Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Preview

With the calendar turning to March tomorrow, it’s time to start counting down to Selection Sunday (if you haven’t already). With that in mind, time is running out for bubble teams to make a statement to the committee. Many of the teams on the fence go up against a top team with a chance to pick up a marquee win, while other bubble teams need to just continue winning and avoiding bad losses. On top of that, there are a handful of match-ups between championship contenders. Conference tournaments in many leagues tip-off next week, so the next couple of days will be a great hors d'oeuvres for the greatest month of the year.

Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Two Big East teams in need of a win to help their seeding (Pitt) or their general inclusion into the NCAA Tournament (‘Cuse). The Panthers beat Cincinnati at home this week, but had dropped three consecutive games prior to that; their seed and standing in the conference pecking order has been dropping rapidly. Syracuse, as it was last year, is squarely on the bubble. A win here would be a boost to the Orange’s profile – a loss here would be a wasted opportunity. Prediction: Syracuse 71, Pittsburgh 64

West Virginia at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Another Big East battle that will have an effect on potential seedings in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Connecticut bounced back its loss last weekend at Villanova with a victory at Rutgers this week; the Huskies have won now won 11 of their last 12. West Virginia is 9-4 in its last 13 games, but needs to do more in order to reach the NCAA Tournament. A win here would likely clinch a bid for the Mountaineers. Prediction: Connecticut 74, West Virginia 66

Texas A&M at Oklahoma (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): An interesting game in the Big 12. Both teams would make the NCAA Tournament if the field was selected today, but neither is a lock by any stretch. They each need to do more work if they want to feel safe about their status come Selection Sunday. A&M is coming off of an impressive home win over Texas Tech, while Oklahoma has lost back-to-back road games by a combined 35 points to Texas and Nebraska. The frontcourt battles will be fun to watch.
Prediction: Oklahoma 72, Texas A&M 65

Georgetown at Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS): This game should reflect what is at stake in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments – as well as the difference in the two teams’ respective styles. Georgetown runs a version of the Princeton offense, filled with backdoor cuts and open passing lanes. Defensively, the Hoyas play tough half-court defense and don’t allow too many open shots. Having the 7-3 Roy Hibbert down low helps things. On the other side, Marquette has a variety of perimeter players who can either take their defender off the dribble or hit the three off penetration. At the other end, Marquette loves to pressure the opponents’ guards and play the passing lanes hoping for steals and transition baskets. It will interesting to see which side prevails.
Prediction: Marquette 73, Georgetown 68

USC at Arizona State (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV): One of several big-time Pac-10 games this weekend. USC is on a three-game winning streak and has won nine of its last 12 games. The Trojans went into Tucson and knocked off Arizona on Thursday night, widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the Pac-10. Arizona State needs to win here in order to keep its NCAA hopes alive. The Sun Devils had a chance to help their resume on Thursday, but they were blown out by UCLA on their homecourt. Prediction: USC 69, Arizona State 65

Washington State at Stanford (Saturday, 4:00 PM, FSN): Two of the top teams in the Pac-10 square off in a game that could decide who will be UCLA’s biggest competition in the conference tournament. Washington State destroyed California in Berkley on Thursday, proving once again that the Cougars are far better on the road than at home. Stanford is still one game behind UCLA in the league standings, and the Cardinal have won three in a row and 10 of their last 11. Can WSU defend Brook Lopez inside? Prediction: Stanford 66, Washington State 61

Mississippi State at Florida (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): An interdivision showdown in the SEC. Mississippi State is getting closer and closer to locking up a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but a win here would likely clinch an invitation. The Bulldogs lead the SEC West and have been playing well lately, winning five of their last six. Florida, on the other hand, has a lot of work to do if it wants a bid to the Big Dance. The Gators have just three top-100 wins, but a win here combined with double-digit SEC wins will get them a bid. Prediction: Florida 72, Mississippi State 63

Vanderbilt at Arkansas (Saturday, 4:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Another interdivision battle in the SEC. Vanderbilt likely locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament with its victory over Tennessee earlier in the week, and the Commodores might be playing some of the best basketball in the conference. On the other side, Arkansas is in the midst of its worst stretch of the season, having lost four of their last five games. The Razorbacks need a win here to get back on the right track and help out their resume.
Prediction: Arkansas 77, Vanderbilt 71

Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV):
The West Coast Conference regular-season title is on the line when these two teams meet on Saturday night. St. Mary’s won the first meeting between the two, an overtime classic on the Gaels’ homecourt. They are coming off a home win over San Diego this week, but they dropped a home contest to Kent State last week in the Bracket Busters. Gonzaga has lost just three times since Christmas – to Tennessee, Memphis and St. Mary’s. The Bulldogs have the edge at home. Prediction: Gonzaga 75, Saint Mary’s 70

Illinois State at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 8:30 PM, Regional TV):
A potential bubble game for two Missouri Valley teams hoping to grab the league’s second NCAA Tournament if there is one available this season. Illinois State is second in the league, two games behind Drake with just one game left. ISU is on a three-game winning streak. SIU came out of nowhere to move into the at-large mix with an 11-6 league record and a host of impressive wins. A win here, and the Salukis might move ahead of the Redbirds in the MVC pecking order. Prediction: Southern Illinois 60, Illinois State 54

Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): A rematch of Kansas State’s home win earlier this season, which was the Jayhawks’ first loss of the season. However, since that victory, Kansas State is just 3-5 and its NCAA Tournament seeding could be slipping if it doesn’t start picking up wins. Kansas is fighting for a No. 1 seed, although its loss last week at Oklahoma State and the fact that it is second in the Big 12 behind Texas will hurt the Jayhawks come Selection Sunday. Prediction: Kansas 84, Kansas State 74

Kentucky at Tennessee (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS):
Can Kentucky continue its improbable turnaround and pick-up its biggest win of the season, and potentially clinch an NCAA Tournament bid? There was a chance that the Wildcats could pull off the upset – but that was before star freshman Patrick Patterson was ruled out for the season with an injured ankle. Tennessee is going to be angry after its loss to Vanderbilt this week and its defeat in the first game between these two teams. Prediction: Tennessee 86, Kentucky 77

Indiana at Michigan State (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS):
Hopefully, this game is better than the first time these teams paired up a few weeks ago. That game was one of the most-hyped games of the weekend, but Indiana completely blew the Spartans out of the building, solidifying its spot among the top teams in the Big Ten. Now, the Hoosiers are without Kelvin Sampson and have a new coach, while MSU hasn’t proven able to beat elite teams on a consistent basis. Witness its 15-point defeat at Wisconsin last night.
Prediction: Michigan State 67, Indiana 63

UCLA at Arizona (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): Another game most people would like to see be more competitive than the first meeting. In that contest, the Bruins jumped out to a big first-half lead and never looked back, en route to a 22-point victory over a hot Arizona team. This time could be slightly different, although Arizona doesn’t have any momentum heading into this game after its home loss to USC on Thursday. UCLA is looking more and more like a Final Four favorite with every game – its experience, defense and balance make the Bruins very difficult to beat.
Prediction: UCLA 71, Arizona 68

Villanova at Louisville (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS):
After Villanova blew its chance to continue their climb up the at-large ladder with a home loss to Marquette on Monday, this game becomes more important for the Wildcats. They are squarely on the bubble in the Big East, and could use a marquee win over the Cardinals. However, the way Louisville is playing, that is a nearly impossible task for any team – let alone an inconsistent bubble team. The Cardinals might be the best team in the Big East right now. Prediction: Louisville 78, Villanova 66

Clemson at Maryland (Sunday, 7:30 PM, FSN): One of the few ACC games this weekend that will be worth watching, in terms of NCAA Tournament and bubble hopes. Clemson is getting closer to clinching an at-large bid, due to its third-place standing in the ACC and quality power numbers. On the other hand, Maryland picked up a huge win at Wake Forest on Thursday, putting the Terrapins back in the driver’s seat for a potential fifth bid out of the ACC. Another win here would go a long way in determining their Big Dance legitimacy. Prediction: Maryland 87, Clemson 82

Other Games to Keep an Eye On

Wake Forest at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
The Demon Deacons’ profile took a hit with their home loss to fellow bubble-dweller Maryland on Thursday, so this is a must-win.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 82, Wake Forest 74

UNC-Asheville at Winthrop (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): The Big South is on the line when these two teams face-off. Winthrop is currently the leader, by one game over Asheville, heading into the season finale. A win by Asheville would give them the crown, as it would complete a season sweep of Winthrop.
Prediction: Winthrop 73, UNC-Asheville 67

Ohio State at Minnesota (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): The Buckeyes blew yet another chance at a marquee when they lost to Indiana this week, giving them three straight losses. A loss here would severely hurt their at-large chances. Prediction: Minnesota 65, Ohio State 60

Massachusetts at Richmond (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Like some of the above games, UMass needs to win to keep its at-large hopes alive, while surprising Richmond could move into second-place with a victory. Prediction: Massachusetts 79, Richmond 73

