dropped 22 on Colorado to spoil the Buffs' chances at a resume win. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)
A lot of what the selection committee looks for can be boiled down to three questions: Who did you beat? Where did you beat them? Who beat you? Even without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado answers the first and third question sufficiently. That second one, however, might be a problem.
After taking a 40-36 halftime lead at UCLA, the Buffaloes gave up 56-second-half points, losing to the Bruins 92-74. Five Bruins scored in double-figures, led by Kyle Anderson's 22. UCLA had an excellent night shooting the ball, making 56.5 percent of its field goal attempts, 50 percent from behind the arc, and 91.7 percent from the free throw line.
Colorado boasts wins over Kansas, Oregon and Harvard, but all of those were at home. Their best road win was at Colorado State, a team that ranks 145th in RPI. They haven't defeated a top-50 RPI team in more than a month. In that same period, they've lost four such games, falling to Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA twice.
The Buffaloes' RPI of 24 is impressive, but when the committee gathers five Sundays from now, will it see enough to give them an at-large bid? They only have two wins against teams likely to make the tournament, and that could fall to one if Harvard falters in the Ivy League. They may earn some sympathy for Dinwiddie's torn ACL, but it won't help them get in the tournament. After all, it's the version of Colorado without Dinwiddie that the committee will evaluate, and that version has gone just 4-4, including the loss to Washington in which he suffered the injury.
Luckily for the Buffaloes, they still have plenty of opportunities in the regular season to pick up resume-building wins, both at home and on the road. They still have games remaining at home against Arizona State and Arizona, at Stanford and at Arizona. A team that once looked to be enjoying a resurgence is now on the bubble. They'll need to win one or two of those to end up on the right side.
Missouri's case strengthens after beating Arkansas
Life on the bubble can change dramatically from day to day. Take Missouri, for instance. Two weeks ago, the Tigers appeared to be on the right side of the bubble. They won their only game against a top-50 RPI team, and were 4-4 against the top 100.
Three games changed all that. Losses to Florida and Kentucky were understandable, but they still hurt a team in need of a few more good wins. The third game in that stretch, a loss at Ole Miss, really damaged their tournament chances. Falling to top-tier teams is one thing. Losing to a fellow bubble team, one that, quite frankly, ranks behind you, can be the kind of loss you can't forget when you're accepting your invitation to the NIT.
That's why Thursday night's game against Arkansas was one of the more important for the Tigers this year. They desperately needed a win against a team that could at least make a case that it belongs in the tournament. Missouri nearly let the game slip away after having it well in hand, but a Jabari Brown jumper with 14 seconds left, his 24th and 25th points of the game, gave them the 86-85 win they so sorely needed.
Missouri trailed by four with less than 10 minutes left in the game before a 16-4 run gave it an eight-point lead with 3:24 remaining. Arkansas erased that deficit, going on a 10-0 run of its own to go up 85-83 with 80 seconds to play. That's when the Tigers finally got what eluded them most of the night -- key stops when they absolutely needed them -- setting the table for Brown's heroics.
Jordan Clarkson led the team with 27 points, and both he and Brown did their best work at the free throw line. Clarkson made 11-of-13 attempts from the stripe, while Brown went 14-of-15. The teams combined to shoot 75 free throws in one of the more start-and-stop games of the season. No matter how it happened, however, Missouri will take the win that it needed to make its credentials look that much better.
The Tigers get another chance for a resume-building win this weekend when they host Tennessee. They're done with Florida and Kentucky for the regular season, and the Volunteers are the only team remaining on their schedule that has a chance to make the tournament. After Thursday's win over Arkansas, they're back on the right side of the bubble. They know all too well that it only takes a couple of days to change that.
Creighton survives challenge from Butler
Doug McDermott scored 26 points, none bigger than the three he hit to give Creighton a one-point lead with 50 seconds left, leading the Blue Jays to a 68-63 win over Butler.
