Bracket Ladder for March 5, 2011

Conference tournaments are starting to get into gear, so better late than never to add the remaining 19 or so auto bids to the ladder. (I don’t actually have write-ups for them because this is late enough as it is.) I used to marvel at the committee’s ability to sort out fairly weak teams no one had heard about, but going in to trying it myself I was actually expecting it to go a bit easier than sorting out the auto bids, since under normal circumstances these teams would be quite spread out on the ladder. Teams listed for auto bids for conferences whose auto bids haven’t been determined are those teams that would have the highest position on the bracket ladder if I extended the ladder that far, not counting conference tournament games. The use of red for the top few teams in this new group is not intended to reflect on where those teams stand in relation to the bubble; it is a very vague guesstimation of how far the bubble extends.

With this addition, we can finally begin to create a bracket (look for a link on Twitter shortly after this goes up) and talk about tourney sites, so a lot of the descriptions for teams on the main ladder have undergone substantial revision even if their relative situation hasn’t much. Some caveats: We (or at least I) know next to nothing how the teams will be paired up for the “First Four” games, other than the last four at-larges will be paired with each other and the last four auto bids will be paired with each other, and we also know next to nothing how the NCAA will try to keep the HBCU association happy. With the old play-in game, the NCAA always made sure at least one team did not come from one of the HBCU conferences (the MEAC and SWAC), to leave open the possibility of both HBCU conference champions making the main field. What will they do now with an additional play-in game? Continue to keep an HBCU team out of the First Four? Put the two HBCU teams in different play-in games to keep the possibility of both teams making the main field? Put the HBCU teams in the same play-in game to guarantee one makes the main field? My guess is the first of the three, but we’re starting to push the limits of that strategy working (we’re talking a 15 seed in a 64-team field), so I’m not holding myself to any particular strategy.

I’ve also made an attempt to break the improbable gridlock at the tip of the bubble, but it’s still not what you expect. I still believe in Marshall and Miami more than most people, I’m still not quite a believer in Washington or Michigan, and I still can’t slide Minnesota or Memphis all the way out of the tournament. But Ole Miss does fall well out of the tournament after losing to lowly Auburn, and apologies to Michael Wilbon, but for all their consistency Northwestern doesn’t have the depth of wins I’d like for the lofty position I had them at before and has way too weak a road record and record against good teams – Minnesota is barely anything at this point. Updates for Saturday’s games coming Monday.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of March 4, 2011. This means it does not include any of Saturday’s games, including the Duke-North Carolina 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 – 4
26-4 RPI: 7 SOS: 27 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 8-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Here are the road games Pitt won in the month of February: West Virginia and Villanova. Pitt had beaten Georgetown on the road and Texas on a neutral site, but that seems a far cry from the team that lost to St. John’s a week and a half ago and Louisville last weekend. Pitt returns to only leading Ohio State as a result of splitting hairs, but their best case for a 1 seed is arguably gone: their dominance of the best conference in the country. If they lose to Villanova (Saturday 4pm ET, CBS, already played) Notre Dame could well catch them for the top seed in MSG. Not that seed would necessarily matter in the Big East Tournament – Villanova would be seeded lower than Cincinnati if the tourney started today – but considering the Golden Domers account for one of Pitt’s four losses, that would create a psychological effect the committee would be hard-pressed to ignore, and for all Notre Dame’s virtues it’s still too hard to put them on the lofty perch I’ve put Pitt all season. Suddenly a bad loss in the Big East tournament dropping them to the 2 or 3 seed lines, if not quite out of the top four (or even out of Cleveland the first weekend), isn’t out of the question. Marquette is a very possible quarterfinal opponent.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
28-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 28 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Ohio State is in primo position to take overall #1 with another Pitt stumble. 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. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but even controlling for conference size, there are three times as many teams in the Big East, making up over half the conference instead of over a quarter, and the result is that all of them suffer in the comparison. The Jared Sullingers just dispatched Penn State in their last road game, and the home finale against Wisconsin (Sunday 4pm ET, CBS) is the last game that would give them any sort of trouble.
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 6
28-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 12 R/N: 11-1 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Kansas just picked up their best win of the season in the penultimate regular season game. That was the first step in a two-step attempt to shore up their resume, with the second leg being the road rematch with Missouri (Saturday Noon ET, CBS, already played). They may still need to win out to stay on the top seed line, and they certainly need to keep winning to have a short trip to San Antonio for the regionals.
