O26 Resume Review: Bubble Watch EditionPosted by Adam Stillman on February 19th, 2014
We are less than a month from Selection Sunday. The bubble picture is as unsettled as ever. So what better time to do a complete O26 resume review? Instead of reviewing teams that helped and hurt their profiles this past week, however, let’s take a look at all the legitimate at-large candidates among the O26 conferences.
- Locks: Saint Louis
- Should be in: Massachusetts, VCU
- Work to do: George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton
There is no way SLU (23-2) misses at this point. The Billikens are ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1964, boast a #11 RPI and hold a three-game advantage in the loss column over VCU, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with six games to play. The Atlantic 10 as a whole looks like a safe bet for four bids, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the league get six teams into the NCAA Tournament this season.
- Massachusetts (20-5, #19 RPI). The Minutemen are still in pretty good position to make the NCAA Tournament. Sure, a home loss to cellar-dwelling George Mason last week looks awful, but strong wins against New Mexico, Providence, BYU and LSU in the non-conference slate make this a solid overall profile. Home games with VCU and SLU, as well as a road tilt at Dayton, highlight the remaining schedule.
- VCU (20-6, #23 RPI). All in all, not a bad week for the Rams. VCU took care of business at home against George Washington before falling 64-62 at SLU. A win there might have bumped the Rams up into the lock category, but they stay here for now. The early season win at Virginia continues to look better and better as the Cavaliers are on fire. VCU travels to UMass on Friday and hosts SLU on March 1.
- George Washington (20-6, #37 RPI). George Washington rebounded Tuesday night after a rough week where the Colonials were walloped by 17 points at VCU before falling by six to UMass at home. Those were two huge opportunities for GW to cement its place in the field of 68. Then the Colonials topped fellow bubble-dweller Richmond on Tuesday, thus taking a step closer to the field. George Washington can pretty much count itself in with a win at Saint Louis this weekend. The Colonials still can hang their hats on a great neutral-court win against Creighton way back on December 1.
- Richmond (17-9, #39 RPI). The Spiders missed out on a golden opportunity Tuesday at home against George Washington. With a shot to move ahead of the Colonials in the bubble’s pecking order, the Spiders fell flat. Now Richmond must avoid any bad losses before a closing stretch at home against VCU and at Dayton. The RPI looks sharp, but there’s just not much else on this resume.
- Saint Joseph’s (17-7, #43 RPI). The Hawks had just one game last week, but they took care of business with a road win at La Salle. This week is all about avoiding bad losses. A road game against Rhode Island awaits before a home date with Fordham, and there aren’t really any chances for a resume-building wins left on the schedule. Games against Dayton and George Washington could at least put Saint Joseph’s ahead of those two in the bubble-pecking order. Wins against UMass and VCU highlight this team’s profile.
- Dayton (17-8, #58 RPI). Opportunity awaits. The Flyers finish the regular season with four games against potential NCAA Tournament teams. This week constitutes the “avoid-bad-losses” portion of the schedule, as La Salle and Duquesne are up next. Then it’s at Saint Joseph’s, vs. UMass, at SLU and vs. Richmond. While that’s certainly a daunting path, an NCAA Tournament bid is still a very real possibility. Dayton has won four straight games, including a home victory against George Washington.
- Work to do: Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech
It’s looking like Conference USA will be a one-bid league this season. There’s just not much there that shouts “at-large bid.” The conference tournament should be fun with Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and UTEP all vying for that single spot.
- Southern Miss (21-5, #42 RPI). Southern Miss was the league’s best shot for an at-large bid. Notice I said was. The Golden Eagles boasted a shiny 21-3 record, but then they were blasted by UAB and Middle Tennessee last week. The record still looks nice and all, but when a team’s best win is against North Dakota State or Louisiana Tech, that screams automatic bid or bust.
