Any coach or administrator who wants to expand the NCAA tournament to 96 teams should be forced to sit down and construct this week's bracket. We're only in mid-January and the bottom of the at-large pool already is thoroughly mediocre. Trust me, we don't need more of these teams in the mix.
Here's a quick solution:
• Borrow from European soccer and link the NCAA tournament and NIT. Take the 32 first-round NCAA losers and add them to the 32 automatic bids and at-larges selected under existing protocol to create a new 64-team NIT.
• Announce the new NIT bracket on the Saturday at the start of the NCAA second round. Play the first two weeks on the Monday and Wednesday following the corresponding rounds of the NCAA. Play the Final Four on the Wednesday and Friday after the NCAA Final Four, to avoid the women's title game and end before weekend coverage of the Masters.
• Have the top four seeds in each region host pods. Highest seed remaining in each region hosts the pods on the second weekend. Final Four remains at Madison Square Garden.
Why it works:
• The event is much deeper and more competitive, with 32 extra games for TV. Result for NCAA and its TV partner(s): $$$.
• Four programs get to host up to four more home games. Twelve others would have one or two extra home dates, plus all hosts get a take from the pod's other games. Result for them: $$$.
• High seeds who get upset in the NCAAs don't have a terrific season crushed in one night. Meanwhile, the 15- and 16-seeds get an extra postseason game they actually might have a chance to win.
• The integrity of the NCAA tournament is retained, as we don't add 32 more teams that would pollute the event with mediocre play and have to suffer through first-round 9 vs. 24 games.
• Solves the fan question of whether you'd want to be one-and-done in the NCAAs or win the NIT. Now you could do both.
So, we all agree this would rock? Cool. Now if we could just get rid of the silly play-in game ... Anyway, on to the Bubble Watch.
Remember, records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.
Send your very valuable feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or to @aglock on Twitter. All submissions are read; polite, fact-based ones stand the best chance of a response. Submissions that claim your team's record is wrong because you failed to read the previous paragraph will be used to wrap the Pac-10.
The Blue Devils picked up a pair of 20-point home wins and continue to push for a No. 1 seed. The pecking order behind them in the league, though, got a shuffle this week.
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Clemson (15-3, 3-1, RPI: 29, SOS: 69) played about 70 minutes of great basketball, enough to crush Carolina and hold on for a road win at N.C. State. Now the Tigers go to mercurial Georgia Tech before hosting Duke, with a hard-fought split being a perfectly fine result. For seeding purposes, Clemson could use a marquee win. The Tigers beat Butler but lost to Texas A&M and Illinois out of conference.
IN THE MIX
Wake Forest (12-4, 2-2, RPI: 27, SOS: 47) was in the game for about 30 minutes at Cameron on Sunday night, but then ate a typical Duke run and that was that. That made the home escape against Maryland in overtime earlier last week very valuable. Next up? A trip to suddenly reeling North Carolina, then home for surprising Virginia and then a trip to volatile Georgia Tech. Not very fun. Gonzaga's surge is making Wake's win look better, and William & Mary is keeping up its RPI bargain after toppling the Deacons.
Lose at Georgia, beat Duke, lose at Virginia, win at UNC? That's what happens when you have two frosh and a soph in your top four scorers, like Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2, RPI: 33, SOS: 45). Expect to see more of that during the Jackets' very difficult ACC slate. Next four: Clemson, at FSU, Wake, at Duke. There's very little out of conference to excite the committee, so ACC statements are the ones GT will lean on.
Maybe it wasn't so silly to have some reservations about North Carolina (12-6, 1-2, RPI: 55, SOS: 20). The Heels found themselves down by 20-plus in both games last week and couldn't come back against Georgia Tech at home despite Will Graves' heroics. Throw in the loss at College of Charleston, and that's three of four to the bad. Nonleague wins over Ohio State (with Evan Turner) and Michigan State help, and losses to Syracuse (at Madison Square Garden), at Kentucky and vs. Texas in Dallas don't hurt.
