NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: February 22nd

At this point in the season, I would hope to be paring down this list, but that isn’t exactly happening.

Sure, a few teams have moved off of the bubble, but the remaining bubble squads are essentially coming back to the pack, which has a few new names in this week’s Bubble Watch.

shaka-smart-vcu

Last year's Tournament darlings are on the bubble. Can Shaka Smart and VCU find their way into this year's tournament?

Just in case this isn’t enough to tide you over until March Madness 2012, you can always check out my latest power rankings and bracket projections.

ACC

Miami (16-10, RPI: 49)

Even after Tuesday’s disappointing loss at Maryland, the Canes still haven’t lost to a team outside of the Top 100.  However, they have now dropped three of their last four, and they have just one win against teams in the Top 75.  That makes Miami’s next two games against Florida State and North Carolina State absolute must-wins for a profile with very little meat on it.  The committee will consider the fact that four of their losses came without Reggie Johnson and DeQuan Jones, but at some point the Canes have to prove they can regularly beat quality opponents.

North Carolina State (18-10, RPI: 63)

You can pretty much stick a fork in the Wolfpack after they came up empty in games against Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina.  They blew a 20-point lead against the Blue Devils and weren’t particularly competitive in the other two games, losing by a combined 26 points.   Their last three games come at Clemson, home against Miami, and at Virginia Tech, and while winning out would give them a sweep over the aforementioned Canes, that won’t be enough.  As it stands, N.C. State has no wins against teams comfortably in the tournament, which means they will need a run to the ACC Championship Game to have a chance.

Atlantic 10

Dayton (16-10, RPI: 75)

The Flyers took care of business at home against Charlotte but missed a golden opportunity in an overtime loss to Xavier.  Dayton still boasts an impressive seven Top 100 wins, but losses to Miami (OH) and Rhode Island are dubious at best.  Three of the games left on the schedule are ones the Flyers can’t afford to lose, and the fourth is a home game against UMass that would give them another Top 100 win.  Consequently, Dayton needs to win out and avoid an early round loss in the A-10 tournament.

La Salle (18-9, RPI: 73)

Saturday’s win at UMass keeps the Explorers alive with four games left, but Wednesday’s home date with Temple is a make-or-break proposition.  If they can win that one, an 11-5 league record is a distinct possibility.  As it stands, La Salle has no Top 50 wins and is just 6-9 against the Top 150 with losses to Robert Morris, Delaware, and Richmond, so the margin for error is razor thin.

Massachusetts (19-8, RPI: 79)

A seven-point win over Xavier kept the Minutemen’s slim hopes alive and moved them to 8-5 in the A-10.  They now hit the road for games against Dayton and Temple, and they probably need to win both.  Right now, they are just 6-7 against the Top 150 with eight of their 19 wins against sub-200 opponents.

Saint Joseph’s (18-10, RPI: 47)

The Hawks won at Rhode Island and George Washington to avoid profile-damaging losses and remain inside the RPI Top 50.  They have just one Top 50 win, but they do have six Top 100 victories, which is more than most bubble teams can claim.  However, they still have losses to American, Charlotte, and Penn working against them.  Saint Joe’s hosts Richmond and Temple this week, and while a loss to the Owls wouldn’t kill their hopes, a win would make their case much more compelling.

Xavier (17-10, RPI: 56)

Saturday’s overtime win against Dayton gave the Musketeers a little breathing room, but they gave that right back by losing at UMass on Tuesday.  Even so, Xavier still has six Top 100 wins, but their best wins over the last two months have come against fellow bubble teams Saint Joe’s and Dayton.  Remaining home games against Richmond and Charlotte are winnable but won’t move the dial on their profile, and based on their recent play, it’s hard to see the Musketeers winning at Saint Louis. Consequently, they may have some work left to do in the A-10 Tournament.

Big 12

Iowa State (19-8, RPI: 42)

The Cyclones picked up their ninth league win by beating Oklahoma on Saturday, and this week’s date with Texas Tech should give them ten.  While it’s tough to imagine a team with double-digit wins in the Big 12 getting left out, Iowa State is just 3-6 against the Top 100 and only 9-8 against the Top 150, so they could stand to win one of their final three games against Kansas State, Missouri, and Baylor just to be safe.

Texas (17-11, RPI: 58)

Another opportunity at a signature win went by the wayside when the Longhorns blew a lead and lost at home to Baylor.  They are now just 7-8 in the Big 12, but they do have two winnable games up next against Texas Tech and Oklahoma, which would ensure them of a .500 finish.  Still, that may not be enough since the Longhorns are just 3-8 against the Top 50 with their best league wins coming at home against Iowa State and Kansas State.   A season-ending win at Kansas seems unlikely, so Texas will probably need to win a game or two in the Big 12 Tournament.

