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Bubble Banter: Which teams are starting to sweat?


Mike Miller

When the Super Bowl ends on Sunday night, the sports world will turn its attention toward March Madness. We’ll begin to think more seriously about No. 1 seeds, brackets, and oh yeah, those teams on the bubble. Must be time to debut Bubble Banter.

As it’s still more than a month from Selection Sunday, the bubble picture remains quite fluid. If we could see into the future, the March 3 edition of Bubble Banter will likely look much different than today’s version. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, several teams currently on solid ground will slip in the next four weeks. There will also be teams which work their way into the at-large discussion.

First, a couple of housekeeping notes. To keep the bubble reasonable, we’ve been generous with teams listed as Should Be In. We’ve also been realistic about which teams we’ve listed on the bubble. So if your team is missing, it’s not personal. There just isn’t enough resume material to be a realistic at-large candidate at this point in time. Take for example, Drexel, VCU, Old Dominion, and George Mason of the Colonial. The highest RPI of that group belongs to Drexel (No. 79). Here are the other numbers - VCU (91), George Mason (107), Old Dominion (125). All four teams are 10-2 in CAA play. Great league records, but none of the profiles includes a Top 50 RPI win. Drexel has three sub-100 RPI losses, and the Dragons’ best win is VCU. Could any of these teams pull an upset? Sure, but right now the CAA champion is closer to a 14 seed than an at-large bid.

Among BCS teams, defending champion Connecticut is a surprise guest on the bubble list. The Huskies have lost four straight and 6 of 8 games - including losses to Rutgers and Tennessee. While UConn would likely be in the Field of 68 today, their outlook is somewhat suspect. Without a quick turnaround, the Huskies four-game slide could easily become seven. That would most certainly put UConn in a very dangerous position.

Debate is always fun, and we’re about to move into high gear. Enjoy a great weekend of hoops. March is just around the corner.

RPI and SOS data is from Records and RPI data is for games played through Thursday, February 2.


Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (TBA): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (TBA): These teams are teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (TBA): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (TBA): Will be updated when when we get to March.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through .....

Atlantic 10
Locks: None | Should Be In: Temple | Bubble: Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Louis, Xavier

  • Dayton (14-8 | 4-4) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 31 | - The Flyers have lost three straight games to non-NCAA teams, including two at home. Missing against Rhode Island (RPI No. 243) is particulary harsh given some other “bad” losses (Miami-OH). Several good wins help ease the resume, but Dayton’s RPI has slipped significantly and overall losses are mounting. Notable non-conference wins include Alabama, Mississippi, and Minnesota.
  • La Salle (17-6 | 6-2) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 139 | - Work remains for the Explorers, whose resume is light on quality wins. But we can’t ignore La Salle’s standing in the A-10. It will likely take a share of the A-10 regular-season title for the Explorers to have a realistic at-large shot, however. Their best win is Xavier at home, and there’s nothing from the non-conference slate of note except losses to Robert Morris and Delaware.
  • Massachusetts (16-6 | 5-3) | RPI: 72 | SOS: 132 | - Wednesday’s loss at Rhode Island puts a major dent in the Minutemen’s at-large chances. Much like La Salle, it could take a share of the A-10 title to be in the at-large picture. There’s nothing of note outside the league.
  • St. Louis (16-5 | 5-3) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 89 | - The Billkens have wins over Washington, Oklahoma and Villanova outside the A-10. Right now, those victories aren’t helping as much as they normally would. SLU’s only blemish is a road loss at Loyola-Marymount, but it’s not a major issue. The Billikens may be the league’s second best team right now, but they need to stay with Temple at the top of the standings. Big game at home this weekend. A victory over Dayton would give SLU a season sweep of the Flyers.
  • Xavier (15-7 | 6-3) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 46 | - Xavier has fallen hard since the brawl at the Crosstown Shootout. The Muskateers lost 5 of 6 games during that post-brawl stretch and haven’t beaten an NCAA-level team since. The victory at Vanderbilt will hold some weight, along with wins over Purdue and Cincinnati. A big game awaits at Memphis this weekend. Another quality non-conference road scalp would certainly help level the Muskies’ profile. February’s schedule also includes road trips to Temple and St. Louis.
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: Florida State, Virginia | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State

