monday, you’ll see the rest of the auto bids, an actual bracket, and the start of talk about tourney sites.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 25, 2011. This means it does not include any of Saturday’s games, including the BYU-San Diego State game.

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out

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Bracket Ladder for February 21, 2011

With every BCS team on the top two seed lines losing over the past week, it seems an opportune time to reassess the top two seed lines and whether they’re an accurate reflection of the best teams in the country. I’m starting to get a sense of how people size up teams – which is not to say that’s how I’m going to start sizing them up. It’s apparent that people seem to place a lot more emphasis on who you’ve lost to than who you’ve beaten. That’s the only explanation for Pitt being penalized seemingly entirely because they lost to Tennessee, admittedly on a neutral site. Never mind that by that logic, Kansas should be penalized for losing to Kansas State, or Texas should be penalized for losing to Nebraska AND USC, or Duke should be penalized for losing to Florida State. (Yeah, as you can probably guess, this process isn’t going to magically move Texas or Duke up to the top line. I’m getting disgusted enough with ESPN, especially Lunardi and Gottleib, that I may write an entire piece outside the Bracket Ladder framework just so Bleacher Report can see my grievances. I knew my opinions would differ from the “mainstream”, but I didn’t know the “mainstream” would be this delusional.)

The Tennessee loss may not have been enough to drop Pittsburgh from the king-of-the-hill position, but the St. John’s loss does raise serious questions about their resume. Pitt still has a gaudy collection of wins against good teams, but having two losses to teams outside the top four seed lines is a serious problem. It’s at this point that I begin to notice that Ohio State’s two losses are both road losses to very good teams, and while the Buckeyes may not have as gaudy a collection of wins as the Panthers, they do have a road nonconference blowout win over a very good Florida team. In the end, the relative standing between the two depended to a large extent on how high the teams that beat them rose as a result of their defeats. I’m still partial to Pitt, but the race is definitely tightening, and the Buckeyes could have easily returned to the king-of-the-hill spot had they beaten Purdue on the road. The rest of the top two seed lines remain unchanged, though I once again have serious misgivings about Kansas. The biggest change is my decision to move Florida (and Kentucky) back a seed line. A team with four losses outside the RPI Top 90 is not a top-three seed.

Because I started doing this VERY late, the only teams outside the tournament that I’ve listed are those necessary to figure out which teams should replace the teams that were at the tip of the bubble last Thursday, a good number of whom lost. Trust me, when we get a significant distance into the bubble, some of the teams on the ladder will be ugly as sin.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 20, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Syracuse-Villanova game.

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out

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Bracket Ladder for February 17, 2011

We’re extending right up to the last at-large team today, and I’m starting to get a sense of what resumes feel like “NCAA teams”. There are pretty much, right now, 47 of them spread across 10 conferences, exactly enough to fill out the at-large field. You’re going to see some teams on the wrong side of the cutline on Monday, and the way I describe them will seem like a grisly sight: incapable of winning on the road, schedule strengths in the 90s or even out of the top 100, multiple bad if not atrocious losses, exceedingly lacking in wins with wins over teams in the 100-125 range of the RPI counting as “depth”… and yet, their nonconference record will remain superb with rarely more than five losses. As part of the purpose of Bracket Ladder is to show how great even the teams that miss the NCAAs are, I’ll make an effort to show the good in their resumes. I may even dip into what some call “NIT-ology” if only to show that, as bad as the teams we’ll see on Monday may look, it could be worse. (Given how wide the bubble is right now, if I extend all the way to the end of the “Probably outs” I could have most of the NIT field right there, with a little bit left over when you consider the NIT auto bid rule.)

Since the current ladder extends right up to the tip of the bubble, there are no more question mark seed floors. All teams with seed ranges listed have had their floors calculated, and all teams listed as “Probably in” or “Barely in” have a calculated worst-case scenario where they don’t make the tournament. The distinction between “Probably in” and “Barely in” is arbitrary and based on how probable a scenario where a team doesn’t make the tournament is. Generally, if it would take more than one or two major slip-ups to miss the NCAAs, you’re “probably in”, but if you could be left out after one or two slip-ups, you’re “barely in”. Also, the last four at-large teams are listed with an “f” superscript next to their seed on the left side to indicate they’d be playing in one of the new “First Four” games the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday. This has zero bearing on who they’d play in those First Four games, other than “one of the other three”, regardless of what seed I have them listed as; there isn’t enough information on how that’s determined, but it almost surely involves the same bracketing constraints as the rest of the bracket.

Meanwhile, I’ve also tried to start recalibrating the ladder with more focus on who you’ve played and how you’ve done against them based on where they stand on the ladder, and I think I’ve been successful for the first seven seed lines. On Monday I’ll introduce a simple yet powerful new tool for measuring performance down the stretch. Also still to come: auto bids (for the last four or five seed lines) and how all this might translate into an actual bracket. At some point I’m going to need to research some of the scenarios for how the Big East could play out for the sake of figuring out accurate seed ceilings.

