With 24 days left until Selection Sunday, the bubble has never been murkier than it is right now.
There are roughly 30 teams fighting for the final 12 spots in the NCAA tournament, and you can make a legitimate case for or against any of them.
So let's do exactly that.
Based on the past seven days of college basketball action, these are the 10 teams who have most improved their stock with good wins, and the 10 teams who shot themselves in the foot with bad losses or missed opportunities.
The order of the slides does not represent an ascending or descending order of strength. They merely oscillate between a team that is up and a team that is down. As much as possible, teams from the same conferences will appear in successive slides.
RPI 41. 20-5 overall. 9-2 in Atlantic 10.
Saint Louis’ stock is higher than it’s ever been—not just this year, but historically. The Billikens have made the tournament just five times in the past 55 seasons, with a No. 7 seed in 1994 representing their best position going into the NCAA tournament.
At this rate, they may be setting a new high water mark in 2013.
The Billikens are on an eight-game winning streak, which includes 10+ point wins over Butler, VCU, Charlotte, Richmond and Dayton. Heading into Friday’s rematch with Butler, they’re in sole possession of first place in the conference, and follow that game with four very winnable ones to close the season.
Since the end of November, they’re 17-2 with 10 wins over the RPI Top 150. If and when Kwamain Mitchell fully returns to form—his senior season has statistically been the worst of the four in just about every aspect—they may be capable of a run to the Final Four.
RPI 48. 17-8 overall. 6-5 in Atlantic 10.
We’ve been harping on it all week, but it bears repeating that a mid-February home loss to Duquesne is an extremely poor idea for a team on the bubble.
About a month ago, I developed a formula with which I will fill out a stat-based bracket this year. In this formula, a road/neutral win over an RPI Top 50 team is awarded the most positive points while a home loss against the RPI Sub 150 is awarded the most negative points.
Because of that loss, Temple’s score is now 6.25—a quarter of a point ahead of Arizona State and a full three points behind Charlotte.
Games this week against La Salle and Charlotte could establish an unarguable hierarchy in which Temple is in a distant sixth place among the Atlantic 10’s hopefuls for the NCAA tournament.
RPI 54. 16-9 overall. 8-5 in Pac 12.
Three weeks ago, Cal would’ve been lucky to get into the NIT. Now, the Golden Bears could just about lock up a bid to the NCAA tournament with a road win over Oregon on Thursday night.
What’s changed in the past six games?
For one, Allen Crabbe has been borderline unstoppable, averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals per game in his last six games. Justin Cobbs has also stepped up his game, adding 15 points and 5.7 assists per game during Cal’s hot stretch.
The role players have also contributed more than usual, with Richard Solomon, David Kravish, and Tyrone Wallace averaging 28.8 PPG over the past six games compared to the 22.5 PPG they averaged over the first 19.
RPI 72. 15-11 overall. 6-7 in Pac 12.
Stanford’s stock has gone in the exact opposite direction of Cal’s over the past week—perhaps because they’ve played the same opponents with the opposite results.
For all intents and purposes, nine days ago Cal and Stanford were carbon copies of each other, indistinguishable in both record and RPI. But now that the Cardinal are 1-8 against the RPI Top 50 and have been swept by both UCLA and USC this season, the two resumes couldn’t be more night and day.
There may be a few 12-13 loss teams in the NCAA tournament this year, but Stanford won’t be one of them.
RPI 33. 19-7 overall. 8-5 in SEC.
Winning at home against Florida is undoubtedly wonderful news for a team on the bubble. Laurence Bowers finally had a good showing, scoring five more points and grabbing four more rebounds than in any of the other six games since returning from injury.
However, we need to see the Tigers take their show on the road. Sure, they won at Mississippi State (RPI 228), but they’ve come up short on the road against LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas in the past three weeks.
If they can win at Kentucky on Saturday, they can book their ticket to the NCAA tournament. Failure to show up for that game, though, would leave a lot up in the air with four games remaining.
RPI 45. 18-8 overall. 9-4 in SEC.
It's been a rough 10 days for Big Blue Nation.
To be fair, it isn't easy to adjust to life without the consensus No. 1 overall draft pick—although Coach Krzyzewski was able to put together a 22-4 record without Kyrie Irving.
The 30-point loss to Tennessee was terribly discouraging, and the four-point home win over Vanderbilt wasn't much better. Noel or no Noel, the University of Kentucky shouldn't struggle to put away a 10-15 team playing in Lexington.
