Bubble Watch: Illini fading fast
An updated look at how the field for the NCAA tournament is shaping up, with Selection Sunday fast approaching:
Locks (4): Duke, North Carolina, Florida State.
Bubble (3): Miami, N.C. State, Virginia.
Virginia (20-6 overall, 7-5 conference, RPI 42, SOS 102): It’s time to drop the Cavaliers from lock status to bubble territory after a decisive road loss at Clemson on Tuesday. They’ve still got some good non-conference wins in the bank (Michigan, at LSU, at Oregon, Drexel), but the stage is set for a big slide. Virginia heads into four straight games they could easily lose. Hold on tight.
Miami (16-9 overall, 7-5 conference, RPI 45, SOS 24): The Hurricanes didn’t get the home win over North Carolina that would have really solidified their case, so it’ll be touch-and-go from here on out. Hanging on won’t be good enough; Miami needs to play its way in, and the remaining schedule is a good balance of easy wins (Boston College) and opportunities (Florida State, at N.C. State).
N.C. State (18-9 overall, 7-5 conference, RPI 51, SOS 41): The Wolfpack had Duke on the ropes in Cameron, up 20 with fewer than 12 minutes left. But they couldn’t close out the resume-making win, so now they really need to bounce back quick and beat North Carolina on Tuesday at home.
Locks (5): Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana.
On the Bubble (4): Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota.
Purdue (17-10 overall, 7-7 conference, RPI 47, SOS 31): Things are starting to look better for Purdue, which has four top-50 wins and season sweeps of Illinois and Northwestern, who are both on the bubble themselves. But the Boilermakers blew a chance to really shore up their profile when they lost to Michigan State on Sunday.
Illinois (16-11 overall, 5-9 conference, RPI 57, SOS 22): There was a lot of resignation in the voice of coach Bruce Weber following Wednesday’s home loss to Purdue — not just about this season, which is slipping away quickly, but his tenure at Illinois as well. The Illini have lost eight of nine at exactly the wrong time, and now it seems like it would take a monster finish to get into the tournament.
Minnesota (17-10 overall, 5-9 conference, RPI 66 SOS 55): There’s really not much to the Gophers’ profile outside of the road win at Indiana and a home win over Michigan. They need more scalps, and they’re running out of opportunities. Unless Minnesota can win its next two, at home for Michigan State and Indiana, it’s going to be hard to stay in the mix.
Northwestern (16-10 overall, 6-8 conference, RPI 44 SOS 9): This week didn’t do any good for Northwestern’s chances of making the NCAAs for the first time in school history. Losing on the road to Purdue and Indiana isn’t awful, but they need wins with some teeth. Beating Minnesota on Saturday was a start, and beating Michigan at home is almost a requirement at this point.
Locks (3): Kansas, Missouri, Baylor.
On the bubble (3): Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas.
Iowa State (19-8 overall, 9-5 conference, RPI 39, SOS 49): Monday’s decisive loss at Baylor leaves Iowa State in the danger zone, but as of today the Cyclones are barely on the right side of the bubble. They should win their next game at home against Big 12 bottom feeder Texas Tech before a telling stretch run that takes them to Kansas State and Missouri, then back home for a rematch against Baylor.
Kansas State (18-8 overall, 7-7 conference, RPI 64, SOS 69): The past week did major damage to K-State’s hopes of an at-large bid. After losing at Texas on Saturday, the Wildcats lost at home Monday to rival Kansas. They edged Baylor on the road, but now travel to Missouri. Never count out a Frank Martin-coached team, but they need at least a 9-9 record to be in play for a bid. Do the math.
Texas (17-10 overall, 7-7 conference, RPI 40 SOS 20): They’re not out of the woods yet, blowing a chance to solidify their bid with Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State. If they can win at Texas Tech and at home over Baylor on Feb. 20, they’ll have a shot.
Locks (4): Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville.
On the bubble (6): Notre Dame, Cincinnati, West Virginia, UConn, Seton Hall, South Florida.
Notre Dame (19-8 overall, 11-3 conference, RPI 38, SOS 34): Now guaranteed an above-.500 conference record, the Irish are close to locking in a bid. After Saturday’s road win at Villanova, their resume is pretty much foolproof.
Cincinnati (19-8 overall, 9-5 conference, RPI 93, SOS 130): Cincy is an odd case. The Bearcats have some good wins (at Georgetown, at UConn, Notre Dame, at Pitt) and have played a lot of very good opponents. But the computers aren’t impressed. The RPI and SOS being dragged down by nine games against teams ranked 200 or worse, including an inexplicable Nov. 19 loss to Presbyterian. The schedule actually sets up well for a strong close, but for now the numbers don’t do justice to just how good their resume is.
