Injuries will pose tough decisions as Selection Sunday approaches
Player absences are one of the most abstract evaluation concepts the NCAA selection committee faces each year, and this season may feature a number of complicated interpretations that could really change the tenor of the eventual field of 68.
Things start right at the top, with Duke under constant evaluation without Ryan Kelly. If Kelly comes back and the Devils play well with him, everything is fine. Duke's profile has a strong chance of ending up as the No. 1 overall seed, with six of the Blue Devils' seven best wins coming outside Cameron and both losses so far coming with Kelly out. If Kelly never comes back or is a shell of himself, well, then the Blue Devils will have to be adjusted down a bit to be more commensurate with what they have shown without him.
Similar questions exist for other teams, as well. If Syracuse loses James Southerland for the season, the Orange will need to be downgraded as their performance without him (and others) has been worse. Louisville was impacted by the loss of Gorgui Dieng. What should the committee do with Oregon, which dumped two games in the Bay Area and looked very poor in the process without point guard Dominic Artis? How much injury credit should Miami get, as their three losses all came while shorthanded and they have looked outstanding with a full roster? Whither Georgetown without Greg Whittington? UNLV with an ailing Mike Moser? Boise State with a random mix of missing guys for certain games? Etc, etc.
The selection committee may have one of its toughest jobs in recent memory in assessing all of these injury/absence situations and accurately reflecting their impact in their seeding curve. Whether it's at the top of the bracket and impacts path/location, or at the cutline and impacts inclusion in the tournament, what the committee thinks (or doesn't think) of various teams' absences will likely be a major talking point on March 17.
The Blue Devils finally looked the part of an elite team on the road when they crushed Florida State in Tallahassee, traditionally a rough spot for them. Despite the 2-0 week, they continue to look up at league unbeaten Miami, whose late comeback to topple N.C. State in Raleigh was a huge momentum changer in the ACC race. Duke will need the Hurricanes to drop a game somewhere else besides the rematch at Cameron to have a chance for the regular-season crown. The picture continues to evolve after those two, with the league looking better positioned for at least four bids than it did last week.
The Wolfpack are 11 points away from being 9-0 in the league, but instead they're staring .500 square in the eye with a trip to Cameron on tap after two more tight losses this week. The late-game fade against Miami was less troubling than not being able to take care of business at Virginia, but either way, State hasn't shown the consistent chops to put away games it should win. That's a dangerous habit for March.
It wasn't exactly easy, but the Tar Heels went 2-0 last week and avoided another costly loss to a sub-100 RPI opponent. Virginia Tech was up 12-0 in Chapel Hill and the Heels needed overtime to subdue the Hokies. Now they have to handle Wake Forest and then take shots at Miami (on Saturday) and then Duke away.
After squeaking past Maryland at home, the Seminoles passed up a change for a statement win, getting manhandled by the Duke in Tallahassee. FSU still has N.C. State twice and get Miami at home, but this profile is starting to flash the NIT warning sign on the dashboard. The ACC isn't strong enough this year to skate by around .500 and none of their wins are over definite NCAA teams.
The Terrapins' chances now are squarely on the Duke and North Carolina home games after they lost the bubble battle at Florida State. If they don't beat the Blue Devils at home on Feb. 16, a good amount of damage in the ACC tournament likely will be necessary to get them in. Disappointing, to be honest.
Why did the Cavaliers have to honk the weekend game at Georgia Tech? The computer profile was starting to shape up. Right now, this is a crazier version of USC's bizarre 2011 profile (that got them into the First Four). If I'm the Cavaliers' SID, I am taking every chance to communicate the following to the selection committee: "Our RPI weakness is due to two games. Look at the good wins we have against other bubble teams that haven't done jack." We'll see.
Syracuse's shorthanded struggles continue, and while the offense looks crunchier without James Southerland's shooting, the bigger impact (for now) is his absence in the back line of the zone. Either way, seven-man Syracuse, with very little coming off the bench, is not the contender it could have been. Louisville finally showed its chops again with a command performance against Marquette on Sunday. The smart money remains on the Big East getting the most NCAA bids this season, but it's not nearly as compelling a case as it looked last week.
The Golden Eagles ran into Good Louisville on Sunday. It happens. Move on. The next couple (at South Florida, home to DePaul) are much more manageable before a Monday trip to Georgetown.