As promised, a BracketBusters preview. The games involving Old Dominion and George Mason are covered in their respective entries on the ladder below. As for the others:

Kent State @ Drexel (Friday 9pm ET, ESPNU): In my view, Drexel has a surprisingly strong at-large profile, with only two non-RPI-Top-100 losses, a win over Old Dominion, and a road win over Louisville. As mid-majors go, the CAA is strong enough that that deserves a second look. Of course, Hofstra is Drexel’s only other RPI Top 100 win, they have a schedule strength in the 130s and an RPI of 81, and Kent State won’t help very much, since they have an even worse RPI than Hofstra or Drexel. The Golden Flashes have only one RPI Top 100 win, and Miami (OH) barely qualifies, but they won’t be sniffing the tournament even with a win.

Utah State @ St. Mary’s (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN2): This may be the highlight of BracketBusters. Already suffering, St. Mary’s at-large chances took a major hit with a loss to lowly San Diego. The Gaels desperately need to rebound and get another RPI Top 25 win to prove they’re still the same team that knocked off St. John’s on ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon, or winning the WCC tournament will be vital. And yet, they still don’t need this game more than Utah State. The Aggies, by far the highest RPI team I don’t have in the field, have, to put it simply, no middle ground. Their two losses are to BYU and Georgetown… and their best win, Long Beach State, only barely qualifies as an RPI Top 100 win. This game will completely define how good a team they are. Lose, and forget about at-large hopes with a loss to a team that’s bubbly themselves. Win, and at-large hopes are still a longshot, but you’ve beaten the one RPI 11-50 team you played on the road, so maybe with a tight loss in the WAC Final you can sneak in with other bubble carnage. If the Aggies do win out in conference, this one game could make multiple seed lines’ worth of difference.

Virginia Commonwealth @ Wichita State (Friday 7pm ET, ESPN2): The Shockers may be the Valley’s strongest at-large candidate, which isn’t saying much. Their winning straits aren’t as dire as Utah State’s, with a road win over Northern Iowa under their belts, but they also don’t have all their losses against 2-seeds, including a truly mystifying home loss to Southern Illinois. VCU is a more legit at-large candidate, not only in the CAA where they have a road win over Old Dominion, but even a home win over UCLA. But neither has an RPI over 30, and VCU has a few embarrassing losses. Wichita State has a good enoughg RPI to provide a substantial boost to VCU’s resume, though not a great one, and while a loss would hurt it wouldn’t put them back too far. Meanwhile, VCU would actually be the Shockers’ best RPI win, while still being their third-worst loss. Not that, as a win, it would put them in any bubble contention that serious, especially coming at home.

Missouri State @ Valparaiso (Saturday 5pm ET, ESPN2): Valpo has an interesting resume, with home wins over the Horizon’s other two strong teams for RPI Top 50 wins, and a road win over Oakland is good as well, but they have way too many bad losses, including one to atrocious Toledo. Missouri State might drag them closer to the cut line, but those bad losses will still weigh them down. The Bears don’t have too many total losses or bad losses, as well as road wins over the other two Valley contenders for RPI Top 100 wins, but their strength of schedule is still nose-holding. Valpo could bring them closer to the cutline as well, and if that were to happen I think the results could get very interesting.

Miami (OH) @ James Madison (Saturday Noon ET):James Madison doesn’t have an RPI Top 50 win, but they have enough Top 100 wins, especially Princeton and Marshall at home, to be interesting for at least the NIT conversation. They only have two horrible losses, but they are horrible, coming outside the top 200. Unfortunately, the Redhawks won’t appreciably give them much they don’t already have, and a loss could be disastrous. While not an at-large contender either, wins over Xavier and two other RPI Top 100 teams make Miami (OH)’s resume at least interesting, but likewise the Dukes won’t help them much. And that’s why this is one of the “leftover” games that didn’t make TV.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 16, 2011. This means it does not include any of Thursday’s games, including the Minnesota-Penn State game. (Yes, it’s also being released late enough that I should just include the Thursday games. That’s what working on this for virtually 16 hours straight will do to you.)

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out

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Bracket Ladder for February 14, 2011

We’re going to move to a twice-weekly schedule this week, so tune in Thursday for a complete preview of BracketBusters. However, I will say right now that there may be no more than two BracketBuster teams that enter the event in the field. I’ve only determined 23 of the 37 at-larges (we’re extending to the 8th seed line today), but the next two seed lines may be lacking in any teams outside the BCS conferences and Mountain West – think the likes of Marquette, Michigan State, Arizona, Florida State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, and Penn State. The remaining six spots may include the likes of Marshall, Drexel, St. Mary’s, and George Mason, though.

Meanwhile, there really are no great teams this year. Kansas moves up to the overall #2 seed but still doesn’t have the deepest collection of wins. Duke has one RPI top 30 win and no true road wins in the top 60, and outside the Ladder they’re seriously being considered for a #1 seed. Florida has multiple atrocious losses and they’re on the #3 seed line; Wisconsin got propelled up to the third seed line by beating Ohio State mostly because the teams on the fourth line looked weak.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of JFebruary 13, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Syracuse-West Virginia game.

