Yes, it’s time for the return of Bubble Watch, traditionally one of the most read set of posts all season as we try to make sense of the numbers leading up to Selection Monday. As always, these groupings are based on Chris Thomas’ exemplary work with the RPI. His system has been revised this season, which means there are going to be a lot more teams in contention for the next few weeks before the field of potential at-large teams gets pared down considerably.
With that in mind, I’ve separated clubs into four groups for the moment:
Lock – Clubs who, according to past historical precedent, are locks to be included in the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier A – The “should be in” crowd. Clubs who, if the season ended today, would be all but guaranteed spots in the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier B – All bubble teams not included in the other two tiers.
Bubble Tier C – The danger zone. Teams currently in an RPI position that disappears from at-large consideration in the following week’s report. The “bubble to the bubble” in a way.
Bubble Tier B – Stony Brook, Boston University
Bubble Tier C – Maine, Hartford
The annual mystery of if Boston University will be in the mix for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament has instead been replaced with the battle to win the league’s automatic bid with the Terriers banned from the conference tournament thanks to their pending move to the Patriot League. It meant that BU would have to get an at-large bid if they wanted to extend their NCAA Tournament streak. Needless to say, with no significant wins and numerous close calls, the best BU can hope for is winning another league title. Their biggest rivals could be Stony Brook, who has wins over St. John’s and Army, though they aren’t anywhere close to an at-large bid either. On the fringe are Maine, who has overachieved to be in their current position, and Hartford, who have very much underachieved to be close to bubble elimination.
Bubble Tier B – Dayton, Butler, UMass, Charlotte, La Salle, Fordham, VCU
Bubble Tier C – Saint Louis
I figured that the A10 was going to be the top mid-major league in the country at the beginning of the season. The reality? Not so much. A league which I figured could get an at-large bid or two seems to have underachieved in some respects and is looking squarely at being a one-bid conference. Dayton’s defense has been atrocious for much of the year, and losses to Texas, Central Michigan, and DePaul have likely sealed their bubble fate. A win over Northwestern could do them some good, but there’s just not much room for improvement in front of them, meaning landing on the bubble is unlikely unless a lot of teams lose in front of them. There’s plenty joining them on the second tier of the bubble right now. Butler has a win over Purdue and might have merited some discussion had they not dropped a match to Eastern Michigan. UMass is likely as high as they are because of a tough non-conference schedule, as they don’t have any real egregious losses but don’t have quality wins either. A win over East Carolina and draw with Clemson have served Charlotte well, but defeat to Davidson was a backbreaker. La Salle has put up some gaudy offensive numbers and did top West Virginia on the road earlier, but a loss to Villanova and some real stinkers for non-conference opponents has curtailed their bubble hopes. Fordham may have one of the upsets of the season against Maryland, but puzzling losses against Marist, St. John’s (NY), and Columbia raise questions about how the club will do against top A10 competition. VCU got off to a rough start with a draw against High Point and loss to Akron but are now unbeaten in six, including knocking off CAA favorite William & Mary, meaning they may be a club to watch in the league. 2-5-2 Saint Louis is likely on the list for now thanks to a very challenging non-conference slate, but the Billikens don’t have anything approaching a quality result.
Lock – Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College
Bubble Tier A – Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Maryland
Bubble Tier B – Clemson, Miami (FL)
Last season, the ACC got an unprecedented nine bids to the NCAA Tournament. This season? Well, the league is looking good for eight bids, but matching last year’s nine could be trickier. Florida State, North Carolina, and Boston College have all done enough to ensure their spot in the Big Dance and will be pushing for one of the coveted #1 seeds. With FSU and UNC meeting this week, the winner could gain a serious leg up in the race for that top seed. Duke looks pretty close to joining that top line, but probably needs to finish strong if they want to be in line for a strong national seed given their 1-1-1 record in their past three. Virginia’s posted a gaudy record, but their lack of a statement win is keeping them from rising higher, though they’ve got plenty of chances from now to the rest of the season. Wake Forest is paying the price for the early season stretch that saw them draw with UNC Wilmington and lose to UNC Greensboro. They should be in contention for a national seed, but their chance for a #1 seed may have passed. Virginia Tech has a great win over Illinois to hang their hat on, but their odds of a national seed are slipping after a slow ACC start. Maryland’s an extremely curious case right now. An indifferent non-conference slate had them well back from their ACC brethren at the beginning of league play, but a 3-0-1 start have them on top of the league and gaining ground in the RPI. They have to keep winning to guarantee themselves of a national seed though, and a non-conference match against Francis Marion isn’t going to help their RPI. Clemson are winless in five and may struggle again to avoid the wooden spoon in the ACC, with the Tigers also unlikely to end up at .500. The fact that Miami (FL) is below Clemson at this point in the RPI is a bad omen for the Hurricanes, who have won just two of five. With a win over Florida and a draw against West Virginia but little else of note, the Canes need to win and win big down the stretch to get a ticket back to the NCAA Tournament. They also are just a game over .500 right now, meaning they’ve got a tough road to travel on that front as well.
