Bears veering away from NCAA bubble
Baylor appears to be back on the right side of the bubble after a strong run over the past two weeks.
Coming off a difficult stretch that had the Bears teetering away from an NCAA tournament bid, they put themselves back in the conversation with a four-game winning streak capped by Saturday's decisive road victory over West Virginia.
''We've got to keep working hard to get to the tournament,'' said Baylor's Royce O'Neal, who scored a season-high 22 points against the Mountaineers. ''But this means a lot against a good team that had been playing well.''
It's certainly a good step for a team that had been reeling.
Baylor opened the season 13-2, its only losses to Syracuse and Iowa State.
After that, the Bears went into a near freefall, losing eight of their next 10 games to go from what seemed to be an NCAA tournament lock to a team needing a strong push at the end of the season.
Baylor started the stretch run with a dominating win over TCU, then padded its resume with victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
The win over West Virginia put the Bears at 18-9 overall and 6-8, with an RPI of 40.
There's still work to do and the final four games of the regular season won't be gimmes, but Baylor is in much better position than it was just two weeks ago.
Here's a look at some of the other teams that rose and fell from the NCAA tournament bubble over the past week:
SMU. The Mustangs, as you might recall, were among the teams teetering on the bubble last week. They moved a few steps away from it with a pair of victories last week. SMU took care of business with a win over Houston, then strengthened its NCAA credentials by knocking off No. 21 Connecticut in Storrs. That moved the Mustangs to 22-6 and back into The Associated Press poll at No. 23.
BYU. A road loss to Pacific could have put a dent in the Cougars' NCAA chances. Three straight wins, including Thursday night's 73-65 shutdown of No. 25 Gonzaga has them looking pretty good now. BYU (19-10, 11-5 WCC) has a solid RPI of 33 and one of the nation's toughest schedules, with five of its 10 losses to teams that were ranked at the time.
Stanford. Already peeling away from the bubble, the Cardinal picked up a massive victory over the weekend, knocking off No. 23 UCLA at home. Stanford is 18-8 overall, 9-5 in the strong Pac-12 and an RPI of 39. Barring a late-season meltdown, the Cardinal appear to be in good shape.
Dayton. Archie Miller's Flyers were one of college basketball's surprises early in the season, earning them a spot in The AP poll (at No. 25) for the first time since 2009. A string of five losses in six games hurt Dayton's NCAA chances, but the Flyers (19-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10) have gotten back on track at the right time, heading into Tuesday night's game against Saint Joseph's on a six-game winning streak.
Mississippi. The Rebels had a big opportunity to solidify their NCAA resume last week and came up short with losses to Kentucky and Florida. Ole Miss is 16-11, has lost four straight and six of eight, and an RPI of 80, so it's likely going to take a big push to get into the Big Dance.
Minnesota. Two solid wins over Indiana and Northwestern put the Gophers back into the NCAA tournament conversation. A pair of lopsided losses to Illinois and Ohio State last week have them sliding off the bubble. Minnesota (17-11) has lost six of eight and, at 6-9 in the Big Ten, may need a strong run in the conference tournament to get into the bracket.
Xavier. The Musketeers (18-9) had been one of the Big East's leading bubble contenders, but a lopsided loss to fellow bubbler Georgetown could hurt their chances. Xavier did beat Cincinnati earlier in the season, but most of its good wins were against teams scrapping for at-large spots as well. The Musketeers could use a win over Creighton on Saturday or Villanova in its season finale to make a better case.
Tennessee. Texas A&M could be the Vols' ticket out of the dance. Tennessee has played one of the nation's toughest schedules and has some decent wins, but a season sweep by the 118th-in-the-RPI Aggies could hurt when Selection Sunday rolls around. The Vols' overtime loss to Texas A&M on Saturday was their third in four games and they'll need to finish the regular season strong and maybe make a run in the SEC to get into the field.