Monday February 21st, 2011

In the classic 1983 film WarGames, the WOPR computer learns after numerous iterations of Global Thermonuclear War that "the best move is not to play." So when are mid-majors going to learn that lesson?

Another year of BracketEliminators has come and gone and the carnage left behind looks familiar. The Missouri Valley's dreams of an at-large? Wiped out in 24 hours when Wichita State, Missouri State and Northern Iowa all lost, two at home. Saint Mary's at-large safety net? Torn by desperate Utah State, which still isn't assured of its own safety despite an impressive road rally. Horizon leader Cleveland State? Well, the Vikings did need to try to get a quality win, but couldn't do it at Old Dominion.

Besides the Colonial Athletic Association, which is rolling toward a landmark three-bid season after all of its top teams notched important wins, you know who else is laughing? Butler, Gonzaga and a host of other middling high-major teams that watched as a handful of bubble competitors ate a crippling loss. You know, the teams that didn't play in the event.

Scheduling is difficult at this level and the enticement of national TV time and a next-season rematch is significant, but year after year, seemingly more harm than good is done to the marquee teams that participate. A full weekend of good, quality mid-major basketball may be good for us viewers, but it sure doesn't seem like smart business for those involved.

RELATED: Andy Glockner: Duke returns to top seed line of Bracket Watch

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 RPI report.

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

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Locks: Duke, North Carolina

Duke was a primary beneficiary of the nationwide upset parade, slipping into a No. 1 seed in this week's bracket. Carolina continues to improve and is working its way into protected-seed classification. Florida State remains the third team in, but will have to continue to prove itself sans Chris Singleton. After that? Yikes.


Florida State (19-7, 9-3; RPI: 50, SOS: 99) If the media mock selection event is any indicator of committee sentiment, FSU will be a heavily debated team without a healthy Chris Singleton. The 'Noles took a nice first step by pouring 84 points on helpless Wake Forest and need to continue to show a level of competence without their best player. The 'Noles' schedule is soft, though, so they'll need to keep impressing. The debate likely will be more about seeding than selection, but you can never be too careful making a good new impression. GW: Duke, Baylor (N)? BL: at Auburn


Boston College (16-10, 6-6; RPI: 45, SOS: 18) The Eagles had a late three at UNC rim out and cost them what would have been a huge road win. BC's profile remains very marginal, so the Eagles may need a 3-1 mark to feel decent about their chances heading into what should be a feisty ACC tournament. That starts this week vs. Miami and at UVa. GW: Texas A&M (N), plus a so-so collection of Cal (N) and at Maryland and South Carolina BL: Yale, Harvard

Virginia Tech (17-8, 7-5; RPI: 64, SOS: 93) Seth Greenberg's crew is trying its best to keep the coach's Selection Sunday rant streak alive. After handling Maryland to notch a sweep of the Terps, Tech lost for a second time this season to Virginia -- a very costly blunder. If the Hokies can't beat Duke on Saturday, they need to take the other three to get to 10 wins and maybe some standings separation. This is going to be very close again, it seems. GW: OK State (N)?, Penn State? BL: Virginia (2x), at Georgia Tech

Clemson (18-9, 7-6; RPI: 73, SOS: 91) The Tigers got out of Miami with a win, but losing at N.C. State earlier in the week was a blow. The quality wins just aren't there to think 9-7 (with a loss at Duke on March 2) will be enough without major ACC tournament work. GW: at College of Charleston?, plus BC and FSU at home BL: at Virginia, at N.C. State

Maryland (17-10, 6-6; RPI: 86, SOS: 81) After losing at Virginia Tech last week, the Terps are basically in run-the-table mode to have a shot. If they get to 10-6 with wins over Florida State and at UNC, they'd be in the conversation. Decent team, no quality wins at all at this point. GW: at Penn State (by 23)? BL: Swept by Virginia Tech and BC.

Locks: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M

Both Big 12 heavyweights took unexpected road body blows and the race for No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs has gotten very muddled. Equally confusing is the middle of this league for at-large purposes. It's the most variable high-major league left in the nation. Texas A&M joins the lock fun after squeaking past Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Even somehow losing out now probably wouldn't knock them out of the Dance.


