Isaac Newton clearly had the college basketball bubble in mind when he postulated that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. As one team's stock rises, another's must inevitably fall.
In the past week, 10 of these teams have significantly improved their odds of making it to the NCAA Tournament, while the journey has become just that much more difficult for the other 10.
Keep in mind: just because a team's stock is up doesn't mean they are in the tournament field; likewise, a falling stock doesn't necessarily mean that team would be out of the tournament if the season ended today. These are just the biggest movers in the past seven days.
RPI 36. 19-5 overall. 7-4 in Big East.
The Big East has seven teams in the AP Top 25, and could very well have eight teams if the voters weren’t counting Connecticut’s tournament ineligibility against them. It’s tempting to lump several of them together in the same tier, but Pittsburgh is starting to separate from the pack.
Pittsburgh is 6-1 in its past seven games, and the lone loss was a near win at Louisville. The Panthers are firing on all cylinders, and if their hot streak continues through upcoming road games against Cincinnati and Marquette, not only will they be a lock for the tournament, but a potential No. 3 seed.
RPI 66. 14-9 overall. 5-5 in Big East.
Two bracket updates ago, I wrote that Villanova would likely make the tournament if it finished the season out with a 6-5 record. The Wildcats promptly lost their next two games—including a home loss to Providence—before “rebounding” with a road win against DePaul.
Now they’ll need to finish out the season 5-3 to stick to the blueprint for dancing. Six of those eight games are either on the road or against teams in the RPI Top 25, and in some cases both. In the span of a week, they’ve gone from a legitimate bubble team to a long shot.
RPI 31. 16-6 overall. 6-3 in ACC.
There’s nothing particularly special about the Tar Heels’ recent wins over Boston College, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, but they avoided suffering a bad loss in the past week, which is more than several other bubble teams can say.
P.J. Hairston’s return from both the flu and a concussion is great news, but time will tell whether it’s enough to pick up a crucial win at Miami or at Duke in the next seven days. A win in either game makes them a virtual lock for the tournament.
RPI 100. 15-6 overall. 5-3 in ACC.
A week ago, the Cavaliers improved to 5-0 against the RPI Top 100 with a key win over North Carolina State. Unfortunately, they also recently picked up their sixth loss of the season to a team with an RPI of 100-plus.
They were a long shot for an at-large bid before Sunday’s loss to Georgia Tech, but with RPI and SOS both in the triple digits, they’ll need to do something special over the final ten regular season games to get back in the at-large discussion.
RPI 34. 16-6 overall. 6-3 in Big 12.
It’s still a little too early in the year for any game in a power conference to be a do or die affair, so let’s just say that Iowa State’s 19-point win over Oklahoma on Monday was very, very beneficial. The difference between fourth and fifth place in the Big 12 could be the difference between the big dance and the NIT.
I will say that I’m starting to worry about the Cyclones’ ability to play on the road. They’re undefeated at home, but their best true road win came against TCU, which isn’t much to brag about. (Sorry, Kansas.)
If they don’t pick up a win in at least one of their remaining five road games, they’ll be squarely on the bubble on Selection Sunday.
RPI 50. 14-8 overall. 5-4 in Big 12.
The good news for Baylor is that the two upcoming home games against West Virginia and Texas Tech should stop the bleeding from its current three-game losing streak.
The bad news for Baylor is that those two games might be the last ones it wins this season.
The Bears are now tied with Oklahoma for fifth place in the Big 12, which more or less translates to a guaranteed spot on the bubble. When the tie is eventually broken, I think sixth place misses the tournament; and Baylor already lost at home to the Sooners to start this losing streak.
RPI 41. 16-7 overall. 7-3 in Big Ten.
They needed double overtime to get it done, but the Badgers held off Iowa in a crucial conference game on Wednesday night.
With four non-conference losses already on their resume (against a non-conference SOS of 161, nonetheless), a 10-8 record in Big Ten play would put them in a perilous situation at 19-12 overall. 11-7 would make their ticket more of a sure thing, and thanks to the win over Iowa, I think they can get there.
Games in the next 11 days against Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State will be difficult, but they can afford to lose them as long as they win the "easy" ones against Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and Penn State.
RPI 40. 15-8 overall. 2-7 in Big Ten.
If it feels like Illinois hasn’t won a game in over a month, it’s almost true. The Illini are 1-6 since beating Ohio State on January 5, and that one win came over Nebraska.
We’ve seen this before with them. Last year, they started out the season 15-3 before finishing 2-12 and missing out on post-season play. This year, they were 14-2 and well on their way to a high seed in the tournament, but now they’re suddenly 15-8 and barely staying in the field.
Games in the next three days against Indiana and Minnesota could certainly right their ship, but it’s more likely that they'll serve as the final nails in Illinois' coffin.
RPI 44. 16-6 overall. 7-2 in SEC.
With four straight wins, Kentucky’s once disappointing season has blossomed into a tie for second place in the SEC, and an understandable optimism for the future.
As long as they don’t crash and burn down the stretch, they’ll make it into the tournament. Anything can happen from there.
If it weren’t for The Unibrow, we’d be hailing Nerlens Noel as the greatest shot-blocker of the past decade. Those are big shoes to fill, but he’s done it admirably, averaging 10.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.6 blocks over the Wildcats’ past eight games.
RPI 35. 16-5 overall. 5-3 in SEC.
Less than six weeks ago, Missouri was ranked seventh in the nation and on its way to an amazing run through the SEC alongside the Florida Gators. Right now, they’d be lucky to get a No. 7 seed in the tournament.