Bubble Tier B – Florida Gulf Coast, East Tennessee State
Florida Gulf Coast is right where most predicted they’d be at the beginning of the season: on top of the RPI of A-Sun teams and on top of the standings right now after two league wins, including one over likely closest title rivals East Tennessee State. The Eagles’ slim at-large bid hopes likely disappeared with their draw against Northern Arizona and defeat to UNLV, but they’ll be hoping that they can at least keep winning and avoid a repeat of their impossible NCAA Tournament matchup last season against Florida. Joining them technically on the bubble right now is the aforementioned ETSU. The Bucs began their season with four wins and six of seven but have now lost two of three after dropping their grudge match against FGCU. They’ll be playing catchup the rest of the way in the league, while also hoping to get another shot at their rivals in the A-Sun Tournament.
Bubble Tier B – Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma
The good news? All nine of the Big XII’s clubs are still on the bubble at the moment. The bad news? It doesn’t look like anyone’s coming off the bubble any time soon, at least in the good way. The top five at least have separated themselves from the rest of the pack for now. Baylor was looking good, but a draw with Oklahoma could have some seriously bad effects down the road. The Bears don’t have any great wins on their schedule and probably need to win at least five of their last seven in the regular season to feel comfortable going into the Big XII Tournament. Kansas doesn’t have any great wins on their schedule right now and blew a big chance against Denver, but the victory over Oklahoma State should keep them out of danger for the moment. Beating Baylor this weekend would be big though. West Virginia is now unbeaten in seven and really did themselves a big favor by beating Texas Tech and Oklahoma State this past weekend. Their win against Stanford will get them in if they’re on the bubble, but a weak closing stretch means they probably still need to win five of their last six. Texas Tech is in a slightly weaker position, though a win against Long Beach State should help them in the long run. With eight games left, TTU might need to win six or seven to truly feel comfortable. Oklahoma State is in all kinds of trouble despite a 9-3-0 record. Their win over Memphis is, by itself, not going to be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament if on the bubble. The Cowgirls blew both opportunities to gain a big win this past weekend and may need to run the table down the stretch if they want to avoid a pressure packed Big XII Tournament. The other four clubs likely need the auto bid, though Texas’ draw with Denver might give them a glimmer of hope if they can go on a late run.
Bubble Tier A – Notre Dame, Georgetown, Rutgers
Bubble Tier B – Marquette, Louisville, DePaul, South Florida, Providence, Villanova, Syracuse, Pittsburgh
Bubble Tier C – St. John’s (NY), Seton Hall
The situation in the Big East isn’t quite as dire as in the Big XII, but it’s still not that great. Notre Dame looks to be in good shape for a bid with a win over Santa Clara and a draw with Portland, but the Irish may have to struggle for a national seed. The good news is that with Rutgers and Georgetown still on the schedule, they’ve still got a decent shot and moving up quite a bit. While Georgetown has a whole lot of hollow wins on the schedule, the draw against Santa Clara and win against Rutgers could be enough to get them in. At 4-0-0 in the league, the Hoyas would probably need a mini-collapse to get bounced right now, but wins against Louisville and Notre Dame could boost them into national seed contention. I’m a lot more bearish on Rutgers than the rankings are right now. The Scarlet Knights are almost living entirely off their win against Ohio State at this point. A 1-3-0 start in the league has alarm bells ringing, especially after that lone win came from the penalty spot in extra time. The remaining schedule looks to be forgiving for the most part, but Rutgers remains a bad loss or two away from serious problems. Marquette entered league play in some degree of trouble but has opened up 3-0-0 in the Big East and gained significant ground with a win over Rutgers. The upcoming match against Louisville could end up being key for both clubs, with so many lesser teams remaining on the schedule. The Cardinals could be in a spot of trouble, with their best win thus far being over Purdue. They still have Marquette, Georgetown, and Rutgers to play though, meaning plenty of chances remain for a move up. DePaul, South Florida, and Providence all litter the next tier of at-large contenders. A win against Dayton highlights the Blue Demons’ resume, but losses to Loyola (Ill.) and Iowa State look likely to haunt them. DePaul does still get to face the three top teams in the league in the RPI, so they could well still make a run with an upset or two. USF’s win against Miami (FL) isn’t going to amount to much it seems, while defeats to Georgia and Dartmouth and a draw with Pittsburgh could be crushing. UConn has a nice draw with Santa Clara but a loss to Syracuse hurt them severely, and the club may need to run the table in the regular season to get back towards the good end of the bubble. Of the Providence/Villanova/Syracuse/Pittsburgh quartet, Villanova looks by far the most interesting with a draw against Maryland and win over Rutgers, but the Wildcats probably dug themselves too deep a hole early. St. John’s (NY) and Seton Hall are here in name only, with both having started league play dismally, and the pair are likely worrying more about just qualifying for the Big East Tournament rather than the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier B – Northern Colorado
The league’s NCAA Tournament representative last season, Montana, was the lowest ranked in the RPI of the sixty-four teams, even beating out the SWAC representative. You wouldn’t bet on that happening again this season, especially if league pacesetter Northern Colorado ends up with the league’s auto bid. The Bears have been a program on the rise for a while now and have shown their talent level with draws against Colorado College and Nebraska and a win over Utah State in Logan. It’s all about the league and conference tournament in the Big Sky though, and UNC made a great start to the new league season with two clean sheet wins to open up, including a 1-0 triumph over one of the title favorites, Portland State.
