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

1 Pittsburgh BST #1 1 – 1 – 5
24-3 RPI: 9 SOS: 24 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
The loss to St. John’s raises some concerns, but the Panthers hang on to the overall top spot thanks to Ohio State’s loss. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, the Panthers 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 can bounce back by beating West Virginia at home (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN). That might be the one win they need to join Ohio State in the purple, if only because it would avoid a nasty loss.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
25-2 RPI: 4 SOS: 26 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Ohio State passed up a chance to get back to overall #1 (and enter bronze territory) against Purdue, but in a year with no great teams, I should probably stop saying there’s no chance for them to get back to the overall #1 seed line, or that every road game against the other two of the top three teams in the Big Ten is a must-win. That road win over Florida is better than a lot of teams, and the home win over Purdue can’t be discounted either. But they still have just those two wins over the RPI Top 35, with Illinois falling to 40th in the RPI, though Michigan State climbed back into the top 50 to give the Buckeyes a seventh RPI Top 50 win. 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 Jared Sullingers shouldn’t have any problem with Illinois (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPN) and Indiana (Sunday 4pm ET, CBS) at home this week.
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 6
25-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 10-1 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Kansas manages to stay on the top seed line despite losing a game at Kansas State I was very surprised to see happen. It says a lot that a team with a grand total of three RPI Top 30 wins has the third-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 still need to win out to stay on the top seed line. On the plus side, a win over bubbly Colorado gave them enough to bump up their seed floor.
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
20-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 15 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Do you want to know why I still have the Huskies as the second-best team in the Big East? They haven’t taken a bad loss, thanks to a flawless nonconference; their problem is a lack of success against teams 5-8 in the Big East, having only a measly home win over Villanova to show for their troubles. After beating Georgetown and losing to Louisville, they have the same number of losses as the Hoyas, but the worst of those losses, unlike the Hoyas’ loss to Temple, is still against a team on the top four seed lines. They still have a weak resume for a 1-seed, but someone has to be a 1-seed and they seem to be the best available. 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? Now if they lose against Marquette (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2), suddenly their resume does have a bad loss and the Huskies start to tumble.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – 8
24-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 20 R/N: 12-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume to bubble teams, 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 this weekend (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS) (and avoiding the look-ahead trap game when bubbly Colorado State comes to town (Wednesday 8pm ET, mtn.)). 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. Beware a hungry Colorado State team (Wednesday 8pm ET, mtn.).
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – 4
25-1 RPI: 2 SOS: 33 R/N: 14-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The Aztecs have the week off until the rematch with BYU in San Diego (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS), which could determine Mountain West supremacy. San Diego State’s lack of decent wins – the sweep of UNLV constitutes their only wins against teams in the field, and BYU has that plus wins over Arizona and, oh yeah, San Diego State – has prevented them from rising ahead of BYU. BYU could firmly establish themselves as the top team in the Mountain West with a win. But beat BYU, and the determining factor is likely to become BYU’s iffy losses to UCLA and especially a New Mexico team whose bubble hopes may be slipping away. New Mexico was one of two major trap games against Mountain West bubble teams eager to make a statement, and taking care of business there leads them to join Ohio State in the purple, if only because there aren’t many loss opportunities left. The season finale against Colorado State is the other big trap game.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
21-5 RPI: 10 SOS: 28 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Notre Dame’s loss to West Virginia perfectly encapsulates what’s wrong with their resume: they don’t lose to the teams they’re supposed to, but they have trouble with their own top half of the Big East. Their road win over Pitt looks very fluky; lowly South Florida and DePaul are their only other road wins, and Wisconsin is the only other win they have against an elite tourney team that’s even on a neutral site. Still, they have 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 in a week.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – 8
21-6 RPI: 5 SOS: 3 R/N: 11-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
I intimated last week that the Hoyas could shoot up the board if Notre Dame lost, but my new approach at looking at their resume works against them again. Looking at their resume with regards to the ladder, they have three wins against the Big East’s “3/4 seed tier”, plus wins over Missouri, St. John’s, Old Dominion, Marquette, and Memphis. It’s hard to beat them for sheer quantity of wins, and it shows in their top-notch strength of schedule and 10-4 road/neutral record. 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). On the other hand, they have lost at home, they don’t have Notre Dame’s success agains the top tier, and outside Syracuse, Villanova, and Louisville, they don’t have any wins against the elite teams of the tourney. Don’t be alarmed, though, if Georgetown starts knocking on the door of 1-seed-dom with a home win over Syracuse on Saturday (Noon ET, CBS) and a deep run in the Big East Tournament. Beware of the look-ahead trap game against win-hungry Cincinnati (Wednesday 9pm ET, Big East Network).
