3MW Bubble Watch - 1/22/18

-Jim Root and Ky McKeon

Note: All numbers per warrennolan.com. Best wins are any in Column 1+2, Bad losses are any in Column 3+4. 

Welcome to 3MW's Bubble Watch! After ESPN unceremoniously fired Eamonn Brennan (and SI's Michael Beller has yet to write an edition this year), we wanted to fill that void with our analysis of the bubble landscape. Enjoy!


Locks (4): Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson
Should be in (1): Louisville
Work left to do (7): Miami (FL), Notre Dame, Florida St., Virginia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, Boston College
Nope (3): Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh

Should Be In

Louisville (RPI 15, SOS 26, NC SOS 44)
Best Wins: @Florida St., @Notre Dame, Memphis(n), Boston College
Bad Losses: None
Louisville has come on lately (as I noted on our latest podcast), and their resume certainly looks like that of a 4-6 seed right now: a couple nice wins away from home, absolutely nothing even resembling a bad loss, and terrific computer numbers. David Padgett seems to be getting his legs under him, and the Cardinals are quietly alone in second in the ACC.

Work Left To Do

Miami (FL) (RPI 19, SOS 45, NC SOS 102)
Best Wins: Middle Tenn(n), @Minnesota, Florida St., @NC State
Bad Losses: @Georgia Tech
The Larranagas have been hurt by their marquee win (@Minnesota) fading rapidly in value recently, and the depth of their resume is a little questionable. Had they closed out the Dirty Devils at home a week ago, Miami would probably be in “Should Be In” given their record and computer numbers, but the Weave is taking a conservative stance with so much time left this year.

Notre Dame (RPI 63, SOS 54, NC SOS 175)
Best Wins: Wichita St.(n), @Syracuse, LSU(n)
Bad Losses: Ball St., Indiana(n), @Georgia Tech
The Ireeeeesh are a classic difficult case to evaluate given the Bonzie Colson-shaped hole in the middle of their lineup. The outrageous comeback against Wichita at the Lahaina Civic Center is buoying their resume (stop losing, Shockers…), and they likely just need to tread water without Colson to be in the clear (assuming he can come back healthy at the very end of the year). If the ACC losses pile up, though, this could be one of the more shocking (and depressing) misses, and a devastating end to Bonzie and Matty Farrell’s college careers.  

Florida St. (RPI 41, SOS 60, NC SOS 265)
Best Wins: North Carolina, @Florida, Syracuse, Tulane(n)
Bad Losses: None
After a Jonathan Isaac-fueled year of near elite-ness, the Seminoles return to Coach Bunny Colvin/Leonard Hamilton’s comfort zone - the midst of the bubble fray. Before ‘16-17, the ‘Noles had their bubble burst four straight times, but this year looks more promising. The one concerning number is the unsightly non-conference strength of schedule, often a deciding point for the committee when in doubt, so FSU would do well to give themselves some breathing room. The ACC schedule is actually mostly forgiving, so a 10-8 conference record is well within reach, despite the 3-4 start.

NC State (RPI 86, SOS 65, NC SOS 282)
Best Wins: Duke, Clemson, Arizona(n)
Bad Losses: UNC Greensboro, Northern Iowa(n)
A couple questionable losses and a barftastic non-conference strength of schedule number shouldn’t phase Kevin Keatts too much, as the three elite wins place the Wolfpack squarely on the bubble - a resounding success given last year’s disaster under Mark Gott-fired. They’re done with Duke AND Virginia, but if they can win one of the UNC games and avoid Pitt/Wake/GT losses, they’ll be right in the running.

Syracuse (RPI 42, SOS 20, NC SOS 22)
Best Wins: Buffalo, Maryland, UConn(n)
Bad Losses: None
The Orange are gigantic fans of their upstate New York neighbor Buffalo for the remainder of the year, as the Bulls mysterious placement in the RPI top 30 is juicing the Orange’s profile (Orange Juice!). There’s very little substance here, though, as Jimmy Boeheim’s Ballers have yet to beat an at-large team per my bracket colleague Ky’s latest update. Work Left To Do, indeed.

Boston College (RPI 65, SOS 73, NC SOS 296)
Best Wins: Duke, Florida St.
Bad Losses: None
This is about as vanilla a profile as you’ll find in the bubble realm, save for the almighty Duke win that lords over the rest of the Eagles’ profile. They’re a poor 1-6 in Column 1 games but have no losses outside of that category, so they’re basically sitting in neutral right now. It all comes down to the stretch run - pick off a few more upper tier ACC teams (and don’t lose to Pitt), and Jim Christian could pull a shocker in Chestnut Hill.

