NCAA Tournament 2017: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Week 11

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 18, 2017

NCAA Tournament 2017: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Week 11

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    One of just five winless teams in major-conference play, Oklahoma State is vigorously trending in the wrong direction.
    One of just five winless teams in major-conference play, Oklahoma State is vigorously trending in the wrong direction.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Since conference play began in men's college basketball, many teams have moved onto the NCAA tournament bubbleeither in a good way or a bad way.

    TCU is one of the good examples, almost unanimously projected to make the NCAA tournament after an unprecedented 3-2 start in Big 12 play. Conference foe Oklahoma State has gone in the opposite direction, nearly dropping out of the picture altogether after five consecutive Big 12 losses.

    At this point in the season, "The Bubble" seems to encompass 50 percent of the nation. Only a handful of teams are stone-cold locks for the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, teams like Georgia Tech (RPI: 89, KenPom.com: 112) are almost, sort of in the conversation or are one win away from getting there.

    It will shrink as the season progresses, but for now we're defining the top of the bubble as No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Matrix and the bottom of the bubble as teams appearing on at least three of those 70 projected brackets. Excluding the teams from obvious one-bid leagues seeded in the Nos. 13-16 range, that gives us 45 teams to play with, several of which have moved up or down a ton over the past two-plus weeks.

    Buckle up for a bumpy ride through this list of 16 teams that may spend the next eight weeks teetering between the NCAA tournament and the NIT.

Stock Up: South Carolina Gamecocks

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    PJ Dozier and the Gamecocks are on a meteoric rise.
    PJ Dozier and the Gamecocks are on a meteoric rise.Mike Comer/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 13-3, No. 29 on KenPom, No. 28 in RPI, No. 55 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 7

    Last Five Games

    L 54-70 at Memphis
    W 67-61 at Georgia
    W 79-68 vs. Texas A&M
    W 70-60 at Tennessee
    W 67-56 vs. Ole Miss

    South Carolina's nonconference profile is nothing special. There were some decent wins over Monmouth, Michigan and Syracuse, but as far as RPI is concerned, the most impressive win came against Vermont (RPI: 60). In other words, no wins over surefire NCAA tournament teams. And the three losses (vs. Clemson, vs. Seton Hall, at Memphis) came against teams trending in the wrong direction.

    Long story short, the Gamecocks had a lot of work to do in SEC play in order to cobble together a tournament-worthy resume.

    So far, so good. Road wins over Georgia and Tennessee are now the highlights of their schedule. The home win over Ole Miss wasn't too shabby, either. And if Texas A&M ever decides to start living up to preseason expectations of being the second-best team in the SEC, that home win over the Aggies would look nice on Selection Sunday.

    No wins yet over the two SEC teams that matter (Kentucky and Florida), but 4-0 is a good start. Moreover, they've already played and won most of their games with upset potential. Remaining road games against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt could be tricky.

    However, with the trips to Georgia and Tennessee out of the way and no road games scheduled against Texas A&M, Arkansas or Alabama, it's not unreasonable to think the Gamecocks could go 15-3 in SEC play with two losses to the Gators and one to the Wildcats.

    Despite a lackluster nonconference slate, that 24-6 resume would have to be enough for a bid, considering Georgia earned a No. 10 seed two years ago with a 21-11 record, no RPI top-50 wins on the season and no RPI top-100 nonconference victories.

Stock Down: Clemson Tigers

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    Jaron Blossomgame and the Tigers haven't won yet in 2017.
    Jaron Blossomgame and the Tigers haven't won yet in 2017.Mike Comer/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 11-6, No. 27 on KenPom, No. 42 in RPI, No. 22 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 8

    Last Five Games

    W 73-68 at Wake Forest
    L 86-89 vs. North Carolina
    L 70-75 at Notre Dame
    L 63-75 at Georgia Tech
    L 73-77 vs. Virginia

    Balancing the scales in the Palmetto State, Clemson has countered South Carolina's four-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak of its own.