Missouri (20-6, 7-5; RPI: 28, SOS: 64) The Tigers got a league road win at Iowa State and are closing in on lockdom. Remaining schedule is very tough, though, so we'll wait at least another week to close the book. Home to Baylor and then at Kansas State this week should be two more solid tests. GW: Vanderbilt, Old Dominion, vs. Illinois?, K-State? BL: None, really


Kansas State (17-9, 6-6; RPI: 31, SOS: 11) Now that's how you do it. Everyone else is losing and you're routing No. 1 and then backing it up with another easy win. Now the Wildcats need to back it up at Nebraska and vs. Missouri this week and we can see where things stand. GW: Kansas, Gonzaga (N)?, at Washington State? BL: None, really. Swept by Colorado for bubble comparison purposes.

Nebraska (18-8, 6-6; RPI: 63, SOS: 80) I'll ignore the last two sketchy minutes of the Texas upset and focus on the first 38, when the Huskers were excellent. Now armed with two high-quality home wins (to offset two sub-100 losses), the Huskers are in better shape than expected as teams continue to lose around them. The schedule is very manageable, with K-State and Mizzou still to come to Lincoln. Interesting situation developing. GW: Texas, Texas A&M BL: at Texas Tech, Davidson (N)

Baylor (16-9, 6-6; RPI: 78, SOS: 70) The Bears had some momentum, but then some strange scheduling had them play a non-DI and they lost at home to Texas Tech -- a very bad week. With their complete lack of nonleague chops, wins in at least three of the last four (at Mizzou, A&M, at OK State, Texas) now look necessary. Good luck. GW: at Texas A&M BL: at Iowa State (by 15), at Oklahoma, Texas Tech

Colorado (15-11, 5-7; RPI: 93, SOS: 74) The Buffaloes had a week to prep for a trip to Kansas. Didn't matter. Now they likely need to win their last four league games to have a legit chance. It's not impossible if they can get the home upset of Texas. GW: Missouri, Colorado State (for bubble)?, sweep of Kansas State BL: at San Francisco, at Oklahoma

Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-8; RPI: 59, SOS: 47) I'll leave the Pokes here for one more week. If they somehow win at Kansas tonight, the final three are very winnable and they would have enough good wins to be considered at 8-8. GW: Missouri, Shorthanded K-State?, Missouri State? BL: at Texas Tech

Locks: Pitt, Villanova, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, St. John's, Syracuse, West Virginia

Time to conserve paper. The top nine teams in the Big East are all clearly going dancing. Now can Cincinnati and/or Marquette make it 10 or 11? Pitt is the best candidate for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but is the going too tough for anyone to hold on as teams in other conferences may run the table?




Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6; RPI: 40, SOS: 94) Big bounceback week for the Bearcats, who beat Louisville at home and then won at Providence. Now things get very sticky, with a home-and-home against Georgetown, a visit from UConn and a trip to Marquette left. Due to a mostly weak nonleague slate, there's more work to be done. A split may be enough, though. GW: Louisville, Xavier, at St. John's, Dayton (by 34)? BL: None

Marquette (16-11, 7-7; RPI: 68, SOS: 34) TBW fans, the moment has come. After two years of a long-distance online relationship, we're going to meet. Thursday night in Hartford. Wear something nice. Love, me. P.S. You really could use this win. GW: A trio of good home league wins (WV, ND, Syracuse) BL: None, but 11 of them.

Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

The Buckeyes have lost twice in three games, but with the defeats coming at Wisconsin and at Purdue, their overall profile for a No. 1 seed remains fairly solid. Like the Big 12, the more confounding part of the story is in the middle of the conference, where teams are backsliding like it's their job.




Illinois (17-10, 7-7; RPI: 42, SOS: 20) This is starting to get worrisome. I rarely assume results, but with the Illini's current form, winning at either Ohio State on Tuesday or at Purdue next week seems very unlikely. That means 9-9, max. Would that and a first-game Big Ten tourney exit condemn them to the NIT? GW: UNC, plus MSU and Wisconsin at home, Maryland (N)?, Gonzaga (N)? BL: Illinois-Chicago (N), at Indiana

Minnesota (17-9, 6-8; RPI: 40, SOS: 30) If the Gophers can't get Al Nolen back healthy, I think they're in serious trouble. Even if they take care of the softness of the remaining schedule and get to 9-9, it doesn't prove they can be the same quality team they were before the point guard issues. A split leaves them at 8-10, which is huge danger territory. GW: North Carolina (N), West Virginia (N), Purdue BL: Virginia

