North Carolina's title hopes in jeopardy, more Bubble Watch
One game is usually just that -- a single data point in a team's overall resume. Bad nights happen, which is why small-sample bias exists (and should be ignored). Sometimes, though, a result is so shocking that it hints at something more to come.
On Saturday, Florida State 90, North Carolina 57, might have been one of those games.
Simply put, national title contenders very, very rarely lose by that kind of margin. Per
Given it was just an eight-point game at the half, the way the Heels rolled over as the margin expanded was an alarming punctuation point on a season thus far that has mostly been stuck in third gear. Then mix in the Abandoned Five, with Roy Williams serving up a
Yes, it's just one game. One very bad game. But sometimes, a bad game means a lot more. We'll see.
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Even the top of the ACC is down. Ignore the ramifications of the 33-point UNC loss at Florida State and realize that the Heels have lost their last three road games (to UNLV, Kentucky and now Florida State), twice in decisive fashion. Duke also has not impressed recently, and really should have lost to Virginia at home on the balance of play. Due to good scheduling, both will earn strong NCAA seeds, but there are several leagues clearly better at this point, top to bottom.
Moral victories rarely are acceptable, but for a rising team like Virginia, just missing at Cameron may be the rare exception. Without a complete outlier shooting performance from three, the Hoos would have won, and that validates a lot of what they have accomplished this season. Mike Scott (much like Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor last season) is not getting enough attention because of Virginia's slow tempo. He's a clear National Player of the Year candidate at this stage.
Where was that -- any of that -- all season? In what is the national performance of the year so far, the Seminoles #poleaxed North Carolina, 90-57. Does one win wash over a season of disappointment? No, but it will stand out in neon lights as an indication of what this 'Noles team
The Wolfpack sort of canceled themselves out this week, losing at home to Georgia Tech before crushing Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Now they get Boston College at home before the wheat meets the chaff, with five of the next seven on the road along with a visit from Virginia.
Most ACC teams will lose at Virginia and North Carolina this season, so the fact that Miami is 0-2 isn't that worrisome. If Reggie Johnson can find his full groove soon, the Canes will be heard from. The schedule softens considerably now, starting with Clemson and N.C. State at home.
The annual bubble boys may not even achieve that status this season unless things turn quickly. Losing at Wake was disappointing. Losing at Boston College is flat-out bad. Now mega-peeved Carolina comes to Blacksburg ahead of a trip to Virginia. At 0-5, it would be an enormous mountain to climb. There's no certainty 9-7 will be enough in a soft ACC and the Hokies have plenty of tests left, most on the road.
Well, looks like the champs won't be rolling over so easily after Kansas rolled over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse Monday night. How will Baylor respond going home to host Missouri?
Lose at Kansas? Fine. Lose at home to Baylor by two? Understandable. Lose at Oklahoma? Hmmm. The good news is that the Wildcats are done with half of their games against the other three top teams. They need to stabilize against Texas at home and start beating the lesser teams in the league.
Finding out that the Cyclones aren't quite as good as Missouri or Kansas at this point doesn't invalidate things. If they keep taking care of business when they should and nick a quality win or two at some point, they should be OK. This week -- Oklahoma State and at Texas Tech -- is one of those "take care of business" weeks.
Beat Texas A&M and lost at Missouri, so no real progress for the Longhorns this week, plus their Temple win has been getting a bit of tarnish. The schedule is brutal right now; they play at Kansas State before hosting Kansas this week. That said, they need quality win chances, and need to take some of them.
Losing at Oklahoma State was disappointing, but then the Sooners ambushed Kansas State to save their week and maybe their season. If they can handle Texas Tech and a trip to Texas A&M this week, they'll be 3-3 when Baylor comes calling on Jan. 24, the start of a very rough stretch of tests.
The Pirates bricked a late front-end of a 1-and-1 and lost by a point at South Florida in a "can you handle prosperity" test. The Bulls have improved since early in the year, so this isn't a terrible loss, but it's a sign that Seton Hall may not quite be ready for the lofty expectations being formed by several big wins. UConn has stabilized again and moves back into this category.
Lost a tough game in Hartford to UConn before easily handling Rutgers at home. No shame in that week, and the Mountaineers remain well on track for a strong NCAA seed. Now they face a very tough test against in-state rival Marshall before hosting resurgent Cincinnati.