Virginia Tech (RPI 105, SOS 136, NC SOS 299)
Best Wins: Washington(n), @Ole Miss, @Wake Forest
Bad Losses: St. Louis(n)
This profile is a lot more dire than I initially thought - it’s slightly philanthropic of me to even list the Hokies. It’s pretty likely they have zero wins over NCAA Tournament teams right now (0-4 in Column 1 games), their RPI is damaging, and their non-conference schedule strength is in eyesore territory. They get Miami and Duke 2x each plus Clemson, UNC, Louisville, and Virginia down the stretch, so the chance for a lot of upward mobility is still there, though.

Big 12

Locks (4): West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Should be in (0): None
Work left to do (5): Texas, TCU, Kansas St., Baylor, Oklahoma St.
Nope (1): Iowa St. (win a couple more big ones, and they’ll find their way on here)

Work Left To Do

Texas (RPI 43, SOS 17, NC SOS 73)
Best Wins: Texas Tech, TCU, @Alabama, Butler(n), @Iowa St., @VCU
Bad Losses: None
The Hook ‘em Horns are creeping closer to “Should Be In” status, and winning in Morgantown this weekend would have gotten them there. As it stands, though, they’re in good shape - a nice collection of wins plus no bad losses and good computer numbers is traditionally a failsafe formula. Everyone should be rooting for this squad as they play for their cancer-stricken teammate, Andrew Jones.

TCU (RPI 22, SOS 15, NC SOS 50)
Best Wins: Nevada(n), St. Bonaventure(n), SMU, @Baylor, William & Mary
Bad Losses: None
The Horned Frogs built some equity with a strong non-conference performance, but just how much will be put to the test. Jaylen Fisher is done for the year, which means digging out of their 2-5 conference hole will be all the more difficult. Plus, if they don’t notch another key win or two without him, the committee could (fairly or unfairly) choose to evaluate them without Fisher and downgrade the non-con portion of the year. Best bet is to follow the formula of Xavier/Creighton last year - claw to 8-10 in the league, steal a big win or two at home and/or in the conference tournament, win the games they need to.

Kansas St. (RPI 57, SOS 103, NC SOS 332)
Best Wins: Oklahoma, @Iowa St., TCU
Bad Losses: Tulsa
The Wildcats have strangely played extremely well without point guard Kamau Stokes, going 3-1 including wins vs. Oklahoma and TCU and a near-miss at Allen Fieldhouse. The NC SOS is bad enough to keep them out in any coin flip situation (just ask Seth Greenberg and his VT teams!), although a home date with Georgia in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge should bring that number down, potentially below 300. A total dearth of strong non-con wins means K State likely needs a 9-9 or better finish in the league - they don’t have the cushion that TCU or Texas do. 

Baylor (RPI 82, SOS 66, NC SOS 269)
Best Wins: Creighton(n), Texas
Bad Losses: None
This is decidedly not the year of the Drew family, as Bryce’s Vanderbilt is trapped in the SEC cellar, and Scott’s Baylor team is dangerously close to the wrong side of the bubble despite being in a fair share of preseason Top 25s. The 2-5 Big 12 record is forgivable given the strength of the league, but anything less than 8-10 at the end of the year will be shaky. If the Bears can steal a weekend win in Gainesville on Saturday, the resume will get a major boost (and the NC SOS should improve dramatically regardless).

Oklahoma St. (RPI 88, SOS 101, NC SOS 300)
Best Wins: Florida St.(n), Texas, Oklahoma
Bad Losses: None
Starting to sound like a broken record here, but the Cowboys really didn’t challenge themselves enough in the non-conference to support a bottom-tier Big 12 finish. The FSU win continues to have value, and the computer numbers will improve throughout conference play (plus the SEC/Big 12 Challenge game @ Arkansas), but there’s still a ways to go for Mike Boynton to earn a bid in his inaugural season in charge in Stillwater.  

Big East

Locks (2): Villanova, Xavier
Should be in (2): Butler, Seton Hall
Work left to do (3): Creighton, Marquette, Providence
Nope (3): Georgetown, St. John’s, DePaul

Should Be In

Butler (RPI 29, SOS 13, NC SOS 62)
Best Wins: Villanova, Ohio St.(n), Marquette, Utah
Bad Losses: None
I nearly had Butler in the “Work Left To Do” category, but the Villanova/Ohio St. wins are elite and the computer numbers back them up. They’re only 2-7 in Column 1 games, but they have no other losses beyond that, and I would be pretty surprised to see them miss the field at this point.

Seton Hall (RPI 17, SOS 20, NC SOS 59)
Best Wins: @Louisville, Texas Tech(n), Creighton, @Butler
Bad Losses: @Rutgers
Like Butler, the Pirates are getting love from the computers, and a collection of 3 Column 1 wins away from Newark have them in very good shape. Avoid losses to the league’s bottom three, get another big one or two at home (Prov, Marquette, Villanova?, Butler?), and Seton Hall should be good to go despite the trip-up at their in-state rivals.