Davidson at Georgia Southern (Saturday, 7:30 PM): Just one game separates Davidson from an undefeated Southern Conference campaign – and it’s against the second-best team in the conference. A loss here would hurt their potential at-large hopes and ruin their chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament bracket. Prediction: Davidson 76, Georgia Southern 69

Temple at Saint Joseph’s (Sunday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another monster game for an at-large team in need of a win. St. Joe’s might have killed its at-large hopes anyway, with a home loss to Saint Louis on Thursday. Prediction: Saint Joseph’s 66, Temple 59

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bubble Watch


Bubble Breakdown and Comparison

According to the numbers, there are 14 bids still up for grabs, with 29 teams seriously vying for them:

Locks: 25
Automatic bids from the other conferences: 19
44 Locks Overall

ACC (2): North Carolina, Duke
Big East (5): Georgetown, Connecticut, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame
Big Ten (4): Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State
Big 12 (2): Kansas, Texas
Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Stanford, Washington State
SEC (2): Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Atlantic-10 (1): Xavier
Conference-USA (1): Memphis
Horizon (1): Butler
Missouri Valley (1): Drake
Mountain West (1): BYU
West Coast (2): Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga

One-Bid Conferences (19): America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble – these bids are not up-for-grabs yet (7):
Clemson, Miami (Fl.), Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Arizona, USC, Mississippi State

Note: Teams like Kent State, South Alabama, Davidson and VCU are not included, as they are the current leaders in their respective conferences

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Bubble Team's Worst Nightmare

It happens every year. A major conference team comes out of nowhere in their conference tournament to make it to the championship and, in some cases, win the title. It also happens in some mid-major conferences that were expected to get one bid but then send two dancing because of upsets in the league tournaments.

The aforementioned situation is a nightmare for bubble teams hoping to get bids to the NCAA Tournament. When teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament lose in their respective conference tournament and a mediocre team that gets hot at the right team either makes the championship or wins the automatic bid, teams on the fence become some of the most nervous people in the world. You hear the announcers every March:

"Well, [fill in bubble team of choice] has to root for [fill in league favorite] if they want a bid to the NCAA Tournament. If [fill in upstart team] pulls off yet another upset, it means that there is one less at-large bid for the bubble teams."

This year is not going to be any different. With all of the parity in many of the leagues across the country this season, there are several teams that could make Cinderella runs in their respective conference tournaments. In some leagues, these teams are in the lower half of the league and win an early game before getting on a run, and all of a sudden they look like the second coming of the UNLV teams from the early '90s. In other conferences, these Cinderella teams are just ones that have a decent chance to upset the heavy favorite and steal the automatic bid.

Who are the main candidates to make this kind of run in Championship Week 2008? Let's take a look at several conferences from around the country, and find teams that have the ability to win a few games in early March.


Florida State: The Seminoles looked like they could potentially make a run at an at-large bid when they started out 12-4 and were playing very solid basketball. They then lost eight of their next 10, as well as starting guard Isaiah Swann, essentially eliminating them from the postseason conversation. However, FSU has won three in a row, including victories over Clemson and at North Carolina State. The ‘Noles have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Toney Douglas and Jason Rich, and Uche Echefu is a solid scorer and rebounder on the inside. They force steals and play tough defense. Furthermore, the ‘Noles are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, which will help in close games.

Big East

Cincinnati: Had the Bearcats played better in the non-conference portion of the season, we would be talking about them in the thick of the at-large race. Instead, they are simply going to be a tough out in the conference tournament. They already have wins over Louisville, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse, and are 8-7 in the league. Deonta Vaughn is one of the best guards in the Big East, and John Williamson has played much better of late. The Bearcats play very tough defense and guard the perimeter aggressively.

Big Ten

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers seemed poised for an at-large bid earlier in the Big Ten season, when they suffered close losses to Indiana and Michigan State, and had gone 10-2 in the non-conference. However, the tight defeats soon began to pile up and a 2-4 start was too much to overcome for an NCAA bid. Lawrence McKenzie and freshman Blake Hoffarber are outstanding three-point shooters, while Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson form a very solid frontcourt duo. Minnesota plays very good defense, forcing turnovers all over the court.

Big 12

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys has been extremely inconsistent all season, but they have the momentum and perimeter talent to pull off a couple of upsets in the conference tournament. They opened the Big 12 season with a win, but then proceeded to lost six consecutive games. However, since then, they are 5-1 with wins over Kansas, Texas A&M and Baylor. The top five scorers for OSU are perimeter players, but they all average at least 9.6 points per game. James Anderson is one of the best freshmen in the conference, while Marcus Dove is an outstanding defender. The key is point guard Byron Eaton.


Washington: With eight teams still in relative contention for an NCAA bid and Oregon State being absolutely horrendous, it leaves the Huskies as the lone team that could really ruin a bubble team’s day. Washington already has wins over UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon, and has won three of its last five. The Huskies end with three road games, so they will likely be the forgotten team heading into the Pac-10 tourney. Jon Brockman is a 20-10 threat every night inside, while Ryan Appleby is an outstanding three-point shooter. Justin Dentmon is a solid point guard who needs to step up if UW is to make a run.


LSU: The Tigers have one of the youngest and least experienced starting line-ups in the country, but they seem to be coming together at the right time and could be a sleeper in the SEC tourney. They had an eight-game losing streak in January but they are 4-4 since then, with wins over Mississippi and Florida, and close losses to Kentucky and Tennessee. Marcus Thornton is a big-time scorer at the guard position, and Anthony Randolph is one of the most talented freshmen in the country. Chris Johnson has come on strong this season. The Tigers’ size makes them tough to score on inside the arc.


La Salle: The Explorers came into the season with extremely limited expectations due to the fact that they haven’t been competitive in awhile and did not return many Atlantic-10-caliber players. A 3-9 start didn’t do much to lift those hopes, but things have completely turned around since then. They are 10-4 after that terrible start, with wins over Saint Joseph’s, Dayton and Duquesne. La Salle is led by one of the best backcourts in the league in Darnell Harris and Rodney Green, who can carry them to wins.

Missouri Valley

Bradley: This pick is based strictly on the fact that Daniel Ruffin returns from his indefinite suspension; if not, the Braves are going to get out of the first-round of the conference tournament. With him, though, they have the ability to beat anyone in the league. Ruffin is an outstanding point guard who takes care of the ball distributes well, while Jeremy Crouch is an outstanding three-point shooter. Theron Wilson is a solid scorer and rebounder. Bradley has wins over Drake, Illinois State and Creighton – but without Ruffin, they can’t beat those teams.

Mountain West

Utah: The Mountain West has several good teams at the top of the league, but none are unbeatable and all have flaws. The Utes have lost three consecutive games, but they have a lot of close losses and have the talent to beat anybody in the conference. Luke Nevill is one of the better big men in the country, while Johnnie Bryant is a very solid scorer in the backcourt. Tyler Kepkay is a decent point guard who can distribute. They are an outstanding rebounding team and are efficient from the field.

West Coast

San Diego: With Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s locks for the NCAA Tournament, bubble teams around the country are going to worry if a third team wins the conference tournament. San Diego is the best bet to potentially pull the upsets; it has already defeated Saint Mary’s and the conference tournament is in San Diego. Brandon Johnson is one of the best guards in the conference, and can carry the Toreros to victory if he is hitting his shots. Gyno Pomare is a very good inside scorer and rebounder, while Rob Jones is versatile and can do a variety of things on the court.

Other Teams to Keep an Eye On: Georgia Southern (Southern); Cleveland State (Horizon); Akron (MAC); Old Dominion (CAA); North Texas (Sun Belt); Central Florida (Conference-USA)

Wednesday, February 27 Predictions

Prediction Record: 458-221 (ATS: 320-329-7)

Miami (Fl.) at Clemson (-8.5): Prediction: Clemson 73, Miami (Fl.) 67
Mississippi at Kentucky (-5.5): Prediction: Kentucky 71, Mississippi 60
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-11): Pittsburgh 66, Cincinnati 59
Texas Tech at Texas A&M (-9): Prediction: Texas A&M 68, Texas Tech 62

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Projected Final Standings

With the NCAA Tournament looming just around the corner, the bubble is the main topic on everyone's minds. People are coming up with scenarios for various teams on the fence to see if they would make the Tournament with a certain finish. For instance, several experts say things like "Well, if so and so finishes 2-1 down the stretch and wins a game in their conference tournament, they should be in."