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – 5
23-4 RPI: 8 SOS: 16 R/N: 8-3 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Uh-oh. Losing to Nebraska was not at all what the doctor ordered for the Longhorns. Texas has a pretty good road profile, all things considered, so the loss doesn’t hurt them much there, but it still gives them a second bad loss, and they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M and Missouri remain the next two best teams in the conference. Everyone loves them because they beat Kansas in Lawrence, but most of the teams they’ve beaten, while currently in the tournament, are decidedly lesser-tier. 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 the North Carolina win keeps improving as the Tar Heels tear up the non-Duke ACC, but Kansas State in a week suddenly looks like a potential repeat of the Wildcats’ upset of Kansas – and Colorado (Saturday 4pm ET, Big 12 Network) has to like their chances as well.
4 Syracuse BST #5 1 – 3 – 7
22-6 RPI: 22 SOS: 25 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Obviously this jump wasn’t entirely because Syracuse beat lowly Rutgers; my new method just made the wins over the likes of Notre Dame pop out, compared to Villanova’s failure to do the same. They’ve shown flashes of their early-season dominance, for example against UConn, but they’re having trouble proving that their 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 helps, and a road win over Villanova (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) would put them ahead of the Wildcats for good, 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.
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 9
24-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 37 R/N: 10-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Michigan State has climbed back into the RPI Top 50, helping make Duke’s case there. 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. Having Temple come to town (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN) will definitely help deepen their resume, but it won’t be as effective as the Dukies might hope, because Temple is still a little iffy and the game will be in Cameron Indoor.
3 Villanova BST #6 1 – 3 – 9
21-6 RPI: 24 SOS: 36 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Villanova is entirely the beneficiary of other Big East teams (along with Wisconsin) losing, and the only reason they stayed on the third line was because of Florida being dropped a seed line; the win over Syracuse remains fluky (Seton Hall is now their next-best road win). 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. Nova will need to beat Syracuse again at the Carrier Dome (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) to stay up here beyond Monday, but their best chance to really prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 Wisconsin B10 #2 1 – 4 – 7
20-6 RPI: 19 SOS: 32 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 6-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
Wisconsin bounces back from the Purdue loss to knock off bubbly Penn State. The rest of the season pretty much consists of dodging bullets from bubble teams for four games (Indiana isn’t much of a bubble team, but it is a road game) until the rematch with Ohio State in Columbus to close the year. The only one the Badgers should have much trouble with is the other road game against Michigan (Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN).
4 Florida SEC #1 1 – 4 – 9
21-5 RPI: 14 SOS: 15 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 8-1 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Upon further review, I can’t get past Florida’s bad losses. They don’t have another questionable opponent the rest of the way, though, so they can’t feel too bad about the situation, and they just might move back up if they keep winning. (Alabama might be questionable, but the way they’ve been playing in conference play, maybe not.) Bubbly Georgia (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN) could be a look-ahead trap game for the road rematch with Kentucky (Saturday 4pm ET, CBS).
4 Louisville BST #7 1 – 4 – 10
20-7 RPI: 25 SOS: 22 R/N: 3-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
The Cardinals really bolstered their resume by knocking off UConn, and they have another big home opportunity against Pitt (Sunday 2pm ET, CBS). But it’s still hard to tell whether the Cardinals simply have the Huskies’ number, 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 avoid losing another road game to lowly Rutgers (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPNU), right?
4 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 4 – 10
17-9 RPI: 21 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 6-6 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 8
West Virginia picked up a huge win over Notre Dame, but Louisville had to knock off UConn and ultimately it’s the re-assessment of Kentucky that leads to West Virginia returning to the top four seed lines. The Mountaineers can feel much better about their seed, but it was a home game, and if the season ended today, West Virginia would not be receiving a bye in the Big East Tournament. West Virginia could still use a road win over Pitt (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN) to make the Georgetown win look less like a fluke. Their final two home games against UConn and Louisville could still be important as well.
