Bubble Watch: Weak nonconference slates come back to bite some
The selection committee annually touts nonconference strength of schedule as an important component in NCAA at-large evaluation, which makes sense because in theory that's the part of the schedule you can control. Each year, though, there are a handful of teams that try to do right by their nonleague opponent selection but end up finding themselves in a mess of trouble.
This year's primary case of that may be Memphis, which took part in the really loaded Battle 4 Atlantis event in November but lost its first two games to VCU and Minnesota. No shame in either of those losses, obviously, but the Tigers landed in the seventh place game against Northern Iowa, which has disappointed this season. That opportunity missed, the rest of Memphis' schedule then depreciated before the Tigers' eyes. Ohio isn't even a top-100 win right now coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. A rivalry win at Tennessee also isn't currently a top-100 win. Harvard was weakened by offseason academic issues and sits at 84th in the RPI. Loyola (Md.) is similarly positioned. The Tigers played decently but lost to Louisville. Again, no shame, but it leaves the Tigers' in a quandary.
Right now, Memphis is without a top-75 win this season and most of C-USA is so poor this year that the opportunities to help the profile with quality wins are few and far between. Two games with fellow at-large hopeful Southern Miss remain, as does a suddenly more valuable nonleague tilt at Xavier and one game at UTEP. It's entirely possible, though, that Memphis will enter Selection Sunday without a top-50 win, and it's not entirely their fault. Will the committee factor that in should Memphis not claim the league's auto bid? The event's in Tulsa, not Memphis, this year.
Another team in the same genre of trouble is Virginia, although this is the Cavaliers' doing. By losing at home to Delaware in the Preseason NIT regional, the Cavaliers missed a trip to NYC and games against Kansas State and either Pitt or Michigan. Instead, they got consolation home games against terrible Lamar and North Texas teams, which are helping contribute to an awful nonleague SOS. Mix in a defeat to a horrible 2-16 Old Dominion team and the Cavaliers currently have the worst RPI in the ACC. They're a significantly better team than that, but their schedule is soft in ACC play, so they will have limited chances to show that in terms of marquee victories.
Nonconference scheduling is a massive part of the bubble equation, but even when you try to do things the right way, it can backfire. Both Memphis and Virginia are better teams than what their profiles suggest, but neither has very much room for error now thanks to a couple early missteps.
** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com's Monday report. Questions/comments go to @AndyGlockner on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.**
The Blue Devils remain comfortably positioned for a 1-seed, but this is a testing week -- at Miami and home to Maryland. The Canes can stake a real claim to the league title if they can handle the Blue Devils at home on Wednesday. There are only three teams above .500 in the league right now, but unlike the Mountain West, this isn't because the league is so competitive from top to bottom. It's just mediocre.
Maybe it was a lookahead, but the Hurricanes barely escaped a significant gack with a one-point decision at Boston College. Now Duke and Florida State come to town. If the Canes can hold serve at home, the ACC race gets very interesting and their NCAA participation becomes a near formality.
Not the greatest follow-up week for the Wolfpack with a ragged one-point loss at Maryland and then having to scrape past Clemson at home. By all rights, this week (at Wake and home to North Carolina) should be a 2-0 one, but it never seems to be quite that straightforward in Raleigh.
The Tar Heels got a much-needed home win over Maryland and maybe that springboards them into a soft stretch in their league schedule. The next five include home dates with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, plus a trip to Boston College. Only this weekend's road tilt at NC State provides on-paper underdog status.
Woooooof. With a week to prepare, the Seminoles went to Virginia and lost 56-36, and the sputtering NCAA tournament push recommences. With five home losses already, this is a very questionable profile that lacks a true quality win. Handling Clemson at home seems a must before a trip to Miami this weekend. Home dates with Maryland and Duke loom next week.