Michigan State (14-11, 7-7; RPI: 43, SOS: 5) The Spartans visit Minnesota on Tuesday in a massive game for both teams. The loser is in a lot of bubble trouble. Unless MSU can handle Purdue at home (not impossible), a loss at The Barn would mean 9-9 at best, and that's no given to happen (or be enough without postseason work). GW: Washington (N), plus Wisconsin and Minnesota at home BL: Michigan (at home), at Iowa

Penn State (14-12, 7-8; RPI: 60, SOS: 6) The Nittany Lions have four solid home wins, but have one road/neutral win all season (No. 180 IU) and their overall profile is not good enough to withstand that. They'll need to win at either Northwestern or Minnesota just to have a chance at .500. At that assumes they beat Ohio State at home. GW: MSU, Illinois and Wisconsin -- all at home in league play BL: Maine

Michigan (16-11, 7-8; RPI: 58, SOS: 23) The Wolverines have swept Penn State, but lack the kind of quality wins the Nittany Lions feature. They do have the schedule to get to 10-8, though, with Wisconsin and Michigan State at home around a trip to reeling Minnesota. If the Wolverines can sweep those three, they'll also have struck further blows to the Spartans and Gophers. First things first: Beat the Badgers on Wednesday. GW: at Michigan State, Harvard BL: at Indiana

Locks: Arizona

Arizona held off Washington in a terrific game on a sensational block (that may have been a goaltend, but it was a 52-48 call and I was fine with a no-call in that situation) by Derrick Williams. Lock 'em up, as the Wildcats are strongly positioned now to win the league, especially after UCLA's OT loss at Cal that puts the 'Cats a full two games ahead heading to L.A.




UCLA (19-8, 10-4; RPI: 37, SOS: 42) The Bruins' OT slip-up at Cal likely will cost them a shot at the league title, but they're still in solid shape for an at-large, if needed. The more interesting battle may be for second place, so the final-weekend trip to Seattle also looms large. GW: BYU (N), St. John's? BL: Montana

Washington (18-8, 10-5; RPI: 36, SOS: 50) Let's take you back to last season, when Washington finished in third place at 11-7 in a weak Pac-10, had a couple solid wins all season, ended up with an 11 seed and went to the Sweet 16. We're basically repeating it, with a slightly better league record and no good nonconference win. Assuming the Huskies take care of business with their final three league games at home, they'll probably be fine, but they're not nearly as safe as most people want to believe. GW: Arizona (at home), at UCLA? BL: at Oregon, at Oregon State, at Stanford

Locks: Florida, Vanderbilt

Alabama is continuing to make itself into an intriguing bubble debate. The Commodores get locked up. They'll finish above .500 in the league and have enough good wins to sail into the NCAAs. Kentucky more or less confirmed its NCAA spot with two strong home wins, but the remaining schedule is rough, so one more week won't hurt to see how the Wildcats handle the road again.


Kentucky (19-7, 7-5; RPI: 16, SOS: 17) Routing overmatched Mississippi State and South Carolina at home was nice, but let's see if the 'Cats can compose themselves on the road at Arkansas. The last three -- Florida, Vandy and at Tennessee -- will provide a nice pre-postseason sound check. I'm still buying. GW: Tennessee, at Louisville, Notre Dame (N), Washington (N)? BL: None, really (at Alabama?)


Tennessee (16-11, 6-6; RPI: 33, SOS: 2) The Vols are starting to mess around a bit too much and aren't a lock to end the season at .500 or better in league play after losing at home to Georgia. A trip to Vandy is up next and Kentucky comes in for the finale. They have several very nice wins, but a lot of suspect results, too. GW: Villanova (N), at Pitt, VCU (N)?, at Georgia? BL: at Charlotte, at Arkansas, plus Oakland and C of C at home?