Something snapped, and I think the exact moment was in overtime of the UCLA game when Keion Bell missed an uncontested layup to effectively put an end to Phil Pressey’s 20-point and 20-assist dream. The Tigers just haven’t been the same team since that night.
Yes, a lot of their struggles can be chalked up to life without Laurence Bowers, and they should regain their mojo as he returns to full-strength. But he was in the line-up for their loss to lowly LSU. He’ll need to start making an impact sooner than later.
RPI 75. 14-8 overall. 5-4 in SEC.
Regardless of what you had done up until that point, when you beat the consensus No. 1 overall seed by double digits, your stock is going to skyrocket.
The Razorbacks are still a far cry from a tournament-ready team, and will remain as such until they win a game away from home against a better team than Alabama A&M.
But similar to Villanova’s story from a few weeks ago, Arkansas has gone from a complete afterthought to a fringe bubble team overnight.
RPI 48. 18-4 overall. 7-2 in SEC.
I wouldn’t go selling all of my Ole Miss stock just yet. The Rebels are still very much in line for a tournament bid, as eight of their nine remaining games are extremely winnable.
However, their week against Kentucky and Florida served as a not-so-subtle reminder that they benefited from what had been an unchallenging schedule up until that point. Only one of their 18 wins has come against a likely tournament team, and that was in Missouri’s first game without Bowers.
Barring a February collapse, they’ll make the tournament with room to spare, but they should be a popular team to pick against in the first round.
RPI 61. 17-5 overall. 6-3 in Pac-12.
The Sun Devils didn't have a great week, beating Washington State by four points and then falling to Washington by the same margin, but with other Pac-12 bubble teams having even worse weeks, they end up looking better by comparison.
They have huge home games coming up against Cal and Stanford, in which a pair of wins would put them almost insurmountably ahead of each of those opponents in the bubble hierarchy. It's been a great, surprise season thus far for ASU, but this is where the rubber meets the road.
RPI 26. 18-4 overall. 7-2 in Pac-12.
The absence of Dominic Artis is certainly worth mentioning, but it doesn’t change the fact that Oregon’s stock is currently in free-fall. It only takes a few losses to undo a season’s worth of good.
The Ducks are nowhere close to dropping out of the field just yet, but if road losses to Cal and Stanford turn into home losses to Colorado and Utah in the next three days, they could drop to a double digit seed in the next bracket update.
RPI 56. 17-5 overall. 6-2 in A-10.
Thanks in part to their current four-game winning streak, the Billikens are firmly entrenched as the third best team in the conference, for the time being.
Last week’s win over Butler was huge and pushes the pre-season favorite to win the conference into the field of 68, but there’s work left to be done. After they’re finished bruising each other’s resumes, the A-10 will likely only send four teams to the tournament.
Butler and VCU are the obvious choices for the first two bids, but there are seven or eight teams that could eventually make a legitimate case for one of the other A-10 invites.
Five of SLU’s remaining games come against those A-10 bubble teams, as well as two against Butler and VCU.
RPI 51. 17-5 overall. 5-3 in A-10.
The 49ers came up just short in a big opportunity at Temple on Wednesday night. Sadly, moral victories don’t hold much water with the Selection Committee.
Charlotte’s strength of schedule (157) has been one of the main eyesores on their resume for a while.
If you see the glass half full, that number will improve over the course of their next four games. The other half of the glass suggests that their loss total will also increase in the next three weeks.
RPI 54. 15-8 overall. 8-4 in Missouri Valley.
The Sycamores have been riding a roller coaster all season. They’ve had big conference wins over Wichita State and Creighton and big neutral court wins over Miami and Ole Miss. Unfortunately, they also have four losses to teams with an RPI of 130-plus.
Their stock is on the rise after Wednesday’s blowout win over Creighton, but I don’t think they’re that close to the field yet, even though the bubble is very weak this year.
If they win their remaining seven regular-season games, they would probably get in. But with the way their season has gone thus far, they’ll probably lose at Missouri State before completing the season sweep of Wichita State.
If you think you have a solid read on this team, share the wealth with all of us.
RPI 37. 19-5 overall. 8-4 in Missouri Valley.
Nine days ago, I had the Shockers projected as a No. 4 seed. Three upset losses later, and I’m not sure if they deserve to be in the field at all. Maybe that’s a bit over-reactionary, but that loss to Southern Illinois is about as ugly as it gets.
They’re hanging on by a thread for now, but they still have road games against Indiana State, Illinois State and Creighton left on their schedule. They’ll need to go 2-1 or better in those three games—and win their four remaining home games in the process—if they want to avoid dropping off the bubble.
RPI 15. 19-4 overall. 6-2 in Mountain West.
They got a scare on the road against Nevada on Wednesday night, but it became their fourth win in as many games, which includes victories over fellow bubble teams Boise State and Wyoming.
The Rams are now in sole possession of second place of a conference that should send four teams to the tournament. Their computer profile is outstanding, and their play on the court isn't too shabby either.
They've got a tough stretch of four games starting on Wednesday against San Diego State, but it might just cause their stock to rise even higher.
RPI 38. 18-5 overall. 7-1 in Conference USA.
With Wednesday’s loss to Central Florida, Southern Miss falls to 0-5 against the RPI Top 100, and likely drops out of the tournament field for the foreseeable future.
The Golden Eagles could play their way back into the discussion with wins in their remaining games against Memphis, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Conference USA will be a one-bid league.