Bracket Ladder for March 8, 2011

Much of the uncertainty surrounding the seed ranges of teams on the ladder in the past reflected the uncertainty of conference tournaments – namely, who you would face in the conference tournament. All the conference tournament brackets are now set, so we can begin to determine solid seed floors – and seed ceilings, for that matter. All the seed ranges have now been recalibrated to reflect the conference tournament brackets, and we have some new developments as a result, most notably our first “medals”.

(Why do each of the top four seed lines have its own color corresponding to that seed being the floor? Once you get outside the at-larges, the differences between teams go up dramatically, so on the other end of the bracket – the top four seed lines – there’s a lot more competition to get the worst opponent possible. The committee doesn’t make seed adjustments for the top four seed lines and there’s little reason to do so for the bottom four, but that doesn’t mean a one-to-one comparison between the best teams playing the worst teams, so seed line matters a lot more.)

I’ve finally begin to create a bracket and talk about tourney sites. 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.

Note that the teams out of the tournament are restricted to just the “first four out” for today only. I hope I can do enough on Wednesday to extend the cutline all the way to the first four NIT seeds.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of March 7, 2011. This means it does not include any of Tuesday’s games, including the Connecticut-DePaul 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 – 2
27-4 RPI: 6 SOS: 27 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 9-4 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. Fortunately, not only did they arguably reclaim that status with a 10-point home win over Villanova, they also averted the fate that had depressed their seed range: a quarterfinal matchup with Cincinnati or Marquette. Instead, Pitt will face Connecticut or Georgetown in the quarters (Thursday Noon ET, ESPN) and probably St. John’s or Syracuse in the semis (Friday 7pm ET, ESPN), neither of whom should hurt them too much. The Panthers can make their triumphant entrance into the silver. Is a 1-seed a certainty with a conference tournament win to go with the regular season title? Maybe, but it might take wins over Syracuse and Notre Dame to lock it up.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 3
29-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 25 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 7-2 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 record-setting performance over Wisconsin allows the Jared Sullingers to make their way into the (appropriately) bronze, if only barely, and they can probably follow Pitt into the silver if (ha!) they dispatch Minnesota or Northwestern in the Big Ten quarters (Friday Noon ET, ESPN), especially if Illinois dispatches Michigan in the other quarter (Friday 2:30pm ET, ESPN).
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 6
29-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 12 R/N: 12-1 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 8-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Kansas just picked up their best two wins of the season, but against teams seeded sixth and seventh on the ladder. They may still need to win out to stay on the top seed line – certainly they should make the Big 12 final for a rematch with Texas – and they certainly need to keep winning to have a short trip to San Antonio for the regionals. The quarterfinal against Nebraska or Oklahoma State (Thursday 12:30pm ET, ESPN2) would be an especially dangerous game to lose.
1 Notre Dame BST #2 1 – 1 – 4
25-5 RPI: 9 SOS: 26 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 10-4 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 5
Notre Dame just made their road win over Pitt look much less fluky by beating UConn, and you cannot take away wins over Pitt, UConn, Georgetown, and Wisconsin, or an unbeaten home record. Because DePaul at home is less impressive than UConn on the road, the gap over Syracuse has increased since Friday. On the other hand, their quarterfinal game could be very dangerous; the Ben Hansbroughs probably cannot be a 1-seed if they lose to Villanova or Cincinnati (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN). The former, in particular, made me very tempted not to move Notre Dame into the purple yet.
2 Syracuse BST #3 1 – 2 – 5
25-6 RPI: 18 SOS: 33 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 8-4 Wv≥: 4 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 gave 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 they have a potentially huge rematch with Pitt as soon as the semifinals. 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? The flip side, though, is what might happen in the quarterfinals. Seton Hall has already proven they can beat both Syracuse and St. John’s, so Syracuse might now be rooting for St. John’s in the second round (Wednesday 2pm ET, ESPN), or their first game (Thursday 2pm ET, ESPN) could make a huge difference in their tournament seeding and standing.