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI T50: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams with the same or better color (more on this later). Lv≤: Number of losses against teams with the same or worse color. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out
1 Pittsburgh BST #1 1 – 1 – 5
23-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 20 R/N: 9-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Road wins over West Virginia and Villanova are enough for Pitt to jump back to the overall top seed. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, they should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. (In fact, they’re pretty close to locking up a double-bye in MSG.) There’s always a good game in the Big East, and Pitt has a chance to prep for the Big East Tournament this week by avoiding Upset City against St. John’s (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 7
24-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 11 R/N: 10-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Kansas is more a beneficiary of losses by Ohio State and UConn than moving up because of anything they themselves did. Beating Missouri helps, but it still says a lot that a team with a grand total of two RPI Top 30 wins has the second-best profile in the country. The Morris Twins have no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March; they may need to win out to stay on the top seed line.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
24-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
So now that we don’t have to worry about Ohio State potentially going undefeated, how does their resume look now? Well, they have two very good wins, RPI-wise, over Purdue and Florida, the latter on the road, and their one loss is pretty respectable. But like Kansas, they have just those two wins over the RPI Top 30, and Wisconsin isn’t exactly Texas. I’m shocked that I heard Joe Lunardi this morning claiming Ohio State, even after losing, had the best overall resume; there is no chance I’m going to return them to the overall #1 seed. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue on Sunday (1pm ET, CBS) will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line.
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
19-5 RPI: 13 SOS: 16 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 6-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
It’s hard for me to keep defending the Huskies when they keep losing, especially to teams like St. John’s. All I can do is point to their lack of bad losses and their strength of schedule, not to mention beating Texas in Austin. They won’t have another shot at Pitt until the Big East Tournament, but if they don’t lose the rest of the way and beat all the best teams they could face in MSG, in the Big East, you still have to make a case for them, right? Georgetown (Wednesday 7pm ET, Big East Network) and Louisville (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN) won’t hurt them too much unless Notre Dame gets a big win; their biggest potential trap game to fall off the 1 seed line might be next week against Marquette.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – 8
23-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 14 R/N: 11-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that, especially since I’m not confident of Connecticut as a 1. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – 7
23-1 RPI: 5 SOS: 35 R/N: 13-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The Aztecs improve their resume by sweeping the series against UNLV, but since it matches a win they already had, it’s not good enough to appreciably improve their standing. They don’t get another chance at an RPI Top 20 win until the rematch with BYU in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses. New Mexico (Wednesday 10:30pm ET, mtn.) is determined to repeat their BYU success, even if they have to go to San Diego to do it.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
19-4 RPI: 9 SOS: 23 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins, against the other three of the best four Big East teams, and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss; you can’t tell me they can’t possibly win a 1. If they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, it’ll be very difficult to argue against them. There is probably only one more chance for them to lose their unbeaten home record, when Villanova comes to town at the end of the month. For now, they take a week off before heading to West Virginia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS). Both games will help deepen their resume.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – 8
20-5 RPI: 3 SOS: 2 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
And the verdict is, “Georgetown is most likely for real”. The Hoyas proved their bona fides against Syracuse and made sure to avoid a potential trap game against Marquette. St. John’s looks like the only truly concerning conference loss, and it seems like most teams have trouble against Steve Lavin’s club in NYC (though West Virginia at home is also head-scratching). The real test, though, may be travelling to UConn (Wednesday 7pm ET, Big East Network); a win there would consolidate their position, a loss likely permanently knocks them out of the top tier of Big East teams.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – 7
22-3 RPI: 8 SOS: 18 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Missouri moves into the RPI Top 30 to give Texas another win there, but it’s still a rather thin resume for people to consider moving the Longhorns to the 1 seed line just yet; the Big 12 just isn’t as deep as the Big East past the top two teams. USC is their only bad loss, but they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M remains the third best team in the conference, Missouri the next-best RPI team. The best they can hope for is to keep plugging away and hope the committee gives them credit for their record, and maybe prove the first Kansas game wasn’t a fluke in the Big 12 final. Fortunately their schedule the rest of the way is as weak as Ohio State’s; Oklahoma State (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN2) may be the best team they face before the Big 12 tournament.
3 Florida SEC #1 1 – 3 – 10
20-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 6 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 8-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Psst… Florida is starting to look like they’re not a mirage. They avenged their loss to South Carolina and deepened their resume against Tennessee. Now they don’t have another questionable opponent the rest of the way, save for LSU (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN), who, with an RPI outside the top 200, is a little too questionable for me to think they’d really give the Gators a challenge, even in Baton Rouge, so it’s off to the lock column with them. (Alabama might be questionable too, but the way they’ve been playing in conference play, maybe not.)
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 9
23-2 RPI: 7 SOS: 37 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Adding a pelt against North Carolina was important; getting a road win over Miami (FL) may have been more important, representing Duke’s first road win over the RPI Top 100. But it’s not enough; their only chance to prove they can beat a tourney lock on the road may be the rematch with the Tar Heels in the regular season finale. And people talk about the Kyle Singlers as one of five contenders for the top line! It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s best hope for a #1 seed is probably to completely win out, beating North Carolina another two times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Wisconsin B10 #2 1 – 3 – ?
19-5 RPI: 18 SOS: 36 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
I’ll be honest, despite the Ohio State win I had misgivings about moving the Badgers up even a single seed line, and the only reason I moved them up two was because I wanted to punish Big East teams that lost. They can prove they deserve this lofty standing if they can repeat the Purdue win on the road (Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN), but if they lose expect them to fall back on Thursday.
4 Syracuse BST #5 1 – 4 – ?
20-6 RPI: 21 SOS: 25 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
One step forward, two steps back. After a flawless nonconference, Syracuse is looking disturbingly inconsistent in conference play. They’ve shown flashes of their early-season dominance, for example against UConn, but they’re having trouble proving that their three conference wins weren’t flukes (though admittedly beating St. John’s on the road is a tall order for most Big East teams). Beating West Virginia (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) helps, but Syracuse will have to make most of their case for a good seed in the Big East Tournament, as that’ll be their only shot at avenging the Pitt loss.
4 Louisville BST #6 1 – 4 – ?
19-6 RPI: 25 SOS: 34 R/N: 3-4 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Louisville’s week wasn’t as bad as Villanova’s (see below), as they picked up a big win over Syracuse, but losing to Notre Dame may have cost them against the Orange (and the Badgers) in the comparison. The win over UConn really looks very fluky, as all their road losses have come to teams with better RPIs than their next best road win over USF – including outside-the-top-100 Providence. But surely they can beat Cincinnati (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN), right? Or at least lessen the flukiness of the Connecticut win by beating them again at home (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN), right?
4 Villanova BST #7 1 – 4 – ?
19-6 RPI: 20 SOS: 27 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Losing to Pitt is acceptable, but losing to Rutgers in Jersey makes the Syracuse win look like more of a fluke, not less. Nova won’t get any chances to get a road win against a good team until Notre Dame and Pitt back-to-back at the end of the season, and it’s hard to see them doing that right now. Even another road game against Seton Hall (Tuesday 8pm ET, Big East Network) looks like a must-win right now. Villanova’s best chance to prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 4 – ?
16-8 RPI: 22 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 4-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