5 Purdue B10 #3 1 – 5 – 8
22-5 RPI: 7 SOS: 13 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Huge win over Ohio State following the win over wisconsin, but the Boilermakers don’t cruise up as high as the Badgers mostly because of the questionable loss to Richmond and increasingly-questionable loss to Minnesota. The loss to West Virginia still hangs over them as well, but the Boilermakers can feel confident that further chaos in the Big East’s top half, especially in MSG, should give them a top-four seed if they keep winning. Until the Big Ten Tournament, the main thing that the Boilermakers have to worry about is a pair of bubble teams looking to make a name for themselves, especially a road trip to Michigan State (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN), followed by hosting Illinois.
5 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 5 – 9
19-7 RPI: 16 SOS: 17 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
A few days after returning to the top four seed lines, Kentucky slips again, thanks to renewed focus on the quantity of losses, including to teams they really should have beaten, even if on the road. 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 (Saturday 4pm ET, CBS) 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.
5 Vanderbilt SEC #3 1 – 5 – 10
20-6 RPI: 17 SOS: 18 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
Despite two bad losses to Arkansas and South Carolina, Vanderbilt doesn’t slip like the other SEC teams, resulting in the gap between them and Kentucky being virtually nil. Of course, Kentucky is probably underrated and Vanderbilt probably should have slipped like the others. The worst team besides LSU they play the rest of the way is Tennessee (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN), which represents an opportunity to shore up Vanderbilt’s position as the third-best team in the SEC.
5 Texas A&M B12 #3 2 – 5 – 10
19-5 RPI: 31 SOS: 55 R/N: 6-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
It came down to the wire, but lock up the Aggies after a home win over Oklahoma State – and say hello to our first team with a seed ceiling other than 1! 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, worth at least a seed line to their standing. Even if they somehow beat Kansas on the road, and then beat both Kansas and Texas in the conference tournament, it’d be very difficult to argue for a 1 seed regardless of what anyone else does.
6 St. John’s BST #9 1 – 6 – 9
17-9 RPI: 12 SOS: 1 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 7-7 Wv≥: 7 Lv≤: 6
St. John’s home-court advantage had its ultimate expression against Pitt, and even with eight better teams in the Big East, the Johnnies may have to be considered the favorites in the Big East Tournament. Steve Lavin’s team finally gets a hefty bump up in part because their fellow boom-and-bust team Tennessee seems to be fairly firmly behind them now. MSG has now become a black hole for Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Duke, five of the teams on the top three seed lines and two of the popular picks for the very top seed line, and Steve Lavin’s team has road wins over Cincinnati, Marquette, and West Virginia to show they don’t need MSG to be good, with one more road test to come against Villanova (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN), not to mention the very best strength of schedule in the country. Bad losses, especially to St. Bonaventure and Fordham in early December, aside, this team isn’t missing the tourney, and that means the Big East will set a record for the most teams to ever make the tourney, and will force the NCAA to set up two of them to potentially meet in the Sweet 16 for the first time.
6 Tennessee SEC #4 Probably in
16-11 RPI: 36 SOS: 2 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 8
If you want to know why a team that’s beaten Pitt on a neutral site is still very much in trouble, all you had to do was watch a bubblicious Georgia team beat them on their own floor – with Bruce Pearl on the sidelines, by the way. It’s hard to imagine that a team that also has home wins over Vanderbilt and Villanova, as well as a road win over the same Bulldogs, would miss the tourney, but the resume isn’t as deep as you might think, especially with the questionable losses. They have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 60, 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 Vandy and Georgia wins came during the suspension. It would certainly help their resume to get a road win over Vanderbilt (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN).
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
20-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 65 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
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. Their schedule gets progressively worse from here on out: a home visit from Baylor (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN2) will provide a challenge but shouldn’t be too difficult. After that? A road trip to K-State (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN) will be harder (and more important) than a road trip to Nebraska, but the season ends with a visit from the Jayhawks.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
20-6 RPI: 13 SOS: 12 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 4-5 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, but have to feel good about their chances in the season-ending home rematch, which they will want to snag because no other ACC team is that great in the RPI, and none of them is better than tenth in the seeding. Probably they’re a road win against rival NC State (Wednesday 9pm ET, ACC Network) from punching their ticket to the Dance. Maryland will be hungry to crawl back to the bubble when they come to Chapel Hill (Sunday 7:45pm ET, FSN).