2 San Diego State MWC #1 1 – 2 – 4
27-2 RPI: 3 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. Get your conference tournament off to a good start with a win over Utah (Thursday 9pm ET, mtn.)
2 Louisville BST #4 1 – 2 – 10
23-8 RPI: 21 SOS: 17 R/N: 4-6 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 9-6 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 8
Louisville’s impressive collection of home 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, the Cardinals have a double bye in the Big East Tournament. On the minus side, they couldn’t improve their road resume against West Virginia, and the Big East quarters (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN) could see a rematch with the Mountaineers – or a potentially dangerous situation against Marquette.
2 Connecticut BST #5 1 – 2 – 5
21-9 RPI: 24 SOS: 11 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 8-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 9
UConn is becoming rather concerning down the stretch, following a home loss to Marquette with a road loss to West Virginia and a home loss to Notre Dame. I wouldn’t count out the possibility of the first round game against lowly DePaul (Tuesday Noon ET, ESPN2, already played) being the only game they win in March. 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. On the plus side, with Georgetown in the second round (Wednesday Noon ET, ESPN) and Pitt in the quarters (Thursday Noon ET, ESPN), they’d have to arrest the slide in order to face a team seeded 4th or 5th on the ladder, making it unlikely – though not impossible – they fall out of the top four seed lines.
3 West Virginia BST #6 1 – 3 – 5
20-10 RPI: 16 SOS: 2 R/N: 7-8 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 8-7 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 8
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. The Georgetown win still looks very fluky, but it’s backed up by a road win over Cincinnati and a neutral-site win over Vanderbilt. The Mountaineers careen up the board with the win over Louisville, and they’ve beaten both of the teams ahead of them, but they have the same problem as Louisville, only less so. West Virginia earned themselves a Big East tournament bye with the win, but beware: Marquette (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN) isn’t the kind of team you want to lose to on a neutral site, and don’t even get me started on if Providence manages to upset the Eagles.
3 BYU MWC #1 1 – 3 – 6
27-3 RPI: 4 SOS: 23 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 avoided what would have been a complete disaster against Wyoming, but if they lose in the conference quarterfinals to Wyoming or TCU (Thursday 3pm ET, mtn.), the success against San Diego State and Arizona would seem a very long time ago. A semifinal loss against Colorado State or New Mexico (Friday 9pm ET, CBS CS) is a more likely form of disaster; that game may be a must-win to preserve respectable seeding.
3 Georgetown BST #7 1 – 3 – 6
21-9 RPI: 11 SOS: 1 R/N: 11-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-9 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 8
Things could get hairy fast for the Hoyas. Ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak (four games against tourney contenders), including two losses to Cincinnati, nearly sends them out of the top three seed lines AND could demoralize them for the Big East Tournament. Worse, they have to play Connecticut in the second round (Wednesday Noon ET, ESPN), and even if UConn’s slide trumps G-Town’s, Pitt awaits in the quarters (Thursday Noon ET, ESPN). 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, so get that second-round win!
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 6
27-4 RPI: 5 SOS: 30 R/N: 10-4 OOC: 14-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 4
Remind me again why people keep talking about this team as a 1 seed, when they can’t even win their own conference’s regular season title, and 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. Now if Duke wants to make a case for a 1 seed, they have to win the conference tournament and hope the committee places its trust in neutral-site wins over Kansas State, Marquette, and hopefully North Carolina, while hoping for teams ahead of them to lose (including complete Big East tournament carnage). It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Avoiding a stumble on the first step against Maryland or NC State (Friday 7pm ET, ESPN2) is especially critical.