Bubble Tier B – Campbell
Bubble Tier C – Radford
A lot of the shine from Campbell’s early season run, which featured wins over C-USA sides East Carolina and Marshall, faded at the beginning of league play, with the club being spanked at fellow title contenders Radford, 3-0. Despite that embarrassing setback, the Camels are still far and away the league’s top team in the RPI at the moment. Their conquerers, Radford, have recovered well from an up and down league campaign that featured few wins against opponents of any quality. The Highlanders took home four points in their opening two games in Big South play and should be able to build momentum for the run in with a string of the conference’s strugglers coming up over the next few weeks.
Lock – Penn State
Bubble Tier A – Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State
Bubble Tier B – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana
Penn State might be the one and only national seed emerging from this group. The Nittany Lions are also in the running for a top seed, with their only defeats coming at the hands of Stanford and BYU. Wins against Virginia, Central Michigan, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Illinois all look great on the resume, though the club needs to keep winning to assure itself of home advantage throughout the NCAA Tournament. There’s a bit of a gap between them and the rest of the league in the RPI. Wisconsin’s in a good position with no bad losses and a win over Notre Dame, but they need more if they want a national seed, likely needing a win over Ohio State and a lot of other victories down the road. Michigan got a desperately needed big win with the mauling of Wisconsin but may need four or five more wins in the league to totally feel safe. Wins over Maryland and Missouri should get Ohio State in the tournament if they slip towards the bubble, but the Buckeyes really need to finish strong to try and sneak into a national seed. A win over the Buckeyes has done wonders for Illinois’ profile, with a victory over Iowa also doing them some good. A national seed might be too much to ask for though unless the Illini finish on fire. It’s murky from that point on though. Iowa’s dispatched the teams they should have, but they need to win against some of the league’s top guns to truly feel safe and will get a chance to do so against Michigan this week. Minnesota’s profile looks decent, with wins over USC, DePaul, and Michigan State, but the Gophers blew two big chances against Ohio State and Michigan and really needs to finish up strong to get on the right side of the bubble. Northwestern is fading quickly after a strong start and may not even make the Big Ten Tournament after a 0-3-0 start in the league. Purdue has a win against Central Michigan and a draw against West Virginia, but they need much more, although they have all the heavy hitters still to come, giving them some measure of hope. Michigan State has a win over Purdue but really nothing else and will have to win big down the stretch, while Nebraska and Indiana look to be nothing more than fringe candidates at this point.
Lock – Long Beach State
Bubble Tier B – UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii, Pacific
Again looking like the king of mid-majors, the question now is whether the Big West can be a multiple bid league. Actually, with Long Beach State all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, another club winning the Big West Tournament would pretty much do the trick. There are still glimmers of hope for UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge though. Irvine’s played a murderously difficult non-conference schedule and has paid the price, sitting at three games under .500 right now. But the Anteaters also have a win over Oregon State, and if they manage to beat Long Beach State on the road, they could be might attractive if they also have a good league season. Northridge is also an interesting case in that they have a decent win against Arizona State along with a good win against Michigan and a good draw against Tennessee. Sunday’s loss to San Diego really hurts though, and you get the feeling the game against Portland this week could be a do or die situation if they can’t win almost all of their games in the league. Cal State Fullerton has a win against Michigan State, but they and UC Santa Barbara are up as high as they are thanks to their difficult schedule more than anything else. Hawaii seems much improved and has what looks like a decent win against UNLV on the road but little else, while Pacific is clinging onto the back edge of the bubble for now thanks to wins over Oregon and Arizona.