  • Miami-FL (13-7 | 4-3) | RPI:54 | SOS: 49 | - The Hurricanes still have a lot of work to do, as their resume is very bland - no significant wins, no bad losses. But the power numbers give Miami a chance. A big opportunity awaits: the Hurricanes travel to Duke and Florida State in the next eight days, with Virginia Tech (home) in between. Miami needs quality wins.
  • NC State (16-7 | 5-3) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 47 | - Other than a win over fellow bubble-dweller Texas, the Wolfpack’s non-conference slate is very average. That means it’ll take some good work in the ACC to make a run at an at-large bid. A victory at Miami is solid, but it’s coupled with a loss to Ga. Tech. The one-point home loss to Virginia was a missed opportunity. An upcoming three-game stretch with Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina will determine whether the Wolfpack stay in contention or fall off the bubble.
Locks: Syracuse | Should Be In: Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, West Virginia | Bubble: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall

  • Cincinnati (15-7 | 5-4) | RPI: 98 | SOS: 126 | - Overcoming a non-conference SOS ranked No. 330 is the Bearcats ultimate challenge. The Committee has not looked kindly on such scheduling in recent years (see Colorado, Alabama from 2011). What’s that mean for UC? The Bearcats have to be well above average in Big East play. Wins at Georgetown and Connecticut certainly help, but three straight losses (including Rutgers) has knocked UC’s profile into dangerous territory. It will take a strong run for the Bearcats to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
  • Connecticut (14-7 | 4-5) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 7 | - UConn has lost four straight and 6 of 8 games. That’s not a desirable trend in early February. Strong power numbers give the Huskies somewhat of a safety net, but how much? Good non-conference wins include Florida State and Harvard; the Huskies also won a home game against Arkansas. The biggest issues are losses to Rutgers and Tennessee during the current slide. Huge game with Seton Hall at home this weekend. After that, UConn heads to Louisville and Syracuse.
  • Notre Dame (14-8 | 6-3) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 59 | - Quietly, the Irish have put themselves in the Big East race by winning three straight and 5 of their past 7 games. The stretch includes a home win over Syracuse (minues Melo) and road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut. Notre Dame accomplished little in its non-conference schedule, so a fair amount of work remains. Overall, the closing stretch is favorable. It begins with Marquette at home ahead of a trip to West Virginia.
  • Seton Hall (15-7 | 4-6) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 16 | - Once projected as a protected seed (Top 4), the Pirates have lost five straight and face two more road tests in the next week: Connecticut and Rutgers. SHU’s non-conference profile is solid but not spectacular as wins over St. Joe’s and Dayton have lost some luster. The Pirates also have a loss to Northwestern. If there’s good news, it’s that the schedule lightens down the stretch. Seton Hall must take advantage and pile up wins. The downside for SHU ... of its remaining Big East games, only four (and that includes Pitt) are against potential NCAA teams.
Locks: Ohio State | Should Be In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin | Bubble: Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue

  • Minnesota (16-7 | 4-6) | RPI: 50| SOS: 54 | - After an 0-4 start in Big Ten play, the Gophers rebounded to win 4 of 5 games including a victory at Indiana and a home win over Illinois. Then came Wednesday’s loss at Iowa, giving the Hawkeyes a season sweep. Outside the league, the Gophers have a win over Virginia Tech, but not much else of note. The good news is that after a game at Nebraska this weekend, Minnesota closes with 5 of 7 games at The Barn - including visits from Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan State. So plenty of opportunities remain.
  • Northwestern (13-8 | 3-6) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 11 | - The Wildcats earned a must-have home victory Thursday night against Nebraska. Next up is a trip to Illinois on Sunday. The question is: can Northwestern reach at least eight conference wins? Outside the league, NW has a good win over Seton Hall, and a respectible win over LSU. They also lost a somewhat close game at Crieghton. Unlike past seasons, the Wildcats’ SOS is a major plus. Inside the conference, Northwestern’s best win is over Michigan State at home. To have a chance, the Wildcats need to win the rest of their home games and find at least one victory away from Evanston.
  • Purdue (15-7 | 5-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 51 | - Overall, the Boilermakers are in pretty good shape even though they’ve lost 3 of 5 games. The victory last weekend at Northwestern was huge, and gives Purdue a chance to move to 6-4 in league play when Indiana visits on Saturday. The Boilers have wins over Temple, Iona, and Miami-FL in non-conference play. The question marks are losses to Butler and at Penn State. Overall, Purdue has just three Top 50 wins. The closing stretch isn’t easy, with remaining road trips to Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. In this year’s Big Ten, though, going 9-9 might be enough.
BIG 12
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State | Bubble: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas

  • Iowa State (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 55 | - The Cyclones’ profile got a major boost in the past week thanks to victories over Kansas and Kansas State at home. Can ISU sustain its success away from home? The closing stretch features five trips away from Ames - including the next two: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. If it’s close, there’s not much on ISU’s non-conference resume to help, the Cyclones’ best out-of-league win is Iowa or Providence. The team’s resume is also light on Top 100 wins (3). That said, Iowa State is in the mix and has three winnable games just ahead.
  • Oklahoma (13-8 | 3-6) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 35 | - What Oklahoma has is a season sweep of Kansas State and home victories over Arkansas and Oral Roberts. The Sooners also have six Big 12 losses and a 1-4 mark in road games. The next two at home are huge, with Iowa State and Missouri visiting Norman. A sweep would give OU a major boost and help square up their Big 12 record. The Sooners have already lost both games to Kansas and lost to Baylor at home. OU plays Mizzou just once and travels to Baylor later this month. It will be critical for the Sooners to beat one of the league’s Big Three at least once.
  • Texas (13-9 | 3-6) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 12 | - There’s not much to say other than the Longhorns have a lot of work to do. Texas is 1-7 away from home and 2-8 vs. Top 100 teams. If it weren’t for a strong SOS and home wins over Temple and Iowa State, the Longhorns wouldn’t even be listed here. Texas needs a major winning streak and now.
Locks: None | Should Be In: So. Mississippi, Memphis | Bubble: Central Florida, Marshall

  • Central Florida (14-6 | 5-3) | RPI: 71 | SOS: 109 | - How far will victories over Connecticut and Memphis carry the Knights? Probably not to the NCAAs. UCF is just 2-4 vs. Top 100 teams. Riding a two-game losing streak, UCF can’t afford many more miscues, and probably needs to sweep its trifecta with Marshall, Southern Miss, and Memphis down the stretch.
  • Marshall (13-8 | 5-3) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 25 | - Marshall lacks a Top 50 RPI win (Iona is close) but the Herd is 4-7 vs. Top 100 teams thanks to victories over Central Florida, Belmont, and Cincinnati. It took a home win over Tulane to end a four-game losing skid, so Marshall has plenty of ground to make up. The real issue is Conference USA. The only remaining Top 50 games for Marshall are home dates with Memphis and Southern Miss at the end of February. The Herd needs to keep winning and probably take both of those games, too.
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: Wichita State | Bubble: None

  • Right now the Missouri Valley looks to be a two-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State firmly in the Field of 68. Arch Madness is always unpredictable, but it will take a major run by Missouri State or Northern Iowa to get a third team in the at-large picture.
Locks: UNLV | Should Be In: San Diego State | Bubble: Colorado State, New Mexico

  • Colorado State (13-7 | 3-3) | RPI: 18 | SOS: 4 | - Thanks to a strong SOS, the computers love Colorado State. Of course, ten people make up the Selection Committee, and a single home win over San Diego State isn’t going to be enough to push CSU into the NCAA tournament. Other notable wins are Colorado and Denver, but neither pushes the needle too far. The Rams don’t have any bad losses, but only three potential quality wins remain: New Mexico, at San Diego State, and UNLV. Finishing 1-5 against that group won’t be enough.
  • New Mexico (17-4 | 4-2) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 97 | - If the Lobos can beat San Diego State or UNLV at least once, the rest of UNM’s profile might be enough. In addition to beating Colorado State and Wyoming (MTW), the Lobos have wins over St. Louis and Missouri State. What’s missing is that marquee victory. A 5-1 mark in true road games is a plus, as is an 8-2 mark in games outside The Pit. There is one really ugly loss to Santa Clara (No. 262), but that’s the only negative. If New Mexico is swept by UNLV and San Diego State, it could be tight.
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, Washington

