Bubble Watch: Could Kentucky be NIT-bound, Big Ten showdown, more
Kentucky was the final team into this week's bracket, the defending national champions ignominiously scheduled to begin their title defense on a Wednesday night in Dayton. For all the possible promise of this season's batch of Kiddie Cats, they have not yet delivered anything close to a substantive NCAA tournament profile, unless you count competitive losses as a plus. Right now, Kentucky is carrying an RPI in the high 60s, with a win over Maryland (itself falling out of this week's bracket) as its only top-150 victory.
For all the faux-gnashing of teeth about the Wildcats' positioning in mid-January, there is some legitimate reason for concern. The SEC is decidedly mediocre this season, with only Florida and (assumedly) Missouri available as truly quality conquests in league play. Kentucky doesn't play either of those teams until Feb. 12, when it visits the Gators, and gets both of those teams at Rupp later on. With only one nonconference win likely to even end up in the
Given the massive turnover from last season's roster, this isn't entirely shocking. In fact, in the early entry era, it's not a stunner for the defending national champion to miss the NCAA tournament entirely the following season. Just in the last five years, it's happened to North Carolina (2010) and Florida (2008).
I'd expect Kentucky to scrape through enough SEC games to make it into the eventual Field of 68, but its margin for error isn't great. Another couple of surprises like Texas A&M walking into Rupp and walking out with a win, and the Cats could be gunning for a different type of title come March: The NIT.
** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com's Monday report. Questions/comments go to @AndyGlockner on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.**
The Blue Devils lost their first game of the season, at N.C. State, but the bigger question is how long Ryan Kelly will be out? In a worst-case scenario, where he doesn't return at all, the Blue Devils will be a lesser team and also will be more heavily evaluated on what they can do with the Kelly-less lineup. It's a situation that bears watching in terms of the battle for 1-seeds in the NCAAs. The Wolfpack grabbed a win they really needed to get and looked strong in the process. Miami also continues to win shorthanded. Everyone else? Meh.
The Wolfpack looked very solid against Duke and the win counts full credit even without Ryan Kelly available for the Blue Devils. It also makes the ACC race much more interesting. Wednesday's game at Maryland is now a great test as a getting-more-desperate Terps squad needs to get some good wins.
A very impressive week for the Canes, who are still without Reggie Johnson but went to Chapel Hill and beat the Tar Heels and then handled Maryland at home. Beating two of the league's other NCAA bid contenders has started to move Miami's profile closer in line with its outrageous computer numbers. They only have one game this week -- at league minnow Boston College -- before hosting Duke and Florida State next week.
The Heels avoided a calamitous 0-3 league start with a win at Florida State, but they will need to do considerably more to impress as the win over UNLV weakens a bit with the Rebels' shaky form. They have all week to prepare for a trip from Maryland, a very big early-season game for both.
The Seminoles looked like they were finding their annual recovery track with a win at Maryland, but then they couldn't handle North Carolina at home on the weekend. That's, amazingly, five home losses already, which helps explain the middling RPI despite a solid overall schedule. There's much work to be done here, starting with a game at suddenly desperate Virginia on Saturday.
All the talk about the Terps' talent and depth may very well be true, but it's time it translates to performance on the floor. Maryland doesn't have a good win this season, and just had a league week where it lost to two fellow bid contenders, including Florida State at home. Now the next five games are brutal by 2013 ACC standards: NC State, at North Carolina, Boston College, at Duke, at Florida State. A 3-5 ACC mark is looming as a real possibility, which would be a dangerous spot with a lack of premium games after that.
The Orange may be facing their seemingly annual "We lost a crucial piece in the second semester" when James Southerland was held out this past weekend for an unspecified eligibility issue. That would be a crucial loss for this version of the Orange, which is a bit challenged from the perimeter otherwise. The Orange and Cards clash this Saturday for early bragging rights. **Remember, Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play this season.**
"Team Bubble Watch" isn't making it easy on their fans, but they never do. A stirring overtime win over Pitt has moved the Golden Eagles to 3-0 in the conference and there are three eminently winnable home games on tap. If they can handle a trip to Cincinnati, Marquette could be 7-0 heading to Louisville on Feb. 3. Then again, that's just not the TBW way, so expect some craziness somewhere.
The Irish took a somewhat surprising home loss to impressive UConn in their only game of the week. The nonleague profile was a mix of decent wins and really weak foes, which explains the SOS despite some solid wins. The next six in league play are quite manageable, even with three on the road. Expect a fairly strong record and continued so-so computer numbers through the next few weeks.
