3MW Bubble Watch - 2/9/18

-Jim Root and Ky McKeon

All numbers per warrennolan.com (including record - non-D-1 games don't count).

NOTE: "Best Wins" are any in Column 1+2, "Bad Losses" are any in Column 3+4 - it's up to the committee to subjectively sift through those.  

Welcome back to 3MW's Bubble Watch! Although ESPN has resurrected its own version under the "Watch"-ful eye of John Gasaway, we endeavored to continue our dive into the precarious bubble situation as it currently stands...


Locks (4): Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson
Should be in (1): Miami (FL)
Work left to do (5): Florida State, Virginia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, Louisville
Nope (5): Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Boston College

Should Be In

Miami (FL) 18-5 (7-4) (RPI 19, SOS 62, NC SOS 138)
Best Wins: Middle Tenn(n), @Minnesota, Florida St., @NC State, Louisville, @Virginia Tech
Bad Losses: @Georgia Tech

Before the Canes fan come bashing down my door for having UNC as a lock while Miami hovers in the “Should Be In” tier, let me say this: the Canes are dangerously close to locking up a bid. While Miami leads UNC in the conference standings and holds a better overall record, UNC has the advantage in quality wins (3 more vs. Group 1/2), RPI (10 v. 19), and advanced metrics (KenPom: UNC 12, Miami 28). Miami has a clear path to 9-9 in ACC play, matching up against BC twice and Wake Forest once more, which should propel Jim Larranaga’s team to the Promised Land. Notching another 2-3 should-be wins against Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech could push Miami into a top-5 seed.

Work Left To Do

Florida State 17-7 (6-6) (RPI 41, SOS 59, NC SOS 294)
Best Wins: North Carolina, @Florida, Syracuse, @Virginia Tech, Miami, @Louisville
Bad Losses: Oklahoma State(n)

Thus begins the bloodbath in the middle of the ACC. Florida State leads a pack of six ACC squads, all with conference records hovering around .500 and resumes firmly considered as “bubbly”. Bunny Colvin’s squad looks to be the favorite to notch the 6th ACC at-large bid with its impressive fleet of wins (5-3 vs. Group 1) and (relatively) strong RPI. A win versus Virginia on Wednesday would’ve put the Noles squarely in the Field, but FSU is still in pretty good shape.

NC State 16-8 (6-5) (RPI 65, SOS 67, NC SOS 289)
Best Wins: Duke, Clemson, Arizona(n), @North Carolina
Bad Losses: Northern Iowa(n), UNCG

The Wolf Pack finally got their signature road win, triumphing over the UNC Tar Heels in the Dean Dome back on January 27th. Prior to that victory, NC State was only 1-3 in true road games, with the one win coming against lowly Pitt. You’d be hard pressed to find many teams with four wins over the Top 21 RPI, a fact that completely makes up for the Pack’s pedestrian RPI and SOS numbers. That UNI loss is becoming more and more of an eyesore, but Keatts should have his squad back in the Dance after a two-year hiatus if they can take care of business against Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Wake.

Syracuse 16-8 (5-6) (RPI 37, SOS 23, NC SOS 22)
Best Wins: Buffalo, Maryland, UConn(n), Virginia Tech, @Louisville, Toledo(n)
Bad Losses: @Georgia Tech, Notre Dame

It feels like Syracuse always has (at least in recent history) a sketchy resume right around this time. Sure, the Orange boast six Group 1 & 2 wins, but as much as five of those could end up being over non-Tournament teams. And sure, the Orange are 5-6 in the ACC, but three of those wins have come against Boston College and Pitt (x2). A gauntlet of a remaining schedule that includes games at Miami and Duke and home contests against UNC, Clemson, and NC State could prove to be too high of a hurdle for Jimmy Boeheim’s squad to leap. (PS: Yes everybody, Notre Dame is technically a bad loss right now, I’m sorry. The Irish have sputtered over the last several weeks due to injuries and, whether right or wrong, the Committee will look heavily at final numbers).

Virginia Tech 17-7 (6-5) (RPI 67, SOS 95, NC SOS 306)
Best Wins: Washington(n), @Ole Miss, @Wake Forest, @Boston College, @Notre Dame, North Carolina, NC State
Bad Losses: St. Louis(n)

Va Tech seems to have finally hit its stride, raising its RPI nearly 40 spots since our last Bubble Watch on 1/22. The quad away wins are nice and the UNC win is impressive, but the Washington win on a neutral has sneakily proven to be VT’s best win as the Huskies continue their climb up the RPI standings. Like Cuse, the Hokies have a brutal remaining schedule, squaring off with Duke twice, traveling to Virginia and Miami, and getting Clemson and Louisville at home. But, with high quality games comes high quality win opportunities.