Losing at home to N.C. State is a disappointment for Florida State (14-4, 2-2, RPI: 58, SOS: 129), which needs ACC wins given a relative lack of nonleague oomph. The 'Noles still could be favored in four of the next five games, so more slip-ups are not a good idea. FSU edged Marquette for the Old Spice Classic title, but got handled at Florida and Ohio State.
A frantic final-minute rally couldn't save Virginia Tech (13-3, 1-2, RPI: 64, SOS: 195) at FSU, and the Hokies resume their annual position of "good team with a suspect profile." Beating Seton Hall without Malcolm Delaney isn't going to get you into the NCAAs, no matter what the eyeball test looks like. The rest of the resume is undistinguished, with a neutral-site (albeit in Philly) loss to Temple and wins over mediocre (or worse) programs like Georgia, Penn State and Iowa.
Last week, Miami's (14-3, 1-3, RPI: 82, SOS: 264) pending road adventure was noted. Two games in, and results are not favorable as the 'Canes got swept out of the state of Virginia. You can tell by the SOS that Miami's nonleague slate was not sufficient, despite a win over Minnesota, so Tuesday night's home game against BC looks like a very early "just-about-must-win."
Special BW exemption alert! Virginia (11-4, 3-0, RPI: 101, SOS: 167), the league's only unbeaten team, gets a blurb this week as the current auto-bid owner. Tony Bennett deserves credit for getting the Cavaliers going in his first season, but let's see what happens when the Cavs hit the road again, like in upcoming games at Wake and UNC. The nonleague schedule hurts more than it helps, but the UAB win is solid.
Locks: Kansas, Texas, Kansas State
You don't need to wait for Kansas-Texas for a UFC-style manhood check in the Big 12. Just tune in at 9 p.m. ET tonight when Texas heads into the octagon of K-State's Bramlage Coliseum. The league continues to have two clear No. 1 NCAA seeds and K-State is a protected seed, too. After that? It's still very open.
SHOULD BE IN
IN THE MIX
Texas A&M (11-5, 1-2, RPI: 36, SOS: 22) did everything but win at Texas on Saturday, leaving a huge marquee victory on the table. Combined with the big whiff at K-State, it was a disappointing week for the Aggies. They already have neutral-site wins over Clemson and Minnesota, and close losses to West Virginia and New Mexico (both neutral, although the New Mexico game was in Houston) and at Washington aren't bad, but A&M would be wise to take advantage of home dates this week with Oklahoma and Colorado, both of whom are playing pretty well.
Baylor (13-2, 2-1, RPI: 26, SOS: 101) may end up ruing the loss at Colorado, as the next three in league play are at Kansas, vs. K-State and at Texas. Out of league, a neutral-site defeat of Xavier and road wins at Arizona State, Arkansas and South Carolina are worth something, but it won't look as comfortable in 10 days or so if the Bears are sitting at 2-4 in Big 12 play. Call me intrigued, for now.
A split at Texas Tech and Oklahoma? Privately, Missouri (14-4, 2-1, RPI: 48, SOS: 113) probably would have taken it, but with a chance to get to 3-0, the close miss in Norman hurts. Still, the slate remains doable for the near term and the Tigers also get home dates with Texas and Kansas in the final six games to provide late-season statement-win opportunities. Nonleague play was very mixed. Forget what was said last week about the Oregon win. Beating Illinois is "fine." The Tigers also lost to Richmond in South Padre Island and at Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts.
An overtime loss at home to Missouri coupled with a blowout defeat at Kansas pushes Texas Tech (12-5, 0-3, RPI: 51, SOS: 62) into serious must-win territory with home games this week against Iowa State and Oklahoma. Given that Tech has lost by 55 points in its two league road games, and trips to Texas and Texas A&M are up after these two at home, a 1-6 Big 12 start -- and very dicey NCAA hopes -- would be a real possibility. The best of nonleague, an overtime win over Washington, still looks so-so.
As thanks for making Oklahoma State (13-4, 1-2, RPI: 37, SOS: 78)last week's final team in the bracket, the Pokes dumped two on the road. Despite reasonable computer numbers, their profile is pretty barren at this point.