4 Texas B12 #2 1 – 4 – 6
25-6 RPI: 14 SOS: 21 R/N: 9-4 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, but despite beating Baylor they slip out of the top four seed lines as a result of West Virginia’ hard charge. 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 or Oklahoma (Thursday 7pm ET, Big 12 Network), only the former being even a fringe bubbler. Otherwise the Longhorns would really be risking their spot on the top four seed lines.
4 St. John’s BST #8 1 – 4 – 8
20-10 RPI: 22 SOS: 5 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 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. Not only do they suddenly no longer have a double bye, they’re likely to get a chance at revenge against Seton Hall in the second round (Wednesday 2pm ET, ESPN).
4 Kentucky SEC #1 1 – 4 – 9
22-8 RPI: 12 SOS: 13 R/N: 7-8 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 8-5 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 8
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 grab the SEC East’s 2 seed that represents a first-round bye in Atlanta. But they certainly can’t afford a loss to Ole Miss or South Carolina (Friday 3:30pm ET, SEC Network) if they want to stay on the top four seed lines.
4 Cincinnati BST #9 1 – 4 – 6
24-7 RPI: 33 SOS: 78 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-7 Wv≥: 4 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. The Bearcats have wins over Louisville, Georgetown, and a rare road win over St. John’s, but little else to show for their effort. Winning the home rematch with Georgetown puts them on the top four seed lines, and now they get reeling Villanova (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN).
5 Villanova BST #10 2 – 5 – 9
21-10 RPI: 30 SOS: 19 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-8 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 5
Villanova is getting squeezed out; they’ve been passed by Cincinnati, 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. With a 10-point loss to Pitt, they’ve now lost four straight. Nova’s best chance to really prove their bona fides might be at MSG, but they’re going to have to start off with a first-round date with USF (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPNU, already played), with Cincinnati awaiting in the second round (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN).
5 Florida SEC #2 2 – 5 – 9
24-6 RPI: 10 SOS: 6 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 10-2 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 both the Tide and Commodores… but on the other hand, “Kentucky 76, Florida 68”. Florida might be hoping Tennessee knocks off Arkansas (hardly a sure thing) (Thursday 7:30pm ET, SEC Network), as that would be a far better team to potentially lose to in the quarterfinals (Friay 7:30pm ET, SEC Network). Of course, a date with Arkansas would be far easier…
5 Purdue B10 #2 1 – 5 – 9
25-6 RPI: 7 SOS: 20 R/N: 9-6 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Oh dear. What a time for Purdue to pick up their worst win of the season. The loss to Iowa joins losses to Richmond and struggling Minnesota. Purdue still comes out ahead in the comparison with Wisconsin, but their chances for a 1 seed probably rest on massive carnage among teams among them and winning the Big Ten tournament, beating Wisconsin and Ohio State again along the way. But even their quarterfinal against Michigan State – or the team that just beat them (Friday 6:30pm ET, BTN) – could be very dangerous.
5 Wisconsin B10 #3 1 – 5 – 6
23-7 RPI: 13 SOS: 24 R/N: 7-7 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
There’s no shame in losing to Ohio State anywhere, and there isn’t really all that much Wisconsin could do to hurt their seeding – a quarterfinal loss to Penn State (Friday 9pm ET, BTN) isn’t much of a downgrade in their profile. 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
18-13 RPI: 37 SOS: 3 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 8-6 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 10
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, despite the “bad losses” hitting double digits, it’s starting to become difficult to see a situation where they miss the tourney; a revenge win over Arkansas (Thursday 7:30pm ET, SEC Network) could be enough.
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 or Florida at home, and not only do they get an extra game against weak LSU (Thursday 10pm ET, SEC Network), they get another SEC West team, Mississippi State, in the quarterfinal (Friday 10pm ET, SEC Network), meaning they’ll only get two chances to beat fellow tourney teams, limiting how high they can climb.