Louisville 17-8 (7-5) (RPI 43, SOS 32, NC SOS 86)
Best Wins: @Florida St., @Notre Dame, Virginia Tech
Bad Losses: None

Where VT has started to climb, the Louisville Cardinals have been tumbling down the RPI standings the last two weeks, falling to #43 and losing three straight contests to put their Group 1 & 2 record at an ugly 3-8. Rick Pit… er… David Padgett’s squad does not have the requisite quality wins to carry an average conference record, but that SOS number will likely keep the Birds dancing. 9-9 in the ACC might get ‘Ville in the Dance - I’m not very confident that 8-10 does.

Big 12

Locks (4): West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Should be in (0): None
Work left to do (3): Texas, TCU, Kansas State
Nope (3): Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Work Left To Do

Texas 15-9 (5-6) (RPI 46, SOS 17, NC SOS 77)
Best Wins: Texas Tech, TCU, @Alabama, Butler(n), @Iowa St., Oklahoma, @VCU
Bad Losses: None

I had Texas in the “Should Be In” section because of its 7 wins against Group 1 & 2 (5 versus Group 1), but the 5-6 conference record is just enough to give me pause. The Horns are only 5-5 without Andrew Jones, who was tragically diagnosed with leukemia earlier this season, and this year’s Big 12 is one of the better conferences in recent history. Texas has already racked up the requisite wins to stumble a bit late in conference play - even an 8-10 finish might put Shaka’s team in the Field. However, given the competitiveness of this year’s bubble, the Committee may not take too kindly to that kind of conference record. If the Horns take care of business against Baylor and Okie State at home and knock out one more of their other six conference foes, they should be safely in the Dance (8-10 probably gets them a 10 or 11 seed).

TCU 16-8 (4-7) (RPI 31, SOS 16, NC SOS 70)
Best Wins: Nevada(n), St. Bonaventure(n), SMU, @Baylor, West Virginia, @Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: None

Injuries f**king suck, especially when it happens to arguably your best player. Without Jaylen Fisher, Jamie Dixon’s TCU Horned Frogs have eked out a 3-4 record and have stumbled a bit in the RPI. TCU is sitting at a precarious 4-7 in conference play, but a neutral win against Nevada and a home win against West Virginia serve as linchpins to a pretty good resume. Further, Belmont, a team TCU toppled at home back in the fall, is quietly sitting at #77 in the RPI - two more spots up the standings and TCU gets another Group 2 win added to its total. The Horned Frogs have one of the “lighter” remaining schedules in the Big 12 with home games against Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State and a winnable game at Iowa State. Like Texas, TCU probably needs to get to at least 8-10 in the Big 12 to be safely dancing.

Kansas State 17-7 (6-5) (RPI 59, SOS 85, NC SOS 326)
Best Wins: Oklahoma, @Iowa St., TCU, Georgia, @Baylor, @Vanderbilt, @Texas
Bad Losses: Tulsa

Unlike Texas and TCU, Kansas State is not going to be able to go 8-10 in conference play and feel good about its Tourney chances. Why? Well, the Wildcats have what we in the “Biz” call a weak-ass non-conference SOS - 26th worst in the country to be exact. That’s going to matter come Tourney time and three of KSU’s Group 2 wins aren’t exactly “marquee” in nature. KSU made a statement on Wednesday when it upended Texas in Austin, a win that will go a long way towards making the Big Dance. Upcoming home tilts against Iowa State and Baylor are absolute must-wins, a rematch with Texas in the Octagon of Doom is a semi-must-win, then Boring Bruce’s Boys may need to steal one on the road against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, or TCU.  

Big East

Locks (2): Villanova, Xavier
Should be in (4): Butler, Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence
Work left to do (1): Marquette
Nope (3): Georgetown, St. John’s, DePaul

Should Be In

Creighton 18-6 (8-4) (RPI 22, SOS 57, NC SOS 246)
Best Wins: Seton Hall, Butler, Providence, UCLA(n), Nebraska, @Northwestern, @St. John’s, St. John’s
Bad Losses: None

Creighton has slowly crept up the advanced metric and RPI rankings in 2018, boasting a resume that rivals anyone in the Big East not named Xavier or Villanova. Like so many other teams, Creighton must now deal with an untimely injury with the loss of Martin Krampelj, but Greg McDermott’s squad appears to have enough talent to power through into the Tournament. The Jays only need two more wins to get to 10 conference victories and clinch an over-.500 record in Big East play. One game against DePaul and two more against Marquette should be just what the doctor ordered.

Seton Hall 17-7 (6-5) (RPI 24, SOS 21, NC SOS 58)
Best Wins: @Louisville, Texas Tech(n), Creighton, @Butler, Providence, St. John's
Bad Losses: @Rutgers

Seton Hall is only 1-1 against Group 2 opponents. Without looking it up (I’m not looking it up), I’d wager they aren't many Power 6 squads to play that few Group 2 contests. One win against Group 2 isn’t great, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot when you have five rock solid Group 1 wins, as the Pirates do. Diving into Hall’s resume a bit more shows potential for some of those Group 3 wins (i.e. Indiana, Vanderbilt) to jump up into the Group 2 area, which will help boost an already stellar RPI and make up for a relatively so-so advanced metric ranking (#30 per KenPom). Seton Hall has a nice remaining schedule lined up with games at St. John’s and Georgetown and a home bout with DePaul. Somewhere around a 5-7 seed feels right for the Pirates when all is said and done.