Bubble Tier B – UNC Wilmington, William & Mary, Hofstra, Drexel
Bubble Tier C – George Mason
The CAA looked like it could potentially be privy to a pair of at-large berths…until it didn’t. UNC Wilmington and William & Mary’s fortunes took a decided turn downwards over the past week, leaving the league looking like a one-bid conference again. The Seahawks had banked a golden ticket with a draw against Wake Forest, but consecutive losses to East Carolina and Hofstra have sent their RPI shooting downwards. UNCW managed to save a little face with a win over Northeastern, but they need to win almost all of their remaining games to maneuver themselves into a decent position on the bubble. W&M looked to be rolling right to the end of non-conference play with six straight shutout wins but were then cut down by VCU in stunning fashion. The Tribe don’t have a result anywhere near as good as Wilmington’s draw with Wake Forest, putting them in an even deeper hole. They won their league opener but may have to run the table to get consideration for an at-large bid. It’s a similar story for Hofstra, who are paying the price for three close calls that ended up as losses early in the season, along with a 4-2 loss at Marist. The Pride have a win against Ohio State in their favor and just beat UNC Wilmington, but they’ve got a lot of ground to make up between now and November. Drexel has just one defeat and a win against Villanova in their favor but simply have too much ground to make up in all likelihood, while George Mason is barely clinging on to the bubble thanks to a difficult non-conference slate.
Bubble Tier A – UCF
Bubble Tier B – Memphis, Colorado College, SMU, East Carolina, Rice, Tulsa, Houston
Bubble Tier C – Marshall
UCF’s defeat at Memphis keeps them off the lock list for the moment, but for all intents and purposes, they’re in. If there was any doubt, the draw at Boston College probably sealed it for them. With six teams in the RPI Top 100, UCF can probably seal a national seed by dispensing with most of their conference rivals. UCF also essentially played provider for Memphis, who needed a big win in the worst kind of way. The Tigers look to be one of the league’s top teams and should land safely in the field as long as they avoid too many losses down the stretch. It gets interesting after that. Colorado College had looked to be setting themselves up nicely with a win over Denver and draws against Colorado and Utah but lost a lot of their margin for error with a loss to East Carolina this past Sunday. They probably need to beat either UCF or Memphis, though that win against Denver could be a big chip in their favor. SMU’s fading fast, having won just one of their last four and two of their last seven. They need to win a whole lot of games down the stretch while also being mindful of being under .500 at the moment. East Carolina at least gave themselves a fighting chance with wins over UNC Wilmington and Colorado College, but realistically, they need much more to move up. Rice doesn’t have nearly enough at this point but are the type of team that could easily make a surprise run deep in the C-USA Tournament. Tulsa doesn’t have much on their resume, while Houston blew a few golden opportunities with draws against SMU and Tulsa shortly after having beaten Arizona State. Marshall may be clinging onto the bubble right now but doesn’t really have any great results and should probably be more worried about qualification for the C-USA Tournament rather than dreaming of an at-large bid.
Bubble Tier B – Wright State, Valparaiso
For the first time in a long while, there won’t be a serious threat for an at-large bid from the Horizon League. Longtime contenders Wisconsin-Milwaukee are going through a painful rebuilding year at the moment, with just one win in right thus far. Wright State are at the top of the RPI heap right now, with draws against Denver and DePaul helping them to that position. The Raiders also topped Milwaukee in their league opener, only underlying a possible changing of the guard in the league, though they don’t really have a chance at an at-large bid. The other side in the league clinging to the bubble right now is Valparaiso, who recovered from a three match winless streak in the middle of the season to win four of their next five. Their best win though is likely their last one, a 1-0 win at St. Mary’s (CA), meaning their bubble stay is likely to be a short one unless they can string together a lot of wins in the league.
