Bracket Ladder for February 17, 2011

We’re extending right up to the last at-large team today, and I’m starting to get a sense of what resumes feel like “NCAA teams”. There are pretty much, right now, 47 of them spread across 10 conferences, exactly enough to fill out the at-large field. You’re going to see some teams on the wrong side of the cutline on Monday, and the way I describe them will seem like a grisly sight: incapable of winning on the road, schedule strengths in the 90s or even out of the top 100, multiple bad if not atrocious losses, exceedingly lacking in wins with wins over teams in the 100-125 range of the RPI counting as “depth”… and yet, their nonconference record will remain superb with rarely more than five losses. As part of the purpose of Bracket Ladder is to show how great even the teams that miss the NCAAs are, I’ll make an effort to show the good in their resumes. I may even dip into what some call “NIT-ology” if only to show that, as bad as the teams we’ll see on Monday may look, it could be worse. (Given how wide the bubble is right now, if I extend all the way to the end of the “Probably outs” I could have most of the NIT field right there, with a little bit left over when you consider the NIT auto bid rule.)

Since the current ladder extends right up to the tip of the bubble, there are no more question mark seed floors. All teams with seed ranges listed have had their floors calculated, and all teams listed as “Probably in” or “Barely in” have a calculated worst-case scenario where they don’t make the tournament. The distinction between “Probably in” and “Barely in” is arbitrary and based on how probable a scenario where a team doesn’t make the tournament is. Generally, if it would take more than one or two major slip-ups to miss the NCAAs, you’re “probably in”, but if you could be left out after one or two slip-ups, you’re “barely in”. Also, the last four at-large teams are listed with an “f” superscript next to their seed on the left side to indicate they’d be playing in one of the new “First Four” games the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday. This has zero bearing on who they’d play in those First Four games, other than “one of the other three”, regardless of what seed I have them listed as; there isn’t enough information on how that’s determined, but it almost surely involves the same bracketing constraints as the rest of the bracket.

Meanwhile, I’ve also tried to start recalibrating the ladder with more focus on who you’ve played and how you’ve done against them based on where they stand on the ladder, and I think I’ve been successful for the first seven seed lines. On Monday I’ll introduce a simple yet powerful new tool for measuring performance down the stretch. Also still to come: auto bids (for the last four or five seed lines) and how all this might translate into an actual bracket. At some point I’m going to need to research some of the scenarios for how the Big East could play out for the sake of figuring out accurate seed ceilings.

As promised, a BracketBusters preview. The games involving Old Dominion and George Mason are covered in their respective entries on the ladder below. As for the others:

Kent State @ Drexel (Friday 9pm ET, ESPNU): In my view, Drexel has a surprisingly strong at-large profile, with only two non-RPI-Top-100 losses, a win over Old Dominion, and a road win over Louisville. As mid-majors go, the CAA is strong enough that that deserves a second look. Of course, Hofstra is Drexel’s only other RPI Top 100 win, they have a schedule strength in the 130s and an RPI of 81, and Kent State won’t help very much, since they have an even worse RPI than Hofstra or Drexel. The Golden Flashes have only one RPI Top 100 win, and Miami (OH) barely qualifies, but they won’t be sniffing the tournament even with a win.

Utah State @ St. Mary’s (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN2): This may be the highlight of BracketBusters. Already suffering, St. Mary’s at-large chances took a major hit with a loss to lowly San Diego. The Gaels desperately need to rebound and get another RPI Top 25 win to prove they’re still the same team that knocked off St. John’s on ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon, or winning the WCC tournament will be vital. And yet, they still don’t need this game more than Utah State. The Aggies, by far the highest RPI team I don’t have in the field, have, to put it simply, no middle ground. Their two losses are to BYU and Georgetown… and their best win, Long Beach State, only barely qualifies as an RPI Top 100 win. This game will completely define how good a team they are. Lose, and forget about at-large hopes with a loss to a team that’s bubbly themselves. Win, and at-large hopes are still a longshot, but you’ve beaten the one RPI 11-50 team you played on the road, so maybe with a tight loss in the WAC Final you can sneak in with other bubble carnage. If the Aggies do win out in conference, this one game could make multiple seed lines’ worth of difference.

Virginia Commonwealth @ Wichita State (Friday 7pm ET, ESPN2): The Shockers may be the Valley’s strongest at-large candidate, which isn’t saying much. Their winning straits aren’t as dire as Utah State’s, with a road win over Northern Iowa under their belts, but they also don’t have all their losses against 2-seeds, including a truly mystifying home loss to Southern Illinois. VCU is a more legit at-large candidate, not only in the CAA where they have a road win over Old Dominion, but even a home win over UCLA. But neither has an RPI over 30, and VCU has a few embarrassing losses. Wichita State has a good enoughg RPI to provide a substantial boost to VCU’s resume, though not a great one, and while a loss would hurt it wouldn’t put them back too far. Meanwhile, VCU would actually be the Shockers’ best RPI win, while still being their third-worst loss. Not that, as a win, it would put them in any bubble contention that serious, especially coming at home.

