Is this the year?
That's the question that's started brewing in college hoops social media circles as week after week the polls are turned upside down following upsets, and every team at the top of the bracket seems vulnerable.
More specifically, is this the year a 16-seed finally beats a 1?
On the surface, it seems a reasonable ask. The lack of a superteam this season has helped create a vortex in which the No. 1 team in the nation loses each week and scores of other top-10 teams go down to defeat, often to unranked opponents. Everyone has flaws. Everyone can be exposed.
Then you recall last year, when 2-seeds Missouri and Duke went down in rapid succession, and you look at the 15-seed line in this week's projection. You see Florida Gulf Coast, which already has beaten projected 2-seed Miami this season. You see the three-point shooters from Montana and a Syracuse zone waiting to be tested from deep. You see possibilities.
But, you see, there's a big difference between 15s and 16s. With a 15, there may be nine worse teams in the bracket. With a 16, that can only be five, and even in projecting the strongest team from every conference advancing to the field of 68, you're left with options like Northeastern and Niagara as the most viable choices. And that's really to say, very little choice at all.
Every team is vulnerable this season, but there's a certain limit to the madness, a fail-safe point beyond which we rarely tread. There's a reason everyone was atwitter on Twitter after Kansas lost at TCU last Thursday night. That magnitude of upset very, very rarely happens in college basketball. And, of course, Kansas is a 3-seed this week, thanks in part to that debacle.
Parity has made this season great and unpredictable, but the four teams that survive the next month's gauntlet to become 1-seeds will be of extremely good quality. Don't mistake competitive balance for mediocrity, and don't assume the 16-seeds will all be regular-season champs. So is this the year? Most likely, it's the year 16-seeds run their record to 0-116, but it's still fun to dream.
** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com's Monday report. Questions/comments go to
The Blue Devils barely avoided what would have been a bad loss at Boston College to stay two games behind league-perfect Miami. The Canes are pushing their way into the 1-seed discussion, too. It's crazy to think that the ACC, in a relatively down year, could possibly spawn two 1s, but it's in play now.
Scott Wood's veteran-savvy jersey tug and hard cut led to his game-winning three at Clemson that salvaged the Wolfpack's week and calmed some nerves around Raleigh. The remaining slate is pretty manageable, but road tests remain at Florida State and North Carolina. Maybe Wood's shot will propel this team forward, but they're still finding themselves in too many close games for their talent level.
The Heels handled Wake and then were annihilated at Miami. Now they get a road date at Cameron. It's hard to see this team winning there, but you never know. The bigger game of the week (from a bubble standpoint) is the home date with Virginia on Saturday. UNC's schedule is challenging down the stretch. The Heels also are at Maryland (plus Clemson and Georgia Tech) and host Florida State, N.C. State and Duke, too. Anywhere from "good seed" to "NIT" remains very much in play.
Welp, here we go. One of the wackiest profiles in memory gets even weirder and harder to ignore. The Cavaliers are now 6-0 vs. the RPI top 100, with wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. They also have six sub-100 losses, including the ultra-honker against RPI 319 Old Dominion. Jontel Evans missed both of Virginia's disastrous losses. If the Cavs can go 3-1 at home (losing to Duke) and grab one of the three road tests (UNC, Miami or Florida State), they could finish 12-6. I can't see them missing the NCAAs with that profile.
Getting crushed at Wake Forest is another major dent in the Seminoles' hopes. They have the remaining schedule to do something about this slide toward the NIT, but might not have the quality this season to do anything to resist. They don't have a win over a team in the bracket at the moment, and have some very poor losses.
Losing to Virginia at home is a huge blow to the Terps' chances. They couldn't afford to see more teams surge ahead of them in the league with a profile that's virtually empty of quality. Now beating Duke at home on Saturday seems like an absolute must.