Work Left To Do

Creighton (RPI 35, SOS 55, NC SOS 247)
Best Wins: Seton Hall, Butler, Providence, UCLA(n), Nebraska, @Northwestern
Bad Losses: None
Martin Krampelj’s torn ACL complicates things for the Blue Jays, as they’ll need to re-shuffle their offense mid-year for the second straight season. They’ve held serve at home in Big East play so far and have a trio of acceptable non-conference wins, but they need to take a couple more needle-moving scalps with the roster in its current state to feel safe. They still have both Villanova matchups and @ Xavier to get a monster win – getting one of those without Krampelj would show the committee they still have a high ceiling, even lacking their Slovenian man in the middle.

Marquette (RPI 47, SOS 28, NC SOS 103)
Best Wins: Seton Hall, @Providence, LSU(n), @Wisconsin, Vermont
Bad Losses: None
The Marquette Golden Three-point Bombers are in pretty decent shape as it stands, and this week offers tremendous upside. Wojo’s squad goes to Xavier Wednesday and gets their home swing against Villanova over the weekend; a win in either matchup is the jewel atop an already solid resume, and a sweep this week would surely bump Marquette up to “Should Be In” status.

Providence (RPI 38, SOS 25, NC SOS 60)
Best Wins: Xavier, @St. John’s, Butler, Washington(n), Boston College, Creighton
Bad Losses: @UMass, Minnesota
Ed Cooley’s Friars appear to be through the injury struggles that plagued them towards the end of 2017, as they’ve rattled off four straight wins in Big East play (including three resume-building home wins). Only one game this week: @Villanova on Tuesday, the epitome of a “any win is gravy” game.


Big Ten

Locks (2): Purdue, Michigan St.
Should be in (2): Ohio St., Michigan
Work left to do (6): Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Penn St., Nebraska
Nope (4): Wisconsin, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa

Should Be In

Ohio State (RPI 14, SOS 23, NC SOS 37)
Best Wins: @Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, @Northwestern, Stanford(n), @Minnesota, William & Mary
Bad Losses: None
Record-wise, RPI-wise, and SOS-wise, Ohio State is about as close to the “Lock” category as a “Should Be In” team can get - even the advanced metrics love the Buckeyes (#11 per KenPom). Chris Holtmann’s squad has been playing possessed after their lackluster showing in the PK80, winning 11 of their last 12 and sitting a perfect 8-0 atop the Big Ten standings. Unless the wheels fall off in a big way, OSU should be a “Lock” to make the Dance before the end of January.

Michigan (RPI 37, SOS 62, NC SOS 233)
Best Wins: UCLA, @Texas, @Michigan State, Maryland
Bad Losses: None
The Wolverines took a major step towards the Field of 68 with an away win at East Lansing, then promptly took a baby step backwards when they fell to a surprisingly competent Nebraska team on the road (this was a Column 1 game). A non-con SOS of 233 is an eyesore on an otherwise solid resume. I have little worry that John Beilein will have his squad back in the Tournament for the 8th time in his 11-year tenure in Ann Arbor.

Work Left To Do

Indiana (RPI 102, SOS 81, NC SOS 161)
Best Wins: @Minnesota, Notre Dame(n)
Bad Losses: Indiana State, IPFW
Saying Indiana has “work left to do” is quite an understatement, but we bracketologists have been forced to at least consider the Hoosiers given their recent surge up the Big Ten standings. Indiana’s resume is going to be hurt by Notre Dame’s injury issues, so it sorely needs 2018 resurgences from the likes of Northwestern, Minnesota, and Penn State to boost their pedestrian RPI.

Maryland (RPI 48, SOS 52, NC SOS 182)
Best Wins: Butler
Bad Losses: None
Maryland’s resume is sneaky poor featuring a bevy of missed opportunities to Column 1 opponents. The Terps are 1-6 against Column 1 teams, but lost four of those six contests by five points or less. In another world, a little more TLC from Lady Luck may have the Terps squarely in the Field of 68, but the reality has Maryland starving for a statement win.

Minnesota (RPI 76, SOS 69, NC SOS 169)
Best Wins: @Providence, Alabama(n), @Penn State
Bad Losses: Indiana
After a promising start to the season, the Gophers’ 2017-18 campaign has become mighty rocky, stumbling out of the gates to begin 3-6 in Big Ten play. Reggie Lynch’s suspension has had an enormous impact on the roster - Pitino’s crew is only 1-5 without their big man, but at least star wing Amir Coffey is back in action after missing five games of his own. Minnesota has plenty of talent to steer its season back on track, but the next two bouts against Northwestern at home and Iowa on the road are near must-wins for the maroon and gold.