Missouri State @ Valparaiso (Saturday 5pm ET, ESPN2): Valpo has an interesting resume, with home wins over the Horizon’s other two strong teams for RPI Top 50 wins, and a road win over Oakland is good as well, but they have way too many bad losses, including one to atrocious Toledo. Missouri State might drag them closer to the cut line, but those bad losses will still weigh them down. The Bears don’t have too many total losses or bad losses, as well as road wins over the other two Valley contenders for RPI Top 100 wins, but their strength of schedule is still nose-holding. Valpo could bring them closer to the cutline as well, and if that were to happen I think the results could get very interesting.

Miami (OH) @ James Madison (Saturday Noon ET):James Madison doesn’t have an RPI Top 50 win, but they have enough Top 100 wins, especially Princeton and Marshall at home, to be interesting for at least the NIT conversation. They only have two horrible losses, but they are horrible, coming outside the top 200. Unfortunately, the Redhawks won’t appreciably give them much they don’t already have, and a loss could be disastrous. While not an at-large contender either, wins over Xavier and two other RPI Top 100 teams make Miami (OH)’s resume at least interesting, but likewise the Dukes won’t help them much. And that’s why this is one of the “leftover” games that didn’t make TV.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 16, 2011. This means it does not include any of Thursday’s games, including the Minnesota-Penn State game. (Yes, it’s also being released late enough that I should just include the Thursday games. That’s what working on this for virtually 16 hours straight will do to you.)

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out

1 Pittsburgh BST #1 1 – 1 – 5
24-2 RPI: 8 SOS: 24 R/N: 9-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
How in holy hell can you possibly make the case that Ohio State has a better resume than Pitt, Joe Lunardi? Is it because of Pitt’s nonconference loss to a Tennessee team just outside the top four seed lines, representing a nonconference loss the Buckeyes don’t have? How does that outweigh wins over Georgetown (road), Texas (neutral site), UConn, Villanova (road), Syracuse, AND West Virginia (road), plus home wins over two Big East bubble teams, when all Ohio State has is Purdue (home), Florida (very early), and a bunch of wins over bubble teams, not to mention one more road win and one more RPI Top 50 win? Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, the Panthers should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. (In fact, they’re pretty close to locking up a double-bye in MSG.) There’s always a good game in the Big East, and Pitt has a chance to prep for the Big East Tournament this week by avoiding Upset City against St. John’s (Saturday noon ET, ESPN). That might be the one win they need to join Ohio State in the purple.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
25-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 33 R/N: 8-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
So now that we don’t have to worry about Ohio State potentially going undefeated, how does their resume look now? Well, they have two very good wins, RPI-wise, over Purdue and Florida, the latter on the road, and their one loss is pretty respectable. But like Kansas, they have just those two wins over the RPI Top 30, and Wisconsin isn’t exactly Texas. Kansas’ loss to Kansas State returns them to the overall #2, but I can’t see myself making the Jared Sullingers the overall #1 seed again; even if they win out, a Pitt collapse would probably work to the benefit of a UConn, Notre Dame, or Georgetown. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue on Sunday (1pm ET, CBS) will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line, but get it and they’ll probably enter the bronze.
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 7
24-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 10 R/N: 10-1 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Kansas manages to stay on the top seed line despite losing a game at Kansas State I was very surprised to see happen, and despite UConn beating Georgetown. It says a lot that a team with a grand total of three RPI Top 30 wins has the third-best profile in the country. The Morris Twins have no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March; they may still need to win out to stay on the top seed line.