After a big one-point home win over NC State, the Terps couldn't get it done at North Carolina and remain under .500 in league play. Wednesday's tilt with Boston College is huge with trips to Duke and Florida State on tap after that. Even at 3-5 ACC, the Terps will be courting NCAA selection discomfort, with very little wiggle room left with a schedule that's soft down the stretch.
For one weekend, James Southerland's absence was overcome as the Orange grabbed a very impressive road win at Louisville to take control atop the conference. The relative positioning of the Orange (especially) will be very important come March, as there's only one East Coast subregional (Philadelphia) and regional (Washington D.C.). Marquette, Cincinnati and Notre Dame look like NCAA teams. A couple others need to pick up the pace.
**Remember, Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play this season.**
Cincy had the chance for a huge win at Syracuse, but it went begging Monday afternoon. The Saturday overtime win over Marquette was solid, especially without Cashmere Wright. The Bearcats now enter a relatively soft part of the schedule before a very stringent finish. Rutgers and at Seton Hall are next.
The Marquette Magic ran out in a two-point OT loss at Cincinnati, but the Geagles remain strongly positioned for a good conference finish. They get Providence and South Florida at home this week before a headlining trip to Louisville.
Lose at South Florida and then go and smash Notre Dame over the head with a late 18-0 run on the road? Par for the course lately for the up-and-down Hoyas, but that's a quality road win to add to the ledger. Now they get a chance to double up on marquee Ws with Louisville coming to D.C. in the first of three straight home games for the Hoyas.
Once unbeatable at home, the Irish were smacked Monday by Georgetown for their second home loss in 10 days. That's now three losses in four games for Notre Dame, with the back end of the schedule looking pretty unforgiving. That puts more pressure on these next three games, with a trip to South Florida all that's left this week.
The Panthers came through a crucial week 2-0 and are back in the picture. This is now a must-get consolidation week at Providence and home to DePaul. Next week is at Louisville and home to Syracuse.
The Red Storm took out Notre Dame for a much-needed second quality win and then handled DePaul to get back to even in the league. Wednesday night at Rutgers suddenly is an important game for both clubs. The Red Storm host Seton Hall and DePaul after that, so things could look pretty different in the league standings come the end of the month.
Without any good wins, the Scarlet Knights won't be able to split their way to an NCAA bid. They missed a big chance for a huge W at Notre Dame. Now the next three weeks probably will decide their fate. There are very few big chances in the back end of the schedule for them. After hosting St. John's midweek, Rutgers goes to Cincinnati and then Louisville.
The pecking order this week is now Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, which is not a huge deal at the moment but will be very relevant come March for NCAA locational purposes. Indiana's very weak nonconference schedule and incentive to land in Indianapolis for the regional has put significant pressure on the Hoosiers to win the league and finish ahead of Michigan in the S-curve. There are some situations where IU could be a 2-seed and still get Indy, but the best path is getting the 1.
Never doubt Tom Izzo. Never, ever doubt Tom Izzo. Well, maybe we'll still doubt a tiny bit and see how the Spartans get through this stretch at Wisconsin, at Indiana, vs. Illinois and vs. Minnesota. The early win over Kansas is like liquid RPI gold, and more solid wins should be added to the ledger.
No shame at all in losing by three in East Lansing, but when that's your only result of the week, it doesn't do a ton for your overall profile. The next four: Iowa Tuesday night, followed by at Penn State, home to Wisconsin and at Nebraska, is as soft (relatively) as this league can get. Road games at Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana still await down the stretch.
A great win at Indiana was offset a bit by a close loss at Iowa, but still a very solid feather in the Badgers' cap. Their profile needed that marquee win, especially away from home. Now Michigan State and Minnesota come calling, so there are more immediate chances for name-brand Ws.
Bubble watchers are already eagerly circling around the Illini. Would an 8-10 league finish be enough for an NCAA bid with numerous quality wins? What about 7-11? Well, after getting spanked at home by Northwestern, who knows what's possible now. If Illinois can't win at Nebraska Tuesday (sound familiar? Same scenario as last season), they could be in some serious trouble. The five after that are brutal.