I began thinking about that, and decided to project the final records of every major conference team and every team with a shot at the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, including tie-breakers for seedings in the conference tournaments. The records also include how I think they will do in their respective conference tournaments. Without further ado, here is how I think every team will finish the season heading into the Selection Show on March 16th:

Projections made before games played on Tuesday, February 26th.
Italics identify projected conference tournament winner

1. Duke: 29-4 (14-2)

2. North Carolina: 30-3 (13-3)
3. Clemson: 22-9 (10-6)
4. Miami (Fl.): 22-9 (9-7)
5. Virginia Tech: 19-13 (9-7)
6. Maryland: 20-13 (9-7)
7. Wake Forest: 19-12 (8-8)
8. Georgia Tech: 13-19 (6-10)
9. North Carolina State: 17-15 (5-11)
10. Boston College: 14-16 (5-11)
11. Florida State: 16-16 (5-11)
12. Virginia: 13-17 (3-13)

Big East
1. Georgetown: 26-6 (14-4)
2. Connecticut: 26-7 (14-4)
3. Louisville: 27-7 (14-4)

4. Notre Dame: 24-7 (14-4)
5. Marquette: 24-8 (12-6)
6. West Virginia: 22-10 (11-7)
7. Cincinnati: 15-16 (10-8)
8. Syracuse: 20-12 (10-8)
9. Pittsburgh: 21-11 (9-9)
10. Villanova: 19-13 (8-10)
11. Seton Hall: 17-15 (7-11)
12. DePaul: 10-21 (5-13)
13. St. John’s: 11-19 (5-13)
14. Providence: 14-16 (5-13)
15. South Florida: 12-19 (3-15)
16. Rutgers: 10-21 (2-16)

Big Ten
1. Wisconsin: 27-5 (16-2)
2. Indiana: 28-5 (15-3)
3. Purdue: 25-8 (15-3)
4. Michigan State: 26-8 (12-6)
5. Ohio State: 19-13 (10-8)
6. Minnesota: 19-13 (8-10)
7. Iowa: 13-19 (6-12)
8. Penn State: 14-17 (6-12)
9. Michigan: 11-21 (6-12)
10. Illinois: 13-20 (4-14)
11. Northwestern: 6-23 (0-16)

Big 12
1. Texas: 28-5 (14-2)
2. Kansas: 29-4 (12-4)
3. Kansas State: 19-11 (10-6)
4. Baylor: 20-10 (9-7)
5. Texas A&M: 23-9 (8-8)
6. Oklahoma: 22-12 (8-8)
7. Missouri: 17-15 (7-9)
8. Oklahoma State: 16-15 (7-9)
9. Nebraska: 18-12 (7-9)
10. Texas Tech: 16-15 (7-9)
11. Iowa State: 13-18 (4-12)
12. Colorado: 10-20 (3-13)

1. UCLA: 29-4 (15-3)
2. Stanford: 25-7 (13-5)

3. Washington State: 25-8 (11-7)
4. Arizona: 19-12 (10-8)
5. USC: 20-12 (10-8)
6. Arizona State: 19-12 (9-9)
7. Oregon: 19-13 (9-9)
8. California: 17-14 (7-11)
9. Washington: 15-17 (6-12)
10. Oregon State: 6-24 (0-18)

1. Tennessee: 30-3 (14-2)
2. Kentucky: 20-12 (12-4)
3. Vanderbilt: 28-6 (11-5)
4. Florida: 23-10 (9-7)
5. South Carolina: 15-17 (6-10)
6. Georgia: 13-16 (5-11)

1. Mississippi State: 21-11 (11-5)
2. Arkansas: 21-10 (10-6)
3. Mississippi: 21-11 (6-10)
4. LSU: 11-19 (5-11)
5. Auburn: 14-16 (4-12)
6. Alabama: 14-18 (3-13)

1. Xavier: 29-5 (14-2)
2. Saint Joseph’s: 23-9 (12-4)
3. Massachusetts: 22-10 (10-6)
4. La Salle: 14-16 (9-7)
5. Richmond: 16-14 (9-7)
6. Temple: 17-15 (9-7)
7. Rhode Island: 23-10 (8-8)
8. Charlotte: 18-14 (8-8)
9. Fordham: 13-15 (8-8)
10. Duquesne: 17-13 (7-9)
11. Saint Louis: 15-15 (7-9)
12. Dayton: 20-12 (6-10)

Missouri Valley
1. Drake: 26-4 (15-3)
2. Southern Illinois: 20-13 (12-6)
3. Illinois State: 21-10 (12-6)
4. Creighton: 20-10 (10-8)

Mountain West
1. BYU: 26-8 (13-3)
2. UNLV: 25-7 (12-4)
3. New Mexico: 26-7 (12-4)
4. San Diego State: 20-11 (10-6)


1. Memphis: 33-1 (16-0)
2. Houston: 24-8 (12-4)
3. UAB: 23-11 (11-5)

1. VCU: 26-6 (15-3)
2. George Mason: 23-10 (13-5)

1. Butler: 29-3 (16-2)
2. Wright State: 21-10 (12-6)
3. Cleveland State: 18-12 (12-6)

1. Kent State: 29-5 (14-2)
2. Ohio: 23-10 (11-5)
3. Akron: 21-11 (10-6)

Sun Belt
1. South Alabama: 26-5 (16-2)
2. Western Kentucky: 24-7 (16-2)

West Coast
1. Gonzaga: 25-7 (13-1)
2. Saint Mary’s: 26-5 (12-2)

Note: Davidson (Southern) and Stephen F. Austin (Southland) will go undefeated the rest of the way in the regular season, and will also win their respective conference tournaments.

Tuesday, February 26 Predictions

Prediction Record: 454-220 (ATS: 317-327-7)

Ohio State at Indiana (-8): Prediction: Indiana 71, Ohio State 61
Southern Illinois at Bradley (-1): Prediction: Southern Illinois 67, Bradley 64
Tennessee at Vanderbilt (+2): Prediction: Vanderbilt 81, Tennessee 76
San Diego State at UNLV (-7.5): Prediction: UNLV 78, San Diego State 70
BYU at New Mexico (-4): Prediction: New Mexico 74, BYU 67

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bracket Breakdown


This Week’s Bracket

Breakdown by Conference

ACC (6): North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Miami (Fl.), Wake Forest, Maryland
Big East (9): Georgetown, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Villanova, Syracuse
Big Ten (4): Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State
Big 12 (6): Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor
Pac-10 (6): UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, Arizona, USC, Arizona State
SEC (4): Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Arkansas
Atlantic-10 (4): Xavier, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Rhode Island
Mountain West (2): BYU, UNLV
West Coast (2): St. Mary's, Gonzaga

One-Bid Conferences (22): America East (UMBC); Atlantic Sun (Belmont); Big Sky (Portland State); Big South (Winthrop); Big West (CS-Northridge); Colonial (VCU); Conference-USA (Memphis); Horizon (Butler); Ivy (Cornell); MAC (Kent State); MAAC (Siena); MEAC (Morgan State); Missouri Valley (Drake); Northeast (Robert Morris); Ohio Valley (Austin Peay); Patriot (American); Southern (Davidson); Southland (Lamar); Summit (Oral Roberts); Sun Belt (South Alabama); SWAC (Alabama State); WAC (Boise State)

Last Four In: Rhode Island, Syracuse, St. Joseph’s, Maryland
Last Four Out: Ohio State, Florida, Dayton, New Mexico
Next Four Out: Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Kentucky, California

Bracket Notes:
- This was the worst group of bubble teams I’ve seen in awhile
- Arizona State was a true No. 10 seed, but had to move down to No. 12 for bracket considerations
- Maryland was a true No. 11 seed, but had to drop down to No. 12
- Rhode Island is the last team in, Syracuse is the next-to-last team in, but they are No. 12 and No. 13, respectively, for bracket considerations

Key Games this Week

Marquette at Villanova (Monday): One of many games this week involving a bubble team needing a big win to continue to stay in the Tournament picture.
Texas at Kansas State (Monday): Can Texas solidify its standing as a No. 1 seed where Kansas couldn't? Kansas State has faded a little bit since its hot Big 12 start.
Ohio State at Indiana (Tuesday): Ohio State needs a marquee win badly if it wants to get into the Tournament, while Indiana will try to keep pace in the Big Ten.
Tennessee at Vanderbilt (Tuesday): Will the Volunteers have a letdown after their monster win at Memphis? Vandy is quickly rising in the tourney.
BYU at New Mexico (Tuesday): A big-time game in the Mountain West. BYU is atop the league by one game, but New Mexico is rising and could get a bid.
Miami (Fl.) at Clemson (Wednesday): A potential battle for third in the ACC; Miami is surging in the at-large picture, while Clemson could use a win to lock up a bid.
Mississippi at Kentucky (Wednesday): Two teams going in opposite directions heading down the stretch; Ole Miss is 4-8 in the SEC, while UK is 9-3.
Texas Tech at Texas A&M (Wednesday): Could the Bob Knight-less Red Raiders actually be moving towards the bubble? A win here, and they're in the mix.
Notre Dame at Louisville (Thursday): Two of the hottest teams in the Big East go at it. Notre Dame has made a move towards a top-four seed, while Louisville is going for a three.
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart (Thursday): The Northeast has a three-team logjam near the top of the league; the winner of this will get the edge.
Maryland at Wake Forest (Thursday): Huge bubble game in the ACC. Maryland has lost two in a row, while Wake Forest made its first appearance in my bracket.
USC at Arizona (Thursday): Two teams that will likely get middle seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but have the talent to make a sleeper run into the second weekend.
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Thursday): Michigan State hasn't played very well in Big Ten play, while Wisconsin leads the conference by a half-game.
Wright State at Butler (Thursday): Butler looks to avenge one of its three losses on the season; Wright State has won 11 of its last 12.
CSU-Northridge at CSU-Fullerton (Thursday): The Big West always seems to produce a solid team in the NCAA Tournament -- the winner of this will be in first.
UCLA at Arizona State (Thursday): UCLA is still in the mix for a No. 1 seed, while ASU could use a marquee win to boost its profile.
Washington State at California (Thursday): If the Golden Bears have hopes of getting an at-large bid, this is a must-win. WSU is outstanding on the road.
Niagara at Siena (Friday): Two of the four teams tied atop the MAAC, the winner will have an edge heading into the final game of the season.
Dartmouth at Cornell (Friday): If the Big Red gets the win, they will clinch the Ivy League title and earn this season's first NCAA Tournament bid.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Road to Selection Sunday