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
20-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 15 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
And then sometimes Connecticut does something that reminds me why I have them this high. Georgetown joins Texas and up-movers Villanova and Kentucky as top-four-seed wins on the Kemba Walkers’ resume. They won’t have another shot at Pitt until the Big East Tournament, but if they don’t lose the rest of the way and beat all the best teams they could face in MSG, in the Big East, you still have to make a case for them, right? Louisville (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN) could help deepen their resume; their biggest potential trap game to fall off the 1 seed line might be next week against Marquette.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – 8
23-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 17 R/N: 11-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume to bubble teams, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that, especially since I’m not confident of Connecticut as a 1. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – 4
24-1 RPI: 3 SOS: 28 R/N: 13-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The Aztecs improve their resume by sweeping the series against UNLV, but since it matches a win they already had, it’s not good enough to appreciably improve their standing. They don’t get another chance at an RPI Top 20 win until the rematch with BYU in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses. New Mexico was one of two major trap games against Mountain West bubble teams eager to make a statement, and taking care of business there leads them to join Ohio State in the purple, if only because there aren’t many loss opportunities left. The season finale against Colorado State is the other big trap game.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
21-4 RPI: 10 SOS: 29 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins, against the other three of the best four Big East teams, and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss; you can’t tell me they can’t possibly win a 1. And yet, something keeps holding me back from putting them higher – maybe it’s the fact that while they only have four losses, all are to teams you’d expect a 1-seed to beat (Kentucky and Syracuse being the best of the bunch), maybe it’s their slightly-iffy strength of schedule, maybe it’s a 6-4 road/neutral record that doesn’t seem 1-seed worthy. But if they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, it’ll be very difficult to argue against them. There is probably only one more chance for them to lose their unbeaten home record, when Villanova comes to town at the end of the month. For now, it’s off to West Virginia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS). Both games will help deepen their resume.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – 8
20-6 RPI: 5 SOS: 1 R/N: 10-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
Had Georgetown upset UConn, they’d be at least knocking on the door of a 1-seed, and probably getting it. Looking at their resume with regards to the ladder, they have three wins against the Big East’s “3/4 seed tier”, plus wins over Missouri, St. John’s, Old Dominion, Marquette, and Memphis. It’s hard to beat them for sheer quantity of wins, and it shows in their #1 strength of schedule and 10-4 road/neutral record. St. John’s looks like the only truly concerning conference loss, and it seems like most teams have trouble against Steve Lavin’s club in NYC (though West Virginia at home is also head-scratching). The only reason I didn’t send them shooting up the board was because I didn’t want to move one team ahead of another when the first team lost and the other didn’t. Don’t be alarmed, though, if Georgetown starts knocking on the door of 1-seed-dom with a home win over Syracuse late in the year and a deep run in the Big East Tournament.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – 5
23-3 RPI: 7 SOS: 19 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
Missouri moves into the RPI Top 30 to give Texas another win there, but it’s still a rather thin resume for people to consider moving the Longhorns to the 1 seed line just yet; the Big 12 just isn’t as deep as the Big East past the top two teams. USC is their only bad loss, but they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M and Missouri remain the next two best teams in the conference. The best they can hope for is to keep plugging away and hope the committee gives them credit for their record, and maybe prove the first Kansas game wasn’t a fluke in the Big 12 final. Fortunately the North Carolina win keeps improving as the Tar Heels tear up the non-Duke ACC, and their schedule the rest of the way is as weak as Ohio State’s; Oklahoma State was the best team they’ll face before the Big 12 tournament, and it’s hard for me to see them losing another game until then.
3 Florida SEC #1 1 – 3 – 9
20-5 RPI: 12 SOS: 6 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 8-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Psst… Florida is starting to look like they’re not a mirage. They avenged their loss to South Carolina and deepened their resume against Tennessee. Now they don’t have another questionable opponent the rest of the way, save for LSU (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN), who, with an RPI outside the top 200, is a little too questionable for me to think they’d really give the Gators a challenge, even in Baton Rouge, so it’s off to the lock column with them. (Alabama might be questionable too, but the way they’ve been playing in conference play, maybe not.)
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 9
24-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 40 R/N: 10-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Adding a pelt against North Carolina was important; getting a road win over Miami (FL) may have been more important, representing Duke’s first road win over the RPI Top 100. But it’s not enough; their only chance to prove they can beat a tourney lock on the road may be the rematch with the Tar Heels in the regular season finale. And people talk about the Kyle Singlers as one of five contenders for the top line! It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s best hope for a #1 seed is probably to completely win out, beating North Carolina another two times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Villanova BST #5 1 – 3 – 9
20-6 RPI: 20 SOS: 30 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Villanova is entirely the beneficiary of other Big East teams (along with Wisconsin) losing, and the only reason they moved onto the third line was because of the still-fluky win over Syracuse (Seton Hall is now their next-best road win). Nova won’t get any chances to get a road win against a good team until Notre Dame and Pitt back-to-back at the end of the season, and it’s hard to see them doing that right now. Nova will need to beat Syracuse again at the Carrier Dome (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN) to stay up here beyond Monday, but their best chance to really prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 Syracuse BST #6 1 – 4 – 7
21-6 RPI: 22 SOS: 23 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Syracuse very nearly clawed back to the 3 seed line with a big home-win over West Virginia. They’ve shown flashes of their early-season dominance, for example against UConn, but they’re having trouble proving that their conference wins weren’t flukes (though admittedly beating St. John’s on the road is a tall order for most Big East teams). Beating West Virginia helps, and a road win over Villanova (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN) would put them back on the third line, but Syracuse will have to make most of their case for a good seed in the Big East Tournament, as that’ll be their only shot at avenging the Pitt loss.