Big East

Cincinnati (19-8, RPI: 81)

Since there isn’t anything Cincinnati can do about its weak non-conference slate now, the best thing they can do is keep piling up wins.  The Bearcats did just that last week with home wins over Providence and fellow bubble team Seton Hall.  They now have four Top 50 wins, which is far more than most other bubble teams, and they have a chance to pick up another one when Louisville comes to town this week.  After that they head to South Florida for a showdown with another team in the bubble discussion, and winning both games would be huge for UC’s resume.

Connecticut (17-10, RPI: 24)

Given the rest of their season, it’s probably no surprise that the Huskies have been a roller coaster ride since last week’s Bubble Watch.  They crushed DePaul on Wednesday, lost by double-digits at home to Marquette, and came back from a large deficit to beat Villanova on a Shabazz Napier three-pointer with under a second left.  Throw in Napier calling out his teammates after the Marquette game, and it was a pretty standard week for UConn.  With three league games left, the Huskies are 7-8, but they do have six Top 50 wins to their credit, which makes it unlikely they would be left out of the tournament.  Saturday’s home game against Syracuse gives the Huskies a shot at their first true marquee win, but even a loss there doesn’t kill them so long as they can win games against Providence and Pitt to finish .500 in the Big East.

Seton Hall (19-9, RPI: 30)

Tuesday’s 18-point win over Georgetown was Seton Hall’s best of the season.  They now have four Top 50 wins and no sub-150 losses, which makes it tough to see them getting left out despite an ugly six-game losing streak in the middle of Big East play.  If they can take care of business in their final two league games at home against Rutgers and at DePaul, that would give them 10 conference wins, which is an impressive feat.

South Florida (17-10, RPI: 50)

Remember what I just said about getting 10 Big East wins?  That doesn’t apply to the Bulls, who have reached that total with just one win over a tournament-caliber team.  As I wrote yesterday on Run The Floor, USF has struggled to score against the most efficient defenses they’ve faced while struggling to defend their most potent offensive foes.  The final four games will be telling for the Bulls as they face Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, and West Virginia.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure that even one win against that group legitimizes their profile.

West Virginia (17-10, RPI: 43)

The Mountaineers won at Pitt to get back to .500 in the league, but they have still lost five of their last seven with a relatively tough remaining schedule.  They play three times in the next seven days, which includes a road trip to Notre Dame followed by home games against Marquette and DePaul.  WVU finishes at South Florida in a game that may wind up being huge for both teams.  As it stands, the Mountaineers are 9-8 against the Top 100, so barring a complete collapse, they appear relatively safe compared to other bubble teams.

Big Ten

Illinois (16-12, RPI: 69)

The Illini are officially a dumpster fire and have lost six straight and nine of their last ten.  Throw in a Bruce Weber post-game concession speech and a blowout against Nebraska when the team essentially quit, and you could make the argument the Illini don’t even belong on the bubble.  For the most part, that’s true, but they do have four Top 50 wins.  Even so, their next loss will be the final nail in the coffin.

Minnesota (17-10, RPI: 76)

At 5-9 in the Big Ten with their next three games against Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin, I just don’t see it happening for the Gophers.  Sure, those games provide opportunities to pick up quality wins, but they have to win two of them to avoid going 7-11 in league play.  That seems like a tall order for a team that has lost five of its last seven with the only wins coming against Illinois and Nebraska.

Northwestern (16-11, RPI: 48)

I sound like a broken record, but the Wildcats missed out on a chance to significantly enhance their profile when they lost to Michigan at home on Tuesday, which was their second overtime loss at the hands of the Wolverines.  Saturday’s win over Minnesota had them in my latest projected bracket, but now they need to win out to get to 9-9 in conference play.  Road games at Penn State and Iowa won’t be as easy as they might look, and Northwestern’s other game is a home date with Ohio State.  The fact that they have no sub-100 losses definitely works in Northwestern’s favor, but they are just 5-11 against the Top 100 with some lopsided losses mixed in.

Purdue (17-10, RPI: 53)

The Boilers picked up a road win at Illinois and played Michigan State tough for a half before going stone cold after the break.  They are now 7-7 in the Big Ten with winnable home games left against Nebraska and Penn State, and I simply can’t see them getting left out if they finish 9-9 in conference.  As it stands, they have five Top 50 wins, which should be more than enough barring a complete meltdown.

