NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: UCONN, Illinois, Kansas State Among Many Teams With Work To Do

Welcome to the post-Valentine’s Day edition of Bubble Watch.  If some of these teams don’t start stringing together some wins, they might be left “broken-hearted” on Selection Sunday.  Thanks, I’ll be here all week.  Please tip your waiter.

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 (15-8)

The Canes took care of business at home against Virginia Tech last week but lost by five at Florida State over the weekend.  They are now 33rd in RPI but are just 1-6 against the Top 50.  The good news is they don’t have a bad loss, and four of their eight defeats came without Reggie Johnson and DeQuan Jones.  They also play four of their final six games at home, starting with Wednesday’s date with North Carolina.  Miami probably needs to go 5-1 down the stretch, which would include wins over North Carolina and/or Florida State at home as well as a road win at North Carolina State to avoid being swept by a fellow bubble team.

North Carolina State (18-7)

Forget last week’s win over Georgia Tech, the next three games will ultimately decide the Wolfpack’s fate.  They play at Duke on Thursday then host North Carolina and Florida State on Saturday and Tuesday, respectively.  As of now, N.C. State is right at number 50 in the RPI with a pair of Top 50 wins and a 4-5 record against the Top 100.  That said, they have zero wins against teams comfortably in the field, so they are in dire need of a signature win or two.

Atlantic 10

Dayton (15-9)

The Flyers snapped a four-game losing streak, but they needed overtime against a struggling Fordham squad to do it.  They do have seven Top 100 wins to their credit but two sub-200 losses are killers.  They face another winnable game when Charlotte comes to town on Wednesday, while Saturday’s game at Xavier is suddenly a huge one for both teams.  I still contend they need to find a way to go 5-1 to close out the regular season.

Massachusetts (18-7)

After beating St. Bonaventure and losing by 11 at Saint Joe’s, the Minutemen are down to #70 in the RPI.  As it stands, a poor strength of schedule may be their undoing, as they are just 6-6 against the Top 150 with nearly half of their wins coming against teams ranked outside of the Top 200.  UMass needs to hold serve with a pair of home games up next on the schedule against La Salle and Xavier.

Saint Joseph’s (16-10)

The Hawks bounced back from a loss against Saint Louis to beat UMass at home, which preserved their spot on the bubble.  They are just inside the RPI Top 50 and are 7-7 versus the Top 100, but three losses to teams ranked between 101 and 150 certainly don’t help their case.  Saint Joe’s plays three of their final five on the road, starting with “can’t lose” games at Rhode Island and George Washington this week.  The most important games remaining on their schedule are the final two when they host Temple and travel to St. Bonaventure.

Saint Louis (20-5)

I nearly moved the Billikens off the bubble and firmly into the field after they picked up two key road wins at La Salle and Saint Joe’s, but I’ll leave them here for one more week.  They are up to 23rd in the RPI and are now 8-4 against the Top 100, with seven of those victories coming against teams ranked between 51 and 100.  Home games with Richmond and Fordham this week are games they should win handily, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see them win their final five regular season games.

Xavier (16-9)

The Musketeers did the bare minimum to stay alive last week by handling Rhode Island at home before getting smoked at Temple.  Their lone game this week comes on Saturday when they host Dayton, and a loss there would be pretty damning.  Xavier currently ranks 56th in the RPI with a 7-8 record against the Top 100.  Those numbers don’t look bad, but the issue is they haven’t beaten a team I had in my latest projected bracket in over two months.  I still contend the Musketeers need to go 4-1 in their last five games to feel even remotely comfortable heading into the A-10 Tournament.

Big 12

Iowa State (18-8)

The Cyclones blew out Texas A&M at home but lost by 15 at Baylor on Monday to fall to 8-5 in the Big 12.  They have now crept into the RPI Top 40, but they have just one win against teams in the Top 40 and are just 3-6 versus the Top 100.  If they can hold serve at home against Oklahoma and Texas Tech in their next two games, ISU would have 10 conference wins heading into a tough three-game stretch to close out the season where they travel to Kansas State and Missouri before finishing at home against Baylor.

Kansas State (17-8)

Things are starting to get interesting for Frank Martin and the Wildcats.  They blew a lead against Texas on Saturday and came back to lose a close one at home versus Kansas, but they are now just 6-7 in the league.  To make matters worse their next two games are at Baylor and Missouri before they return home to take on Iowa State.  The Wildcats simply have to find a way to win one of those games, because I can’t see this team getting in if they finish 8-10 in conference play.  They do have four Top 50 wins, but being swept by Oklahoma is an increasingly ugly blemish on their profile.