Welcome back to the "Road to Selection Sunday". As stated last week, it is basically a recap of the past couple of days in college basketball, usually the weekend that was just completed. It will go over the teams on the bubble that helped or hurt themselves, teams in the NCAA Tournament whose seed is rising and falling, and much more.

What a wild weekend in college basketball. We had a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up, another top-seed contender lost and several upsets occurred overall to shake up the NCAA Tournament landscape. Also, there was the Bracket Busters series, which saw plenty of at-large contenders and conference leaders jockeying for position come Selection Sunday. In terms of the bubble teams, many squads didn’t take advantage of opportunities to boost their resume, while others picked up big wins to help out their profiles for the Big Dance. Let's take a look at all the teams that were affected by this weekend's results.

Teams close to locking up bids to the NCAA Tournament:
Mississippi State:
The Bulldogs took the next step towards an at-large bid by escaping South Carolina in overtime on the road; two-game lead on Arkansas.
BYU: The Cougars could have likely wrapped up a bid if they had defeated San Diego State on Saturday night. Instead, they lost and now are just up one game on UNLV.
Kent State: The Golden Flashes were the big winners of Bracket Busters, as they went on the road and defeated Saint Mary’s. Now 7-3 vs. top-100.

Teams on the bubble that helped themselves:
Miami (Fl.):
The Hurricanes continue to help themselves out, as they followed up their win over Duke with a big home victory over Maryland in a huge bubble game.
Villanova: The Wildcats were able to keep their turnaround alive with a close victory over a hot Connecticut team on Saturday; now back to .500. in the Big East.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers knocked off Providence as expected on Saturday, although the victory now puts them seventh in the Big East pecking order.
Baylor: The Bears won for just the second time in eight games, but it was over Kansas State and got Baylor back to .500 in the Big 12.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils, like most of the Pac-10, is a mystery. However, they went on the road Saturday and beat Washington, something UCLA and Arizona couldn’t do.
Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks seemed left for dead after their loss to La Salle at home this past week, but a road victory over Rhode Island puts them back on the map.
Massachusetts: The Minutemen didn’t even play this weekend, but their win at Rhode Island last week and so many A-10 contenders losing moves them up.
New Mexico: This is definitely a team to keep an eye on. The Lobos have a weak SOS but a rising RPI – and they play UNLV and BYU this week at home.
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are on their way up for two reasons: they beat Wyoming on the road on Saturday, and gained a game on BYU when the Cougars lost.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis kept their slim at-large hopes alive when they destroyed Nevada by 25 in the Bracket Busters. Making moves quickly.
Illinois State: The Redbirds also stayed in the at-large mix with yet another MVC Bracket Buster win, knocking off Wright State at home tonight.
UAB: The Blazers are looking like the next-in-line after Memphis in the C-USA pecking order; they defeated SMU on the road on Saturday.
Houston: The Cougars bounced back from a tough loss to UAB earlier in the week with a home victory over Rice on Saturday; their at-large hopes are fading, though.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers don’t have much hopes for an at-large bid as it is, but they kept whatever chances they had alive with a home win over Louisiana-Monroe.

Teams on the bubble that hurt themselves:
The Terrapins fell from safely in the field to the wrong side of the bubble after following up their home loss to Va. Tech with a defeat at Miami (Fl.).
Wake Forest: Although not many people expected the Demon Deacons to beat North Carolina on the road, the loss drops them back to .500 in the ACC.
Syracuse: The Orange had a chance to boost their at-large hopes on Sunday with a win at Notre Dame, but they fell and now are just 2-9 vs. the top-50.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes continue to fall in my eyes; they have an extremely empty profile, one that got worse with a home loss to Wisconsin earlier today.
Oregon: For the second time in three days, the Ducks had a double-digit lead on the road but blew it in the second half, this time to UCLA on Saturday.
California: The Golden Bears weren’t expected to go into Stanford and beat the Cardinal on Sunday night, but they are running out of chances to boost their resume.
Rhode Island: The Rams might be the team that hurt themselves the most this past week, dropping back-to-back home games to fellow bubble teams in the A-10.
Dayton: If the Flyers could have just won a game against a contender over the past few weeks, the committee might be able to give them sympathy because of Chris Wright. It hasn’t happened.
George Mason: The Patriots’ at-large hopes are likely gone after their road loss to Ohio in the Bracket Busters. They have six sub-100 losses and have lost three of five.

Teams trying to work themselves into the at-large conversation:
Virginia Tech:
The Hokies could have an interesting case should they win two of their last three and finish 9-7 in the ACC. Their sweep of Maryland gives them a nice chip.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are almost like the Va. Tech of the Big East, just better. They are likely going to finish 10-8 in the conference, with five top-50 wins.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders kept their extremely slip at-large hopes alive with a home win over Iowa State; tough final stretch gives them chances to move up.
Kentucky: The Wildcats got the tough home win they needed to get at-large consideration when they beat Arkansas; they are now 9-3 in the SEC and rising quickly.
Ohio: The Bobcats could have potentially revived their seemingly dead at-large hopes with a comeback win over George Mason in the Bracket Busters.

Teams falling from the at-large conversation:
North Carolina State:
The Wolfpack might be the most disappointing team in the country this season; they lost their fourth in a row to drop to 4-8 in the ACC.
Mississippi: The Rebels looked like they were turning things around with their win over Mississippi State, but all that hope was dashed with a 20-point loss at LSU.
Temple: The Owls had extremely dim chances for an at-large as it was, but whatever hope they did was completely buried after they lost to Fordham at home by two.
Wright State: The Raiders had won 11 in a row heading into their Bracket Buster game at Illinois State, but they didn’t perform well and hurt their at-large resume.
Akron: The Zips are second in the MAC East, which gave them hope for an at-large bid, but a home loss to VCU in the Bracket Busters might have put those hopes to sleep.

Teams whose seed is rising:
The Cardinals are playing like the best team in the Big East right now, especially after an impressive road win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Notre Dame: The Irish are also moving up in the seedings as they continue to play well, defeating Syracuse on Sunday. Could finish 14-4 in the Big East.
Michigan State: The Spartans bounced back from their back-to-back losses last week with easy victories over Penn State and Iowa. It’s not much, but it helps.
Wisconsin: The Badgers continue to win anywhere they play – except against Purdue. They went into Columbus today, and knocked off Ohio State. 13-2 in Big Ten.
Texas: The Longhorns might have made a move to the No. 1-seed line after their easy victory over Oklahoma on Saturday. Leading the Big 12 over Kansas.
USC: The Trojans seemed to be fading last week, but they won back-to-back games over the Oregon schools this week, leaving them in good shape as of now.
Arizona: The Wildcats would have been squarely on the bubble had they lost at Washington State on Saturday; however, they won and are now okay.
Tennessee: The Volunteers might have jumped into the No. 1 overall seed with their impressive road win over Memphis on Saturday night. No. 1 RPI by a large margin.
Drake: The Bulldogs were struggling somewhat with losses in two of their last three games, but they bounced back in a big way with a road win at Butler on Saturday.

Teams whose seed is falling:
The Tigers could have moved up in the seedings with a road win at Florida State this weekend, but the Seminoles won. Clemson drops to 7-5 in the ACC.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have to be careful the rest of the way; with a home loss to Louisville, they have now dropped three in a row and are 7-7 in the Big East.
Kansas: The Jayhawks are quickly slipping from contention for a No. 1 seed and now have work to do to stay in the mix. Just 4-2 against the top-50 of the RPI.
Kansas State: The Wildcats have lost all the momentum it had a few weeks ago. They have now dropped four in a row on the road, the latest being a defeat at struggling Baylor.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are likely on the bubble as they have now lost three in a row, including two at home to Oklahoma State and Nebraska, who were 1-13 on the road before beating A&M.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are right in front of most of the bubble teams, but they can’t have anymore 17-point losses in Big 12 play like they did at Texas on Saturday.
Washington State: The Cougars are a very interesting team; they are certainly going to get in the Big Dance, but it would help their seeding if they could win at home.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have probably fell all the way back to the bubble, as they lost their third game in the past four with a defeat at Kentucky on Saturday.
Butler: The Bulldogs won’t fall too much after their home loss to Drake on Saturday, but it likely keeps them out of contention for a top-three seed come Selection Sunday.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels are still a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but a home loss to Kent State on Saturday drops their RPI and potential seeding for the Big Dance.