Conference USA

Central Florida (19-7, RPI: 53)

Last week’s win over East Carolina won’t change anyone’s opinion of the Knights, and neither will their next two games against Rice and UTEP (unless they lose).  They simply have to win those games and then finish the regular season by winning at Memphis and at home versus UAB, which would make them 23-7 and 12-4 in Conference USA.  A deep conference tournament run is also a necessity, but that won’t matter if they don’t go a minimum of 3-1 in their last four regular season games.

Marshall (16-10, RPI: 52)

Even though the Herd is just 7-5 in C-USA play, they have three of their final four games at home, including chances to knock off Memphis and Southern Miss.  That would give them three Top 50 wins to go with a solid RPI, but running the table won’t be easy for a team that shoots as poorly as Marshall.

Memphis (19-8, RPI: 27)

Memphis was inching their way off of the bubble, but a home loss to UTEP pulled them right back on.  That was the Tigers’ first sub-100 loss of the season, and the fact that they are 5-7 against the Top 100 bodes well for their chances.  They should easily handle East Carolina at home this week, but then things start to get a bit more interesting with a road trip to Marshall followed by a home game against UCF.

Southern Mississippi (22-5, RPI: 11)

The Golden Eagles blew a chance to take a one-game lead atop the conference by losing to Houston on Saturday.  And while that’s certainly an ugly loss, USM isn’t really in jeopardy in light of their 9-3 record versus the Top 100.  Upcoming matchups with UTEP, Rice, and SMU are ones they should win, while the season finale at Marshall may end up meaning a lot to both squads.

Pac-12

Arizona (19-9, RPI: 68)

Saturday’s loss to Washington gave the Huskies a season sweep, and the Wildcats now face a steep uphill battle.  They are 6-8 against the Top 100, but all three of their remaining games fall in the “can’t lose” category.  At this point, Arizona needs to win those games and at least make a run to the tournament final, which would likely include a win over Cal or Washington.  Even that may not be enough given the league’s abysmal non-conference performance.

California (22-6, RPI: 31)

Maybe if the Bears had just one Top 50 win, I could move them off the bubble.  Wins over the Oregon schools moved them to 12-3 in the league, and somehow Cal has managed to rise to 31st in the RPI without a win over a team safely in the field of 68.  All three of their remaining games are on the road, starting this week with trips to Utah and Colorado.

Colorado (18-8, RPI: 74)

The Buffs did what they had to last week by handling Utah, but they simply can’t afford to lose any of their remaining games based on a poor non-conference strength of schedule.  Cal and Stanford visit this weekend, and it’s worth noting that Colorado lost to those two teams by a combined 27 points in their first meetings.

Oregon (19-8, RPI: 53)

Oregon blew a late lead at California, and a win there would have really helped their case.  As it stands, they have a decent RPI but no Top 50 wins and a losing record against the Top 150.  Remaining games at Oregon State and at home against Colorado and Utah are all must-wins at this stage of the season, and like most of the other Pac-12 bubble teams, their performance in the conference tournament will be critical for their at-large hopes.

Washington (19-8, RPI: 51)

The Huskies protected their home floor with wins over the Arizona schools, and now they hit the road for their final three contests, starting this weekend at Washington State.  They still have zero Top 50 wins and no sub-100 losses, which bodes well since their final three opponents are all outside of the Top 100.  If Washington wins out, they would finish with at least a share of the regular season title at 15-3.  Barring a first round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament, that’s probably enough.

SEC

Alabama (17-9, RPI: 36)

The Tide got back to 6-6 in the SEC by beating Tennessee, and the suspensions are starting to sort themselves out.  Tony Mitchell is done for the year while JaMychal Green will return, although not against Arkansas this week.  Seven Top 100 wins are nice, but Alabama’s best victories came in November, which limits their margin for error.  A tough road test at Arkansas awaits them on Thursday before a quick turnaround for a home game with Mississippi State on Saturday.  The Tide need to at least split those games to stay on the right side of the bubble.

Arkansas (17-10, RPI: 87)

It was a rough week for the Hogs, who are still winless away from home.  They got crushed at Tennessee before getting steamrolled at home against Florida.  Two Top 30 wins are keeping them alive right now, but the Razorbacks have to beat Alabama at home and then pick up that elusive road win at Auburn this weekend to stay in the hunt.

LSU (16-10, RPI: 66)

The Tigers are in the mix following three straight wins, including two over teams in the Top 60.  That said, they are now a respectable (I guess) 5-8 against the Top 100, but they have losses to Coastal Carolina and South Alabama on their profile.  Like Arkansas, the Tigers haven’t done much away from home in league play, but they do have a terrific non-conference win over Marquette to fall back on.  Their toughest remaining game is Saturday at Mississippi, and if LSU can win there, 10 conference wins are a distinct possibility.