4 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 4 – 9
18-7 RPI: 15 SOS: 16 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Losses by most of the teams that were on the 4-seed line Monday put the Wildcats back in the top four. The SEC turns out to have quite a bit of strength, but Kentucky will need to take advantage of that strength. They close the regular season hosting Florida and Vanderbilt and going on the road to Tennessee. Those games will not only determine Kentucky’s seed in the SEC Tournament, but their seed in the NCAAs as well.
4 Wisconsin B10 #2 1 – 4 – 7
19-6 RPI: 18 SOS: 34 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
I’ll be honest, despite the Ohio State win I had misgivings about moving the Badgers up even a single seed line, and sure enough they probably would have fallen all the way back to 5 if Big East teams hadn’t lost again. The rest of the season pretty much consists of dodging bullets from bubble teams for four games (Indiana isn’t much of a bubble team, but it is a road game) until the rematch with Ohio State in Columbus to close the year. The only one the Badgers should have much trouble with is the other road game against Michigan (Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN).
4 Louisville BST #7 1 – 4 – 10
19-7 RPI: 26 SOS: 27 R/N: 3-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
A road loss to Cincinnati wasn’t exactly what Louisville needed, but the earlier home win over West Virginia keeps them from falling out of the top four seed lines. The win over UConn really looks very fluky, as all their road losses have come to teams with better RPIs than their next best road win over USF – including outside-the-top-100 Providence. But surely they can at least lessen the flukiness of the Connecticut win by beating them again at home (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN), right? Or at least not lose another road game to lowly Rutgers (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPNU), right?
5 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 5 – 10
16-9 RPI: 23 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 5-6 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 8
With Kentucky returning to the top four seed lines and Wisconsin not leaving, half the Big East is no longer occupying the top four seed lines, and the Mountaineers are the odd men out. If the season ended today, West Virginia would not be receiving a bye in the Big East Tournament. Now West Virginia’s season could be made or broken by three big games in ten days: on the road to Syracuse, hosting Notre Dame (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS), and at Pitt (Thursday 2/24 9pm ET, ESPN). Losing to Syracuse is a bad harbringer for the rest of the games, and could make their final two home games against UConn and Louisville must-wins for a respectable seed (not necessarily a top four). There is a reason some sources are still referring to West Virginia as the equivalent of “probably in”.
5 Purdue B10 #3 1 – 5 – 8
21-5 RPI: 9 SOS: 22 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Purdue didn’t gain any ground by beating Wisconsin at home, in part because the loss to West Virginia still hangs over them, but they did alleviate what little doubt there was (which admittedly shouldn’t have been any) about getting into the field. The Boilermakers can further consolidate their position, and make it far more likely that they get a top-four seed, by repeating Wisconsin’s success against Ohio State (Sunday 1pm ET, CBS).
5 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
16-10 RPI: 27 SOS: 3 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
How do you take two losses in one week and not suffer for it? When the two losses were on the road to Kentucky and Florida. It is still a concern that Tennessee hasn’t backed up their big wins. Tennessee has given the likes of Pitt and Villanova some of their very few losses… and they have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 60, against teams like College of Charleston and Oakland. Incidentially, only two of those bad losses have the Bruce Pearl suspension excuse, and only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the Vols managed to beat Vanderbilt at home and Georgia in Athens without their coach. Having missed two chances for big pelts, Tennessee will just have to play out the string. They host Georgia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) hoping to halt the hard charge of an upstart, and then hope for revenge at Vanderbilt (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN).
5 Vanderbilt SEC #4 1 – 5 – 10
19-6 RPI: 14 SOS: 12 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Looking at the Commodores’ schedule, there really is very little middle ground: although losses to Arkansas and South Carolina are in the past, LSU and Auburn seem a little too awful for Vanderbilt to struggle with, even on the road, and the worst team besides those they play the rest of the way is Tennessee (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN). A horrible loss in the conference tournament is possible, but it won’t be enough to keep them out of the Dance; existing wins over North Carolina and Kentucky should be enough. Of course, if the SEC Network shows Auburn fans storming the court on Saturday (4pm ET), I reserve the right to drop the ‘Dores back to “Probably in”.