Number one seeds as of this week:
1. Tennessee: The Volunteers made a huge jump this week after their road win at Memphis on Saturday. They have the most top-50 wins in the country and are hot.
2. Memphis: The Tigers are still a No. 1 seed despite their loss to Tennessee at home on Saturday; a loss in Conference-USA play, though, could spell a different story.
3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels continued their winning ways without Ty Lawson as they defeated a hot Wake Forest team in Chapel Hill on Sunday night.
4. Texas: The Longhorns get the last No. 1 seed this week, beating out UCLA for the final spot. Nine top-50 wins and the Big 12 lead gives them the nod for now.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dan Dakich Really Lays Down the Law

The Kelvin Sampson situation (finally) came to an end on Friday, with the Indiana head coach accepting a buyout from the university and resigning amidst an NCAA report saying that he committed five major rules violation with the Hoosiers. However, it seemed like the aftermath was just beginning.

Six players, including Big Ten Player of the Year candidate D.J. White, skipped practice on Friday, essentially boycotting new head coach Dan Dakich. There were rumors floating around regarding this earlier in the day, but I don't know how many people really thought the players would go through with it. Well, White, fellow starters Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis, as well as reserves Jordan Crawford, DeAndre Thomas and Brandon McGee followed through on their threat and did not attend practice. There were also reports that the players were going to walk-out for Saturday's road game.

Of course, all seemed forgotten later in the day when all six players attended the team walk-through and all 13 players boarded the team plane to head to Northwestern for tonight's game. Furthermore, ESPN's Andy Katz is reporting that the players who did not practice will play tonight against the Wildcats.

Really? So half the team can just skip practice and then play in the game when they all of a sudden have a change of heart and don't have a problem with Dakich? Way to set the tone for the rest of the season in terms of discipline. Digger Phelps is clearly not happy, saying that White -- the Hoosiers' senior captain, by the way -- and the rest of the players should have to sit after their actions.

I agree -- how can someone's first decision as head coach be to let players that don't attend practice to play in the game without any repercussions? It seems like a pretty poor message to the rest of the team if you ask me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Preview

Bubble battles. Key conference tilts. Oh, and #1 vs. #2 showdown. That's not even mentioning Bracket Busters, where mid-majors from across the country go at it on national television. This set of games could mean the difference between the NCAA and the NIT to many teams should they not win their conference tournament. No matter what games you are interested in, there are plenty of options to choose from this weekend; it has everything.

Top Games

Maryland at Miami (Fl.) (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Major bubble battle in the ACC. Maryland’s NCAA chances took a hit this week when it lost at home to Virginia Tech, while Miami picked up a huge victory over Duke on Wednesday. Maryland is still riding the momentum of its one good victory, at North Carolina. Miami, on the other hand, has a top-30 RPI and several decent wins to hang its hat on – a win here would give them another leg-up on the Terrapins. Prediction: Miami (Fl.) 79, Maryland 73

Oklahoma at Texas (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Two of the Big 12 teams actually playing well lately go at it. Oklahoma won its third game in a row in an overtime thriller over Baylor this week, when Tony Crocker had a four-point play with seven seconds left and the Bears’ Curtis Jerrells missed two free-throws with one second left. Blake Griffin is one of the best frosh in the country. Texas is quietly becoming a sleeper for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday; the Longhorns have won six straight and have an excellent collection of wins. Prediction: Texas 78, Oklahoma 72

Kansas State at Baylor (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): A must-win for both teams, but for different reasons. Kansas State was one of the hottest teams in the country a couple of weeks ago, following its big home victory over Kansas. Since then, though, the Wildcats are just 3-3, and they have lost three consecutive road games. Baylor, on the other hand, has lost six of its last seven and is quickly falling out of the NCAA Tournament field and onto the wrong side of the bubble. A victory here, and the Bears are back in the hunt. Prediction: Baylor 74, Kansas State 69

Tennessee at Memphis (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Despite the fact that it is only a non-conference game, don’t underestimate the importance of this game. Obviously, it is No. 1 vs. No. 2, which immediately makes it a must-see game. We have had some disappointing top-ranked games that haven’t lived up to the hype, but this one will be different. Both teams are in the mix for No. 1 seeds; Memphis might have one locked up already, but a win here would clinch it. Tennessee would take a huge step forward with a win over the undefeated Tigers on the road.
Prediction: Memphis 86, Tennessee 82

Arizona at Washington State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, FSN): A Pac-10 showdown between two teams heading in opposite directions. Arizona dropped yet another game on Thursday night, falling on the road to Washington. It was the Wildcats’ fourth in five games. It also moved them to just 15-10 overall, and 6-7 in the league. If that is not the definition of a bubble team, I don’t know what is. Washington State has won four in a row to separate itself from the pack in the conference, solidifying the Cougars in third-place.
Prediction: Washington State 70, Arizona 64

Louisville at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Battle in the Big East between a couple of teams looking to fight for seeding in the conference and NCAA Tournaments. Louisville is shooting towards a top-four seed come March, as the Cardinals have won six in a row to move atop the Big East. However, they face a tough final stretch. Pittsburgh is in need of a win – if it continues to lose, the bubble might not be too far off. The Panthers have dropped two in a row and five of their last nine. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Louisville 66

Syracuse at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS): Another battle in the Big East with postseason implications. Syracuse could use a road win badly as the Orange have a severe lack of big wins on their resume. Furthermore, “Cuse has lost three of four and needs to straighten things out heading down the stretch. Notre Dame is quietly flying below the radar as a potential top-four seed and Big East title threat. The Irish have won 18 of their last 21, and remain only a half-game out of first-place in the conference.
Prediction: Notre Dame 83, Syracuse 73

Xavier at Dayton (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CSTV): Two teams that looked like locks a few weeks ago, but are now heading in opposite directions. Xavier is surging towards a two-seed come Selection Sunday, as the Musketeers have won nine in a row and 15 of their last 16. A win here would clinch the outright conference crown for the X. On the other side, Dayton badly needs a win after its loss to La Salle on Thursday, which was the Flyers’ third loss in four games, and seventh in the last 10. They miss a healthy Chris Wright tremendously. Prediction: Xavier 73, Dayton 67

Wisconsin at Ohio State (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS):
Battle in the Big Ten between a team still fighting for the conference title, and another team simply fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. Wisconsin is tied atop the conference standings with Purdue, although the Boilermakers beat the Badgers twice this season. They are 16-2 in their last 18 games. Ohio State is squarely on the bubble, and might be “out” right now. The Buckeyes have a severe lack of quality wins, despite their gaudy 8-5 conference record. A win here would help. Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Ohio State 64

Wake Forest at North Carolina (Sunday, 6:30 PM, FSN): Can the Demon Deacons pull off the improbable sweet of Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back Sunday nights? If they somehow do it, that would most likely virtually lock-up a bid for the surprising Deacs. Wake has won three in a row, and is right there with Maryland and Miami for the fourth spot out of the ACC. North Carolina, on the other hand, continues to play better and better as the Tar Heels get more accustomed to playing without Ty Lawson. With Duke’s recent struggles, UNC is tied atop the ACC and might be back on the No. 1-seed line. Prediction: North Carolina 87, Wake Forest 75

Other Games with NCAA Tournament Implications

Connecticut at Villanova (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Villanova is back in the at-large hunt after a 22-point domination of West Virginia this week, which was the Wildcats’ third win in four games. Connecticut is quietly inching towards a potential two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, as the Huskies have won 10 in a row. ‘Nova could really help its tourney chances with a big win here.
Prediction: Connecticut 69, Villanova 67

Arkansas at Kentucky (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS): Classic SEC clash between a team looking to stay within striking distance of the division lead, and another simply looking to get into the at-large race. Arkansas is one-game out of the SEC West lead, behind Mississippi State, and the Razorbacks have won five of seven. Kentucky has won seven of eight, and needs a win to improve its profile. Prediction: Kentucky 71, Arkansas 64

Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): One of many Pac-10 games this weekend with major NCAA Tournament implications. Oregon’s Big Dance chances took a hit Thursday night when it blew a 15-point lead at USC and lost. The Ducks are now just 15-11 overall, and tied for next-to-last in the conference at 6-8. UCLA is fighting for a number one seed, but a fairly rough final stretch could present a problem. Prediction: UCLA 73, Oregon 61