Nebraska (RPI 66, SOS 93, NC SOS 241)
Best Wins: Boston College, @Northwestern, Michigan
Bad Losses: None
Nebraska has quietly positioned itself in the bubble conversation. Currently sitting 5-3 in the Big Ten, the Huskers’ resume isn’t flashy, but it also ain’t too shabby. The glaring weakness is a lack of a Column 1 win; if Michigan can edge its way into the RPI top 30 and if the Huskers can get to 10 wins in the conference, Tim Miles could be dancing for the first time since 2014.

Northwestern (RPI 125, SOS 82, NC SOS 219)
Best Wins: None
Bad Losses: @Georgia Tech
Perhaps the most disappointing team in the country this season, the Northwestern Purple Cats are simply treading water at this point. Despite returning nearly everyone from the school’s first ever Tourney berth, Chris Collins’ squad finds itself near the cellar of the Big Ten standings with zero victories against Column 1 and 2 opponents (thanks, Minnesota). This team is a light breeze away from stumbling off the precipice of “Work Left to Do”.

Penn State (RPI 135, SOS 137, NC SOS 257)
Best Wins: Nebraska
Bad Losses: Wisconsin, Rider, Minnesota
We’re being extremely generous keeping the Nifty Kitties in this section. The idea of Penn State is marvelous, a young up-and-coming team with a talented lead guard and intimidating frontcourt. The reality of Penn State is a shrugging Pat Chambers continuing to bask in the glow of mediocrity. When your best win is Nebraska on January 21st, you shouldn’t feel too confident about your dancing chances.  


Locks (0): None
Should be in (2): Arizona, Arizona St.
Work left to do (7): USC, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, Washington  
Nope (3): Oregon St., Washington St., California

Should Be In

Arizona (RPI 16, SOS 37, NC SOS 38)
Best Wins: Texas A&M(n), Alabama, Arizona State, @Utah, @Stanford
Bad Losses: None
After an utterly shocking 8th place performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis (that’s dead last!), Arizona seemed to right the ship, ratting off nine straight wins before falling to Colorado on January 6th. Post-game, Sean Miller infamously stated that he “couldn’t reach his players”, as bad an omen as any for the remainder of the year. The Cats have won four straight since Miller’s press conference, so maybe the words lit a fire under the uber-talented squad. Barring a conference collapse down the stretch, Zona is a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament and be a sexy Final Four pick.

Arizona State (RPI 31, SOS 68, NC SOS 101)
Best Wins: Xavier(n), Kansas State(n), St. John’s(n), @Kansas, @Utah
Bad Losses: Oregon
The Devils ascended from Hell to the apex of the national rankings, accumulating arguably the best non-conference resume in the country that included a signature upset of the Kansas Jayhawks at Phog Allen. Pac-12 play has been an entirely different story. At 3-4, ASU is currently tied 8th in the weakest Power 6 conference in the country. Committee members likely won’t keep the Devils out of the Tourney after their non-con performance, but a sub-.500 conference finish would make things interesting.

Work Left To Do

USC (RPI 39, SOS 34, NC SOS 25)
Best Wins: Middle Tennessee(n), New Mexico State(n), Colorado, Utah, @Oregon
Bad Losses: Princeton(n)
Columns-wise, USC’s resume is solid. 5 wins against Column 1 & 2 is legit and should be good enough to be in the current iteration of the bracket. However, pulling back the veil on the wins reveals a less impressive group than the surface suggests. I’m not trying to bash mid-majors, but I can’t see a Committee member considering neutral wins against Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State (technically Column 1 wins) on the same level as wins against Power 6 competition. Maybe I’m cynical. The Trojans are still alive despite a lackluster start to the year - improvements by Colorado and Oregon have been large for USC’s resume (and those SOS numbers are gorgeous).

Stanford (RPI 85, SOS 24, NC SOS 35)
Best Wins: UCLA, USC, @Washington, Arizona State
Bad Losses: Eastern Washington, Portland State, @Long Beach State, California
Stanford looks like a completely different team than the one 3MW saw live at PK80. The return of Dorian Pickens has been a godsend - the Cardinal are 7-2 when their stud guard is in the lineup. Stanford has vanquished three key conference foes, but four tough road games still await Haase and Co. If Stanford can notch 12 wins in the Pac-12, the Committee is going to give them a serious look, but the question will be how much weight is assigned to those four bad losses suffered without Pickens (and three without freshman stud Kezie Okpala).

UCLA (RPI 64, SOS 61, NC SOS 72)
Best Wins: Kentucky(n), Washington, Utah
Bad Losses: @Oregon State
The softness of the Pac-12 doesn’t bode well for a UCLA team boasting only one truly impressive win (Kentucky in New Orleans). Washington and Utah sit precariously at 52 and 61, respectively, in the RPI meaning those home wins can change from Column 2 to Column 3 in the blink of an eye. The Bruins probably need to split with the Arizona schools and take one from USC (preferably on the road) to truly be in the bracket conversation come March. Avoiding losses to the likes of Oregon State and Colorado - teams the Bruins just fell to back-to-back - would help their cause as well.

