After a loaded Super Bowl weekend of college basketball action, there are just a few major changes in my projection from last Friday's edition. For starters, there's one new at-large entrant, as St. Mary's sneaks in to replace Villanova. The Wildcats' loss to Providence was a particularly poor one, even on a weekend where many of the teams just near the cut line managed to fall and still remain in. Such is the state of the bottom of the at-large pool in the era of the 68-team field.
At the top of the field, there's a new No. 1 overall seed, Florida, which just edges the poll's new top team, Indiana, for the honor. Once again, the Gators and Hoosiers have identical 5-2 records against the RPI Top 50 and 8-2 marks against the Top 100, but Florida gets the edge for now based on a superior RPI ranking (3rd vs. 12th) and slightly more impressive strength of schedule (9th vs. 32nd) (source: BBState ($)). Given the relative strengths of the SEC and Big Ten, however, Indiana might be a better bet to grab the top spot overall on Selection Sunday. Duke, tops in RPI, holds on to the final top seed, at the expense of Kansas, which suffered a disappointing setback to Oklahoma State in Lawrence on Saturday afternoon.
My usual look at the race for at-large bids follows today's bracket and rundown, but with a twist. For the remainder of the season, I'm going to incorporate some features of the bubble watch column I used to post on Fridays to better illustrate who is in good position for a bid and who can't quite start packing for a March trip.
|(1) EAST |
|Lexington (Thu/Sat)||Dayton (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Florida (SEC)||↑ 1||Indiana (Big Ten)|
|16||Bryant or Southern||16||Charleston Southern or Norfolk State|
|↑ 8||Colorado State||↑ 8||Oklahoma State|
|9||UCLA||↓ 9||VCU (A-10)|
|Kansas City (Fri/Sun)||San Jose (Thu/Sat)|
|↓ 12||La Salle||12||Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)|
|13||Akron (MAC)||↑ 13||North Dakota State (Summit)|
|Lexington (Thu/Sat)||Austin (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 6||Kansas State||↑ 6||Wisconsin|
|11||Illinois or Temple||↓ 11||Baylor|
|3||Louisville||3||New Mexico (Mountain West)|
|14||Stephen F. Austin (Southland)||14||Harvard (Ivy)|
|Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)||Austin (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 7||San Diego State||7||Notre Dame|
|↓ 10||North Carolina||10||Colorado|
|↑ 2||Gonzaga (WCC)||2||Miami (ACC)|
|15||Montana (Big Sky)||15||Stony Brook (AmEast)|
|(4) WEST |
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
|Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)||Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)|
|16||Niagara (MAAC)||↓ 16||Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun)|
|9||Belmont (OVC)||9||Iowa State|
|Dayton (Fri/Sun)||San Jose (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 5||Minnesota||↑ 5||Georgetown|
|12||Indiana State or St. Mary's||↓ 12||Arizona State|
|13||Louisiana Tech (WAC)||13||Lehigh (Patriot)|
|Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)||Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)|
|6||UNLV||↓ 6||N.C. State|
|↑ 11||Memphis (C-USA)||↓ 11||Oklahoma|
|3||Michigan State||↓ 3||Syracuse (Big East)|
|14||Long Beach State (Big West)||14||Valparaiso (Horizon)|
|Kansas City (Fri/Sun)||Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 7||Pittsburgh||↓ 7||Wichita State|
|↓ 2||Kansas (Big 12)||↑ 2||Arizona (Pac-12)|
|15||Davidson (Southern)||↑ 15||Northeastern (CAA)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Lexington
||Tuesday: To Lexington|
|16||Bryant (NEC)||↓ 11||Illinois|
|Wednesday: To Dayton||Wednesday: To Dayton
|16||Charleston Southern (Big South)||12||Indiana State|
|16||Norfolk State (MEAC)||↑ 12||St. Mary's|
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||LAST FOUR BYES||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|Big East: 7||Oklahoma||North Dakota State||South Dakota State|
|Big Ten: 7||Baylor||St. Mary's||Villanova|
|Big 12: 6||La Salle|
|A-10: 5||Arizona State|
||LAST FOUR IN|
|SEC: 4||St. Mary's|
|MVC: 3||Indiana State||PROCEDURAL||MOVES|
|WCC: 2||LAST FOUR OUT||Kentucky||9 down to 10|
|1-Bid Conferences: 21||Virginia||Belmont||10 up to 9|
|Villanova||La Salle||11 down to 12|
|BYU||Illinois||12 up to 11|
|Southern Mississippi||Temple||12 up to 11|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
Also considered (in order): Air Force, Stanford, UMass, Alabama, Wyoming, Iowa, Washington, St. Joseph's, Xavier, California
Bids Today: 5/On Friday: 5
Protected Seeds (1): South No. 4 Butler
The Bulldogs followed up Thursday's rout at the hands of Saint Louis with an unconvincing home win over Rhode Island, a team you should expect to see in this feature in coming seasons. There's plenty of quality on Butler's profile, but all of the Bulldogs' losses are among the victors' best, and all four squads are firmly on the bubble.