Butler 17-8 (7-5) (RPI 36, SOS 29, NC SOS 98)
Best Wins: Villanova, Ohio St.(n), Marquette, Utah, @Marquette, St. John's
Bad Losses: None

I had Butler in the “Work Left to Do” section at first, but then couldn’t justify excluding the Dogs when they have a fairly similar resume to Creighton and Seton Hall. Creighton has more Group 1 & 2 wins, but Butler has the two best wins out of the pair by a mile. Butler is the ONLY team to beat Villanova this season (well, except for St. John's), which should count for two wins, and the Ohio State neutral floor win is looking sexier by the day. Like Creighton, Butler has a clear path to 10 Big East wins, but it’ll have to take care of business at home against a feisty Providence squad shooting up the RPI ranks.

Providence 16-8 (7-4) (RPI 27, SOS 18, NC SOS 64)
Best Wins: Xavier, @St. John’s, Butler, Washington(n), Boston College, Creighton, @Marquette
Bad Losses: @UMass, Minnesota(n)

We’re splitting hairs here with Creighton / Providence / Butler / Seton Hall. The Friars have built a real strong resume after struggling a bit in conference play, scoring enormous wins against Xavier at home and against Washington on a neutral floor. The two “bad” losses hurt, but one hopes the Committee will know the situation of that Minnesota loss. Back when Providence lost to the Gophers, Minnesota was a fully healthy machine, but will that matter when the final standings say Minny just wasn’t very good? That loss likely won’t keep the Friars out of the Dance, but it may eventually hurt its seed (the UMass one even more so). Of course, Providence can put all of the doubters to bed with another five or six Big East wins, a significantly realistic possibility down the stretch.

Work Left To Do

Marquette 14-10 (5-7) (RPI 57, SOS 9, NC SOS 122)
Best Wins: Seton Hall, @Providence, LSU(n), @Seton Hall, Vermont
Bad Losses: None

Ouch Town, population: Marquette. The Golden Eagles have sputtered after a 13-6 (4-3) start, losing four of five Big East contests and falling dangerously close to tumbling off the bubble. It’s amazing, and likely torture to Eagle fans, to think how much different this resume would look if Marquette pulled off the Villanova (lost by 2) and Providence (lost by 2) wins at the Bradley Center. The recent Seton Hall road win is absolutely ENORMOUS, but now Marquette must travel on the road in four of its final six Big East games.

Big Ten

Locks (3): Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State
Should be in (0): None
Work left to do (4): Northwestern, Michigan, Penn St., Nebraska
Nope (7): Wisconsin, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana

Work Left To Do

Michigan 18-7 (8-5) (RPI 40, SOS 65, NC SOS 241)
Best Wins: UCLA, @Texas, @Michigan State, Maryland
Bad Losses: None

I had to bump Michigan down to “Work Left to Do” despite their two outstanding road wins and excellent predictive metrics (30 KenPom, 28 Sagarin). Due to their soft-ish non-conference slate  and the even softer-ish Big Ten, the Wolverines are just are just 4-7 in Group 1+2 games, which really isn’t good enough to say they deserve a bid right now. Still, though, 18-7 (8-5) in the Big Ten is solid, and it’s hard to see them missing if they go 3-2 against a manageable schedule the rest of the way (getting the revenge win against Ohio State at home would be huge).

Nebraska 18-8 (9-4) (RPI 54, SOS 93, NC SOS 260)
Best Wins: Boston College, @Northwestern, Michigan
Bad Losses: None

Different approach here - let’s bullet this one out:

  • First, the bad things about Nebraska’s resume:
  • Zero wins against Group 1
  • 3-8 record vs Group 1+2 (and one of those is @ dropping-like-a-brick Minnesota)
  • 260 NC SOS
  • Best non-conference win is Boston College at home
  • Blah predictive metrics (57 KenPom, 60 Sagarin)
  • No remaining regular season chances to beat probable NCAA Tournament teams

And now, the good things about their resume:

  • Ummm...they have 18 wins?
  • They’re 9-4 in a gross Big Ten?
  • They don’t have any bad losses!!
  • Is a 4-5 road record ‘good’?

If Nebraska wins out (4 of their last 5 are at home, so it’s very doable), a 14-4 B1G record would still be tough to turn down (but not AS tough in a world of unbalanced schedules), despite all the other ugliness surrounding their profile. Perhaps the best thing to do would just be to ship them to Dayton and let the Cornhuskers figure it out in a First Four game.