It was the third time in four games that Creighton was challenged by a team unlikely to make the tournament. It has been a nightmare season for Butler, as the Bulldogs are 12-13 overall and 2-11 in the Big East, but they nearly gave the Bluejays their second straight loss.
Butler was within striking distance all night, but only led twice -- each time by one point -- in the game's first 39 minutes. That changed when a Khyle Marshall lay-up gave the Bulldogs a two-point lead with 1:15 left in the game. As the Bluejays have done so often this year, and as they'll have to do if they are going to make any serious noise in March, they turned to the guy who is a shoo-in to be the Wooden Award winner.
McDermott received the ball at the top of the key after coming off a screen that gave him a sliver of daylight. Of course, that's really all he needs to get his shot off. He knocked down the shot, his third bucket from distance on the night, to put Creighton up 64-63. Andrew Chrabascz missed two shots on Butler's next possession, and after two Austin Chatman free throws, Kellen Dunham front-rimmed a three-pointer, effectively ending the game.
While the Bluejays are now 20-4 overall and 10-2 in the conference, they haven't looked sharp for the past three weeks. They'll have to turn that around with Villanova coming to Omaha on Sunday. The Bluejays pounded the Wildcats, 96-68, in their first meeting, knocking down 21 shots from behind the arc. The winner will have the inside track to the Big East regular season championship.
Southern Miss likely waves goodbye to at-large hopes
Conference USA has looked like a one-bid conference most of the season, but Southern Mississippi had a chance to be the one team that could earn an at-large bid if it fell in the conference tournament. That all changed Thursday night.
The Golden Eagles lost 84-60 to UAB, which ranks 175th in RPI. Southern Miss has a strength of schedule of 152 this season. Its already-flimsy case for an at-large was built on the fact that it didn't have any terrible losses on its resume. Sure, it lost by 31 points to Louisville, and its best win was over North Dakota State, but the Golden Eagles also own win over Georgia State, a team that is in control of the Sun Belt Conference, and Louisiana Tech. The loss to UAB, however, now gives them three losses against teams with an RPI worse than 100. That won't impress anyone in the committee room on March 16.
That makes the C-USA a near lock to be a one-bid conference. What's at stake the rest of the year, then? Well, other than a regular season conference championship, seeding for the conference tournament could be a major factor in who ends up getting the automatic bid. Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and UTEP have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. They're all tied in first at 8-2 along with Middle Tennessee, but both RPI and kenpom.com look much more favorably on the former three squads. Not only does the team that wins the regular season get a nice banner to raise next season, it will avoid the other two powers in the conference until a potential matchup in the championship game.
Louisiana Tech is done with both Southern Miss and UTEP for the regular season. The Golden Eagles and UTEP play each other for the first and only time on Feb. 22.
Wisconsin back on track
Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, Wisconsin's season took a downturn when it reached its greatest heights. After rising to No. 3 in the polls, the Badgers lost for the first time this season, at Indiana, kicking off a stretch in which they lost five of six games, including three straight at the Kohl Center. With a relatively comfortable 78-70 win over Minnesota on Thursday, the Badgers appear to have righted the ship. And not a moment too soon.
Ben Brust went 4-for-4 from three-point land, leading the Badgers with 20 points. Three of his teammates joined him in double-figures, with Frank Kaminsky scoring 17, Nigel Hayes pouring in 15, and Sam Dekker adding 10. They're now 20-5 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten with one of their most challenging two-game runs of the season looming on the horizon.
The Badgers travel to Ann Arbor on Sunday to take on a Wolverines
team that contributed to their mid-season woes, beating them 77-70 in Madison. They start next week with a trip to Iowa City, a team they beat in their first meeting. These are their final two games in the regular season against teams that will make the tournament. Right now, Wisconsin looks like it could land anywhere between the 3- and 5-line in the big dance. How it fares in its next two games will go a long way toward determining where exactly it is seeded.