Safe for Now (1): VCU
VCU is stuck in the middle of the bracket right now, as its three best wins came against bubble squads. As I mentioned last week, the Rams' final five games will be make or break their seeding for both the A-10 and NCAA Tournaments.
Bubble In (3): Saint Louis, La Salle, Temple
Of this trio, the Billikens (victories over Butler and New Mexico) and Explorers (winners over Butler and Villanova at home and at VCU) are moving toward safety, while the Owls, 2-3 in their last five, need to add something more to their profile to complement their December win over Syracuse. A loss at home to Charlotte in a non-televised game on Wednesday would almost surely knock Temple out of Friday's projection.
Bubble Out: Charlotte, UMass, St. Joseph's, Richmond, Xavier
A lack of quality non-conference wins and the intense competitive nature of the 16-team Atlantic 10 means these five teams will have to make a serious run through the final weeks of the regular season, or in Brooklyn, to land a bid. Charlotte and UMass are in the best position, even though both, oddly enough, lost to George Washington, as that loss to the Colonials is really the only bad one each owns. Xavier has done a fantastic job of beating A-10 contenders and falling to terrible teams, while St. Joseph's has the best non-league result for this group (over Notre Dame) and not much else. Richmond has no Top 50 wins and just two victories away from the Robins Center.
Five A-10 Games To Watch
St. Joseph's at Dayton, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (Comcast Network/Time Warner Cable Sports Ohio)
St. Bonaventure at Butler, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (WNDY/Time Warner Cable Sports Buffalo)
St. Joseph's at Massachusetts, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Butler at George Washington, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (CSN Mid-Atlantic Plus/CSN Chicago)
Saint Louis at Richmond, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (WTVR)
Bids Today: 4/On Friday: 4
Protected Seeds (2): West No. 1 Duke, Midwest No. 2 Miami
This pair surprisingly holds down the top two spots in the RPI standings. If the Blue Devils and Hurricanes keep rolling, the winner of their March 2nd meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium will have the inside track to a No. 1 seed.
Safe for Now (1): N.C. State
The Wolfpack have dropped four of their last six, with three of those losses coming away from Raleigh. On Thursday night, Mark Gottfried's team may find difficult to duplicate its January 12th win over Duke in Durham, and the trip to Clemson that follows could be problematic for a team that recently coughed up a huge lead at Wake Forest.
Bubble In (1): North Carolina
The Tar Heels are 1-4 against the Top 50 so far this season. After hosting Wake tonight, they'll get two chances to boost that mark -- at Miami on Saturday and at Duke four nights later. A win in either would provide a major confidence boost for both UNC and Selection Committee.
Bubble Out: Maryland, Virginia
Perhaps when Maryland and Virginia meet on Sunday afternoon in College Park, the rivals can come to some sort of gentlemen's agreement on a combined NCAA profile. Right now, the Terrapins wish they had the Cavaliers' quality wins (5-0 against the Top 100 and 3-0 against the Top 50), while UVa is envious of Maryland's performance against underperforming squads (13-0 against teams outside of the top 100, compared with a dreadful 10-6 for Virginia). Those six bad losses, the most recent coming at Georgia Tech on Sunday afternoon, have ruined the Cavaliers' RPI, which might just doom them on Selection Sunday.
Five ACC Games To Watch
Clemson at Virginia, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
N.C. State at Duke, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
North Carolina at Miami, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Virginia at Maryland, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
N.C. State at Clemson, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Bids Today: 6/On Friday: 6
Protected Seeds (1): West No. 2 Kansas
The Jayhawks' 18-game winning streak surprisingly ended at home on Saturday afternoon, as Oklahoma State managed to close out a win over KU, a feat Iowa State couldn't accomplish back on January 9th. Kansas is still the overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12, but with the strength of the other contenders for a No. 1 seed, it may want the game against the Cowboys back at some point.