As it turns out, the Pitt loss keeps West Virginia from capitalizing on Villanova’s bad week. Now West Virginia’s season could be made or broken by three big games in ten days: on the road to Syracuse (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played), hosting Notre Dame (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS), and at Pitt (Thursday 2/24 9pm ET, ESPN). Losing to Syracuse is a bad harbringer for the rest of the games, and could make their final two home games against UConn and Louisville must-wins for a respectable seed.
5 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 5 – ?
17-7 RPI: 14 SOS: 10 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Kentucky beat Tennessee and lost to Vanderbilt, but it’s Wisconsin’s big win over Ohio State that knocks the Wildcats off their precarious top-four perch. The SEC turns out to have quite a bit of strength, but Kentucky will need to take advantage of that strength. They close the regular season hosting Florida and Vanderbilt and going on the road to Tennessee. Those games will not only determine Kentucky’s seed in the SEC Tournament, but their seed in the NCAAs as well. (Despite the question mark above, if they can avoid losing at Arkansas next week they should be pretty good for the top eight seed lines.)
5 Purdue B10 #3 Probably in
20-5 RPI: 10 SOS: 24 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Purdue got a needed pelt by knocking off Illinois on the road, showing their resume has some meat on those bones. Purdue has good RPI but a disturbing loss to Richmond, but two big home tests this week against the top two teams in the conference (Wisconsin Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN, Ohio State Sunday 1pm ET, CBS) could get them locked into the field.
5 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
15-10 RPI: 27 SOS: 3 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
How do you take two losses in one week and not suffer for it? When the two losses were on the road to Kentucky and Florida. It is still a concern that Tennessee hasn’t backed up their big wins. Tennessee has given the likes of Pitt and Villanova some of their very few losses… and they have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 70, against teams like College of Charleston and Oakland. Incidentially, only two of those bad losses have the Bruce Pearl suspension excuse, and only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the Vols managed to beat Vanderbilt at home and Georgia in Athens without their coach. Having missed two chances for big pelts, Tennessee will just have to play out the string. They host Georgia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) hoping to halt the hard charge of an upstart, and then hope for revenge at Vanderbilt (Tuesday 2/22 9pm ET, ESPN).
5 Vanderbilt SEC #4 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 16 SOS: 13 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Kentucky is hardly Ohio State, but they do allow Vanderbilt to claim that the North Carolina win wasn’t more about the Tar Heels than the Commodores. Beating Georgia on the road (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) would consolidate Vandy’s position on the top five seed lines and the attendent bracketing benefits that provides.
6 Texas A&M B12 #3 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 31 SOS: 51 R/N: 6-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
A&M look worse in the comparison with the SEC teams this week upon further review. Colorado and Texas Tech don’t provide the resume spark the Aggies needed. The Aggies don’t have an RPI Top 25 win and don’t get another shot at Texas until the conference tournament. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, or Missouri is poison to the Aggies’ relative standing on Selection Sunday. A&M is squarely on the bubble until they are clear of all the land mines on their schedule.
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 26 SOS: 53 R/N: 4-6 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
Losses by teams below make Missouri look better in the comparison and prevent the Kansas loss from doing what little damage it might have done. That Missouri’s strength of schedule improved helps as well. But Missouri still needs to add depth to their resume, and their best chance to do that might be at the end of the season, with the home rematch with Kansas and the Big 12 Tournament.
6 Minnesota B10 #4 Probably in
17-8 RPI: 36 SOS: 28 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Minnesota missed a chance to make up ground with the loss to Illinois and it now looks like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue have formed a solid top tier in the Big Ten, leaving the Gophers behind. Minnesota’s best true road win is still against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. The Gophers are cursing themselves for losing to Michigan State, and Virginia and Indiana are very concerning. Minnesota probably would have been a 5 last week before losing to Ohio State (certainly forgivable) and Indiana (a no-no). Minnesota needed Iowa to break a four-game losing streak, and could use a win over Penn State (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2) to escape the first round of the conference tournament and improve their road resume.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 12 SOS: 5 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
The Tar Heels couldn’t close out a huge win over rival Duke that could have locked them into the field. The real benefit may be the jump in UNC’s strength of schedule. The Heels have to feel good about their chances in the season-ending home rematch. Beating Clemson was good as well.
7 St. John’s BST #9 Probably in
15-9 RPI: 17 SOS: 1 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 5-7 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 5
Steve Lavin’s team picked up another massive pelt against UConn (ho-hum at this point) and dispatched Cincinnati to consolidate their position within the conference and make the West Virginia win look less like a fluke on their road resume. Both games add needed depth to their resume. The Johnnies can add another pelt to their road resume against Marquette (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPNU). Then will come the ultimate test of St. John’s home-court advantage: Pitt (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
7 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
18-7 RPI: 27 SOS: 30 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 2-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
One thing UNLV has going for them: they play well on the road. The Rebels don’t have many good wins, but combine their good road record with UC Santa Barbara being their only truly bad loss and they’re in pretty good shape. Being in the Mountain West, though, a single slip-up could kill them. All their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a loss, and after losing to San Diego State, they will need to be on their guard all the way to the conference tournament.
7 Illinois B10 #5 Probably in
16-9 RPI: 39 SOS: 21 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Illinois is likely getting into the field after a big road win over Minnesota helps make home wins over North Carolina and the new giant-killers Wisconsin look less like flukes. Not that losses to Indiana, UIC, or recently to Northwestern aren’t still head-scratchers, but Illinois has proven now that they can be the real deal when push comes to shove. Games against the Michigan schools (Michigan Wednesday 8:30pm ET, BTN, @Michigan State Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN) will serve to help further deepen the resume in preparation for a big road trip to Columbus (Tuesday 2/22 7pm ET, ESPN).
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
19-6 RPI: 52 SOS: 108 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 2-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
Cincinnati is tough to read, as all their losses have come against the Big East’s top tier and they have a win over St. John’s under their belt, but Xavier is their only other win against the RPI Top 60. Clearly, the Bearcats will suffer because of their schedule. Failing to win the rematch against St. John’s doesn’t help matters. The Bearcats need to bounce back against Louisville (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) and show that the Bearcats aren’t just beneficiaries of a weak nonconference.
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 Barely in
20-6 RPI: 27 SOS: 62 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 9-2 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 5
Beating Virginia Commonwealth adds depth to Old Dominion’s resume, and helps them in the conference, but there’s still something lacking. Drawing Cleveland State in BracketBusters (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN2) probably helps the Vikings, who don’t have and desperately need a single RPI Top 40, more than one RPI Top 80, or a road RPI Top 100 win, more than the Monarchs, though the Vikings will provide a much-needed RPI Top 40 win and won’t hurt them too much with a loss. The Monarchs will practice for that game by hosting Georgia State (Tuesday 7pm ET, CSS).
8 Temple A10 #1 Barely in
19-5 RPI: 33 SOS: 98 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Xavier has higher RPI and is getting more dap from the media, and they did beat Temple at home, but that happens to be the Musketeers’ best win; they don’t have a win of the caliber of Georgetown on their resume. I reserve the right to change my mind on this later, of course. They won’t meet again until the conference tournament, but in the meantime Temple can fend off challengers for A-10 positioning, starting with Richmond (Thursday 7pm ET, CBS CS).
8 UCLA PAC #1 Barely in
18-7 RPI: 35 SOS: 38 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
At long last, the first Pac-10 team on the ladder! We only had to go through, what, ten Big East teams to get to this point? A team with seven losses, a losing road/neutral record, and a losing record against good teams, and not only do wins over BYU and St. John’s propel them above their brethren, they might actually win the conference with only Arizona ahead of them at the moment! It would help, of course, if the Bruins could actually beat the Wildcats, which they’ll have another chance for in a couple of weeks.

