We are less than two months away from the NCAA Tournament and the bubble picture is slowly beginning to take shape. With just 36 at-large bids handed out this year thanks to the addition of the American Athletic Conference, securing one of those precious final spots becomes just a little bit tougher. That certainly could end up haunting an O26 team with its eyes on the prize. Who knows, VCU, a First Four team in 2011, could have been left out of the Big Dance had the AAC existed then. However, with a dearth of traditional one- or two-bid conferences boasting at-large candidates, could that help hopeful teams in the Atlantic 10 or West Coast Conference? Let’s see which O26 squads helped and hurt their resumes in the past week.
George Washington (15-3). George Washington, one of the best turnaround stories in the nation, saw its RPI jump all the way from #30 to #22 as of Monday night. While victories against VCU (76-66 at home) and St. Bonaventure (79-71 on the road) help, especially considering the former came against another potential bubble team, the Colonials certainly were aided when Creighton lambasted No. 4 Villanova on Monday night thanks to a school and Big East-record 21 three-pointers. George Washington’s neutral-site win in early December against the Bluejays keeps looking better and better. The Colonials own a 3-1 record in the Atlantic 10, with the lone loss coming January 9 at a resurgent La Salle but a rematch with the Explorers (along with George Mason) on the docket over the next week. Real tests come down the road in February, however, as VCU, Massachusetts and Saint Louis all dot the schedule then. The Colonials have the look of an NCAA Tournament team for now, although the loss of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage (13.4 PPG) definitely hurts.
Projected seed for now: #9
It was difficult finding another team to place in this category, but I wanted to find one more considering Saint Louis was the only team I had here last week. I figured Green Bay might have fallen under this umbrella but the Phoenix’s RPI fell from #35 to #41 as of Monday. Louisiana Tech also suffered a loss to Southern Miss, while BYU still has too many losses (seven overall, two in WCC play) with home-and-homes against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to come. So that’s where Toledo comes in. Toledo’s RPI jumped from #50 to #37 after a home win against Buffalo and a road win at Akron last week. The Rockets don’t own a marquee win — take your pick for their best victory between Boston College, Sam Houston State, Stony Brook and Akron— but the record sure looks nice. Would 14 more conference wins — thus a 17-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference — combined with a loss in the conference title game be enough to earn Toledo the MAC’s first at-large bid since 1999? Toledo is favored in all but two of its remaining games, according to Ken Pomeroy, with away games at Ohio on February 1 and at Eastern Michigan two weeks later as the projected losses.