The last time something like that happened was when they lost at home to 12-18 Georgia near the end of the 2008-09 season—a season in which Kentucky lost in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Missouri comes to town on Saturday, and if they play the Tigers with the same "intensity" that they just played the Commodores, they'll get booed out of Rupp Arena.
RPI 63. 15-10 overall. 7-6 in SEC.
The Volunteers aren’t on the bubble just yet, but they are on the right path.
Entering play on Wednesday, 68 of the 75 teams from a BCS conference have lost at least one of their last four games, but not Tennessee.
Since suffering their two worst losses of the season (at Arkansas, vs. Georgia), the Volunteers have won four straight games, getting above .500 in SEC play for the first time this season. The rest of the schedule plays to the favor of a team needing a few big wins, with opportunities at home against Florida and Missouri still ahead.
If they can get past Texas A&M on Saturday, Tennessee’s at-large case officially starts getting interesting.
RPI 75. 16-10 overall. 6-7 in SEC.
The case for A&M hasn’t been a particularly strong one since following up a big January win at Kentucky with four consecutive losses.
Things got mildly intriguing again when the Aggies won home games over Missouri and Ole Miss, but they unfortunately peppered in road losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt, as well.
It would take a special kind of three-week run for them to get back in it now.
Winning the remaining regular season games, though feasible, would only put them at 11-7 in an extremely weak SEC. Including Wednesday’s win over Auburn, they may need to win eight straight (which includes two in the SEC tournament) to have a chance to dance.
Akron (RPI 49. 21-4 overall. 12-0 in MAC.)
Middle Tennessee (RPI 26. 23-4 overall. 15-1 in Sun Belt.)
Louisiana Tech (RPI 53. 23-3 overall. 14-0 in WAC.)
The teams playing their way out of the tournament are outnumbering the teams playing their way into the tournament. For every Cal and Villanova making a late-season surge, there are at least two Temples and Indiana States throwing away what could have been.
As such, it’s high time we start considering the at-large cases of some of these mid-majors that have rampaged through their respective conference seasons.
Call it the Murray State Corollary.
Last year, Murray State finished the regular season with a record of 28-1, and was the clear-cut favorite to win the OVC tourney. But bracket architects had to prepare for the possibility that the Racers would lose in the conference tournament, becoming a new addition to the at-large pool.
So what happens if Akron wins its final five regular season games but comes up short against Ohio in the MAC championship? Or, what if Middle Tennessee and its lofty RPI accumulate a 29-4 record before being upset in the Sun Belt finals?
It depends fairly heavily upon what the Virginias and Ole Misses of the world are able to do down the stretch.
Bracketologists and fans of bubble teams alike will be rooting vehemently for these three teams in their conference tournaments, because the alternative of having to decide between Louisiana Tech and Villanova would be controversial.
RPI 71. 15-10 overall. 6-6 in Mountain West.
Losses in the past week to Colorado State and Boise State have effectively put an end to the dream for the Falcons. They do have three home wins against the RPI Top 50, but the losses are piling up and the RPI is slipping into the "Too low to even consider for an at-large" range.
They'll need to win at least three of their remaining four games to have any shot—really, they probably need to win all four—and by no means are they coming against an easy group of opponents.
RPI 56. 17-10 overall. 8-6 in Big East.
Giving credit where credit is due, the Wildcats keep clawing their way back into the discussion as soon as we try to write them off.
Conversely, they’ve also done a stupendous job of picking up losses as soon as we make room for them in the tournament field.
After a very nice RPI win at Connecticut and an impressive comeback win over Rutgers, they’re currently on one of the upward trajectories of their see-saw season. If they win two of their remaining four regular season games, they would be in the tournament.
A 1-3 finish—the most likely outcome given their remaining opponents—would leave the Wildcats at 9-9 in Big East play. That would put them in either the No. 7/10 or No. 8/9 game in the Big East tournament before drawing one of the top two teams. It looks like Villanova may be on the bubble for the next 24 days.
RPI 76. 18-8 overall. 8-5 in ACC.
The narrative on the Cavaliers hasn't changed much in the past week: six RPI Top 100 wins and six RPI Sub 100 losses which leaves them with pathetic RPI and SOS numbers.
There's no fault in losing at North Carolina or at Miami, but those are missed opportunities for a team that desperately needs to prove to the committee that they belong.
