Big wins hoarded by elite programs this season, more Bubble Watch
As a remarkable number of at-large candidates continue to have "None" as their best win of the season, the big bubble question of the week is ... where have all the good wins gone?
So far, they've been hoarded by the elites. There has been a jarring amount of loss incestuousness this season, as the nation's heavyweights take turns beating each other and falling to almost nobody else. Just take a gander at the losses for the highest seeds in this week's bracket:
• Syracuse and Baylor are undefeated; Ohio State lost to Kansas and Indiana; North Carolina lost to Kentucky and UNLV; Kentucky lost to Indiana; Duke lost to Ohio State and Temple; Indiana lost to Michigan State; Michigan State lost to North Carolina and Duke; Kansas lost to Duke and Kentucky (as well as Davidson)
Get the picture? Other than Indiana making a name for itself with two monster home wins, no one has emerged from the middle of a major conference to stake a claim with a true marquee win, and no mid-majors have done any real significant work, either. It makes parsing through the mediocrity very difficult at this stage, but thankfully we have most of conference season left to sort things out.
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Even the heavyweights looked a little suspect this past week in what's revealing itself to be a mediocre year in the league. Duke lost "at" Temple and struggled past Georgia Tech on the road while UNC needed some time to dispatch a bad BC team. Below that? It's Hoos on first, whatever's on second and I don't know's on third.
Last Monday's win at LSU and then squeaking past Miami in the ACC opener repaired the damage to the Cavaliers' RPI from the previous week, and those are games middle-tier teams need to win to make the NCAAs. On Thursday, the Cavs get a shot at Duke at Cameron. A loss clearly won't really impact its current position, but let's see how Virginia does in a tough spot against an elite foe.
The Hokies suffered a bad loss on Saturday, falling at Wake Forest, breaking their pattern of winning and losing the games you'd expect. This makes the two games this week -- against Florida State and at BC -- crucial, as the next five are UNC, BYU (nonleague) and Duke at home alternating with trips to Virginia and Maryland.
The Wolfpack got off to the right start by edging Maryland at home. With Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest and BC up next, N.C. State easily could be 4-0 heading to Miami on Jan. 22, with a trip to Chapel Hill after that. The Pack only plays at Duke this season, so the UNC return game is the only reasonable chance for a marquee win.
The Seminoles have been one of the more disappointing teams nationally, and that trend continued with a 20-point pounding at mediocre Clemson on Saturday. They're going to have to take advantage of the pair of games against Duke and the home chance against UNC, or this profile could look very, very thin come March.
Tough way to open the league slate, falling by a point at Virginia. The reward? A trip to UNC on Tuesday. The five after that -- Clemson, N.C. State, at Georgia Tech, at BC, Maryland -- will pretty much determine at-large viability.
The nice win over Virginia Tech on Saturday would feel even better had the Demon Deacons not lost at home to Wofford earlier in the week. Still, a very solid start to league play for Wake. Now they get two more tests against the same strata, with a trip to College Park and then home to N.C. State.
The first head-to-head meetings between the top of the league ended in comfortable fashion for the home teams, with Kansas taking out K-State before the Wildcats, in turn, pounded Missouri for the Tigers' first loss. No harm, no foul until someone loses a home game. The early surprise is Team Transfer's 2-0 start.
Strong week for the Cyclones, who beat Texas and then crushed A&M on the road to open 2-0. That makes this week -- home to Mizzou and then at Kansas -- even more interesting, especially the first game with Missouri coming off the beatdown in Manhattan, Kan.
Lost in Ames and then handled fading Oklahoma State at home for a split. Still not too much to look at in the Longhorns' profile. Wednesday's game at home to A&M is an absolute must-win. The six after, starting at Mizzou and at K-State, are brutal.
Losing at Mizzou and home to Kansas is no disgrace, but the Sooners are here for one more week as an RPI technicality before the standards around here get a bit stiffer.
The Big East has seven legit bids at the moment, but is that the max the league can get this season? Pitt is falling apart and the league's other eight teams are currently outside the RPI top 100, meaning that even if they rack up some league wins, the resumes may not be as shiny as in the last couple of seasons. In other news, UConn was swept on a New Jersey road trip for the first time in forever and Seton Hall is making an argument to be the second-best team in the league. Other than that, business as usual.
We'll drop trio of teams this week after subpar results to look closer at their profiles.