The Hawkeyes will be another interesting profile to watch. Given the strength of the league, a 9-9 league finish (depending on what some of the wins were) would probably leave the Hawkeyes right on the cutline discussion. Four of the next five are on the road, starting Tuesday at Ohio State.
Another week, another escape for the Jayhawks, but a win's a win and they remain perfect in the conference.
Well, this sets up nicely. The Wildcats host "big brother" for the Big 12 lead. The Octagon of Doom should be bananas. Oh, and can I get a little love for this?
There's nothing great in the profile, but that could change this week with trips to Kansas and Baylor on tap. Five top-100 wins isn't "nothing," but it's not going to get you an at-large without some quality (or mass win hoarding) behind it.
The home win over Oklahoma State was much more exciting than the needless rout of non-DI Hardin-Simmons two days earlier. It's likely that a two-man team of James Harden and Bill Simmons would have fared better. Even with three of the next four away, there's room to add to the league mark. Baylor doesn't play K-State or Kansas (again) until Feb. 16.
The Cyclones snuck into the national rankings this week, although edging West Virginia and then winning at TCU isn't the most impressive week. That said, it's two more wins and the Cyclones can back up their growing buzz by handling Texas Tech in Lubbock and then taking a shot at K-State at home.
Make it 0-3 on the road in league play after a 10-point setback at Baylor Monday night. The Puerto Rico Tipoff title continues to resonate, but at some point, they'll need a quality win or two in the Big 12. This week, they'll have to be satisfied with defending GIA against West Virginia and Iowa State.
The Cats got a nice rivalry win at Arizona State, but they're still looking up at the surging Oregon Ducks. UCLA remains in decent shape to push its way into the bracket. Where it goes from there is a question.
The Ducks were somewhat victims of the timing of their two losses. After winning at UNLV, they lost the next night to Cincinnati to slow some perceived momentum. Then after four romps, they lost in triple-OT at UTEP. Now they've won seven in a row, lead the Pac-12 and people are finally noticing. There's a solid chance they keep it rolling this week, although Washington's visit is suddenly intriguing.
After RPI albatross Oregon State came to town, the Bruins were out fun-and-gunned by Oregon. Now the Bruins head to Tucson and Tempe for a tough weekend. Three in a row at home follow before five of their last seven are away.
It wasn't especially convincing, but a win at Washington State may be the tonic the Buffaloes needed after a 1-4 start. They need to be able to handle the Bay Area schools at home this weekend, get back to .500 in the league, and then go from there. They don't play at UCLA, so the only ranked road game left is at Oregon. The Ducks and Arizona still come to Coors Event Center.
Losing by 17 at home to Arizona is a bit of a reality check. The Sun Devils need some more quality wins. Maybe they can pick up a decent one when UCLA comes calling on Saturday.
Just when you started to believe in the Huskies, after another nice win over Colorado, they dump a nine-point home loss to Utah onto the resume. The poor home losses are what's weighing down the computer numbers. Can they go to Oregon on Saturday and grab a headlining win?
As I noted on Twitter over the weekend, two things appear true: 1) Florida is very good. 2) The SEC is terrible this season. The Gators are flat crushing the league at the moment and everyone else is taking it. This is looking more and more like a possible three-bid league come March.
The Tigers get a small measure of excuse with the absence of Laurence Bowers, but that was not the sole reason for the 31-point poleaxing in Gainesville. That was a complete beatdown. One of their two good wins continues to melt in value. Oh, and their coach may be enjoying an NCAA inquiry into his alleged actions at Miami. Fun times! South Carolina and Vandy make the trek to Columbia this week.
OK then! Escaping Vandy in overtime after Marshall Henderson's regular-buzzer bomb and then beating Arkansas has the Rebels at 4-0. The next couple of weeks should be interesting. They get Tennessee and Kentucky at home plus a trip to Florida in the next four.