1 Notre Dame BST #2 1 – 1 – 5
24-5 RPI: 10 SOS: 29 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 9-4 Wv≥: 4 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 Providence, 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. But you cannot take away wins over Pitt, UConn, Georgetown, and Wisconsin, or an unbeaten home record. Notre Dame is on the top line mostly because they just have the feel of an elite tourney team; I could very easily argue for Syracuse in this spot. They have a Big East Tournament double-bye locked up, and if they win at UConn in the regular season finale (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN, already played), they’ll be second in the Big East, with a shot for first, in the purple, and it’ll be very difficult to argue against them.
2 Syracuse BST #3 1 – 2 – 5
24-6 RPI: 15 SOS: 21 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 8-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Syracuse was once part of what I considered the Big East’s “middle four”, but that pack has started to separate and early-conference-season swoon aside, the Orange have separated themselves as far and away ahead of the pack. St. John’s loss gives them an unexpected opportunity to seize a double-bye at MSG, and UConn’s loss puts them in position to very nearly complete their climb back to the top line. It’s still a long shot that they can come all the way back from their January losing streak – and February losses to Georgetown at home and Louisville on the road didn’t help – but if they don’t screw up against DePaul (Saturday 4pm ET, Big East Network, already played) a double bye in the Big East Tournament is theirs, meaning fewer games and a faster shot at a rematch with Pitt. (Not getting a double bye means having to play a potentially dangerous second-round game, and Cincinnati and Marquette are both potential opponents there.) And if they can get their revenge against Pitt en route to winning the best conference’s tournament, shouldn’t they at least be in the 1-seed discussion?
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – 4
26-2 RPI: 5 SOS: 35 R/N: 15-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
San Diego State can still conceivably contend for a 1 seed with a win in the rubber match in the conference tournament, but their lack of decent wins – the sweep of UNLV constitutes their only wins against teams in the field – puts them in precarious position, and only the UConn and BYU losses make them look fairly solid on the 2-seed line. Losing the season finale against Colorado State at home (Saturday 10pm ET, mtn.) could drop them right off this perch.
2 Louisville BST #4 1 – 2 – 10
23-7 RPI: 20 SOS: 22 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 8-5 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 7
Louisville’s impressive collection of road pelts (Pitt, UConn, Syracuse, St. John’s) is going to be difficult to ignore, but the tournament will notice that Louisville’s only road win over a remotely good team came over UConn, as well as the nasty losses to Drexel and Providence (the former at home, the latter with better RPI than all but two of the Cardinals’ road wins). On the plus side, if the season ended today, the Cardinals would have a double bye in the Big East Tournament, and St. John’s loss to Seton Hall cinched it if they hadn’t already, and UConn’s loss helps Louisville overcome the head-to-head loss to the Hoyas. Still, if the Cardinals want to prove they belong up here, they should bolster their road resume in the season finale against the team that just upset the Huskies (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN, already played).
2 Connecticut BST #5 1 – 2 – 6
21-8 RPI: 21 SOS: 11 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 9-7 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 8
UConn is becoming rather concerning down the stretch, following a home loss to Marquette with a road loss to West Virginia. I do think they should still make it to the second round of the Big East Tournament – they can’t fall below 11th and are still very much alive for a bye – but I wouldn’t count out the possibility of that being the only game they win the rest of the way. They still don’t have any success against teams 5-8 in the Big East, having only a measly home win over Villanova to show for their troubles, and they still have to host Notre Dame (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN, already played).
3 BYU MWC #1 1 – 3 – 6
26-3 RPI: 3 SOS: 14 R/N: 13-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 9-1 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
The Brandon Davies suspension could unravel this profile very quickly, and the New Mexico loss could be just the beginning. BYU had better figure out how to play without him fast, because suddenly every game they play will make much more of an impression on the committee than any of the first 28. They already had two very concerning losses on their resume to bubble teams, but they also had multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. But that won’t matter if they get just two or three losses without Davies, and in the Mountain West, that could look like a disturbingly Minnesota-esque tumble. The Cougars could lose the regular season finale against Wyoming (Saturday 3:30pm ET, mtn.), then follow it up with a conference quarterfinal loss to Air Force or Utah, and the success against San Diego State and Arizona would seem a very long time ago. I’m still not considering a Wyoming loss part of a worst-case scenario, and they’re certainly not missing the tournament even if they lose out, but consider this a warning drop.
