Bubble watch: Selection Sunday nears
Updated Feb. 10
With one month to go before Selection Sunday, a first look at how the field is shaping up for the NCAA tournament:
On The Bubble (3): Miami, North Carolina State, Maryland.
Miami (15-7 overall, 6-3 conference, RPI 35, SOS 40): Beating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Sunday was a huge boost to the Hurricanes, who have now won five of their last six. There’s still work to do, but the committee will have to consider that big man Reggie Johnson missed the first half of the season with injuries.
N.C. State (18-7 overall, 7-3 conference, RPI 50, SOS 52): This has been a really solid first season for Mark Gottfried, but the Wolfpack’s best win came against Miami, and that’s kind of a problem. They really need to score a home win against Florida State on Feb. 18 or North Carolina on Feb. 21.
Maryland (14-9 overall, 4-5 conference, RPI 97, SOS 63): The Terrapins are 1-8 against the RPI top 50 and 3-9 against the top 100. It’s not looking good, but they’ve still got Virginia twice, Miami at home and both Duke and North Carolina on the road, so there’s a chance something good could happen.
Purdue (15-9 overall, 5-6 conference, RPI 61, SOS 35) has lost four out of five and hasn't beaten any of the top teams in the league. The next four are crucial: Northwestern at home, at Illinois and home games against Michigan State and Nebraska. Probably need three to stay in the conversation.
Illinois (16-8 overall, 5-6 conference, RPI 45, SOS 18). The reeling Illini have lost five of six and now play three of the next four on the road, including trips to Michigan and Ohio State. Despite home wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, Illinois is not secure at all and needs to close strong to stay in the field.
Minnesota (17-8 overall, 5-7 conference, RPI 63 SOS 57). The Gophers blew a huge chance to solidify their profile Thursday, losing at home to Wisconsin in overtime. But they get Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana all at home over the next two weeks, and they simply can’t afford to lose all three. The Gophers’ weak non-conference schedule is a legitimate knock.
Northwestern (15-8 overall, 5-6 conference, RPI 37 SOS 12). Northwestern has no bad losses, and that may be enough to get the first NCAA bid in program history. If the Wildcats can get a road split of their next two – at Purdue and Indiana – they’ll be in pretty good shape.
Iowa State (17-7 overall, 7-4 conference, RPI 44, SOS 59). The Cyclones are just 4-5 against the RPI top 100, but the Jan. 28 win over Kansas is enough to get them in as of today. They can’t really afford any more bad losses. The closing stretch – at Kansas State, at Missouri and home against Baylor – will be a boom-or-bust opportunity.
Kansas State (17-6 overall, 6-5 conference, RPI 49, SOS 83). The Wildcats would be a lock if not for the fact they got swept by Oklahoma. Winning the next two – at Texas and home against Kansas – would pretty much get them there.
Texas (15-9 overall, 5-6 conference, RPI 54 SOS 20): The Longhorns are just 2-8 against RPI top 100 teams, so they’re on the outside right now. They really need to make something happen, and beating Baylor at home on Feb. 20 could be a must-win scenario.
Locks (4): Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville.
Notre Dame (16-8 overall, 8-3 conference, RPI 43, SOS 29): Remarkably, after a 5-4 start, the Irish are getting close to lock status. They’ve already gone through the toughest part of their schedule and unless they hit an unlikely tailspin, they’ll cruise into Selection Sunday.
Cincinnati (17-7 overall, 7-4 conference, RPI 93, SOS 130): Again, Mick Cronin’s weak nonconference schedule is an issue. Cincinnati has three losses to teams outside the RPI top 100, and will need to close strong like it did last season to get into the field. The remaining Big East schedule provides some opportunities to do just that.
West Virginia (16-9 overall, 6-6 conference, RPI 34 SOS 5): The Mountaineers need to start worrying a little, despite a solid nine wins over RPI top 100 teams. Recent home losses to Pitt and Notre Dame indicate a downward trend, and West Virginia’s next four are all tough games. They need to win one or two to stem the tide.
UConn (15-8 overall, 5-6 conference, RPI 24 SOS 3): This has been an ugly stretch of basketball for the Huskies, losing five of six. They’d get in if the season ended today, but the question is whether they can get back on track. There’s only one more gimme on the schedule – a Feb. 15 home game against DePaul – and they need more than that to stay in the field.
Seton Hall (16-8 overall, 5-7 conference, RPI 33, SOS 17): Winning at Rutgers on Wednesday stopped a six-game skid. The schedule now turns much more favorable down the stretch, but Seton Hall may need to win their four remaining home games and pick off DePaul on the road to feel good about where they stand going into Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament.
Locks (4): Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt.
On the bubble (2): Alabama, Ole Miss.
Alabama (16-7 overall, 5-4 conference, RPI 29, SOS 21): The Crimson Tide has just one top 50 RPI win, way back on Nov. 18 against Wichita State. The overall profile is solid enough to put them in, but the next five are all pretty challenging. Alabama needs to get to the other side of this stretch without getting beat up too bad.
Ole Miss (14-9 overall, 4-5 conference, RPI 53, SOS 42): The bubble is weak enough that Ole Miss is still hanging onto its NCAA hopes by a thread. There are two more chances for marquee home wins against Vanderbilt and Alabama, and the Rebels really need to take advantage. At this point, there are a lot more reasons to keep them out than put them in.