Penn State 17-9 (7-6) (RPI 86, SOS 99, NC SOS 248)
Best Wins: @Ohio State, Nebraska, Maryland
Bad Losses: Wisconsin, Minnesota

Like Nebraska, Penn State decided to play mostly high school teams during the non-conference schedule, and their best win in that time frame was...Montana at home? Way to go fellas, you did it (although Montana is legit)! And that means the Nittany Lions really needed to kick ass during Big Ten play. The win at Ohio State was monstrous, but it’s really the only standout game on a barren profile that doesn’t keep up with the Nittanies’ strong-ish predictive metrics (44 KenPom, 45 Sagarin).

Northwestern 14-10 (6-6) (RPI 85, SOS 72, NC SOS 237)
Best Wins: Michigan, @Minnesota
Bad Losses: @Georgia Tech

All of my journalist friends would skewer me if I didn’t keep Northwestern here (ok, I don't really have any "real journalist friends"). The Purple Cats’ win over Michigan stands as a miniature oasis in a desolate desert of a profile, as even the Minnesota win looks likely to drop out of Group 2, given the Gophers' current anvil-esque trajectory. Plus, unlike Penn State’s big W, the Michigan win wasn’t even away from home (insert your own Allstate Arena joke here). They probably need to win out to have a chance (and beating Sparty is mandatory).


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

Should Be In

Arizona 19-6 (9-3) (RPI 21, SOS 39, NC SOS 51)
Best Wins: Texas A&M(n), Utah (2x), Arizona St., Alabama, Colorado, @Stanford, @UNLV
Bad Losses: None

We’re going to play this one super safe and not lock up the Wildcats just yet. Their lack of top-end wins (just two in Group 1) and not-quite-elite predictive rankings (and Sean Miller’s continued exasperation towards his team) leave the slightest possibility for the bottom to fall out. It’s ridiculously unlikely, but I’m an accountant - we’re inherently risk-averse.

Arizona State 18-6 (6-6) (RPI 34, SOS 66, NC SOS 111)
Best Wins: Xavier(n), Kansas State(n), St. John’s(n), @Kansas, @Utah, USC, Colorado
Bad Losses: Oregon

The Sun Devils managing to emerge victorious in last night's seesaw battle against USC was massive for a team that was wandering out onto thin ice. Despite the 6-6 Pac-12 record, I'm keeping them in "Should Be In" - they still have quite possibly the best non-conference resume of anyone in the country, going undefeated with two wins over Top 10 teams away from home (plus two other strong neutral court victories). I'd guess 3-3 to close the year would be good enough. 

Work Left To Do

USC 17-8 (8-4) (RPI 44, SOS 48, NC SOS 33)
Best Wins: Middle Tennessee(n), New Mexico State(n), Colorado, Utah, @Oregon, @Vanderbilt
Bad Losses: Princeton

The Princeton home loss looms large, as the Tigers have fallen all the way into Group 4 status. USC has done a strong job of recovering from missing on a bunch of non-conference chances, but letting one slip away last night in Tempe could sting. Winning in Tucson on Saturday would ease the pain, but the Wildcats will be anxious to avoid losing three in a row...

Washington 17-7 (7-4) (RPI 39, SOS 38, NC SOS 43)
Best Wins: @Kansas, Arizona, @USC, @Colorado, Arizona St.
Bad Losses: Stanford

I have to say, this is a shockingly strong profile, especially everything RPI-based. The schedule numbers are outstanding, and the top-end wins - both at home and on the road - shout "tourney team!" The darker side of the Huskies lies in their predictive metrics (97 KenPom, 88 Sagarin), but if they're winning games, that might not matter on Selection Sunday. They're pretty much done with big win chances, so the stretch run becomes a delicate dance of avoiding damaging losses. 

UCLA 17-7 (8-4) (RPI 51, SOS 64, NC SOS 68)
Best Wins: @Arizona, Kentucky(n), Washington, Utah, USC
Bad Losses: @Oregon State

UCLA notched their best win of the year last night, a great way to take advantage of recency bias and leave alum Bill Walton screaming about how they should definitely, 100%, absolutely be in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Bill, the Bruins definitely have work to do still, but adding a second W on the Arizona trip Saturday would go a long way. 

Colorado 14-10 (6-6) (RPI 66, SOS 45, NC SOS 127)
Best Wins: Arizona, Arizona State, @UCLA, Utah, South Dakota St.
Bad Losses: @Colorado State, San Diego, Iowa(n), @Oregon State

It's highly unlikely a home sweep of the Arizona schools will outweigh the Buffaloes poor non-conference results and predictive metrics (an unsightly 109th in KenPom), so this is mostly a formality.  They likely need to sweep their remaining games against their Pac-12 "Work Left to Do" counterparts and then beat an Arizona school in the conference tournament. 

Utah 14-9 (6-6) (RPI 58, SOS 52, NC SOS 202)
Best Wins: Missouri, @Arizona St., @Oregon, Washington
Bad Losses: UNLV

One of many Pac-12 profiles that simply lacks the requisite depth to merit heavy consideration. Like Colorado (their travel partner), they're done with the Arizona schools, so a Dory-like mindset of "just keep winning" and then stealing one against one of the Desert Duo (Cactus Crew? Dry Heat Hombres? Whatever, I mean the Arizona schools) in Las Vegas appears necessary.