Arizona State at Washington (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN): An interesting game out West. Arizona State has lost two in a row and seven of its last nine, and also has three of its last five games on the road, where the Sun Devils are just 2-5 this season. On the other side, look at the Huskies’ play of late. They knocked off UCLA at home last week, and then defeated Arizona last night at home as well. They are now 6-8 in conference play – just 1.5 games out of fourth place. Prediction: Washington 67, Arizona State 62

Saint Joseph’s at Rhode Island (Sunday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Two teams whose at-large hopes took a major hit this past week in the Atlantic-10. St. Joe’s lost at home to a lowly La Salle team, which essentially killed the Hawks’ momentum and any shot at a conference title. On the other side, URI lost two in a row already this week, which now means the Rams have dropped four of their last five. A win here would get them back on the right track. Prediction: Rhode Island 78, Saint Joseph’s 69

California at Stanford (Sunday, 9:00 PM, FSN): The battle of Northern California will take place Sunday night, in a game both teams need to win. For California, it needs a victory to keep its fading at-large hopes alive. The Golden Bears have won four of their last six, but are still just 6-7 in league play. On the other side, Stanford needs to win in order to keep pace with UCLA for the Pac-10 crown. The Cardinal are currently one game back. Prediction: Stanford 72, California 63

Bracket Busters Games

Davidson at Winthrop (Friday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2):
Last year, Winthrop was everybody’s favorite upset pick; will Davidson be the 2008 version of the Eagles? There’s certainly a chance, as the Wildcats are undefeated in the Southern Conference and have shown the ability to hang with the big boys in close losses to North Carolina, Duke and UCLA. Stephen Curry is an outstanding shooter and scorer, while Jason Richards is a playmaker who leads the nation in assists. Thomas Sander and Boris Meno lead a deep and versatile frontcourt. Winthrop took a step back from the past few seasons, but a recent losing streak by UNC-Asheville gave first-place back to the Eagles. They have defeated Miami (Fl.), Georgia Tech and Akron this season. Michael Jenkins is an outstanding long-range shooter who has taken more of a scorer’s role this season, while Chris Gaynor is a very solid all-around point guard. Taj McCullough is tough to defend down low; he has plenty of talent and potential.
Prediction: Davidson 73, Winthrop 70

UC Santa Barbara at Utah State (Friday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): One of the major reasons to watch this game is the simple fact that it will pit two of the best perimeter players in the country against each other in Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll and UCSB’s Alex Harris. Both are outstanding long-range shooter who can also get inside the arc and finish baskets near the rim. Utah State has lost three straight games, though, and is essentially fading from the WAC title race. Still, Carroll gives the Aggies a chance to win against anyone. Kris Clark is a very solid point guard, while Gary Wilkinson is the main man up front. UCSB is just a game and a half out of first-place in the Big West, and the Gauchos are heating up. James Powell starts next to Harris on the perimeter. Chris Devine is the leader up front, while Ivan Elliot is another option in the frontcourt. Prediction: Utah State 78, UC Santa Barbara 72

Virginia Commonwealth at Akron (Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPN2): A similar game to the George Mason-Ohio match-up, as both pit CAA and MAC teams against each other, but this game does not carry too much at-large implications. VCU was everyone’s NCAA Tournament darling after it defeated Duke in the first-round and took Pittsburgh to overtime. Eric Maynor returns from that squad; he is one of the best point guards in the country. Jamal Shuler is a big-time scorer on the wing, while Michael Anderson is an inside-outside option. Akron has won three straight road games in the MAC to move within two games of Kent State. Jeremiah Wood could certainly cause problems for VCU, but he is injury and will likely not play. Nick Dials and Cedrick Middleton will have to take on more of a scoring role in his absence. Nate Linhart and Quade Milum are solid forwards up front.
Prediction: Akron 69, VCU 65

George Mason at Ohio (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN2):
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like these two teams might get at-large bids; however, George Mason has lost two of its last three, while Ohio has dropped three of its last five. George Mason had a killer home loss to UNC-Wilmington, but the Patriots still have wins over Dayton, Kansas State and VCU. Will Thomas is a load to stop down low – he’s basically a double-double guarantee every night. Folarin Campbell is versatile and experienced, while John Vaughan has developed into a consistent option this season. Ohio is in a tailspin, but the Bobcats still have the talent to turn it around and make a run in the MAC Tournament. They already have beaten Maryland, St. John’s and Kent State. Ohio has one of the most underrated big men duos in the country in double-double threat Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman. Bubba Walther is the team’s best outside option. Prediction: Ohio 72, George Mason 67

Niagara at Appalachian State (Saturday, 1:00 PM): Some complained when Appalachian State didn’t make the televised portion of the Bracket Busters, although ASU has lost two in a row. Niagara has won three in a row to get back into the MAAC title race. Charron Fisher is one of the best players in the mid-major world. Prediction: Appalachian State 80, Niagara 73

Creighton at Oral Roberts (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2): Two of the best mid-major programs in recent years, both teams came into the season with lessened expectations. Creighton’s lack of attention seems somewhat deserved, as the Bluejays are just 9-7 in conference play, but Oral Roberts has not missed a beat, as it has won 12 of its last 13 games. Creighton is led by the inside-outside combo of P’Allen Stinnett and Dane Watts. Watts is very experienced and can do a variety of things. Booker Woodfox leads a host of talented guards in the rotation. Oral Roberts misses departed seniors Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, but the Crusaders still have more than enough weapons to make noise. Robert Jarvis is an explosive guard who can score, while point guard Adam Liberty has improved his all-around game. Shawn King is a defensive ace who can rebound against anyone in the league. Moses Ehambe is an excellent three-point shooter. Prediction: Oral Roberts 70, Creighton 61

Nevada at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 4:30 PM, ESPNU): Maybe this game would have been better last season, when both teams were legit Sweet Sixteen threats and had something to truly play for in late February. Both teams are playing well lately, though. Prediction: Southern Illinois 64, Nevada 53

Drake at Butler (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2): Two of the best teams in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, and two teams that will be in the mix for top-four seeds come Selection Sunday (although Drake’s loss to Bradley on Tuesday night could change that). Butler has lost just two games all season, to Wright State and Cleveland State on the road. The Bulldogs own wins over Ohio State, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Southern Illinois. Mike Green and A.J. Graves form one of the best backcourts in the country, while Pete Campbell is an outstanding three-point shooter. Freshman forward Matt Howard provides a low-post presence that they were missing at times last year. Drake was one of the biggest surprises in the country, as it had won 20 games in a row prior to losing to Southern Illinois and Bradley in the past three games. The most impressive win for the Bulldogs was over Duquesne, although they also beat Iowa and Iowa State. Josh Young and Leonard Houston are solid scorers on the wings, while Adam Emmenecker is a good distributor at the point. Jonathan Cox is a double-double threat inside.
Prediction: Butler 66, Drake 60

Miami (Ohio) at Valparaiso (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN Classic): Another game that would have been better off scheduled for earlier in the season. Miami (Ohio) was the talk of the mid-major world in November and December, but they are just 13-12. Valpo had lost five in a row before winning its last game. Prediction: Valparaiso 68, Miami (Ohio) 64

Marist at Cleveland State (Saturday, 6:30 PM, ESPNU):
Two teams who were playing much better a few weeks ago. Marist has dropped to sixth in the MAAC with losses in five of its last six games, while Cleveland State has lost six of its last nine. Prediction: Cleveland State 71, Marist 62

Vermont at UNC-Wilmington (Saturday, 7:00 PM): A match-up between two mid-majors with a lot of potential but don’t have much of a chance at the postseason barring a run in their respective league tourneys. Vermont has an outstanding duo that is vastly underrated on a national level in guard Mike Trimboli and Marquis Blakely. UNCW has four double-figure scorers and could be a real sleeper in the CAA Tournament due to its late play and overall talent and balance.
Prediction: UNC-Wilmington 74, Vermont 66

Georgia Southern at Austin Peay (Saturday, 8:00 PM): An interesting game between the second-best team in the Southern and the Ohio Valley leader. GSU is 12-5 in the Southern and second in its division; however, it’s in Davidson’s division, so they’re five games back. APU had won five in a row before falling at Tennessee State on Monday.
Prediction: Austin Peay 76, Georgia Southern 66

Rider at Cal State Northridge (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU):
Two teams heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Rider has lost three in a row since beating Siena and Niagara in back-to-back games, while CSU Northridge had lost two in a row before bouncing back with a couple of wins over mediocre teams. Rider is led by one of the best players in the country, forward Jason Thompson. He can do everything on the court, and will be one of the few players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in the country this season. His brother, Ryan Thompson, is a terrific second option due to his versatility and all-around ability. CSU Northridge has a very solid backcourt in Deon Tresvant and distributor extraordinaire Josh Jenkins, one of the country’s premier passers. Jonathan Heard and Calvin Chitwood form a good forward duo, while Tremaine Townsend is a double-double threat every night out.
Prediction: Cal State Northridge 83, Rider 77

