Every whistle counts as bubble teams sit tight on the edge

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Think Kentucky fans are on edge right now? After getting pounded at South Carolina, their Wildcats were warded off (literally) by LSU in Lexington and now they're trying to ward off a trip to the NIT. Kentucky was one of the final three teams in today's bracket.

Surely these aren't the only teams that have had their futures potentially impacted by a (non-)whistle, but they're the latest, and these single non-calls show just how tenuous this bubble chase is. In the bigger picture, what's the monetary value -- in tournament revenues, sponsorship, recruiting, etc. -- of making versus missing the NCAA tournament? Let's just say it's much, much more than the cost of the Fox 40s six separate officials swallowed on Saturday.

(Records listed are Division-I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.)

Locks: North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State

There are two developments in the ACC this week. First, Florida State joins the lock party after finishing off a season sweep of Clemson (which should make sure it takes care of business Tuesday at home against Virginia). Second, UNC and Duke have separated from the rest as far as landing in Greensboro for the first two rounds of the NCAAs. Duke still remains very much in the mix for a No. 1 seed, as well.


Boston College (20-9, 8-6; RPI: 50, SOS: 51) is in great position after beating Florida State in its only game of the week. The Eagles have two winnable games (at NC State and Georgia Tech at home) left and probably only need one of them to feel good about a bid. Getting both would seal the deal. The Eagles' RPI remains a bit high, but they won at UNC and also beat Duke, so the marquee level is solid in their 4-6 top 50 mark.


The latest example of RPI comedy, unless you're a fan of Virginia Tech (17-11, 7-7; RPI: 59; SOS: 37): The Hokies cost themselves two RPI spots by winning the "wrong" game this week. Losing at Clemson and beating Duke at home would have been worth an extra .0015 in raw RPI points. But since they won on the road and lost at home, each game counted as 1.4 instead of 0.6, which works against the Hokies.

Flawed NCAA math aside, the Hokies missed a huge chance against Duke to assert themselves in the at-large hunt. Now they get UNC at home and then visit Florida State to close the regular season. A 7-9 league mark and 13 losses before the ACC tournament probably isn't going to cut it without a lot of championship week weirdness. They need to win one of those.

The comparison with Maryland (18-10, 7-7; RPI: 58; SOS: 24) is very close, but the Terps get the second-to-last at-large this week and the Hokies are left out because of Maryland's better top-end wins and the head-to-head victory.

Maryland couldn't take out Duke but won at NC State to stay in the mix. The Terps get Wake Forest at home before closing at Virginia. Maryland has beaten top-two seeds Michigan State and North Carolina, but also has a host of blowout losses and a bad home loss to Morgan State. Miami (16-10, 6-8; RPI: 45, SOS: 14) slogged past Virginia to stay in the hunt, but most likely needs to win at Georgia Tech and at home against NC State to get to 8-8 to have a legit chance.

Locks: Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas

Kansas got some revenge by smoking Missouri on Sunday, moving closer to a Big 12 regular-season crown. That could be win-win for the league, as Oklahoma still looks positioned to be a one-seed and should get credit for both league losses coming with Blake Griffin out with an injury.


Texas (19-9, 8-6; RPI: 38, SOS: 43) needs to make sure it takes care of Baylor on Monday night. An upset home loss sends the Horns to Lawrence staring 8-8 in the face, and an early slip in the Big 12 tourney could make for some unexpectedly long waiting days in Austin. Wins over UCLA, Villanova, at Wisconsin and over Oklahoma (partly sans Griffin) definitely help. They should be OK, but this isn't yet the mortal lock many assume.


Oklahoma State (19-9, 8-6; RPI: 31; SOS: 12) has five-straight wins after rolling at Colorado and toppling Texas. Now the Pokes have a huge home bubble game Tuesday against K-State. They don't want to need the season finale at Oklahoma to stay above .500 in the conference. Fourth-place and a first-round bye in the Big 12 tourney also remains a possibility.

The game at Nebraska -- and Texas A&M's (20-8, 7-7; RPI: 34, SOS: 35) NCAA hopes -- looked all but over at halftime, but the Aggies came from way back to stun the Huskers at the buzzer. A romp over Iowa State later, they're at 7-7 with a trip to bottom-feeder Colorado on tap. That has to be a win ahead of a gettable game against Missouri that would be popular with the computers and push A&M over .500.

A comparison between those two teams remains very close.

Kansas State (19-9, 8-6; RPI: 73; SOS: 95) got blasted at Mizzou, but after edging Nebraska, remains likely for at least nine league wins with a home game against Colorado remaining. Ten would look a ton better for a team lacking substance in its profile, which makes Tuesday in Stillwater a huge one. Nebraska (16-11, 6-8; RPI: 74; SOS: 31) lost bubble games to both A&M and K-State and is basically done, as is disappointing Baylor (16-11, 5-9; RPI: 63; SOS: 17).