7 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
20-7 RPI: 26 SOS: 29 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
For reasons that have as much to do with the weak bubble as the win over Colorado State, UNLV gets bumped back up to “Probably in” this week. 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. UNLV still needs to beat New Mexico (Wednesday 9pm ET, CBS CS) to start exhaling. At the least, 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 #4 Probably in
17-10 RPI: 40 SOS: 21 R/N: 5-8 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 4-6 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 6
Illinois may have the look of a tournament team with wins over North Carolina, Wisconsin, and @Minnesota, but a road loss to Michigan State shows why they’re only “probably in”. That joins losses to Indiana, UIC, Northwestern, and Penn State as losses the committee will take a long look at on selection weekend. Illinois has proven now that they can be the real deal when push comes to shove, but they need to get more consistent at it. That’s not the way you want to head into the big road trip to Columbus (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPN).
7 Minnesota B10 #5 Probably in
17-9 RPI: 41 SOS: 30 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Both Illinois and Minnesota lost to more bubbly Big Ten teams on the road this week, and the Illini’s win over the Gophers was old news on Tuesday. So why does Minnesota drop a seed line and Illinois doesn’t? Part of it is that Penn State is further back in the pecking order than Michigan State, but there’s also an increased focus on Minnesota’s disturbing losses, including Virginia at home, and the fact that Minnesota’s wins are only comparable to Illinois. Frankly, neither team is showing the Big Ten to be more than a Big Three at the moment. Minnesota’s best true road win is still against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. Sweeping the homestand against the Michigan schools (Michigan State Tuesday 9pm ET, BTN, Michigan Saturday 4pm ET, BTN) could be crucial just to avoid the first round of the conference tournament. Although the Gophers can’t afford to lose out, the worst team they play the rest of the way is Northwestern, meaning no individual loss should do too much damage.
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
21-6 RPI: 39 SOS: 94 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 1
Well, at some point the Bearcats had to win a game against the top half of the Big East, even if it was a home game against Louisville. 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 and now the Cardinals under their belt, but Xavier and Dayton are their only other wins 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. A road trip to Georgetown (Wednesday 9pm ET, Big East Network) will provide another opportunity for the Bearcats to figure out who they are.
8 Arizona PAC #1 Probably in
23-4 RPI: 11 SOS: 48 R/N: 8-4 OOC: 11-2 RPI T100: 8-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
Is all right with the world? Maybe, although this still doesn’t look remotely like a top-ten team – there’s still only two RPI Top 70 wins and nothing in the top 30, and that Oregon State loss isn’t going away. Although it certainly didn’t hurt to sweep the Washington schools (including the pesky Huskies) at home over the weekend, giving them the second RPI Top 70 win, Arizona was really the beneficiary of Memphis and UCLA losing, especially the former, which freed it up from the problems posed by that comparison. Given the amount of time left in the season and the Wildcats’ lack of losses, it would take a lot of doing to miss the tourney – USC seems the only game the Wildcats could possibly take a bad loss in before the conference tournament, and if they get past their quarterfinal game they should be pretty safe.
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 Probably in
22-6 RPI: 27 SOS: 60 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 10-2 RPI T100: 9-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Add a top-40 BracketBusters pelt to wins over George Mason and Xavier and a road win over VCU. Old Dominion now has only two more games to play before the conference tournament, and only the road trip to James Madison (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPNU) looks remotely loseable. With a bubble this soft, it’s hard to see a situation where they don’t go dancing.
8 Georgia SEC #5 Probably in
18-8 RPI: 31 SOS: 38 R/N: 8-4 OOC: 11-3 RPI T100: 5-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Huge road win over Tennessee greatly improves Georgia’s at-large hopes, as they finally got another elite pelt to go with the home win over Kentucky. You’d still like to see more depth; their only other RPI Top 60 win is against UAB, and 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, and if they can beat Tennessee on the road, why can’t they do the same to Florida (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN)? That could put the Bulldogs in fantastic position.