Winning at Rutgers isn't ever a given, but it won't add much to the overall profile. Same with the game at DePaul, even with the Blue Demons looking improved. Then Marquette arrives. The offense is far from consistently efficient, but if the Bearcats can hit the glass and get to the line, they score enough to win.
The Hoyas salvaged the week by winning at St. John's after the nadir of the JTIII Era, a 28-point home loss to Pitt. They need to handle Providence at home this week before a tricky run (at South Florida, at Notre Dame, home to Louisville) or face having to dig out of a hole in league play. The back end of the schedule isn't easy, either.
A win at St. John's was offset by a home loss to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights can't let home games like that get away. They lack quality wins and the upcoming Big East stretch is not very friendly.
Still very marginal, but at least with a road win at Georgetown in their pocket now. The OT loss to Marquette was a disappointing capper to what could have been a productive week. This next stretch at Villanova, home to UConn, at Providence and home to DePaul is very important. The six after that are very difficult.
There's nothing terribly noteworthy in the Wildcats' profile yet, but they had won seven in a row before losing at Syracuse. They get Pitt at home and then a trip to Providence this week ahead of home chances against Louisville and Syracuse.
What was re-established this week: The top of this league is outstanding. Indiana looked incredible for much of its duel with Minnesota and the Gophers still got within three late. Michigan looked terrible for 15 minutes at Ohio State and still drew level and had every chance to win down the stretch. It's just a very difficult league and the champ will probably end up with at least four losses.
The Buckeyes showed themselves at their best in the first 15 minutes against Michigan, destroying the nation's top efficiency offense with glue-like defense and scoring opportunistically in transition. Then their lack of secondary scoring saw the attack bog down and they needed to work hard to hold off the Wolverines late. Next up: A trip to East Lansing, which should be another brawl.
Regression to the mean? Or just the brutality of the Big Ten schedule? The Illini were thrashed at home by Minnesota and then routed at Wisconsin. Still, Illinois has three very strong wins already, so they just need to stabilize and win some of the games they should in league play and should be fine. That starts with Northwestern at home on Thursday.
Winning at Iowa isn't a given, so credit the Spartans for their 2-0 week. After Wednesday's trip to Happy Valley, opportunity is at hand. The next five are Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota.
Pounding Illinois was a much-needed step forward for the Badgers. Now they travel to Indiana Tuesday night and then to Iowa on the weekend, so we'll see how their road form has developed. They have not looked good away from home this season.
The Jayhawks were all but beaten by Iowa State but somehow survived. They then took care of business at Texas Tech and against Baylor and continue to trend toward a 1-seed and a Kansas City/Arlington path. Behind them, the deck continues to shuffle.
Good home win over in-state rival Oklahoma State. Now the Sooners have to take care of Texas Tech at home before the schedule gets really nasty. The seven after that include home-and-homes with Kansas and Kansas State and trips to Iowa State and Baylor.
Winning in Morgantown is never easy, even with the Mountaineers down, so add a solid one to the K-State ledger. They need to handle league bottomfeeder TCU on Wednesday before Oklahoma comes calling in an interesting early-season tilt of quasi-contenders.
This week is more or less like last week, with a very winnable home game and a strong road test. The Pokes are 0-2 away from GIA already and now get a trip to Baylor on the weekend to see what they can do there. The Puerto Rico Tipoff title, with wins over NC State, Tennessee and Akron, remains a great nonconference stake in the ground.
The Cyclones nearly pulled the monster upset at Kansas, but ultimately fell in overtime. Then they bounced back to handle Texas. The next four -- West Virginia and Kansas State sandwiched around trips to TCU and Texas Tech -- are very winnable.
Any 2-0 week is better than a loss, but when the wins are over the two terrible teams in the league, they don't move the overall needle very much. Then the Bears were handcuffed in Lawrence Monday night in a 61-44 loss. The resulting positioning isn't great at the moment, although the wins over fellow cutline candidates BYU and Kentucky helped keep the Bears in this week's bracket.
The Wildcats' magic potion finally ran dry in Eugene, but they continue (for now) to look like the class of the conference and have a profile that should ensure a strong NCAA seed. UCLA has emerged as a likely challenger along with the Ducks. After that? There's some disappointment to spread around.