Texas (17-9)

The Longhorns have now won four straight to climb to 7-6 in the Big 12.  The only win during that stretch that carries any weight with the committee was Saturday’s comeback win over Kansas State, but it’s a step in the right direction.  With a 3-8 record against the Top 50, Texas can’t afford to slip up at Oklahoma State on Saturday, but Monday’s home game against Baylor is a huge one for their tournament hopes.

Big East

Cincinnati (17-8)

Like so many of the teams listed so far, the Bearcats split their two games last week, blowing out St. John’s on the road and losing by 17 at Marquette.  I definitely put a lot of stock in their 6-5 record against the Top 100 with a win over Notre Dame at home as well as road wins against UConn and Georgetown, but the committee could penalize them for their poor non-conference schedule.  UC has their next three games at home as Providence, Seton Hall, and Louisville all visit the Queen City.  A sweep there would definitely tighten their grip on an at-large bid.

Connecticut (15-9)

The good news is that the Huskies played significantly better against Syracuse on Saturday and showed signs of life that had been missing in recent weeks.  The bad news is they still lost and have now dropped six of their last seven and eight of their last eleven.  That said, UConn has the top-ranked strength of schedule to go with five Top 50 wins.  However, none of those have come against the Top 25, and they are 1-6 in Big East road games.  The Huskies play four of their last six at home, starting with DePaul and Marquette this week.  If they can win both of those contests, I like their chances to get to 10 conference wins.

Seton Hall (15-8)

The Pirates have managed to stop the bleeding by winning three straight to get back to .500 in Big East play.  They are currently 31st in the RPI with six Top 100 wins and no sub-100 losses.  Still, Seton Hall hasn’t beaten a tournament-caliber team since early January when they knocked off UConn.  Saturday’s game at Cincinnati is a big one for both teams, and the Pirates follow that up by hosting Georgetown early next week.  Their final two games are winnable so a 9-9 finish isn’t out of the question, but they need to remind people they can beat good teams at some point before the end of the season.

Big Ten

bruce-weber-thumbs-up-bubble-watchIllinois (16-9)

After losing at Indiana and Michigan last week, the Illini have dropped six of their last seven, which makes Wednesday’s game with Purdue a virtual must-win.  They still have road games left at Ohio State and Wisconsin along with a home game against Michigan.  The fact that Illinois has four Top 50 wins certainly helps, but I think they need to find a way to go 4-2 in their last six games to finish 9-9 in Big Ten play.

Minnesota (17-9)

The Gophers have dropped their last two games at home, losing to Wisconsin in overtime and by 10 points against Ohio State.  At 5-8 in the league, the schedule doesn’t get much easier as they travel to Northwestern on Saturday before home games against Michigan State and Indiana and a road trip to Wisconsin.  Minnesota would need to split those games to even have a shot at going 8-10 in the league, but based on their 64th-ranked RPI, I don’t think that’s enough.

Northwestern (15-9)

Sunday’s loss at Purdue was Northwestern’s second loss to the Boilers in their last five games, and they now sit at 5-7 in the league.  The Wildcats have also fallen to 43rd in the RPI and are just 4-9 against the Top 100.  And while they have no sub-100 losses, they have also lost a number of games by sizeable margins.  Northwestern has a pair of huge games this week as they travel to Indiana on Wednesday before returning home to face Minnesota on Saturday.  If they can at least salvage a split, their at-large case becomes slightly more compelling, and I think they have a better shot than the Gophers of finishing at .500 in the league.

Purdue (16-9)

The Boilers picked up a huge win against Northwestern on Sunday to get back to .500 in conference play.  It was also their fifth Top 50 win, which puts them in good shape compared to some of the other bubble teams out there.  With home games remaining against Nebraska and Penn State, eight Big Ten wins is definitely reasonable, which means Purdue would need to win one of their four toughest games (at Illinois, vs. Michigan State, at Michigan, at Indiana) to get to 9-9 in the league.  Wednesday’s matchup with the struggling Illini might be their best opportunity.