8 Temple A10 #1 Probably in
20-5 RPI: 30 SOS: 95 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 7-5 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 if they can upset Duke (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) that might just punch their ticket to the Dance.
9 Michigan State B10 #6 Barely in
14-11 RPI: 45 SOS: 5 R/N: 3-9 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 8-10 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 3
Admittedly-home wins over Penn State and Illinois may seem to suggest the Spartans are back. Some of those numbers look awful enough to leave the Spartans out of the dance entirely, by a wide margin (only two games above .500 and an RPI in the 50s), but the Spartans can still boast admittedly-home wins over Minnesota and – crucially – giant-killers Wisconsin. Only three of their many losses count as “bad losses”, and of those, only Michigan came at home (Texas being the Spartans’ only other home loss); even the loss to Illinois was a road game. And all this is reflected in the #5 strength of schedule in the country. In a sense, then, they’re the Georgetown of the Big Ten. Of course they have to get better if they want to even sniff the Dance, but the Illinois game was must-win and they came through, and if they can win the road trip to Minnesota (Tuesday 9pm ET, BTN) they can feel a lot better about their chances with a deep tourney run.
9 Xavier A10 #2 Barely in
20-6 RPI: 23 SOS: 39 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 9-5 RPI T100: 8-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Unlike with Arizona, I’m still not feeling the Muskateers; Fordham isn’t exactly Washington. In this case Xavier has a better strength of schedule, more wins against good teams (including both Temple and a road win over Georgia), but also some pretty bad losses, Charlotte being most obvious, but losing to Miami (OH) and fringe bubbler Gonzaga are no-nos, especially outside an already weak conference. A road trip to Dayton (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN2) is the toughest Xavier will see before the conference tournament.
9 Memphis USA #1 Barely in
20-7 RPI: 33 SOS: 43 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 9-5 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 4
The perils of an iffy conference: any loss will hurt you, and Memphis couldn’t afford to lose to lowly Rice. Other bubble carnage keeps the Tigers from falling far, but this could bite them on Selection Sunday. There just isn’t anyone that can provide the schedule boost the Tigers need; they don’t have any RPI Top 30 wins and have no hope of getting any. Their schedule wasn’t up to what it was in the Calipari years, but the teams they did play may have been a little too good for them; still, you’d like to beat Georgetown if you get them at home, and Tennessee should have been vulnerable coming off much more questionable losses and heading into the Bruce Pearl suspension. It may be imperative for the Tigers to win out; may-y-y-ybe they can lose to UAB, Southern Miss, or Marshall in the conference tournament.
9 Marquette BST #11 Barely in
16-11 RPI: 68 SOS: 33 R/N: 3-8 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-11 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 1
With three humongous home wins against the class of the Big East and nothing else in the RPI Top 80, Marquette has made itself a strong bubble contender despite double-digit losses and an atrocious RPI. Mark my words, they would not be getting in if they were in a non-BCS conference. It helps that all their losses are against the Big East’s top half (plus Duke, Vanderbilt, and St. John’s) with the exception of a head-scratching loss to Gonzaga on a neutral floor. Can the Eagles get it done on the road against a UConn team (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2) no one seems to know who they are?
10 Florida State ACC #3 Barely in
19-7 RPI: 50 SOS: 102 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 6-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
The Seminoles, obviously, are being largely propelled by the win over Duke, but they’ve backed it up with only Auburn as a super-puzzling loss and wins over conference foes Boston College and Miami (FL), the latter on the road. That could be enough for the committee to overlook an iffy RPI and strength of schedule. Miami’s resume is strong enough (see below) that it could help ensure the ACC gets three bids, but Florida State’s best hope may lie in upsetting North Carolina at home. A road trip to Maryland (Wednesday 9pm ET, ACC Network) and a home showdown with Miami (FL) (Saturday 2pm ET, ACC Network) could help make or break the Seminoles’ chances.