Oregon 16-8 (6-5) (RPI 79, SOS 88, NC SOS 223)
Best Wins: @Arizona St., UCLA, Colorado, @Fresno St., Washington
Bad Losses: UConn(n), @Oregon St.

I almost removed Oregon out of spite (I took them as a preseason futures bet), but their chances to greatly improve their profile down the stretch (@Washington, @USC, @UCLA, host the Arizona schools) keep them in narrowly in the Watch. Given their poor non-conference play (best wins @Fresno, Ball St - not near the bubble), they probably need to finish 5-2 or better against their schedule to even have a chance. I doubt they make the field, but Dana Altman has a talented (if infuriating) bunch.

Stanford 13-12 (7-5) (RPI 90, SOS 27, NC SOS 40)
Best Wins: @Washington, Arizona St., Arizona, USC
Bad Losses: Portland St.(n), @Long Beach St., Eastern Washington, Cal

Not going to waste much time with the Cardinal right now. When you have as many Group 3+4 losses (4) as Group 1+2 wins (4), it’s not really much of a discussion. Sure, injuries played a part in their struggles early, but unless they go 13-5 in the league (aka win out), I don’t really see how they make enough of a push. Which is a damn shame, because the world NEEDS to see Robert Cartwright on the grandest stage.


Locks (2): Auburn, Tennessee
Should be in (2): Florida, Kentucky
Work left to do (7): Missouri, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State
Nope (3): Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Mississippi

Should Be In

Kentucky 17-7 (6-5) (RPI 15, SOS 5, NC SOS 6)
Best Wins: @West Va, Texas A&M, Louisville, Vermont, Miss State, Georgia, ETSU, Va Tech, @LSU, @Vandy
Bad Losses: None

It’s strange to see the losses pile up for a John Calipari squad, but this young ‘Cats team has struggled mightily away from home. The roaring comeback in Morgantown was a season-changer, giving the Wildcats a top-shelf win away from home and in the non-conference portion of the schedule (especially as rival Louisville fades). The computer numbers back up UK’s “Should Be In” status, particularly the dazzling SOS numbers - Calipari remains undefeated against the RPI formula.

Florida 16-8 (7-4) (RPI 50, SOS 30, NC SOS 37)
Best Wins: Stanford(n), Gonzaga(n), Cincy(n), @Texas A&M, @Mizzou, Arkansas, @Kentucky, Baylor, Miss St.
Bad Losses: None

Florida’s RPI is weirdly low, but they remain in strong shape due to their 5-3 record in Group 1 games (all away from Gainesville). Their heavy reliance on jumpers (307th in the country in percentage of shots taken at the rim, per hoop-math) leaves them susceptible to poor performances, even at home, and the stalled recovery of John Egbunu is a cause for concern. As it stands, though, it’d be crazy to see a team with their wins (and no truly bad losses) get left out of the field.

Work Left To Do

Texas A&M 16-8 (5-6) (RPI 18, SOS 6, NC SOS 13)
Best Wins: @Auburn, West Va(n), Buffalo, Mizzou, @USC, Arkansas, South Carolina, Penn St.(n)
Bad Losses: LSU

Despite a midseason swoon that saw the Aggies start SEC play 0-5 (of note: three of the losses were while Admon Gilder was injured), they’re awfully close to “Should Be In” status after their monumental win at Auburn. They’re 5-5 against Group 1, 8-7 against Group 1+2, have good-to-great computer numbers by all metrics, and the “bad” loss to LSU is very close to becoming a Group 2 game. The remaining schedule is manageable (although four games are on the road), and given their impressive 11-2 non-conference performance, 8-10 in the SEC might be good enough.  

Alabama 15-9 (6-5) (RPI 42, SOS 15, NC SOS 20)
Best Wins: Auburn, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, @Florida, Miss State, South Carolina, BYU(n), @LSU
Bad Losses: Minnesota(n)

The Tide have lost 3 of 5 in the rugged SEC, but given their five Group 1 wins and 9-8 record vs. Group 1+2, they’re not in any serious danger yet. The SEC schedule down the stretch is quite difficult, which could mean something like a 9-9 SEC record, but all Avery Johnson’s crazy-haired squad needs to do is avoid bad losses to stay safe.

Missouri 15-8 (6-5) (RPI 30, SOS 19, NC SOS 72)
Best Wins: Tennessee, Kentucky, @Alabama, @South Carolina, @UCF, Georgia, St. John’s(n), @Ole Miss
Bad Losses: Illinois(n)

Very few bubble teams have helped themselves more in the last week and a half than the fighting M-I-Zs, as they notched two Group 1 wins and another Group 2 road win. Getting to 9-9 in the league suddenly seems much more attainable, although the schedule only offers 2-3 more chances for difference-making victories. Still, though, the Tigers should control their own destiny, an accomplishment for a team that was reeling in late January.

