Pac-12 bubble teams too similar to separate at this stage
As Selection Sunday draws nearer, we're going to start seeing those anonymous team comparisons that have become popular recently. Allow the SI.com Bubble Watch to present you with the first set of tournament resumes that don't include team names:
- Team A: 15-7, RPI: 45, SOS: 28, KenPom: 34, vs. RPI top 50: 3-5, vs. RPI top 100: 6-7, no losses outside top 100.
- Team B: 15-8, RPI: 52, SOS: 37, KenPom: 45, vs. RPI top 50: 3-5, vs. RPI top 100: 6-7, one loss outside top 100.
- Team C: 18-6, RPI: 40, SOS: 77, KenPom: 33, vs. RPI top 50: 2-4, vs, RPI top 100: 6-5, one loss outside top 100.
How do you rank those teams with that information? For my money, Team C has the best resume, followed by Team A with Team B bringing up the rear. While Team C has played the worst schedule, it has the best ranking by KenPom and RPI and has performed the best against potential tournament teams. Team A edges out Team B by virtue of its higher rankings across the board.
These three teams are all from the Pac-12. Team C is Arizona State, which has played well in the last few weeks, notching victories over Colorado, California and Oregon. Team A is Stanford, which has boosted its stock since the calendar turned to February thanks to wins against the aforementioned Sun Devils and Golden Bears. Finally, Team B is California, which has dropped games to the other two teams in this example recently but also gave Arizona its only defeat of the season. These are the sorts of decisions the selection committee will have to make one month from now. Arizona State's resume looks the best on paper, but the Sun Devils only wins against top-50 RPI teams were over Colorado after Spencer Dinwiddie's torn ACL, and an Oregon team that is coming apart at the seams. Cal's resume looks the worst, but the Bears have the best win of the three teams. For now, all three teams are strong bets to make the field. In fact, all three were in this week's Bracket Watch. Still, these sorts of thought experiments are helpful when trying to determine which teams are on the right, and wrong, side of the bubble.
Locks: Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Pittsburgh
The ACC locks remain the same this week, and the four teams are starting to distinguish themselves nationally. All four are in the top 15 on kenpom.com, with Syracuse ranked No. 1, Duke No. 2 and Virginia No. 7. The Orange are also tops in adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Blue Devils rank first in adjusted offense.
SHOULD BE IN
North Carolina (16-7, RPI: 37, SOS: 23) -- The Tar Heels moved up a section after spending the first few weeks "in the mix" on Bubble Watch. The Heels have ripped off five straight wins after losing four of their first five games in the ACC. Comfortable wins over fellow bubble teams Clemson, North Carolina State and Maryland have the Heels in a good spot heading into mid-February. What's more, their offense is finally starting to click, as they've averaged 78 points per game on their current win streak. A huge week looms however, with home dates against Duke and Pitt.
IN THE MIX
Florida State (14-10, RPI: 54, SOS: 36) -- The Seminoles are headed in the opposite direction of the Tar Heels, having lost five of their last six and six of their last eight, with the two wins coming against also-rans Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. They haven't defeated a team in the top 50 in RPI in nearly two months, and their best conference win thus far was at Clemson. They have three more opportunities to make noise during the regular season, though none come this week.
North Carolina State (15-8, RPI: 63, SOS: 48) -- The Wolfpack sidestepped what would have been a serious blow to their tournament hopes, escaping Miami with a one-point win. They've remained in the tournament picture by winning most of the games they're supposed to, but that won't push them over the hump. They are still in search of season-defining win with a road date at Syracuse on tap this Saturday.
Clemson (15-7, RPI: 65, SOS: 110) -- The Tigers are in the tournament picture thanks to wins over Duke and Florida State in Tallahassee, but they still have plenty of work to do to secure a bid. Kenpom.com loves their defense, as it ranks sixth in adjusted efficiency, though that has a lot to do with the play in the conference as a whole. They have a chance at a statement victory with Virginia coming to town on Saturday.
Maryland (14-10, RPI: 74, SOS: 56) -- This week could determine the Terrapins' tournament chances, and it got off to a bad start. Maryland fell at Virginia on Monday, its first of four remaining chances to make a statement to the selection committee during the regular season. They head to Duke to take on the Blue Devils on Saturday still in search of a win over team in the top 50 in RPI. Realistically, they need to win two of their three games left against Duke, Syracuse and Virginia to have legitimate tournament hopes.
