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SEC West hopefuls already in seemingly impossible position

Mississippi sits at 9-3 and even with a couple of disappointing losses, the Rebels have an RPI of 61 two weeks before the start of SEC play. Not a bad place to be when it comes to NCAA at-large possibilities, right?

Think again. Thanks to the horrific state of the SEC West, Mississippi has almost no chance of landing an at-large berth. It's a seemingly impossible position for a BCS conference team at this stage of the season, but it's true.

• As of now, all 10 of Mississippi's divisional games will be against teams outside the RPI Top 150 and only five of the Rebels' 16 SEC games will be against top 80 opponents. The Rebels wouldn't be much worse off playing an Ivy League schedule. The Ivy has two top 60 teams and only three of its eight teams are below No. 175.

• Mississippi State, considered the preseason favorite in the West, just had two players involved in a brawl in the stands in Hawaii and sits at No. 239 in the RPI. Assuming it keeps Renardo Sidney (who is suspended again) and Dee Bost comes back in form, the Bulldogs are now an "all-downside" proposition: no computer benefit for a win over a solid team.

• Auburn is projected to wind up as the worst-ever BCS-league team. According to Jerry Palm, operator of CollegeRPI.com, the Tigers are projected to finish at No. 292. The 2007-08 Oregon State team, at No. 269, holds the current (dis)honor. The worst SEC team ever was 1993-94 Tennessee, at No. 235.

Mississippi's hopes may come down to home games against Tennessee (Jan. 29) and Kentucky (Feb. 1). Without wins there, the Rebels could end up with a completely empty 11-5 league mark. Even with three extra at-large spots this year and some precedent set with Kentucky's SEC-enhanced at-large bid in 2008, it's hard to imagine that kind of profile being worthy of inclusion this season.

Remember, records listed are Division I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS (Strength of Schedule) data are from Sunday's realtimerpi.com RPI report.

GW = good winsBL = bad losses(N) = neutral-site game

Send your feedback to bubblewatch@gmail.com or to @aglock on Twitter. All submissions are read; polite, fact-based ones stand the best chance of a response.

Locks: Duke

Duke remains the clear class of the league and the battle for second and beyond remains as muddled as it was last week.

SHOULD BE IN

Boston College (10-2, 1-0; RPI: 18, SOS: 32)The Eagles barely held off Patriot contender Bucknell in their only game, making it nine wins in their last 10. This week brings sneaky road tests at regional rival Rhode Island and South Carolina.GW: Texas A&M (N), Cal (N), at MarylandBL: Yale

IN THE MIX

Florida State (11-3, 1-0; RPI: 105, SOS: 215)The 'Noles helped themselves some in Hawaii, picking up a win over Baylor after getting beaten by Butler and then having the Bulldogs win the tourney. Offense against comparable opponents remains a big question mark. There are way too many jump shots.GW: Baylor (N)BL: None

North Carolina (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 25, SOS: 9)The Heels had a much easier time with William & Mary than in last spring's NIT game. Their profile remains the same, with no bad losses (Minnesota, Vandy, Illinois and Texas) and only one win worth banking.GW: KentuckyBL: None

Miami (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 19, SOS: 34)The 'Canes swept through three games in Vegas against inferior foes, although the computer numbers look very solid. Things toughen up quickly with their ACC schedule. The next few weeks will tell a lot.GW: West Virginia, Ole MissBL: at Rutgers

Maryland (8-4, 0-1; RPI: 121; SOS: 118)Between the surprise loss to BC to open ACC play and the next league game (at Duke on Jan. 9), the Terps will play three games. Those opponents have a combined D-I record of 4-24. In other words, check back in a few weeks.GW: NoneBL: Boston College (home league opener)?

Virginia (8-4, 1-0; RPI: 113, SOS: 170)The Cavaliers had a terrible week, barely surviving Norfolk State and then losing at home to transitional D-I Seattle with Mike Scott back. Now the wins at Minnesota and Virginia Tech are countered by some bad defeats.GW: at Minnesota, at Virginia TechBL: at Stanford (by 21), Seattle

NC State (7-4, 0-0; RPI: 63, SOS: 35)A last-second putback to beat Delaware State isn't the type of statement the Wolfpack needed after missing on their four biggest opportunities of the season. The next four games should be wins, so check after they travel to BC and Florida State before hosting Duke in mid-January.GW: George Mason?BL: None

Virginia Tech (7-4, 0-1, RPI: 35; SOS: 18)Beating St. Bonaventure in overtime was the best of a bad-news week for the Hokies, who lost two more players for the season to injury. It's not looking too good right now in Blacksburg.GW: Oklahoma State (N)BL: Virginia

Locks: Kansas

For now, Kansas State drops from lock status due to Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly getting suspended for receiving impermissible benefits. Pullen will be back after one more game but there's no word on Kelly's situation. The impact of the loss of last year's point guard, Denis Clemente, is an ongoing issue, but K-State needs Kelly back and performing to be in position to live up to preseason expectations.