As I wrote Monday, the smallball Bruins continue to improve and evolve and are looking more formidable by the week. They were very impressive on short rest in Boulder as they finished a mountain sweep. As long as they stay healthy and can ride this 7.5-man rotation, they should win a solid number of Pac-12 games. The Oregon schools visit Pauley this weekend.
Booked a pair of tight wins over the Arizona schools to thrust themselves into Pac-12 title discussion. Good team, with inside-outside balance and a strong coach, the Ducks should be very much in the mix. Let's see how they handle a roadie to Los Angeles this weekend. Saturday at UCLA should be fun.
Countering UCLA's surging optimism, Tad Boyle was visibly frustrated with his Buffaloes after Saturday's loss to the Bruins. When a coach starts implying a team has maturity and leadership vacuums, it can go either way. There's a lot of talent here, but we'll see what happens. A trip to Washington and Wazzu looms. Several quality nonleague wins and a strongly rated schedule helps, but only so much.
No shame in losing by three at Oregon, or getting a split of the trip to the state that loves dreamers. Having Arizona as a travel partner is a nice bonus, as teams can't focus primarily on the Sun Devils. This week has the travel partner showdown when the Wildcats come to Tempe. Big opportunity.
A sweep in the Bay Area and the Huskies have started 3-0 on the road in league play. Now they host ticked-off Colorado and Utah before a swing to the Oregon schools. This could start to get very interesting if the Huskies are sitting at 6-1 when Arizona arrives on Jan. 31.
Splitting at home against this year's Washington schools isn't great, even with the Huskies improving. There's nothing to like in this profile yet and now three straight road games loom, starting with the rivalry game at Stanford this weekend.
The top two remain solidly safe, even after Missouri got ambushed at Mississippi. There's been some movement elsewhere, and it's not necessarily good news for Big Blue Nation.
So where did that come from? Routing Arkansas was a nice statement, but rolling into Rupp and having Elston Turner drop a 40-burger on the Cats? Very nice. Now the visit from Florida on Thursday becomes even more interesting. The second half of the SEC slate is really soft, so if the Aggies can book a few more wins now, the path to the bracket will be very much in their hands.
A very nice opening week for the Rebels, with a road win at Tennessee and then the blitzing of Missouri in Oxford. The next four -- at Vandy, Arkansas, Tennessee, at Auburn -- are all quite winnable, so we'll see how this goes in the next couple of weeks. Trend is upward, though.
Rupp roh. The Cats got lit up by Texas A&M at home in a very rare home loss in the Calipari Era. That came after the Cats barely scraped by modest Vanderbilt on the road. Now they host Tennessee Tuesday night before four of the next five are on the road. Plus Maryland dumped two ACC games. Not a good week.
The Tide missed their one shot against Missouri and then barely scraped past Tennessee at home. They're barely clinging on to at-large legitimacy at this point and now the schedule, by SEC standards, gets very difficult. Is this an opportunity or a final stand for the Tide?
The first week of league play was as good as you could have hoped for, with a bevy of close games showing the strength and depth of the conference. I'd still bet anyone would grab 12-4 and roll with it.
Homecourt was defended in Week 1, with wins over UNLV and Fresno State staking the Lobos to a 2-0 start. Now it gets intriguing, with three of the next four away, beginning at upstart Boise State on Wednesday. The Lobos have been one of the league's scrappier road teams historically.
The Aztecs got to 2-0, but it was anything but easy. They survived a three at the buzzer to tie at Fresno State and then staved off Colorado State in overtime. Now hot rival UNLV arrives on Montezuma Mesa before the annually sticky trip to Wyoming comes on Saturday.
The Rams showed their fortitude with a huge second-half rally at San Diego State before eventually falling in overtime. Air Force and UNLV come calling this week, and neither should be easy.
The Broncos found a way to win at Wyoming despite not having several rotation players and their leading scorer. Now they host New Mexico in a big chance for a statement win before heading to Air Force this weekend. The middle of the schedule is loaded with tough road games, so the chance is now to book some wins and create profile breathing room.
The enigma that is the Rebels continues. They are very fortunate not to be 0-2 after Air Force missed game-winning shots at the end of regulation and overtime. But they also had a chance to win at The Pit despite not playing all that well. The brutal start continues with trips to San Diego State and Colorado State this week. A split would be very credible.
The Pokes got buzzer-beaten at home by below-strength Boise State before they bounced back with a solid second half at Nevada. Second-leading scorer Luke Martinez remains injured and suspended after a bar fight. They're at Fresno in what should be another scrappy, low-scoring game before hosting San Diego State for the first of their big home opportunities.