Bubble Tier B – Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Brown
The days of the Ivy League contending for at-large bids appear to be long gone, with the conference likely limited to just a single berth to the Big Dance again this year. Dartmouth’s RPI is actually in a pretty good position right now, but there’s not really anything of note on their resume after near misses against UCF and Rutgers which would have given them some case. What could make things interesting is a win against Pepperdine at home on Monday. Win there, and the Big Green could well be an interesting case if they win almost all of their league games but fall short of the title. Harvard had a couple of golden opportunities against Dayton and Boston College but couldn’t convert and basically sealed their own fate with a loss to Penn. The Ivy powerhouse now has to scramble for a chance at the auto bid. Considering they were pasted at UCLA earlier in the year, Princeton has recovered rather well, though the RPI reflects the difficulty of their non-conference schedule more than anything else. Brown also ends up on the list for now, mostly thanks to a win over UMass late in non-conference play. The Bears dropped their opener at Darmouth though and will have to fight doggedly to get back in the title race in a league that offers few chances for mistakes in the run for the title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier C – Rider
2012 has not been a vintage year for the MAAC, who could unofficially be out of the at-large picture by the end of next weekend’s games. Just three teams were in the Top 200 of the RPI at the end of last weekend, not exactly speaking to the overall strength of the league. The league’s lone representative in the Top 150 of the RPI is Rider, who won their first four games of the season, albeit over rather tame competition, before now winning just one of their last four. That stretch’s only defeat was to a strong Navy side, but the last match Rider played was a draw against a winless Delaware State side. One-off or a bad omen for league play? Broncos fans will certainly be hoping for the former considering the amount of talent and experience on this year’s roster.
Bubble Tier A – Central Michigan
Bubble Tier C – Miami (OH)
Speaking of bad years, the MAC has fallen off a cliff once you get past torchbearers Central Michigan. The league has just three teams in the RPI Top 150, with CMU being the only club in the RPI Top 140. A third of the conference’s teams aren’t even in the RPI Top 200, making for rather painful viewing for fans of the league. It also might make for some painful viewing for CMU, as the club tries their very best to hang onto a potential at-large bid. The Chippewas have wins against West Virginia and Dayton and a draw with Marquette, which should all work in their favor should they be on the bubble come Selection Monday. The bad news is that a loss to any of their league brethren could torpedo their RPI in a very bad way. With that in mind, CMU might want to make sure of their fate by winning their league’s auto bid in the MAC Tournament if they can’t run the table in the league. Fortunately, the Chippewas look like heavy favorites to dominate the MAC this season given the troubles elsewhere. Miami (OH) looks like the best of a rather bad bunch behind CMU this season, and the Redhawks are a nice 8-2-0 at the moment with wins over Xavier and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They also started out league play with two wins, indicating that they could well be CMU’s closest challengers in the MAC this year, though they’re light years away from the at-large discussion.
Bubble Tier C – Drake
It’s less a story of who is here than who isn’t in the Missouri Valley this season. Illinois State’s NCAA Tournament at-large bid dreams lay in tatters after their weekend loss to Evansville. The Redbirds had already basically seen their hopes go out the window following back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Wisconsin, but the defeat to Evansville destroyed even their ambitions of hanging around on the bubble in a technical manner of speaking for a few more weeks. Worse, in a seven team league, the loss to the Purple Aces, who had won just one game before their upset win, dealt their title bid a serious blow. One can only begin to wonder about the psychological effects of a 4-1 loss to a team that looked like no-hopers going into league play. It seems quite likely that the MVC will fall out of the bubble picture entirely next week, with Drake hanging onto the edge of the bubble right now. The Bulldogs have a win over Nebraska and have now won eight straight, but on the whole, their profile lacks the wins to see them keep pace in the RPI, though they should be title contenders based on current form.
Lock – San Diego State
Bubble Tier B – New Mexico, UNLV
Bubble Tier C – Wyoming
Most figured San Diego State would be much improved from last year after bringing back a good many starter, but few expected the Aztecs to be this good. A 9-1-1 start has all but locked SDSU into the NCAA Tournament field, and while the club doesn’t have a truly great win on their resume, they’ve got a whole lot of good ones, a fact that, along with a draw against Santa Clara, could get the club a national seed come November. Truthfully, the conference season may see them slip a bit, even if they run the table, meaning that a result at Portland in a few weeks could be worth its weight in gold. For a while, what’s behind SDSU didn’t look all that hot, but New Mexico and UNLV have both rounded into form rather nicely as league play nears. The Lobos began by going winless in four, but something clicked, and they’ve won six of seven, including victories over SMU and Georgia, while they also gave Florida a real run for their money. Kit Vela’s hard-nosed side knows how to win in this conference, so don’t rule them out of the league or conference tournament race, with the Lobos a potential bubble burster come conference tournament season. UNLV has also overcome a rough start to come on like wildfire lately. The Rebels won just one of four to open the season but have now won seven straight, including wins over Oklahoma and Florida Gulf Coast, to come into league play on a high. Wyoming’s a distant fourth right now, and the Cowgirls may be a bit overvalued thanks to some losses to big teams. The wins aren’t all that impressive, with a victory over Northern Colorado likely the highlight, though a draw with Utah State in Logan was also creditable.