They get one more chance at a huge win next Thursday when Duke comes to town. It's possible that they could finish the season 4-1 while losing that game against Duke and still get in the tournament, however, it would help their case a lot if they could get that marquee win.
RPI 22. 19-7 overall. 8-5 in ACC.
On the surface, home wins over Virginia Tech (RPI 160) and Florida State (RPI 69) aren’t worth much—especially when you consider the Hokies were able to force overtime before losing—but wins feel like they count for more in February and March, regardless of who they come against.
It also must feel good for the Wolfpack that T.J. Warren scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the win over FSU. Both of those totals represent his best of the season. If the freshman forward is finally figuring out this whole college basketball thing, it would give NC State arguably the best seven-man rotation in the nation.
In a year in which virtually every team has gone through its peaks and valleys, if the Wolfpack are actually peaking as we head into March, they’ll have as good of a chance as anyone to make a deep run in the tournament.
RPI 67. 18-8 overall. 6-7 in ACC.
Maryland followed up a great win over Duke with an extremely disappointing 11-point loss to Boston College.
Sporting a very weak non-conference schedule and a sub-.500 record in a sub-par ACC, the Terrapins would just about need to win their last five regular season games to have any chance at getting back into the tournament picture.
RPI 46. 18-8 overall. 8-5 in Big 12.
At long last, the Cyclones have a road win worth putting on their resume after a five-point win over Baylor on Wednesday night.
That win in conjunction with the beating they gave TCU on Saturday should be more than enough to push them into next week's projected field of all the bracket experts, provided they don't lose at home to Texas Tech on Saturday.
That seems like a near impossibility, though, considering Iowa State is 14-0 at home and Texas Tech has one win all season against the RPI Top 200. Although, that one win was against Iowa State.
After the Texas Tech game, the Cyclones have a very difficult three-game stretch (vs. Kansas, at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State), of which they'll need to win at least one to feel safe.
RPI 55. 16-10 overall. 7-6 in Big 12.
It's starting to look pretty bleak for the Bears. Wednesday night's home loss to Iowa State was quite possibly the most winnable game left on their schedule.
If they can't pick up a road win over Oklahoma on Saturday, they would fall to 2-9 against the RPI Top 50, and permanently out of the tournament field barring a miracle pair of home wins over the Kansas schools.
RPI 79. 17-9 overall. 6-7 in Big Ten.
Similar to Tennessee, Iowa is much closer to the field than it was two weeks ago, but still has a fair amount of work left to do to actually get into the tournament.
Remaining games against Nebraska and Purdue should get the Hawkeyes to nine wins in the Big Ten, with a home game against Illinois likely dictating whether they’re able to get to 10 wins in conference play.
A 10-8 record in the Big Ten would absolutely lock up their bid. 9-9 might necessitate a win in the Big Ten tournament.
RPI 15. 18-9 overall. 6-8 in Big Ten.
It has almost become hackneyed to put the Golden Gophers here, but they keep deserving it. They've lost eight of their last 11 games, with the most two recent losses each being decided by more than 20 points.
The only things keeping them in the field at this point are their RPI and SOS. Eventually, the quality of your opponents stops mattering if you can't actually defeat any of them.
A home game against Indiana next Tuesday will likely drop Minnesota to 6-9 in the Big Ten before finishing the regular season with three games against Penn State, Nebraska, and Purdue.
Sadly enough, because of a terrific non-conference schedule, Minnesota would probably be able to get in with a Big Ten record of 8-10, but nothing this team has done in the past six weeks has been comparable to a tournament-worthy team.
RPI 34. 23-5 overall. 12-4 in Missouri Valley.
After picking up massively important road wins over Illinois State and Indiana State, the Shockers are far removed from the three-game losing streak from three weeks ago that dropped them onto the bubble.
At this point, a loss at Creighton in the season finale wouldn’t derail their season, as long as they win the home games against Detroit and Evansville between now and then. One week from today, we should be able to bestow Wichita State with the coveted “Lock” designation.
RPI 30. 21-6 overall. 12-2 in Ohio Valley.
Losses to Murray State and Tennessee State in the past two weeks have taken Belmont from "a near-lock for an at-large bid if necessary" to "likely needing to win the Ohio Valley conference tournament in order to make the NCAA tournament."
The Bruins still have a big BracketBusters game this weekend against Ohio, but it might not be enough. With three of their four remaining games (including tonight’s win over Eastern Illinois) against the RPI Sub 150, their RPI and SOS (66) are only going to get worse as we approach Selection Sunday.