Locks: Pitt, Connecticut, Louisville, Marquette, Villanova

You have to feel for Marquette, which went from thinking league title to losing Dominic James for the season and games to UConn and Louisville. The Golden Eagles could prove to be a sticky seeding decision for the committee.


West Virginia (20-9, 9-7; RPI: 20; SOS: 11) bounced back from a disappointing loss at Cincy to win at South Florida. With 0-16 DePaul coming to Morgantown next, this should be a sure 10 Big East wins, with a crack at Louisville at home in the season finale to really lock things up. Syracuse (20-8, 9-7; RPI: 25, SOS: 18) took care of business, destroying St. John's and Cincinnati. The Orange have a similar deal as WVU with Rutgers on Tuesday that should mean 10 conference wins and a shot at wounded Marquette after that. Wins away from the Dome over Florida, Kansas and at Memphis likely make 10-8 good enough, though.


Providence (18-10, 10-7; RPI: 71; SOS: 40) pulled off a huge upset of Pitt and then backed it up by getting past Rutgers on the road. Thursday night at Villanova is a real difference-maker. Getting to 11 Big East wins would be huge, even though the quality of them is mostly low and the Friars remain just 2-7 against the RPI top 50. They also could finish multiple games ahead of Cincinnati and swept the Bearcats, which would be difficult for the committee to overlook.

Beating Bob Huggins and WVU at home: good (and a satisfying 2-0 for Nancy Zimpher). Getting immolated at Syracuse: bad. Now Cincinnati (17-11, 8-8, RPI: 51, SOS: 21) really needs to be thinking two Ws at USF and home to Seton Hall. The Bearcats swept Georgetown and beat Notre Dame, which helps in comparison, especially if Cincy also finishes ahead of both teams in the standings. The 4-9 mark against the RPI top 50 is better than Providence's 2-7, but not good either.

Notre Dame (15-12, 7-9; RPI: 68; SOS: 49) gave it a solid shot but lost at UConn and now has no margin for error. The Irish are 3-10 against the RPI top 50 and, more damning, just 4-11 against the top 100 and 5-10 road/neutral. It will take a minimum of four-straight wins (to get to 9-9 and make the Big East quarters) and probably one more beyond that. First things first: Villanova comes calling tonight. Georgetown (15-12, 6-10; RPI: 40; SOS: 1) more or less has the same trajectory after upsetting Villanova. The Hoyas are at St. John's, home to DePaul, likely versus South Florida/Rutgers in the first round of the Big East tournament, and then someone of the Providence/WVU/Syracuse ilk in the Wednesday game. All four have to be wins. Then they'd have a shot at a marquee quarterfinal win and we'll see how far the Ws over UConn and Memphis and the No. 1 SOS can carry them. ND beat G'town by six at home, if that comes into play.

Locks: Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois

The top three teams remain the same, and they've created quite a gap between the rest.




The Big Ten tournament is going to be make or break for most of these teams. There could be a couple "two teams enter, one survives" games on tap.

What's the current order? Glad you asked.

Wisconsin (17-10, 9-7, RPI: 32, SOS: 4) rallied past Michigan for a huge home win on Sunday, moving into a tie for fourth with Penn State (with the tiebreaker on the Nittany Lions). With Indiana coming in for the season finale, 10 wins looks like a near certainty. Winning at Minnesota on Wednesday likely would mean 11 and would cripple a bubble buddy in the process. Barring significant bubble contraction, two wins in the next three games should be enough for the Badgers. They also won the only meeting with Ohio State (18-9, 8-8; RPI: 41; SOS: 27), which beat Penn State at home and then lost (badly) at Purdue. Now the Buckeyes have two tricky trap-type games, at Iowa and home to Northwestern. Losing either would be a big mistake, but neither is a given right now. Non-league wins over Miami, Butler and Notre Dame are decent, especially when they happened

Those two teams look to be ahead of the next batch of three, which is very closely lumped at this point. Michigan has the worst league mark but the best wins. Penn State has the league advantage but an embarrassing non-league SOS in the 320s. Minnesota is lumped in the middle. All five games so far among the three teams have been won by the home team. Michigan at Minnesota in the regular-season finale is just huge.

Minnesota (19-8, 8-8, RPI: 37; SOS: 52) couldn't get it done at Illinois, but still has a chance to play its way in. The Gophers close at home with Wisconsin and Michigan. Win both and the Gophers would be in good shape, having swept the Badgers and split with the Wolverines. A split means Minnesota would have to win its opening-round game at the Big Ten tourney and very likely its quarterfinal.