    For the most part, the losses are equally understandable and forgivable. One would hope the Tigers could do a better job of protecting home court, but losing in overtime to North Carolina and nearly forcing overtime against Virginia requires no shame and neither does a five-point loss on the road against still-undefeated-in-ACC-play Notre Dame.

    That loss to Georgia Tech is gross, though.

    The Yellow Jackets also have wins over North Carolina, North Carolina State and VCU, so they aren't nearly as bad as most of the experts were expecting. However, losing by double digits to a team that will likely still finish in the bottom third of the league standings was not a good look for Clemson, particularly during a four-game losing skid.

    North Carolina lost by the same score at Georgia Tech, but it was apparently the wake-up call the Tar Heels needed, as they are 5-0 since. But Clemson is still hitting the snooze button and is rapidly running out of time to get out of bed.

    The Tigers still have road games remaining against Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami and can only afford to lose five more games if they plan on getting to .500 in conference play. One more letdown at home and they might be toast.

Stock Up: California Golden Bears

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    Charlie Moore had 16 points in the win over USC that might have saved Cal's season.
    Charlie Moore had 16 points in the win over USC that might have saved Cal's season.Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 13-5, No. 50 on KenPom, No. 54 in RPI, No. 45 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: First Four Out

    Last Five Games

    W 81-65 vs. Arizona State
    L 71-81 at UCLA
    W 74-73 at USC
    W 69-59 vs. Washington
    W 58-54 vs. Washington State

    Sometimes, all it takes is one trip to the free-throw line to completely change a team's trajectory.

    Less than two weeks ago, the Golden Bears were merely wasting golden opportunities. They were right there late in games against Seton Hall, Virginia, Arizona and UCLA, but they went winless in their first four games against RPI Top 50 teams.

    Factor in the neutral-court loss to San Diego State—though played without Jabari Bird and with Ivan Rabb making his season debut after recovering from a toe injuryand California wasn't even worth considering for a spot in the projected field.

    But when Rabb sank the game-tying and game-winning free throws with five seconds remaining against USC, the Golden Bears returned to the conversation for a bid.

    How much that win is worth on Selection Sunday will be determined by whether USC can snap out of the funk it's in, but it currently stands as one of only 16 true road wins against a team with an RPI rank at least as good as the Trojans have.

    That one victory won't be nearly enough for Cal to hang its hat on, but it's a start. Winning at least one of the three remaining games against Oregon (twice) and Arizona (in Tucson) is a near-must, as is going at least 4-2 in the remaining series with Colorado, Utah and Stanford.

    Without that win over the Trojans, though, the Golden Bears probably would've needed to go at least 10-2 the rest of the way to have any shot.

Stock Down: USC Trojans

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    It didn't take long for USC to go from undefeated to the bubble.
    It didn't take long for USC to go from undefeated to the bubble.Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 16-3, No. 58 on KenPom, No. 29 in RPI, No. 83 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 7

    Last Five Games

    L 61-84 at Oregon
    W 72-56 vs. Stanford
    L 73-74 vs. California
    L 64-86 at Utah
    W 71-68 at Colorado

    USC was one of the final remaining unbeatens, lasting until Dec. 30 before taking its first loss. But who did the Trojans beat in those first 14 games? The five-point home win over SMU looks nice, and the two-point road win over Texas A&M felt strong at the time, but that's all she wrote. Neutral-court wins over BYU and Wyoming are the next-best victories, and those teams aren't going anywhere this year.

    Like South Carolina one year ago, which started 15-0 before missing the NCAA tournament, the Trojans entered conference play both unblemished and unproven. They only won by single digits at 3-14 Oregon State before getting blown out by Oregon and Utah. USC also wore a home loss to California, helping out the Golden Bears while hurting themselves.

    Sunday's road win over Colorado was nice, but it was too little, too late to save the momentum from the first seven weeks of the season.

    USC has 16 wins, but only one of those came against the RPI top 50. That means there's plenty of work left to do, and it might need to start this Thursday versus Arizona.