Conference USA

Central Florida (18-7)

The Knights missed a golden opportunity when they lost at Southern Miss last weekend, but I am leaving them here based largely on their two Top 25 wins.  However, they are 8-7 against the Top 200 with a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.  Four of their five remaining games are of the “can’t lose” variety, so they need to take care of business there and probably win at Memphis to bolster their profile heading into the conference tournament.

Memphis (18-7)

Memphis beat East Carolina and UAB by a combined 45 points last week and are now tied atop the conference at 8-2.  They are 19th in the RPI with five Top 100 wins and no sub-100 losses, and they shouldn’t be challenged in their next three games.  Even their final three games at Marshall, home against UCF, and at Tulsa are games the Tigers should win, so a 14-2 or 13-3 mark in the league is definitely within reach.

Southern Mississippi (21-4)

A 10-point loss at UAB moves the Golden Eagles onto the fringe of the bubble, but it’s hard to imagine this team not making the tournament.  They currently rank 10th in the RPI and have nine Top 100 wins, although just one of those has come against the Top 25.  Their toughest remaining games are Wednesday against Tulsa and the season finale at Marshall, but USM would likely need to lose both of those plus another game to but themselves in serious jeopardy.

Pac-12

Arizona (18-8)

It wasn’t necessarily a work of art, but the Wildcats held serve at home against Colorado and Utah to move to 9-4 in the Pac-12 with their last three losses coming by a total of five points.  Still, they have just one Top 50 win and are 5-7 against the Top 100 with seven of their 18 victories coming against sub-200 teams.  If they can sweep road games to the Washington schools this weekend, I like Arizona’s chances to win out with a shot to share the regular season title.  As I mentioned last week though, the margin for error is negligible.

California (20-6)

Road wins at USC and UCLA moved the Bears into the Top 40 in the RPI despite the fact they have zero Top 50 wins.  While they do have six Top 100 victories, I still think they need to win out to stay in solid position for an at-large, because no game left on their schedule could be categorized as an excuseable loss at this stage of the season.  The Bears play their final two home games of the season when they host Oregon and Oregon State this weekend, and the Ducks are the highest-ranked opponent left on the schedule.

Colorado (17-8)

The Buffs have no margin for error after losing to Arizona last weekend.  They are 75th in the RPI and only 5-8 versus the Top 150, and Saturday’s game at Utah will do little to improve either one of those.  The reality is that they need to win out, which would include home victories over Cal and Stanford to go with road wins over the Oregon schools.  Given Colorado’s woeful non-conference schedule, anything less than a 5-0 finish just won’t be enough.

Oregon (18-7)

A 25-point against Washington moved the Ducks back into the conversation, but they definitely face an uphill battle.  They are 67th in the RPI, but they have no Top 50 wins and are just 5-7 against the Top 150.  Nine of their 18 victories have come against sub-200 teams, and their best non-conference win came on the road against Nebraska.  Oregon plays their next three on the road, starting with games against Cal and Stanford this weekend.  Realistically, the Ducks need to run the table in order to give themselves a chance at a bid.

Washington (17-8)

Had Thursday’s 25-point loss to Oregon been the first lopsided defeat for the Huskies, it wouldn’t be quite so alarming.  However, this is a team that already lost by 19 to South Dakota State and by 18 to Colorado.  They still have no Top 50 wins or sub-100 losses, but at some point you have to prove you can consistently beat above average teams, which Washington simply hasn’t been able to do.  If they can knock off Arizona on Saturday, they should wind up at 15-3 in the league, but with this team you just never know.

SEC

Alabama (16-9)

The wheels are starting to come off for the tide, as a rash of suspensions have contributed to two straight losses.  Alabama is now just 5-6 in SEC play with the best wins coming all the way back in November.  It’s difficult to project what a reasonable expectation is for their remaining schedule until we know how much longer JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell will be out.  In the meantime, they have to hope that their eight Top 100 wins are impressive enough to get them in.

Arkansas (17-8)

If not for their remaining schedule, last week’s loss at Georgia would probably have been a death sentence for the Hogs.  However, they still have a couple shots to win their first road game of the season against Tennessee or Auburn, and they have home games against Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, all of whom rank in the RPI Top 52.

Mississippi (15-9)

It’s now or never for the Rebels as they host Vanderbilt on Thursday before heading to Kentucky over the weekend.  A win in either game would give Ole Miss three Top 50 wins and would push the Rebels inside the Top 50 themselves.  Even so, there is very little meat on their non-conference profile, which means they likely need to go 4-2 in their last six games to finish 9-7 in the SEC.