3 Georgetown BST #6 1 – 3 – 8
21-8 RPI: 8 SOS: 1 R/N: 11-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-8 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 7
Things could get hairy fast for the Hoyas. I called the Syracuse game a must-win and they dropped it. Now they get a road rematch with the team that beat them in DC just last weekend (@Cincinnati Saturday 2pm ET, Big East Network, already played) and ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak (four games against tourney contenders) could trash their seed in and of itself AND demoralize them for the Big East Tournament. And can you imagine if they had to play Cincinnati for the third time in two and a half weeks in the second round? Relevant to the Hoyas is the race for Big East-friendly tourney sites for the first weekend (Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, and to some extent Charlotte and Tulsa). Because they’re the hosts of the Washington subregional, they can’t go there, and are probably Charlotte-bound no matter how high they go – but if they slip to the 4 seeds they could be going further afield to Tampa or worse.
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 6
27-3 RPI: 4 SOS: 31 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 14-1 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 3
The defending national champions losing to V-Tech on the road? Remind me again why people keep talking about this team as a 1 seed, when they STILL can’t beat a team better than Miami (FL) in a true road game? The tide may be turning against that, and more in favor of a 2-seed for the Blue Devils, maybe flirting with 3 if they’re not careful. 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 (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS, already played). It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s 1-seed window is closing fast, and is probably dependent on completely winning out, beating North Carolina another two times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – 6
24-6 RPI: 14 SOS: 23 R/N: 8-4 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Texas is in very big trouble. After losing to Nebraska a week and a half ago, Texas followed that up with a road loss to Colorado and a repeat of Kansas State’s miracle over Kansas – bubble teams all. K-State’s suddenly top-notch RPI doesn’t hurt them much, but that now gives them three losses outside the RPI Top 70, 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. The losing skid may be finally turning people across the country away from the Longhorns; Jerry Palm gives them the exact same seed number I do. Their good road wins over Kansas, North Carolina, and Texas A&M all came in December and January, and now seem a long time ago; Kansas is now in pole position for the Big 12 regular season title. The Longhorns categorically cannot continue this skid against Baylor (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played), a team I consider a fringe bubbler that could really use the marquee win. Otherwise the Longhorns may be risking their spot on the top four seed lines.
4 West Virginia BST #7 1 – 4 – 6
19-10 RPI: 17 SOS: 2 R/N: 7-8 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 7-6 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 7
Say what you will about West Virginia, they know how to beat good teams at home; it’s the road games that give them a bit of an issue. Even with the St. John’s loss and the Mountaineers’ win over UConn, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t still put the Johnnies ahead of West Virginia, but I needed to punish them for the loss somehow. The Georgetown win still looks very fluky. The main result of the win is that West Virginia put themselves in position to receive a bye in the Big East Tournament, and the game against Louisville (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN, already played) will determine whether they get it.
4 St. John’s BST #8 1 – 4 – 8
19-10 RPI: 22 SOS: 4 R/N: 8-7 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 8-7 Wv≥: 8 Lv≤: 8
St. John’s loss to Seton Hall says a lot about this team, and about the NCAA Tournament. The Johnnies have plenty of good wins, but they also had those very concerning losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham that make the loss to Seton Hall less surprising than it should be. St. John’s still has a fantastic profile, but the way they fell apart in crunch time, they also scream a team that’ll just be happy to make the tournament, and will be prone for an upset once they get there. Perhaps I should emphasize bad losses more when comparing two teams with what might be considered “sufficient” wins. Steve Lavin’s team still should be considered the favorites in the Big East Tournament, if only because they’ll be on their home floor, but the chances of getting a double bye now appear slim, and they will need wins in MSG to stay on the top four seed lines and to make sure they go to Washington if they do stay up here. Oddly, a rematch with Seton Hall could be in the offing if the Johnnies manage to knock off South Florida (Saturday 8pm ET, Big East Network, already played).
4 Purdue B10 #2 1 – 4 – 8
25-5 RPI: 6 SOS: 16 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
West Virginia’s win gave the Boilermakers a chance at a head-to-head comparison with the Badgers, and boy did Purdue take advantage. The committee will still look long and hard at the losses to Richmond, struggling Minnesota, and West Virginia. Purdue’s main objective in the Big Ten Tournament should be to shore up their position on the top four seed lines and try and punch a ticket to Chicago for the first weekend by jumping ahead of Big East teams. The latter may at least require beating Wisconsin again in the semis and maybe Ohio State in the final.
4 Villanova BST #9 2 – 4 – 9
21-9 RPI: 32 SOS: 26 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 5
Villanova is starting to get squeezed out; they’re having to fight off Cincinnati for position on the top four seed lines, for crying out loud! Losing to St. John’s at home was not the way to head into the Wildcats’ last chances at showing the road win over Syracuse wasn’t a fluke, and Notre Dame blew them out of the water. It’s hard to see them beating Pitt (Saturday 4pm ET, CBS, already played) short of a miracle. Nova’s best chance to really prove their bona fides might be at MSG, where there’s enough of a clusterbleep right around the single-bye cut line for the Wildcats to conceivably rise as high as the 5 seed… but a first-round date with Providence or USF (the former of which Villanova lost to on the road earlier in the year) seems nearly inevitable.