Safe for Now (1): Kansas State
While the Wildcats' win over Florida is one of the best of the season and a just-concluded sweep of Oklahoma is helpful, many obstacles remain in K-State's path between now and Selection Sunday. This week, the Wildcats visit Texas Tech, who tripped up Iowa State not long ago, before hosting the Cyclones and visiting archrival Kansas.
Bubble In (4): Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor
The Cowboys, who already have wins over N.C. State and Kansas away from Stillwater, can get closer to safety by topping the Bears, who have dropped two in a row against Big 12 bubble opponents, on Wednesday. On Monday night, Iowa State demolished Oklahoma to pick up its second straight bubble win after a loss at Oklahoma State. The Sooners, on the other hand, have very little on their profile other than a high RPI and wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor. Upsetting Kansas at home on Saturday would provide Oklahoma a needed boost.
Five Big 12 Games To Watch
Baylor at Oklahoma State, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Oklahoma State at Texas, Saturday 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Kansas at Oklahoma, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Iowa State at Kansas State, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Kansas State at Kansas, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Bids Today: 7/On Friday: 8
Protected Seeds (4): East No. 3 Louisville, South No. 3 Syracuse, West No. 4 Cincinnati, Midwest No. 4 Marquette
Just as the Cardinals grabbed two home wins to end a three-game skid, the Orange's depth issues helped push them to consecutive losses at Villanova and Pittsburgh, a streak which ended with a home win over Notre Dame on Monday. The Bearcats, one of the four three-loss teams in the conference, like Louisville, are in the Top 16 thanks to the help of a stronger non-conference schedule than usual, featuring wins over Oregon and Iowa State in Las Vegas, a home victory over Alabama and a close, quality loss to New Mexico. As for the Golden Eagles, they sit a half-game behind Syracuse in the race, even after Sunday's setback at Louisville.
Other Locks (1): Georgetown
Provided both Marquette and Georgetown get through their winnable games this week, next Monday's meeting in Washington will have major impact on next Tuesday's bracket. The Hoyas are currently stuck in that scrum of three-loss teams and are just outside the protected seed group.
Safe for Now (2): Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
The Fighting Irish sit just behind the three-loss teams after Monday's loss in the Carrier Dome, but a relative lack of quality non-conference victories means they're clearly a step behind in the seeding discussion at the moment. Upsetting Louisville at home on Saturday might change that. As for Pitt, a soft early season slate is also responsible for the Panthers' middling position in the S-curve, though their Big East performances mean they're more than worthy of selection.
Bubble Out: Villanova, St. John's
Providence completed a season sweep of Villanova on Sunday, which dropped the Wilcdats from today's projection. Nova's profile may not be quite as confusing as Virginia's or Temple's, but it's close. Simply put, home wins over Louisville and Syracuse may not be enough to counter a pair of losses to the Friars and a defeat against Columbia. Now Villanova did manage to beat St. John's, who's has entered the at-large conversation with a decent Big East start, highlighted by victories over Notre Dame and Cincinnati. A few bad early losses (UNC Asheville, San Francisco) and a generally mediocre non-conference schedule keep the Red Storm down in the NIT range for now. However, a pair of potentially RPI-boosting contests await on this week's schedule.
Five Big East Games To Watch
Connecticut at St. John's, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Louisville at Notre Dame, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
St. John's at Syracuse, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Marquette at Georgetown, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Bids Today: 7/On Friday: 7
Protected Seeds (4): Midwest No. 1 Indiana, South No. 1 Michigan, West No. 3 Michigan State, East No. 4 Ohio State
Saturday night's contest in Bloomington illustrated that both Indiana and Michigan are worthy of a No. 1 seed and that the Big Ten leaders are significant contenders to cut down the nets in Atlanta. Somewhat in the background, Michigan State and Ohio State keep on winning the overwhelming majority of their games, meaning the pair now occupies the spots they were widely expected to hold at the beginning of the season -- as the Hoosiers' and Wolverines' main contenders for the league crown. The Buckeyes just happen to face both Michigan and Indiana this week.
Safe for Now (2): Minnesota, Wisconsin
Both the Golden Gophers and Badgers have had their ups and downs in Big Ten play, but have racked up enough quality wins to elevate themselves over a weak bubble. Minnesota's triumph over Michigan State and Wisconsin's win in Bloomington, in particular, will provide lasting boosts heading into March. The Gophers get a chance at sweeping the Spartans on Wednesday, while the Badgers welcome the conference's other top seed contender, Michigan, to Madison to start the weekend.