Mountain West

Colorado State (15-8)

In their lone game last week, the Rams lost at TCU, which I suppose doesn’t look quite as egregious after the Horned Frogs upset UNLV on Tuesday night.  Still, the computer numbers for this team are more impressive than the actual profile.  The first order of business is to win games at Boise State and home against Wyoming, which would get them to 6-4 in the league.  After that, CSU has a huge three-game stretch where they host New Mexico, travel to San Diego State, and return home to face UNLV.

New Mexico (20-4)

The Lobos handled Wyoming at home by 10, but the next three games are critical for their at-large aspirations.  They start out on the road against San Diego State, then host UNLV, and finish out the stretch with a road trip to Colorado State.  Going 2-1 in those matchups would move them off the bubble, but being swept by the Aztecs and Rebels would essentially make them the Baylor of the Mountain West.

Wyoming (18-6)

To some extent, I’m not sure why I am keeping the Cowboys on this list given the fact that they have just three Top 150 victories.  They do have a win over UNLV, but they are going to have to find ways to beat some combination of Colorado State, San Diego State, and UNLV on the road in order to make a legitimate case.

Other

BYU (21-6)

The Cougars crushed Pepperdine in their only game of the week, and at this point they just need to keep beating up on lesser opponents.  Thursday’s game at San Francisco starts a stretch of three straight away from home, with the biggest game of the three coming on February 23rd at Gonzaga.  Whether it be in that game or the conference tournament, BYU could stand to pick up another victory over the Zags or Saint Mary’s, because right now the Cougars have just one win over a team in the Top 65 of the RPI.

Harvard (21-3)

Even after losing at Princeton, the Crimson have a one-game lead in the Ivy League and are still in the driver’s seat.  They are 34th in the RPI with three Top 100 wins, and perhaps most importantly they play their next four games at home.  If they win all of those, they would have at minimum a two-game lead in the race for the conference’s auto-bid.  If they lose any of them, their position in the field becomes a bit more tenuous based on a relatively low strength of schedule.

Iona (20-6)

If losses to Hofstra, Manhattan, and Siena didn’t kill the Gaels’ at-large hopes, Friday’s loss at Loyola (MD) may have.  As it stands, their best win was over 48th-ranked Saint Joe’s back in November, and a pair of sub-200 losses tend to overshadow their five Top 100 wins.  A home win over Nevada in the BracketBusters would definitely help, and winning their final three MAAC games is a must.

Long Beach State (19-6)

Pitt’s loss at Seton Hall didn’t help, but the 49ers picked up a pair of road wins to stay unbeaten in the Big West.  They are now 44th in the RPI with a 2-6 record against the Top 100 with no sub-100 losses.  LBSU plays three of their final four league games at home, and I fully expect them to finish undefeated in conference play.  However, their most important remaining game comes on Saturday against a Creighton squad that has looked vulnerable in recent weeks.  A win there would bolster their profile, but I still don’t think a loss should kill their chances.  Whether the committee agrees with me is likely another matter.

Middle Tennessee State (23-4)

All the Blue Raiders can do at this point is to keep winning, because their schedule doesn’t provide any more chances for quality wins unless they face Denver in the conference title game.  They are currently inside the Top 40 and are 3-3 against the Top 100 with only one sub-100 loss.  The problem is that just six of their victories have come against teams inside the Top 150, which means MTSU needs to win out and at least reach the Sun Belt Championship.

Nevada (22-4)

The Wolfpack have lost just once since late November, but that one loss, which came at home against Idaho, looms large.  Roughly two-thirds of their wins have come against sub-200 squads, but they are 3-3 against the Top 100.  That said, the overtime win over Washington is the only one that really jumps off the page, which makes Saturday’s trip to Iona a game Nevada can’t really afford to lose.

Oral Roberts (23-5)

Much like the last few teams, the Golden Eagles just need to keep piling up wins.  They won in overtime to prevent a profile-killing loss to IUPUI, and they now sit at 15-1 in the Summitt League with two winnable road games remaining.  Saturday’s BracketBusters game against Akron won’t exactly give them another marquee win, but it’s also one that would likely be used against them if they lose.  Ranking 46th in the RPI helps, but 14 of their 23 victories have come against sub-200 teams.  Consequently, they need to win out and at least reach the conference finals.

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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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