SHOULD BE IN

Texas (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 26; SOS: 71)It's possible this is the second-best team in the league at the moment. The Longhorns manhandled Michigan State in East Lansing, which almost never happens. That's Texas' third very solid W of the season already.GW: Illinois (N), North Carolina (N), at Michigan State

Missouri (11-1, 0-0; RPI: 29, SOS: 130)The Tigers won a wild Braggin' Rights game against Illinois, pulling away in the final minute with the help of a (correctly called) intentional foul. They're not clicking on all cylinders yet, but the potential is there to become very dangerous. Thursday's home game vs. Old Dominion is an intriguing clash of styles.GW: Vanderbilt, vs. IllinoisBL: None

Texas A&M (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 30; SOS: 128)The Aggies have a really favorable Big 12 slate, loaded with early marquee-win opportunities at home. The last two of A&M's three road games against currently ranked teams don't come until late February/early March.GW: Temple (N), WashingtonBL: None

Kansas State (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 9, SOS: 8)The Wildcats looked understandably limited in the loss to UNLV the night Pullen and Kelly were suspended. Of note, K-State's first four road games in Big 12 play are at Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M and Kansas. Not easy. GW: Gonzaga (N), at Washington St., Virginia Tech? BL: None

Baylor (8-3, 0-0; RPI: 130; SOS: 266)The Bears were the biggest losers in Hawaii, where they fell to Washington State and Florida State and essentially are 0-3 on the season after also losing to Gonzaga earlier. The computer numbers reflect that reality.GW: NoneBL: None

IN THE MIX

Oklahoma State (11-1, 0-0; RPI: 37; SOS: 155)The Cowboys beat Stanford and now get resurgent Gonzaga on New Year's Eve. The opening part of Big 12 play is rigorous, so this could be an important springboard and a quality win.GW: NoneBL: None

Iowa State (11-2, 0-0; RPI: 111, SOS: 286)Nothing much has changed here, only now the trip to Virginia looks like a much lesser opportunity for a quality win.GW: NoneBL: None, really

Nebraska (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 100, SOS: 243)Similar to Iowa State, but with a win over USC in the books. Opportunity, or a reality check, comes with a road trip to Missouri and Kansas in mid-January.GW: NoneBL: None

Locks: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse, Connecticut

The league has five teams ranked in the top 10. Monday's UConn-Pitt clash in Pittsburgh is a great way to kick off the conference season and is a nice soundcheck for both teams.

SHOULD BE IN

West Virginia (8-2, 0-0; RPI: 4, SOS: 6)The Mountaineers didn't play last week and won't before Wednesday's league opener with St. John's. The next three after that are on the road, so performance and computer profile will start to converge one way or the other.GW: Vanderbilt, Cleveland StateBL: at Miami?

Notre Dame (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 38, SOS: 145)The Irish have a brutal start to Big East play, hosting Georgetown and UConn around a trip to Syracuse. The fun begins Wednesday night. The Irish already have several quality wins and the lone loss was in Louisville to Kentucky.GW: Wisconsin, Gonzaga, GeorgiaBL: None

Louisville (10-1, 0-0; RPI: 31, SOS: 89)The Cardinals finally ventured out and crushed Western Kentucky on the road. They have a game with Morgan State tonight before the annual brawl with Kentucky, this one in the KFC Yum! Center.GW: Butler, UNLVBL: Drexel?

IN THE MIX

Cincinnati (12-0, 0-0; RPI: 94; SOS: 339)The Bearcats remained unbeaten with two more lopsided wins over inferior foes. Now they have very winnable league home games against DePaul and Seton Hall before hosting Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout. The record is great. The strength of schedule is not.GW: DaytonBL: None

Marquette (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 168; SOS: 276)Team Bubble Watch has a big week, first at Vandy and then at home against West Virginia in the Big East opener. Marquette needs some quality wins. As the computer numbers show, the Golden Eagles have dropped all three of their good-win opportunities so far, even while playing well.GW: NoneBL: None

Providence (11-2, 0-0; RPI: 54, SOS: 155)The Friars' front part of the Big East schedule is very difficult, which will provide them with opportunities to boost a negligible profile. The fun starts at Syracuse on Tuesday.GW: NoneBL: La Salle (N)?