5 Cincinnati BST #10 1 – 5 – 8
23-7 RPI: 35 SOS: 86 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-7 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
A home loss to Connecticut sums up Cincinnati’s resume in a nutshell. Cincinnati’s problem was never bad losses, and now they seem to be putting that together into good wins. (And yes, they can climb higher – the seed floor is really an educated guess, as it’s hard for me to argue, even in a worst-case scenario, against Cincinnati against teams very close to them.) The Bearcats have wins over Louisville, Georgetown, and a rare road win over St. John’s, but little else to show for their effort. As it stands right now, the Bearcats would actually have a bye in the Big East Tournament. Can they win the home rematch with Georgetown (Saturday 2pm ET, Big East Network, already played) and further shore up their position?
5 Kentucky SEC #1 1 – 5 – 9
21-8 RPI: 12 SOS: 10 R/N: 6-8 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 7
So, now that the Kentucky-Florida series turned out to be a home-and-home split, who really is the class of the SEC? Well, even after losing to Arkansas, Kentucky still has only the one loss outside the RPI Top 100, as opposed to three. Then there’s the neutral-site win over Notre Dame and road win over Louisville. Coach Calipari’s One-and-Done All-Stars also avenged the loss to Vanderbilt to finish the regular season undefeated at home and, for the moment, grab the SEC East’s 2 seed that represents a first-round bye in Atlanta, which they can pretty much lock down with a win in the regular season finale in Knoxville (Sunday Noon ET, CBS). A loss could, though it’s a longshot, drop the Wildcats to 5th in a 6-team division. A win could mark a return to the top four seed lines.
5 Florida SEC #2 2 – 5 – 9
23-6 RPI: 11 SOS: 9 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 9-2 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 5
UCF is starting to make a late-season rally to make that bad loss almost an RPI Top 50 loss, and the Gators took care of the most questionable opponent (Alabama) on the remaining schedule… but on the other hand, “Kentucky 76, Florida 68”. Florida can climb back towards the top four seeds with a win in the regular season finale against Vanderbilt (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN, already played) to deepen their resume.
5 Wisconsin B10 #2 1 – 5 – 7
23-6 RPI: 13 SOS: 32 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Wisconsin narrowly escaped a tough battle with bubbly Michigan, but tumbled anyway once West virginia beat UConn. Now comes the huge clash in Columbus (Sunday 4pm ET, CBS) that could speak volumes about the Big Ten pecking order. Wisconsin could actually get a site closer to home if they stay out of the top four seed lines, but the flip side is they’d face an uphill challenge in the second round.
6 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
18-12 RPI: 33 SOS: 3 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 9
Tennessee has shown flashes of brilliance against Pitt, Vanderbilt, and Villanova… and then they lose games to teams like Mississippi State, Bruce Pearl or no. Had the Vols played all season like they do in their wins, they might be leading the SEC and on par with the Big East Nine. Instead, they have to feel good about beating lowly South Carolina and are listed as “Probably in” despite being on the 6 seed line. Admittedly, I may have the Vols a little overrated (I can’t get past the sterling #3 strength of schedule or sweep of Vanderbilt), as the resume isn’t as deep as you might think, especially with the questionable losses. Only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the home Vandy and Georgia wins came during the suspension.
6 Vanderbilt SEC #4 2 – 6 – 10
21-8 RPI: 24 SOS: 19 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
It’s hard to tease out just how good the inconsistent Volunteers are, but if they manage to beat you twice in the season, you probably deserve to fall behind them even if you might be a better team. Vanderbilt couldn’t beat Kentucky on the road, but they still have a huge opportunity in the regular season finale when Florida comes to town (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN, already played), but the flip side is they could be closer to fifth than second in the East in the SEC Tournament, meaning an extra game against a weak SEC West team.
6 Missouri B12 #3 Probably in
21-8 RPI: 31 SOS: 55 R/N: 5-8 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
From an RPI perspective, Texas A&M’s loss to Baylor, who I consider a fringe bubbler, is worse than Missouri’s road losses to tip-of-the-bubblers K-State and Colorado. This creates a sense of foreboding around the regular season finale against Kansas (Saturday Noon ET, CBS, already played). Although they’re probably a win away from punching their ticket to the Dance, Missouri still needs to add depth to their resume, but between the game with the Jayhawks and the Big 12 Tournament, they’ll have plenty of chances to do so. But the former will make a huge impact on their standing in the latter.