  • Arizona (15-8 | 6-4) | RPI: 74 | SOS: 70 | - The Wildcats may have saved their at-large season by winning at California on Thursday. It was Arizona’s first Top 50 RPI victory. Like most teams in the Pac-12, there remains a lot of work ahead. A 3-7 mark vs. Top 100 teams isn’t an eye-opener and Arizona’s best win outside the league is Duquesne at home.
  • California (17-6 | 7-3 ) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 66 | - Cal has one of the better Pac-12 profiles, with a 6-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams. But thanks to nothing outside the league, the Bears have yet to acquire a Top 50 win - and they are the only Pac-12 school currently ranked in that category. If Cal wins or shares a Pac-12 regular-season title, they have a chance to be in the at-large pool. Anything less is highly questionnable.
  • Colorado (13-7 | 7-3) | RPI: 80 | SOS: 85 | - The Buffaloes have to stay with the Pac-12 leaders and probably win a regular-season title to earn an at-large bid. Georgia is Colorado’s best non-conference victory and that wont’ help much. The Buffs are just 2-6 vs. Top 100 teams and are 3-6 away from home.
  • Oregon (16-6 | 7-3) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 110 | - A victory at Nebraska is all the Ducks have outside of conference play, and wins over Arizona and Stanford aren’t going to be enough by themselves. Same storyline here: Plan to win or share the Pac-12 title to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.
  • Stanford (16-6 | 6-4) | RPI: 89 | SOS: 152 | - The Cardinal are the only Pac-12 team to accomplish much outside the league, beating Colorado State and NC State at home - both fellow bubble teams. But the rest of Stanford’s resume isn’t that appealing and there a non-conference SOS ranked No. 259 that sticks out like a sore thumb. Stanford probably has to win the Pac-12 title (regular season) to be in the at-large picture.
  • Washington (15-7 | 8-2) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 64 | - The Huskies won four straight and 7 of 8 to vault into the Pac-12 lead. That’s good, because it might take a regular season title for Washington to garner an at-large bid. Outside the Pac-12, the Huskies’ best win is over UC-Santa Barbara, and they are just 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams (without a Top 50 win). What Washington has avoided is a bad RPI loss, although one could argue a 19-point home loss to South Dakota State qualifies as bad. Five of the Huskies final eight games are on the road.
Locks: Kentucky | Should Be In: Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State | Bubble: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi

  • Alabama (14-7 | 3-4) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 18 | - The Crimson Tide have lost 4 of 5 games and find themselves on a bit of shaky ground heading into February. Notable wins include Wichita State, Arkansas and Purdue. Key losses are at Dayton and at South Carolina. Unlike last season, Alabama’s SOS is a major help. Bama has two remaining games with Ole Miss (one this weekend), to go along with visits from Florida and Mississippi State. Key road games include Arkansas and LSU. Do they need all six? Not if they take care of lesser teams. But Bama’s marging for error is less than it once was.
  • Arkansas (16-6 | 4-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 65 | - Following wins over Michigan and Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks are certainly in the at-large picture. What’s missing is a victory outside Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas is 0-5 in road games and it’s hard to imagine the Razorbacks reaching the NCAAs without at least one or two victories away from home. Of Arkansas’ nine remaining games, five are on the road. It starts with trips to LSU and Georgia. A non-conference SOS ranked No. 206 won’t help much, and Arkansas’ best non-league win besides Michigan is Charlotte (at home).
  • Mississippi (14-7 | 4-3) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 39 | - Mississippi’s overall profile is very average, but worthy of consideration. Good wins include Mississippi State and Arkansas in the SEC, but the Rebels’ best win outside the conference is Miami-FL. The only real blemish is a loss to Auburn. A huge road swing is up next with trips to Alabama and Mississippi State. The Rebels also have remaining trips to Kentucky and Arkansas. Opportunity awaits, but it won’t be easy for Ole Miss to keep its head above the cutline.
Locks: None | Should Be In: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga | Bubble: BYU

