Championships of top 10 conferences are considered gold in terms of NCAA tournament selection, but since 2000, six teams have won at least a share of a top 10 league (in Conference RPI terms) and not made the NCAAs. The victims include 2001 Wyoming and Utah (Mountain West), 2001 Southern Mississippi (Conference USA), 2005 Miami, Ohio (MAC), 2007 Massachusetts (Atlantic 10), 2009 Creighton (Missouri Valley) and 2009 New Mexico (Mountain West).
This season, Washington, currently a half-game ahead of Cal (one in the loss column), looks set to nab at least a share of the Pac-12 crown. A sweep in L.A. will ensure a solo championship of the No. 10-rated league. Could the Huskies become No. 8 on that ignominious list, and the first victim from a traditional "power conference"?
Washington will finish without a top-50 win and likely will be 3-8 against the RPI top 100 entering the Pac-12 tournament. After the league went 1-29 in nonconference play against RPI top 50 teams, there simply were no good wins to get in league play. Well, there was one ... but Washington lost at home to Cal in the teams' only meeting.
Should the Huskies fall into the at-large pool, the selection committee will have a quandary. Washington likely would have an RPI north of 50 and an at-large profile much more representative of the mid-major and quasi-high major teams excluded above. Here are some recent comparables to the Huskies' projected profile for an at-large:
As you can see, if they don't get the auto bid, the Huskies will have a rather anxious wait. The Pac-10 two years ago was a better league, and Cal had a better profile. So did last year's UAB team that barely got in. Last year's Saint Mary's profile wasn't much worse, if it even actually was.
Do I think Washington, at 15-3 and with a solo title, would slip into the bracket? Probably. Would it be egregious if the committee left them out, especially if the Huskies drop a game this weekend? Not at all.
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The league title race is a two-horse show after Florida State lost at Reggie Johnson-less Miami Sunday night. Duke's at Wake Forest and North Carolina is hosting Maryland before Saturday's showdown at Cameron, so that one likely will be for the outright crown. Virginia ambles along as the fourth team looking for NCAA tourney fun, but is that where the cutoff line will be?
Staving off Virginia Tech on the road became even more important when the Cavaliers couldn't handle North Carolina at home. They get Florida State at home and at Maryland to close things up. This is a surprisingly sparse resume, but given the landscape, 9-7 may well be enough. If it's a win over Florida State, all the better. The top-100 mark is solid, but it's mostly lean beef.
The Hurricanes may have saved their season with Sunday's home thumping of Florida State sans Reggie Johnson, who was ruled temporarily ineligible before the game. While I joked on Twitter afterward that the performance undercuts the pre-Johnson nonconference excuses a bit, it's a huge boost for the Canes. Now they close at NC State and home to Boston College. Getting both would be very big.
This is probably not happening now that the Wolfpack missed on all three chances for a profile-defining win and then topped it off with a loss at Clemson in OT. The Pack have to sweep Miami and then win in Blacksburg, and then win several ACC tourney games. They're currently 0-8 against the RPI top 50
Kansas' massive second-half rally edged Missouri and a Monday night win gave the Jayhawks an eighth straight Big 12 title and the inside track to a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. It also makes you want to see Part 3 in the Big 12 final ... and Part 4 in New Orleans? Baylor's fine for a high seed and Iowa State and Kansas State took big steps to make this at least a five-bid league. Do I hear six, Texas?
The Cyclones took a large step toward making the NCAAs with a Saturday win in Manhattan which gives them a sweep of Kansas State. With the Wildcats themselves looking pretty solid to get in, how can you nix the team that's three games ahead of them in a true-round robin, plus beat them twice? ISU has a chance to make it official this week if they can pick off Missouri (in Columbia) or Baylor at home.
The Wildcats looked to have punched their way into the NCAAs with the most impressive back-to-back wins of the season (at Baylor and at Missouri), but then they fell again to Iowa State, this time at home. Things still look pretty solid. Both games this week (at Texas A&M and against Oklahoma State) are very winnable. If they get both, hard to see the Wildcats needing more than that in this bubble year. Even a split might be fine, barring a first-round crash out in the Big 12 tournament on top of that.
The Longhorns couldn't handle Baylor at home and now are staring at a fairly mediocre profile and a 9-9 league mark (at best) unless they can win at Kansas in the season finale. The Horns are just 4-9 against the RPI top 100, with eight of those losses against top-50 teams. Maybe too many blown chances?
Five are in. Five more are in contention to get in. Since only eight can make the Big East quarters, that probably implies at least two will miss, and then we'll see who shows up in that round. The differences between the five bubble teams in contention are very, very marginal at this point. Order them how you want -- the last week of the season and the tournament will be the shredder.
The Huskies' effort against Syracuse showed heart and intensity that have been noticeably lacking for large chunks of the season. It also shows up as another loss, which means the Huskies can finish .500 at best in the league. They still have some decent wins on their resume, but it would be a dangerous mistake to drop either one this week (at Providence or home to Pitt).