Oklahoma (11-6, 2-1, RPI: 77, SOS: 58) beat Oklahoma State and Missouri at home this week, its two best wins of the season. The Sooners will need a good deal more of them to make up for a nonleague slate that "features" a couple of so-so wins and a larger helping of disappointing losses.
Locks: Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown
Pitt's incredible Big East run continues. In their last four games, the Panthers have won at Syracuse, at Cincinnati, at UConn and at home over Louisville. That is so impressive in this league. Pitt's surge into the lock category ices five bids for the league, and with turmoil in other conferences big and small, bids will be there to be grabbed by the middle of the Beast.
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West Virginia (13-3, 4-2, RPI: 11, SOS: 13) probably didn't need to come out of the locks category, but the Mountaineers have lost three of their last five after teetering for awhile before that, so the trend isn't lock-solid. Also, they have a very tricky week ahead, oddly playing two nonleague games, neither of which will be easy. On Wednesday, they take on in-state rival Marshall in Charleston, which is always a difficult game. In the last seven seasons, WVU has lost this game twice and three of its five wins were by six, four and two points. This season, the Thundering Herd (led by freshman Hassan Whiteside) are a legit at-large hopeful, so expect a real test. Then WVU hosts Evan Turner and surging Ohio State.
IN THE MIX
After a home loss to Pitt and a damaging road loss at Michigan on Sunday, Connecticut (11-6, 2-3, RPI: 14, SOS: 1) is in need of significant reevaluation. UConn has computer numbers boosted by competitive losses to elite teams and close wins over mids having strong seasons, but there's really nothing of substance to lean on in the wins category. The home chance against Texas on Saturday now looms very large, but UConn better not look past St. John's first.
Cincinnati (12-6, 3-3, RPI: 46, SOS: 26) split a week it probably wanted to sweep, but a series of losses elsewhere made that week good enough to edge into this week's bracket. The back end of the Bearcats' Big East slate stiffens, and their repeat matchups are UConn, Notre Dame and USF, so they don't have as many chances for great wins. Out of league, they beat Vandy and Maryland on neutral floors and had tough losses to Gonzaga (OT) and Xavier (2OT).
If it's possible for a two-loss week not to be totally discouraging, Louisville (12-6, 3-2, RPI: 39, SOS: 5) had one, but not being able to grab at least one against 'Nova or at Pitt may really haunt the Cards down the road. There's basically nothing in the Cards' nonconference profile that will help them, and a couple of weak home losses that will hurt, so they really need to beat some of the league's upper crust. They had shots at both league unbeatens last week, and missed.
Notre Dame (14-4, 3-2, RPI: 62, SOS: 111) had a week to prepare for the trip to Cincinnati and lost by a deuce. Now the Irish turn around and host Syracuse Monday night. Given they lost in Chicago to Northwestern and at home to Loyola Marymount, and didn't have a quality win until they beat West Virginia, taking out the Orange at home would be a very favorable step in the right direction.
Marquette (11-6, 2-3, RPI: 75, SOS: 27) had more than a week to seethe after its second two-point drop to Villanova and took it out on Providence, pounding the Friars by 30. Now it's back on the road, first to DePaul and then to current No. 1 seed Syracuse. Fun! As mentioned last week, there's a disparity between the Golden Eagles' record and the quality of their play, but with more excruciating losses (to Florida State, N.C. State, West Virginia and Villanova twice by a total of 10 points, as well as one to Wisconsin) than quality wins (Xavier), they need to keep going. This still smells like 11-7 in the Big East.
Seton Hall (10-6, 1-4, RPI: 86, SOS: 37) is a fringe candidate, at best, right now and the Pirates run could more or less be over this week, with home dates against Louisville and Pitt on tap. They lack the nonleague wins to help and seven of their final 11 in the league are on the road.
St. John's (12-5, 2-3, RPI: 45, SOS: 32) got the two it needed at home over Cincinnati and DePaul. Now the Red Storm need to win some games in which they are clear underdogs. Wins over Temple, Georgia and Siena won't be enough to carry a mediocre league mark.