Mississippi (15-11, RPI: 63)

After losing to Vandy and Kentucky by a combined 41 points, there isn’t much hope left for the Rebels.  They now have to run the table with road games left at Tennessee and Arkansas and home dates against LSU and Alabama, which would get them to 9-7 in the SEC.  That said, the Rebels have just one Top 50 win, which is pretty much offset by an ugly loss to Auburn.  In short, there’s plenty of work left to do.

Mississippi State (19-9, RPI: 59)

The Bulldogs got off to a great start against Kentucky on Tuesday, but they couldn’t hold on for a season-defining victory.  They have now lost four straight to fall below .500 in the SEC with a trip to Alabama looming.  MSU does have three Top 50 wins, but they have a losing record against the Top 150 with 11 of their 19 victories coming against sub-150 teams.  The Bulldogs definitely have talent, but I doubt they can earn a bid with a losing record in league play.

Other

BYU (23-6, RPI: 46)

After narrowly avoiding a crushing loss at San Francisco, the Cougars bounced back to win at Santa Clara, setting up a showdown at Gonzaga with second place in the WCC on the line.  They have just on Top 50 win, and 11 of their 21 D-I victories have come at the expense of sub-200 teams.  I still contend BYU needs to win another game over the likes of Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s in order to feel completely safe on Selection Sunday.

Colorado State (17-9, RPI: 25)

A loss at Boise State last week seemed to kill the Rams’ chances, but they responded with home wins over Wyoming and New Mexico to get back in the tournament picture.  They now have a pair of Top 50 wins, but they also have questionable losses to Stanford, TCU, and Boise State.  CSU’s next two games are at San Diego State and home against UNLV, both of which would provide additional substance for their profile.

Drexel (23-5, RPI: 71)

After crushing Cleveland State in the BracketBusters, the Dragons have now won 15 straight and 21 of their last 22.  They are tied atop the CAA with George Mason with two games remaining, the toughest of which comes in the season finale at Old Dominion.  Their best bet is to win the league outright, because 14 of their wins have come against sub-200 teams thanks to a pitiful non-conference strength of schedule.  Injuries played a role in their slow start, so that may ultimately help Drexel’s case.  Still, they have just four Top 100 wins and are 7-5 against the Top 150, but it’s hard to argue they aren’t one of the best 37 at-large teams based on their recent play.

Harvard (23-3, RPI: 32)

The Crimson maintained a one-game lead in the Ivy League, and wins against Princeton and Penn this weekend would open up a two-game cushion with two games to play.  A 4-2 record against the Top 100 certainly helps their at-large case, but Harvard seems poised to grab the automatic bid by winning the league outright.

Iona (22-6, RPI: 44)

I still think the Gaels have too many bad losses to earn an at-large bid, but a BracketBusters win over Nevada certainly doesn’t hurt their case.  They now have six Top 100 wins and a one-game lead in the MAAC with two home games remaining.  A run to the conference title game is a must, but a pair of sub-200 losses may ultimately require Iona to win it.

Long Beach State (19-7, RPI: 39)

The 49ers missed a huge opportunity when they lost a late lead at Creighton in a fantastic BracketBusters tilt, but instead they fell to 0-6 against the Top 50 and 2-7 versus the Top 100.  They are still undefeated in the Big West with three of their four remaining league games at home.  Wins over Pitt and Xavier, coupled with a perfect conference record, seem like enough, but LBSU will probably wind up sweating out Selection Sunday if they don’t win the auto-bid.

Middle Tennessee State (24-4, RPI: 38)

I mentioned last week that the best thing the Blue Raiders can do is keep winning, and they did just that against Florida Atlantic.  They are still inside the Top 40 and are now 4-3 against the Top 100 heading into their final two Sun Belt games, both of which are on the road.  MTSU needs to win both of those to finish 15-1 in the league and then at least advance to the Championship Game.

Oral Roberts (25-5, RPI: 45)

The Golden Eagles picked up their fourth Top 100 win against Akron in the BracketBusters, and they have just one regular season game remaining with a winnable road trip to Southern Utah.  Like Middle Tennessee, ORU has a relatively high RPI but needs to take care of business in that game and at least reach the conference finals.

VCU (23-6, RPI: 70)

If not for a last-second loss to George Mason last week, the Rams would be tied for the lead in the CAA.  Still, their non-conference win over South Florida looks much better now, and they own two other Top 100 wins.  Unfortunately, more than half of their victories have come against sub-200 teams, which means they probably need to win out and reach the Championship Game to give themselves a legitimate shot.

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Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.



About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms

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