The Pirates beat Georgetown and then tossed away the positional advantage by losing at home to Rutgers. With the West Virginia and UConn home wins weakening rapidly, the Pirates' profile is not that good. They have to win at DePaul in the finale and then make the Big East quarters and see.
Had the Bearcats won at South Florida, they'd be in fairly strong position, but the 46-45 setback not only brings the Bulls further into the picture, it means some more work is needed. The RPI is a direct result of the Bearcats' dreadful nonconference schedule, and that will be held against them, just like Alabama '11.
The Mountaineers have now dropped seven of nine after an awful performance at Notre Dame and then blew a big second-half lead and lost at home to suspension-weakened Marquette. They're now in significant trouble and the schedule doesn't help at all. They
The Bulls showed pretty well at Syracuse and then nabbed a huge one-point win over Cincinnati to strengthen their position. This week is no bargain: at Louisville and home to West Virginia in what should be a massive game for both teams. A 12-6 USF team, given the Big East schedule and a lack of quality wins, would be a very difficult evaluation. I don't think a BET quarterfinal appearance would be enough.
Michigan and Indiana join the lock party, so that makes five for the Big Ten. Michigan State is now arrowing toward a 1-seed in the NCAAs and the league should have a large handful of protected seeds. How many more will make it? Looks like it's up to Purdue and Northwestern to decide, although Illinois is, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet."
A huge, huge win at Michigan helps move the Boilermakers closer to an NCAA berth. With an earlier win over Temple, that's two high-quality Ws to go with the demolition of the middle of the conference. Now 10-8 looks pretty likely with Penn State coming in on Wednesday, and they get a shot to punch their ticket in Bloomington on Sunday. Somehow lose both? Hmm...
The Wildcats were very fortunate to escape at Penn State with their hopes intact. Now they host a sliding Ohio State team in the game that could be the difference between making the tournament and losing out on a bid. Northwestern needs this win. There are no truly bad losses on the resume, but not nearly enough good wins given the number of chances.
If the Illini can win their next four and make the Big Ten semis, they would not be a ridiculous at-large consideration. It may take making the final, though, which likely would provide another marquee win.
Cal's loss at Colorado throws a large wrench into the works. Now Washington has the inside track to an outright title. It would be pretty landmark for the committee to shun the champion of a traditional power conference, but this is not a typical year in the Pac-12. The league semifinals might be elimination matches.
The Golden Bears got handled at Colorado and now do not control their own fate. They'll need help from one of the L.A. schools this weekend when Washington visits to get back into position for a title share. They still have the best at-large resume in the league, though, so it's not panic time just yet. They won at Washington, swept Oregon and lost at home to Arizona, if it comes down to head-to-head looks.
The Huskies rallied past state rival Wazzu in Pullman, thanks in large part to the Cougars Cougin' in from the free throw line (6-of-20 in the second half). Bottom line: A win's a win and the Huskies are now alone in first place. The profile can't improve as far as quality, so UW needs to sweep in L.A., grab the conference crown by itself and hope that's enough in a weak bubble. They likely will finish 3-8 against the top 100.
Assuming the Cats polish off Arizona State in Tempe, they'll finish no worse than a tie for third. The win at Cal is nice, but there's not a ton beyond that that's very impressive. Make the Pac-12 final and hope you trump Washington or Cal if they don't make it?
Just like Washington, the game is survive and advance. The one-point win in Corvallis is still a win. A sweep of Colorado and Utah this final weekend is mandatory, and a run to the Pac-12 final seems necessary to have real discussions about a team that's 2-7 against the top 100. They can point to the arrival of Devoe Joseph as a turning point, but will the committee give them that much credit?
The home win over Cal would have been huge had the Buffaloes not lost to Stanford two days earlier. This Thursday's game at Oregon is essentially an at-large eliminator, if you think either team has legit hopes.
Vanderbilt joins the lock group, but will more than one more team make it? Kentucky will be a No. 1 seed and quite possibly the overall No. 1. Florida remains an enigma.
Win at Arkansas and then beat bubble buddy Mississippi State at home? It was a great week for the Tide, who move strongly into position to make the NCAAs. With Auburn at home and at Ole Miss to close things out, nine wins seems a certainty. A 10-6 record would make 'Bama good to go.
The Bulldogs could handle Kentucky for 35 minutes, but not 40. They couldn't handle Alabama in Tuscaloosa for anything close to that, and now are in danger after running the losing skid to five. Winning at last-place South Carolina and at home against an Arkansas team that's only beaten Auburn away this year won't impress anyone, but a loss in either could be deadly for at-large hopes.
Getting crunched at Ole Miss may end realistic at-large discussion, but we'll see what the Tigers can do against Tennessee and at Auburn. If they win those two and then a couple of SEC tourney games... ? That win over Marquette is the gift that keeps on giving.
Unless Mississippi can win at Arkansas and then beat Alabama to get to 8-8, there's not a lot to discuss here.
The Razorbacks are in a lesser spot than, but similar to, the Rebels. Beat Ole Miss at home and then win in Starkville, or there's little to see here.
