This entry is cross-posted at SB Nation.
Welcome to Surveying The Bubble, where I'll be examining who's safe and who's not in terms of Tournament selection over the final three weeks of the season. For a look at who's seeded where, follow this link to visit Bracketology.
This season's bubble has been unique in that teams seem to be more consistent than ever, meaning the group of teams fighting for the final few spots in the NCAA field look very similar. In this piece, I intend to give you a bit more information about the last few teams in the field and the group that's attempting to move past them.
Before I talk about who's on the fringes and sitting just outside, here's a look at how the field stacks up right now.
One-Bid Leagues (15)
These 15 conferences are only getting one team into the field.
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt
Shot At Two (9)
Nine leagues have a chance to grab a second bid. I've listed these from most likely to least likely.
West Coast: Gonzaga (lock)
Horizon: Butler (lock)
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa (somewhat safe)
Conference USA: UTEP (UAB in as an at-large this week.)
Western Athletic: Utah State
Colonial: Old Dominion
Metro Atlantic: Siena
I'll look at the at-large chances of the last seven teams on this list as the situation warrants over the last three weeks of the season.
Two dozen teams are all but assured of a place in the field of 65.
Big East: Syracuse*, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown, Pittsburgh
Big Ten: Purdue*, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Big 12: Kansas*, Kansas State, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M, Missouri
MWC: New Mexico*, BYU
SEC: Kentucky*, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
Teams with an asterisk own their respective conference's automatic bid.
Work To Do (15)
These safety of these 15 teams varies greatly. The six ACC teams for example, are safer than the Big East, Big 12 and SEC entrants on this list.
ACC: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State
A-10: Richmond*, Xavier, Rhode Island
Big East: Louisville
Big Ten: Illinois
Big 12: Oklahoma State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa*
WCC: St. Mary's
Of this group, Florida, Oklahoma State, Rhode Island and St. Mary's hold the most precarious positions. They could very well find themselves among either the Last Four In or First Four Out as the clock ticks down and the picture comes into more focus.
That takes care of 61 of the 65 teams. (No, I didn't count wrong, locks Butler and Gonzaga and "work to do" club UNI appear twice.) That leaves me to look at the last four teams in the field and the 12 who have the best shot at replacing them over the next three weeks.
RPI data from Crashing The Dance. All records reflect games against Division I opponents only.
Last Four In
UAB (21-5; 9-3 C-USA; RPI: 31; non-conf. RPI: 18): The Blazers are just hanging on right now, thanks to their early season home wins over lock Butler and fellow bubble team Cincinnati. UAB possesses a 10-3 road/neutral record, but that's a bit deceptive, as the losses came against three of their best four road opponents -- Kent State, Memphis and Virginia -- none of whom are close to the field. The Blazers will have to close strong to stay in. Games at UCF Wednesday and against Tulane back in Birmingham Saturday are winnable, the final week -- featuring a home date with Memphis and road trip to UTEP, who beat UAB at Bartow Arena -- is even more crucial.
Connecticut (16-11; 6-8 Big East; RPI: 45; non-conf. RPI: 14): Look who's back. The Huskies are still struggling, going 5-7 over their last 12, and 3-3 in their last six. (The last 12 rule is no longer official, but the Committee still asks members to look at closing performance in their own individual ways.) However, Monday night's win at Villanova was an important one, especially as it came on the road, where UConn has struggled, putting together a 3-8 road/neutral mark. More importantly for Jim Calhoun's charges, there was no letdown like with the Texas win, as they defeated Rutgers at the RAC on Saturday. UConn's four remaining games -- home tilts against West Virginia Monday and Louisville Saturday, and a closing road swing at Notre Dame and USF -- give them a few more opportunities.
San Diego State (18-7; 9-4 MWC; RPI: 38; Non-conf. RPI: 41):The Aztecs are here for one reason, and one reason only. Unlike most of their bubble brethren, they're winning games more often than not, going 8-4 in their last 12, and 5-1 in their last six. Plus, they're four points away from owning a 10-game win streak, as they lost to BYU by 2 at home and dropped a 2-point OT game at New Mexico. SDSU is 2-4 against the RPI Top 50, thanks to home wins over the Lobos and UNLV. They'll grab a third top 50 win, and a true marquee victory, if they can stun BYU in Provo on Wednesday. The Aztecs then take a week off before they close with a winnable home game against Colorado State and a road trip to hapless Air Force.
Marquette (16-9; 8-6 Big East; RPI: 60; Non-conf. RPI: 131): The Golden Eagles exemplify the "revolving door" aspect of this year's Bubble. I had them out after their Thursday home loss to Pitt, and now they're back in after a huge win at Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon. Marquette now stands at 3-0 against Big East bubble teams with that win. Plus, they own a home win over Georgetown and neutral site victory over Xavier. On the minus side, the Golden Eagles' road/neutral record now stands at 5-6, but they can get over .500 this week with wins at St. John's Wednesday and Seton Hall Sunday. Losses to N.C. State (RPI 116) and DePaul (182) are real blemishes, but will fade into the background with more victory.