6 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
22-7 RPI: 26 SOS: 33 R/N: 11-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 2 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. UNLV took care of business against New Mexico, but at the least, all their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a loss, Utah (Saturday 4pm ET, VS., already played) is the best of the bunch unless they make the conference semis, and after losing to San Diego State, they will need to be on their guard all the way to the conference tournament.
7 Texas A&M B12 #4 3 – 7 – 10
21-7 RPI: 30 SOS: 45 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
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 both Kansas and Texas in the conference tournament, it’s getting difficult to argue for the top four seed lines.
7 Georgia SEC #5 Probably in
20-9 RPI: 38 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 3-9 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 7
Georgia shoots up the board despite losing to Florida for similar reasons as Cincinnati: they don’t have any bad losses and the recent win over Tennessee helps show they have more than consistency. You’d still like to see more depth; their only other RPI Top 60 win besides Kentucky is against UAB, but Colorado has given them a second RPI Top 90 win to go along with Ole Miss. If Georgia can pick up a few more pelts they’ll be in better shape, but that won’t come until the conference tournament with Alabama (Saturday 1:30pm ET, SEC Network, already played) the best remaining opponent.
7 Marquette BST #11 Probably in
18-12 RPI: 56 SOS: 25 R/N: 4-8 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 4-11 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 3
Losing to Cincinnati at home doesn’t hurt Marquette in the short run – you can’t overlook the resume-building the Eagles had already done – but it does raise some concerns. Marquette has had a good collection of losses and a few decent upset wins, but a road win over UConn has really helped firm up their resume. Their RPI has been improving as they keep winning, now on the cusp of the top 50, though they still have only four wins against the RPI Top 80.
7 Kansas State B12 #5 Probably in
20-9 RPI: 19 SOS: 5 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤:6
What a difference a few weeks makes. A month 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, and as recently as three weeks ago their tourney hopes were hanging by a thread. Did one win over the Jayhawks in Manhattan singlehandedly revitalize K-State’s season? It now looks as though they have no real questionable losses – the worst being Oklahoma State and Colorado, bubble teams both – and they’ve gone on a five-game winning streak including upending Missouri at home and the admittedly-struggling Longhorns on the road. Suddenly the Wildcats have passed Missouri for the last Big 12 Tournament bye, and look far more likely to make the field than not. I wouldn’t go as far as ESPN’s Eamon Brennan and call them a lock yet, but it is something for future bubble teams to look at and take heart in.
8 Illinois B10 #4 Probably in
18-12 RPI: 39 SOS: 13 R/N: 5-10 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 3-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Illinois suffers more because of Georgia’s and Marquette’s hard charges than losing to Ohio State. But losses to Indiana, UIC, Northwestern, and Penn State continue to be concerning for the committee. 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. They blew their only challenge before the conference tournament and now need to wait until then to firm up their standing.
8 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
23-6 RPI: 9 SOS: 15 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
What’s wrong with North Carolina’s resume now? Simply a dearth of wins over quality teams; the second-best team they’ve beaten is Florida State. Still, they showed enough in the game against Duke that they have to feel good about their chances in the season-ending home rematch (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS, already played), 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.
8 Michigan State B10 #5 Barely in
16-12 RPI: 45 SOS: 8 R/N: 4-9 OOC: 7-4 RPI T50: 3-9 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
The Spartans are back. Their large collection of losses looks less scary when you realize Iowa is the only one that wasn’t against a team in the field. They’ve followed home wins over Penn State and Illinois with a crucial road win over Minnesota that gave them a companion to Northwestern in road wins. The Spartans now look in pretty good condition to go dancing, though there is still some work to do, namely pick up another road win over rival Michigan (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS, already played), and hope to finish in the top 5 so you get a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 Probably in
24-6 RPI: 27 SOS: 70 R/N: 10-4 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 3-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Old Dominion looked impressive beating James Madison, and would probably have to lose their first conference tournament game against Delaware (Saturday 6pm ET, CSS, already played) for the committee to even consider leaving them out of the Dance. The CAA, though one of only four non-BCS conferences even sniffing multiple bids, isn’t so strong that you can afford to lose to the Blue Hens (though pretty much all the teams ahead of the Hens are strong enough you can survive a loss to them). Feel lucky, though: William and Mary upended James Madison, and had they done the same to Hofstra (Saturday 8:30pm ET, CSS, already played), that might be the one game Old Dominion couldn’t afford to lose against the conference’s second-worst team in the regular season. Not that Hofstra (Sunday 2:30pm ET, CSS) wouldn’t cause a heap of damage on their own.