    If the Trojans don't win that game, their only remaining regular-season options for RPI top-100 wins are the road rematch with Arizona, the home rematch with Oregon or a pair of games against UCLA. Even if they beat the Wildcats this week, they may need to win one of those four games to be in good shape heading into the Pac-12 tournament.

Stock Up: Undefeated Teams from Likely 1-Bid Leagues

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    Could Giddy Potts and Middle Tennessee go from 2016 Cinderella to 2017 at-large?
    Could Giddy Potts and Middle Tennessee go from 2016 Cinderella to 2017 at-large?Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    UNC-Wilmington: 15-2, No. 42 on KenPom, No. 31 in RPI, No. 134 in SOS, projected No. 12 seed

    Middle Tennessee14-3, No. 55 on KenPom, No. 23 in RPI, No. 47 in SOS, projected No. 11 seed

    Illinois State13-4, No. 39 on KenPom, No. 26 in RPI, No. 59 in SOS, projected No. 12 seed

    The more you look at the usual multi-bid conferences, the less there is to like. The Big Ten is having an atypically down year and may max out at six bids. The Big East and Pac-12 are both looking like four-bid leagues. The SEC might be lucky to send three teams dancing. But we have to get to 68 teams somehow.

    Why not these minor-conference/mid-major teams with impeccable computer profiles?

    The overall RPI and SOS numbers for these three teams will inevitably taper off after six more weeks of conference playparticularly those of Middle Tennessee, which will play at least seven more games against teams currently outside the RPI top 300. But the nonconference (NC) profiles shouldn't change much from this point forward and might be enough for at-large consideration, should that become necessary after the conference tournaments.

    MTSU has a NC RPI rank of 26 and NC SOS rank of 17. UNC-Wilmington sits at 27 and 77, respectively, while Illinois State's ranks are 60 and 56.

    Compared to the minor-conference snubs we were all crying about on Selection Sunday last year, those ranks are promising. Saint Mary's had a NC SOS rank of 165. San Diego State's NC RPI ranked 175th. And neither Monmouth nor Hofstra finished the season in the top 75 in either NC RPI or NC SOS.

    But these three teams can't afford to start losing games if they expect to remain in the conversation.

    Maybe Illinois State could survive a road loss to Wichita State and another loss to the Shockers in the MVC Championship, but only if the Redbirds win every other game left on their schedule.

    Likewise, UNC-Wilmington might be able to stomach a road loss to College of Charleston or Northeastern, but if the Seahawks have more than four losses on Selection Sunday, an at-large bid likely isn't happening.

    MTSU probably needs to win every game until the C-USA Championship to have a realistic shot.

Stock Down: Atlantic 10 Conference

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    Charles Cooke and Dayton could be in some trouble.
    Charles Cooke and Dayton could be in some trouble.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Dayton: 12-4, No. 37 on KenPom, No. 27 in RPI, No. 30 in SOS, projected No. 9 seed

    Rhode Island: 11-6, No. 47 on KenPom, No. 48 in RPI, No. 32 in SOS, projected First Four Out

    VCU: 14-4, No. 51 on KenPom, No. 34 in RPI, No. 58 in SOS, projected No. 10 seed

    One other reason the minor-conference leaders on the previous slide have realistic at-large hopes is because the Atlantic 10 can't seem to get out of its own way.

    Through the first few games of conference play, things were looking good for this league. Three bids was far from guaranteed, but it was a reasonable expectation. As of January 10, the Flyers and the two sets of Rams were a combined 34-11 with 11 RPI top-100 wins and only one loss to a team outside the RPI top 75VCU's ill-advised home loss to Georgia Tech.

    As long as they mostly took care of business against the rest of a lackluster conferencemore than half of the A-10 still ranks outside the RPI top 100—those three teams could have just about coasted into the NCAA tournament.