Utah (RPI 61, SOS 57, NC SOS 188)
Best Wins: Missouri, @Oregon, Washington, Mississippi(n)
Bad Losses: UNLV
Utah’s resume suffers from the “shakes” - shaky “best wins”, shaky advanced rankings, shaky RPI, and a shaky SOS. The Utes will need to take care of business at home the rest of the way and score a high percentage of road victories against Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Washington, and Washington State to even sniff the Field of 68. Not an impossible task, but not an easy one either.

Washington (RPI 52, SOS 50, NC SOS 57)
Best Wins: @Kansas, UC Davis, @USC, @Colorado
Bad Losses: Virginia Tech, Stanford
Washington’s resume is one that promises to appreciate in value as the season progresses. Currently, the Huskies’ losses to Virginia Tech and Stanford are “Column 3” losses, which are seen as major negatives to an at-large resume. Those teams likely finish higher in the RPI than their current rankings when all is said and done. On the flip side, Washington is hurt mightily by its advanced rankings. KenPom has UW ranked 99th currently, a number that would surely keep the Huskies out of the Dance.

Colorado (RPI 59, SOS 44, NC SOS 114)
Best Wins: Arizona, Arizona State, @UCLA, South Dakota State
Bad Losses: @Colorado State, San Diego, Iowa(n), @Oregon State
The Buffs notched the coveted Arizona home sweep, knocking off both the Cats and the Devils in back-to-back contests in Boulder, a feat impressive enough to warrant Bubble conversation. Four Column 3 & 4 losses and a poor advanced number ranking likely keeps Tad Boyle’s squad on the wrong side of that Bubble, but back-to-back tilts at the Arizona schools this week hold hefty resume-building potential.

Oregon (RPI 92, SOS 85, NC SOS 225)
Best Wins: @Fresno State, Colorado, UCLA, @Arizona State
Bad Losses: @Oregon State
Easily one of the more disappointing teams in the country thus far, Oregon currently finds itself closer to the Bubble picture than one might expect. A signature win at Arizona State plus only one “bad” loss to a Beaver team that could move up in the RPI leaves a sliver of hope for the Ducks up in Eugene. UO will certainly need some help, though, and winning 12 games in conference play is all but a must at this point.


Locks (0): None
Should be in (4): Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky
Work left to do (9): Missouri, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi St., South Carolina, Mississippi
Nope (1): Vanderbilt

Should Be In

Florida (RPI 24, SOS 19, NC SOS 31)
Best Wins: Stanford(n), Gonzaga(n), Cincinnati(n), @Texas A&M, @Missouri, Arkansas, @Kentucky, Mississippi State
Bad Losses: None
It would take a major collapse for Florida to miss out on the Big Dance - at this point, the Gators are really just jostling for seeding position. Florida has 8 Column 1 & 2 wins, one of the higher numbers in the country, majority of which have come on neutral or road floors. As of now, that home Loyola loss isn’t considered a “bad” loss by the Column standards, but Committee members will likely take that blemish into account when seeding the 3/4/5 lines. Of course, winning the SEC outright would make many a member forget about that loss entirely.

Tennessee (RPI 12, SOS 4, NC SOS 9)
Best Wins: Purdue(n), NC State(n), @Wake Forest, Kentucky, Texas A&M, @South Carolina
Bad Losses: None
Advanced metrics and the RPI both love Tennessee, and it’s easy to see why. The Vols boast a top five win in the country, toppling Purdue on a neutral floor back in November, vaulting their KenPom ranking to #1 in the SEC. Tennessee’s strength of schedule numbers are elite, meaning (like Florida) it would take a super collapse down the stretch of SEC play to keep the Vols out of the Dance.

Auburn (RPI 8, SOS 41, NC SOS 92)
Best Wins: Hofstra(n), @Dayton, Middle Tennessee(n), @Tennessee, Arkansas, @Mississippi State, Georgia, @Murray State
Bad Losses: None
Auburn features the best RPI in the SEC thanks to a sterling 8-2 record against Column 1 & 2 competition. The success of Bruce Pearl’s Tigers this season has been nothing short of miraculous, as Auburn is on the shortlist to take home the conference crown. The Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule isn’t great, but it’ll hardly matter if they finish 25-6 (13-5) as KenPom currently projects. Like Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky, 8 or 9 wins in the SEC (and maybe even 7) will get the Tigers into the Field.