9 Xavier A10 #1 Probably in
23-6 RPI: 23 SOS: 50 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 9-5 RPI T50: 3-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Temple losing to Duke and handing over pole position in the A-10 in UCLA-Arizona fashion doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a believer in the Musketeers. Xavier has a good 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 bubbler Gonzaga are no-nos, especially outside an already weak conference. Xavier did survive a road trip to Dayton that’s probably the toughest they’ll see before the conference tournament.
9 Arizona PAC #1 Probably in
24-6 RPI: 16 SOS: 46 R/N: 8-6 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Danger, Will Robinson! I was willing to write off the loss to Oregon State and give Arizona quite respectable position, but the Wildcats lost what I had considered the only questionable game they could lose to USC, and now I just have to scratch my head. This definitely doesn’t look remotely like a top-ten team – there’s still only two RPI Top 70 wins and nothing in the top 30. 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, but if they become Sir Lose-a-lot down the stretch – and they just added a loss to UCLA – they may start getting some second looks. And it goes without saying that they need to avoid disaster at home against Oregon (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS, already played).
9 UCLA PAC #2 Barely in
21-9 RPI: 34 SOS: 41 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
UCLA couldn’t get the job done against Washington, which could have put them back in the Pac-10’s top spot and in “probably in” territory. More importantly, of course, the Bruins basically guaranteed a potential rematch with the Huskies in the semifinals would stand in the way of them and a rubber match with Arizona.

9 Temple A10 #2 Probably in
23-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 97 R/N: 10-6 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Temple’s loss to Duke provides an opportunity for the loss to Xavier to be decisive in the comparison with the Musketeers; Temple has a win over Georgetown, but their only other top-notch win is matched by Xavier. They won’t meet again until the conference tournament.
10 Florida State ACC #3 Barely in
20-9 RPI: 49 SOS: 78 R/N: 8-6 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 6-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
Florida State represents the ACC’s best chance to get three bids, but losing to Maryland isn’t the way to go about doing it. 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 couldn’t get the job done by upsetting North Carolina at home.
10 Penn State B10 #6 Barely in
15-13 RPI: 59 SOS: 6 R/N: 2-8 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 8-12 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 7
Penn State absolutely needed to beat Northwestern and show they could beat a team better than Indiana on the road. But 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. 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. They may need a deep run in the conference tournament, but the Nittany Lions could have a not-as-massive-as-it-once-was opportunity to prove their road bona fides against desperate Minnesota (Sunday 1pm ET, BTN).
10 Minnesota B10 #7 Barely in
17-12 RPI: 65 SOS: 30 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 11-1 RPI T100: 5-10 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Remember when Minnesota was beating Purdue at home and North Carolina and West Virginia on neutral sites? The Gophers have lost a number of key personnel and are showing every sign of it unravelling their season, and their chances of going dancing. The team that went 1-6 in February doesn’t look like a team that should even be sniffing the Dance, with their only win coming against Iowa and losing on the road to lowly Indiana. Minnesota is firmly in “barely in” territory at the moment, but even after losing to Northwestern, I can’t bring myself to drop them more than a seed line. The home loss to Virginia in November doesn’t help either. Minnesota just needs wins to show they can still play at their early-season pace, but Penn State (Sunday 1pm ET, BTN) seems like a significant risk for low reward, and as for the Big Ten Tournament, the Gophers are locked into the 8/9 game for a rematch with Northwestern and a quarterfinal date with Ohio State.
10 Miami (FL) ACC #4 Barely in
18-12 RPI: 66 SOS: 43 R/N: 7-8 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 5-10 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 9
Despite losing at Florida State, the Hurricanes’ only home losses besides Clemson are to the three ACC teams ahead of them, and 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. If form holds, you may have to recognize after the ‘Canes beat Virginia in the first conference tournament game… too bad Duke would await after that.
11 Washington PAC #3 Barely in
20-9 RPI: 36 SOS: 52 R/N: 6-8 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 7-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Props for beating UCLA for the second time, but you still have only three wins against teams in the field, and a concerning collection of road losses, not to mention the recent home loss to Washington State. There’s a lot to like about this resume, but there’s an odd whiff about it. The Huskies have to hope a deep run in the conference tournament can make up for the collection of worrying road losses.
11 Marshall USA #1 Barely in
18-10 RPI: 54 SOS: 68 R/N: 7-7 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 5-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:9
What is a team ranked 6th 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, which they may be doing. Losing to UTEP prevents them from getting a first-round bye, but UTEP could be the conference’s #2 seed; entering today, Marshall was just a game behind Memphis and Southern Miss, and before Wednesday Marshall was playing well down the stretch while Memphis was falling apart.