American Athletic Conference
Locks: Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut
The AAC is one of three conferences with five teams in the top 30 on kenpom.com, the other two being the ACC and Big Ten. That likely means there will be five teams from the conference locked into the NCAA tournament. For now, it will have to content itself with the four locks it has had for the last two weeks. Cincinnati remains in command of the conference, but the Bearcats have a two-week stretch in late February and early March in which they play Louisville, at Connecticut, and Memphis in succession.
SHOULD BE IN
SMU (19-5, RPI: 38, SOS: 114) -- Believe it or not, the Mustangs rank ahead of Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut on kenpom.com, no doubt aided by their win against the Bearcats last week. They're now 3-3 against the top 50 teams in RPI and own victories over three of their four main conference foes, with Louisville the lone exception. Larry Brown has the Mustangs back in the AP top 25 for the first time since the 1984-85 season.
Locks: Saint Louis, Massachusetts
For a 21-2 team whose only losses were against Wisconsin and Wichita State, Saint Louis sure doesn't get a lot of national press. That's likely because the Billikens only have two wins against top-50 RPI teams, a fact that could change when VCU visits on Saturday. Massachusetts, meanwhile, was in slight danger of dropping beneath the lock section of the column after losses to St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph's but righted the ship last week with wins over La Salle and Rhode Island.
SHOULD BE IN
VCU (19-5, RPI: 28, SOS: 87) -- A loss at Saint Joseph's prevented VCU from being part of the lock discussion this week, and they now face the toughest stretch of their conference slate. Four of their next five games are against likely tournament teams. They host George Washington on Tuesday before traveling to Saint Louis to play the Billikens on Saturday. Their lone game next week is at Massachusetts, and they host Saint Louis in Richmond on March 1. A disaster could put them on the bubble, while 3-1 or 4-0 would move them up to a potential 5-seed.
George Washington (19-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 107) -- Like the Rams, the Colonials kick off their toughest stretch of the A-10 slate, beginning with their rematch with VCU on Tuesday. They welcome Massachusetts to D.C. on Saturday then hit the road for games with Richmond and Saint Louis next week. While they've done enough to make the tournament so far, the next four games will be critical.
IN THE MIX
Richmond (15-8, RPI: 43, SOS: 30) -- Is there enough opportunity in the Spiders' remaining schedule for them to get to the tournament without a big win or two in the A-10 conference tourney? There might not be, with just home games against George Washington and VCU as their only games still to play against teams in the top 50 in RPI. If they won both, they'd be 4-5 against the top 50, leaving their fate in the hands of the selection committee.
Saint Joseph's (16-7, RPI: 46, SOS: 50) -- The Hawks have answered the bell in February, picking up wins over Massachusetts and VCU, their first against teams in the top 50 in RPI. A resume that was once lacking now has the Hawks squarely on the bubble and within striking distance of the tournament. They have just one game remaining -- at George Washington on March 5 -- against a team in the top 50 in RPI. They can't afford to slip up against the lesser of what the conference has to offer.
Dayton (16-8, RPI: 60, SOS: 60) -- The Flyers have rebounded from a terrible January to win their first three games in February, including a takedown of George Washington. Wins at George Mason and St. Bonaventure won't do much for their resume, and they can only hurt themselves with home games against Rhode Island and LaSalle this week.
Locks: Villanova, Creighton
The Wildcats are back on top of the conference after Creighton's surprising loss to St. John's last week. These remain two of the top teams in the country (both are in kenpom.com's top eight teams). Villanova is one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in adjusted offense and top 25 in adjusted defense. The other two, Syracuse and Kansas, make for pretty good company. These two teams play for the second and final time of the regular season on Sunday in Omaha.
SHOULD BE IN
Xavier (16-7, RPI: 44, SOS: 31) -- The Musketeers were on the cusp of lock status before three straight losses, including a damaging home defeat at the hands of Seton Hall. They managed to exact some revenge on Providence last week, beating the Friars by six in Cincinnati. They're about to embark on a relatively easy part of their schedule, with their next three games coming at Butler, at Marquette and home against DePaul, a trio of teams that are a combined 9-23 in the Big East.
