Sunday March 14th, 2010

After a Saturday as crazy as any in recent memory, the bubble tightened up considerably and put several teams who were thought to be safe very much in danger as far as earning at-large bids. Utah State and California looked virtually certain to make it before Saturday's results. Now? Both are in danger.

Heading into Sunday's action, here's the current interpretation of the cutline. It could change before 6 p.m. ET upon final evaluation and if Minnesota and/or Mississippi State win their title games.

UTEP (26-6, 15-1, RPI: 39, SOS: 101) 11-4 road/neutral; 2-1 top 50, 8-4 top 100; Conf. RPI: 13 Biggest strengths: Definitive C-USA crown, five road wins and a neutral inside RPI top 75 Biggest weakness: No real quality wins The skinny: The Miners rolled through the No. 11 conference with one loss, and some early defeats came when they were still trying to integrate Derrick Caracter. They look like an NCAA tournament-caliber team and have done enough solid road work to assure the committee they are capable.

Georgia Tech (21-11, 7-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 17) 8-9 road/neutral; 5-6 top 50, 11-9 top 100; Conf. RPI: 36 Biggest weaknesses: Under .500 ACC regular-season mark, no road wins in RPI top 75 Biggest strengths: Five solid wins including top two in ACC, very rigorous schedule The skinny: The Yellow Jackets can take all the mystery out by beating Duke for the ACC auto bid. If they don't, they appear to have enough quality wins and depth of schedule to survive. While it's weird to consider that GT could make it ahead of a team that finished three games above them in the regular season and beat them in Atlanta just a week ago, the overall resume favors the Jackets at this point.

Minnesota (21-12, RPI: 60, SOS: 44) 7-9 road/neutral; 5-6 top 50, 6-8 top 100; one 200+ loss; Conf. RPI: 64 Biggest strengths: Playing best ball in the last three days, five quality wins overall Biggest weaknesses: Soft computer numbers overall The skinny: Had Minnesota suffered any of its three one-point losses to top-30 teams, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. In a week where most teams spit the bit, the Gophers have surged, crushing Penn State, holding off Michigan State and destroying Purdue. They need to sell the adjustment period after Al Nolen's exit and claim that they are peaking at the right now. Getting blown out by Ohio State would not be a good idea on Sunday.

Illinois (19-14, 10-8, RPI: 75, SOS: 35) 7-10 road/neutral, 5-9 top 50, 6-10 top 100, one 150+ loss; Conf. RPI 57 Biggest strengths: Won two big nonleague games, played four; five quality W's (two injury-aided) Biggest weaknesses: Struggled when schedule stiffened, very weak computer numbers The skinny: Illinois looked like an NCAA tournament team in Indianapolis, and got a crucial win over full-strength Wisconsin to validate the earlier win at Kohl without Jon Leuer. Six losses in the last eight are a lot, but they all came against superior opponents except the two-point home loss to the Gophers. We know Illinois isn't as good as the league's heavyweights, but that doesn't mean they're not good enough for the NCAAs. Their positioning vs. Minnesota will be very interesting if the Gophers lose Sunday.

Utah State (26-7, 14-2, RPI: 31, SOS: 100) 10-6 road/neutral, 2-1 top 50, 10-5 top 100, one 150+ loss; Conf RPI: 24 Biggest strengths: Rolled to WAC title, have two quality (home) top-50 wins Biggest weaknesses: Didn't play anyone out of conference on the road, overall schedule strength The skinny: It would be unfair to take Cal and not take Utah State. The Aggies have a better top-50 win plus an extra one on top of what Cal has done, and their performance in the WAC rates substantially better than healthy Cal's in the Pac-10 (including the conference tournaments). The WAC is only two spots below the Pac-10 in conference RPI; they're very comparable in quality this season. Yes, it would be nice if Stew Morrill would take a couple of 2-for-1s or buy games to beef up the schedule, but USU has done a lot of good things this season. That said, would you take them or Cal on a neutral floor?

California (23-10, 13-5, RPI: 20, SOS: 14) 8-9 road/neutral, 1-6 top 50, 6-7 top 100, one 150+ loss; Conf RPI: 42 Biggest strengths: Pac-10 regular-season championship; demanding schedule, was hurt by injuries Biggest weaknesses: One top-50 win, nothing of substance in resume The skinny: One of the most complicated at-large decisions in memory. The Golden Bears, when healthy, are a pretty solid team, but they haven't actually done anything that makes them at-large-worthy. Early injury credit, especially for Theo Robertson's absence, is fine, but when they had him, they still lost five games in a weak Pac-10, plus the rubber match to Washington for the league crown. There's really no tangible reason the Bears should make the field. Their strong RPI comes from losing games to really good teams and playing a whopping 19 games in the 101-200 category with only one 200+ game. They will rely on the committee buying into their Pac-10 title (even though the league is No. 8 in Conference RPI), their injury credit and the fact that they were competitive playing shorthanded against a very difficult nonleague schedule. It's a very suspect case if you don't buy into the "eye test."

Virginia Tech (23-8, 10-6, RPI: 59, SOS: 133) 8-7 road/neutral, 3-4 top 50, 8-7 top 100, Conf RPI: 41 Biggest strengths: Three solid league wins, 10-6 ACC mark that was three games better than Georgia Tech Biggest weaknesses: 339th-rated nonleague schedule; no marquee wins The skinny: Really the anti-Cal. Played a disgraceful nonleague schedule and did about the same as far as conference quality, given the ACC's way better than the Pac-10. The Hokies won a decent neutral-site game against Seton Hall without Malcolm Delaney, but the overriding story is they gambled that the ACC would offset the laughable nonleague slate and the league ended up being softer than expected. It's not a crime if they get in; VT's pretty decent. It's also not a crime if they're omitted. They did it to themselves.

Florida (21-12, 9-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 33) 8-8 road/neutral, 3-8 top 50, 8-10 top 100, one 200+ loss (at home); Conf RPI: 44 Biggest strengths: Three solid wins, all eight top-50 losses are in top 25 Biggest weaknesses: Missed a ton of chances for marquee wins, one terrible home loss The skinny: The Gators were inconsistent all season and five of the eight top-50 losses came in the state of Florida, even though two were considered neutral sites. They lost four of their final five, including at Georgia and in an SEC quarterfinal against Miss. State that both teams knew that had to have. Overall, they didn't show the quality or consistency of performance to unseat any of the teams above them.

Others considered: Mississippi State (which needs to win the SEC auto bid), Seton Hall, William & Mary

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