West Virginia (17-10 overall, 7-7 conference, RPI 34 SOS 6): It’s hard to imagine a team needing a win more this week than the Mountaineers, and they got it Thursday on the road at rival Pittsburgh. That stopped a streak of five losses in six games and puts West Virginia in a much better position down the stretch. It’s still going to be tough, with a road trip to Notre Dame on Wednesday and Marquette at home next Friday, but at least the Mountaineers have a chance to improve on their 3-7 record against the RPI top 50.
UConn (16-10 overall, 6-8 conference, RPI 21 SOS 2): The Huskies were competitive for a while at Syracuse last weekend, but ended up with an 18-point loss, their sixth in seven games. UConn took care of DePaul on Wednesday to rebound a bit, but the more telling game was Saturday’s home loss to Marquette.
Seton Hall (18-9 overall, 7-8 conference, RPI 29, SOS 32): Credit Seton Hall for hanging in there after a six-game losing streak and winning three straight, including a 30-point pasting of St. John’s. The home stretch is pretty favorable. A 9-9 conference record might be just enough to seal the deal.
South Florida (17-10 overall, 10-4 conference, RPI 55, SOS 38): Maybe it’s time to take a second look at South Florida. Granted, the Bulls are just 14-10 against the RPI top 200, and they’ve feasted on Big East bottom feeders to get to 10-4 in the league. But South Florida has some chances down the stretch to pick off a couple good wins, and while other bubble teams are struggling to make their case, they could be in the conversation going into Madison Square Garden.
Locks (3): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt.
On the bubble (4): Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU.
Mississippi State (19-8 overall, 6-6 conference, RPI 49, SOS 67): Talk about a program that can’t stand prosperity. Just when you thought this was shaping up to be a rare year for the Bulldogs, who are usually sweating on Selection Sunday, they lose at home to Georgia and at LSU and Auburn to pull them back toward the bubble. When you take a closer look, this profile can’t afford more bad losses.
Alabama (17-9 overall, 6-6 conference, RPI 37, SOS 17): Tuesday’s home loss to Florida didn’t flatter Alabama, which still is missing two key members of its frontcourt in Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green due to suspensions. This is starting to look like an implosion in Tuscaloosa; Saturday’s home win against Tennessee was a must-win.
Arkansas (17-10 overall, 5-7 conference, RPI 67, SOS 77): It’s almost impossible to take the Razorbacks seriously, as they’re 0-9 away from Bud Walton Arena and were undefeated at home before getting routed by No. 14 Florida on Saturday. They pretty much need to run the table, or they’ll be looking at the NIT.
LSU (16-10 overall, 6-6 conference, RPI 68, SOS 42): With Ole Miss falling out of the Bubble Watch, there’s suddenly room for LSU, which scored back-to-back home wins over Alabama and Mississippi State. It’s still unlikely — the Tigers are 10-10 against the RPI top 200 — but they’ve got a favorable schedule down the stretch and a non-conference win over Marquette in the bank.
Locks (2): San Diego State, UNLV.
On the bubble (3): New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State.
New Mexico (22-4 overall, 8-2 conference, RPI 30, SOS 98): Nobody helped their case this week more than New Mexico, winning 77-67 at San Diego State and 65-45 at UNLV. That put the Lobos in first place in the league and pretty much locks them into the NCAA tournament, provided they don’t suffer multiple bad losses.
Colorado State (16-9 overall, 5-5 conference, RPI 33, SOS 16): The computer numbers still look good, but that’s misleading. The Rams are almost certainly NIT-bound after consecutive road losses to TCU and Boise State. They basically have to win out, which would mean beating all three of the league’s top teams down the stretch. Not impossible, but a huge longshot.
Wyoming (18-8 overall, 4-6 conference, RPI 83, SOS 121): Losing at home to Air Force on Wednesday puts the Cowboys on the ropes. Saturday’s loss at Colorado State basically busts the bubble entirely.
Bubble (3): California, Arizona, Washington.
California (22-6 overall, 12-3 conference, RPI 31, SOS 80): Cal got a nice win Thursday night over Oregon, and though there’s still a huge problem with no marquee wins, a Pac-12 regular season title would probably be enough to get an at-large bid. The Bears are still on track for that.
Arizona (19-9 overall, 10-5 conference, RPI 59, SOS 88): Another Pac-12 team with no good non-conference wins, the Wildcats won five straight in the league to get in the conversation. But they blew a chance for a big boost with Saturday’s loss at Washington.