    Over the course of the following four days, though, they went a combined 2-3, with Rhode Island getting routed at home by La Salle, Dayton losing by a dozen at Massachusetts and VCU falling to a Davidson team that lost a home game to Fordham earlier in the week. It was a perfect storm in which the league's over/under for NCAA tournament bids arguably dropped from 2.5 to 1.5.

    Rhode Island is probably in the most trouble with six losses and only one quality win—a neutral-court victory over Cincinnati. Road losses to Valparaiso, Providence and Houston have each dropped from the RPI top 50 down to the RPI 51-100 range and may get even worse before the season ends. In order to rack up enough quality wins while also avoiding taking any bad losses, the Rams almost need to win every remaining regular-season game.

    But if Rhode Island is in trouble, where does that leave Dayton? The best win of the season for the Flyers was a home game against Rhode Island, followed by games against Alabama and Vanderbilt—not one of which is in the projected field today. Like the Rams, they need quality wins and can't afford bad losses, so the Flyers would be advised to win out, as well.

Stock Up: TCU Horned Frogs

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    Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson has been a key addition for TCU.
    Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson has been a key addition for TCU.Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 13-3, No. 32 on KenPom, No. 25 in RPI, No. 41 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 8

    Last Five Games

    L 80-86 vs. Kansas
    W 60-57 vs. Oklahoma
    L 70-82 at West Virginia
    W 64-61 at Texas
    W 84-77 vs. Iowa State

    TCU is our only "Stock Up" team with multiple losses in its last five games. However, don't fixate on those L's, unless it's to marvel at the fact the Horned Frogs hung with Press Virginia for 30 minutes in Morgantown and played one heck of a home game in which the 12-time reigning Big 12 champion never led by double figures.

    Rather, let's focus on the W's and the unusual quantity of them.

    TCU started 1-9 in Big 12 play in three of the past four seasons and went 0-10 in the other. Regardless of how the Horned Frogs start the seasonthey have now won at least nine nonconference games in five consecutive yearsthey always crash and burn in the first five weeks of Big 12 competition.

    But not this year. They even won a road game against a Big 12 opponent for just the second time since joining the league in 2012. And for as bad as the Longhorns have looked at times this season, they've been good at home in conference play, beating Oklahoma State and only losing to West Virginia by a two-point margin. That was a nice win for TCU, even if RPI doesn't recognize it yet.

    Even with Oklahoma (RPI: 147) and Texas (RPI: 163) each owning horrific computer profiles, TCU's is looking fantastic. If the Sooners and Longhorns eventually improve and pick up a couple of good wins, the Horned Frogs will look even better.

    They still need to seal the deal by finishing the season at .500 in Big 12 play, but early returns suggest it's possible they could win more conference games this season than they did in the previous four years combined (8-64).

Stock Down: Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Starting conference play with five straight losses makes for a tough recovery for Oklahoma State.
    Starting conference play with five straight losses makes for a tough recovery for Oklahoma State.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 9-7, No. 34 on KenPom, No. 58 in RPI, No. 27 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: Others Receiving Votes

    Last Five Games

    L 75-92 vs. West Virginia
    L 79-82 at Texas
    L 57-61 at Baylor
    L 86-96 vs. Iowa State
    L 80-87 at Kansas

    With TCU no longer manning the basement in the Big 12, Oklahoma State has evidently volunteered as tribute.

    Credit to the Pokes; they put forth valiant efforts on the road against Baylor and Kansas, leading with 10 minutes remaining in each of those games. They were also ahead late in the home game against Iowa State only to have the Cyclones reel off 31 points over the final seven minutes. If they had just broken even in those "fourth quarters" instead of getting outscored by 30 points, we're talking about a ranked team with deep NCAA tournament potential.

    Shoulda woulda coulda, though, as Oklahoma State is instead 0-5 in conference play. Even its two best wins of the season (at Wichita State; vs. Georgetown) look worse than they did three weeks ago with the Shockers sitting at No. 83 in RPI following a loss to Illinois State and the Hoyas falling apart at the seams with a 1-5 record in the Big East.