After some upsets this weekend, the league scramble has intensified. Temple is still fine, but there are four teams or more chasing the Owls for league and NCAA at-large positioning. The quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament could be intense. The semifinals could be NCAA play-in games.
With a week to prepare and Xavier at home Tuesday night, was Saint Louis looking ahead of lowly Rhode Island? The bad road loss puts the Billikens in a bit more worrisome a position and puts more pressure on the home date with X. Win that one and they're still in pretty solid shape. A game at Duquesne to end the regular season isn't a gimme, either.
Losing at UMass last week now puts the Musketeers in a spot where they very well may have to win at Saint Louis Tuesday night, or do some significant A-10 tournament work. A home win in the finale against Charlotte is mandatory win-column filler only.
A couple weeks ago, I professed my Twitter affection for Dayton's resume and was mocked, even by Dayton fans. Well, after wins at Duquesne and over UMass, the Flyers are either in position to make a push into the NCAAs ... or break their fans' hearts again. At Richmond and home to George Washington this week are two games NCAA teams need to win.
The home win over Temple was a huge addition to the ledger, but the home loss to Richmond before it offsets a lot of that gain. Now the Hawks need to win at surging St. Bonaventure in the season finale and then see where they stand. They don't have a true top-100 road win and have three sub-100 losses.
The Minutemen upset Xavier at home but were destroyed at Dayton. Now they need to win at Temple (and home to Rhode Island) to have any hope.
You know that simple picture from last week? Well, now it's mayhem after New Mexico dumped both road games and let the chase pack back into the title hunt. All three 8-4 teams should still make the NCAAs. If two make the MWC final, they will certainly be in. We'll see what happens elsewhere. This league is brutal to win on the road, which means some last-week surprises could be in store.
The upset of New Mexico was great, but the Rams probably need to beat UNLV at home now after falling short at San Diego State. They look like an NCAA-caliber team, and smell like one on computer paper, but they're also in fifth place in the conference as TCU continues to cashier people at home.
Nothing to see here. Wichita State is looking at a protected seed and everyone's favorite dark horse Final Four pick status. Creighton will be a solid seed (or better). A third bid could come from an Arch Madness thief.
Both teams at the top of the league "should" be fine, but they need to keep winning and creating no doubt for the committee. Both have computer profiles that are better than what's actually in them.
Good job by the Tigers to roll to two wins, including by 20 at Marshall. They're now a game ahead of Southern Miss for the league title, but have to navigate Central Florida at home and a trip to Tulsa.
The Golden Eagles went 0-for-Texas and that could cost them a share of the league crown. At 10-3 against the top 100, they should be in good shape anyway for an at-large, but no reason to test things. Go handle SMU at home and then a trip to Marshall.
The loss at Rice probably crippled any at-large aspirations, but a win at Memphis Tuesday night would be a talking point.
Congrats to the Gaels, who broke Gonzaga's 11-year stranglehold on the league crown (and moved back into lock status). The Zags join them as their profile and the double-bye should see them comfortably dancing, as well. Whither BYU and/or a bid thief?
The Cougars lost a rhythm-less game at Gonzaga and settle for third-place and a questionable at-large profile heading into the conference tourney. They may very well have to beat Gonzaga in the semis now.
The Racers should be good to go. Others in this category have looked the part. Will they need an at-large? Would they get one?
Well, well, well. My beloved Quakers went into Allston and stunned the Crimson, 55-54, blowing open the Ivy race. The Crimson still control their own fate to at least force a playoff and have the easier path to a league title, but we're interested in their bubble fate. What would the committee do with a 25-5 team with an RPI around 45, 13 road/neutral wins and a 7-4 mark against the top-100?
The 49ers essentially have beaten every team they played outside the top-50 and couldn't beat anyone who's now in the top 50. Will ambitious scheduling offset that chasm? The win at Pitt came before the Panthers caved in. The win over Xavier was when X was still suspension-addled.
The Blue Raiders may have made a lethal misstep losing at sub-200 Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt finale. Can they afford to eat another loss? Unless they play Denver in the final, it would be another sub-100 defeat. I'm not sure they can withstand that.
The Golden Eagles won the Summit at 17-1, but would that be enough if they lose to, say, South Dakota State in a great final? Depends how much credit that Xavier win is worth in the eyes of the committee.
The Rams probably have a better at-large profile at this point than Drexel, although it's extremely marginal. Basically, the lone VCU-Drexel game (at Drexel) decided the league crown, which isn't entirely fair. Both they and the Dragons should aim for a CAA final rematch. Winner dances, loser ... waits and hopes.
Congrats to the Dragons, who won by one at Old Dominion to nab the league's solo crown. Of course, with the unbalanced schedule, everything comes with some shades of gray. Drexel only played VCU and George Mason once each, both at home (and won both). Their RPI is bad, in part, because of eight games against the four sub-250 RPI teams in the league. They blew several chances in nonleague play. A classic "very solid team, very questionable profile." Make the CAA final and we'll discuss.