Big boost alert! Syracuse got James Southerland back for Sunday's game against St. John's and the Orange immediately re-qualify for serious national title contender status. That's how important Southerland's shooting and presence on the back line of the zone is for the Orange. Plus, depth developed in his absence. This will be an interesting team to track the next month or so. Louisville doesn't play until Thursday, which is a good thing after the five-overtime insanity at Notre Dame.
The Golden Eagles haven't been great on the road this season, and they weren't great Monday night in a ragged loss at Georgetown. Marquette is still riding the New Year's period run that netted them all three of their quality wins. Interesting remaining schedule: Pitt comes in for the rematch on Saturday and the other home games are Syracuse and Notre Dame. All four road games left are winnable: Seton Hall, Villanova, Rutgers and St. John's. The Golden Eagles are still well positioned for a good NCAA seed.
The Hoyas are rolling, even if it doesn't always look pretty. Otto Porter generally looks pretty, and he was pretty good again Monday night against Marquette. The remaining schedule has some rough spots in it, so this was a pretty important win for league standing and potential seeding. At Cincinnati on Friday night is another intriguing battle, especially with the Bearcats hungry for good wins.
The win at Cincinnati on Saturday makes it seven of eight for the Panthers and the profile is looking very solid at this point. They now have a week to prep for a trip to Marquette and the five games left after that are extremely manageable by Big East standards. Expect a strong league mark heading into championship week.
That comfy part of the schedule mentioned last week? The Bearcats lost at Providence and then got handled down the stretch at home by surging Pitt, significantly weakening their overall standing. Now the home dates with Villanova and Georgetown this week are huge with three very tough road games remaining.
Never say the Irish aren't willing to go the extra mile to nab a marquee win. Playing everyone but the team manager in the overtimes, Notre Dame went 25 extra minutes to subdue Louisville in Saturday's
The win over UConn at home was very important, but the Johnnies got handled at Syracuse and now a trip to Louisville looms next on Thursday. If they can't get that one, there are still some chances left, but (in soccer parlance) they'd be leaving things late.
Just when I think they're out, they keep pulling me back in. The Wildcats got two must-wins over league also-rans to set up a stretch run in which that can push their way into the field. This week sees road games at Cincinnati and UConn. If they can get a split, we'll reevaluate things next week.
Indiana played about 37 good minutes at Illinois and learned a tough lesson. To come back three days later and beat Ohio State by double digits in Columbus was very impressive. Michigan getting #Brusted when it had a key road win in its hands was another big development in the race for the Indy regional. Michigan State jumps into this category this week on the basis of "If they don't make the NCAAs, it would be a 40-team tournament" thinking. The Spartans remain a threat to win the league.
The Badgers' profile has improved a ton in the last week, capped off by Ben Brust's bomb enabling an overtime win over Michigan. If they can win at Minnesota on Thursday, the Badgers have the remaining schedule to take a run at the league title. GW: at Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, sweep of Illinois BL: Virginia?
The Big Ten can be a feisty mistress. Edged at Michigan in what would have finished off a huge sweep of the Wolverines, the Buckeyes ate an 0-for-2 for the week after they were handled at home by Indiana. The Northwestern game on Valentine's Day looks like a welcome kiss, but the three after that aren't easy and everything decent Ohio State has done has come at home. The Buckeyes are at Wisconsin on Sunday. GW: Michigan, Wisconsin BL: None
Should Gophers fans be worried? Not yet. Should they be concerned? Yes. Losing at home to Illinois was not a good development for a team that's now lost six of eight, with the only two wins in that span home to Nebraska and Iowa. In other words, it's been straight downhill for a month. Suddenly, Thursday night's game at home against Wisconsin is huge. Minnesota is at Iowa and Ohio State after that, and then home to Indiana. GW: Michigan State, at Florida State?, at Illinois, Memphis (N) BL: at Northwestern?
OK, Illini. I give up. Massive wins over Indiana and at Minnesota have suddenly made this profile look much, much better. With home games left against Purdue, Penn State and Nebraska, the win compiling chances are there. An 8-10 league mark should certainly be good enough. The Illini still have trips to Michigan and Ohio State, too.