Sooo, about that win at Rupp? The Aggies can't live on that alone, and a 21-point home loss to Florida followed by a one-point defeat at Alabama pushes them down the ladder. They don't play anyone good on the road the rest of the way, so all shots at quality wins come at home. That's good and bad.
The Cats are going to have to keep taking care of business like they did this past week, as they don't face Florida or Missouri until mid-February. With Alabama waking up a bit, the trip to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday is not a gimme. Home to last-place LSU on the weekend should be, you'd think.
Nice job getting both last week, including a one-pointer over A&M at home. Now let's see how they can handle Kentucky at home and then a trip to Tennessee. The Tide has two tough road games late, so they need to keep banking wins, even though the quality of them won't help the void in the GW line below.
Some second-week surprises have shuffled the deck a bit in the nation's most competitive conference. It's hard to lock anyone up this early because of how many losses you could eat down the stretch, but it looks almost certain that four teams will make it, with a decent chance at five if things break right.
The Lobos escaped Boise with a valuable OT victory to stay perfect in the league. Plus I got to make up silly hashtags on Twitter for Hugh Greenwood. It was a full week. Their reward? A visit from combative Colorado State and then a trip to San Diego State. Isn't this league fun?
The Aztecs' moxie took a sizable blow last week when UNLV came to Viejas and outpunched them down the stretch. Then they went to Wyoming, where they never seem to play well, and uncorked a hideous first half on the way to a double-digit loss. Now they have to handle a trip to Reno before New Mexico arrives on Saturday afternoon.
The Rams blasted Air Force and then got past UNLV late to establish themselves as another legit candidate from this conference. The fun continues Wednesday night at New Mexico. That would be the type of road win this profile really needs.
The Rebels are moderately close to both 0-4 and 4-0, so 2-2 with the three toughest road games already played isn't a bad result. Great win at San Diego State and then the game at Colorado State was there for the taking. This team still has a lot of upside left as the rotation melds and Dave Rice figures out which buttons to push. Going small down the stretch at SDSU paid off with a W.
Tough week for the Broncos, who couldn't lock down the win against New Mexico and then, shorthanded, got sauteed at Clune Arena by Air Force's offensive precision. They have to get the midweek game against Fresno State because the schedule after that is brutal for the next three weeks.
This is the way it's going to be without Luke Martinez: Scrappy and low-scoring. The Cowboys nabbed a much-needed home win over San Diego State, as their other two good wins have lost some luster. Next up: a visit to Vegas before Air Force comes to Laramie on the weekend in an intriguing style clash.
The two league newbies continue to roll while everyone else can't avoid missteps. Why do we have to wait until March 2 to see Butler and VCU square off??
Who knows what possessed David Stockton to lob an inbounds pass right to Rose Jones, or how Jones knew when to release the floater with about 0.05 seconds left on the clock. Splash, courtstorm, another big win for the dossier, which is looking stronger and stronger. Plus, I was corrected this week: Butler CAN play in the Midwest regional (they are no longer a co-host). Lucas Oil, anyone?
The impact of Havoc was clear against Saint Joe's, which did a very credible job maintaining the ball and exploiting the Rams for easy baskets for 39 minutes, and then caved in the final minute of regulation and overtime. They just never stop coming. That said, down four with 15 seconds left and Saint Joe's ball, they were fortunate to win. The schedule remains very manageable until the final five.
Not a good week for one of the most mystifying teams in the nation. After barely surviving at George Washington, Temple lost for the first time ever at home to St. Bonaventure. Combine that with the Canisius home loss and a weakening computer profile, and this looks more tenuous by the day. Hosting city rival Penn won't do anything for them, but a win at Hinkle on Saturday would.