6 Missouri B12 #3 3 – 6 – 11
21-9 RPI: 34 SOS: 41 R/N: 5-8 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
From an RPI perspective, Texas A&M’s loss to fringe bubbler Baylor is worse than Missouri’s road loss to slightly-better-than-bubbler Colorado. Despite losing to Kansas in the regular season finale and ending the season on a three-game losing streak, though, I’ve run out of excuses to keep Missouri out of the tournament. Missouri still needs to add depth to their resume, but they’ll have plenty of chances to do so in the Big 12 Tournament – the losing streak may have been a blessing in disguise, since they’ll have chances against A&M, Texas, and Kansas on the road to the final. Making it a four-game losing streak against lowly Texas Tech (Wednesday 9:30pm ET, Big 12 Network), on the other hand, would be disastrous.
6 UNLV MWC #3 2 – 6 – 10
23-7 RPI: 25 SOS: 37 R/N: 12-3 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 down the stretch, so their lack of bad losses should be good to make the tournament at this point, but a single loss could still drop them a seed line. Their seed floor would probably go up considerably if they can beat Air Force (Thursday 11:30pm ET, mtn.).
7 Texas A&M B12 #4 3 – 7 – 10
22-7 RPI: 31 SOS: 53 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
The Aggies are lucky Kansas State’s hard charge has landed them in the RPI Top 25, because their best win is against Missouri. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, K-State, 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. A&M has to hope Texas Tech doesn’t upset Missouri, and then try to stay out of trouble by beating whoever they do get (Thursday 9:30pm ET, Big 12 Network).
7 Marquette BST #11 Probably in
18-13 RPI: 65 SOS: 31 R/N: 4-9 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 4-11 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 3
Marquette shares St. John’s fate against Seton Hall, which is a lot more problematic for the Eagles than it is for the Red Storm. I don’t think Seton Hall is really that awful of a loss overall (Marquette actually moves up because Georgia took a loss they could afford even less), but it is worse than anyone they’d lost to so far. Couple that with the home loss to Cincinnati that preceded it and I’m very uncomfortable with locking the Eagles into the field quite yet. Beat Providence (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPNU, already played) and we’ll talk.
7 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
24-6 RPI: 7 SOS: 10 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but North Carolina’s resume still gets a big boost by beating Duke, which joins Kentucky as wins the Tar Heels can point to. Both are at home and their next-best win is over Florida State, though, which prevents me from putting them in “championship contender” or even Duke’s territory, regular-season title aside. No other ACC team besides Duke is that great in the RPI, or better than tenth in the seeding, so they can’t improve very much. They can probably punch their tournament ticket with a win over Virginia or Miami (FL) (Friday Noon ET, ESPN2/ACC Network).
7 Georgia SEC #5 Probably in
20-10 RPI: 40 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-6 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 3-9 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
I’m not as high on Alabama as most people (pending the reassessment of the wrong side of the cutline), so losing to them is a big problem for the Bulldogs, especially for a team that heretofore was lacking in bad losses. 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 really come until the semifinals, with the first game coming against Auburn (Thursday 1pm ET, SEC Network) and the quarterfinal game being a rematch with Alabama (Friday 1pm ET, SEC Network).
8 Kansas State B12 #5 Probably in
21-9 RPI: 19 SOS: 4 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 even more recently 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 six-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. A win over likely-Colorado (Thursday 3pm ET, Big 12 Network) would be a big help.
8 Michigan State B10 #4 Probably in
16-13 RPI: 50 SOS: 9 R/N: 4-10 OOC: 7-4 RPI T50: 3-9 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Michigan isn’t as bad as it once might have been, but this is still more of an “upon-further-review” move than anything else. 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 get revenge against Iowa (Thursday 4:30pm ET, ESPN2).
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 6 – 8 – 11
27-6 RPI: 23 SOS: 62 R/N: 13-4 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
I personally felt there was a slight chance Old Dominion could miss the tournament with a loss to Virginia Commonwealth – who have they beaten other than Xavier and George Mason? – but luckily the Monarchs decided to remove any doubt. Calculating the seed range for our first team in the green makes me realize that I just might have this team a little bit overrated; a 6 is really pushing it. But that might just be the fact they don’t have any more games.