6 Texas A&M B12 #3 Probably in
19-5 RPI: 31 SOS: 55 R/N: 6-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
A&M looks worse in the comparison with the SEC teams this week upon further review. Colorado and Texas Tech don’t provide the resume spark the Aggies needed. The Aggies don’t have an RPI Top 25 win and don’t get another shot at Texas until the conference tournament. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, or Missouri is poison to the Aggies’ relative standing on Selection Sunday. A&M probably isn’t that far away from lock territory given the softness of the bubble, as long as they don’t blow themselves up when they take on the Oklahoma schools (@Oklahoma State Saturday 9pm ET, ESPNU, Oklahoma Wednesday 7:30pm ET, local FSN coverage), but every loss from here until the conference tournament except Kansas could be worth at least a seed line.
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
19-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 58 R/N: 4-6 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
Missouri still needs to add depth to their resume, and their best chance to do that might be at the end of the season, with the home rematch with Kansas and the Big 12 Tournament. Their schedule gets progressively worse from here on out: even on the road, Iowa State (Saturday 1:30pm ET: Big 12 Network) should be easy pickings, while a home visit from Baylor (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN2) will provide a challenge but shouldn’t be too difficult. After that? A road trip to K-State will be harder (and more important) than a road trip to Nebraska, but the season ends with a visit from the Jayhawks.
6 Minnesota B10 #4 Probably in
17-8 RPI: 37 SOS: 25 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Minnesota missed a chance to make up ground with the loss to Illinois and it now looks like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue have formed a solid top tier in the Big Ten, leaving the Gophers behind. Minnesota’s best true road win is still against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. The Gophers are cursing themselves for losing to Michigan State, and Virginia and Indiana are very concerning. Minnesota probably would have been a 5 last week before losing to Ohio State (certainly forgivable) and Indiana (a no-no). Minnesota needed Iowa to break a four-game losing streak, and could use a win over Penn State (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2, already played) to escape the first round of the conference tournament and improve their road resume. Although the Gophers can’t afford to lose out, the worst team they play the rest of the way is Northwestern, meaning no individual loss should do too much damage.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
19-6 RPI: 13 SOS: 14 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
The Tar Heels couldn’t close out a huge win over rival Duke that could have locked them into the field, and the jump in the strength of schedule has now subsided. The Heels have to feel good about their chances in the season-ending home rematch, which they will want to snag because no other ACC team is that great in the RPI, and none of them is better than tenth in the seeding. Would a win over Boston College (Saturday 4pm ET, ESPN) be enough to punch their tourney ticket? That’s an open question, but my guess is, while it’ll put them closer to the 5th seed line, it probably won’t be enough by itself.
7 St. John’s BST #9 Probably in
16-9 RPI: 17 SOS: 2 R/N: 7-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 6-7 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 5
Steve Lavin’s team is on a critical three-game winning streak. The win over UConn was good, but the wins over Cincinnati and Marquette may have been more important, because now St. John’s can say with some credibility that the win over West Virginia wasn’t a fluke and there are other good Big East teams they can beat on the road, and thus that the Johnnies aren’t entirely a creation of home-court advantage. That home-court advantage will be put to the ultimate test this weekend: Pitt (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
7 UNLV MWC #3 Barely in
18-7 RPI: 27 SOS: 30 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 2-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
One thing UNLV has going for them: they play well on the road. The Rebels don’t have many good wins, but combine their good road record with UC Santa Barbara being their only truly bad loss and they’re in pretty good shape. Being in the Mountain West, though, a single slip-up could kill them. Upon further review, despite being right next to North Carolina and St. John’s, teams that could be just one or two wins away from lockdom, UNLV has been temporarily demoted to “barely in” pending the results of road games against fellow Mountain West bubblers Colorado State (Saturday 7pm ET, mtn.) and New Mexico (Wednesday 9pm ET, CBS CS). At the least, all their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a loss, and after losing to San Diego State, they will need to be on their guard all the way to the conference tournament.
7 Illinois B10 #5 Probably in
17-9 RPI: 38 SOS: 21 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Illinois is likely getting into the field after a big road win over Minnesota helps make home wins over North Carolina and the new giant-killers Wisconsin look less like flukes. Not that losses to Indiana, UIC, or recently to Northwestern aren’t still head-scratchers, but Illinois has proven now that they can be the real deal when push comes to shove. Games against the Michigan schools (@Michigan State Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN) will serve to help further deepen the resume in preparation for a big road trip to Columbus (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPN).
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
20-6 RPI: 44 SOS: 98 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
Well, at some point the Bearcats had to win a game against the top half of the Big East, even if it was a home game against Louisville. Cincinnati is tough to read, as all their losses have come against the Big East’s top tier and they have a win over St. John’s and now the Cardinals under their belt, but Xavier and Dayton are their only other wins against the RPI Top 60. Clearly, the Bearcats will suffer because of their schedule. Failing to win the rematch against St. John’s doesn’t help matters. A road trip to Georgetown (Wednesday 9pm ET, Big East Network) will provide another opportunity for the Bearcats to figure out who they are.