Bubble Tier B – Jacksonville State
I’m going to guess that most figured that the OVC would be long gone in the bubble battle at this point, but Jacksonville State is hanging on for the moment. The Gamecocks have been perennial strugglers in the league but have actually begun in fine fashion, with eight wins from eleven games. Not all of those wins were over awful opposition either, with JSU triumphing over Georgia State, Louisiana Tech, and Samford. Do the Gamecocks have staying power? Probably not in the Bubble Watch for that much longer, but the OVC might be another matter entirely. The club won their first league game and looks strong bets for the postseason at bare minimum.
Lock – Stanford, UCLA
Bubble Tier A – Washington
Bubble Tier B – Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona State, Cal, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, USC
Try to contain your rage ACC fans, but the Pac-12 might have a case at being the nation’s best conference from top to bottom. While the ACC’s top half is better than the Pac-12’s, the opposite is pretty much true for the bottom half, with the depth at the bottom of the league especially shining through compared to the ACC. That’s neither here nor there though, and the fact is, everybody in the Pac-12 has a realistic chance of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. While six bids looks like the safest bet right now, that number could rise by some degree should the bottom half of the league pick off some big wins against the top half. Stanford and UCLA are in, and both look like prime contenders for a #1 seed. Both appear to be the pick of the litter in the league and the winner of their showdown later this season not only will likely be Pac-12 champion but could also finish on top of the RPI going into the NCAA Tournament. Washington had looked close to a lock after their trouncing of Notre Dame had left the a perfect 7-0-0, but the Huskies’ position has cooled significantly after a 0-2-1 stretch. .500 in the league will probably do it for UW, but this team has the potential for so much more and will be wanting to recover after a sluggish few weeks. Like last year, Washington State will likely ride an away draw all the way to the Big Dance if they’re on the bubble. The result against UCLA was huge, but the follow-up against Santa Clara left much to be desired. Five or six wins in the league should make for a stressless Selection Monday. Colorado is pretty high up in the RPI, but it’s a wonder how considering their results haven’t been that great. Draws against Colorado College and Northwestern are about as good as its been for the Buffs, and they surely need more in the league if they want to return to the Big Dance. Oregon State is 9-1-0, but their overall strength of schedule is lagging, which keeps them down here for the moment. The win over Portland is a big one though, and the Beavers should move up if they keep winning in the league. The intrigue really begins behind them. A win over Pepperdine and draw with Kansas is nice, but ASU still probably needs six or seven wins in the league. Cal has even more work to do given their overall lack of quality wins. Losing the league opener to Arizona has dug the hole even deeper for the Golden Bears. Utah’s win over BYU should get them in if they can get to the bubble, but that’s probably going to require five or six wins on their part in the league. Arizona, shockingly, is right in the mix thanks to their win over Cal, but the Wildcats did themselves no favors with a loss to Pacific. If they can continue to pull rabbits out of the hat in the league though, they might just have a chance of pulling off one of the all-time turnarounds. Oregon has had numerous chances to build their profile and come up short each time. The win over UC Irvine is decent on paper, but it’s not going to be enough to put the Ducks over the top if they can’t string together league wins. Dead and buried a few weeks ago, USC is suddenly back alive with their win over Washington. That was nice, but the Trojans still probably need eight or nine wins in Pac-12 play to give themselves a shot unless they can knock off a big gun in the league.
Bubble Tier B – Navy
Bubble Tier C – Colgate, Army
In terms of the RPI, Navy is class of the field, as you might expect with a team with a scintillating 11-1-0 record. The Midshipmen have bounced back from a thumping 3-0 defeat at the hands of Maryland on opening day to win eleven in a row. That’s unlikely to make a difference unless they win the Patriot League Tournament though considering most of those wins still leave a lot to be desired in the SOS column. They won’t have it easy either, with closest rivals Colgate and Army both capable of packing a punch on their day. Colgate looks like one of the most exciting teams in the nation, capable of pouring goals in with a young and talented team. On the other hand, that young and talented team hasn’t kept a clean sheet all year, meaning things could be exciting for the wrong reasons as well. Army has been a bit inconsistent, but has tested itself quite a bit, with games against Providence, Iowa, and Long Beach State. The Black Knights also claimed a major scalp with a win over Syracuse that likely keeps them on the bubble watch for now, though their odds of an eventual at-large bid are all but nil.