St. John's (7-3, 0-0; RPI: 24, SOS: 19)The Red Storm took out Davidson and Northwestern to win the Holiday Festival and make an appearance on this list. Their next 10 games are brutal. They face seven ranked opponents and that doesn't even include this Wednesday's trip to Morgantown.GW: Northwestern, Arizona State (N)?BL: St. Bonaventure, at Fordham

Seton Hall (6-6, 0-0; RPI: 144, SOS: 102)After losing at home to Dayton and Richmond, the Pirates are solely here because leading scorer Jeremy Hazell has been out for the last nine games. Unfortunately, Hazell was shot four times during a robbery at his family's home, so his return at this point is unknown.GW: NoneBL: at Arkansas

Locks: Ohio State

Much like in the ACC and Big 12, the race for second place in this league could go a number of ways. The Big Ten much more closely resembles the Big 12 in overall quality, though, which should result in solid NCAA seeding for a number of teams.

SHOULD BE IN

Illinois (10-3, 0-0; RPI: 50, SOS: 67)The Illini lost a wild Braggin' Rights showdown with rival Missouri, but have a favorable opening part of the Big Ten in which to get well. Road games at league minnows Iowa and Penn State are sandwiched around visits from Wisconsin and Northwestern.GW: Maryland (N), UNC, Gonzaga (N)BL: Illinois-Chicago (N)

Purdue (11-1, 0-0; RPI: 27, SOS: 123)Purdue heads into a soft first four games in league play, a nice break with John Hart's injury. The second half of January will provide the testing ground to see whether the Boilers' improving offensive numbers and staunch defensive efficiency can hold up.GW: at Virginia TechBL: None

Minnesota (11-1, 0-0; RPI: 23, SOS: 70)Here we go. Three of the Golden Gophers' first four league games are on the road at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Don't bail on this team if it gets off to a slow league start. The quality of the efforts will be just as telling.GW: North Carolina (N), West Virginia (N)BL: Virginia?

Wisconsin (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 42, SOS: 113)The Badgers' opening Big Ten schedule is stiff, including a home game with Illinois and a trip to Michigan State. Of their first seven games against ranked teams, though, five are at home, where the Badgers are almost impossible to beat. The fun starts Tuesday vs. Minnesota.GW: at Marquette, NC State?BL: None

Michigan State (7-4, 0-0, RPI: 76, SOS: 45)It's time to edge closer to the alarm bell after the Spartans were bullied around the Breslin Center by Texas. They don't have any bad losses, but they're adding up and exposing some worrisome weaknesses. A date with physical Minnesota on New Year's Eve is up next.GW: Washington (N)BL: None

IN THE MIX

Northwestern (9-1, 0-0; RPI: 53, SOS: 229)Unless you count a rout of Georgia Tech, the Wildcats failed their first real test of the season in the Holiday Festival final at St. John's. That effort wasn't a good omen for the league-opening run at Purdue, vs. Michigan State and at Illinois.GW: NoneBL: None

Michigan (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 78, SOS: 187)This is about the time in every John Beilein tenure where things click. Will that be the case with Michigan? Four of the next five are at home, including dates with Purdue, Kansas and Ohio State, so the opportunities are there.GW: at ClemsonBL: UTEP (N)?

Locks: None

Happy time! Thursday/Saturday Pac-10 weekends are back! And the league is surging, which should make things even more fun. Washington and Arizona still feel like the best teams, but after a couple of weekends of head-to-heads, we'll find out a lot more about the pursuers.