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 Barely in
21-6 RPI: 30 SOS: 68 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 9-2 RPI T100: 6-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Beating Virginia Commonwealth adds depth to Old Dominion’s resume, and helps them in the conference, but there’s still something lacking. Drawing Cleveland State in BracketBusters (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN2) probably helps the Vikings, who don’t have and desperately need a single RPI Top 40, more than one RPI Top 80, or a road RPI Top 100 win, more than the Monarchs, though the Vikings will provide a much-needed RPI Top 40 win and won’t hurt them too much with a loss.
8 Temple A10 #1 Barely in
19-5 RPI: 33 SOS: 105 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 7-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Xavier has higher RPI and is getting more dap from the media, and they did beat Temple at home, but that happens to be the Musketeers’ best win; they don’t have a win of the caliber of Georgetown on their resume. I reserve the right to change my mind on this later, of course. They won’t meet again until the conference tournament, but in the meantime Temple can fend off challengers for A-10 positioning, starting with Richmond (Thursday 7pm ET, CBS CS, already played). If they can upset Duke (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) that might just punch their ticket to the Dance.
8 UCLA PAC #1 Barely in
18-7 RPI: 34 SOS: 39 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 4-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
At long last, the first Pac-10 team on the ladder! We only had to go through, what, ten Big East teams to get to this point? A team with seven losses, a losing road/neutral record, and a losing record against good teams, and not only do wins over BYU and St. John’s propel them above their brethren, they might actually win the conference with only Arizona ahead of them at the moment! It would help, of course, if the Bruins could actually beat the Wildcats, which they’ll have another chance for in a couple of weeks.

8 Georgia SEC #5 Barely in
17-8 RPI: 46 SOS: 36 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 11-3 RPI T100: 4-8 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
All of Georgia’s seven losses have come against teams in the top 35 in the RPI; it’s a rarity to have no bad losses this far down. So what’s the problem? They can’t win any of those games against good opposition (and just missed another opportunity against Vanderbilt). They have a home win over Kentucky, which sort of shows they have more than just consistency, but their only other RPI Top 60 win is against UAB. Worse, Ole Miss is not only their best road win, it’s their only other RPI Top 90 win. If Georgia can pick up a few more pelts they’ll be in better shape. The good news is they’ll have chances in the SEC; they face Tennessee on Saturday (1pm ET, CBS) and head to Gainesville after that (Thursday 2/24 7pm ET, ESPN). The bad news is, can they get the wins they need against the SEC’s top teams?
9 Memphis USA #1 Barely in
20-6 RPI: 25 SOS: 38 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 9-5 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 3
Memphis is a victim of an iffy conference. There just isn’t anyone that can provide the schedule boost the Tigers need; they don’t have any RPI Top 30 wins and have no hope of getting any. Their schedule wasn’t up to what it was in the Calipari years, but the teams they did play may have been a little too good for them; still, you’d like to beat Georgetown if you get them at home, and Tennessee should have been vulnerable coming off much more questionable losses and heading into the Bruce Pearl suspension. Any loss in the conference tournament alone certainly wouldn’t help matters, because again, the conference is iffy. But it certainly helps to get a second win over UAB (your best win) and consolidate your conference lead.
9 Arizona PAC #2 Barely in
21-4 RPI: 16 SOS: 57 R/N: 8-4 OOC: 11-2 RPI T100: 5-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
Despite a gaudy RPI, only four losses (and only two of those being remotely questionable), and general media love (12th in the polls!), I’m not feeling the Wildcats. UCLA, a game that came at home, is their only win in the top 60. The Bruins have wins over BYU (one of Arizona’s losses) and St. John’s; call me when the Wildcats have beaten them again in Westwood and we can talk about the Wildcats dominating the Pac-10. At the very least, take care of business at home against a Washington team (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) whose road woes could end up dooming their tourney hopes (see below).
9 Michigan State B10 #6 Barely in
13-11 RPI: 51 SOS: 5 R/N: 3-9 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 7-10 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
So, Michigan State, the team whose decline is the scourge of resumes across the Big Ten (not to mention in Durham, NC, Austin, TX, and Syracuse, NY), we finally meet face to face. Some of those numbers look awful enough to leave the Spartans out of the dance entirely, by a wide margin (only two games above .500 and an RPI in the 50s), but the Spartans can still boast admittedly-home wins over Minnesota and – crucially – giant-killers Wisconsin. Only three of their many losses count as “bad losses”, and of those, only Michigan came at home (Texas being the Spartans’ only other home loss); even the loss to Illinois was a road game. And all this is reflected in the #5 strength of schedule in the country. In a sense, then, they’re the Georgetown of the Big Ten. Of course they have to get better if they want to even sniff the Dance, and they have a tremendous opportunity, bordering on must-win, when they get the home rematch against the Illini (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN). If they can win the road trip to Minnesota (Tuesday 9pm ET, BTN) they can feel a lot better about their chances with a deep tourney run.