The refreshed Bearcats beat Rutgers and then won at Seton Hall and now continue through a comfy part of the Big East slate with a trip to Providence before a three-game homestand against Pitt, Villanova and Georgetown. The finish is tough, but the Bearcats could have a lot of wins in their pocket before then.
The Hoyas handled Seton Hall and St. John's at home to continue a good run of form since Greg Whittington's departure from the lineup. Things get a lot trickier now, starting with a game at Rutgers on Saturday and trips to Cincinnati, Syracuse and Connecticut looming soon after that.
A 2-1 week ended in a thud with a 16-point loss at Syracuse. The Irish have trips left to Syracuse, Pitt, Marquette and Louisville, with the Cardinals, Cincinnati and St. John's visiting South Bend. This profile could move a lot by the time championship week rolls around.
Beat Syracuse by 10 = awesome. Beat Seton Hall by 10 in a horrible game = necessary. The Panthers are looking more and more like an NCAA team, but they have several tough road games left. A trip to Cincinnati awaits on Saturday.
The Johnnies couldn't get it done at Georgetown and now the next 10 days (UConn, at Syracuse, at Louisville) loom as a big point in the at-large proving ground. There's only one truly soft touch left on the slate, so accumulation may get the Red Storm there, but a second big road win would be a huge plus.
From out of nowhere to perhaps back to nowhere, the Wildcats lost at Notre Dame and then suffered a bad home defeat to Providence. Everything about the profile is mediocre aside from those two huge home wins garnered the week before last. There's still time to salvage this and the schedule's not bad (chances to impress without being brutal), but the 'Cats are running out of lives.
Like the knight in Monty Python, they're not dead yet, but the Scarlet Knights could be KO'd if they can't handle business this week at home when Louisville and Georgetown come to the RAC.
The Hoosiers played an excellent game and kept Michigan at arm's length in Bloomington to take over first place in the league. Now the schedule flips and the Hoosiers play a ton of tough road games. How they respond (more so than the results) will help me gauge just how serious a national title threat they are. Right now, I'm listening, though. Michigan has shown it can take a punch and come back with a strong counter, but would be well suited by stopping this early hole habit.
The Spartans slipped past Illinois at home in their only action of the week and continue to loom as the sleeper title candidate. The only top-six conference foe that doesn't come to East Lansing still is Ohio State. If they handle most of their business at Breslin, the Spartans are looking at a very strong NCAA seed. The Auburn Hills subregional will be a nice bonus to go along with it.
The last-minute salvage job vs. Iowa kept the Gophers from a fifth loss in six games and, with a manageable schedule the rest of the way, they "should" be fine. The overall pattern of decline on both ends of the floor, though, are starting to become concerning trends. The Gophers' D has buckled more often than not this season against top-level competition. Now they get to go to Breslin on Wednesday.
The Buckeyes are moving in the opposite direction, starting to find a bit more consistent offense to complement their stingy D. They still feel a little short on firepower, and their capacity will be tested this week with a trip to Michigan and then Indiana at home.
Not a bad split, getting the win at desperate Illinois after falling at Ohio State, and the Badgers had one of the more remarkable stat splits I have seen. A game after not going to the free throw line once against the Buckeyes, the Badgers made 42 trips to the stripe against the Illini. So weird.
The Illini are in massive trouble now, losers of eight of their last 11 (and two of the wins were Auburn and Nebraska). This has been a complete meltdown as the team's three-point shooting has been awful for weeks and the defense has been getting eviscerated in league play. This week, they have Indiana at home and then are at Minnesota. They still have trips to Michigan and Ohio State left, too.
The Jayhawks' 2013 sloppiness finally caught up to them as Oklahoma State's backcourt riddled them in an 85-80 upset in Lawrence. If they mess around too much, they could find themselves in a battle for 1-seeds and the South regional, should they want it.
Good bounceback week for the
The Cowboys added a good win like no other with an upset of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Add that to the November victory over N.C. State and that's two really nice chips for the committee to consider. Beating Iowa State to kick the week off was nice, too. Can they keep it rolling at home vs. Baylor and then at Texas in the Horns' final game without Myck Kabongo?
The Cyclones lost a tough one at Oklahoma State, but rallied with home wins over Baylor and Oklahoma to help push them up the pecking order. They don't have any great wins and all of their good ones have come at home. They can change that on Saturday with a game at Kansas State.
After winning at Baylor for a nice addition to the GW line, the Sooners couldn't back it up, losing at home to Kansas State and then at Iowa State. They're a computer profile monster without a ton of real meat on the profile. Lots of wins in the RPI 51-100 range. This year, that may be enough anyway. They may have to work their way off .500 in the league, though. An annoyed Kansas comes in on Saturday.