IN THE MIX
Providence (16-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 44) -- Losses to St. John's and Xavier last week knocked the Friars from a spot in the tournament in last week's Bracket Watch to one of the play-in games this week. After losing to Georgetown on Monday, the Friars have fallen in four of their past five games. They should have an easy time with DePaul on Saturday.
Georgetown (15-9, RPI: 57, SOS: 18) -- After Josh Smith was ruled ineligible due to academics just three weeks ago, the Hoyas' season appeared over. Since then, they've won four of their five games, including victories over Michigan State and Providence, the latter of which by 12 points on Monday. The Hoyas are now 4-6 against teams in the top 50 in RPI, giving them a solid case for one of the final at-large spots in the tournament. They could further strengthen their case with a win at St. John's on Sunday.
St. John's (15-9, RPI: 62, SOS: 32) -- The Red Storm have won three-straight games, but it's the last of the three, Sunday's win against Creighton, that has them on the bubble. One week ago at this time, Steve Lavin's bunch lacked a victory over a top-50 RPI team. They now have two, with the other coming at Providence. The regular season likely will only afford them with two more chances to earn resume-building victories. The first comes at Villanova on February 22.
Locks: Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State.
After Kansas' loss to Kansas State on Monday, is there any chance someone rises up and knocks the Jayhawks off their perpetual perch on top of the conference? At 9-2, they're just 1.5 games ahead of Texas and two games ahead of Oklahoma. They have to play each of those teams once more, giving them the best chance to be the first outright regular season champion not named Kansas since Oklahoma State in 2003-04. Kansas State's win on Monday also makes the Big 12 the first conference with six locks for the tournament, as the Wildcats now have six wins against teams in the top 35 in RPI.
IN THE MIX
Baylor (14-9, RPI: 58, SOS: 4) -- After losses to Kansas and Oklahoma last week, the Bears are 2-8 in the Big 12, and their win over Oklahoma State loses value by the week. At some point, they're going to have to get a meaningful win in the conference if they are going to avoid being saddled with a berth in the NIT. They host Kansas State on Thursday, but that might not do the trick. More likely, they'll need to win at Texas on February 26 or at home against Iowa State on March 4.
West Virginia (15-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 57) -- Bob Huggins and company stormed back into the tournament discussion with a three-game winning streak that featured victories over Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma, and they put an exclamation point on their run by destroying Iowa State, 102-77, on Monday. The latter three are all locks for the tournament, and Baylor could get in, as well. The Mountaineers now have three wins against teams that are currently in the top 40 in RPI.
Locks: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State
Last week, we looked at the wheel of parity in the Big 12. This week, it's the Big Ten's turn. Iowa completed the circle by beating Michigan over the weekend. The Wolverines beat the Badgers, who beat the Spartans, who beat the Buckeyes who beat the Hawkeyes. Michigan and Michigan State may have separated themselves from the rest of the conference, and I'm on record as believing the Spartans are the best team in the country when fully healthy, but all five of the conference's top teams are capable of making a run in the tournament.
SHOULD BE IN
Minnesota (16-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 5) -- The Gophers' stock took a serious hit over the last few weeks, with losses to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. They should still be in with a resume that boasts wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State, Florida State and at Richmond, but they'll rest a whole lot easier if they can pick up another strong win in the last three weeks of the season. They'll have ample opportunity, starting with a road game in Madison on Wednesday.
IN THE MIX
Indiana (14-9, RPI: 79, SOS: 63) -- Indiana has used all its chances up this year. That means the Hoosiers cannot afford a loss this week against Penn State or Purdue. If they can hold serve this week, they can start getting excited about Iowa visiting Bloomington a week from Tuesday.
Locks: Arizona, UCLA
Arizona handled its first week without Brandon Ashley, dispatching of the entire state of Oregon to move to 10-1 in the Pac-12 and 23-1 overall. As I wrote in this week's Bracket Watch, the silver lining of Ashley's injury is that it came early enough for the Wildcats to adjust to life without one of their starting forwards. UCLA remains an under-the-radar team. The Bruins are 19th in RPI and 18th on kenpom.com. They're one of eight teams that rank in KenPom's top 25 in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense, joining Syracuse, Kansas, Villanova, Louisville, Florida, Michigan State and Wichita State.