UW Milwaukee at Bradley (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN360):
How did this game make the televised section of the Bracket Busters? UW Milwaukee is just 12-11 overall with an 8-6 Horizon record, and they have to visit a hot Bradley team that has won eight of 10, including a win at Drake tonight. Prediction: Bradley 70, UW Milwaukee 61

Siena at Boise State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, ESPN360): Both of these teams, despite the closeness of their respective league races, are arguably the most talented squads in their conferences. Siena defeated Stanford earlier in the season, putting the nation on notice. Kenny Hasbrouck and Ronald Moore form an outstanding guard tandem, while Edwin Ubiles is an extremely difficult match-up on the wing. He can score in a variety of ways, and is tough to stop. Alex Franklin provides scoring and rebounding down low. Boise State has won seven of its last eight to move into first-place in the WAC. The Broncos have an outstanding post duo in Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson, one of the most productive inside tandems in college basketball. Larry might be the best big men you’ve never heard of. Tyler Tiedeman is an unbelievable three-point shooter on the wing, while Matt Bauscher can do a little of everything.
Prediction: Boise State 79, Siena 75

Portland State at Cal State Fullerton (Saturday, 10:30 PM): The Big Sky leader vs. the hottest team in the Big West. PSU has won eight games in a row and has a 2.5-game lead on Northern Arizona, while CSU-Fullerton has won seven of its last eight, with just one win coming by single-digits. Prediction: Cal State Fullerton 81, Portland State 68

Kent State at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 11:59 PM, ESPN2): Another match-up between two teams that could certainly win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. However, in Kent State’s case, they have to get there first. A win here would do wonders for the Golden Flashes’ NCAA Tournament profile. They have solid wins over mid-major clubs such as George Mason, Ohio, Akron, Illinois State and Cleveland State, but no marquee victories. Kent State has a very good forward duo in Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance, both of whom can score and rebound. Guard Al Fisher is the team’s leading scorer, while Chris Singletary is solid. Saint Mary’s is in the mix for a top-five or six seed come March, if the Gaels continue to play the way they have. The own wins over Drake, Gonzaga, Oregon, Seton Hall and Ohio, among others. Patty Mills is one of the premier freshman point guards in the country, while Diamon Simpson is arguably the most difficult personnel match-up in the WCC. Omar Samhan makes a difference at both ends of the court and Todd Golden has shown the ability to shoot and distribute. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 74, Kent State 70

Wright State at Illinois State (Sunday, 6:30 PM, ESPNU):
The next two games could have potential at-large implications, depending on how the rest of the regular-season plays out. Wright State looked like an NCAA Tournament team earlier in the season, but the Raiders faltered during the middle part of the season. However, they have won 10 in a row and are rolling. Vaughn Duggins and Todd Brown are the go-to-guys on WSU; both are very solid guards who can score. Forwards Scottie Wilson and Jordan Pleiman provide balance – Wilson has good range. Illinois State is second in the Missouri Valley – in most years, it would be more than enough for an at-large bid, but not this season. ISU’s best non-conference win is over Cincinnati. Osiris Eldridge is one of the best players in the conference, while Dom Johnson and Boo Richardson are also solid guards. Anthony Slack is the team’s best frontcourt player. Prediction: Illinois State 66, Wright State 61

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bubble Watch

Welcome to the first complete Bubble Watch of the season. As the name would suggest, it will look at every team in the at-large mix hoping to grab one of the last spots for the NCAA Tournament. As the season enters its final couple of weeks, it is time for teams on the fence to distinguish themselves from each other with impressive stretch runs. This week has seen plenty of bubble teams help out their resumes with statement-making wins, while other teams have hurt their status with tough losses. However, with the constant bubble fluctuation on a nightly basis, many teams are failing to separate themselves from the pack, meaning we might be in store for another difficult Selection Sunday for the Committee. Of course, conference tournaments haven't even started yet, so there is still lots of basketball left to be played. According to the numbers, there are 13 bids still up for grabs, with 27 teams seriously vying for them, as of now.

Here is the breakdown:

Locks: 24
Automatic bids from the other conferences: 19
43 Locks Overall

ACC (2): North Carolina, Duke
Big East (4): Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame
Big Ten (4): Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State
Big 12 (3): Kansas, Texas, Kansas State
Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Stanford, Washington State
SEC (1): Tennessee
Atlantic-10 (1): Xavier
Conference-USA (1): Memphis
Horizon (1): Butler
Missouri Valley (1): Drake
Mountain West (1): BYU
West Coast (2): Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga

One-Bid Conferences (19): America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble – these bids are not up-for-grabs yet (9):
Texas A&M

Here are the teams that still have a chance to get an at-large bid (Note: Teams like Kent State, South Alabama, Davidson, VCU are not in this category, as they are the current leaders in their respective conferences):

Maryland (17-10 (7-5), RPI: 62, SOS: 22, vs. Top 50: 1-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 4-5): The Terrapins were looking pretty good -- until their home loss to Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Interestingly enough, it was the second time Maryland had lost to Tech this season, making the Terps' only losses in the past two and a half months to Duke and the Hokies. Overall, Maryland's resume isn't all that impressive, but its win at North Carolina has carried -- and will continue to carry -- the profile. In the next two games, Maryland goes on the road against bubble-dwellers Miami and Wake Forest. That will tell us a lot.

Miami (Fl.) (17-7 (5-6), RPI: 28, SOS: 33, vs. Top 50: 3-2, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 7-5): Like Maryland and Wake Forest, the Hurricanes came from the dead to on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament with a big ACC win. In Miami's case, it was over Duke. It was the Hurricanes' third win in a row, and pushes their RPI into the top-30. Three of Miami's last five games are at home, but a road win at Clemson next week would be enormous in terms of their NCAA hopes. The 'Canes have won two straight road games, which bodes well.

Wake Forest (16-8 (6-5), RPI: 64, SOS: 93, vs. Top 50: 3-2, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 2-7): The Demon Deacons have flown below the radar for most of the season, but they essentially blew their cover when they knocked off Duke last weekend. It was Wake's second huge win of the season, as they had defeated BYU earlier in the year at home. The SOS is poor, but the RPI has a chance to rise in the next couple of weeks, starting with a road game at North Carolina on Sunday.

Syracuse (17-10 (7-7), RPI: 48, SOS: 10, vs. Top 50: 1-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 4-6): The Orange are once against destined to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, but for a different reason this year. Last season, Syracuse didn’t play a tough non-conference schedule. This year, the Orange simply haven’t beaten enough good teams. Prior to their win over Georgetown last week, Syracuse’s best win was over Saint Joseph’s. Losses in three of their final four games won’t help their profile, either. The Orange have four games left: at Notre Dame and Seton Hall, home vs. Pittsburgh and Marquette. A split is absolutely necessary; 3-1 would be great.

West Virginia (17-8 (7-6), RPI: 39, SOS: 44, vs. Top 50: 2-6, Last 10: 6-4, Road/Neutral: 7-6): The Mountaineers have been in the same sentence with Syracuse regarding Big East bubble teams for several weeks ago, and continue to remain there after their 22-point loss at the hands of Villanova on Wednesday night. WVU is just 2-6 against the top-50, although one of those victories was a 20-point defeat of the Orange. An extremely nondescript non-conference profile where the best win is a home victory of Duquesne could come back to hurt them if they are one of the final teams in discussion. Three of their last five are on the road.

Villanova (16-9 (6-7), RPI: 53, SOS: 63, vs. Top 50: 3-4, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 6-7): Look who’s back in the mix. The Wildcats get some love here after their dominating performance of West Virginia on Wednesday night. The win was ‘Nova’s third in four games, with the lone loss coming at Georgetown when the Hoyas won via a near-phantom foul call with 0.1 seconds left. The recent stretch came after a five-game losing streak in which Villanova was considered to be done. With a rising RPI and three top-50 wins, the ‘Cats can’t be ignored anymore. Home games against Connecticut and Marquette and a road game at Louisville in the next three will tell us all we need to know about them.

Ohio State (17-9 (8-5), RPI: 47, SOS: 48, vs. Top 50: 1-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-7): The Buckeyes are still getting at-large nods from many other Bracketologists throughout the country, but I'm just not seeing it right now, especially after their loss to Michigan on Sunday. The 8-5 record in the Big Ten looks good, but they are 0-3 against the top-four in the league -- and face each of those teams in the last five games. Unless Ohio State grabs a couple of those wins (three are at home, so there's certainly a chance), I don't see OSU getting in.

Baylor (16-8 (5-6), RPI: 42, SOS: 36, vs. Top 50: 2-7, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 7-5): If you had asked me a few weeks ago regarding the Bears' at-large candidacy, I likely wouldn't have said they would be on the outside looking in. They have lost six of their last seven, including four in a row, to drop to 5-6 in the Big 12. Baylor has just one really good non-conference win, a neutral-court victory over Notre Dame in November. They face Kansas State on Saturday at home -- it's a must-win.