Washington (19-8 overall, 12-3 conference, RPI 60, SOS 73): Arizona probably has the edge in overall profile, especially since the Huskies are just 4-8 against the RPI top 100. However, Washington secured a season sweep over the Wildcats on Saturday, which might carry some weight in an either/or scenario.
Locks (2): Wichita State, Creighton.
On the bubble: None.
Locks (1): Temple.
On the bubble (3): Saint Louis, Xavier, Dayton.
Saint Louis (22-5 overall, 10-3 conference, RPI 22, SOS 70): It’s going to be really hard to keep the Billikens out, barring a total meltdown. In fact, given the favorable closing schedule, it’s more likely they’ll win out heading into the conference tournament.
Xavier (17-9 overall, 8-4 conference, RPI 56, SOS 53): It’s starting to fall apart for Xavier, which got pummeled at Temple, 85-72 on Feb. 11 in a game that wasn’t as close at the final score. Despite getting an absolute must-win at home Saturday against Dayton, they’re probably out.
Dayton (16-10 overall, 6-6 conference, RPI 69, SOS 48): This is a strange team. The Flyers have wins over Minnesota, Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier, but also some horrific losses. It’s hard to say what they have to do at this point, but losing at Xavier on Saturday was huge.
Locks (2): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga.
On the bubble (1): BYU.
BYU (23-6 overall, 11-3 conference, RPI 43, SOS 89): Life in the WCC isn’t easy — one or two bad road losses, and you’re in trouble. The Cougars avoided that fate — barely — with an 85-84 win at San Francisco on Thursday. Then they dodged another bullet at Santa Clara, so the Cougars should be in pretty good shape going into the conference tournament.
On the bubble (2): Memphis, Southern Miss.
Memphis (19-8 overall, 9-3 conference, RPI 18, SOS 12): The Tigers quietly were playing well, but their early-season struggles against a tough non-conference schedule put them in a delicate spot, as did Saturday’s loss to UTEP. Outside of perhaps a road trip to Marshall, the remaining games are in the "should win" category, so the key to getting in will be avoiding another bad loss.
Southern Miss (22-5 overall, 9-3 conference, RPI 10, SOS 35): Neil Watson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer Wednesday was a huge save for the Golden Eagles, who went on to defeat Tulsa at home in overtime. The schedule the rest of the way looked quite easy outside of the March 3 road trip to Marshall … until they stumbled Saturday against Houston. Falling asleep at the wheel like that should make them nervous going into the conference tournament.
Murray State (26-1 overall, 13-1 conference, RPI 46, SOS 242): The Racers’ undefeated run came to an end at home against Tennessee State. They beat Saint Mary’s in the Bracketbuster on Saturday, which could provide some breathing room. But drop another regular season game and suddenly it gets very dicey. Perhaps surprising to some, Murray State isn’t safe yet.
Nevada (22-5 overall, 10-1 conference, RPI 56, SOS 161): It’s going to be tough to justify an at-large, given the lack of schedule strength, but the record is impressive. Saturday’s Bracketbuster loss at Iona would have been a big help. Their best win all season came against Washington in November.
Harvard (23-3 overall, 9-1 conference, RPI 35, SOS 186): The Crimson suffered their first Ivy loss on Feb. 11 at Princeton, but they still lead the conference and host No. 2 Penn coming down the stretch. Barring a huge surprise, they won’t need an at-large and will wrap up the automatic bid that comes with the Ivy’s regular season championship.
Middle Tennessee (24-4 overall, 13-1 conference, RPI 36, SOS 144): 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.
Long Beach State (19-7 overall, 12-0 conference, RPI 41, SOS 125): 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. Still, it’s hard to fault this quality team for taking care of business, and the RPI looks pretty good at the moment. They should win their conference tournament, but if not, it’s going to be a close call.
Drexel (23-5 overall, 14-2 conference, RPI 88, SOS 278): The Dragons have won 14 straight in the Colonial and appear poised to win the regular season title over George Mason and VCU. If they can do that, they’ll have to be considered for an at-large bid. However, lack of good non-conference wins stands out, and it’s quite possible the Colonial will be a one-bid league this year.
Davidson (20-7 overall, 14-2 conference, RPI 70, SOS 178): The Wildcats are on the fringe of the bubble discussion, but they blew it by failing to knock off Wichita State at home in the Bracketbuster game this weekend. Still, they beat Kansas in Kansas City on Dec. 19.