Arkansas 16-8 (5-6) (RPI 35, SOS 33, NC SOS 73)
Best Wins: Tennessee, Oklahoma(n), Mizzou, @Georgia, South Carolina
Bad Losses: LSU

Arkansas looks like the stereotypical Mike Anderson team, especially in conference - vicious at home, but not nearly the same threat on the road (only road conf win was in 2OT). They only have three road games left on the slate, meaning if they hold serve at home, they’ll be in great shape, with three of their four home games being chances for Group 1 wins (Texas A&M, Kentucky, Auburn). The Oklahoma win at the PK80 in November continues to buoy the non-conference slate, even as the Minnesota win deteriorates into dust.  

Georgia 13-10 (4-7) (RPI 72, SOS 56, NC SOS 155)
Best Wins: St. Mary’s(n), @Marquette, Temple, Alabama, Florida, @LSU
Bad Losses: San Diego State(n), @UMass

It’s almost mid-February, and the Bulldogs are still one of only two teams that can say they’ve beaten St. Mary’s (the other is...Washington St.?!). As that win has strengthened, though, the road win at Marquette has faded slightly with the Golden Eagles’ Big East futility. As a result, Georgia sits squarely on the bubble, with decent computer numbers, “meh” predictive metrics (78 KenPom, 70 Sagarin), and two questionable losses. They have five big chances down the stretch - @Florida, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Auburn, Tennessee 2x - so the chances are there to push into the field.

LSU 13-10 (4-7) (RPI 81, SOS 43, NC SOS 198)
Best Wins: Texas A&M (2x), Arkansas (2x), Michigan(n), Houston, @Memphis
Bad Losses: Stephen F. Austin

I’m only including LSU because of their 7 Group 1+2 wins (and respectable 7-8 record in those games); their computer numbers + home loss to SFA have them comfortably on the outside looking in right now. Also notable: Both Memphis and Vandy sit right inside the RPI top 135, but if they fell out, it would remove a Group 2 win (@Memphis) and add another Group 3 loss (@Vandy). Arbitrary thresholds are fun! The Tigers don’t really have big chances down the stretch (no games left against Auburn/Tenn/UK/Florida/ Texas A&M), so they’re gonna need quantity of wins with their poor 4-7 SEC record.

Mississippi State 17-6 (6-5) (RPI 55, SOS 98, NC SOS 299)
Best Wins: Mizzou, @South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia
Bad Losses: None

Unless Mississippi State really goes bonkers down the stretch, it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to make the tournament simply due to their terrible NC SOS (lost the only Group 1+2 NC game they played) and resultant lack of a remotely decent NC win (best is home vs. Dayton...that’s not gonna “fly” ha ha ha get it, they're the Flyers). They’ve also only won once on the road all year. The weird part is, their stretch run still doesn’t offer a whole lot of big wins - only @Mizzou, @Texas A&M, and vs. Tennessee can truly move the needle. An 11-7 SEC record is the absolute minimum for consideration given their November/December vacation, with 12-6 being a more realistic tournament case (but still unlikely, in my eyes).


Locks (1): Cincinnati
Should be in (1): Wichita State
Work left to do (4): SMU, Houston, Temple, UCF
Nope (6): Everyone else

Should Be In

Wichita State 18-5 (8-3) (RPI 23, SOS 51, NC SOS 56)
Best Wins: @Baylor, Houston, Marquette(n), S. Dakota St., Charleston, UCF, @Tulsa, @UConn, @OK St., @Memphis
Bad Losses: None

We had to have a Wichita-related painful bowel movement after locking them up and swallowing the key last time, as their relatively soft performances against Group 1 competition and an uncharacteristic home loss have curbed our Shocker enthusiasm just a bit. They have real problems defensively, as their questionable rotations (and stronger competition?) have led to Marshall resorting to a far more conservative approach (lowest defensive turnover rate in his tenure). The Shockers are still an impressive 10-5 vs. Group 1+2 opponents with no bad losses, but the back-loaded schedule could seriously deflate their March seed if they struggle - despite the much-ballyhooed conference switch.

Work Left To Do

Houston 18-5 (8-3) (RPI 33, SOS 103, NC SOS 253)
Best Wins: Wichita, Providence(n), @UCF, Arkansas, Temple, SMU
Bad Losses: Drexel(n)

Houston and SMU are right around the same level of the bubble (both perched nearly on top of it, in my humble opinion), and both still have the home to Cincinnati game to put a massive scalp atop their ledger. However, Houston has a key disadvantage - they’ve already split with Wichita, while SMU could still sweep that matchup in Dallas. The Cougars have precious few chances to build their case, making last night’s victory so much more poignant (and probably nudging them ahead of the Mustangs for now).  