OK, that was much better. Monday night, with a frenzied Phog crowd behind them, the Jayhawks ripped Kansas State to end their mysterious three-game skid. We'll see where they go from here. The league is starting to look better and better from an at-large standpoint, thanks in part to Kansas' largesse.
Two Kansas teams entered. One survived. And it wasn't the Wildcats, who ran into Good Kansas and got handled in Lawrence. This is still a very solid profile and they still have a chance to claim the Big 12 title. Two sticky road games loom late, though.
The Cowboys beat Baylor and then won at Texas to take more steps toward securing an NCAA berth. They're at Texas Tech and then host Oklahoma this weekend. The Cowboys could be 9-3 when reeling Kansas arrives next Wednesday. If they get through this stretch, a run at the conference title is available.
How do you have a great week in one game? When it's beating Kansas at home. The Sooners sorely needed that flag to sit atop a compiler profile. Mostly lots of wins in the RPI 51-100 range, but that could be enough this season. The rest of the schedule is pretty manageable.
In their only action of the week, the Cyclones were turned back at Kansas State. Now they draw Texas in Austin in Myck Kabongo's season debut, which provides an interesting twist. This is not a great profile right now but they have a few chances down the stretch to improve it.
The Bears may rue the two-point setback at Oklahoma State. The remaining schedule is very challenging and despite being tied on record with other teams in the league, the overall profile is much worse. The trip to Kansas State on Saturday is really important for them.
Down continues to be up in the suddenly wild Pac-12, with a three-way tie for first and some teams surging into at-large position. The inaugural Vegas-based tournament could be an inviting springboard.
The Dominic Artis watch continues, with
The Bruins used a Drew II two to top Washington and then went on to beat Washington State for a sweep of the home weekend and regain a share of first place. Now five of UCLA's last seven are on the road, starting with a Valentine's night visit to California.
Neither game was easy, but the Buffs slipped past both Oregon schools on the road for a really crucial road sweep. Now they come home for Revenge of Chen when they host Arizona Thursday night. One man's opinion: Spencer Dinwiddie needs to be more aggressive with his own offense.
Losing at home to Stanford was a costly misstep for the Sun Devils, who could have claimed a share of first place and, more important, not dented their computer numbers. They'll have every opportunity to earn their way into the NCAAs with road games at Colorado, UCLA and Arizona remaining, but they're making things harder than they needed to be with losses in the last two weeks.
Winning at Arizona keeps the Golden Bears around the discussion. Can they take advantage of having five of their last seven at home? The margin for error is very thin. It starts with UCLA on Thursday.
Stanford got a split in Arizona, albeit not the really valuable way. The Cardinal have the L.A. schools in this week and need to get both of them.
The Huskies aren't totally dead given they have five of their final seven at home, but we may be in "need to win them all" mode. The two road games are at the Arizona schools, so quality opportunities remain. They likely get Oregon again without Dominic Artis, and they need to take advantage of that break, unlike the first meeting in Eugene.
Florida's shocking loss at Arkansas thanks to a 10-minute Hog Wild opening puts a small dent in the Gators' profile, but the bigger concern is Will Yeguete's long-term injury. At best, it appears he'll be back for the postseason, which will create a seeding quandary for the committee should the Gators not play as well without him as they have been previously. If Yeguete can't get back on the floor prior to the NCAAs, the selection committee will have to seed Florida based more heavily on how they have played without him.
We finally saw another taste of Good Missouri on Saturday in the rout of Mississippi, but of course, that win came at home. The Tigers remain winless (0-5) in true road games this season. In related news, four of the Tigers' next five are on the road. And the home game is Florida. Time to step up, guys.
The Cats got two must-have wins at home and are suddenly just a game out of first place in the SEC. Concerns about making the NCAAs are starting to lessen, and with a strong stretch run, UK can be one of those teams that everyone looks at outside the top four seeds in a region. This week at Florida and Tennessee provides a nice proving ground for their progress.
