Baylor vs USC: Which Team Makes the NCAA Tournament?

Erik Schultz@eschultz530Correspondent IFebruary 28, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS - MARCH 22:  Nikola Vucevic #5 of the USC Trojans positions himself for a rebound against Delvon Roe #10 of the Michigan State Spartans during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on March 22, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Michigan State won 74-69. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This article compares two teams currently on the NCAA tournament bubble with comparable RPI and overall credentials.  Think of it as a virtual play-in game; two teams who could potentially meet in a First Four matchup. 

Baylor (17-10, 7-7 Big 12); RPI:  77, SOS:  50

USC (17-12, 9-7 Pac 10); RPI:  79, SOS:  52

Common Opponents:  Texas (BAY lost, USC won), Kansas (both lost), Nebraska (BAY won, USC lost), Washington State (BAY lost, USC won)


Why Baylor Gets In

Baylor picked up a huge win on Saturday, beating No. 17 Texas A&M in Waco.  The win puts Baylor back to .500 in the Big 12, at 7-7.  Maybe more importantly, it was the Bears’ second win over Texas A&M this season; they beat the Aggies in College Station in overtime earlier this month. 

Texas A&M is still in good shape to finish among the top four of the Big 12, and potentially receive a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Baylor’s sweep of A&M looks very impressive in comparison to the other Big 12 teams fighting to make the tournament.

Baylor has beaten two of the Big 12’s bubble teams this season—Colorado and Nebraska.  With that being the only matchup with each of those teams this season, Baylor figures to have a slight edge on those two teams when the committee decides on a potential sixth team from the Big 12.

Why Baylor is Left Out

Baylor has beat just one team inside the RPI top 50—Texas A&M.  Although the two wins over A&M are an excellent asset for Baylor, the lack of wins against any other teams close to the caliber of A&M will raise some concerns with the committee.

Some very questionable losses to teams at the bottom of the Big 12 could very well come back to haunt Baylor on Selection Sunday.  Losses at Oklahoma and Iowa State and a loss to Texas Tech at home have kept Baylor from being a likely NCAA tournament team; instead they have struggled to remain near the middle of the Big 12 standings.

Despite a decent overall schedule strength (50), Baylor’s strength of schedule in non-conference games sits at 204.  None of Baylor’s wins outside the Big 12 have come against a team in the RPI top 100 (Lipscomb at 122 is the highest RPI win). 

The three games against teams in the RPI top 100 that Baylor did play—Florida State, Washington State, and Gonzaga—they lost.  Two of those losses were in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, where Baylor looked rather mediocre in their only chance to earn some solid non-conference wins.

Why USC Gets In

Like Baylor, USC picked up a very big win within the past few days, beating No. 10 Arizona at home on Thursday night.  They followed that up by taking care of business against Arizona State, which improved the Trojans to 9-7 in the Pac 10 and put them into fourth place in the league. 

In addition to the Arizona win, USC also beat UCLA—who also beat Arizona this weekend and moved into a tie for first place—earlier in the season.  Wins over the top two teams in the conference will be something that most other bubble teams will not be able to stack up against.

The wins over Arizona and UCLA are two of USC’s four wins against the RPI top 50.  The Trojans are a very respectable 4-4 against the top 50, which includes a 17-point win over Texas, and a win at Tennessee. 

While beating Texas is the team’s signature win, the road win over Tennessee is quite impressive as well.  Considering some of the teams the Vols have knocked off this season, the win serves as an excellent complement to the victory over Texas. 

Not many bubble teams will have a better duo of non-conference wins.

Why USC is Left Out

Despite the weekend sweep over the Arizona schools, USC still has seven losses in the Pac 10.  They also sit in fourth place, two games behind Washington for third place.  With a trip up to Washington looming next weekend, the Trojans could be facing a 10-8—or even 9-9—finish in the conference.

Given the fact the Pac 10 figures to likely be just a three-bid league, a fourth place finish and near .500 record may mean the Trojans come up a little short of receiving an at-large bid.

One of the main reasons for USC’s questionable 17-12 overall record is their inability to take care of all the teams they are more than capable of beating.  USC has six losses to teams outside the RPI top 100, including two to Oregon—who is just 13-14 this season.  Even worse, three of those six losses are to sub-200 RPI teams—TCU, Bradley, and Oregon State. 

That level of inconsistency could more than offset the quality wins that USC has, and ultimately send them to the NIT.

Who Gets In?

About a week ago, both of these teams seemed to be almost off the bubble-radar.  Recent key wins have made each of them worth a solid second look. 

While the Big 12 figures to get at least a couple more teams in the NCAAs than the Pac 10, Baylor’s .500 record does not include too many wins of major significance, aside from the two over Texas A&M.  That, along with their lack of any solid non-conference wins makes it tougher to justify including Baylor in the field of 68. 

USC has proven they can beat some teams who figure to do some real damage in the NCAA tournament.  When you also factor In a two-point loss at Kansas—thanks to a late Josh Selby three-pointer—USC has shown us a huge upside to their ability to compete against the very best. 

In a year with some watered-down bubble teams, USC has the substance to overcome their inconsistencies.

USC:  IN, Baylor:  OUT

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