It wasn't easy but Penn State (20-9, 9-7; RPI: 64; SOS: 109) edged Indiana to split the week after losing at Ohio State. It gets harder from here, with Illinois coming for a rematch of The Game That Won't Be Mentioned ahead of a trip to Iowa. If the Nittany Lions split to finish 10-8 and stay in the league's top five, their quarterfinal game in the Big Ten tourney is a play-in game for the NCAAs.

Michigan (17-12, 8-9; RPI: 47, SOS: 10) fell just short at Wisconsin on Sunday, but the win over Purdue earlier in the week keeps the Wolverines' hopes alive, as wins over Duke and UCLA stand out in this bubble crowd. What's at stake at Minnesota on Saturday? A win gets the Wolverines to 9-9, gives them a sweep of the season series and puts them ahead of the Gophers and quite possibly the Nittany Lions. A loss more or less ends their NCAA hopes. No pressure.

Locks: Washington, Arizona State, UCLA

UCLA's back after edging Stanford and Cal on the road. We're all good, right, Bruin Nation?


Cal (21-8, 10-6; RPI: 36; SOS: 55) likely is one win away from locking things up after falling at home to UCLA in a battle for second place. It won't be easy at the Arizona schools, which will be angry (ASU) and desperate (UA) coming off getting swept on the Washington road trip.


It wasn't a good idea for Arizona (18-11, 8-8; RPI: 49, SOS: 36) to drop both in the Evergreen State. Now the Cats have Cal coming in on Thursday, which won't be easy. They really need to at least handle Stanford, if not sweep the home weekend. Ending up at 9-9 likely would leave them out of the first-round games, meaning they'd draw one of the top four teams in what could be a must-win quarterfinal.

USC (16-12, 7-9; RPI: 57, SOS: 13) had a disastrous trip to the Bay Area and now is in some trouble. This weekend is a mandatory sweep of the Oregon schools and then the Trojans very well might need to make the Pac-10 semis, depending on where they end up in the bracket and what happens around them. If we're still talking about the Trojans, then we have to mention suddenly searing Washington State (16-13, 8-9; RPI: 88, SOS: 62), which has beaten UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State in succession, sweeping the season series from the Sun Devils. The overall numbers are very weak right now, and the Cougars missed on four of their five legit non-league games, but what happens if they win at Washington on Saturday to finish 9-9 and then get two more upsets and make the Pac-10 final?

Locks: LSU

Congrats to the Tigers, who captured the regular-season title in style and put a hurt on Florida and Kentucky's at-large hopes. LSU was one of the biggest upward movers in this week's bracket.


The frazzled foursome has split into two dueling duos, which means we'll bump the first one up. South Carolina (20-7, 9-5; RPI: 44; RPI: 79) blistered Kentucky but then got trucked at Vandy, missing a chance to really stake a claim. The Gamecocks now host Tennessee (18-10, 9-5; RPI: 29; SOS: 3) on Thursday in a game that very well could be for the SEC East crown after the Vols' huge win at Florida on Sunday. A Vols win would give them a sweep of the Gamecocks and a home game remaining against Alabama. A South Carolina win means the Gamecocks just have to win at Georgia to grab the division.


Both teams now are clearly ahead of Kentucky (19-10, 8-6; RPI: 66, SOS: 64) and Florida (21-8, 8-6; RPI: 42; SOS: 97), which both lost twice this week and meet in a death match in Gainesville on Saturday. The loser of that game is in serious danger of missing the NCAAs. Florida first needs to handle a trip to Mississippi State, which is anything but a given considering the Gators' road form. If Kentucky somehow loses at home to Georgia mid-week, all bets are off.

Locks: Xavier

Xavier's playing for seeding, but could have a very real impact on who else gets in from this league with a home game against Dayton on Thursday.


Dayton (24-5, 10-4; RPI: 27, SOS: 108) was tripped up at the buzzer at Rhode Island but managed to nab a crucial five-point home win over Temple. That more or less condemns the Owls to auto bid-or-bust, and gives Dayton a bit of a cushion to work with heading to Xavier on Thursday. If the Flyers lose that game, there's a very real chance they'll finish in third place, behind Rhode Island, in the league, which makes things pretty interesting. Double that if the Rams and Flyers meet in an A-10 semifinal, where the winner almost certainly would be in the NCAAs.