9 Xavier A10 #2 Barely in
19-6 RPI: 19 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 9-5 RPI T100: 9-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Same deal as Arizona: gaudy RPI, leading the conference, not feeling ’em. In this case Xavier has a better strength of schedule, more wins against good teams (including both Temple and a road win over Georgia), but also some pretty bad losses, Charlotte being most obvious, but losing to Miami (OH) and fringe bubbler Gonzaga are no-nos, especially outside an already weak conference.
10 Marquette BST #11 Barely in
15-11 RPI: 67 SOS: 31 R/N: 3-8 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-9 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 1
With three humongous home wins against the class of the Big East and nothing else in the RPI Top 80, Marquette has made itself a strong bubble contender despite double-digit losses and an atrocious RPI. Mark my words, they would not be getting in if they were in a non-BCS conference. It helps that all their losses are against the Big East’s top half (plus Duke, Vanderbilt, and St. John’s) with the exception of a head-scratching loss to Gonzaga on a neutral floor. Can the Eagles get it done on the road against a UConn team (Thursday 2/24 7pm ET, ESPN2) no one seems to know who they are?
10 Florida State ACC #3 Barely in
18-7 RPI: 50 SOS: 81 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T100: 6-6 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
The Seminoles, obviously, are being largely propelled by the win over Duke, but they’ve backed it up with only Auburn as a super-puzzling loss and wins over conference foes Boston College and Miami (FL), the latter on the road. That could be enough for the committee to overlook an iffy RPI and strength of schedule. Miami’s resume is strong enough (see below) that it could help ensure the ACC gets three bids, but Florida State’s best hope may lie in upsetting North Carolina at home.
10 Colorado State MWC #4 Barely in
17-7 RPI: 40 SOS: 50 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 9-4 RPI T100: 5-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Questionable losses to Hampton and Sam Houston, as well as fellow bubblers New Mexico and Colorado, mean that a road victory over UNLV probably, by itself, won’t be enough. Wins over two Mississippi schools (Southern Miss and Ole Miss) help, but this resume needs more depth. A home rematch with UNLV (Saturday 7pm ET, mtn.) would help, but what could really propel the Rams is if they can repeat New Mexico’s upset feat over BYU (Wednesday 7pm ET, mtn.). One problem: That game is going to be a road trip.
10 Mississippi SEC #6 Barely in
17-9 RPI: 59 SOS: 47 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 3-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Alabama has received attention for a blistering start to conference play, but it’s still hard to get past their iffy nonconference. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has a losing record in conference, but are still tied for second in the clearly-lesser SEC West and still have a far better RPI than the Tide. Really, only rivals Mississippi State at home are a truly head-scratching loss (though of course it must be admitted that all three of the Rebels’ nonconference losses have issues). Meanwhile they’ve also upset some impressive teams at home, Kentucky foremost among them. It will probably take a deep run in the conference tournament to get in and stay in, but unlike with Alabama all it takes is a few wins over good teams (including Alabama themselves in the home rematch) to show how good you really are.
11 Oklahoma State B12 #5 Barely in
16-9 RPI: 54 SOS: 48 R/N: 4-8 OOC: 12-2 RPI T100: 5-8 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 6
There’s the elite (Kansas and Texas), the strong (A&M and Missouri), and then there’s the Big 12’s third tier: the vulnerable. Oklahoma State actually has some impressive home wins, Missouri most notably, but they’ve also lost to too many weak teams, admittedly all on the road or neutral sites. With a few more wins over good opponents, the Cowboys could have a quite strong case for giving the Big 12 five bids. A home date with Texas A&M (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPNU) could be an opportunity for a repeat of the Missouri win, or it could utterly destroy their tourney chances. Then they’ll just try to survive the road trip to Kansas (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN).
11 Penn State B10 #7 Barely in
13-11 RPI: 65 SOS: 8 R/N: 1-7 OOC: 7-4 RPI T100: 5-10 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Some people may discount the Nittany Lions’ chances of even contending for the Dance, and when you find yourself holding your nose at a record only two games above .500 and a 1-7 road record, it’s hard not to agree with them. But Penn State actually has a resume quite similar to Michigan State: 13-11, but a gaudy SOS and impressive home wins over conference foes. Winning some road games would be nice, but the Lions do show flashes of brilliance in their home games – and really, only two of their losses are that horrible, and in Maryland’s case even that’s debatable. Penn State may have made people take notice once again with a home win over Minnesota (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2, already played), but will that survive huge road tests against Wisconsin (Sunday 6pm ET, BTN) and Northwestern (Thursday 2/24 9pm ET, ESPN2)?