    The KenPom ranking and eye test suggest this is a team that could string together a solid winning streakthe next five vs. Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. TCU, vs. Arkansas and at Oklahoma, for example. But with an 0-6 record against the RPI top 50 and seven total losses already on the calendar, it's going to take more than two hot weeks for the Cowboys to right the ship.

    At this point, even a 10-4 finish to the regular season (19-11 overall; 9-9 in Big 12) might leave Oklahoma State with work to do in the Big 12 tournament, depending upon who those nine conference wins come against.

Stock Up: SMU Mustangs

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    Duke is probably wishing it still had Semi Ojeleye, because he is killing it for SMU.
    Duke is probably wishing it still had Semi Ojeleye, because he is killing it for SMU.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 15-4, No. 24 on KenPom, No. 33 in RPI, No. 75 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 7

    Last Five Games

    W 75-44 at East Carolina
    W 79-65 vs. Temple
    W 84-65 vs. South Florida
    L 64-66 at Cincinnati
    W 80-64 at Tulane

    Early on in the 2016-17 college basketball season, SMU seemed to have no interest in reaching the NCAA tournament. The neutral-court win over Pittsburgh was nice, but the Mustangs were subsequently crushed by Michigan before also losing to USC and Boise State.

    Coupled with Connecticut losing four of its first six games, the American Athletic Conference was looking like a one-bid league by the end of November. But SMU turned things around in a big way with 10 consecutive wins. Moreover, the Mustangs have been blowing out most opponents, winning nine of their last 11 games by a margin of at least 14 points.

    In a league where quality wins are few and far between, those style points could be critical.

    The Mustangs blew an opportunity for a huge win at Cincinnati last week, but, again, the margin is noteworthy. The Bearcats had won their previous 17 games at Fifth Third Arena by an average margin of 21.2 points per game, so for SMU to waltz in there and have multiple shots to win it in the final 10 seconds was impressive.

    After a slow start to the season, the Mustangs have been unconscious from three-point range, shooting 84-of-189 (44.4 percent) as a team over the past nine games. And when they happen to miss a shot, they are the nation's third-best offensive rebounding team. With numbers like those, it's hard to imagine these guys losing more than two games the rest of the way.

Stock Down: Xavier Musketeers

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    Will Xavier be able to rebound from its current losing skid?
    Will Xavier be able to rebound from its current losing skid?Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 13-5, No. 25 on KenPom, No. 21 in RPI, No. 16 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 5

    Last Five Games

    W 81-76 at Georgetown
    W 97-82 vs. St. John's
    L 54-79 at Villanova
    L 78-83 at Butler
    L 67-62 vs. Creighton

    With that computer profile, it's almost absurd to suggest Xavier is anywhere near the bubble. There are only 11 other teams that currently rank in the top 25 in RPI, SOS and KenPom, and those teamsVillanova, Kansas, Kentucky, Baylor, Creighton, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia, Butler and Floridaare mortal locks at this stage in the game.

    Yet, the active three-game losing streak leaves the Musketeers in a tenuous situation.

    The losses weren't bad, at least from a computer-profile perspective. In fact, four of Xavier's five losses have come against teams in the RPI top six. But the X-Men were obliterated by Villanova and couldn't even win a home game against Creighton in which its heart and soul (Maurice Watson Jr.) played just nine minutes due to a knee injury.

    At a certain point, quantity of losses becomes more important than the quality of them. Xavier isn't at that point yet. However, if Clemson (RPI: 42) and Wake Forest (RPI: 30) continue to struggle and drop out of the RPI top 50, the Musketeers will be left with five losses and nothing resembling a quality win. And if Colorado keeps losing games left and right, one of those five losses could get ugly.

    There are plenty of opportunities remaining: at Cincinnati, at Creighton, vs. Villanova, vs. Butler and a pair of games against Seton Hall. But even if Xavier beats each of the other remaining opponents on its schedule, it probably needs to go at least 2-4 in those games to feel safe. If those two wins come against Seton Hall and the Pirates keep taking on losses, even that might not be enough.