SHOULD BE IN
Colorado (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 24) -- After back-to-back losses to Arizona and Arizona State at the end of January, the Buffaloes have done exactly what they needed to do. Namely, they took care of some of the lesser teams in the conference ahead of a four-game stretch that includes the Bruins, Sun Devils and Wildcats. They're now 8-5 against the RPI top 100 but could still slip out of the picture without another win against a team bound for the tourney.
IN THE MIX
Arizona State (18-6, RPI: 40, SOS: 77) -- The Sun Devils are right on the cusp of should-be-in status, but they're not quite there yet with their only two wins against teams in the top 50 in RPI coming against an undermanned Colorado squad and reeling Oregon. They could get there this week, though, thanks to a Valentine's Day date in Tempe with No. 2 Arizona.
Oregon (15-8, RPI: 42, SOS: 16) -- The Ducks have just three wins in the conference, and they came against Utah, Washington State and USC, a group of teams that is 8-24 in the conference. They may have a solid RPI, but the Ducks are on the outside of the bracket. A loss in any of their next three games -- home for Oregon State, Washington and Washington State -- could be a death knell.
Stanford (15-7, RPI: 45, SOS: 28) -- The Cardinal have boosted their resume in the last two weeks, falling narrowly to Arizona before beating Arizona State and California. The resumes of the Sun Devils, Cardinal and Golden Bears are so similar that it will be hard to justify taking one and not the other two, unless one can distinguish itself in head-to-head competition. The Cardinal are 2-1 in those games, with one game remaining at Arizona State.
California (15-8, RPI: 52, SOS: 37) -- While their surface numbers look good and the win over Arizona is signature, the Golden Bears have two losses to teams ranked 85th or worse in RPI and just one win against a team inside the top 40. Chances are they'll make the tournament unless they suffer a catastrophic losing streak, but we can't count them as a team that should be in just yet. They'll take a tour of the state of Washington this week, visiting the Cougars and Huskies.
Washington (13-11, RPI: 82, SOS: 46) -- The Huskies' slim tournament hopes have nearly evaporated after three-straight losses to Washington State, Utah and Colorado. They still appear here, though, as they have a chance to regain their footing on the bubble with home games against Stanford and California this week.
Locks: Florida, Kentucky
We've had to sit through a month-and-a-half of conference play, but we'll finally get treated to the first Florida-Kentucky game of the season on Saturday. The Gators can all but lock up the SEC regular season championship with a win in Lexington, as that would put them three games ahead of the Wildcats.
IN THE MIX
Tennessee (15-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 17) -- The Volunteers are closer to "should be in" than they are to being out of the dance, but we have to put them here after a road loss to Vanderbilt last week. This is a big week for them with games at home against Florida and at Missouri. Not surprisingly, the Volunteers are third among SEC teams on KenPom. You might be surprised to learn, however, that they rank 23rd, ahead of teams such as Cincinnati, Memphis and Oklahoma.
Missouri (16-7, RPI: 49, SOS: 71) -- The Tigers played admirably in losses to Kentucky and Florida in their first two games in February, but the loss at Ole Miss over the weekend knocked them down a peg or two on the bubble. They're now 1-2 against teams in the RPI top 50 and 5-6 against the top 100. They'll get a chance to boost their chances this week, with Arkansas and Tennessee visiting Columbia.
Ole Miss (16-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 79) -- The Rebels finally got a win over a team in the top 50 in RPI, beating Missouri at home on Saturday. That was a necessary box to check, but they still haven't done enough to get an at-large bid to the tourney. While they hit the road for their two games this week, they have to beat teams like Alabama and Georgia regardless of where they play. They also have to guard against looking ahead a week when Kentucky and Florida travel to Oxford.
LSU (15-7, RPI: 61, SOS: 76) -- A loss at Georgia isn't going to kill the Tigers' tourney hopes, but a win would have helped validate them as a team that takes care of business when it should, a trait that the selection committee often smiles upon. The loss to the Bulldogs was their third to a team outside the top 100 in RPI. They're on the road for games with Texas A&M and Arkansas this week, and while it's always a challenge to win away from home, they can't afford a loss to the Aggies.