Kentucky (RPI 20, SOS 11, NC SOS 17)
Best Wins: Vermont, East Tennessee State, Louisville, Georgia, @LSU, Texas A&M
Bad Losses: None
Give Coach Calipari credit for successfully gaming the RPI system (a favorite tactic of Kansas’s Bill Self as well). UK purposely filled its schedule with top-tier mid major competition - Utah Valley, Vermont, ETSU, IPFW, Troy, Monmouth, and Harvard should all compete for their respective conference crowns, giving the Cats’ SOS and RPI numbers significant boosts. That’s great on the surface, but I still need a little more from Kentucky in terms of road victories; only a win at LSU stands out as a Column 1 or 2 win away from Rupp. It seems odd that Kentucky currently has the 4th - and maybe even 5th or 6th - best SEC resume at the moment.

Work Left To Do

Missouri (RPI 36, SOS 21, NC SOS 48)
Best Wins: St. John’s(n), @UCF, @South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee
Bad Losses: Illinois(n)
As a Mizzou fan I can’t shake this ominous feeling of “playing not to lose”. As of today, the Tigers would undisputedly be in the Field of 68, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2013. However, the position just feels oh so precarious. If Mizzou had taken down West Virginia on a neutral and Arkansas on the road, two games it was in a position to win, we’d be talking about MU as a top five seed. Instead, we Tiger fans hope and prey Cuonzo and the boys can scrape together 8 or 9 conference wins (and that MPJ returns to the court pre-NBA). With five games coming up against the two Mississippi schools and Vanderbilt, those 8 or 9 wins should be a very achievable mark.

Texas A&M (RPI 33, SOS 10, NC SOS 26)
Best Wins: West Virginia(n), Oklahoma State(n), @USC, Buffalo, Missouri
Bad Losses: LSU
An 0-5 start to SEC play had to have Aggie backers shaking in their cowboy boots. Untimely injuries and a little bit of bad luck has put A&M in a hole out of which it’ll need to climb. Fortunately, A&M has the pieces to make such a climb. With a fully healthy Admon Gilder and Robert Williams back in the fold, A&M is every bit capable of winning out in SEC play. Bouts at Auburn, Missouri, Arkansas, and Georgia will prove tough tests in the coming months, and a non-con heavyweight fight at Kansas offers a signature win opportunity.

Alabama (RPI 26, SOS 5, NC SOS 11)
Best Wins: Memphis(n), BYU(n), Rhode Island, Texas A&M, South Carolina, @LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State
Bad Losses: @Vanderbilt
Alabama’s resume isn’t getting enough attention. A top ten strength of schedule, a top 30 RPI, and 8 wins against Column 1 & 2 competition has Avery Johnson’s club sitting pretty atop the SEC standings (5-2). This Tide team is good, especially considering they’re somehow 2-0 without the electric Collin Sexton - three more SEC wins and Alabama is dancing.

Arkansas (RPI 32, SOS 14, NC SOS 43)
Best Wins: Oklahoma(n), Connecticut(n), Tennessee, Missouri
Bad Losses: LSU
The Razorbacks’ reliance on isolation play by their two stud senior guards appeared to finally catch up with them at the start of SEC play. Arkansas stumbled out of the gates to a 1-3 record and nearly dropped a home match to Missouri. Resume-wise, though, this team is still in good shape. Advanced metrics, the RPI, and SOS numbers are very favorable for the Backs, but one or two more good wins (hint: home games vs. Kentucky, Auburn, and Texas A&M) would go a long way towards making the field.

LSU (RPI 99, SOS 79, NC SOS 158)
Best Wins: Michigan(n), Houston, @Arkansas, @Texas A&M, @Memphis
Bad Losses: Stephen F. Austin, @Vanderbilt
Will Wade’s squad is ahead of schedule development-wise and on January 10th looked to be a real threat to storm the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Tigers were 11-4 (2-1) with all the wins you see above. However, LSU has dropped three straight, two at home in semi must-win games against Alabama and Georgia and one on the road at Vandy (which at the moment is a bad loss). Opportunities are still out there to climb back into the Tourney convo, but the Tigers will have to go up against the 3rd toughest schedule in the SEC the rest of the way.

Mississippi State (RPI 75, SOS 130, NC SOS 289)
Best Wins: Arkansas
Bad Losses: None
Mississippi State has ton of work to do. Sure, the Bulldogs have zero bad losses, but Ben Howland’s crew has mustered only one good win thus far thanks to a Downy soft non-conference schedule and 2-4 SEC start. A home game on January 27th against Missouri is likely a must-win, otherwise Miss State will be fighting for an NIT berth.

Mississippi (RPI 100, SOS 32, NC SOS 120)
Best Wins: UL Lafayette, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida
Bad Losses: Virginia Tech, Illinois State
Ole Miss has quietly crept back into the bubble watch (just barely) with its 4 Column 1/2 wins and an RPI just inside the top 100. The Rebels are going to have to show the Committee they can do something away from Oxford - Andy Kennedy's squad is a dismal 0-5 in true road games this year. 