First Four Out
Dayton (18-8; 7-5 A-10; RPI: 44; Non-conf. RPI: 17): The Flyers are another "revolving door" team, as a loss at Duquesne Sunday knocked them back out. UD's road/neutral record now stands at 5-7, with the best win coming against Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico way back on November 19 and the best true road victory coming against George Mason on December 8. It isn't over for the Flyers, as they next visit lock Temple on Wednesday night and, after a home game with UMass Saturday, travel to Richmond on March 4. However, they're going to have to actually win in a difficult environment, which looks to be beyond them right now.
Cincinnati (15-11; 6-8 Big East; RPI: 56; Non-conf. RPI: 45): In an ideal world, the Bearcats would be in over UConn, who they swept. However, after their loss to Marquette Sunday, the Bearcats are 5-7 in their last 12, like the Huskies, but 2-4 in their last six, granted one of those two wins came at UConn. On the other hand, can you guess the last time Mick Cronin's team won a game against an opponent who's a lock or near lock? If you said, "UC's back-to-back victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland in Maui," you are correct. The Bearcats get a chance to change that fact at West Virginia Saturday, but they'll first have to get past DePaul at home on Wednesday.
Charlotte (18-8; 8-4 A-10; RPI: 55; Non-conf. RPI: 62): Just two weeks ago the 49ers were in the middle of a seven-game win streak, but Saturday's 81-67 home loss to Xavier makes string that seem far away. The loss was the 49ers' third straight defeat, and second consecutive at home. While a loss to the Musketeers was understandable, Wednesday's six-point setback at the hands of Duquesne was less so. Bobby Lutz's team will try to get to 20 victories this week, as they host St. Joseph's Wednesday and visit George Washington Saturday. Then, they have a chance to grab two quality wins to close the season, as they visit Rhode Island and host Richmond, a team they already defeated at the Robins Center. Charlotte's 9-5 road/neutral mark may yet be a major boost, especially if they can beat the Rams in Kingston.
Mississippi State (19-8; 7-5 SEC; RPI: 67; Non-conf. RPI: 80): The SEC West leaders find themselves here by virtue of their sweep of in-state rival Mississippi. The Bulldogs' resume is a bit thin otherwise, with a win over Old Dominion in South Padre being the non-conference highlight, and losses at Western Kentucky and against Rider in Starkville major blemishes. MSU's only real shot at a resume-building win comes March 6 at home against Tennessee. This week, the Bulldogs host Alabama (Wednesday) and visit fading South Carolina (Saturday).
Next Four Out
Mississippi (17-9; 5-7 SEC; RPI: 65; Non-conf. RPI: 36): The Rebels' marquee win is better than their archrivals, as they defeated Kansas State by 12 in Puerto Rico before Thanksgiving. Still, not managing to beat the Bulldogs' once is an issue, considering that's the difference in the race for a bad division at the moment. Three straight losses, with two coming at home, don't help either. (See Charlotte above.) The Rebels' remaining schedule doesn't provide them much of boost either, as they host Auburn Wednesday and visit Alabama Saturday. They then close with more SEC West SOS-crushing goodness, with LSU and Arkansas on the slate before the SEC Tournament.
Notre Dame (17-10; 6-8 Big East; RPI: 79; Non-conf. RPI: 82): The Irish have lost three straight, but they've also displayed a tremendous amount of heart during Luke Harangody's injury. Given that the three setbacks were by a total of six points, you have to imagine that Notre Dame would have won at least two of them if he was healthy. Expect the Committee to keep this in mind, especially as the All-Big East forward should return soon. The Fighting Irish's closing stretch provides them with more opportunities, as they host Pitt Wednesday and visit Georgetown Saturday before closing with UConn at home and Marquette on the road. Notre Dame may need to win three of the four, thanks to home losses against Loyola Marymount, Rutgers and St. John's; a lackluster 1-5 mark against RPI Top 50 teams; and an awful 2-7 road/neutral mark.
Arizona State (19-8; 9-5 Pac-10; RPI: 59; Non-conf. RPI: 60): The problem for any Pac-10 team that wants to turn itself into an at-large candidate is the schedule. The Sun Devils next travel to the Bay Area, where they'll face Stanford Thursday and league leaders Cal on Saturday before hosting the LA schools to close the regular season. While the game with the Golden Bears is a must win for any at-large hopes, ASU cannot afford to drop any of their other remaining games. The only win the Sun Devils can hang their hat on at the moment is a home victory over San Diego State on December 19, their lone top 50 win in five tries.
Washington (17-9; 8-7 Pac-10; RPI: 66; Non-conf. RPI: 23): The Huskies do own home wins over Texas A&M and Cal, but December losses at Texas Tech and against Georgetown in Anaheim are now missed opportunities in a weak bubble year. A sweep at the hands of tourney-ineligible USC, with the home loss coming Thursday doesn't help either. In terms of building a late case, the Huskies' schedule is even less helpful than the Sun Devils'. This week, UW travels to Pullman as they attempt to sweep the hoops' Apple Cup. Next week, a trip to the Oregon schools awaits. Three away games is not the way for a team that owns a 1-6 record in true road games to close.