An 0-2 week, including a home loss to Oklahoma, has slipped the Bears into a more precarious position. There's not a lot to look at in this profile. BYU doesn't have a top-75 win. This was supposed to be the consolidation part of the schedule ahead of a tougher ending, but it hasn't started that way.
Suddenly, thanks to Oregon's slump (Artis-fueled), everyone's back in the mix for the league's regular-season crown. That also could help boost the at-large prospects of several teams.
If Artis comes back healthy and the Ducks regain their level, we'll just forget this Bay Area washout happened, and the committee should, too.
Losing the only game of the week at home to USC? Not so hot. Now the Washington home weekend is pretty large with five of the final seven on the road. The Bruins have showed some road chops, winning at Colorado and Arizona, but it's still not an easy run-in.
Just when you wanted to trust the Buffaloes, they chalk up a head-shaking defeat at Utah in which they were terrible and still kind of blew it at the end. The next four games -- at the Oregon schools and then home for the Arizona schools -- will really define where this team is going to end up.
A split in Washington weakened the Sun Devils' computer numbers and they continue to lack enough quality wins to feel good about where they are. Down the stretch, they have road games at Colorado, UCLA and Arizona, and are going to need to cash some of those in.
The Huskies really could have used the home win over Arizona, but lost by four. Edging Arizona State is modest consolation. Four of the next six are away, with games at UCLA and Arizona. They also host Oregon in that span. In three weeks, we'll have a pretty clear answer.
OK, fine. We'll add the Golden Bears, too. Now go win at Arizona and Arizona State.
Well, Ole Miss didn't get dumptrucked in Gainesville. That's about the best thing anyone can say about a game vs. Florida right now. Straight rollin'. Then you look at the rest of the league and ... yeah.
Laurence Bowers is back on Wednesday, which is welcome news for a Missouri team that struggled without him. The latest setback was at LSU last week. Their profile is a lot of "ehhhh" at this point. Now five of the next seven are on the road and one of the home games is Florida. Eek.
Credit to the Wildcats for going to Oxford and getting a win they very much needed, then doubling up the road pleasure with a revenge win at Texas A&M. South Carolina and Auburn should get (man)handled at Rupp, and the Cats could be 8-2 heading to Florida and Tennessee next week.
An 0-2 week, with a home loss to Kentucky, put a damper on the Rebels' recent run. Now they have a rivalry home date with Mississippi State and then trips to Missouri and Texas A&M. The Rebels need to be a bit careful in this stretch. The run-in after that is soft, but good wins are not really available.
Anthony Grant should
More close games. More "upsets." More teams emerging as possible at-large candidates. It's ... awesome. And it's ... totally legitimate to wonder whether any of these teams will make a March run. New Mexico becomes the first lock team. They should grab at least 11 league wins now that they have won at both Wyoming and Boise State, and that will be plenty to dance.
The Rebels were positioned perfectly, winning games and with a huge schedule advantage now, and then Mike Moser got ejected and they couldn't get the job done at Boise State. Now they're at Fresno State (which won't be an easy grind) before the fun begins: Home dates with New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State in a four-game span (around a trip to feisty Air Force).
You know the MWC is cooking when the Aztecs can lose at Air Force in their only game of the week and their computer profile doesn't budge. Xavier Thames' absence (along with Chase Tapley's bum wrist) really has limited the Aztecs' offense. When he gets back, I expect more from this team, and they'll need more because they still have all their toughest road games remaining.
The Rams continue to crush it on the glass, ranking No. 3 in offensive rebound rate and No. 1 on the defensive glass. That's nuts, but is understandable if you ever see one of their practices. They also have the schedule remaining to really make a run at the league title. Get past a trip to Reno on Wednesday and the gauntlet begins, with a week to prep for San Diego State's arrival.
Just when it looked like the Broncos were fading, they pulled the surprise on UNLV and remain in the mix. They're only 1-3 on the road so far in league play, though, and have San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV trips remaining. Opportunities? Or the death knell for the Broncos' hopes?
Top Gun jokes for everyone! Maverick, Goose and the rest of the Falcons got the big win they needed to start their at-large push, taking out San Diego State. Now they head to Albuquerque on Wednesday to play for a share of first place in the conference. #mindblown. The bigger game on this trip is at Nevada, though. The Falcons have to get that one. Then they get UNLV and Colorado State at home.