Bubble In (1): Illinois
The Fighting Illini have won just three of their last 11 after a 12-0 start, and a 2-7 Big Ten mark is a lousy complement to early season wins over Butler and Gonzaga. In other words, they're about to be passed.
Bubble Out: Iowa
As for the Hawkeyes, a win in Minnesota on Sunday would have been a boost to their flagging NCAA hopes. Much like recent Northwestern teams that have found themselves on the wrong side of the cut line, Iowa has a nice collection of quality losses and a few decent wins that keep them hanging around. Such is life for a bubble team in the Big Ten.
Five Big Ten Games To Watch
Ohio State at Michigan, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Minnesota at Michigan State, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (BTN)
Michigan at Wisconsin, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Indiana at Ohio State, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Illinois at Minnesota, Sunday 6 p.m. ET (BTN)
Bids Today: 3/On Friday: 3
Other Locks (2): Creighton, Wichita State
Wichita State was in decent position for a protected seed ... until the Valley grind took its toll last week. Consecutive losses to Indiana State (at home) and Northern Iowa (in Cedar Falls) eliminated the advantage the Shockers gained by defeating Creighton on January 19th. The Bluejays, meanwhile, have won three straight heading into Wednesday's visit to Indiana State.
Bubble In (1): Indiana State
The Sycamores followed up their huge road win at Wichita State with a loss at Drake. That defeat was not a fatal blow to Indiana State's NCAA chances, given the Bulldogs also defeated Creighton at the Knapp Center, but it wasn't helpful either. Greg Lansing's team must take advantage of the opportunity Wednesday's home game against the Bluejays, a chance at a fourth Top 50 win, provides.
Five Valley Games To Watch
Wichita State at Southern Illinois, Tuesday 8 p.m. ET (Cox-Kansas/ESPN3)
Creighton at Indiana State, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (WTWO/KMTV 3.2)
Southern Illinois at Indiana State, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (WSIU)
Missouri State at Wichita State, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/FCS Central/ESPN3)
Illinois State at Creighton, Saturday 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Bids Today: 4/On Friday: 4
Protected Seeds (1): Midwest No. 3 New Mexico
Much like Miami, the Lobos are an RPI surprise, as tney've jumped up to No. 5 in the rankings, thanks to six Top 50 wins, 0 Top 100 wins, and an absence of bad losses. If New Mexico can keep it up in Mountain West play, always a difficult task, they could end up sneaking up to a three or maybe a two seed.
Other Locks (2): UNLV, San Diego State
Both of these squads are taking advantage of the strong Mountain West in building up respectable, but not completely bulletproof, profiles. The Runnin' Rebels have only lost to teams currently inside the Top 50 (2-5, with wins at San Diego State and over Iowa State), while the Aztecs have defeated New Mexico and Colorado State at home and UCLA in Anaheim, while losing to Air Force and Wyoming on the road.
Bubble In (1): Colorado State
Much like last season, the Rams are taking care of their Mountain West home games, which has helped contribute to their unexpectedly lofty Top 15 RPI ranking. However, winning on the road continues to be a problem for Colorado State in the league, as Larry Eustachy's team has only managed to beat Fresno State so far. There is hope for the Rams, however, as their losses at New Mexico and San Diego State were at least competitive.
Bubble Out: Boise State, Air Force, Wyoming
The Broncos got three-point specialist Jeff Elorriaga back for Saturday's home win over UNLV. If Boise State keeps winning with him in the lineup, it might get back to the right side of the bubble in the near future. Much like Colorado State, Air Force has taken advantage of its home games to get into the bid picture. The Falcons have so far defeated Boise State and San Diego State at Clune Arena and Wyoming in Laramie, but Wednesday's trip to Albuquerque will be a major test for Air Force's newfound hopes. As for the Cowboys, they've lost four straight and are on the verge of falling completely out of the picture. A loss in Boise on Saturday would all but doom Wyoming to the NIT or worse.
Five Mountain West Games To Watch
Air Force at New Mexico, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports/KABY)
Colorado State at Nevada, Wednesday 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Boise State at San Diego State, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)
Wyoming at Boise State, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (no TV)
New Mexico at UNLV, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Bids Today: 5/On Friday: 5
Protected Seeds (1): South No. 2 Arizona
Thanks in part to Oregon's struggles without injured point guard Dominic Artis, the Wildcats, who swept the Washington schools last week, again own a share of the conference lead. Wins over Florida and Miami will keep them in the conversation for a top seed, but the difficulties of the Pac-12 schedule, not necessarily on the court, might be too much to overcome.