11 Washington PAC #3 Barely in
17-7 RPI: 39 SOS: 58 R/N: 4-7 OOC: 8-3 RPI T100: 6-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
I have no intention of having a bias towards a local team, nor do I have any intention of having a bias towards a perceived rival. I do want to point out that there is a lot to like about the Huskies considering the Pac-10’s woes, foremost among them being wins against both conference teams above them (and UCLA was even on the road!), but there’s also a disturbing collection of road losses against rival Washington State, Stanford, and the Oregon schools. Those are the kind of losses you can’t have if you want to go dancing. The Huskies haven’t lost a game at home, and they really need to keep that up if they want any hope of getting to March, while also avoiding costly road losses. You don’t want me gloating about the Huskies being upended by those upstarts from Seattle University (Tuesday 10pm ET, FSN Northwest/FCS) – that could be fatal to your tourney chances, especially since it’s not really a road game. Beating Arizona on the road (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) is the one chance Washington will have to prove they really can win on the road before the conference tournament.
11f Miami (FL) ACC #4 Barely in
16-10 RPI: 64 SOS: 54 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-3 RPI T100: 3-9 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:6
Are we really talking about the Hurricanes before getting to the likes of Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Clemson? Yes, we are. For one thing, Miami has actually beaten Boston College at home; for another, the Hurricanes’ only home losses are to the three ACC teams ahead of them. Did I mention they’ve beaten West Virginia as well? Not that this isn’t desperately in need of improvement, and that the road losses, especially to conference rivals, aren’t a problem, but this is a resume that seems more impressive than one might give it credit for. The ‘Canes still need to avoid losing at home to Clemson (Sunday 3:30pm ET, ESPNU) and survive road tests against Boston College (Wednesday 7pm ET) and Florida State (Saturday 2/26 2pm ET, ACC Network).
11f Marshall USA #2 Barely in
15-9 RPI: 63 SOS: 64 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 10-3 RPI T100: 5-7 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:7
What is a team ranked 7th in the conference standings doing ahead of who knows how many other Conference USA teams? Well, for one, Marshall isn’t just a neutral site win over West Virginia. They’ve also done something neither UAB nor Southern Miss have been able to do: beat Memphis when the Tigers come to town. We do have to wag our finger at the Herd for the questionable losses, especially on the road (though the two most questionable were at home), and it would be nice if you could have beaten UAB (or Southern Miss on the road), but this could be a scary team if they can get their act together.
12f Kansas State B12 #6 Barely in
16-9 RPI: 32 SOS: 7 R/N: 4-7 OOC: 11-3 RPI T100: 7-9 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤:3
A few short weeks ago, when K-State was being blown out of the water by Kansas in Lawrence, many people thought the Wildcats didn’t look anything close to an NCAA tournament team. Certainly their tourney hopes were hanging by a thread. Did one win over the Jayhawks in Manhattan singlehandedly revitalize K-State’s season? Well, it would help if the Kansas win had any resemblance to the rest of their resume, which has no other wins against teams that even look close to the cutline, sparkling #7 strength of schedule notwithstanding, but they do have wins over Virginia Tech and Baylor, and Colorado has accounted for their only real questionable wins, which may be why the Buffaloes would probably be the seventh Big 12 team in the pecking order, and not far past the cutline.
12f George Mason CAA #2 Barely in
22-5 RPI: 21 SOS: 65 R/N: 9-5 OOC: 8-3 RPI T100: 8-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤:4
George Mason’s legendary Final Four run a few years back seems to have paid dividends for the team… but this profile still has some problems. There’s a lot to like: great RPI, five total losses, only one outside the RPI Top 100, and none at home. But there’s a reason Mason is right on the cutline: while Virginia Commonwealth is a good road win, it’s not the best choice for your best road win. And while most of Mason’s losses are vaguely respectable, losses to the Hofstras and Woffords of the world do not a winning resume make. Obviously the Patriots are hurt by playing their games in the CAA, where quality wins are hard to come by, but playing Harvard, Dayton, and Duquesne as your best nonconference opponents doesn’t help, especially when you lose to one of them, and honestly, Northern Iowa in BracketBusters (Saturday 7pm ET, ESPN2) isn’t much of an improvement, being only the fifth-best team in the RPI Mason will have faced. Northern Iowa could use the RPI Top 40 win a lot more than Mason could use them; what Mason categorically cannot afford is another iffy loss.

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