During the last week of February, the bubble pictures got clearer, but in the first week of March, it got blurry again. So that brings us to Championship Week - just six days until Selection Sunday and so much left to figure out.
I like to break teams down into three categories:
1. Wallflowers are bubble teams. Everyone wants to get into the Big Dance, but not all of them have the guts to ask a girl out onto the dance floor.
2. An elite team that is safely in is "Dancing with a Hottie," and this group has been expanded to include all teams that could lose the rest of their games and still make the field.
3. A school in the middle is "Dancing with Its Sister." This category has been expanded as well to include anyone that just needs to beat the teams it should to dance.
I'll begin with the First Four at-large-bid games:
(12a) Villanova vs. (12d) Southern Miss
(12b) Iowa State vs. (12c) La Salle
First Seven Teams Out: Xavier, St. Mary's, Baylor, UMass, Middle Tennessee, Virginia, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa
The projections are presented in slideshow format, with each major conference receiving its own slide.
First up is the ACC.
Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (1 seed), Miami (2)
Dancing with Its Sister: North Carolina (8), NC State (9)
Wallflowers: Virginia (sixth team out)
Duke remains my overall No. 1 seed following a 69-53 rout of North Carolina. The Blue Devils are tops in RPI and strength of schedule, not to mention 18-0 when Ryan Kelly plays.
Miami drops to a No. 2 seed after its home loss to Georgia Tech. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes won the ACC regular-season crown and could still grab a top seed if they were to win the conference tournament.
There's pretty much no way North Carolina or NC State miss the tournament, but let's hold off on punching their tickets until they win at least one game in Greensboro this week. The Tar Heels play either Florida State or Clemson, while the Wolfpack square off against Virginia Tech.
Virginia was in after beating Duke, then out after losing at Boston College and now even further out following its loss at FSU. The Wahoos did keep hope alive (and ended Maryland's chances) with an overtime victory against the Terps on Sunday, but there is still plenty of work to do for a team that holds a 304 nonconference SOS and a 3-9 record away from home. UVa has to hope NC State beats Va Tech in the first round so the Cavs can get another quality win in the ACC quarters, and they may also need to beat Miami in the semis.
Dancing with a Hottie: Louisville (1), Georgetown (3), Marquette (4), Syracuse (5), Pittsburgh (6), Notre Dame (7)
Wallflowers: Cincinnati (10), Villanova (12a)
Louisville moves up to the top line after beating Cincinnati and Notre Dame last week to run its win streak to seven. The Cardinals tied for the Big East regular-season crown and could secure a No. 1 seed by winning the conference tournament.
Syracuse drops again following yet another loss, this one an embarrassing 22-point setback at rival Georgetown in which the Orange scored just 39. Brandon Triche has no confidence, Michael-Carter Williams has too much confidence and James Southerland wouldn't know a good shot if it hit him in the face.
There's no shame in losing at Louisville, but that was Cincinnati's sixth loss in eight games, and while the Bearcats did finish the season with a win over South Florida, that does nearly nothing to improve their resume. They are, however, in OK shape thanks to a top-30 SOS, four RPI top-50 wins, eight top-100 victories, no bad losses and an 8-5 road/netural record. Just don't lose to Providence on Wednesday.
Villanova picked up a really big win over Georgetown on Wednesday, but that doesn't lock the Wildcats up just yet. Remember, this team just lost back-to-back games at Seton Hall and Pitt. Nova's RPI is just outside the range of acceptable at 52, it is just 7-10 against the top 100 and holds a weak nonconference SOS of 147. The good news is the Wildcats are 4-1 vs. the RPI top 25 and have an overall schedule strength of 22. Don't lose to St. John's on Wednesday.
Dancing with a Hottie: Indiana (1), Michigan State (2), Michigan (3), Ohio State (4), Wisconsin (6)
Dancing with Its Sister: Minnesota (9), Illinois (10)
Wallflowers: Iowa (10th team out)
After losing at home to Ohio State for its second loss in three games, Indiana won at Michigan by the skin of its teeth on Sunday to move back onto the top line. That victory earned the Hoosiers an outright Big Ten title, something the Selection Committee will surely reward.
Michigan State climbs to a No. 2 seed after beating both Wisconsin and Northwestern by double digits last week. The Spartans are in the top eight in RPI and SOS with eight top-50 wins and no bad losses.