It seems incongruous to have four Big East teams and none of the three below in this category, but there have been a few more wobbles from this group. They'll all, with virtual certainty, be solid seeds in the NCAAs. It's just more fun to write a few more words ...
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Purdue (14-3, 2-3, RPI: 18, SOS: 24) has dropped three straight after being busted in crunch time by Ohio State's Evan Turner, and then losing at Northwestern. Not so coincidentally, the skid coincides with the first three games this season Purdue has allowed over a point per possession. Suddenly, Tuesday's trip to 4-1 Illinois looks a lot more interesting, although Purdue should be able to get healthy with three home games after that. The Boilers beat Tennessee, Wake and West Virginia out of conference, so barring an epic collapse, they're fine. Worth writing about at least for a week, though.
Purdue's hopes of winning the Big Ten are in real trouble, though, with Michigan State (15-3, 5-0, RPI: 17, SOS: 36) now three games up and looking like a typical Tom Izzo team that gets better as it goes. If they continue this level of play, the Spartans will be 9-0 heading to Wisconsin on Feb. 2. First team to 40 wins. MSU beat Gonzaga but lost to Florida (in Atlantic City) and at North Carolina and Texas.
Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2, RPI: 9, SOS: 7) got another split, this time on the road, but maybe wanted more. After landing Evan Turner in foul trouble, a big road win looked possible, but the Badgers got bucked by OSU's supporting cast. Wisconsin has a better nonleague profile than the Spartans, with wins over Duke and Marquette, among others. Local rivalry helps explain the overtime road loss at UW-Green Bay. With two at home now, Wisconsin should be 6-2 heading to Purdue and then a home date with Michigan State. At stake for the Badgers: a high enough seed to land them in the Milwaukee subregional.
Ohio State (13-5, 3-3, RPI: 52, SOS: 87) is 10-2, 3-1 with Turner, which is really what the committee will consider. His crunch-time demolition of Purdue to haul OSU back from 10 points down was a master class. On the road, against a high-quality team that prides itself on effort and defense, he delivered a three-minute tour de force. Dribble/sick spin/layup, three-ball, drive and dunk, mid-range J, clutch from the line. Turner basically should skip all NBA pre-draft workouts and just send a DVD of this sequence with a note that says, "Any questions?"
IN THE MIX
For Minnesota (12-6, 3-3, RPI: 49, SOS: 52), coming up a bit shy at Michigan State is understandable. Losing in overtime after trailing the entire game at Indiana is not. That's a bad loss for a team aiming to wear white shirts on Day 1 of the NCAAs. The nonleague win over Butler is OK, but league play is providing the better read on the Gophers. After a good start, there are now some questions, and Michigan State comes to The Barn for the return match next.
Northwestern (13-4, 2-3, RPI: 60, SOS: 63) remains a good story after the rousing home upset of Purdue, but the Wildcats had a chance for a huge week disappear in the final few minutes against Wisconsin. Can the Coble-less Cats hold up for the rest of the campaign and threaten for the school's first-ever NCAA bid? The trip to Ohio State is now a pretty big game for them.
Illinois (12-6, 4-1, RPI: 68, RPI: 43) had a neutral week, edging Penn State before losing at Michigan State. The Ilini really need to continue to rack up early wins, as the last seven in league play include Wisconsin twice, Ohio State twice and a trip to Purdue. Illinois gets the reeling Boilers on Tuesday in Champaign, which is a very important game for Illinois this early in the mix. Victories over Clemson and Vandy help offset nonleague drops to Utah, Bradley and Georgia.
IN THE MIX
After edging Washington State in Pullman, California (11-6, 3-2, RPI: 25, SOS: 2) had a great chance to create separation and establish itself as the league's best team. Of course, the Golden Bears then got ripped at semi-desperate Washington. Mix in the bad home loss to UCLA, and the Bears just can't be trusted to handle prosperity at the moment. With a best nonleague win of Iowa State, though, they need to offer something more than what they are currently. Being known for losses to solid teams (Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico and Kansas) out of conference is not a great selling point.