SMU 15-9 (5-6) (RPI 74, SOS 69, NC SOS 115)
Best Wins: Arizona(n), @Wichita, Boise St., USC, UCF
Bad Losses: Northern Iowa(n)

SMU and Houston had eerily similar profiles prior to last night’s matchup - two Group 1 wins (one against Wichita), 5 total Group 1+2 wins, one crappy loss. Prior to that game, SMU held a slight edge in my mind due to the Arizona win in the Bahamas (and they won AT Wichita), but even so, they were nearly identically positioned. That makes last night’s loss pivotal - with that result, I think they shift ever so slightly behind the Cougars. Another key factor: the loss of Jarrey Foster (and Shake Milton has missed time). The Ponies need to prove they can get big wins without him (granted - he did get hurt very early in the Wichita win) - sweeping the Shockers at Moody would do just that. 

Temple 14-10 (6-6) (RPI 38, SOS 7, NC SOS 10)
Best Wins: Clemson(n), Auburn(n), Wichita St., @SMU, South Carolina(n), Old Dominion(n), @Tulane
Bad Losses: Tulane, Memphis, @La Salle, George Washington(n)

Just looking at Temple’s profile is enough to make someone feel a little erratic; fully diving into it has me feeling like James McAvoy in M. Night Shymalan’s newest movie Split (spoiler alert - he has 23 personalities). The Owls' wins are dynamite - and 6 of their 7 Group 1+2 triumphs are away from home - proving that they have an extremely high ceiling with their stable of lengthy athletes. They’ve also crapped the bed a few too many times this year, with the GW neutral loss being a particularly garish turd. In past years, the committee has really gravitated towards teams that can beat good (and even great) teams, so the Owls have a solid shot - but knowing this squad, they'll lose four more times before the regular season ends and eliminate themselves from the running. 

UCF 14-9 (5-6) (RPI 71, SOS 63, NC SOS 142)
Best Wins: Nebraska(n), @Alabama, Temple
Bad Losses: None

The numbers remain respectable enough to keep them here (and the Nebraska win is certainly improving), but the Golden Knights are only 14-9, hovering around 100 in all predictive metrics, and under .500 in a wishy-washy American. Even worse, they’ve scored a horrifying 78 combined points in 2 full games against Cincinnati - that’s 80 minutes of basketball - and BJ Taylor got injured again (arguably their 3 best players are now sidelined). If they close 6-1 with a win over Wichita State, they’ll be in the discussion, but they have as much room for error as Fat Albert squeezing through a doorway.  


Locks (0): None
Should be in (4): Gonzaga, Rhode Island, Nevada, Saint Mary's
Work left to do (5): Boise State, St. Bonaventure, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, New Mexico State

Should Be In

Rhode Island 19-3 (11-0) (RPI 5, SOS 35, NC SOS 3)
Best Wins: Seton Hall(n), Providence, St. Bonaventure, @Dayton, @VCU, Charleston
Bad Losses: None

The Rams are currently lighting the A-10 on fire, standing head and shoulders above everyone else in the disappointing conference. Rhodey hasn’t lost since December 6th and boasts one of the most impressive RPI/SOS/NCSOS slashes among Tourney hopefuls. The only reason URI isn’t a lock right now is the fact that it plays in the A-10 where bad losses constantly lie in wait. I don’t see URI losing seven conference games in a row, so I’ll quietly say this team is a lock for the Tournament and could be fighting for a top 5 seed come Selection Sunday if they run the A-10 table or finish something like 16-2.

Gonzaga 22-4 (12-1) (RPI 49, SOS 140, NC SOS 103)
Best Wins: Ohio St.(n), Texas(n), Creighton, @Washington
Bad Losses: None

It’s weird seeing the Zags with such a mediocre RPI, a consequence of their lackluster schedule and playing in the WCC. Advanced ranking sites like KenPom love this team, ranking them 9th in the country, which mirrors a certain team from Wichita last season. The relatively low quantity of Group 1 & 2 wins may keep Gonzaga in the 5-7 seed range, which means we’ll likely see the Zags favored over a higher seed (higher meaning better) in March. Gonzaga has two more shots at a quality win when they travel to St. Mary’s and BYU later this month. Winning both and finishing WCC 17-1 will boost that so-so RPI.

Nevada 20-5 (9-2) (RPI 14, SOS 49, NC SOS 23)
Best Wins: Rhode Island, @Fresno St., Boise St., Southern Illinois(n), Wyoming, Illinois State
Bad Losses: San Francisco(n), UNLV

Similarly to Rhode Island, Nevada is sitting pretty from an overall record and RPI standpoint. However, the Pack lack some serious muscle behind those quality wins outside of a home victory over Rhode Island. KenPom currently projects Nevada to lose two more MWC bouts and finish 15-3 in conference play. If that happens, and the Pack lose in the MWC Tournament, I think they still get into the Big Dance. If Nevada loses three or more of its remaining eight games, then I’d start to worry as that type of finish would inherently include one or two “bad” losses.