Georgia (18-8, 7-5; RPI: 38, SOS: 31) After collapsing down the stretch at home against Vandy, the Bulldogs went and got a big road win at Tennessee to stay firmly in the hunt. That win was huge because with road trips left to Florida and Alabama, they can win the two soft home games and still get to 9-7. GW: Kentucky, at Tennessee, UAB?, Colorado? (for bubble purposes) BL: None

Alabama (18-8, 10-2; RPI: 76, SOS: 128) Standing friendly bet made between bracket folk: Lunardi and I say 12-4 will get 'Bama in. Jerry Palm says no. Just taking care of business the rest of the way could get them to 13-3, and as much as I know profiles are fully evaluated and don't involve conference affiliation and blah blah blah, there is no way the selection committee will leave out a team that went 13-3 in the SEC. GW: Kentucky, at Tennessee BL: Iowa (N), St. Peter's (N), at Arkansas?

Locks: Xavier, Temple

The two best teams in a league that will get at least two bids will get locked up as they keep doing what they need to do. Richmond is pushing for a third slot, but that bad effort at Temple won't help.




Richmond (21-7, 10-3; RPI: 64, SOS: 134) The Spiders had a really nice weekend and it had nothing to do with beating St. Bonaventure. As crucially, their two best wins of the season -- Purdue and VCU -- picked up big, national TV wins and continue to look good. Richmond better think of winning out, including a home date with Duquesne in the finale. GW: Purdue, VCU BL: at Iona?, Georgia Tech (N), Bucknell

Duquesne (16-8, 9-3; RPI: 74, SOS: 116) The one-point loss to Dayton is a real killer for a team with no nonleague heft to rely on. Would a 13-3 league finish and a title game loss this season be enough? The answer's not no. GW: Temple BL: at Robert Morris

Dayton (19-9, 7-6; RPI: 56, SOS: 67) Taking out Duquesne was nice. Can you do it to Xavier, too, and get to 10-6 in the league? That and a deep A-10 tourney run would ... still make it somewhat unlikely, but who knows. GW: George Mason, at Ole Miss, New Mexico? BL: East Tennessee State, at Cincinnati (by 34), at UMass

Locks: San Diego State, BYU

The beat goes on for the two best teams in the league, with San Diego State keeping the inside track on the league title by winning at UNLV and keeping pace with BYU with the home rematch still in its pocket. Below them, though, there's a shake-up underway. UNLV fans, start to get nervous.


UNLV (20-7, 8-5; RPI: 26, SOS: 27) It wasn't pretty, but boy was the win at Colorado State on Saturday huge for UNLV. Now the Rebels have a good chance to finish in third place in the league (even if they can't handle New Mexico at the Pit) and they aren't staring at an 0-6 league mark against the rest of the MWC's best. Plus, the Wisconsin and K-State wins continue to give. The Rebs have a little breathing room, but not enough to really mess around. GW: Wisconsin, Virginia Tech (N), at K-State (without Pullen/Kelly)? BL: UC Santa Barbara


Colorado State (17-8, 8-4; RPI: 47, SOS: 43) The Rams needed to beat UNLV at home and get the sweep. Now they're in trouble, unless they can pull off a huge road upset at either BYU or SDSU. Not enough in this profile to make it with a fourth-place finish and no marquee wins. GW: at UNLV BL: Sam Houston State, vs. Hampton

Locks: None

BracketEliminators forced a thorough shuffling of the order in this category, with a couple of CAA teams moving up a level and heading toward safety. Could two brand names in this category be on their way to sneaking into the bracket after being left for dead several weeks ago?


George Mason (23-5, 14-2; RPI: 20, SOS: 65) Very, very impressive week for the Patriots, who rolled into Richmond and crushed VCU and then rallied past Northern Iowa on the road despite an unexpected hailstorm of threes from the Panthers. Barring a major upset, GMU will win the league by at least two games and should be headed to the NCAAs. GW: Old Dominion, at VCU (plus Duquesne, Harvard and at No. Iowa?) BL: Wofford (N)

Old Dominion (22-6, 12-4; RPI: 28, SOS: 63) The Monarchs won't catch Mason for the CAA crown, but they probably don't need to after muscling past Cleveland State on Sunday. There are no monster wins on the dossier, but there's a sizable collection of decent ones. The CAA looks set for at least two bids and has a real chance for three. GW: Clemson (N), Xavier (N), Richmond, at VCU, Cleveland State BL: at Delaware


Utah State (24-3, 12-1; RPI: 19, SOS: 106) Well done, Aggies. With a commanding second-half performance in Moraga, USU nailed down a very credible road win and eased a bit of the concern about its profile and quality. That said, this doesn't suddenly make USU a mortal lock to dance. Auto bid would be the smart way to go. GW: at Saint Mary's BL: at Idaho