Lock – Missouri
Bubble Tier A – Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss
Bubble Tier B – Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas
If they weren’t in before, Missouri pretty much sealed their NCAA Tournament spot with Friday’s win over Ole Miss. There are a lot of pretty good wins there for the Tigers, but nothing really great at the moment. With Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M still to go though, Mizzou has a pretty good chance at solidifying a national seed if they can keep it up. Sweep those three and they might even have a faint chance at a #1 seed. Texas A&M may not be high enough in the RPI to get in as a lock this week, but they should be joining that group next week. The Aggies have a bushel full of quality wins, though they’re still missing that big statement win to make their case for a #1 seed. Like Missouri though, all the heavy hitters are still to come for A&M, so they’ll have a chance to make their case yet. Florida already has some big results with the win over Duke and draw with North Carolina, but that loss to Miami (FL) at the beginning of the season is weighing them down, meaning the best the Gators can likely hope for is a high national seed. Tennessee’s RPI position’s probably a bit lofty for their body of work, though they can certainly shore that up with some more timely wins in the league. The Lady Vols are probably high enough to not worry too much about a spot in the field barring a collapse, but work is needed for a national seed. Ole Miss has some decent wins over Texas Tech and Alabama but probably needs five or so wins the rest of the way to feel comfortable about their NCAA Tournament positioning. It’s a mad scramble beyond that quintet. Kentucky really looked to have blown it with a shock defeat to Arkansas but saved a little face with the win over LSU. The Wildcats do have a win over Florida in the bag, but they still probably need five or six wins to feel comfortable, though a victory over Texas A&M on Friday would go a long way in settling their account. Alabama’s profile looks awfully hollow at the moment, with their best result being a win over a sliding Georgia side. They really need to rack up some wins in the league to avoid bubble trouble. Vanderbilt has a draw with Tennessee, but that doesn’t figure to be enough, though the Dores may just want to ensure their spot in the SEC Tournament first. LSU is a little worse off in the RPI but a lot worse off in the results department, having won just one of their past six, though that was a big win against Memphis. Auburn’s in a battle to get to .500, currently sitting at a game below the magic mark. The Tigers do have a win over Texas Tech in the bank and one over LSU for bubble purposes, but the defending SEC Tournament champs still look like needing six wins or more to stand a chance. Georgia has one win in six and no significant wins and look to be sinking without a trace, while South Carolina has scored just once in four league games and also has just one win in six. Both would need massive efforts down the stretch to get into at-large bid contention and may not even make it to Orange Beach. Mississippi State’s early form looks to be a mirage constructed upon their laughable non-conference slate, while Arkansas did very well at home last weekend to get four points but remain major underdogs to make it to the postseason.
Bubble Tier B – UNC Greensboro, Samford
Bubble Tier C – Furman
UNC Greensboro seemed to give themselves a glimmer of hope early with the win over Wake Forest…and then the rest of the club’s non-conference schedule put some pain on the Spartans. The W-L-T record took a big hit, but the real death blow for those faint hopes for UNCG happened last Sunday with the surprising conference loss to Western Carolina. The Spartans still have a fighting chance for SoCon silverware, but inconsistent performances, like the one in the WCU loss are what derailed them last year and could do them in again this year. Samford has been on a real roller coaster ride so far, starting out painfully against SEC opposition before winning three in a row, including a startling 3-1 win against Kentucky before somehow losing to Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State. The needle pointed back up again last weekend with two wins to open up league play. The question is if the Bulldogs can stay consistent throughout the league season. Furman was rolling after a win over Clemson started a seven game win streak that had some tipping the Paladins for a SoCon title run. That momentum stopped with a thud this past weekend with a defeat to College of Charleston though. The loss sent their RPI dropping like a stone, and the club doesn’t look long for the bubble. They might not be long for the SoCon title race either if they can’t get something from two of their next three against title rivals UNCG and Samford.
Bubble Tier B – Stephen F. Austin
One of last season’s hard luck stories of Tournament Week, Stephen F. Austin came into 2012 with plenty of chances to boost their resume for a potential run at an at-large berth. The Ladyjacks would take care of business against teams they were supposed to beat, but narrow defeats to Texas Tech and LSU seemed to leave SFA as another case of close but not close enough. While some of the lesser lights on their schedule all but guaranteed their RPI wouldn’t be good enough for a spot on the bubble even with a win against Baylor, the resounding 4-0 loss basically ended at-large hopes for good. The good news for SFA is that they should again be overwhelming favorites for Southland silverware, meaning this talented group may yet find itself in the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier B – Oakland
Nick O’Shea’s Golden Grizzlies have one of the oddest records in all the land thus far, at 2-3-3. While the wins aren’t anything to fawn over, Oakland does have draws with Michigan State and Northwestern, which isn’t so bad for a Summit League team. They also played Michigan close while stifling Notre Dame for a while before being pushed aside in the end. All of that’s not going to keep Oakland on the bubble, but the Golden Grizzlies could again be NCAA Tournament bound come November if they can translate some of those performances to league play.