Minnesota is really making things hard on itself. The Gophers lost at Nebraska and Purdue last week to finish 8-10 in conference. The good news is their computer numbers are still outstanding (RPI 24, SOS 2) and they have three RPI top-25 wins, five against the top 50 and 11 vs. the top 100. In addition, even if Minnesota loses its first game in the Big Ten tournament, that wouldn't be considered a bad loss because it would be against Illinois. The only way the Gophers could miss the tournament would be if they lose that game and every other bubble team wins a bunch this week.
The same is true for Illinois, which also lost twice last week at Iowa and Ohio State. The Illini is ninth in schedule strength and holds five top-50 wins.
Iowa, meanwhile, is making a last-gasp effort with wins over Illinois and Nebraska last week to finish 6-2 over its final eight games. However, a 308th-ranked nonconference SOS is dragging down the Hawkeyes' computer numbers (RPI 75, SOS 99) and they are 2-8 in true road games. Iowa needs to beat Northwestern and Michigan State to have a chance at an at-large.
Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Oklahoma State (4), Kansas State (5)
Dancing with Its Sister: Oklahoma (8)
Wallflowers: Iowa State (12b), Baylor (third team out)
Kansas lost at Baylor last week, but the Jayhawks' profile is still strong enough to keep them on the top line. They are seventh in RPI, 5-2 against the RPI top 25, 11-3 vs. the top 50 and 13-4 against the top 100 with a 15th-ranked nonconference SOS.
Oklahoma State and Kansas State switch spots after the Cowboys' 76-70 win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
Oklahoma's loss at TCU keeps the Sooners from lock territory, but it's hard to see them missing the tournament even if they lose to Iowa State in the Big 12 quarters.
Speaking of the Cyclones, they move into the field this week following wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Their computer numbers compare favorably to other bubble teams (RPI 47, SOS 66) and they now have two RPI top-25 wins as well as seven against the top 100. ISU needs that game against OU on Thursday more than the Sooners do.
And Baylor isn't dead yet. A loss at Texas on Monday all but buried the Bears, but then they went ahead and blew out KU by 23 points on Saturday. The resume is still lacking in many areas (RPI 61, 3-10 vs. top 50, 5-10 vs top 100, three sub-100 losses), but if they can beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarters, they have a shot and another win over KSU in the semis should put them in.
Dancing with a Hottie: Arizona (3), Oregon (6)
Dancing with Its Sister: UCLA (7), California (9), Colorado (10)
UCLA could have been a lock if the Bruins had just won at Washington State on Wednesday, but now they must avoid a loss to Stanford or Arizona State in the Pac-12 quarters to feel completely safe.
Cal also suffered a bewildering loss at home to Stanford last week. The Golden Bears should be fine as long as they get past USC or Utah on Thursday.
Colorado joined the list of teams that want to make life difficult on themselves with a home loss to Oregon State on Saturday. The Buffaloes should strongly consider beating the Beavers in a rematch on Wednesday.
Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (3)
Wallflowers: Missouri (11), Tennessee (11), Kentucky (11), Ole Miss (seventh team out), Alabama (eighth team out), Arkansas (ninth team out)
The SEC tournament will have the biggest impact on the bubble picture.
Missouri lost at Tennessee on Saturday and while the Tigers' resume is the best of all Wallflowers in this conference (RPI, 34, SOS 50, 3-4 vs top 50, 9-9 vs top 100, 0 sub-100 losses), the fact is they finished fifth behind Ole Miss, Kentucky and Alabama. If they can just win their first game over Texas A&M or Auburn, they should be fine as that potential quarterfinal matchup with Mississippi will be more important for the Rebels.
Tennessee took care of business last week with victories over Auburn and Missouri to complete the regular season with eight wins in nine games. The Vols are 41st in SOS, 4-4 vs. the top 50 and 9-9 against the top 100. It's the same deal as Mizzou: avoid a bad loss to South Carolina or Mississippi State and the following showdown with Alabama becomes more important for the Tide.
Kentucky's loss at Georgia nearly ended the Wildcats' hopes, but then they went ahead and beat Florida. UK is right on the fringe in every category the Committee looks at (RPI 50, SOS 61, 7-9 vs the top 100, one sub-100 loss), so things are very shaky for the 'Cats. They must beat Arkansas or Vandy in the quarters and hope it's Missouri who moves through to the semis because a loss to the Tigers would not be as bad as a setback vs. Ole Miss.
Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas have very similar resumes. The RPIs are between 56-80, SOS is 82-130 and they all have seven top-100 wins. The Razorbacks trump the field with a 4-5 record against the top 50, but they are a horrid 1-11 away from home. They all must reach the SEC final to have any hope, and Arkansas has the toughest path because it must win three games, while the others only have to win two.