SHOULD BE IN

Washington (8-3, 0-0; RPI: 62, SOS: 64)After pounding Nevada, the Huskies' Pac-10 fun starts this week with a trip to the L.A. schools -- a trip on which UW has lost seven of eight games over the last four seasons. With USC's and UCLA's recently improved play, this is a nice season-opening check on Washington's level, as the Huskies haven't really done anything yet besides look pretty good in some losses.GW: NoneBL: None

Arizona (11-2, 0-0; RPI: 43, SOS: 107)The Wildcats could be 5-0 in league play heading to Washington on Jan. 20, but first thing's first for the still-young team: taking care of business at the Oregon schools this week. Arizona has a chance to put some pressure on the Washington and L.A. schools with a good start.GW: at NC StateBL: None

IN THE MIX

Washington State (10-2, 0-0; RPI: 47; SOS: 163)Despite having Butler put them away after halftime of the Diamond Head Classic, this was a solid moving week for the Cougars. Beating Baylor adds a second quality win to the dossier and both Gonzaga and Butler are surging, which makes both of those results look better. This week's league-opening trek to the L.A. schools is a very important one.GW: Gonzaga, Baylor (N)BL: None

USC (8-5, 0-0, RPI: 51, SOS: 27)The Trojans had a rough time in an early-season tournament in Springfield, Mass., but have rebounded with strong wins over Texas and at Tennessee and almost took out Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Washington schools come calling this week to open league play.GW: Texas, at TennesseeBL: A handful to mediocre teams

California (6-5, 0-0; RPI: 34, SOS: 1)The Bears' only game of the week was a scrappy loss to Kansas, one which gave them the nation's toughest schedule. There's a healthy number of losses already, though, which makes their opening three-game road swing in Pac-10 play pretty important.GW: Temple (N), New Mexico?BL: None

UCLA (8-4, 0-0; RPI: 89, SOS: 65)After four straight losses capped by a defeat at home to Montana, the Bruins have won five straight including a convincing win over BYU in Anaheim. They get a chance to keep the roll going this week against Washington and Washington State, two ostensible competitors for postseason positioning.GW: BYU (N)BL: Montana

Locks: Kentucky, Florida

Tennessee's unexpected slide bumps the Vols down a level for now, just because it's hard to know exactly what will happen next. Will the Gators follow them out of lockdom? More losses like last Monday's matinee to Jacksonville won't help. This isn't a vintage year in the SEC. The East division is very competitive but lacks an elite team and the West is a mess.

SHOULD BE IN

Tennessee (8-3, 0-0; RPI; 21, SOS: 5)The Vols looked incredible in their win at Pitt, but without a last-second bucket to beat Belmont, they would be winless in four games since. They still have two more testing nonleague home games (College of Charleston and Memphis) before Bruce Pearl starts his eight-game league suspension. Is this like last year, where the Vols rallied through controversy? Or is this a team in rapid decline?GW: Villanova (N), VCU (N), at PittBL: Charlotte, Oakland?

Vanderbilt (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 20, SOS: 44)Marquette's up next in an important profile-builder for both teams and then the 'Dores host Davidson before embarking on a pretty manageable start to SEC play. Most of the remaining marquee opportunities are backloaded, so racking up wins will be paramount until then.GW: North CarolinaBL: None

IN THE MIX

Georgia (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 52; SOS: 127)The Bulldogs continue to grab wins, but need to make some hay in the SEC East as their profile lacks any real heft. Star forward Trey Thompkins missed the double-OT loss to Notre Dame.GW: NoneBL: None

Mississippi (9-3, 0-0, RPI: 59, SOS: 74)A home loss to Dayton more than offsets anything good the Rebels have done, so despite OK computer numbers, they will need to do some quality work in league play.GW: NoneBL: None

South Carolina (7-3, 0-0; RPI: 83, SOS: 190)The Gamecocks got routed at Furman, which is less understandable than previous Ls at Michigan State and Ohio State. They have some home games coming up during which to try to recover from that misstep.GW: ClemsonBL: at Wofford

Locks: None

The league mostly did what it needed to do this past week, adding a couple of solid wins to the ledger. It really appears to be a four-team show. Could all of them make it? Depends on how the head-to-heads work themselves out.

SHOULD BE IN

Temple (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 14, SOS: 33)The Owls have a Big 5 showdown at Villanova on Thursday before easing into the A-10 slate with a handful of winnable games before a trip to Xavier on Jan. 22GW: Maryland (N), GeorgetownBL: Cal (N)?

IN THE MIX

Richmond (9-3, 0-0; RPI: 74, SOS: 196)The Spiders won at Seton Hall and now have five of their next six at home. They should be in solid position heading into a road swing to UMass and Dayton toward the end of the month.GW: Purdue, at Arizona State?, VCUBL: at Iona, Georgia Tech (N)?