  • BYU (17-6 | 7-3) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 58 | - The Cougars got an important win Thursday by beating Gonzaga at home. When you consider that BYU had lost both games to St. Mary’s, dropping both to Gonzaga would have been bad for the team’s overall profile. Other notable wins include Nevada, Oregon, and at Virginia Tech. Losses to Loyola-Marymount (home) and at Utah State are the rough patches. While BYU is just 1-4 vs. Top 50 teams, the Cougars are 6-4 vs. the Top 100; which is better than some other bubble contenders. BYU has been a good road team (5-2), and four of the Cougars’ final six games are away from home. How they close out that stretch will be a major factor.
Locks: None | Should Be In: Murray State | Bubble: Cleveland State, Davidson, Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts

  • Cleveland State (17-4 | 8-2) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 163 | - Unfortunately for Cleveland State, the Horizon League isn’t as strong this year. CSU has to hope an early win at Vanderbilt and a victory over Akron is good enough to offset losses to Youngstown State and Hofstra. Assuming CSU can keep winning, the Vikings’ BracketBusters matchup with Drexel could be critical. It’s the only Top 100 RPI game remaining on their schedule.
  • Davidson (15-5 | 10-1) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 149 | - What Davidson has is a victory at Kansas. The Wildcats also have losses at Charlotte and Samford (RPI No. 291). The power numbers are also concerning; it’s hard to see a Southern Conference team earning an at-large bid with an RPI in the upper 60s. Which means Davidson may have to win its BracketBusters game with Wichita State to have a realistic shot for an at-large - assuming they avoid any more bad losses.
  • Harvard (17-2 | 4-0) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 226 | - Harvard should win the Ivy League and make an at-large bid unnecessary. Without a conference tournament, it might be difficult for the Crimson to earn an at-large bid if they finish behind someone in the conference standings. There are simply no quality wins remaining. If it happens, Harvard will have to hope that early wins over Florida State, St. Joe’s, and Central Florida are enough.
  • Iona (18-5 | 10-2) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 171 | - After a strong start, the Gaels’ profile is somewhat suspect. Are wins over St. Joseph’s, Denver, and Maryland really going to push Iona into the NCAAs? Probably not. Especially with losses to Siena and Hofstra also on their resume. The BracketBuster game with Nevada could loom large if Iona wins its remaining regular-season MAAC games.
  • Long Beach (14-6 | 9-0) | RPI: 32 | SOS: 73 | - When the Selection Committee asks teams to challenge themselves in non-conference play, it speaks volumes that Long Beach has the No. 1 rated non-conference SOS. During that tough stretch, the 49ers won at Pittsburgh and Xavier. The only so-so bad loss is a two-point defeat at Montana at the end of November. LBSU’s remaining losses are to Top 50 RPI teams. If Long Beach could find a BracketBusters win at Creighton, the 49ers outlook would look pretty good.
  • Middle Tennesse State (20-3 | 10-0) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 165 | - The Blue Raiders are four games clear in the Sun Belt and have wins over Ole Miss, Belmont, and Akron outside the league. They also beat UCLA in November. Will that be enough if MTSU fails to win an automatic bid? Beating Denver this weekend would ensure a season sweep. MTSU’s only losses are at Vanderbilt, Belmont (2 OT), and at UAB. If the Blue Raiders can make it through the Sun Belt with only one loss, a defeat in the championship game would certainly put them in the mix for an at-large bid.
  • Nevada (17-3 | 8-0) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 151 | - Nevada will keep rooting for Washington to win the Pac-12 as the Wolfpack’s win over the Huskies is their only potential NCAA-level win at this point. A date with Iona in the BracketBusters could loom large. The WAC isn’t overly strong this year, but it would be hard to discount a team that went undefeated in league play (if that happens). Losses are to UNLV, BYU, and Missouri State. Any loss other than to New Mexico State would be “bad” so Nevada needs to keep its pedal on full throttle.
  • Oral Roberts (20-5 | 12-1) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 167 | - ORU has a win a Xavier along with a victory over Missouri State outside the Summit League. Considering the victory came against a post-brawl Xavier team without its best players, how much will the victory help? That’s a question the Selection Committee will consider. Only the loss to UT-Arlington is questionnable (No. 184). Other losses are to Gonzaga, West Virginia and Oklahoma on the road. When you consider that 12 of ORU’s 20 wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI, the margin for error is pretty small. ORU drew Akron in the BracketBusters game, which may not help much. But a loss would certainly put a major hurt on ORU’s at-large chances.