8 Georgia SEC #5 Barely in
17-7 RPI: 42 SOS: 40 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 2-7 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
All of Georgia’s seven losses have come against teams in the top 35 in the RPI; it’s a rarity to have no bad losses this far down. So what’s the problem? They can’t win any of those games against good opposition. They have a home win over Kentucky, which sort of shows they have more than just consistency, but their only other RPI Top 60 win is against UAB. Worse, Ole Miss is not only their best road win, it’s their only other RPI Top 90 win. If Georgia can pick up a few more pelts they’ll be in better shape. The good news is they’ll have chances in the SEC; they face the Tennessee schools this week (Vanderbilt Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU, @Tennessee Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) and head to Gainesville after that (Thursday 2/24 7pm ET, ESPN). The bad news is, can they get the wins they need against the SEC’s top teams?

Bracket Ladder for February 7, 2011

Thanks to my decision to switch the process over to Opera (Chrome would work best if it didn’t blank the screen for a few seconds every time I switch tabs), we’ve extended the ladder by not one, not two, but THREE seed lines! We’re also seeing the first hints of what I call seed range, explained below. Teams with good seeds have their seed ranges listed, and one lucky team can start talking about their colors changing as their seed floor closes in. Teams I didn’t calculate seed ranges for are listed with a question mark for their seed floor. Everyone south of the top four seed lines is listed as “Probably in”, taking a cue from ESPN’s “bubble watch”, not because I’ve calculated seed floors that far down, which I haven’t. (To be frank, I could conceivably extend the “Probably in” line further up, not down – see how wide a net I cast below.) One team is listed as “Barely in” to flag serious problems with their resume.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 6, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Pitt-West Virginia game.