After falling behind 18-2 to Louisville, the Golden Eagles stormed back to grab a comfortable win and move to 4-2 in the league. The next seven, by typical Big East standards, are very soft, so if #TBW can keep its act together, they could be in the running for a second-place finish entering the final five games.
Happy Homecoming, Rick! Here's a 31-point pounding at Providence to mark the occasion! Beating DePaul comfortably doesn't salve the wounds of blowing an early 16-point lead at Marquette on Monday. Now the Cards are two games under .500 in the league and head to desperate Pitt next.
The Bearcats' rancid nonleague schedule continues to haunt them, but this team's playing good basketball since it went smaller post-#zipemup. Now 4-1 in the league, can the Bearcats step up to the plate in road tests this week at UConn and West Virginia? They've already won at Pitt (I know, everyone's doing it) and Georgetown.
No one is untouchable in this deep conference, but the Buckeyes and Spartans remain very well positioned even after road losses this week. In a league that should get at least seven bids, having only two locks is probably strict, but standards are increasing this week across the board.
A surprising loss to feisty Minnesota and then getting routed at Ohio State drops the Hoosiers to 3-3 and into this category for now, even though
The Illini played once last week, but what a one it was, with Brandon Paul's explosion taking them past Ohio State for a huge marquee win their resume lacked. Offensive consistency remains a question but some things are percolating on that end. The next five games -- at Penn State, Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Michigan State, Northwestern -- are a big chance to consolidate what they have accomplished before a challenging final stretch of road games.
Every time I really want to buy on Michigan, they have a so-so performance that worries me, and a 16-point loss to Iowa would qualify. After hosting Michigan State tonight in a huge intrastate battle, the Wolverines head to Arkansas for a no-win late-season nonconference clash.
The Badgers played their worst game of the season Sunday and were crushed by the Giants ... oh, wait, that was the Packers. Sorry, the Badgers won twice last week to get back to .500 in the league, including a credible win at Purdue. Now Northwestern arrives for an unexpectedly big game on Wednesday before a trip to league-leading Illinois on the weekend.
The Wildcats won't care that Michigan State was slightly shorthanded and neither will the NCAA committee, which doesn't discount wins assuming the foe would have performed better at full strength. Beating the Spartans was a huge lift for the profile. Now the Wildcats need to show they can do some work on the road. This week at Wisconsin and Minnesota is a good place to start.
The Boilermakers may regret the home loss to Wisconsin. After this week's visit from Iowa, the schedule gets murderous. The next eight include home-and-homes with Michigan State and Northwestern, away to Ohio State and Illinois, and home to Michigan and Indiana. There will be lots of chances for resume enhancing wins, but will there be enough wins, even with two soft home games coming late.
Want to stay on the watch? Go grab two road wins, including a huge one at Indiana. Nice job, Gophers. Northwestern is next up in a huge swing game for both teams. The Gophers likely need to win that one to have reasonable at-large hopes.
There are no true quality wins to be had, so quantity will be the currency of the realm. Cal and Stanford are best positioned, but things will continue to change as the schedule unfolds.
The Golden Bears staved off Colorado in a clunky affair before doing what teams are supposed to do Utah. The only thing Cal can do is keep holding serve, win the league and assume (probably correctly) that that will be enough for a bid, just like in 2010. They very well could end the season without a top-50 win again. Big game on tap at Washington on Thursday. Separation at the top will be important.
Barely beating Utah: bad. Trouncing Colorado: good. Another 2-0 week: All the Cardinal can do is to keep adding wins to a lightish profile. I think Cal's the better team, but the Cardinal have better wins. We'll find out on the court at the end of the month after a trip to the Washington schools this weekend.
In a league where you have to keep holding serve at home, the Wildcats dropped a disappointing game to Oregon last week after needing overtime to dispatch Oregon State. This is not very convincing at this stage. The profile is empty and the team is so-so at the moment. Now they have the Newbie Roadie at Utah and Colorado.
Needing a final-minute's push to dispatch Seattle was not a great statement, but beating Washington State by 10 keeps the Huskies in a tie for first in the loss column. Up next is a home weekend against Cal and Stanford, where a sweep will greatly help the Huskies chances of nabbing an at-large.