Saint Mary’s 24-2 (13-0) (RPI 28, SOS 146, NC SOS 193)
Best Wins: New Mexico St., @BYU, @Gonzaga
Bad Losses: Washington St.(n)

Saint Mary’s skyrocketed up the RPI standings since our last update thanks to another BYU victory and a (surprisingly) “almost good” win at San Diego. The Gaels have passed their seemingly annual litmus test by beating Gonzaga and BYU at least once during the season. Those wins are essential for a Randy Bennett team that never plays a daunting out of conference schedule (though this year has been better than years past). The Gaels have one more major test in conference play when the Zags come to Moraga to attempt to avenge the loss suffered in Spokane. Win or lose (assuming they take care of business in the other five games), Saint Mary’s should be in the Field of 68 by a comfortable margin.

Work Left To Do

Boise State 19-4 (10-2) (RPI 32, SOS 116, NC SOS 187)
Best Wins: @Oregon, Illinois St.(n), @Fresno St., Loyola-IL, @UNLV
Bad Losses: None

If someone other than Nevada wins the MWC conference tournament, Boise likely doesn’t get in. However, the Broncos have the best shot for an at-large outside of the Wolf Pack thanks to their stellar RPI and impressive overall record. Boise as two more chances to land statement wins - one against Nevada on Valentine’s Day and one at San Diego State on February 27th. I’d love to see multiple teams come out of the MWC, a conference that appears to be on the rise after several years in purgatory. If the Broncos can finish 16-2 or 15-3 in conference play (and Nevada wins the MWC Tourney), they have a good shot at crashing the Field.

Middle Tennessee 18-5 (11-1) (RPI 29, SOS 79, NC SOS 5)
Best Wins: @Murray St., @Vanderbilt, @Western Kentucky, @Old Dominion, @FGCU
Bad Losses: Belmont

The Blue Raiders have one of the better mid-major at-large cases in the country. Their #29 RPI and #5 NC SOS carry a lot of water, and (to be honest) I think the Committee will favor MTSU a bit more than the average mid-major due to the Raiders’ past two Tourney performances. Whether right or wrong, perception and familiarity plays a role in human decision making. MTSU may also get credit for the way it performed in its losses this season. The Raiders lost to Auburn by 6, USC by 5, and Miami by 3, all games Kermit Davis’s squad could’ve won. Resume-wise, four away wins against quality opponents looks very good. I’d wager a 17-1 or 16-2 C-USA finish puts them in the Dance.

St. Bonaventure 17-6 (7-4) (RPI 47, SOS 101, NC SOS 60)
Best Wins: @Buffalo, @Syracuse, Maryland(n), Vermont(n), @Canisius
Bad Losses: @St. Joe’s, Niagara (sans Adams)

The Bonnies are hanging on by a thread. The Niagara loss on opening day can be chocked up to Jaylen Adams’ absence, but there’s no excuse for the four A-10 losses other than “the Bonnies just might not be that good”. A 7-4 record in a down A-10 isn’t going to convince any Committee member to put the Bonnies in the field, but those five Group 1 & 2 wins give them a slim chance. Running the table the rest of the way is essentially a must at this point. Beating Rhode Island at home and VCU on the road would make things at least a little interesting.

Western Kentucky 16-7 (9-2) (RPI 56, SOS 75, NC SOS 28)
Best Wins: Purdue(n), SMU(n), @Old Dominion, @Marshall
Bad Losses: Belmont, @Ohio, @UTSA, @Wisconsin, Missouri State

C-USA feels like it deserves two teams in the Tournament this year, but it’ll be hard for the Committee to justify sending Western Kentucky into the Dance as an at-large team with five Group 3 losses. The Purdue and SMU wins are nice, but will they be enough to clear the bubble? Three things that could help: 1) Belmont moves into the top 75 RPI, 2) Wisconsin moves into the top 135 RPI, and 3) WKU runs the table the rest of the way, picking up a crucial win at Middle Tennessee. If all that happens, the Hilltoppers will sit at 23-7 (16-2) with five wins against Group 1 & 2 and three losses against Group 3. That may be good enough to punch a ticket.

New Mexico State 18-3 (8-0) (RPI 48, SOS 160, NC SOS 99)
Best Wins: Miami(FL)(n)
Bad Losses: San Diego

New Mexico State is an interesting case. The Aggies are beloved by advanced metrics sites like KenPom (#35) and the WAC has been a fairly competitive league this season. NMSU’s lack of quality wins is due more to lack of opportunity than actual performance. After all, the Aggies did beat both Illinois and Davidson on neutral floors, two wins that ordinarily would be thought of as “good” by an innocent bystander. Unfortunately those two squads are still wallowing in the pit of RPI misery, leaving the Aggies with only one truly impressive victory (Miami) on their resume. If NMSU loses in the WAC Tournament Championship, the Committee is going to face a ton of pressure when deciding the fate of the 26-4 (14-0) New Mexico State Aggies.