Look at the standings ... cringes ... start looking at individual team profiles ... blanches ... start throwing darts at team logos ...
Still the most likely dancer in the batch, despite getting smoked at Saint Louis. The schedule eases up now until Feb. 22, when Saint Louis' arrival kicks off a fearsome four-pack to close the regular season.
A one-point home loss to UMass may come back to haunt the Explorers down the road. They need to create some separation from the larger pack and haven't been able to do it.
OK, someone wants to make the NCAAs. The Billikens clobbered Butler (and Dayton) at home, adding more heft to the earlier win over New Mexico. They'll have to get past a date at Fordham before they look to add a decent road win at Richmond.
The Rams handled a pair of games against league minnows. This week -- at Charlotte and home to UMass -- will be tougher. These are the games VCU has to get, though, ahead of the final five, which are extremely tough.
A one-point loss at St. Joe's continues the Owls' slide toward mediocrity. This week, home to Charlotte and at Dayton, really needs to be 2-0.
The 49ers-0">49ers edged UMass by a point to kick off their "win or not in" six-game decider. The next five now: At Temple, VCU, at Butler, at Saint Louis, Temple.
Win one (by a point) at La Salle. Lose one (by a point) at Charlotte. This week has must-win home dates with Rhode Island and Saint Joe's.
Everything good has come at home, but the Spiders are accumulating some solid wins. This is a huge week because the rest of the schedule isn't great. First Saint Louis at home and then at Saint Joe's.
Beating Temple by a point keeps the Hawks in the discussion, but now things get very difficult. The Hawks have five league road games left: Dayton, UMass, La Salle, Saint Louis and Charlotte. Opportunities are there to help this profile, but are the Hawks good enough to take enough of them?
At least they beat Dayton at home for the 274th straight season? A two-point setback at Richmond may be costly, though. Too many losses right now and stuck in the muddle in the middle of the league.
Creighton got some help from other Valley denizens and is back on top of the pile. Wichita State, despite a couple of defeats, remains a strong contender for a bid. Can the Valley squeeze three in?
I wanted to keep the Shockers in lockdom, but a pair of losses have put that status into a bit of question. Wins at VCU and over Creighton, plus the computer numbers and status as the second-place Valley team should be good enough ... for now. Lose either sub-200 game this week and we'll reevaluate.
Oh, Sycamores. You did the hard work, rolling to a win at Wichita State, and then couldn't win at Drake. The Bulldogs aren't a bad club, but a team hoping for an at-large needs to take care of that road game. The good news: Creighton arrives Wednesday night and Wichita State still has to come to Terre Haute, too.
The Zags escaped at San Diego and have two more appetizers this week before the trip to Moraga on Valentine's Day. Can a second team can get in without the auto bid? Saint Mary's is trying. BYU is probably in some trouble.
The Gaels got a huge boost to their at-large hopes when ESPN gave them Creighton in the marquee BracketBusters matchup. Now they get Gonzaga, BYU and the Bluejays all at home within a 10-day span. As Tennessee football may (try to) say, "Opportunity is now here!" First they have to handle tricky road games at Santa Clara and San Francisco.
The story remains the same, in my opinion. If they don't beat Gonzaga and win at Saint Mary's in the regular season, it's probably auto bid or bust. The 0-6 mark with five blowouts vs. the RPI top 75 is too damning.
Best of the Rest
The Bruins were dealt a blow to at-large hopes when the prize of BracketBusters -- Creighton -- was given to Saint Mary's. That's the sexy matchup, but probably not the most deserving one. Now they get a good Ohio team instead, with very little upside. They just need to keep winning and winning, and now they have four straight road games in league play.
OK, let's do this. At SMU and then at Southern Miss. And then we'll see which C-USA team may need the auto bid to feel truly safe.
Lost to Belmont in case that's relevant. Lost to Akron. Smushed by Florida. I really like the Blue Raiders as a team. I don't like them much at all as an at-large profile, despite the solid RPI rank.
The viability of this profile likely will come down to the season-ending trip to Denver and New Mexico State. It's unclear whether the Bulldogs can eat any losses, but a 17-1 league mark would be moderately interesting.
Barely escaped at American, but the weakness of the league is crushing the Bisons' computer numbers. And if you lose at home to the only other good team in the league when they are missing their star, well...
No good wins. They have to handle a trip to Central Florida before Memphis arrives in a basically must-win.