This was the big step-forward week the Mountaineers needed. First, they rolled at Rutgers (where Florida and UConn stumbled) and then they handled Georgetown at home for another marquee win. Suddenly, tonight's game at UConn is very interesting for both teams.
After a two-loss week, we'll take a moment to discuss the Huskies, who clearly would be a strong seed if the bracket was crafted today, but have a surprisingly vacant profile for their computer numbers. Best win is ... Harvard, Arkansas or Wagner at home, or budding disappointment Florida State in overtime in the Bahamas? Yeah, exactly. Other than West Virginia at home, they don't play a top team until February, so there's time for the talent and leadership to blend into what this team
The offensively challenged Cardinals have regressed to the mean a bit as the scoring dries up even further. Scoring only 0.90 points per possession against a mediocre Notre Dame defense at home is alarming. That said, their defense keeps them in every game and there's only one team in the league that's clearly better than they are, so expect the Cards to stabilize, even with a challenging road schedule on tap.
Seriously, guys. Being Team Bubble Watch is not so exciting that you should strive for a three-peat. Losses at Georgetown and Syracuse are not cause for alarm unto themselves, but the way the Golden Eagles lost the Hoyas game and got buried early at Syracuse indicates the wild variance #TBW fans have come to know the last few seasons doesn't seem to be subsiding anytime soon. Chris Otule's injury is a big factor, too.
The Panthers are in free fall after a galling last-second loss at DePaul made it four losses in a row and an 0-3 Big East start against a very soft schedule. You can spin the strengthening schedule as the chances Pitt needs to build a resume, or admit the team is in considerable danger of missing the NCAAs.
The top of the league remains strong. Indiana continues to find a way to nab big wins at home and Michigan State hasn't lost since the season-starting UNC/Duke exacta. Below that, there's some movement occurring. Michigan has looked strong in spurts and Illinois is doing just enough to keep winning. That's more than Wisconsin can say at the moment.
The Wolverines lost by a bucket in Bloomington before shellacking Wisconsin on Sunday in Ann Arbor. After Northwestern's visit on Wednesday, nine of the Wolverines' final 14 games are on the road, so John Beilein's crew will have to do some work to maintain a strong seed.
The Illini have this close game thing down, escaping Evanston by a point before "cruising" past Nebraska at home by a rugby try. Continuing to win the games they should will be a clear path to the NCAAs, but as Ohio State enters the ring in Champaign on Tuesday, let's see what the upside is here.
Whatever the program and player say, I don't believe Jordan Taylor is healthy. The drop-off around him with Leuer and Nankivil gone can't be enough to have turned senior-year Taylor into sophomore-year Taylor after what junior-year Taylor looked like last season. He looks slow and his jumper seems screwy. And now the Badgers have lost three in a row in the league after getting smothered at Michigan on Sunday.
After a dreadful performance at Penn State, the Boilers split the road trip, getting a Sunday win at reeling Minnesota. Now Wisconsin, itself in bad ways right now, comes in before a visit from Iowa. Big chance to build up some equity here before the schedule gets tougher.
If the Wildcats miss the NCAAs, games like the one-point loss at home to Illinois will be a prime factor. That's not a "should win," but it's the kind of game you need to get at home to get to the dance. The Seton Hall win may be the gift that keeps on giving as the Pirates are rolling in the Beast.
Now at 0-4 in the league, it's hard to reconcile the Gophers' at-large hopes, even with some solid overall profile numbers and a win over Virginia Tech, which remained in this week's field.
As home teams keep winning and the league champ continues to arrow toward 13-5 or so, the chance continues to grow that the Pac-12 will be treated like a lesser-name league with the same creds: If the league champ also wins the auto bid, no one else may get in. That said, the league is currently benefiting from similar sluggishness elsewhere, and a couple at-larges sneaked into the bottom of the bracket this week.
After falling at Oregon State, Cal got an important split of the trip with a win at Oregon on Sunday. Now league leader Colorado (what??) comes to town, along with the suddenly frisky Utes. It doesn't say much for the promise of Cal's computer profile that the Buffs are the second-best team remaining on the schedule in terms of RPI.
The Cardinal survived four overtimes and a Roberto Nelson miss at the buzzer to escape Corvallis, 103-101, and earn a split of the Oregon road trip. They remain the only Pac-12 team that did anything noteworthy in nonconference. Now the league newbies come to Northern California, with Colorado in sole possession of first place.