Locks (2): San Diego State, UNLV.
New Mexico (18-4 overall, 5-2 conference, RPI 42, SOS 113): The record is gaudy, but there’s no heft to this resume, the best wins coming at home against Colorado State and Saint Louis. The Feb. 18 showdown against UNLV at The Pit is almost in the must-win category.
Colorado State (14-7 overall, 4-3 conference, RPI 27, SOS 10): The computers really like Colorado State, but the actual resume is uninspiring. The Rams have solid wins over San Diego State and Colorado, but not much else. Their margin for error at this point is pretty slim.
Wyoming (16-5 overall, 4-3 conference, RPI 67, SOS 132): The Cowboys are worthy of a look, but they’re on the road at New Mexico, Colorado State and San Diego State over their next four. Lose all three, and their best chance is probably gone.
California (19-6 overall, 9-3 conference, RPI 47, SOS 92): This is probably the best team in the Pac-12, but the Bears have no top-50 wins, which pretty much sums up the league right now. If they win the regular season championship, they’ll probably get in.
Arizona (17-8 overall, 8-4 conference, RPI 57, SOS 62): Nothing about Arizona’s resume indicates they’ll get in, but they’ve played better of late and can win the conference, which would probably get them into the field, albeit controversially.
Washington (16-8 overall, 9-3 conference, RPI 76, SOS 76): The most talented team in the Pac-12, the Huskies got blistered at Oregon on Thursday, 82-57. With no top-50 wins, they’re all but out of the conversation. They just have to try to win the regular season title outright and hope that’s enough.
Locks (2): Wichita State, Creighton.
On the bubble: None.
Locks (1): Temple.
On the bubble (3): Saint Louis, Xavier, Dayton.
Saint Louis (18-5 overall, 7-3 conference, RPI 30, SOS 79): The biggest knock on the Billikens is a 1-2 record against the RPI top 50, though they have some solid out-of-conference wins against the likes of Washington, Oklahoma and Villanova. If they can avoid a bad loss, they’ll be fine.
Xavier (16-8 overall, 7-3 conference, RPI 59, SOS 65): It’s hard to believe Xavier is on the bubble after reaching the top 10 early in the season, but the Muskateers are just 7-5 in their last 12. Road games at Saint Louis and Temple can either catapult this team back into the field or provide the committee enough reason to keep them out. Right now, this teams is teetering.
Dayton (14-9 overall, 4-5 conference, RPI 78, SOS 39): This is a strange team. The Flyers have wins over Minnesota, Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier but also some horrific losses. If they can close strong, they can get back into the picture, but right now they’re on the outside looking in.
Locks (2): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga.
On the bubble(1): BYU.
BYU (18-6 overall, 8-3 conference, RPI 39, SOS 73): Beating Gonzaga at home was huge, but it’s the Cougars’ only top-50 win, and their non-conference slate was nothing to write home about. Even if they only lose one more game – at Gonzaga on Feb. 23 – it’s going to be a really close call.
On the bubble (2): Memphis, Southern Miss.
Memphis (17-7 overall, 7-2 conference, RPI 18, SOS 8): The Tigers’ brutal non-conference schedule has them solidly in the field, but they still don’t have a huge margin for error. They need to keep winning, especially in this stretch where they face four opponents they should absolutely beat.
Southern Miss (18-4 overall, 7-2 conference, RPI 11, SOS 49): The RPI is a bit inflated – the best wins are at home against Memphis and at Colorado State – but this is a solid team. Like Memphis, the Golden Eagles need to avoid bad losses and they should be fine heading into the conference tournament.
Murray State (20-1 overall, 11-1 conference, RPI 52, SOS 266): The Racers’ undefeated run came to an end at home against Tennessee State. They host St. Mary’s in the Bracketbuster on Feb. 18, which could provide some breathing room. But lose that one and drop another regular season game, and suddenly it gets very dicey. Murray State isn’t safe yet by a longshot.
Nevada (18-4 overall, 9-1 conference, RPI 60, SOS 142): It’s going to be tough to justify an at-large, given the lack of schedule strength, but the record is impressive. A win in the Feb. 18 Bracketbuster game at Iona would be a big help.
Harvard (20-2 overall, 6-0 conference, RPI 38, SOS 210): The Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament, so the question is whether Harvard can win its automatic bid with the outright regular season title. If not – the Crimson lost in a one-game playoff to Princeton last year and settled for the NIT – it will be interesting to see how the committee handles them.
Long Beach State (18-6 overall, 11-0 conference, RPI 35, SOS 98): This team's two big non-conference wins -- Xavier and Pittsburgh -- have lost steam in recent weeks. That's going to make it tough coming out of the Big West unless they can pop a win at Creighton in the Bracketbuster game. Still, it's hard to fault this quality team for taking care of business, and the RPI looks pretty good at the moment. The 49ers should win their conference tournament, but if not it's going to be a close call.
Middle Tennessee (22-4 overall, 11-1 conference, RPI 41, SOS 152): This is a really good team, but it might need to win the Sun Belt tournament to get in despite solid non-league wins over Akron, Ole Miss, Belmont and at UCLA. The Blue Raiders probably need to sweep the rest of the regular season and get to the finals of the tournament to have any at-large hope.