Georgia (RPI 51, SOS 59, NC SOS 202)
Best Wins: St. Mary’s(n), @Marquette, Temple, Alabama, @LSU, @CS Fullerton
Bad Losses: San Diego State(n), @UMass
Despite two non-conference stumbles, the Bulldogs set themselves up pretty nicely heading into SEC play. The St. Mary’s win will prove to be a resume anchor as the Gaels are sure to maintain their top 40 RPI status. Like a few other teams on this list, not all Column 1 & 2 wins are created equally - the Committee probably won’t see the CS Fullerton win as a scale tipper. The best thing for the Dogs would be if SDSU could climb into the RPI Top 100, taking away one of those ugly Column 3 stumbles. Going .500 in upcoming home tilts with Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Texas A&M would also be nice resume padding.

South Carolina (RPI 53, SOS 42, NC SOS 82)
Best Wins: @Wofford, Wyoming, @Georgia, Kentucky
Bad Losses: None
The Gamecocks saved a sputtering season by upending Georgia on the road on January 13th and Kentucky at home three days later. Frank Martin’s squad is squarely in the SEC race, but now faces the 2nd toughest remaining conference schedule. The Cocks get Auburn twice, Florida twice, and road battles against Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. Yikes. Outside of the SEC, the Cocks will look to score a mammoth win against Texas Tech when the Red Raiders come to Columbia on January 27th.


Locks (2): Wichita St., Cincinnati
Should be in (0): None
Work left to do (3): SMU, Houston, UCF
Nope (7): Everyone else

Work Left To Do

SMU (RPI 54, SOS 63, NC SOS 135)
Best Wins: Arizona(n), USC, Boise State, UCF, @Wichita State
Bad Losses: Northern Iowa(n)
Wowzers. That win at Wichita State did WONDERS for SMU’s resume. The Stangs have been flirting with the bubble all year but now seem to be on the right side of things after knocking off the Shockers. An excellent win against Arizona at the Battle 4 Atlantis bolsters a resume that features impressive wins but so-so RPI and SOS numbers. It’s unfortunate for SMU that the wheels fell off UNI’s season, but one bad loss in a sea of good wins won’t hurt too much.

Houston (RPI 50, SOS 142, NC SOS 270)
Best Wins: Arkansas, Temple, Providence(n), Wichita State
Bad Losses: Drexel(n)
Like SMU, Houston’s win over Wichita State was simply enormous. The Coogs did it at home, but still, a win against the mighty Shock is good in any locale. On the flip side, the Drexel loss is heinous - that’s a Column 4 loss, the worst type of loss. Also, Kelvin Sampson’s squad has an absolutely brutal NC SOS - off the top of my head, I’m not sure how many teams have made the Dance with a 270+ NC SOS. Houston likely needs a Cincy and SMU split and no more major slip ups to crack the Field of 68.  

UCF (RPI 54, SOS 78, NC SOS 95)
Best Wins: William & Mary, Nebraska(n), @Alabama, Temple
Bad Losses: None
I feel for UCF fans. The Knights were a promising team pre-season, looking to enter the Big Dance for the first time since 2005 (and first as a member of the AAC). UCF isn’t dead in the water by any means, but injuries have derailed any semblance of a banner year in Orlando. First it was Aubrey Dawkins going down before the start of the year, then BJ Taylor’s injury woes continued from prior year, and now Tacko Fall is lost for the remainder of the season. It’s hard to see UCF being able to rack up enough quality AAC wins without the assistance of those key pieces.


Locks (0): None
Should be in (3): Gonzaga, Rhode Island, Nevada
Work left to do (6): St. Mary’s, Boise St., St. Bonaventure, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, New Mexico St.

Should Be In

Rhode Island (RPI 10, SOS 27, NC SOS 3)
Best Wins: Seton Hall(n), Providence, St. Bonaventure, @Saint Louis
Bad Losses: None
*Sidles up to Rhode Island at a bar* “Say, those computer numbers are awfully cute...what’s that? Oh, you have some strong top-end wins to back them up? And no bad losses? How would you like to go dancing??” The Rams look likely to be the A-10’s only true at-large-caliber squad (sorry, Bonnies), so the league will be cheering for other 13 teams come tourney time in Washington, DC.

Gonzaga (RPI 56, SOS 161, NC SOS 91)
Best Wins: Ohio St.(n), Texas(n), Creighton, @Washington
Bad Losses: None
Probably a slight surprise to have the Zags not in “lock” status given their wins and elite KenPom ranking (8th!), but the RPI / SOS numbers (which won’t get better in the WCC) and the potential for bad losses riddled throughout the conference schedule leaves just enough doubt to avoid locking them up yet. It would take a crazy collection of bad losses to fall out, though.  