After losing at Missouri, there's not a ton left on the schedule that can really help the Rebels beyond win compilation. Their profile heading into the SEC tournament will basically be "We beat Missouri and look at where we finished in the SEC." This year, that's not terribly compelling. The game at Texas A&M on Wednesday looms as maybe the toughest test remaining. Wins are there to be grabbed.
A 47-39 road loss at Auburn featuring a second-half meltdown isn't the best way to make a statement of worthiness. They are 3-1 in their nine-game stretch of sub-100 RPI games in league play. Then they get Florida and Mississippi away late.
The league looks almost certain to get four bids to the NCAAs. That may be all as the middle of the league keeps coming up short in big spots. There are chances left, though, to see a fifth team emerge.
UNLV in a nutshell: Honk away a bad loss at Fresno State, then come home and thoroughly handle New Mexico. The game Wednesday at Air Force is the type that has been tripping up the Rebels too often in recent seasons. With home dates with San Diego State and Colorado State afterward, this one at Clune Arena is a must-get first.
Chase Tapley's triple saved the Aztecs from a damaging home loss to Boise State, and they went 2-0 in the week to pull within a game of first place. That said, the schedule is very much against them. The good news, Xavier Thames is back and that should really help them on the road gauntlet ahead. First up: Colorado State on Wednesday and then UNLV on Saturday.
The Rams got out of Reno with a win and now the fun begins. An "Orange Out" with throwback jerseys will welcome San Diego State to Moby Arena on Wednesday. Then they're at Air Force, at UNLV and home to New Mexico. Should be a fun measuring stick of March potential. The Rams haven't done a ton away from home yet although the losses at San Diego State (in OT) and New Mexico were tight.
The Broncos had what looked like a huge road win in hand, but were felled by what amounted to a broken play that led to a Chase Tapley game-winning three. If they can't get it done at The Pit on Wednesday, margins will be pretty thin the rest of the way, even with two good wins.
The loss at Nevada may end up being a real killer, but the Falcons have three big home games left and a road shot at San Diego State, so we'll see. They need to take out UNLV on Wednesday for starters. Colorado State's physical style is a much tougher proposition for this Air Force team on Saturday.
Soooo, three teams are 7-2, three are 6-3, three more are 5-4 and three others are 4-5. That about sums things up nicely ... except the ordering is really screwy because of disparate schedules and accomplishments.
The Bulldogs held off George Washington and are nearly in lockdom (in reality, they're there, but we're stingy around here). Win the two this week and that should more or less do it. The next three are very manageable and then we get to see the Bulldogs tested home and away in the final four league games. GW: Indiana (N), Marquette (N), North Carolina (N), Gonzaga, at St. Joe's? BL: None
Crushing Fordham in your only game of the week means you're treading water, but the Explorers have the remaining schedule in which to rack up some wins. This week will be a good barometer. Can they navigate a tricky road game in Olean and a city showdown with St. Joe's when the chips are down?
Home tests this week against UMass and George Washington won't be cakewalks, but they are compared to the final five games on the slate, when the Rams are at Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple and also host Butler and Richmond. Like Saint Louis, it's all in front of VCU. Will havoc reign?
The Billikens are a good team with mediocre computer numbers thanks to a December meatball platter in nonconference play and a couple of untimely losses. Now they're tied for first in the league and have everything in front of them. Down the stretch, they host Charlotte (on Saturday), VCU and La Salle and travel to Butler and Xavier.
The Owls won a pair of one-point decisions in a huge boost to their at-large hopes. The win at Dayton was ugly as both teams committed numerous blunders and the Flyers clanked away a large late lead. Temple has the schedule left to make a run at the NCAAs. Saturday at UMass is a huge game for both teams.
Must-wins they were and win the Minutemen did, by sizable margins. Now this week, at VCU and home to Temple, will really define the season. Several more tough games await down the stretch.