My preseason "best darkhorse pick to win a high-major league" is back in the mix after a road sweep of the Arizona schools. Now the Ducks get the L.A. schools and Oregon State at home before a trip to Utah and Colorado. Anything less than 8-3 entering the Washington home game would be disappointing.
So much for that first-place thing for now after getting swept in the Bay Area. Now the Buffs need to sweep the Arizona schools at home, as seven of their last 11 are away and Colorado is rarely a good road team.
More than any other conference, the NCAA picture looks fairly clear here. The SEC looks fairly likely to only be a five-bid league, unless someone else can string something together quickly. As Kentucky is finding out, road games are never easy, so I'm eager to see the Cats tested away at one of the other probable NCAA teams.
A close road loss at Mississippi State may have slightly shifted the balance between the old "West" foes, since they're still playing the same schedules this season. Home to Vanderbilt and then away to Kentucky provides a huge proving ground week for the Tide.
Quietly, the Commodores are 3-0 in the league and showing signs of being the team many thought they could be before the season. This is a testing week, with a Thursday trip to Alabama before a quick Saturday turnaround against Mississippi State at home.
Good job to handle Tennessee and Alabama at home in a pair of four-point decisions. Now the Bulldogs must show they can handle the road after the league-opening defeat at Arkansas. Trips to Mississippi and Vanderbilt this week will provide the latest soundcheck.
The Gators continue to tread through the soft beginning of their SEC schedule, and now get LSU at home and a trip to Mississippi before things get trickier (albeit heavily at home). Check back next week.
No one's unbeaten in conference play after just four games, and 12 of the 14 teams in the league have one or two defeats. It should continue to be wild in this league, with no true heavyweight at this point and 11 teams in the RPI top 100. How many bids will depend on how much separation can be created by the top few and the others.
Give the Flyers a bit of a pass on their first conference loss, since they were shorthanded at St. Bonaventure without Chris Johnson (in addition to losing Josh Benson for the season). With Johnson back, they edged La Salle to split the week. Next up: the standard grudge match with Xavier.
Beat Duke, lose to Dayton, win at Saint Louis, lose at Richmond. The inconsistency continues for the Owls, who should be much more stable (and formidable) when Michael Eric gets back to give them some size inside. They stay local this week, hosting city rival La Salle before facing Maryland at the Palestra.
The Musketeers are re-finding their footing in time for a trio of tests. Saint Joe's arrives at Cintas Center Wednesday night, followed by a weekend trip to Dayton before Saint Louis comes in next week. This team had too much solid mojo for it to completely disappear, but we'll see after this series of games.
Losing at home to Temple was a step back in the early shuffle atop the league, dropping the Billikens to 0-2 against presumed contenders and losers of three of their last five, all in fairly tough fashion. They need to handle Duquesne at home before shot No. 3, this one at Xavier.
Losing at surprising UMass drops the Hawks a peg and now they have to go to the Cintas Center before playing a Big 5 game at scrappy Penn. Then Dayton arrives before trips to Temple and Richmond. Conclusion: This could be a make-or-break stretch for Saint Joe's.
Credit to the Minutemen for winning games they should to get into position. Home wins over Charlotte and St. Joe's are credible. Now seven of the next 11 in league play are on the road, so we'll see how much UMass has improved from last season. Nothing huge in the profile, so it needs to rack up wins.
The Rebels dropped from 12th to 20th in the coaches poll after losing at the buzzer at a ranked San Diego State team, which tells you all you need to know about respect levels for the conference and how much attention the "coaches" pay to actual games and team quality. It was a great start to an early round-robin among the league's three heavy hitters.
Holding serve against the other big boys is paramount for league placement and possible NCAA seeding and the Aztecs did just enough to slip past UNLV on Jamaal Franklin's last-second floater. Now they get a freeroll of sorts when they play at New Mexico before hosting Air Force on the weekend. Steve Fisher's doing as good a coaching job as there is in the nation this season.
Don't discount the Lobos getting past the trip to Laramie to open the season. That will be a tricky fixture for everyone this season. Now they enter the octagon with games against San Diego State and at UNLV in a four-day span. We'll learn exactly how improved the Lobos are from some early-season stumbles.