- Louisiana Tech (21-5, #80 RPI). Don’t ask me how Louisiana Tech’s RPI is so much worse than that of Southern Miss. The Bulldogs have a really nice road win at Oklahoma in late December, and they also played Oklahoma State back when the Cowboys were still highly ranked. There was a road tilt at Saint Mary’s too. Louisiana Tech has dropped a couple of league games without leading scorer Raheem Appleby in the lineup, and the Bulldogs could be the conference tourney favorite if he returns from an ankle injury in time. The computer numbers just don’t put Louisiana Tech in at-large range right now.
- Locks: San Diego State
- Should be in: New Mexico
San Diego State (23-2) is safely in the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs feature a #20 RPI and great wins against Creighton and AT Kansas. It’s just a matter of seeding now. The loss at Wyoming last week broke a 20-game winning streak, but the Aztecs are still in the conversation for a #2 seed.
- New Mexico (19-5, #26 RPI). The Lobos will be in the NCAA Tournament. They just can’t be considered a lock with six games to go. New Mexico still has two games left with San Diego State, and those should be a couple of doozies, as the MW regular season title will be on the line. Other games with UNLV, Utah State, Nevada and Air Force pose as potential stumbling blocks.
West Coast Conference
- Locks: Gonzaga
- Work to do: BYU
Others might not agree quite yet, but Gonzaga is a lock. The Bulldogs are 23-4 with a #22 RPI. With the sad state of the bubble — don’t we say that every year? — there’s no way Gonzaga misses the NCAA Tournament in four weeks — even an upcoming schedule that includes four road games against BYU, San Diego, Pacific and Saint Mary’s.
- BYU (18-10, #40 RPI). Is this team puzzling or what? BYU, which seemingly has been on the bubble all year long, dropped a road game against Pacific on February 13. The Cougars then responded with a road win against Saint Mary’s. And now BYU gets its chance for a resume-building win Thursday when Gonzaga visits Provo. A victory there would likely boost BYU back into most bracketology projections. ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Beller have BYU in the ‘First Four Out,’ and CBS‘ Jerry Palm has them further out than that, but Yahoo‘s Brad Evans has the Cougars in as a #11 seed. Don’t miss this one (11:00 PM ET on ESPN2).
- Locks: Wichita State
- A lot of work to do: Toledo, Green Bay, Stephen F. Austin
Big shocker, Wichita State is a lock. I really need to stop with these horrible puns. But how fun will this last stretch be for the Shockers and college basketball fans across the country? Can Wichita State become the first team to finish the regular season undefeated since Saint Joseph’s turned the trick in 2004? Can the Shockers earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Storylines abound here. As far as these other teams, ‘long shot at best’ sums up their at-large chances.
- Toledo (21-4, #30 RPI). The only thing keeping Toledo in this conversation is its bafflingly good RPI. The Rockets have only played five top-100 RPI games all season — Kansas, Ohio (twice), Eastern Michigan and Akron. Toledo is 2-3 in such games. The record looks nice but its best win came at home against Ohio. I still think it’s auto-bid or bust for this team despite its gaudy RPI and record. The loss to Eastern Michigan last week was probably the final nail in its at-large coffin.
- Green Bay (21-5, #64 RPI). The only thing keeping Green Bay in the at-large picture is a strong non-conference win against Virginia (#17 RPI) in December. While the Cavaliers disappointed early, their resurgence in ACC play make Green Bay’s win look better by the day. Yet that’s the only top-100 RPI win on the entire docket. The Phoenix stayed within three of Wisconsin in mid-November and also have a 12-point loss to Harvard, but they also have two sub-100 RPI losses to Milwaukee and Valparaiso. Green Bay needs to win just one of its last three games in the Horizon League to take the regular season title and earn home court advantage throughout the conference tournament. Again, auto-bid or bust.
- Stephen F. Austin (24-2, #77 RPI). This record looks awesome. The resume? Not so much. The Lumberjacks’ best wins are a season sweep of Southland Conference challenger Sam Houston State and its #109 RPI. A 10-point loss at Texas in mid-November looks fine now, but an eight-point defeat at East Tennessee State is just awful. It’s crazy to think that a 30-win team could miss the Big Dance, but that’s exactly what will happen if Stephen F. Austin fails to secure the Southland’s automatic bid next month.