Arkansas (15-8, RPI: 80, SOS: 86) -- The Razorbacks have been in a holding pattern since beating Kentucky nearly a month ago. They haven't suffered any bad losses since then, but they similarly have not picked up any head-turning victories. That makes this week important. They have games against fellow bubble teams Missouri and LSU, with the former coming on the road.
Locks: Wichita State
The Shockers cleared their highest-remaining hurdle last weekend on the road to an undefeated season, grinding out a win at Indiana State. According to KenPom, they now have a 70-percent chance to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. Meanwhile, they knocked Indiana State off the bubble altogether. The only way the Sycamores make the tournament at this point is if they win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Locks: San Diego State
The Aztecs continue to romp through the Mountain West, picking up wins at Boise State and home against Nevada last week. We know the Aztecs are going to be, at worst, a 3-seed in the tournament. We also know that they're going to play some of the best defense of any team in the big dance. The question will be whether or not they have enough offense to beat the teams they're likely to see during the second weekend of the tournament.
SHOULD BE IN
New Mexico (18-4, RPI: 23, SOS: 65) -- It's still hard to get a gauge on the Lobos until they play San Diego State, something they don't do until February 22. While they beat Cincinnati back in December, they lost their other two games to teams that will be dancing in March -- Massachusetts and Kansas -- by 16 and 17 points, respectively. If they lose both games to the Aztecs their tournament standing could be in trouble, but even that wouldn't be a death sentence.
Could the Bulldogs potentially be a bubble team if they lose in the West Coast Conference tournament? It seems more plausible than it did before their loss to Memphis. They still have just one win over a top-50 RPI team, and that was against No. 41 BYU. They lost to Kansas State in addition to Memphis and have a very bad loss to Portland on the resume. The WCC doesn't seem to have an impact team in the tournament.
IN THE MIX
Brigham Young (17-9, RPI: 41, SOS: 27) -- The Cougars feature one of the country's most exciting offenses, ranking 26th in adjusted efficiency at KenPom. While they lost to Gonzaga, they have two wins over teams in the top 50 in RPI, and narrowly fell to Iowa State and Oregon. The return date with the Bulldogs is next week in Provo. They have road games at Pacific and Saint Mary's to take care of first, though.
Best of the rest
Toledo (20-3, RPI: 32, SOS: 137) -- Behind the backcourt of Justin Drummond, Julius Brown and Rian Peterson, the Rockets have the 12th-best offense in terms of adjusted efficiency on KenPom and are 8-2 in the MAC. Assuming they win the conference tournament, they'll be the 12-seed no 5-seed wants to see in their region.
Southern Miss (21-3, RPI: 33, SOS: 146) -- The Golden Eagles are tied with UTEP atop Conference USA at 8-1. This is a one-bid conference, so all that matters is the conference tournament, but they'll play each other for the first and only time during the regular season on Feb. 22 in El Paso. At the very least, the winner will be able to avoid a potential matchup with Louisiana Tech in the conference tourney semifinals.
Harvard (18-4, RPI: 51, SOS: 155) -- The Crimson suffered a damaging loss to Yale over the weekend, as the Crimson and Bulldogs are now tied in first in the Ivy League at 5-1. The Ivy, of course, doesn't have a conference tournament, meaning the regular season champion earns the automatic bid. While Yale now controls its own destiny, the Bulldogs are unlikely to run the table. But Harvard could. Their second game of the season with each other on March 7 could end up determining who goes dancing.
Delaware (18-7, RPI: 64, SOS: 164) -- The Blue Hens don't have a win against a team in the top 100 in RPI, but they've cruised to a 10-0 record in the Colonial Athletic Association behind seniors Devon Saddler and Davon Usher, and junior Jarvis Threatt. The trio combines to score 57.7 points per game.
UW-Green Bay (19-5, RPI: 71, SOS: 162) -- The Phoenix lost to UW-Milwaukee last week, their second loss in four games, and are now in danger of being caught by Cleveland State in the Horizon League standings. The two teams play each other for the first and only time during the regular season in Cleveland on Saturday.