10 UCLA PAC #2 Barely in
19-8 RPI: 37 SOS: 44 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-7 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Ouch. The Bay Area schools are weak enough that splitting a road trip there isn’t the best of ideas, and losing in Berkeley may spell trouble for UCLA’s resume, as it, plus the new method, shows just how shallow this resume is. A team with eight losses, a losing road/neutral record, and a losing record against good teams are no longer enough to lead the conference. The Arizona schools come to town next (Arizona State Thursday 11pm ET, FSN), and getting the home rematch with Arizona (Saturday 4pm ET, FSN) may be critical.

10 Penn State B10 #7 Barely in
14-12 RPI: 59 SOS: 6 R/N: 1-8 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 7-11 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 7
We won’t begrudge the loss to Wisconsin; it’s the home win over Minnesota, joining wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan State, that make the Nittany Lions serious contenders for the Dance. Some people may discount the Nittany Lions’ chances of actually contending, and when you find yourself holding your nose at a record only two games above .500 and a 1-8 road record, it’s hard not to agree with them. But Penn State actually has a resume quite similar to Michigan State: 14 wins, over ten losses, but a gaudy SOS and impressive home wins over conference foes. Winning some road games would be nice, but the Lions do show flashes of brilliance in their home games – and really, only two of their losses are that horrible, and in Maryland’s case even that’s debatable. Penn State may have made people take notice once again, but will that survive a surprisingly big road test against Northwestern (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN2)?
10 Oklahoma State B12 #5 Barely in
16-10 RPI: 65 SOS: 46 R/N: 4-8 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 5-9 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
There’s the elite (Kansas and Texas), the strong (A&M and Missouri), and then there’s the Big 12’s third tier: the vulnerable. Oklahoma State actually has some impressive home wins, Missouri most notably, but they’ve also lost to too many weak teams, admittedly all on the road or neutral sites. With a few more wins over good opponents, the Cowboys could have a quite strong case for giving the Big 12 five bids. The loss to A&M wasn’t as bad as certain other teams’ losses, below, though the team that just played Kansas (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played) didn’t exactly look like a tournament-ready team.
11 Colorado State MWC #4 Barely in
17-8 RPI: 47 SOS: 42 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Questionable losses to Hampton and Sam Houston, as well as fellow bubblers New Mexico and Colorado, mean that a road victory over UNLV probably, by itself, won’t be enough. Wins over two Mississippi schools (Southern Miss and Ole Miss) help, but this resume needs more depth. Losing the home rematch with UNLV costs the Rams a big chance to shore up their case, and doesn’t bode well for the two road trips to the top teams in the conference (@BYU Wednesday 7pm ET, mtn.).
11 Mississippi SEC #6 Barely in
17-10 RPI: 70 SOS: 59 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 4-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
Alabama has received attention for a blistering start to conference play, but it’s still hard to get past their iffy nonconference. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has a losing record in conference, but are still tied for second in the clearly-lesser SEC West and still have a better RPI than the Tide. Losing to Mississippi State again is a no-no, adding to their questionable losses, and the Rebels are lucky not to fall out of the tournament field entirely. They have also upset some impressive teams at home, Kentucky foremost among them. It will probably take a deep run in the conference tournament to get in and stay in, but unlike with Alabama all it takes is a few wins over good teams (including Alabama themselves in the home rematch (Saturday 4pm ET, SEC Network)) to show how good you really are.
11 Washington PAC #3 Barely in
18-8 RPI: 35 SOS: 51 R/N: 5-8 OOC: 8-3 RPI T100: 6-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
I have no intention of having a bias towards a local team, nor do I have any intention of having a bias towards a perceived rival. I do want to point out that there is a lot to like about the Huskies considering the Pac-10’s woes, foremost among them being wins against both conference teams above them (and UCLA was even on the road!), but there’s also a disturbing collection of road losses against rival Washington State, Stanford, and the Oregon schools. Those are the kind of losses you can’t have if you want to go dancing. The Huskies haven’t lost a game at home, and they really need to keep that up if they want any hope of getting to March, while also avoiding costly road losses. You don’t want me gloating about the Huskies being upended by those upstarts from Seattle University (Tuesday 10pm ET, FSN Northwest/FCS) – that could be fatal to your tourney chances, especially since it’s not really a road game.