8 Illinois B10 #5 Probably in
19-12 RPI: 39 SOS: 16 R/N: 5-10 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 3-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Illinois slips because I just can’t get past the quantity of bad losses and lack of quality wins (North Carolina is the second-best team beaten). 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 fend off the challenge of red-hot Michigan (Friday 2pm ET, ESPN).
9 Xavier A10 #1 Probably in
24-6 RPI: 20 SOS: 55 R/N: 10-5 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 starts the conference tournament against UMass or Dayton (Friday Noon ET, FS Ohio/CSS) and doesn’t get much better in the semis, with Duquesne the best opponent possible (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS CS). In terms of seeding, knocking off Temple again in the final would be the coup de grace.
9 Arizona PAC #1 Probably in
25-6 RPI: 15 SOS: 47 R/N: 8-6 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 2 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. They avoided disaster against the Oregon schools, but now they have to avoid disaster again in the Pac-10 quarters against Stanford or Oregon State (Thursday 5:30pm ET, FSN).
9 UCLA PAC #2 Probably in
22-9 RPI: 32 SOS: 40 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 3-6 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 that a potential rematch with the Huskies in the semifinals (Friday 11:30pm ET, FSN) would stand in the way of them and a rubber match with Arizona. First, of course, they have to take care of Oregon or Arizona State (Thursday 9pm ET, FSN).

9 Temple A10 #2 Probably in
24-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 102 R/N: 10-6 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
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. A quarterfinal date with St. Bonaventure or LaSalle (Friday 6:30pm ET, CSN) is dangerous indeed.
10 Michigan B10 #6 Barely in
18-12 RPI: 56 SOS: 18 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 9-11 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 5
Michigan lacks very much in the way of bad losses, the sweep of Penn State is an impressive pelt, and they just beat Minnesota on the road and completed a sweep of Michigan State. The Wolverines have a very strong case to make the Dance, have a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and can pick up another huge pelt against Illinois (Friday 2pm ET, ESPN).
10 Florida State ACC #3 Barely in
21-9 RPI: 45 SOS: 81 R/N: 9-6 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 6-8 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
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. Can they improve their resume against what’s likely to be Virginia Tech (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN2)?
10 Marshall USA #1 Barely in
18-10 RPI: 49 SOS: 66 R/N: 7-7 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 6-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:9
I have to imagine Marshall isn’t getting buzz on the bubble because a) people are blinded by how far down the conference stadings they are (and the Florida-like collection of awful losses doesn’t help) and b) people are down on Conference USA in general. But 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. They start their conference tournament run Wednesday against Houston (7:30pm ET) with a rematch against UTEP looming (Thursday 7:30pm ET, CBS CS).
10 George Mason CAA #2 Barely in
26-6 RPI: 26 SOS: 91 R/N: 12-6 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 8-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
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. But 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). Losing to VCU – before the conference tournament final against Old Dominion – cannot be a good sign, despite what some other people may think about this team.
11 Washington PAC #3 Barely in
20-10 RPI: 46 SOS: 52 R/N: 6-8 OOC: 9-3 RPI T100: 6-7 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
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 recent home losses to Washington State and USC. 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, starting with a dangerous game against Washington State (Thursday 11:30pm ET, FSN).
11 Penn State B10 #7 Barely in
16-13 RPI: 55 SOS: 6 R/N: 3-8 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 9-12 Wv≥: 5 Lv≤: 6
I’m starting to get down on Penn State and their bad losses as time goes on. But I’m also not discounting the importance of beating admittedly-reeling Minnesota on the road, a very necessary road pelt. Winning some road games against non-bubble teams 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, starting with Indiana (Thursday 7:30pm ET, BTN) as a prep for a showdown with Wisconsin (Friday 9pm ET, BTN).