Bubble Tier B – Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Florida International, Western Kentucky
It’s the “Big Four” and then a big gap between everyone else in the Sun Belt right now. There wasn’t much subtlety to it on opening weekend at least, when all four of the league’s presumed top teams went 2-0-0 in conference play. Within that group, Middle Tennessee State and North Texas have put a little distance between themselves and Florida International and Western Kentucky. The Blue Raiders are on a bit of a roll right now, having won five of six, but on the whole, there’s a lack of quality wins on MTSU’s resume, with the club benefitting from their losses coming from two SEC clubs and Memphis. North Texas was likely dreaming of an unlikely at-large bid a few weeks ago after drawing with Baylor but then suffered back-to-back heartbreaking defeats to Long Beach State and Oklahoma State. The energy drained from those setbacks, UNT was then upset at home by TCU to all but end their hopes. They recovered well at the beginning of league play though and are likely favorites for the title at the moment. Florida International endured a rough patch of one win in six during non-conference play but did manage a draw at LSU in that span. They’ve started well in the league also but have a crunch weekend ahead, hosting Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky. The latter is on a run of six wins in eight but have been well outclassed in their biggest tests thus far out of conference, with their RPI not suffering too badly thanks to the rankings of those clubs. That won’t stop them in their pursuit of Sun Belt silverware though, and they made winning start to league play last weekend with two clean sheet wins.
Lock – BYU
Bubble Tier A – Santa Clara, Portland
Bubble Tier B – Pepperdine, San Diego, Loyola Marymount
Bubble Tier C – Gonzaga, St. Mary’s (CA)
The big question with BYU now may not be “are they in the field?” or “can they win a national seed?” but rather, “Can they claim a #1 seed?”. The Cougars have a whopping seven wins over teams in the uRPI Top 80, including victories over Long Beach State, Penn State, and Washington. The game against Utah Valley on Thursday is bound to hurt their RPI a bit, but would wins over Santa Clara and Portland give them a big boost in the rankings? If the Cougars did manage to run the table in the WCC or come close to it, they might just have a good argument for a #1 seed, especially if rivals around them slip up. Santa Clara will be fighting for as high a national seed as possible to stay far, far away from Stanford if they can. There’s not much in the way of significant wins though, with the Broncos’ best win potentially being there last one against Washington State. Beating Portland and/or BYU in league play would be huge for their cause. The defeat to Denver hurt Portland, but they’ve got a win over North Carolina and a draw with Notre Dame helping them out, which should ease their path towards a national seed, especially if they can take down Cal State Northridge and San Diego State this weekend. Pepperdine’s cursed inconsistency has been plaguing them this year, with the Waves still looking for a trademark win to tout in November. They’ve got four wins over potential bubble rivals but may still get left at the altar if they can’t find one big win. Fortunately for the Waves, they’ve still got Boston College, Santa Clara, Portland, and BYU left on the schedule. Beyond them, it’s very dicey. San Diego is three games under .500 right now and almost has to run the table to get in consideration. Loyola Marymount fares better in that respect and has a draw against UCLA that would likely get them in if on the bubble, but the Lions need a lot of wins down the stretch. Gonzaga has been in a tailspin recently with four straight losses and doesn’t really have any significant wins, while things look equally dire for St. Mary’s (CA), who’ve lost two straight to middling opposition and whose best result is a draw with Oregon earlier in the year.
Bubble Tier A – Denver
Bubble Tier B – Seattle, Louisiana Tech, Utah State
Denver needed a big weekend for their at-large hopes and got it, by first taking care of business against TCU before then going to Portland and throttling the Pilots. Now with wins over Portland, Kansas, Colorado, and UC Irvine, the Pioneers should be safely in the field barring a big collapse in WAC play. Denver can’t rest on their laurels though, as Seattle and Utah State have both shown themselves very capable thus far in 2012. A slip against some of the league’s lesser lights wouldn’t be advisable either, considering their desultory RPIs. If the Pioneers can keep winning though, they might just be able to sneak into a national seed. Seattle’s at just .500 right now but has played a pretty difficult slate, with all their losses coming to major conference clubs along with San Diego State. Their wins really aren’t much to should about, but they should still have a fighting chance in the WAC this year. Utah State has a whopping four draws at this point, including three in their last four, but the Aggies do have a win over Utah and a draw with Washington, showing what they can do on their day. Unfortunately, draws with Creighton and Portland State, along with a loss to Northern Colorado, shows some of the inconsistency that has plagued this bunch. Louisiana Tech’s record looks like a big red herring at this point. Their non-conference schedule was filled with minnows, allowing them to puff up their record to a large degree. As has been the case in previous years where LT has used the same tact, they could be in for a rude awakening come league play.