Split in L.A. after beating USC on Sunday. Not much to say right now. The team's probably better than the profile, but the profile isn't very compelling at the moment. The Oregon schools visit this week, which should be two wins, but who knows in this league this season.
The Huskies had about as unimpressive a road split as you can find, getting run out of Boulder and then barely scraping past Utah. Now they have four in a row at home, with Cal and Stanford arriving after an intracity nonleague bout with Seattle and the Wazzu home leg.
You kind of need to win your home games at this stage, and the Ducks dropped one to Cal on Sunday. That's not the way to force your way into a bracket. Now they travel to the Arizona schools, with a shot at the Wildcats on Saturday.
First-place Buffs! First-place Buffs! It's safe to say no one had that called at any point this season, but the Boulder keeps rolling after a comfortable home sweep of the Washington schools. Next week, a Bay Area trip will help shed light on the Buffs as contender or pretender.
The picture is pretty muddy after the Wildcats with Florida struggling. Is Alabama the league's second-best team? Is Vandy back in the picture for that debate? And can LSU continue its surprising form to give the league a viable sixth team for bid consideration?
A road sweep of Georgia Tech and Georgia have the Tide heading in a good direction. After LSU at home on Wednesday, three straight significant tests (at Mississippi State, Vandy, at Kentucky) are on tap. The best news is the Tide offense is percolating. Even if it's just decent, the defense is good enough to get them home most nights.
The Gators' profile is becoming more and more Cal 2010-ish. Play really good teams close, dump a couple of curious games, beat no one of substance. That Cal team got an 8-seed with a considerably better RPI than what Florida's sporting after a surprising loss at Tennessee. The back half of the SEC slate is stiffer, so a couple more missteps before then could start to cause seeding concerns.
A somewhat unexpected defeat at Arkansas has the Bulldogs in an immediate hole. Now spunky Tennessee comes in off an upset of the Gators before the Tide rolls in on Saturday. That game begins a much tougher league stretch which should provide a better sense of how good Mississippi State is.
Vandy pounded Auburn by 30 in its only game of the week. The Commodores should be able to take care of a trip to South Carolina and a home date with Georgia, but nothing's a given. Sneaky nonconference game alert: The Dores host a really solid Middle Tennessee State team on Jan. 28.
LSU beat Ole Miss by 26? What is this, football? It's a surprising and impressive springboard into this week's road tilts at Alabama and Arkansas (which also would be better as football games). Those two games kick off a brutal stretch for the Tigers, so this could go in either direction quite quickly.
The Rebels are the poster children for anti-RPI arguments. They have zero top-100 wins.
This is a very deep league this season, and the form book is being rewritten at the top. Can short-handed Dayton possibly keep this up? Has Xavier finally stabilized? What will Temple look like when Michael Eric comes back. And how many bids are possible when everyone's beating each other up?
Archie Miller is making waves in his first season with the Flyers, notching another high-quality win with a 10-point road triumph at Temple despite the loss of Josh Benson, gone for the season with an ACL tear. Things aren't getting any easier. A trip to St. Bonaventure is no gimme, and then rising La Salle and Xavier visit before a trip to St. Joe's.
So much for the form book. The Owls, struggling entering the game, took out Duke at Wachovia Center. And then promptly lost to surging Dayton at home. No shame in that given how the Flyers are playing, but now the Owls have to head to Saint Louis and Richmond, so it's not any easier anytime soon. They need to get Michael Eric back.
After losing at La Salle, the X-men finally got off the schneid by winning at Rose Hill. Maybe some Cintas Center home cooking will get things working again. The next three are Duquesne, St. Bonaventure and St. Joe's.
A tough overtime loss at Dayton preceded an easy home win over George Washington. Now the Billikens host Temple as the top of the league keeps running into each other. This is a good team that needs a marquee win.
Good win at Duquesne. Disappointing loss at home to Charlotte. Now the Hawks need to take out Fordham at home before facing five of the next six after that on the road, including A-10 games at Temple, Xavier and Richmond.
It's business time, as the league campaign finally opens this week with a bang, as UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico play a quick round-robin early in the going. Four bids remains a possibility if Colorado State can pick off some quality league wins and/or steal the auto bid.
The Aztecs' RPI will take a beating when 0-15 Chicago State arrives to wrap up San Diego State's extended winter break, and then things get real with UNLV's arrival on Saturday. Then the Aztecs go to New Mexico four days later. They'll have every chance to tighten up an already-decent profile.