11 Miami (FL) ACC #4 Barely in
18-13 RPI: 72 SOS: 48 R/N: 7-9 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 5-10 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 10
Losing to Georgia Tech does not back me up when I back the Canes. Still, 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, though I’m losing my patience with it. Take notice should the ‘Canes beat Virginia in the first conference tournament game (Thursday Noon ET, ACC Network); luckily it’s UNC, not Duke, after that (Friday Noon ET, ESPN2/ACC Network).
11f Minnesota B10 #8 Barely in
17-13 RPI: 73 SOS: 32 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 11-1 RPI T100: 5-11 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
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. Their chances are on life support after continuing the losing to Penn State. 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 after a rematch with Northwestern, one of the teams that have beaten them in this streak (Thursday 2:30pm ET, ESPN2) comes a quarterfinal date with Ohio State (Friday Noon ET, ESPN).
11f Memphis USA #2 Barely in
22-9 RPI: 38 SOS: 56 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 9-6 Wv≥: 5 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, and they’ll get a challenge right off the bat, with Southern Miss likely in the quarters (Thursday 3:30pm ET, CBS CS).
12f UAB USA #3 Barely in
22-7 RPI: 28 SOS: 70 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 8-6 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 6
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. I can’t quite put them ahead of a team that swept them, but win the conference tournament, and I might even end up putting you ahead of Marshall. Your road could start with UCF (Thursday 1pm ET, CBS CS).
12f Oklahoma State B12 #6 Barely in
18-12 RPI: 66 SOS: 44 R/N: 4-10 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 6-10 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 7
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, and they collapsed a little down the stretch. With a few more wins over good opponents, the Cowboys could have a quite strong case for giving the Big 12 six bids, but a road loss to Oklahoma isn’t the way to end the regular season. They will have a very uphill climb in the Big 12 Tournament; they get a first-round date with Nebraska (Wednesday 12:30pm ET, Big 12 Network) and if they survive that, they get a second-round date with Kansas (Thursday 12:30pm ET, ESPN2).
Nebraska B12 #7 Barely out
19-11 RPI: 79 SOS: 65 R/N: 2-9 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 7-8 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 5
Weird week for Nebraska: lose to Iowa State on the road, beat Missouri at home, lose the road rematch to Colorado. 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? 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, but they get Oklahoma State right off the bat (Wednesday 12:30pm ET, Big 12 Network) and then have to stare down Kansas (Thursday 12:30pm ET, ESPN2).
Central Florida USA #4 Barely out
18-10 RPI: 62 SOS: 49 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 12-0 RPI T100: 7-6 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 home wins over Marshall and Southern Miss, which could be a warning shot to the rest of the conference. On the other hand, the road loss to Marshall shows what the problem is here. 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 has a must-win against East Carolina (Wednesday 1pm ET), but UAB (Thursday 1pm ET, CBS CS) could give UCF a 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
27-3 RPI: 17 SOS: 122 R/N: 11-3 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.
Boston College ACC #5 Barely out
19-11 RPI: 44 SOS: 28 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. Now that Old Dominion and Gonzaga have locked down auto bids, then, all BCS-conference bubblers really have to worry about in terms of conference tournament upsets beyond their control screwing their Dance plans is Conference USA. 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. They’re moving into more legit contention, though, if only because they didn’t lose over the weekend and get an upon-further-review benefit over Clemson. 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.
Colorado State MWC #4 Barely out
18-11 RPI: 43 SOS: 33 R/N: 9-7 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 4-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Did Colorado State squander their last remaining at-large hopes by losing to San Diego State? It capped a string of down-the-stretch disappointments after losing to Air Force on the road, the home rematch with UNLV, and the road trip to BYU. Their last hope may be to knock off New Mexico (Thursday 5:30pm ET, mtn.) and BYU (Friday 9pm ET, CBS CS).