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI T50: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams with the same or better color (more on this later). Lv≤: Number of losses against teams with the same or worse color. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
24-0 RPI: 3 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
Florida and Purdue both look better this week, which is just enough to put Ohio State on the overall #1 seed line. But let’s be clear: If Ohio State doesn’t go undefeated, they cannot get the overall #1 seed, and might not even get into the Midwest Regional. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue later on will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line. The good news for the Jared Sullingers is that they have a pretty good chance to go unbeaten; Wisconsin is on the same seed line as the Boilermakers, and the road test against them this week (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN) stands up there with the Purdue road rematch as one of the few chances the Buckeyes have for losing the rest of the way.
1 Pittsburgh BST #1 1 – 1 – 6
21-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 20 R/N: 7-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Pitt slips from overall #1 mostly because Ohio State’s opposition looked better this week. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, they should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. There’s always a good game in the Big East, and Pitt can consolidate their position this week with road trips to rivals West Virginia (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) and Villanova (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN).
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
18-4 RPI: 10 SOS: 13 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
I’ve been hearing Doug Gottleib on ESPN recently, claiming the following teams are the only ones with a realistic shot at a one: Ohio State, Kansas, Pitt, Duke, and Texas. I will be criticizing him all the way down to Duke, but for now allow me to point out that UConn’s wins match up well with Pitt’s, and even with a loss to Syracuse none of their losses are horrible (though some wins against conference teams better than Villanova would be nice). They won’t have another shot at Pitt until the Big East Tournament, but if they don’t lose the rest of the way and beat all the best teams they could face in MSG, in the Big East, how can you argue there isn’t a case to be made for them? Avoiding a trap game against St. John’s (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN) would be a start.
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 7
20-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 8-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Despite the Syracuse loss, I just didn’t see much reason to jump Kansas ahead of the Kemba Walkers – the Jayhawks just don’t have the wins. The Jayhawks still need more good wins if they want to stay up here, but the Big 12 should provide sufficient opposition. The Texas loss still haunts them, but the Morris Twins get another shot to improve their resume against Missouri (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played), and then comes no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – ?
21-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 10-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU completed the sweep against UNLV, which could have been a big land mine. BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – ?
21-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 33 R/N: 12-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Colorado State represents San Diego State’s best road win by a significant margin. BYU isn’t a terrible loss, but the Aztecs won’t get another chance against a team in the RPI Top 40 until the rematch in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses. A road trip to UNLV (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS CS) could be a trap game.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
19-4 RPI: 9 SOS: 23 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins, against the other three of the best four Big East teams, and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss; you can’t tell me they can’t possibly win a 1. If they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, it’ll be very difficult to argue against them. There are probably only two more chances for them to lose their unbeaten home record; Louisville (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) is one of them.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – ?
18-5 RPI: 5 SOS: 2 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Georgetown is mostly here, ahead of teams like Texas and Duke, because of their wins in the 20s, strength of schedule, and road/neutral record. Their iffy start to Big East play still haunts them, they don’t have a win better than Villanova, and they still have a questionable loss to Temple, but they also have only two home losses and one of them is to Pitt. They could go on a tear and dominate the rest of the way (though no matter what it will probably take a deep run in the Big East tournament to get a 1 seed), or utterly collapse with good teams on their schedule. We’ll learn a lot about them, and whether the Villanova win was a fluke, Wednesday against Syracuse (7pm ET, ESPN), but they also have to survive a trap game against Marquette (1pm ET, ESPN). The real test, though, may be travelling to UConn (Wednesday 2/16 7pm ET, Big East Network); a win there would consolidate their position, a loss likely permanently knocks them out of the top tier of Big East teams.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – ?
20-3 RPI: 7 SOS: 18 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
I still have trouble moving Texas up the board. Kansas and North Carolina are good road wins, but the Longhorns don’t have any other wins against the RPI Top 30; Texas A&M took too much of a tumble losing to Baylor. USC is their only bad loss, but they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M remains the third best team in the conference, Missouri the next-best RPI team. The best they can hope for is to keep plugging away and hope the committee gives them credit for their record, and maybe prove the first Kansas game wasn’t a fluke in the Big 12 final.
3 Florida SEC #1 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 14 SOS: 5 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
How do you overcome four horrible, horrible losses to get a top three seed, one of them just last week? Have a fantastic strength of schedule, win most of your road games, and win most of your games against good opposition, then beat Kentucky and Vanderbilt for the top 20 wins your resume was lacking and take command of the SEC. I’ll be the first to admit this is probably too high, especially with the wins coming on the road, and Florida has a lower ceiling AND floor than other teams surrounding them, which is why I have them as “Probably in” on the third seed line. Just a loss to South Carolina (Wednesday 8pm ET, SEC Network) could irredeemably tar them as inconsistent, and Tennessee (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) may be crucial to show they’re not a mirage, even though it’s another home game. They won’t be able to truly answer the critics until they go to Lexington for their last game in February.