The Cal win capped a convincing and crucial home weekend sweep for Washington (12-5, 3-3, RPI: 53, SOS: 30). Not much more to say here other than the Huskies need to keep winning, and this coming week's trip to L.A. will be a good check to see if UW has turned the corner. Their only good nonleague win, over Texas A&M, was marred by a leg fracture to the Aggies' second-leading scorer.
Arizona State (14-5, 4-2, RPI: 61, SOS: 100) clearly is the third team in the mix now after four straight league wins by a total of 70 points. The Sun Devils missed some significant chances in nonleague play (vs. Duke at MSG, vs. Baylor, at BYU), with a win over MWC middleweight San Diego State probably the best on the plus side. ASU has five of its next seven at home, so the roll could keep going. What it will be worth will take a few more weeks to fully understand.
Washington State (13-5, 3-3, RPI: 94, SOS: 137) lost to Cal and then edged Stanford. That's not going to be good enough on a home weekend in this league, especially without any legitimate nonleague plusses.
The Wildcats remain the league's biggest story as they move toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but Tennessee's surge despite all the legal issues is the most compelling current one. After that? There's room to roam.
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Tennessee (14-2, 2-0, RPI: 21, SOS: 60) not only held its own while shorthanded, it backed up its upset of Kansas with a thumping of Auburn and an overtime victory over Ole Miss. Now that two of the suspended players have been reinstated, the Vols have more depth for this week's road swing to Alabama and Georgia.
IN THE MIX
Very quietly, Vanderbilt (13-3, 3-0, RPI: 22, SOS: 29) has won eight straight after a road sweep at Alabama and South Carolina. Beating Auburn at home on Saturday should be a priority, as the next two-game trip after that is at Tennessee and Kentucky. We'll find out everything we need to know there. Nonleague was a mixed bag, with losses to Western Kentucky and Illinois) and wins over Missouri and at Saint Mary's.
It was far from easy, but Mississippi State (15-3, 3-0, RPI: 44, SOS: 128) held off Arkansas and rallied past Georgia to stay perfect in SEC play. That's important since the Bulldogs didn't do very much out of conference, with losses to Western Kentucky, Richmond and Rider and only a win over Old Dominion worth all that much. Four of their next five are now on the road, so we'll see.
Let's just say that Mississippi (13-4, 1-2, RPI: 42, SOS: 77) won't be showing its final possession of regulation at Tennessee on its season highlight video. Or the last two possessions of OT. The Rebels had a real chance to take a huge road win but couldn't close the deal after edging past Georgia, a team that will pick off more contenders this season. That puts some more pressure on Wednesday's home game with South Carolina, as the two after that are back on the road. The nonleague win over K-State is very good and beating UTEP (with Derrick Caracter) is valid, too.
Alabama (11-6, 1-2, RPI: 87, SOS: 51) is very fringe at this point after losing at home to Vandy by a point and then getting handled at Arkansas. The next three are at home, which could very well be the Tide's season, even this early. Six of nine after that are on the road.
Florida (12-5, 1-2, RPI: 81, SOS: 93) gave Kentucky a good run, but ran out of steam. Beating LSU was needed and the near-term has some winnable games. Maybe the best thing for Florida is Michigan State's rise, as the Gators beat the Spartans in Atlantic City. Losses in three straight games in the state of Florida -- to Syracuse, Richmond (both technically neutral-site) and South Alabama -- don't help.
South Carolina (11-6, 2-1, RPI: 79, SOS: 55) split home games with LSU and Vandy, which isn't going to do it. This week's trips to Ole Miss and Florida give the Gamecocks two chances to take a step forward. USC beat Western Kentucky and Richmond, but lost at Wofford and BC in nonleague play.
There's no real separation yet behind (or even slightly in front) of the Owls, who remain perfect in the league. That should make upcoming tussles among the league's top flight very fun.
