The Cincinnati Bearcats, currently ranked No. 7 and winners of 15 straight, are going to the NCAA tournament. Even though it didn’t seem certain a week ago, Ohio State will be back in the tournament, too.
How many other Buckeye State teams will join them in the field remains to be seen.
Heading into this weekend’s games, there’s a team in Ohio at No. 46 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI, one criterion the committee uses to evaluate and seed teams) and No. 35 in strength of schedule with a top 20 win on its resume.
There’s another team in Ohio at No. 61 in RPI and No. 67 in strength of schedule with a top 25 RPI win and two more in the top 60. Like the team at No. 46, it enters the weekend with 15 wins.
There’s another team in Ohio that’s done enough winning to garner a top 30 RPI — No. 29 to be exact — but that team has a low strength of schedule (124) that won’t get much better and won’t leave it much margin for error.
There’s a little more than a month left in the regular season, meaning there’s still plenty of proving to do.
The first team mentioned above — the one at 46 in the RPI with the 35th toughest schedule to this point — is Xavier, which has a very strong NCAA tournament case but is currently on a three-game losing streak heading into a Saturday revenge game vs. new Big East rival Providence.
Xavier only has a couple bad losses (Seton Hall, USC) and has a marquee win over Cincinnati, but the Musketeers still have five Big East games against RPI top 60 teams in the regular season. A win over Creighton or Villanova, both of which visit the Cintas Center in early March, would do wonders for Xavier’s resume.
At 61 in the RPI is Dayton, which garnered national attention early by beating Gonzaga and Cal at the Maui Invitational. The Flyers have been sliding, though — in a stretch from the second week of January to Feb. 1, the Flyers lost five of six games.
Dayton is just 3-5 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and that’s not good enough. The Flyers don’t have much margin for error. The Atlantic 10 is going to get at least three bids and possibly as many as five, but Dayton enters the weekend in eighth place with a 3-5 conference mark.
Dayton’s final three regular-season games, vs. UMass, at Saint Louis and vs. Richmond, will be very big for Dayton’s potential at-large chances.
In the updated RPI, Cincinnati is No. 14 and Ohio State is No. 17. At 29 is Toledo, which enters the weekend at 18-3. One loss is at Kansas and the other two are on the road in Mid-American Conference play.
The MAC hasn’t been a two-bid league since 1999, but Toledo’s hot start has opened the possibility of that changing. If Toledo loses just once more in the regular season then doesn’t win the MAC’s automatic bid, the Rockets would probably be very much in the mix for an at-large bid. The strength of schedule would work against Toledo, but RPI and a record of something of in the neighborhood of 26-5 would be in Toledo’s favor.
Toledo has a chance to gain a measure of revenge — and RPI help — next week against No. 75 Ohio, and if Cleveland State (96) and Akron (99) can keep winning, that will help Toledo’s case, too. The season-ending MAC tournament shapes up as deeper and more competitive than it has been in recent years, with Akron, Ohio and Buffalo being good enough to legitimately think they can win the league’s automatic bid and Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Kent State competitive enough to upset anyone in the field.
Toledo knows it won’t be guaranteed anything if it doesn’t win the automatic bid, but that won’t keep Rockets fans from watching the RPI should their team keep winning. The last four at-large teams in last year’s NCAA tournament field had RPIs of 28 (Middle Tennessee), 30 (Saint Mary’s), 40 (LaSalle) and 44 (Boise State). None were from the so-called power conferences.
The Horizon is almost certainly going to be a one-bid league. Cleveland State has won five straight heading into a big Saturday game at Wright State, and the balance in that league says that though Wisconsin Green-Bay (16-4, No. 63 in RPI) is the current leader and favorite, the conference tournament will be wide open.