Butler made a strong statement of intent with two good road wins, but being without Rotnei Clarke for awhile might be limiting. This is another league where the top teams will likely beat each other up. It's already starting to happen.
It doesn't get much better than ripping off wins at Saint Joe's and Dayton to christen your league debut. As long as Rotnei Clarke returns healthy, the Bulldogs should be strongly in the mix to win the league. Clarke will miss the Richmond and Gonzaga games this week, though.
The Rams opened 2-0 and could rip off a lot of wins as their schedule is extremely favorable until the final five games, when they are at Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple, plus have Butler at home. Havoc is working on the lesser lights in the league and the Rams could be the frontrunner everyone has to catch.
The Owls were surprised at Xavier before coming home and handling Saint Louis in a mini-preview of what this league should look like all season. They now have two winnable league games and a Big 5 encounter with Penn before heading to Butler on Jan. 26.
Beating UMass at home and losing at Temple was the most likely result last week. Now they need to clean up on some of the lesser lights before hosting Dayton and Butler at the turn of the month.
This is the big stretch for the Explorers after splitting at Charlotte and home to Dayton last week. This week it's Dayton and then at Xavier. Next week, it's Butler and then at VCU.
Lost at Saint Louis, won at Fordham, so essentially a week of treading water for the Minutemen. The next three are winnable, but they need some quality Ws to enhance a pedestrian profile at this point.
The missed opportunities continued with a home loss to Butler to open league play. Now, after winning at Duquesne, the Hawks head to VCU for another premium chance. After that, most of their "big" games in the league come at home, so this one is very important for natural resume enhancement.
Well, they beat La Salle, so that's a start. It was the 49ers">49ers' first top-100 win of the season, so let's not get too crazy over the gaudy record just yet. This week provides more opportunity to fill up, with a poor Fordham team coming to Charlotte before a trip to Richmond on the weekend.
Despite losing at Evansville, things are looking up for the Shockers with the imminent return of Carl Hall to the lineup. The game against Creighton this weekend should be a doozy.
The Sycamores' profile isn't good enough to endure losses like at Southern Illinois, but they have four winnable games now (three at home) before visiting Wichita State. We'll see.
The Zags held off a gallant Saint Mary's rally, but showed enough vulnerability for others to think they can take a shot at the king on the way to their presumed league title.
Winning at Santa Clara was pretty decent. If the Cougars can handle Saint Mary's and San Diego at home this week, they'll roll into Spokane at 6-0 on Jan. 24. That would be fun. Santa Clara was BYU's first top-100 win, so there's a lot of compiling going on. They need to take one (at least) off the Zags.
Nearly an epic comeback at Gonzaga, but the Gaels fell short and are running out of chances to impress. This Wednesday at BYU is their last chance for a strong road win.
Best of the Rest
The Bruins have ripped through the soft part of the OVC. This week will be a better test against fellow league unbeatens Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State, but both games are at home. The only meeting with Murray State comes Feb. 7 at Murray. Hard to see this amounting to a legit at-large profile, but too early to count anything out.
The Bison simply have to keep winning. RealTimeRPI.com projects them to finish with an RPI of 44 if they go 13-1 in the weak Patriot League. Of course, they'd have to eat another loss in the conference tourney for an at-large to be in play, and it's hard to see a five-loss Bison team getting in that way.
With C-USA being so relatively void of quality games, Saturday's home tilt with Harvard actually is important for the Tigers. That speaks volumes to their overall profile at this point. They need to keep winning in the league and let the chips fall where they may.
Similar to Bucknell, the Blue Raiders are projected to end up at an RPI of 37 if they finish 17-3 in the league. That's certainly possible. There are no top-100 teams in the Sun Belt besides them.
Another run-the-table-and-hope candidate, as any loss(es) in the Summit League, when mixed with the weak nonleague slate, probably will spell at-large doom. Yet another solid team with a weak profile.
Can a second team survive the mediocrity of C-USA? They don't have any top-100 wins, and only have played two top-100 games. They don't play another one until they host Memphis on Feb. 9. It seems very unlikely, but if the Golden Eagles can win the regular season title, who knows.
The Bulldogs play Utah State twice and still have to go to New Mexico State, so there are a couple chances for decent wins on the way to a potential WAC title. Could the win over Southern Miss be a helper down the road? The loss at McNeese State certainly won't be.