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – ?
21-2 RPI: 8 SOS: 58 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Earth to Mr. Gottleib: Duke doesn’t have a win against the RPI Top 30, only one in the top 40, no true road wins in the RPI top 75, none of the teams they’ve played have been outplaying their RPI, they have a loss to a bubblicious Florida State team, and they’re mired in the weak ACC, and you talk about them as a 1 seed? As it happens, North Carolina is now in the top 20 so Duke can win a pelt when they come to town (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network), and that will certainly help, but it won’t give them a good road win; their only chance for that may be the rematch in the regular season finale. It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s best hope for a #1 seed is probably to completely win out, beating North Carolina three times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Syracuse BST #5 1 – 3 – ?
20-4 RPI: 18 SOS: 32 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Syracuse had to get off the schnide, and they got together for a big win at UConn, one of their best wins of the season. Now we need to figure out what kind of team they are. Once you get past Notre Dame and UConn, the quality of their wins take several large skips, and they have to live with losses to Marquette and especially Seton Hall for the rest of the year. Beating Georgetown (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN) would be a big help, as would picking up wins at Louisville (Saturday noon ET, ESPN) and at home to West Virginia (Monday 2/14 7pm ET, ESPN), but Syracuse will have to make most of their case for a good seed in the Big East Tournament, as that’ll be their only shot at avenging the Pitt loss.
4 Villanova BST #6 1 – 4 – ?
19-4 RPI: 12 SOS: 26 R/N: 5-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
West Virginia is up there with Syracuse as Villanova’s best wins, and it helps legitimize the Syracuse win. But Syracuse will continue to look like a fluke until Nova can beat another team in the top 100 of the RPI on the road. Nova gets a chance to improve their resume dramatically if they can upset Pitt at home (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN), but they won’t get any chances to get a road win against a good team until Notre Dame and Pitt back-to-back at the end of the season. Not to discount the value, or trap game potential, of road games against Rutgers (Wednesday 8pm ET, Big East Network) or Seton Hall (Tuesday 2/15 8pm ET, Big East Network), of course, but Villanova’s best chance to prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 Louisville BST #7 1 – 4 – ?
18-5 RPI: 26 SOS: 39 R/N: 3-3 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
The Georgetown loss, not reflected in last week’s ladder, turns out to be enough for the Villanova loss to be the tiebreaker with the Wildcats. But Louisville can continue to prove their bona fides with more wins in the Big East, and they have a heck of a duo this week, with a trip to South Bend (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) and a visit from Syracuse (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN). Winning those two might be enough for a return trip to the 3 seed line. Louisville has a similar problem to Villanova, as the Connecticut win looks slightly fluky, but it does raise the possibility that the Cardinals could pull another road upset against the Golden Domers.
4 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 4 – ?
15-7 RPI: 17 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
The Mountaineers couldn’t get the job done against Villanova. Not too horrible, and it was on the road, but still a missed opportunity that Bob Huggins’ squad will be licking their wounds over. Losing to Pitt (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) should hurt them even less, though a loss is a loss, and if West Virginia keeps racking up too many of them they could find themselves playing the first day of the Big East tournament. It doesn’t really get any easier. DePaul (Saturday 4pm ET, Big East Network) is basically a practice game for the three big games in ten days that follow, which could make or break West Virginia’s season.
4 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 4 – ?
16-6 RPI: 12 SOS: 10 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Florida benefitted more from beating Kentucky than Kentucky suffered, and other teams suffered their own losses, but Ole Miss is a very concerning loss. The SEC turns out to have quite a bit of strength, but Kentucky will need to take advantage of that strength, starting this week against the Tennessee schools (Tennessee Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN, @Vanderbilt Saturday 1pm ET, CBS).
5 Purdue B10 #2 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 21 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 1-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Minnesota gave Purdue something they desperately needed: a win against a team in the RPI Top 50, just in time for Michigan State to fall out of it. Purdue has good RPI but a disturbing loss to Richmond, and despite four chances hasn’t shown they can beat a team better than Valpo or Michigan on the road. They’ll get a fifth chance against Illinois (Sunday 1pm ET, CBS).
5 Texas A&M B12 #3 Probably in
16-5 RPI: 35 SOS: 43 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Three weeks ago, Texas A&M had a respectable loss to Boston College. That was it. Combine that with a decent win over Missouri and the Aggies had to feel good about their standing. Losses to Texas are understandable, but Nebraska and Baylor? The Aggies don’t have an RPI Top 25 win and don’t get another shot at Texas until the conference tournament. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, or Missouri is poison to the Aggies’ relative standing on Selection Sunday. A&M is squarely on the bubble until they are clear of all the land mines on their schedule.
5 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
15-8 RPI: 22 SOS: 3 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
Tennessee’s problem can be summed up in one word: consistency. Tennessee has given the likes of Pitt and Villanova some of their very few losses… and they have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 70, against teams like College of Charleston and Oakland. Incidentially, only two of those bad losses have the Bruce Pearl suspension excuse, and only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the Vols managed to beat Vanderbilt at home and Georgia in Athens without their coach. Their fate will turn on how they do against the good teams in their own conference. Pearl comes back just in time for the Vols to stare down the meatgrinder of the SEC schedule, taking on Kentucky (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN) and Florida (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) in succession.