11f Miami (FL) ACC #4 Barely in
16-11 RPI: 75 SOS: 52 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 3-10 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:6
Are we really talking about the Hurricanes before getting to the likes of Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Clemson? Yes, we are. For one thing, Miami has actually beaten Boston College at home; for another, the Hurricanes’ only home losses are to the three ACC teams ahead of them. Did I mention they’ve beaten West Virginia as well? Not that this isn’t desperately in need of improvement, and that the road losses, especially to conference rivals, aren’t a problem, but this is a resume that seems more impressive than one might give it credit for. The loss to Clemson helps the Tigers more than it hurts the Hurricanes, but the ‘Canes still need to survive road tests against Boston College (Wednesday 7pm ET) and Florida State (Saturday 2pm ET, ACC Network).
11f Marshall USA #2 Barely in
16-9 RPI: 61 SOS: 80 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 4-7 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:7
What is a team ranked 7th in the conference standings doing ahead of who knows how many other Conference USA teams? Well, for one, Marshall isn’t just a neutral site win over West Virginia. They’ve also done something neither UAB nor Southern Miss have been able to do: beat Memphis when the Tigers come to town. We do have to wag our finger at the Herd for the questionable losses, especially on the road (though the two most questionable were at home), and it would be nice if you could have beaten UAB (or Southern Miss on the road), but this could be a scary team if they can get their act together.
12f Kansas State B12 #6 Barely in
17-9 RPI: 31 SOS: 10

R/N: 4-7 OOC: 11-3 RPI T100: 7-9 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤:3
A few short weeks ago, when K-State was being blown out of the water by Kansas in Lawrence, many people thought the Wildcats didn’t look anything close to an NCAA tournament team. Certainly their tourney hopes were hanging by a thread. Did one win over the Jayhawks in Manhattan singlehandedly revitalize K-State’s season? Well, it would help if the Kansas win had any resemblance to the rest of their resume, which has no other wins against teams that even look close to the cutline, sparkling #7 strength of schedule notwithstanding, but they do have wins over Virginia Tech and Baylor, and Colorado has accounted for their only real questionable wins, which may be why the Buffaloes are the next Big 12 team in the pecking order, and right behind the cutline.
12f George Mason CAA #2 Barely in
23-5 RPI: 20 SOS: 63 R/N: 10-5 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 9-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:4
George Mason’s legendary Final Four run a few years back seems to have paid dividends for the team… but this profile still has some problems. There’s a lot to like: great RPI, five total losses, only one outside the RPI Top 100, and none at home. But there’s a reason Mason is right on the cutline: while Virginia Commonwealth is a good road win, it’s not the best choice for your best road win. And while most of Mason’s losses are vaguely respectable, losses to the Hofstras and Woffords of the world do not a winning resume make. Obviously the Patriots are hurt by playing their games in the CAA, where quality wins are hard to come by, but playing Harvard, Dayton, and Duquesne as your best nonconference opponents doesn’t help, especially when you lose to one of them, and honestly, Northern Iowa in BracketBusters isn’t much of an improvement. Mason probably needs a deep run, maybe to the final, of the conference tournament to even start to exhale about their chances.
Colorado B12 #7 Barely out
15-11 RPI: 92 SOS: 72 R/N: 3-9 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 5-9 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤:6
That is a ghastly RPI, but Colorado has made up for it with an impressive collection of wins, including Missouri at home and Kansas State on the road. Of course, it’s not that impressive, consisting mainly of bubble teams, and they’re racking up quite a collection of bad losses. Still, the bad losses aren’t that horrible, with only two outside the top 100 of the RPI. In the end, this is a resume that invites ambivalence. Can they upend Texas when the Longhorns come to town (Saturday 4pm ET, Big 12 Network)? It’s… unlikely.
Michigan B10 #8 Barely out
16-11 RPI: 57 SOS: 23 R/N: 4-7 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 7-10 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤:3
Michigan has zero wins against the top 40 of the RPI, and not many wins behind that, but they do lack very much in the way of bad losses and the sweep of Penn State is an impressive pelt. They’ll certainly have opportunities to improve their resume down the stretch. Their last three games before the conference tournament? Wisconsin (Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN), at Minnesota (Saturday 4:30pm ET, BTN), and the home rematch with Michigan State. Ouch. Win the last of those three, though, and it’ll be difficult to argue against the Wolverines for the sixth team from the Big Ten.

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