The Billikens ate a terrible home loss to Rhode Island in their only action of the week. That's like bogeying a par-5 on the PGA tour. Now you're a shot or two behind the field. They need to get through a road swing to Duquesne and St. Bona before Dayton and Butler come in at the turn of the month.
Edged Dayton at home, lost at surging Xavier for another split week. Now it gets really real. Home to Butler and at VCU. Let's see what the 'Splorers have.
I just can't buy in yet, despite the impressive records. The 49ers-0">49ers have top-100 wins over Oral Roberts and La Salle and just lost at Richmond by 20. Beating Xavier at home on Wednesday is a good idea.
This is a very nice bounceback for the Musketeers, but three of the four have come at home. This week -- at Charlotte and at Saint Joe's -- should show us a lot more about just how far X has come since the holiday L4. They have a
UMass is not in a position to lose home games to George Washington. They get Richmond and at La Salle this week to try to right the ship.
Ugh. The Hawks had the big win at VCU in their talons, and their inability to close out games bit them again. They really could have used that one. It was possibly their last chance to get a quality road win this season. Now they have to make a case based on bulk wins, which isn't a great plan.
Wichita State staved off Creighton to create a tie atop the league standings. Both teams are going to the NCAAs, but the race to Saint Louis should be fun.
The Sycamores grabbed a couple wins last week and stayed in the mix. Their two best nonleague wins continue to grow in strength. If they can handle a trip to Illinois State and a meeting with Northern Iowa at home, it sets up a great game at Wichita State next week.
What a crushing loss at Butler. It doesn't impact the WCC race directly, but it could create a hangover effect for BYU's visit on Thursday. The Cougars are coming off their own stunner and saw their at-large chances take a hit last week.
A tough week for buzzer-beaters in this league, with the Cougars being felled by Matthew Dellavedova's 35-foot runner at the horn last week. That home loss is a dent in BYU's profile. Now the big chance arrives: at Gonzaga on Thursday. If they can't get this one, they're running low on wiggle room.
The Gaels have last-second 70-69 wins over Harvard and BYU to thank for even being in the conversation. When Dellavedova splashed his long-range runner, it also may have changed the bid expectation for this league. SMC has already played at Gonzaga, so they look like the most likely challenger at this point.
Best of the Rest
The Bruins handled home tests against divisional unbeatens Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State. The only meeting with Murray State comes Feb. 7 at Murray. The computer numbers are very strong at the moment, even if they don't really have any great wins. They do have six top-100 wins, though.
The Bison keep cruising. Now Lehigh, sans C.J. McCollum, comes to Sojka on Wednesday. We'll see how well the shorthanded Mountain Hawks (blah, bring back Engineers) fare. The Bison need to keep winning and winning in order to offset the weak league.
Harvard's a solid team and all, but allowing a 30-8 run at home? Didn't love the way the Tigers handled their business there, but they recovered and closed out the win. Weirdly, that's Memphis' best RPI win of the season, too. The next five games are sub-100 opponents, too. Snooooooooooze.
Another team that needs to keep winning and it has been. There are no top-100 games in the Sun Belt for the Blue Raiders, so they need Ole Miss (and Florida) to keep winning along with them.
Utah State's injury misfortune could become the Bulldogs' good fortune. They go to San Jose State and then to Logan this week with a chance to really stake their claim to the league's throne. Five of the next seven after that are at home, so this trip is big. Denver (bad RPI) has a similar chance for the league now.
They still don't have any top-100 wins, and they don't play one (possibly) until they host Memphis on Feb. 9. Keep winning and see what happens. The Pac-12 champ was left out last year, but who knows.
After losing a grinder at Western Illinois, the Bison are not the league leader. Can they somehow not win the auto-bid and have a profile worthy of selection? Looks dicey, but we'll see.
We'll see what happens Saturday at Northwestern State, but if they get past the Demons, the Lumberjacks may keep winning for awhile. They may need to win all the way to a Southland final to get any kind of real look with such a weak SOS, but we can discuss them as they go along.