11 Memphis USA #2 Barely in
21-9 RPI: 37 SOS: 42 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 9-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
Is Memphis frittering away their at-large hopes? The question has to be asked after the Tigers followed a loss to Rice with a loss to UTEP, then followed that with a loss to East Carolina. 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, so losing to the teams they do play may be disastrous. 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.
11f Oklahoma State B12 #6 Barely in
18-11 RPI: 57 SOS: 39 R/N: 4-9 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 6-10 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
There’s the elite (Kansas and Texas), the strong (A&M, Missouri, and now K-State), and then there’s the Big 12’s third tier: the vulnerable. Oklahoma State actually has some impressive home wins, Missouri most notably (K-State seems like a long time ago), 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 six bids. They will have a very uphill climb in the Big 12 Tournament; a second-round date with Kansas or Texas looks inevitable.
11f George Mason CAA #2 Barely in
25-5 RPI: 25 SOS: 87 R/N: 11-5 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 8-3 Wv≥: 1 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 two outside the RPI Top 100 (with NC State leaving that status), and none at home. ESPN’s Eamon Brennan has been touting them as Old Dominion’s equal and just moved them up into lock territory, giving me pause and making me consider a reassessment, but Old Dominion is still the only team they’ve beaten that’s in the field. 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 (and Northern Iowa in BracketBusters did not help at all). Mason probably needs a deep run, maybe to the final, of the conference tournament to even start to exhale about their chances. The most dangerous game was in the quarters against Georgia State (Saturday Noon ET, Comcast/, already played), but they should also shore up their position by beating Virginia Commonwealth (Sunday Noon ET, CSS).
12f UAB USA #3 Barely in
21-7 RPI: 28 SOS: 58 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 8-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
UAB’s win over Southern Miss not only puts them firmly ahead of the Golden Eagles and all but locks up the conference regular season crown, it also makes them the beneficiary of my cleaning out the cruft on the bubble, and they now find themselves just barely in the field. Win out and go on a deep conference tournament run, and I might even end up putting you ahead of Marshall.
12f Nebraska B12 #7 Barely in
19-10 RPI: 72 SOS: 65 R/N: 2-8 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 7-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 4
Weird week for Nebraska: lose to Iowa State on the road, beat Missouri at home. Emblematic of their entire profile: The Missouri win joins home wins over Texas, A&M, Oklahoma State, and (critically) Colorado, but Hofstra is the best team beaten outside Lincoln and Oklahoma is the best team beaten in a true road game… and they’re Nebraska’s only wins outside Lincoln. See what I mean when I say the teams outside the tournament have ghastly resumes? Winning the road rematch against Colorado (Saturday 9pm ET, already played) and going on a deep run in the conference tournament could be crucial to prove to the committee that they aren’t just a creation of home-court advantage.
Michigan B10 #8 Barely out
17-12 RPI: 58 SOS: 24 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 8-11 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤:3
Michigan lacks very much in the way of bad losses, the sweep of Penn State is an impressive pelt, and Michigan State just climbed into the top 40 of the RPI. They just added another road pelt in Minnesota, and now the regular season ends with the home rematch with Michigan State (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS, already played). The Wolverines have a very strong case to make the Dance, and who knows, maybe they can even earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Central Florida USA #4 Barely out
18-9 RPI: 52 SOS: 48 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 12-0 RPI T100: 7-5 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 9
“Are you crazy, Morgan? To put Marshall ahead of UAB and Southern Miss was one thing, but a team that’s ninth in the conference? How crazy do you take Conference USA to be?” Well, until recently (namely, the end of a lengthy losing streak), I would have been down on UCF myself. But their RPI is now in the 50s and their place in Florida’s collection of bad losses is starting to attract my attention in their direction instead of the Gators’. They’ve backed it up with a neutral-site win over Miami (FL) and a home win over Marshall, to which they just added one over Southern Miss, which could be a warning shot to the rest of the conference. The nasty losses to East Carolina (who swept them), Rice, and Houston are unforgivable, but all the other losses are to teams ahead of them. Certainly you just know the NIT would be very happy to take the Marcus Jordans. UCF probably can’t get out of the 8/9 game of the conference tournament, but at last check UAB was set to be the top seed in the conference tournament, which gives UCF a much better chance of an upset than if it was, say, Memphis (not that Memphis is in the best of shape either).