Rhode Island (22-8, 11-4; RPI: 60; SOS: 136) validated its mention last week, notching a huge pair of two-point wins over Dayton and at Duquesne. The Rams are now in pretty good position regardless of what happens in Thursday's Xavier-Dayton game. If the Flyers get the road upset, URI can nab at least a share of the league crown by beating UMass at home on Saturday. A win by the X-men means the Rams clinch the two-seed and can finish sole second ahead of the Flyers with a win or another Dayton loss. The series of excruciating near-misses earlier in the season leaves URI without a marquee win, so they very well might have to win a potential A-10 semifinal with Dayton. What a game that would be.

Locks: None

Utah's still in position to win the league, but BYU closed the gap on Saturday. This looks to all the world like a multi-bid league so the Cougars join the Utes in the next category.


Utah (20-7, 11-3; RPI: 9; SOS: 9) split the week and saw its RPI rise again to an incredible No. 9 overall. With a home finale Saturday against TCU, the Utes should get the one more win they need to grab at least a share of the league crown and would lock up a spot in the NCAAs. They can do some serious damage to New Mexico's late charge at The Pit on Tuesday night. Rival BYU (21-6, 10-4; RPI: 21; SOS: 45) had a huge week, winning at San Diego State and then handling Utah at home to jump up a category and position itself very strongly for an NCAA bid. With games at Wyoming and home to Air Force left, there's a decent chance they can catch Utah for at least a share of the league crown.


It's pretty simple for UNLV (20-8, 8-6; RPI: 52, SOS: 81) and San Diego State (17-8, 9-5; RPI: 48, SOS: 56). Both teams need to win their last two, which means the winner of Saturday's game in San Diego still has a chance for an at-large and the loser doesn't. The Rebels are ahead of the Aztecs at the moment, but that's irrelevant given the upcoming meeting. There's no way UNLV's better résumé can overcome, at best, a fifth-place league finish and at least seven losses in the conference. The MWC is good, but not that good. SDSU has two home games remaining and needs to get them both.

Where does New Mexico (19-10, 10-4; RPI: 69, SOS: 93) fit in after surviving at Colorado State in double overtime to stay on track for a share of the league title? It's hard to say, but fortunately the Lobos host Utah on Tuesday in a must-win game, so we'll have a better sense soon. They have won 10 of their last 13.

Locks: Memphis, Gonzaga, Butler

Butler took care of business in the Horizon League, winning the regular-season crown and moving back into lock status.


Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-4; RPI: 53; SOS: 186) had a really big week, winning twice and getting two Portland losses, which means sole possession of second place in the WCC and two rounds of tourney byes in Las Vegas. Let's put it out there right now: If the Gaels have Patty Mills back and beat Portland (or someone else) in the WCC semis, they should get into the NCAAs. They'd be, heading into the final, 19-1 with Mills with wins over bubble brothers Providence and San Diego State.


Utah State (25-4, 13-2; RPI: 30, SOS: 126) clinched the WAC crown by beating Hawaii, but then lost at rival Nevada, and may have burned its final lifeline. Ten days ago, it looked like USU needed to win at either St. Mary's (which was without Patty Mills) or at Nevada to give itself a fallback should it lose in the WAC tourney (not so conveniently held on Nevada's home floor). Now the Aggies are begging to be left out should they lose again. Is that fair? No, but it's reality when you only have two top 50 games all season.

Creighton (25-6, 14-4; RPI: 39, SOS: 113) edged Illinois State to make it 10 in a row and grab a share of the Missouri Valley crown with Northern Iowa, although the Panthers will be the No. 1 seed in Arch Madness. That could be important as a third meeting with the feisty Redbirds could happen in the tourney semis. Would a championship game loss to UNI be enough? Creighton beat New Mexico and hammered Dayton in non-league play. A comparison with Utah State should both be in the at-large pool would be very interesting.

Siena (23-7, 16-2; RPI: 28; SOS: 57) is another team that might now have to win the automatic bid after losing by 15 at second-place (and RPI top 75) Niagara. The Saints are the top seed in the MAAC tourney, which will be on their home court, so a loss there, unless it's in epic fashion in the final to Niagara, won't look very good for a team that missed on every big chance in non-league play.

Davidson (23-6, 17-2; RPI: 67; SOS: 156) clinched the SoCon crown, but probably needs the automatic bid from the tourney in Chattanooga. Non-league wins over West Virginia and NC State don't feel like enough as the bubble continues to strengthen around the Wildcats.


It's hard to see anyone else with a chance after UAB(20-9, 10-4; RPI: 43, SOS: 60) lost at home to Memphis. Neither the CAA nor the MAC is getting an at-large, and Niagara (24-7, 14-4; RPI: 54; SOS: 145) probably doesn't have enough schedule juice (4-2 vs. top 100) to make it out of the MAAC sans auto bid.