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IN THE MIX
Richmond (14-5, 3-1, RPI: 30, SOS: 59) won a pair of hard-fought games at home -- UMass in overtime and La Salle by four. The Spiders have four more winnable games before Temple comes calling on Feb. 6. Out of the A-10, the Spiders beat Missouri, Mississippi State and Florida (all on neutral floors) and also topped Old Dominion at home. They also couldn't hold leads at Wake Forest (OT loss), VCU or William & Mary, but they still have the best profile depth in this grouping.
Rhode Island (14-2, 2-1, RPI: 20, SOS: 57) got a taste of life in the oversized A-10, crushing lightweights Saint Joe's and Fordham and dropping 17 spots in the RPI. The Rams should take care of Duquesne at home and then head to the Ohio proving grounds, taking on Xavier and Dayton. URI will need some quality wins in their A-10 run. The Rams beat Oklahoma State at Mohegan Sun Arena, handled Providence at home, and also won at BC and a decent Akron team, but there's no marquee W there.
Temple's not the league leader right now -- although that could change when the Owls host Xavier (12-5, 4-0, RPI: 16, SOS: 3), which handled Charlotte ahead of beating in-state rival Dayton for the 25th straight time at home. Crazy. Winning some close games lately is a nice departure from nonleague play, where the X-men lost in the "clock game" at Butler, at Wake Forest in 2OT and also vs. Marquette, leaving their nonleague profile leaning mostly on a win over Cincinnati (also in 2OT).
Yup, you read that right. It's 25 in a row at Xavier for Dayton (13-4, 2-1, RPI: 31, SOS: 46) after dropping a four-point decision on Saturday. Beyond the historic context, that's a missed chance for the Flyers, who are riding wins over Georgia Tech and Old Dominion for nonleague credit. The good news? Dayton doesn't have another road game against a contender until Feb. 24 at Temple. That means chances for wins, just not truly marquee ones.
Charlotte (12-5, 2-1, RPI: 83, SOS: 155) lost at Xavier before edging La Salle at home, and needs to do some work on the upcoming trip to Richmond and La Salle. Crushing shorthanded Louisville by 22 at Freedom Hall is more or less the extent of the 49ers' candidacy at this point, so they need some good league Ws.
William & Mary continues to win, but with three other teams also just with one league loss, even the regular-season crown is far from a certainty for the terrific Tribe.
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Two seven-point home wins over bottom-half teams keep things going for William & Mary (14-3, 6-1, RPI: 28, SOS: 86). A trip to desperate VCU followed by a home game against 5-1 Old Dominion will be good measures of how serious the Tribe's NCAA crusade will be.
IN THE MIX
After a trip to Delaware, Old Dominion (13-5, 5-1, RPI: 40, SOS: 67) has a home-and-home with W&M and a trip to Northeastern in its following four, so we'll know whether there's more than one serious at-large hopeful in the league. It would have been a lot better had OSU backed up its win at Georgetown, but they dropped nonleague games vs. Missouri and Miss. State (in South Padre) and at Richmond and Dayton.
VCU (12-4, 4-3, RPI: 47, SOS: 105) remains a fringe candidate, despite two league wins and Oklahoma's mini-surge, which helps improve the Rams' home thumping of OU. They're still two games in the loss column behind four teams in the CAA, and they almost certainly need a top-two finish to be a legit at-large hopeful.
BYU continues to stand out as its pursuers continue to knock each other off. The race for second might be more interesting, as that team likely will be well positioned for an at-large to the NCAAs.
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BYU (17-1, 3-0, RPI: 23, SOS: 142) keeps rolling. If the Cougars can navigate the testing road trip to San Diego State and New Mexico up after a home date with Wyoming, they'll be headed toward lock status. The road's never easy in the MWC, so let's hold 'em here for now. Wins over UTEP, Arizona State, Nevada, Nebraska and Arizona provide quantity out of conference, if not great quality. Losing at Utah State happens when your school is also in Utah.
IN THE MIX
New Mexico (16-3, 2-2, RPI: 19, SOS: 38) showed UNLV how it's done, routing Utah before edging Wyoming on the road. The Lobos still have work to do after punting their first week in league play. Nonleague wins over Cal, Texas A&M and Dayton give the Lobos the best nonleague resume in the MWC, though, so they have some extra wiggle room.