Arizona State (16-9 (6-7), RPI: 75, SOS: 71, vs. Top 50: 5-5, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 5-8): The Pac-10 bubble scene is a mess right now. None of the three teams -- ASU, Cal and Oregon -- are really separating themselves, and they continue to miss out on wins that could put them over the top. The Sun Devils were looking good last week, but they then lost at home to California and then fell at Washington State tonight. Four of their last six are on the road, which could spell trouble.

California (15-9 (6-7), RPI: 79, SOS: 59, vs. Top 50: 2-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-3): The Golden Bears have the worst RPI of any of the bubble teams with a legit shot at an at-large bid, but the road win over Arizona State last week keeps them in the mix. They have a chance to really make a move this Sunday, when they travel to Stanford. A win there, and Cal will be in the field next week. After that, Cal still faces UCLA, USC and Washington State in three of its last four games, which will give them plenty of shots at big victories.

Oregon (15-11 (6-8), RPI: 53, SOS: 18, vs. Top 50: 3-7, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 4-5): The Ducks are falling almost as fast as they were rising in early January. They blew a 15-point lead tonight at USC, which would have given them plenty of momentum heading down the stretch. They are just 3-7 in their last 10 games, and still have two more games left on their road trip. Key wins over Arizona, Stanford and Kansas State might be the only thing keeping them around right now.

Mississippi State (17-8 (8-3), RPI: 46, SOS: 49, vs. Top 50: 2-6, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 7-5): The Bulldogs are still in the at-large field as of tonight, but they have to be sure to take care of business down the stretch. A double-digit loss on Wednesday at fading Mississippi was their third loss in six games, and with road trips to Florida and Vanderbilt still remaining, MSU can't afford any bad losses. An SEC West division title would be another nice trump card to have in case they are a question mark come Selection Sunday.

Florida (20-7 (7-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 114, vs. Top 50: 1-5, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-5): Could the two-time defending national champions really miss out on the NCAA Tournament this season? The way things are going, it certainly seems that way. The 20-win record looks gaudy and attractive, but look a little deeper. The Gators are just 1-5 against the top-50, and their best non-conference win is over Temple. They have lost four of their last six, and their final stretch is tough: road games at Georgia and Kentucky, and home contests vs. Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Mississippi (18-7 (4-7), RPI: 43, SOS: 64, vs. Top 50: 4-3, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 6-5): The Rebels have a little life in them after beating SEC West leader Mississippi State on Wednesday night by 11. Prior to that victory, Ole Miss had lost four consecutive SEC games and six of its last seven conference contests. Unfortunately for the Rebels, which got off to a great start earlier this year, it might be too little, too late. Three of their last five games are on the road -- where the Rebels are 0-5 in SEC play.

Rhode Island (20-7 (6-6), RPI: 43, SOS: 98, vs. Top 50: 2-4, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 9-5): The Rams could have taken several steps back in the past couple of weeks after looking great only a few games ago. They took another hit on their resume tonight, when they lost at home to Massachusetts. They have now lost four of their last five games, and are now just .500 in the Atlantic-10. Wins over Syracuse and UAB are somewhat impressive, but they won't be nearly enough if URI doesn't go at least 3-1 in its last four games.

Dayton (17-8 (5-7), RPI: 33, SOS: 31, vs. Top 50: 3-4, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 4-6): What a tough profile to figure out -- this is one team I wouldn't want to be on the committee for. The Flyers are just 3-7 in their last ten games and 5-7 in the A-10. Furthermore, they host Xavier on Sunday -- a loss there, and Dayton might have to kiss its at-large hopes goodbye. There is one thing to watch out for: if star freshman Chris Wright comes back and Dayton starts to turn things around, the committee could give them the benefit of the doubt because of wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh with Wright.

Massachusetts (17-9 (6-6), RPI: 31, SOS: 21, vs. Top 50: 5-2, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 8-6): The Minutemen seem to go in-and-out of the field every week -- this week, they might be moving towards the "in" category. They went into Rhode Island tonight and knocked off the Rams, which gave UMass yet another top-50 win. They have arguably the best collection of wins of any of the bubble teams, including a sweep of URI and a road win at Syracuse. They have a fairly easy remaining schedule -- going 4-0 down the stretch would be huge.

Saint Joseph’s (16-8 (7-4), RPI: 54, SOS: 95, vs. Top 50: 2-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 9-5): The Hawks were rising very quickly in the field over the past several weeks, but might have shot themselves in the foot with a home loss to lowly La Salle. It was their third loss in four games, and takes them out of the conference race. However, St. Joe's has a very difficult stretch to finish the season -- which could eventually help them if they can go 4-1 in those final five games, which include contests against Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island.

Houston (19-6 (8-3), RPI: 49, SOS: 111, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-4): The Cougars' at-large hopes are likely gone, after they lost a classic at UAB on Wednesday night. All of their losses this season have been against good teams, but they had to pick-up a couple of wins in those contests. Their two best wins this year were against Kentucky and UTEP -- victories that won't exactly jump out at the committee when evaluating the Cougars. An undefeated finish would give them a gaudy record, but it wil be tough to get a bid.

UAB (18-8 (8-3), RPI: 67, SOS: 115, vs. Top 50: 1-2, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-7): The Blazers might have taken the lead in the race for a potential second bid out of Conference-USA with their two-point victory over Houston on Wednesday night. They are now 16-5 since a rough 2-3 start to the season, including victories over Cincinnati, Kentucky and the Cougars. If they had knocked off Memphis last weekend, we would be talking about a completely different profile -- an NCAA-worthy profile. Instead, they still have a lot of work to do.

UNLV (18-6 (8-3), RPI: 33, SOS: 72, vs. Top 50: 1-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 5-4): The Rebels might be in some of the best shape of any of the teams on this list -- mainly because of their RPI and second-place standing in the Mountain West. The overall profile is pretty empty outside of conference wins over BYU and New Mexico; their best non-league win was over Nevada or Minnesota. If they finish second in the MWC and reach the league title game, the Rebels will get in. A loss in the regular season and again before conference final will spell doom.

New Mexico (21-6 (8-4), RPI: 51, SOS: 156, vs. Top 50: 0-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-5): The Lobos are almost like the Houston of the Mountain West. They are riding an extremely gaudy record without much substance to the cusp of the bubble. Their RPI is rising although the SOS is still horrendous. They have no top-50 wins, but did beat Texas Tech earlier this season. UNM gets both BYU and UNLV at home in the final four games, which will give the Lobos a chance to make a move in the at-large discussion.

Wright State (20-6 (12-4), RPI: 70, SOS: 164, vs. Top 50: 1-0, Last 10: 10-0, Road/Neutral: 8-3): The Raiders were in the bubble discussion as conference play was starting, but they then disappeared by losing three of their first four games after the New Year. Since then, though, they have won 11 in a row to move back into the hunt. Their last three games will tell us everything we need to know about their candidacy: at Illinois State, at Butler, at Valparaiso. A win over Butler or Illinois State could give them a chance heading into March.

George Mason (19-8 (11-5), RPI: 66, SOS: 129, vs. Top 50: 2-1, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 7-7): The Patriots looked like one of the last teams in the field a few weeks ago, but they then lost at Old Dominion and then at home to UNC-Wilmington, which was really the crushing loss for their at-large campaign. GMU has six sub-100 losses and are now a full two games back of VCU in the CAA standings. Wins over Kansas State, Dayton and VCU will help them if they are in the final discussion, but it remains to be seen if they will even get there.

Illinois State (18-8 (11-5), RPI: 52, SOS: 100, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 6-7): The Redbirds are arguably the best bet to get a second bid out of the Missouri Valley if an invitation is out there to grab. They are 0-4 against the top-50, but 4-1 against teams ranked in the rest of the top-100. They own a non-conference victory over Cincinnati, but they have a few bad losses, including a horrible defeat at the hands of Eastern Michigan. They face Wright State, Creighton and Southern Illinois down the stretch -- they need to sweep.

Southern Illinois (15-12 (10-6), RPI: 56, SOS: 17, vs. Top 50: 4-4, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 4-10): The Salukis were left for dead after their disappointing 5-6 non-conference campaign. However, with three straight victories and wins in eight of their last 11 games, SIU is back in the mix. They own wins over Drake, Saint Mary's, Mississippi State and Western Kentucky -- an outstanding group of victories that gives them an edge over most teams. They have a potential bubble-buster game in the season finale against Illinois State; a 3-0 finish would put them near the field.

Western Kentucky (19-6 (13-2), RPI: 51, SOS: 134, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 9-1, Road/Neutral: 8-5): The Hilltoppers missed a huge chance tonight when they lost at home to South Alabama, their second defeat to the Jaguars. WKU is now back in second-place in the Sun Belt standings, and their lack of quality victories -- their best win is a home win over Nebraska -- will keep them out of the legitimate at-large discussion. Unless they win the Sun Belt Tournament, the 0-5 record against the top-100 will be tough to overcome.