5 Wisconsin B10 #3 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 20 SOS: 44 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Concerning losses and a lack of top-notch ones hold the Badgers back at the moment. Avenging the Michigan State loss was a must with the Spartans’ recent struggles, but at the moment the Badgers only barely are holding on to the 5-seed line, which will have consequences come Selection Sunday. A win over Ohio State at home (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN) would greatly improve their standing, but is rather unlikely and would look like a major fluke.
6 Vanderbilt SEC #4 Probably in
16-6 RPI: 19 SOS: 19 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Vanderbilt and Wisconsin have rather similar resumes. Vandy is largely propelled by an old win over North Carolina; otherwise, they would have no wins in the RPI Top 30 and two in the Top 50, which is bad news with two losses outside the Top 100. Still, they have a good overall outlook, and have some important tests this week. Surging Alabama (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN2) is not to be ignored, and Kentucky (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) would make the UNC win not look like a fluke from a time when the Tar Heels were significantly worse.
6 Minnesota B10 #4 Probably in
16-7 RPI: 27 SOS: 24 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Wins over Purdue, North Carolina, and West Virginia are good, but Minnesota’s best true road win is against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. The Gophers are cursing themselves for losing to Michigan State, and Virginia and Indiana are very concerning. Minnesota probably would have been a 5 last week before losing to Ohio State (certainly forgivable) and Indiana (a no-no). Minnesota’s now on a three-game losing streak and entered the day tied with Michigan State and Penn State for fifth in the conference standings; sixth and below has to play the first round of the conference tournament. Beating Illinois (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN) would mean beating a better team and catching up to them in the standings, not to mention adding a win over a team better than Michigan, and then nothing eventful happens until a chance to improve their road resume a week later against Penn State.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 16 SOS: 17 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
The ACC may not be quite so bad as we thought, as the Tar Heels, a year removed from NIT runner-up-dom, make the best non-Duke team in the conference respectable. Boston College and Florida State were needed pelts to add depth to their resume and make the Kentucky win look less like a fluke. But now Duke (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network) is salivating for a chance to give themselves a much-needed Top 30 win against their archrival. Both teams desperately need this game, and when you stir that in with college basketball’s biggest rivalry, it makes for must-see TV.
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 30 SOS: 71 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Missouri avenged the Colorado loss but it won’t remove the sting from their resume, and they just took another questionable loss to Oklahoma State, nearly falling out of the 6 seed line. Missouri has a decent collection of wins, but the depth leaves much to be desired. Will losing to Kansas (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played) be enough to drop them a seed? It certainly wastes a chance for a marquee win.
7 St. John’s BST #9 Probably in
13-9 RPI: 21 SOS: 1 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 4-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 5
St. John’s has the same problem as Tennessee: fantastic wins, atrocious losses. The Johnnies have more quality wins and better losses outside the really bad ones to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, but they also have NO depth to their wins. After their four good wins, their next best wins are over the likes of Northwestern, Providence, Rutgers. Steve Lavin’s squad needs wins, and luckily they’re in the Big East, where such wins are easy to come by. In fact, their first game in nearly a week will be a chance at the sort of overachieving win the Johnnies specialize in: UConn (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN). However, Cincinnati (Sunday Noon ET, Big East Network) and Marquette (Tuesday 2/15 9pm ET, ESPNU) may actually be more important, as the Johnnies need to prove they can do more than overachieve, and can beat teams other than West Virginia on the road.
7 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
17-6 RPI: 28 SOS: 37 R/N: 8-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 2-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
One thing UNLV has going for them: they play well on the road. The Rebels don’t have many good wins, but combine their good road record with UC Santa Barbara being their only truly bad loss and they’re in pretty good shape. Being in the Mountain West, though, a single slip-up could kill them. All their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a win, but their long-term prospects probably hinge on the game against San Diego State (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS CS). An upset there will make a huge difference on Selection Sunday.
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 37 SOS: 97 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 2-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 0
Cincinnati is tough to read, as all their losses have come against the Big East’s top tier and they have a win over St. John’s under their belt, but Xavier is their only other win against the RPI Top 60. Clearly, the Bearcats will suffer because of their schedule. Winning the rematch against Steve Lavin’s club (Sunday Noon ET, Big East Network) will make sure that if the Big East does somehow find itself with only nine bids, it will certainly be Cincinnati. That’ll be followed by a visit from Louisville (Wednesday 2/16 7pm ET, ESPN2) that will be a big opportunity to show that the Bearcats aren’t just beneficiaries of a weak nonconference. But Cincinnati can’t afford many bad losses either, so the game against DePaul (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) before all that is pretty important as well.
7 Old Dominion CAA #1 Barely in
18-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 56 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 9-2 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 5
Old Dominion puts itself a cut above the other contenders for this spot with wins over RPI Top 25 teams George Mason and Xavier, a great record on the road (even if against questionable opposition), and only one truly disreputable loss, but their resume still lacks depth or truly quality wins. Mason just avenged the loss Old Dominion stuck on them when they were the home team, a game Dominion would have done well to win if only to improve their own conference standing. Drawing Cleveland State in BracketBusters (Sunday 2/20 1pm ET, ESPN2) probably helps the Vikings, who don’t have and desperately need a single RPI Top 50, more than one RPI Top 80, or a road RPI Top 100 win, more than the Monarchs, though the Vikings will provide a much-needed RPI Top 40 win and won’t hurt them too much with a loss. Until then, Old Dominion’s biggest challenge will come against Virginia Commonwealth (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN2), their other national TV game of the month.