UNLV (13-4, 2-2, RPI: 41, SOS: 65) beat San Diego State at home then surprisingly lost to Utah. Now the Rebels have three of four on the road, even though they are all eminently winnable. Out of league, UNLV beat Louisville, Arizona and Nevada. If the Rebs don't make it to the NCAAs, they very well could look back at the Utah loss as a primary reason why.
San Diego State (13-5, 2-2, RPI: 43, SOS: 98) lost at UNLV and then edged TCU. If they can't get past a trip to Utah and a visit from BYU this week, their candidacy won't remain too relevant much longer despite OK computer numbers.
Even with decent quality at the top of this league, the regular-season race could be all but over Tuesday night, which is a tribute to Northern Iowa.
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Northern Iowa (17-1, 7-0, RPI: 15, SOS: 96) can all but end the MVC suspense by winning at second-place Wichita State on Tuesday night. A victory gives the Panthers a three-game lead on the field with 10 games remaining. If that happens, cue up vintage tape of Vince Carter waving his arms at the dunk contest ... it's over. The Panthers don't have great nonleague work, although in-state games against Iowa and Iowa State are tougher than how they would be for other teams. UNI also was the only team for the first two months of the season to earn a win at a Big 12 school.
IN THE MIX
If Wichita State (16-3, 5-2, RPI: 65, SOS: 207) can recover from a one-point road loss at Creighton and take down the Panthers, things could get interesting. WSU likely needs to win the league to have legit at-large hopes. The Shockers beat Texas Tech and Iowa out of conference, but the overall slate is weak (see the SOS).
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UAB (15-2, 3-0, RPI: 35, SOS: 173) was down 50-26 at dreadful SMU with under 15 minutes remained, but eked out a 63-62 win. Wins over Butler and Cincinnati are solid out of league and the loss at Virginia looks less suspect by the day. Assuming the Blazers don't need another miracle to handle league-winless Southern Miss, the upcoming four-game run at Marshall, vs. Tulsa and UTEP, and at Memphis (combined 13-1 in C-USA) will make things a lot clearer.
IN THE MIX
Tulsa (13-3, 4-0, RPI: 74, SOS: 186) won a pair of games last week to stay perfect in the league. This week, they get a tricky trip to state rival Oral Roberts and then Rice. A rout of Oklahoma State and a late-season shot at Duke at Cameron provide nonleague hope.
Marshall (13-2, 4-0, RPI: 54, SOS: 224) didn't beat anyone outside C-USA, but no one has beaten the Herd inside it yet, either. Both parts of that statement could change in the next three games, when Marshall battles Big East big boys West Virginia and then hosts UAB and Memphis (13-4, 3-0, RPI: 90, SOS: 179), which also needs to keep winning and has a crack at Gonzaga coming in February.
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Gonzaga (13-3, 3-0, RPI: 12, SOS: 12) has won at Portland, Saint Mary's and San Diego, which means the WCC regular-season race, barring extreme injury or Elias Harris' deportation to Germany, is over. The Zags' typically killer nonleague schedule shows wins over Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Wazzu, Oklahoma and Illinois and losses to Michigan State, Wake Forest and Duke.
Butler (12-4, 5-0, RPI: 17, SOS: 12) has a profile that's a bit more "who they played" than "what they did," but this is a solid team that will be a tough out in March. None of the four losses (Minnesota, Clemson, G'town and UAB) are a demerit.
IN THE MIX
Saint Mary's (15-3, 3-1, RPI: 34, SOS: 75) disappointingly missed against Gonzaga at home. If the Gaels can't beat the Bulldogs in Spokane or in Vegas, will they get in? The Gaels won at Utah State (BYU couldn't) and Oregon and also beat San Diego State. They also lost by a deuce to Vandy and in the Diamond Head Classic final to now-banned USC.
ON THE PERIPHERY (if an at-large is needed)
Siena (MAAC), Cornell and Harvard (Ivy), Western Carolina (SoCon), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Northern Colorado (Big Sky).