    Put it this way: We aren't too worried about Xavier missing the NCAA tournament, but it would only take one loss to Georgetown, St. John's or DePaul to change that. This wasn't the case 10 days ago.

Stock Up: Maryland Terrapins

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    Melo Trimble hasn't been playing his best, but Maryland still looks good.
    Melo Trimble hasn't been playing his best, but Maryland still looks good.G Fiume/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 15-2, No. 48 on KenPom, No. 22 in RPI, No. 46 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: No. 7

    Last Five Games

    W 84-59 vs. Illinois
    L 65-67 vs. Nebraska
    W 77-70 at Michigan
    W 75-72 vs. Indiana
    W 62-56 at Illinois

    There is a growing (and seemingly nearing unanimous) sentiment among people with an interest in rating teams and projecting brackets that RPI needs to die a most horrific death.

    Maryland fans are not part of that club.

    Two years ago, Maryland entered Selection Sunday with a RPI rank of 12, despite finishing the season ranked No. 33 by KenPom. Last year's divide wasn't quite as wide, but the Terrapins still had a better RPI rank (14) than KenPom rank (23). In both seasons, their NCAA tournament seed (No. 4 in 2015, No. 5 last year) was close to what it would have been if seeding were based exclusively on RPI.

    They're up to those old tricks again this season, looking better based on quality of wins and losses than margin of victory.

    This is because Maryland is apparently obsessed with playing down to the level of its competition. Two years ago, the Terps went 7-0 against Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern and Nebraska, beating those Big Ten basement-dwellers by an average margin of 5.0 points. Already this season, nine of their 16 wins have come by seven points or fewer, with five of those decided either by one possession or overtime.

    If you're a Pomeroy junkie waiting for the bottom to drop out on this team, you may be disappointed. The Terps already won their only game of the season against Indiana and face Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin once eachthe first two at home, no less.

    They'll probably get a few scares from the likes of Iowa and Penn State, just because it's what they do, but this is the rare case of a team just barely in the KenPom Top 50 that looks to be safely in the NCAA tournament field.

Stock Down: North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Could Dennis Smith Jr. join Markelle Fultz on the list of 2017 NBA lottery picks that miss the NCAA tournament?
    Could Dennis Smith Jr. join Markelle Fultz on the list of 2017 NBA lottery picks that miss the NCAA tournament?Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Computer Profile: 12-6, No. 75 on KenPom, No. 52 in RPI, No. 43 in SOS

    Current Bracket Matrix Seed: Next Four Out

    Last Five Games

    W 104-78 vs. Virginia Tech
    L 56-107 at North Carolina
    L 66-74 at Boston College
    L 76-86 vs. Georgia Tech
    W 79-74 vs. Pittsburgh

    It's unbelievable that we're even talking about this team after the way it has played over the past several weeks, but as of Monday morning, Jerry Palm of CBS Sports still has the Wolfpack projected to reach the NCAA tournament.

    NC State did nothing in nonconference play aside from getting smoked by Creighton and Illinois. Its best win was either a neutral-court game against Saint Joseph's or a home game against Georgia Southern, neither of which reads as a quality victory by any stretch of the imagination.

    The Wolfpack did score a nice, emphatic win over Virginia Tech in ACC play, but at what cost? They were annihilated by North Carolina four days later and somehow managed to lose consecutive games to Boston College and Georgia Tech.

    In the KenPom rankings, the teams directly above and below the Yellow Jackets and the Eagles are Rice, Massachusetts, Northern Illinois and IUPUI. Talk about how GT and BC have each won multiple games all you want, but those are horrible losses.

    Add it all up and NC State entered Tuesday's home game against Pittsburgh 0-3 against the RPI top 50 and 3-5 against the RPI top 100 with a sixth loss to a team ranked No. 181 in RPI. Thus, the Wolfpack needed that win over the Panthers. It won't move them back into the consensus field, but it did at least keep us from writing them off for good.

            

    Stats are courtesy of WarrenNolan.comKenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com and are current through start of play on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.