Nevada (RPI 13, SOS 51, NC SOS 24)
Best Wins: Rhode Island, @Fresno St., Boise St., UC Davis, Wyoming
Bad Losses: San Francisco(n)
Like Rhode Island in the A-10, Nevada is the top dog in a Mountain West desperately hoping to get multiple bids. Despite an excellent schedule, the Wolfpack mostly lack elite wins, and the UC Davis/Wyoming games are unlikely to remain Column 2 wins. As such, Eric Musselman’s crew needs to continue its MWC dominance (haven’t lost a game to a conference foe since February 12th, 2017) and avoid any bad losses.

Work Left To Do

St. Mary’s (RPI 40, SOS 154, NC SOS 189)
Best Wins: New Mexico St., @BYU, @Gonzaga
Bad Losses: Washington St.(n)
The Gaels rid themselves of some demons Thursday night by winning at The Kennel, capturing their first Column 1 win in the process. Their computer numbers continue to be (surprisingly) better than Gonzaga’s, and they’re 3-1 in Column 1+2 games, so if Randy Bennett’s squad can get through WCC play with only one loss, they’re a good bet to be dancing. Same with Gonzaga though - they have a minefield of bad losses to avoid. Semi-baffling aside - it’s a mystery how their SOS is respectable despite playing a whopping 17 of their 21 games against Column 3 + 4 opponents.

Boise St. (RPI 34, SOS 84, NC SOS 151)
Best Wins: @Oregon, Illinois St.(n), @Fresno St., Loyola-IL
Bad Losses: None
The Broncos have to be furious with Elijah Brown, Dana Altman, and the rest of Duck Nation, as Oregon’s inability to get their shit together, in a bag, all of it, together, has damaged what was thought to be a premier victory. Still, though, they’re the clear second-best team in a decent Mountain West, and they have the home Nevada date to look forward to on Valentine’s Day.

St. Bonaventure (RPI 49, SOS 71, NC SOS 42)
Best Wins: @Buffalo, @Syracuse, Maryland(n), Vermont(n), @Canisius
Bad Losses: @St. Joe’s, Niagara (sans Adams)
The Bonnies did their best work away from Olean in the non-conference, and that’s not surprising - everyone should be happy to be somewhere, anywhere, other than Olean, NY. If the committee discounts the ugly season-opening loss to Niagara (due to Jaylen Adams’s absence), this profile is decent, but other than a home date with Rhode Island on February 16th, the only way to go is down given the A-10’s abysmal status this year. Gotta keep winning - the Friday night loss at Davidson thins an already precariously narrow margin of error (2-4 in the A-10 is uh-oh territory).

Western Kentucky (RPI 44, SOS 30, NC SOS 12)
Best Wins: Purdue(n), SMU(n), Wright St., @Old Dominion
Bad Losses: Belmont, @Ohio
Good god, that’s Rick Stansbury’s music!!! “Sticky Ricky” has the Hilltoppers in surprisngly promising shape for an at-large bid, as the Purdue win shines atop their resume like a star atop a Christmas tree. Another shaky loss or two in C-USA play seems inevitable, but if SMU (and even Wright St.) can stay strong in their own leagues, WKU may crash the dance regardless of what happens in Frisco, Texas (that’s right, that’s where the C-USA tourney is this year).

Middle Tennessee (RPI 23, SOS 35, NC SOS 8)
Best Wins: @Western Kentucky, @Murray St.
Bad Losses: Belmont
Giddy and the Boys are right in the mix for an at-large after winning the C-USA tourney the past two years, although Thursday night’s bump in the road at Marshall hurt the cause. Knocking off WKU over the weekend was exactly what Kermit’s Krew needed to bounce back, and they’ll have the return game against the Hilltoppers to start off March. A road date at Old Dominion to open February offers one other shot at a Column 1+2 win, and the *Berman voice* Blue Raaaaaidaaaas will need to avoid any other hiccups along the way (and hope Vandy sneaks into Column 2).

New Mexico St. (RPI 45, SOS 126, NC SOS 88)
Best Wins: Miami(FL)(n)
Bad Losses: San Diego
Part of the reasoning for the NCAA Committee’s new “Columns” for wins/losses (rather than strictly 1-50, 51-100, etc.) was to account for the difficulty of road games that low- and mid-majors frequently play, and it would stand to reason that they committee might want a figurehead to point to going forward as a “see, our new system worked!!” example. The Aggies look to be the best bet there, as the neutral court win over Miami was massive (and they just missed taking down USC too), and the Aggies could potentially sweep the WAC. If Davidson and Illinois get themselves into Column 2 (just get in the RPI top 100!) and NMSU loses a tough one to Utah Valley in the conference tournament final, the WAC could sneak two bids this year.