Nonconference tasks now complete, the Lobos turn their attention to league play, opening at Wyoming on Jan. 14. That's no gimme, and it gets more interesting from there, with San Diego State coming to The Pit ahead of New Mexico's trip to Vegas on Jan. 21.
The Rams need to negotiate in-state rival Denver before getting TCU and Boise at home to open league play. Their profile needs some big wins to help the computer numbers, so the three game stretch starting Jan. 25 (at New Mexico, San Diego State, at UNLV) is a huge opportunity.
Creighton still appears to be the class of the conference, but Missouri State has waded through a stick part of the schedule in fine form and will present a challenge down the road. As will several others, you'd imagine.
The Bluejays handled a "do what you need to do week," picking up two league wins against Drake and Bradley. Now they host Northern Iowa Tuesday in what's a really big game for the Panthers.
Two road wins in league play, even if Evansville was a one-point squeaker. Survive and advance. This week "should" be two home wins before a tough trip to Indiana State and Northern Iowa. The final seven league games are very stiff, so the Shockers need to rack up some wins now.
Northern Iowa stabilized with a pair of league wins, including a home victory over Indiana State. This week is really big, with a visit to Creighton on Tuesday followed by a home date with Missouri State. This is the meat of UNI's league schedule and the Panthers need to take advantage.
Not sure the Bears will have an at-large resume at the end of the season, but they could be the Valley regular-season champs, which could throw a wrench into things. They have already won at Creighton and Indiana State and now get a trip to Northern Iowa after a visit from bottomfeeder Southern Illinois. That means the Bears will have a big schedule advantage down the stretch, with four of its five biggest games at home.
Southern Miss continues its winning ways, but will be tested this week with a trip to league heavyweight Memphis, which really needs a victory there to stake its claim to the conference's top perch. Like last season, there's room for two C-USA teams to make it, but not a ton of margin for error at this stage.
A pair of really tight league wins keeps the Golden Eagles on track. Now they're at Memphis on Wednesday in a huge early-conference-season showdown. Great computer numbers and a few decent wins to back it, but room for error in C-USA isn't huge as an at-large candidate.
After beating Tennessee and escaping at UAB in the conference opener, the Tigers get a very big game with Southern Miss on Wednesday. A home loss would be damaging given the Tigers may very well need to win the league to feel solid about their at-large hopes.
Big couple of weeks for the Herd coming up, with road shots at Southern Miss and Memphis and a game against in-state rival West Virginia. First things first, win at UAB and then handle UCF at home.
Separation is forming between the top three and the others that could help all of Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU make the dance. And what's more fun than trying to accommodate BYU's playing restrictions in a mock bracket? Having them in a play-in game while trying to accommodate them!
Awww yeah, it's on. Thursday night, the Zags are in Moraga for the first of what could be another three installments with Saint Mary's. Gonzaga gets BYU on the road first, as well, so the schedule will favor the Zags down the stretch if it's close.
It's Gonzaga week for the Gaels, with first place on the line. Saint Mary's could use another quality pelt like that to add to its profile. First up, though, is San Francisco, which is no walkover in the first of four straight at home.
The Cougars are lurking in the weeds and have a very soft schedule up until their nonconference game at Virginia Tech on Jan. 25. The three-game stretch against the Hokies and then home to SMC and Gonzaga likely will decide the Cougars' at-large chances.
Harvard took a step back, but an at-large from the Ivy remains a difficult proposition for anyone due to the lack of a tourney. The other three candidates continue to roll in league play.
The Ohio Valley's slow decay on the Racers' computer profile has begun, but as long as they keep winning, they'll be dancing, with or without auto bid. This week features home dates with Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech. Hard to see Murray losing at home in league, but wackier things have happened.
The Crimson used up one of their lives with a disappointing road loss at Fordham. Since an at-large from the conference tourney-less Ivy would require a minimum of two more losses, they're playing with fire if they drop many more than that. The league is decent, but with no more quality wins available, a Harvard at-large profile may look fairly thin.
The 49ers are also in win-'em-all mode in the Big West, as their two strong nonconference wins continue to weaken. This week should be a cakewalk at home to 300-plus RPI teams UC Davis and Pacific.
A trio of league wins keep the Gaels atop the MAAC, a game ahead of surprising Loyola (Md.). This doesn't look like a league that can support a relatively modest nonconference yield, but keep winning and we'll see how Iona stacks up in a few weeks.