Xavier (7-3, 0-0; RPI: 41, SOS: 37)The Musketeers got handled at Gonzaga. The home showdown with Florida on New Year's Eve is followed by the Crosstown Shootout at Cincinnati, which should be huge for both teams.GW: Seton Hall (without Jeremy Hazell), ButlerBL: Miami (Ohio)

Dayton (8-3, 0-0; RPI: 114, SOS: 189)The Flyers joined Richmond in winning at Seton Hall this past week. Home games this week against George Mason and New Mexico are two the Flyers win if they're serious about an NCAA push. With the way Ole Miss' résumé could decay in the SEC West, that one won't be enough.GW: Ole Miss?BL: East Tennessee State, margin at Cincinnati (by 34)

Locks: San Diego State

The Aztecs remain unbeaten and the league continues to look good for three bids. The upcoming showdowns between SDSU, UNLV and BYU will be a lot of fun. New Mexico (and Colorado State) look more like spoilers than sleepers at this point, but we'll see how Drew Gordon continues to fit in.

SHOULD BE IN

Brigham Young (12-1, 0-0; RPI: 3; SOS: 29)January 5 can't get here soon enough, when the Cougars travel to UNLV and start the MWC carousel. Right now, BYU is a very solid team with extremely strong computer numbers.GW: ArizonaBL: None

UNLV (12-2, 0-0; RPI: 12, SOS: 40)The Rebels get the computer benefit of the win over Kansas State in Kansas City, but the suspensions of Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen prior to the game dampen the actual four-point win. That home game vs. BYU looms large, as UNLV is at San Diego State the following week.GW: Wisconsin, Virginia Tech (N)BL: UC Santa Barbara

IN THE MIX

New Mexico (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 69, SOS: 220)That was a disappointing loss to Northern Iowa in Las Vegas. Now New Mexico has road games at Texas Tech and Dayton in which to prove itself heading into league play. The front part of the league slate is favorable, so the Lobos could have a fairly strong record come mid-February.GW: NoneBL: Northern Iowa (N)?

Locks: None

No one's made it into the lock category, but there were some solid signs for a couple of the traditional non-BCS powers.

Old Dominion (8-2, 0-1; RPI: 12, SOS: 12)The Monarchs are 3-0 vs. the top of the A-10 but a disappointing 0-1 in the CAA after an early-December loss at Delaware. They have a huge opportunity Thursday night at Missouri to get a marquee road win.GW: Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and DaytonBL: at Delaware

Gonzaga (6-5, 0-0; RPI: 59; SOS: 12)The Zags backed up their win over Baylor by handling Xavier at home. New Year's Eve vs. Oklahoma State and at Wake Forest on Jan. 2 are games they should win to help preserve some at-large rope.GW: Baylor (N), Marquette (N), XavierBL: None, but five of them already

Butler (6-4, 1-0; RPI: 46, SOS: 11)Struggles? What struggles? The Bulldogs took the Diamond Head Classic, beating Florida State and Washington State along the way. A couple of their losses carry injury asterisks, but they only have Horizon League games left, so they need to hope the 'Noles and Cougars thrive.GW: Florida State (N), Washington State (N)BL: Evansville (without Nored)

Memphis (9-2, 0-0; RPI: 60, SOS: 83)The Tigers were taken apart by Georgetown at home. There's no disgrace in that, but there's very little in their profile at the moment that is helpful. They still have quality nonleague shots left at Tennessee and against Gonzaga, but winning the league may become paramount.GW: Miami?BL: None

Central Florida (10-0, 0-0; RPI: 33; SOS: 230)Marcus Jordan limped off the bench at UMass and helped the Knights stay perfect. They play Memphis, Southern Miss and UAB twice each in league play, so there's some profile value left to be had if they can keep winning.GW: Miami, FloridaBL: None

Cleveland State (11-1, 2-0; RPI: 10, SOS: 87)The loss at West Virginia still resonates and the Vikings have nothing left but Horizon League games and a BracketBusters contest TBD. The computer numbers remain great, but those will fade unless they come awfully close to running the table. The two Butler showdowns are huge.GW: Kent State?BL: None

Drexel (8-2, 1-0; RPI: 15, SOS: 61)The Dragons were routed at Syracuse, which lifted their computer profile but not their subjective one. The win at Louisville will remain strong but they'll need to do some serious work in the CAA to maintain touch with at-large possibilities.GW: at LouisvilleBL: None

Wichita State (8-2, 0-0; RPI: 49, SOS: 100)Still not much to see here before league play starts this week. The missed opportunities against UConn (which cost the Shockers two more quality games in Maui) and San Diego State will loom heavily all season.GW: Virginia?BL: None

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