The Rams held off Denver to win the state championship and then escaped league bottomfeeder TCU in double-overtime in their league opener to continue along a path toward at-large consideration. The numbers are misleadingly good, but the Rams will have six shots at very legit wins in league play. Before then, they need to get to 3-0 by handling Boise State and then winning at Wyoming.
This is a very competitive and tough league that should feel good about its chances of getting two bids and we'll see what happens if an outsider wins Arch Madness. Anyone at the top can beat anyone else, and even the lower-division clubs are becoming thorns in the side of the so-called contenders.
The Bluejays have won six in a row after dropping their league opener to Missouri State. The second-half rally at Wichita State now looms large, given the Jays and Shockers are tied atop the league. And guess who's on the docket next? The return game at Missouri State, which needs the sweep to maintain any realistic hopes of its own.
The Shockers continue to handle the soft underbelly of the Valley. Now they need to handle a trip to Northern Iowa to continue to create the separation needed to make two bids look very likely. After that are two more middling foes at home before things get real down the stretch.
The Panthers lost a squeaker at Creighton, then beat Missouri State in the final seconds (aided by what looked like a blatant travel that went uncalled), but wasted that gift with a surprising loss at Bradley. If they can't beat Wichita State at home on Wednesday, it's likely lights out in the league, and at-large hopes would look very dicey despite strong computer numbers. The quality wins are missing, as is a strong league record.
Memphis is starting to round into some better form, which makes two bids from this league more possible. Marshall has some huge games coming up that will determine how deep the at-large pool is.
The Tigers barely held off Southern Miss and then dominated Houston on the road to move to 3-0 in the conference. A tricky trip to UCF awaits before a stretch of four of five at home that includes the Southern Miss rematch and a non-league visit from Xavier, which would be another quality win for a resume that could use some more of them.
Larry Eustachy. Just. Can't. Beat. Memphis. The Golden Eagles had every chance to do it at FedEx and came up a bucket short. Now they have a stiff home test against Marshall, with placement in the top two in the league likely to be paramount. The league champ was given an NCAA bid (questionably) last year and this season has more solid depth at the top.
After winning twice by a total of three points to stay perfect in the league, the Herd have reached their measuring point. West Virginia's up in the always heated in-state matchup, then at Southern Miss, home to UAB and at Memphis make up the next four. After that, we'll know all we need to know.
The balance of power, for now, has shifted to Northern California, as the Gaels had another impressive showing in a major head-to-head. This league continues to arc toward a possible three bids.
In the four-game mini-league that will determine the league champ, the Gaels are in strong shape after crushing Gonzaga in Moraga. Combine that with an earlier home romp over BYU and Saint Mary's held serve in its two big home tests and now can freeroll the road legs. Just taking care of business outside those showdowns should see the Gaels into the NCAAs, but six of the final nine are on the road.
Zags fans, I apologize for picking your team as a darkhorse Final Four threat last week. The result was the Zags getting blasted at Saint Mary's and barely slipping past Loyola Marymount on the road. Gonzaga also plays at BYU first, so the Zags could find themselves two games behind Saint Mary's with a lot of pressure to hold serve at K2. First things first, they need to handle San Francisco and San Diego.
The Cougars have three more favorable WCC games and an odd trip to Virginia Tech before the two-game homestand against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga that will decide their league title hopes and possibly their at-large hopes, as well.
This pool remains very thin, which is great news for the conferences listed above. There are very few bidjackers possible from the traditional one-bid leagues.
The computer numbers keep sagging as the Racers keep winning. The best thing Murray State can do is keep that latter trend going while hoping Memphis, Dayton and Southern Miss continue to win, as well.
The Crimson aren't in first place in the Ivy! OK, it's just a technicality after Penn opened 2-0 last weekend, but second place is where they'd have to land (or a playoff loss) for this analysis to matter. If the Crimson somehow don't win the league, they may pay the price for a disappointing nonconference schedule. Not their fault, as few wanted to play them, but you get judged on who you play.
The 49ers better take care of as much business as possible, because Pitt is murdering what looked like their best win on paper. The next three in league play come on the road. Upset alert?
A banked-in three at the buzzer saw the Gaels lose at home to Manhattan, a major no-no when it comes to an at-large safety net. They don't have a ton of wiggle room left, and BracketBusters won't pack a ton of punch this season, as the Gaels are a home team and the visitors list is softer.