12 Utah State WAC #1 Barely out
26-3 RPI: 18 SOS: 108 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 2-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤:1
Utah State, the great enigma, and the reason BracketBusters was invented. Two of their three losses to BYU and Georgetown, and until BracketBusters nothing in the RPI Top 90. The loss to Idaho may turn out to be disastrous to their at-large hopes – in fact any loss, including in the conference tournament, could be fatal – but beating St. Mary’s on the road was absolutely critical to show they’re on the good side of that enormous gap in their resume. Of course, it may have also killed the Gaels’ own at-large chances, which in turn makes it look less great for the Aggies.
Colorado State MWC #4 Barely in
18-10 RPI: 46 SOS: 38 R/N: 9-6 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Uh-oh. Colorado State’s at-large hopes may be hanging on thin ice after losing to Air Force on the road, on the heels of losing the home rematch with UNLV and the road trip to BYU. Barring a run to the conference tournament final, they absolutely have to somehow upset San Diego State in the regular season finale (Saturday 10pm ET, mtn., already played).
Southern Miss USA #5 Barely out
18-8 RPI: 47 SOS: 84 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 9-2 RPI T100: 6-7 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Southern Miss is pretty firmly out of the tournament at the moment after losing to UAB, but still, give them credit for an impressive collection of wins, a lack of bad losses, and a decent road record. The Eagles now need to make a deep run in the conference tournament.
Clemson ACC #5 Barely out
19-10 RPI: 64 SOS: 81 R/N: 5-8 OOC: 11-3 RPI T100: 7-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤:5
Of the teams most people have competing for the fourth ACC spot (if there is one), Clemson stands out with wins over ACC #4 competitor Boston College, a sweep over my personal favorite for the spot Miami (FL), and Florida State. On the other hand, the Canes are the only one of those wins that came on the road, their next best road win is over College of Charleston, and they have nasty losses to the likes of South Carolina and Virginia, plus a home loss to Michigan and road losses to Florida State and Maryland. The Tigers will just try to survive a trip to Durham (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played), then try to further shore up their resume by adding another home win over an ACC bubble rival in Virginia Tech (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN2, already played). Do that, and Clemson could find themselves getting the last first-round bye in the conference tournament, which has to make a psychological impression, at least, on the committee.
Boston College ACC #6 Barely out
18-11 RPI: 40 SOS: 18 R/N: 7-7 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 7-10 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Here’s an interesting dirty little secret: Only three non-BCS conferences would produce an at-large team if the ladder held. What’s more, all three are looking like multi-bid conferences, so even an upset in the conference tournament wouldn’t move the cutline. Barring a surprise in the CAA, then, there’s a bit more room for BCS-conference bubblers to work with without worrying about conference tournament upsets beyond their control screwing their Dance plans. That’s good news for a team like Boston College, who doesn’t have too terrible losses outside a weird home loss to Yale (though losses to Harvard and Rhode Island also raise eyebrows), but whose entire positive resume rests on a neutral-site win over A&M in November. The sweep of V-Tech is also worth noting, but it’s literally the second-best foe BC has beaten, if only because they couldn’t get Duke at home.
12 Gonzaga WCC #1 Barely out
21-9 RPI: 70 SOS: 103 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-6 RPI T100: 5-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 4
With St. Mary’s recent struggles, Gonzaga seems to be back in the same place it always was as the class of the West Coast Conference. I wouldn’t count out their chances of making the Tournament either; they have only two or three truly horrible losses and quite the collection of good wins, and the WCC “bye-to-the-semifinal” format should protect them from potential harm – though they could probably do better than playing San Francisco or Pepperdine (Sunday 10pm ET, ESPN2). The main problem is the atrocious schedule strength from playing in such a bad conference.
Colorado B12 #8 Barely out
17-11 RPI: 77 SOS: 75 R/N: 4-9 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 6-9 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤:6
“The bad losses aren’t that horrible”? Not anymore now that Colorado’s taken a loss to lowly Iowa State! This profile just invites ambivalence, backed mainly by wins over bubble teams (though the sweep of Kansas State now looks less bubbly) with quite a collection of bad losses. Worse, heading into Saturday Colorado was set for an 8 seed in the conference tournament, meaning a second round matchup with… drum roll please… Kansas. I’m sure that’ll invite plenty of confidence in their ability to make the tournament.
Mississippi SEC #6 Probably out
18-12 RPI: 85 SOS: 76 R/N: 6-8 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 5-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
Losing to Mississippi State and South Carolina are one thing; losing to RPI #268 Auburn is quite another, and I’ve lost my patience with the Rebels. The Tide 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, upset some impressive teams at home, Kentucky foremost among them, but it will probably take a deep run in the conference tournament to get in and stay in. Unfortunately, that means beating Florida, Kentucky, or Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals.

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