Need to get the two this week, including the return fixture with Dayton. Then they can start to brace themselves for an epic homestand: VCU, Memphis, UMass, Saint Louis.
The 49ers-0">49ers are 0-2 so far in the season-deciding gauntlet. Next up: at Butler, at Saint Louis, Temple. GW: None, really BL: None
Probably not happening for the Spiders after losing at home to St. Joe's. Four of the next six are away, where they have struggled all season.
An 0-2 whiff on the Dayton/UMass road trip spells virtual doom for the Hawks. Very disappointing.
Things have gotten a little crazy in the Valley as Indiana State wasn't down with Creighton/Wichita State hegemony. Bubble teams elsewhere are looking at this situation very nervously. The Sycamores are in good schedule position to claim at least a share of the league crown. Then what? And is Creighton suddenly in danger of not dancing at all?
The Bluejays are 8-3 vs. the top 100. It's almost unthinkable to believe they could miss the NCAAs entirely. But then you look at the quality of the resume ... and the computer numbers ... and the balance of the Missouri Valley schedule ... and what could happen if they don't get the 1-seed in the conference tourney ... and ... hmmmm. Three of the final five in league are on the road, plus the BracketEliminators game at Saint Mary's. They close the season hosting Wichita State, a possible Arch Madness semi matchup.
If Creighton is courting trouble then the Shockers are a step closer to the ledge after a really poor loss at Southern Illinois. Wichita State is also the fulcrum team in this three-way chase, still having road games at Indiana State and Creighton. The Shockers also have a complete no-win BracketEliminators game against a decent Detroit team. The Shockers will have work to do if they don't get either of the Valley showdowns.
The Sycamores ripped Creighton and then escaped against Southern Illinois and here we are, with Indiana State tied for first and potentially in shape to steal the conference crown and the 1-seed in Arch Madness. Whomever the 1-seed is avoids a brutal semifinal matchup. The Sycamores need to take care of road business this week and then Wichita State arrives for a massive game.
The Valentine's Day showdown is on tap with the 10-0 Zags heading to Moraga to face 10-1 Saint Mary's. Can the Gaels make it without the auto bid? Seems like Thursday is paramount to that goal.
The Gaels have arrived at their Rubicon. Gonzaga, BYU and Creighton, all at home, in a 10-day span. There's your at-large bid in a nutshell. Go get something done, Gaels. Beating Gonzaga would be an immense first step, as it would open the path to at least a co-champ perch in the WCC.
Lights out. It's auto-bid or bust now for the Cougars after a disastrous 0-2 week, including a 12-point home loss to San Francisco. They barely have any top-100 wins now (Santa Clara is at 98).
Best of the Rest
I'm not saying Memphis is great, but the Tigers are a better team than most are giving them credit for, and much improved since some early-season stumbles. C-USA is terrible this season, but winning at Southern Miss in stylish fashion was a nice soundcheck. Now three of four are at home (including the Southern Miss rematch) before a sticky three-game roadie to Xavier, Central Florida and UTEP.
The Bruins lost at Murray State for their first OVC defeat, putting a dent in at-large hopes. There's not much left that can help them. A win over Ohio in BracketEliminators isn't a great plus even though the Bobcats are good. Can this profile withstand another OVC loss in the tournament?
The mantra of the mid-major: Keep winning. That's what the Blue Raiders are doing against a weak Sun Belt schedule. They have five more sub-100 games left before the league tournament. Could the committee deny a 29-win team that loses in the conference final? Yeah, I guess they could.
As stated last week, the viability of this profile will come down to the season-ending trip to Denver and New Mexico State. The four games before that, even with two on the road, "should" be wins, although maybe Utah State gives them something to think about in Ruston, even while shorthanded.
A two-point win at Army isn't earning many brownie points with the committee. It's hard to see how this amounts to an at-large, but who knows. The return match at Lehigh is Feb. 18.
Lost at Central Florida. Lost at home to Memphis. Lost any reasonable chance at an at-large. No top-100 wins.