Work To Do
Minnesota (16-10; 7-7 Big Ten; RPI: 76; Non-conf. RPI: 64): The Golden Gophers are back in the picture after their win over Wisconsin on Thursday. That moves Minnesota's record against the top 100 to 4-8. Three of those wins came at The Barn, where they also defeated Ohio State and now-out of the picture Northwestern. Minnesota's nine-point triumph over Butler in Anaheim is useful, but the losses to Portland and Texas A&M that followed aren't. Neither was the road loss at Miami that followed the California trip. Losses to Indiana (in Bloomington) and Michigan (at home) sting, but the Gophers avenged the IU loss Saturday and can avenge the loss to the Wolverines on March 3 in Ann Arbor. This week, the Gophers can grab a marquee win if they upset Purdue in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Saturday, Minnesota has a chance to improve upon their 3-8 road/neutral mark with a game at Illinois.
St. Louis (17-8; 9-3 A-10; RPI: 82; Non-conf. RPI: 192): There are two reasons why the Billikens aren't closer to the field: their 3-7 road/neutral record, and the fact their best non-conference win came against Big 12 bottom feeder Nebraska. Still, Rick Majerus' team bears watching as they still play Xavier and Temple at home. All three A-10 contenders who have visited Chaifetz Arena (Richmond, Dayton and Rhode Island) have lost there. SLU also visits Dayton to close the regular season, a game that could be an elimination tilt. This week, home games against the Musketeers (Wednesday) and Duquesne (Saturday) are on the slate.
Seton Hall (15-10; 6-8 Big East; RPI: 50; Non-conf. RPI: 69): Remember that string of four games at the end of 2009/start of 2010, where the Pirates lost heartbreakers, including OT games against West Virginia and Virginia Tech? Hall fans are undoubtedly wishing they'd won a couple of those right about now, as those wins would be major boosts to an OK resume. But they didn't, meaning the Pirates own a 2-9 mark against the RPI Top 50 and a 3-7 road/neutral mark. Those stats aren't major selling points. One thing Seton Hall has done this season is prove that they can lose to good teams, and they won't get much of a chance to reverse that down the stretch. This week, they face Rutgers (Tuesday) and Marquette (Sunday) at home. The game against the Golden Eagles is the Pirates' last against a tourney contender, as they close with a road trip to Rutgers and Providence.
South Florida (16-10; Big East 6-8; RPI: 62; Non-conf. RPI: 67): The Bulls looked like they had turned the corner with a four-game win streak in late January/early February, a run capped by a win at Georgetown on February 3. But that was a mirage, as they've since dropped three of four, including an ugly 16-point loss to St. John's at home on Saturday. The Bulls seem to have an issue with playing to the level of their competition, as they're 3-3 vs. the RPI Top 50, but only 2-6 against teams rated between 51 and 100. This week, USF has another shot at grabbing a marquee road win, as they visit Villanova Wednesday. A home game with Providence follows Saturday before the Bulls close with a roadie at DePaul and home game with a UConn team who's also likely to be desperate for a victory.
Games To Watch
As we're headed into the homestretch, I'm shifting the focus of this feature to games with bubble impact. Over at SB Nation, I'll have a daily preview/recap post for the most important of these matchups, so be sure to visit often.
TV information from Matt Sarz' College Sports on TV site.
West Virginia at Connecticut, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Illinois at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Georgetown at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Rutgers at Seton Hall, 8 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Tennessee at Florida, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Dayton at Temple, 6:30 p.m. ET (Comcast Network Philly/WHIO/CSN Washington+)
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
DePaul at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Marquette at St. John's, 7:30 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Auburn at Mississippi, 8 p.m. ET (SEC Network/Full Court)
Xavier at St. Louis, 8 p.m. ET (FS Ohio)
Purdue at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Oklahoma State at Texas, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
BYU at San Diego State, 9 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
Alabama at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. ET (SEC on CSS/Full Court)
South Florida at Villanova, 9 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Clemson at Maryland, 9 p.m. ET (Raycom/Full Court)
Arizona at California, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Notre Dame at Georgetown, 12 p.m. ET (CBS Regional)
Mississippi at Alabama, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Cincinnati at West Virginia, 2 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Arizona State at California, 3 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)
Kansas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)
VCU at Old Dominion, 4 p.m. ET (CSN Regional)
Maryland at Virgina Tech, 4 p.m. ET (Raycom Regional/Full Court)
Florida at Georgia, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network/Full Court)
Mississippi State at South Carolina, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Charlotte at George Washington, 6 p.m. ET (MASN)
Massachusetts at Dayton, 7 p.m. ET (WHIO/CSN Regional)
Minnesota at Illinois, 8 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Washington at Washington State, 10 p.m. ET (FSN Northwest/FCS Pacific)
Northwestern at Penn State, 12 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Marquette at Seton Hall, 12 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Richmond at Xavier, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Louisville at Connecticut, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Clemson at Florida State, 5:30 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)