Butler (20-9, 12-5; RPI: 49, SOS: 75) It appears Butler may try to test my theory that they'll make it by winning out until the Horizon final. Of course, they could just win one more game beyond that and take the doubt out. They'll likely fall a game short of Cleveland State and (maybe) Valpo, but still have the best at-large profile. The tiebreaker situation for the tourney is megaconvoluted, but getting that double-bye would be nice. GW: Florida State (N), Washington State (N), Cleveland State twice? BL: Evansville (without Nored), UW Milwaukee (twice), at Wright State, at Youngstown State

Saint Mary's (20-6, 10-2; RPI: 46, SOS: 127) The Gaels had a disastrous three days, first inexplicably losing at No. 313 San Diego, who had three D-I wins all season, and then having Utah State roar past them on their home floor on Saturday. Now the home date with Gonzaga on Thursday is monstrous. If the Gaels lose, they don't even have the best at-large hopes in the league anymore, let alone sole possession of first. GW: St. John's BL: at San Diego

Gonzaga (18-9, 9-3; RPI: 71, SOS: 91) All we have to do is keep winning and have Saint Mary's lose to one of the worst teams in the nation and then have that compound with a home loss to Utah State and ... Wait, all of that happened? Giddy up! The Zags now have an enormous chance to steal at least a piece of the league title, which looked impossible a week ago. Time to get it done in Moraga. GW: Xavier, Baylor (N)?, Marquette (N)?, Oklahoma State? BL: at Santa Clara, at San Francisco

VCU (21-8, 12-4; RPI: 57, SOS: 120) If the CAA was trying to create a three-bid scenario, having VCU lose to ODU and Mason and then win at Wichita State wasn't a bad plan. The Monarchs and Patriots look like solid bets for at-larges, so if VCU (or someone else) can win the auto bid, it should be three. That doesn't mean VCU's at-large hopes are doomed. A loss in the CAA final would make them an interesting case. GW: UCLA (N), at Old Dominion, at Wichita State BL: at Georgia State, at South Florida

Memphis (19-6, 7-3; RPI: 32, SOS: 46) C-USA is 2-13 vs. the RPI top 50 out of conference, which explains how a league with four solid RPI teams could end up with just one NCAA bid. Memphis is the best (only?) hope for an at-large, but a 15-point loss at sub-150 Rice was a really harmful misstep. Now the pressure is on to win at UTEP or Memphis could end up multiple games off the pace (albeit against a harder unbalanced league schedule). GW: Miami (Fla.)?, at Gonzaga?, sweep of Southern Miss, at UAB BL: at Rice

Harvard (18-4, 9-1; RPI: 41, SOS: 179) The Crimson are now in the Ivy driver's seat after Princeton's upset loss at Brown on Saturday. Now tied with the Tigers in the loss column and still with a home date with Princeton left, the Crimson are four wins away from their first-ever Ivy League title. The downside, if there is one, is they probably don't have any at-large hopes. I'm sure Harvard fans would take that tradeoff. GW: at BC, Colorado BL: None

Missouri State (21-7, 13-3; RPI: 51, SOS: 130) The Bears were part of the three-stage Valley TV disaster over the weekend, falling at Valpo and pretty much kissing at-large consideration good bye. They still host Wichita State in the season finale, which very likely will decide the league title, but that's probably not enough with no other solid wins. GW: at Wichita State BL: at Tulsa?, at Evansville

Wichita State (21-6, 13-3; RPI: 53, SOS: 109) Losing at home to VCU likely was the death knell for Wichita State's at-large hopes. The Shockers are another good team that hasn't beaten anyone. Just 2-5 against the RPI top 100, with a best win of No. 88 UNI. If they win their last two, including at MO State, they clinch the league title, but this looks like a one-bid year. GW: None BL: Southern Illinois

Cleveland State (21-6, 12-4; RPI: 35, SOS: 124) The Vikings still lead the Horizon (by a win over Valpo and one in the loss column over Butler), but this is a profile like a couple of Siena's recent teams: nothing else is helping and the league title isn't enough. They needed to win at Old Dominion on Sunday for any kind of marquee win and couldn't, despite Norris Cole's big day. GW: None BL: at Detroit

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