Dancing with a Hottie: New Mexico (2), UNLV (7)
Dancing with Its Sister: Colorado State (8), San Diego State (9)
Wallflowers: Boise State (11)
New Mexico broke my heart with a loss at Air Force on Saturday, but the Lobos' resume is still sparkling. They are top four in RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS, 8-3 vs. the top 50, 16-5 against the top 100 (most top-100 wins in the country), 11-4 away from home and they don't have any sub-100 losses.
UNLV slips to a No. 7 seed with a home loss to Fresno State, but there's no way the Rebels miss the tournament.
Colorado State took care of business last week with wins over Wyoming and Nevada. It's nearly impossible for the Rams to miss the tournament, but I'll keep them out of lockdom until they get past Fresno State on Wednesday.
San Diego State lost at Boise State on Saturday, which was a bigger win for the Broncos than a loss for the Aztecs, and the same will be true when they square off again in the Mountain West quarters on Thursday.
There's almost no way San Diego State misses the tournament, and the same could be said for Boise State if it wins one more game. The Broncos have good computer numbers (RPI 37, SOS 51), three RPI top-25 wins, four over the top 50 and eight against the top 100.
Dancing with a Hottie: VCU (4), St. Louis (5), Butler (6), Temple (8)
Wallflowers: La Salle (12c), Xavier (first team out), UMass (fourth team out)
You can lock up Temple, which has won seven in a row.
La Salle's 24-point loss at St. Louis puts the Explorers on shaky ground. The good news is their RPI is 41, they beat Butler, they are 8-6 away from home and they only have one sub-100 loss. The bad news is their SOS is 78, they are just 2-3 against the top 50 and 6-7 vs. the top 100, and their nonconference SOS is 104. La Salle could possibly remain in the field with a loss to Butler in the A-10 quarters, but probably not with a setback vs. Dayton. A win over the Bulldogs should put the Explorers in.
Xavier beat St. Louis on Wednesday to give itself a shot. The 77th-ranked RPI isn't good and neither is the 5:5 top-100 win to sub-100 loss ratio, but the Musketeers are 2-1 against the RPI top 25 and 5-3 vs. the top 50. They have to beat St. Joe's and VCU.
UMass missed a big chance with a home loss to Butler on Thursday, but the Minutemen avoided complete relegation from this list by winning at Rhode Island on Saturday. The computer numbers aren't good enough (RPI 58, SOS 74) and they are just 1-6 against the top 50. UMass has to beat GW and Temple to have any shot.
Dancing with a Hottie: Gonzaga (2), Memphis (5), CREIGHTON (7)
Dancing with Its Sister: Wichita State (10)
Wallflowers: Southern Miss (12d), BELMONT (12), Louisiana Tech (12), Saint Mary's (second team out), Middle Tennessee (fifth team out)
I still don't see Gonzaga's resume being worthy of a No. 1 seed just yet. The Bulldogs' computer numbers don't compare favorably to other teams in the hunt (RPI 10, SOS 88), nor do their win totals against the RPI top 25 (2), 50 (5) and 100 (9).
Creighton beat Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference final to lock up a bid. The Shockers should be fine as well.
Southern Miss remains the last team in thanks to its RPI (35), 11-7 road/neutral record, 87th-ranked nonconference SOS and only one sub-100 loss. The Golden Eagles can't afford anything other than a Conference USA final loss to Memphis.
Boy, was that close for Saint Mary's. The Gaels needed overtime to get past San Diego in the WCC semis and now face Gonzaga for the third time in the final on Monday night. A win and they're obviously in with the automatic bid, but can they still get in with a loss? They'd need some help. The Gaels have a good RPI (31), a win over Creighton and an 11-4 road/neutral record, but just one top-50 and four top-100 wins, not to mention a 111th-ranked SOS.
Middle Tennessee lost in the semis of the Sun Belt tournament to FIU and must now be thrown into the at-large candidate pool. It doesn't look good for the Blue Raiders, who have no top-50 wins and just two over the top 100.
No. 13 Seeds: Bucknell, Valparaiso, Stephen F. Austin, Akron
No. 14 Seeds: South Dakota State, Montana, FLORIDA GULF COAST, Davidson
No. 15 Seeds: HARVARD, Iona, Long Beach State, Florida International
No. 16 Seeds: Vermont, Northeastern, Southern vs Long Island, LIBERTY vs Norfolk State
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