Selection Sunday isn't quite around the corner, but it's definitely on this block. As we get closer to the big day, you'll start to see more references to the RPI, but at this relatively early stage it's hard to figure out just how much attention we should pay to all those numbers. Reading the RPI rankings in mid-January is like reading the voting returns early on election night. Yes, the numbers tell you what trends might be forming, but it's far too early to make a projection.
There is, however, one race in which almost all the returns are in, and that's the all-important nonconference strength of schedule rankings. Most teams have either played all the nonconference games they're going to play, or they only have one or two left. So we pretty much know where this category will stand on the big day.
And it is an important category. Over the last decade, the men's basketball committee has put an increasing emphasis on this portion of a team's profile because it is the only part of the schedule that teams can control. The committee seeks to reward teams that seek out tough competition and punish those that don't. If you're a bubble team, your NC SOS ranking looms large when the committee is deciding those last few at-large bids.
So now that we can make some projections, I've assembled a list of eight potential bubble teams who helped themselves during the first few months of the season, and another eight who hurt themselves. I've placed the NC SOS rankings in parentheses. (As always, my data comes from
• A Big East coach who has scouted West Virginia told me that part of the Mountaineers' problem is that their guards who can defend are not good shooters, and their guards who can shoot are not good defenders. Case in point: The Mountaineers could not hit outside shots against Syracuse's zone, but when
• An ACC head coach let me in on a secret about North Carolina guard
• Funny how the comments I'm now hearing about Virginia are so similar to the ones I used to hear about
• From Duke's perspective, one good thing about the way
• Just to be clear, the reason the NCAA's new prohibition against hiring people connected to recruits is limited to minor staff positions, as opposed to full-time assistants, is not because there is something more legitimate about hiring an AAU coach as an assistant. It's because there is very little history of head coaches using full-time assistant positions for hires, which means prohibiting it would be more vulnerable to a legal challenge. If head coaches think they can get around this new rule by hiring players' relatives or AAU coaches relatives as full-time assistants, it will be easy for the NCAA to eliminate that in its next go-round.
• Sorry to rain on Clemson's parade after its big week, but the Tigers nearly blew a 21-point lead at N.C. State on Saturday before winning by three. Remember, this is the same team that frittered away a 23-point lead at home against Illinois. That should give future opponents encouragement if they get down big against the Tigers.
• Gonzaga pulled off an amazing feat when it opened conference play by beating its top three WCC rivals on the road. But the Zags are making 66.3 percent from the foul line, which ranks last in the league. That has to catch up with them sometime, right?
• Speaking of Gonzaga, an interesting scenario is developing there. Spokane is hosting an NCAA tournament first-round site, but because Washington State is technically the host school, and because the Zags will have played fewer than three games in Spokane Arena, that means they are allowed to play at that site if they are a high enough seed. As
• When I asked
• The most head-scratching thing about Purdue's three-game losing streak is how poorly the Boilermakers have played on defense. Wisconsin shot 41.1 percent and took 27 free throws. Ohio State shot 51 percent and shot 18 free throws. Northwestern shot 45.7 percent and made 30 free throws. For a program that prides itself on guarding the dribbler, that's gotta stop.
• Not enough is being said about what a terrific passer Georgetown's
• Michigan State's
• Walk-on guard
• It is hard to believe this has escaped my notice for so long, but I feel compelled to inform you that there is a senior walk-on guard playing for Siena whose name is
• I can't believe anyone would suggest that
• Oregon is about the last team I'd expect to overturn the theory that it's hard to win on the road in college hoops. McArthur Court is supposed to be one of the toughest places to play, yet the Ducks, who opened Pac-10 play by winning at Washington State and Washington, have now lost three in a row at home. Their main problems: lousy defense and lousier three-point shooting.
• Whenever I hear an announcer say a player was called for "over the back," I hear
• The thing I most respect about Villanova is that even though they have small teams every year, they still do a great job on the boards. This season they have a +6.8 rebound margin, which is ranked fifth in the Big East. I also love that they get to the foul line so often instead of settling for threes.
• Here's something older players tend to know that younger players don't: There's a difference between intensity and emotion.
• It's starting to get ugly at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have lost six in a row, and it's hard to see where their next win is going to come from. Their next four games are vs. Villanova, at Georgetown, at Marquette and vs. Notre Dame. Plus, one of their top big men,
• Three really good players on really bad teams:
• I'm sorry, but Seton Hall guard
• I'm a little surprised that more details haven't leaked out about the statement of facts the NCAA sent to Mississippi State last week about
• I know UConn is struggling, but it is absolutely mind-boggling that the Huskies are on pace to lead the nation in blocks for the ninth straight year. That has to be one of the more remarkable streaks in sports.
• One of the better rule changes of in recent history was the decision to count technical fouls as a personal foul as well.
• I'm not ready to say that Oklahoma has turned the corner, but the Sooners at least stopped the bleeding by edging Oklahoma State and Missouri at home last week after losing three out of four in embarrassing fashion.
• You all better start paying attention to
• Don't look now, but Siena is looking like a bracket buster again. The Saints won at second-place Fairfield on Saturday to improve their record in the MAAC to 7-0 (14-4 overall). Remember, when they stumbled earlier this season, it was partly because their best player,
• It's a good sign for BYU that long-range marksman
1. Texas (1)
Dropped off my ballot: Connecticut (12), Dayton (17), Baylor (21), Virginia Tech (24).
The biggest casualty was the UConn Huskies. Normally I wouldn't punish a team so badly for losing on the road, but Michigan has been so mediocre this season that when UConn lost in Ann Arbor, it forced me to step back and reevaluate where I've been ranking them. The Huskies may be one of the 25 best teams in the country, but do you know what their best win is so far this season? At home against William & Mary. Sorry, folks, that's not enough.
I might have said the same for North Carolina after their two losses last week, but since both Clemson and Georgia Tech are ranked ahead of the Heels on my ballot, I didn't want to drop them completely out. Plus, at least North Carolina has some quality wins over Ohio State (with
As for the risers, Ohio State has earned my respect by beating Purdue on the road and Wisconsin at home. With Evan Turner back in the fold, this is obviously a different team. Pittsburgh cracked my top 10, and while it's not easy for me to reconcile not putting them ahead of Syracuse considering they won in the Carrier Dome, the Orange also helped their own cause by winning at West Virginia. It's a close call which I'm sure will sort itself out in the coming weeks.
It was also tough figuring out what to do with the three schools atop the Atlantic 10. I've been voting Dayton on my ballot consistently, and it's hard to punish the Flyers for losing by four at Xavier. But I also didn't want to rank them ahead of Xavier in the wake of that result, so it was easier just to leave those two out. Temple remains on the board largely because of its win over Villanova.
Dayton and Xavier are thus at the top of my list of teams I strongly considered but left out, followed by Vanderbilt (which still does not have a win against a ranked team), Baylor and Virginia Tech. Texas A&M would have been ranked if they had pulled off that road upset of Texas, but at this point in the season, close enough isn't good enough.