Other Locks (1): Oregon
Thanks to defeating Arizona in the teams' only meeting of the regular season, the Ducks are still in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 regular season crown, but their advantage might soon be erased if Artis doesn't return soon. In Oregon's first road trip without him, the Bay Area schools swept the Ducks with little trouble.
Safe for Now (1): UCLA
The Bruins continued their recent slide (1-3 in their last four) with a bad home loss to struggling USC on Wednesday night. UCLA has some nice wins on its profile (Indiana State, Missouri, at Colorado and Arizona) and two very questionable home losses (the Trojans and Cal Poly). Two significant weekends await on the schedule, as Washington visits Pauley on Thursday and a trip to Cal and Stanford follows.
Bubble In (2): Colorado, Arizona State
The Buffaloes' three-game winning streak ended with a thud on Saturday, as a late rally at Utah fell short. Wins over Colorado State and Baylor still provide a boost, and so does the fact the loss in Salt Lake City was Colorado's first against a team from outside the Top 100. Of course, this week's trip to Eugene and Corvallis will be a dangerous one for the hopes of a team as inconsistent as Colorado. Curiously enough, Arizona State also saw a three-game streak end after a failed comeback on Saturday, as the Sun Devils fell in Seattle. Much like the Buffaloes, ASU has only one bad loss on its profile, and this season, that may just be enough. Taking care of business against the bubble hopefuls from the Bay Area this weekend would help the Sun Devils' case immensely.
Bubble Out: Stanford, Washington, California
In reality, all three of these squads will have to make a run through the Pac-12 to have any real hope of reaching the field. Each has just one Top 50 win, all of which came during conference play, with Cal's win over Oregon being its only win against a Top 100 squad period (1-8). Stanford is 4-7 against the Top 100, with only one of its losses coming against a team from outside of that group (at USC). Meanwhile, Washington, has a respectable 5-5 mark against the Top 100 and four losses to teams ranked 101st or worse. That makes its profile worse than Virginia's.
Five Pac-12 Games To Watch
Stanford at Arizona, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
Washington at UCLA, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
California at Arizona State, Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Colorado at Oregon, Thursday 10 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Stanford at Arizona State, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Bids Today: 4/On Friday: 4
Protected Seeds (1): East No. 1 Florida
The Gators won their 10th game in a row on Saturday, though Ole Miss managed to avoid a blowout. Note that Kentucky visits the O'Connell Center in one week's time. That contest, and road games against Missouri and the Wildcats, are the three most obvious obstacles in the path of the Gators' quest for an 18-0 SEC record. However, don't overlook Tuesday night's trip to Arkansas, as the Razorbacks are more than capable of giving Florida trouble at Bud Walton Arena. A home game against a Mississippi State team the Gators beat by 35 in Starkville follows on Saturday.
Safe for Now (2): Mississippi, Missouri
The Rebels fell back to earth last week, thanks to consecutive losses to Kentucky and Florida. Given the relative lack of quality wins on Ole Miss' profile, it will need to rebound this week against Mississippi State and, more importantly, at Missouri. The Tigers have Laurence Bowers back, though his return wasn't enough to keep LSU from grabbing an upset win in Baton Rouge on Wednesday. At least Mizzou did take care of the SEC's third set of Tigers, Auburn, on Saturday. Note that Missouri might soon be without a Top 50 win, thanks to Illinois' continued slide into oblivion. Frank Haith's team faces the dreaded Thursday night-Saturday afternoon doubleheader this week, as a visit to Texas A&M is on tap before Saturday's visit from Ole Miss.
Bubble In (1): Kentucky
Last Tuesday in Oxford, the Wildcats may have finally established themselves as Florida's main competition for the SEC crown. Of course, they almost followed that big win up with a loss in College Station, but UK managed to pick up its third win in a row by taking care of business in overtime. Before next Tuesday's showdown in Gainesville, the Cats have two very winnable home games, against South Carolina and Auburn.
Bubble Out: Alabama
Surprisingly, the Crimson Tide has as many Top 50 wins (1) as the three SEC teams not named Florida that are currently in the field. However, Missouri, Ole Miss and Kentucky have just one loss against a team outside the Top 100 between them, while Alabama has three, all of which came at home. Making matters worse, this week's schedule provides two more opportunities for Bama to slip up.
Five SEC Games To Watch
Florida at Arkansas, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Alabama at Auburn, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (SEC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Mississippi at Missouri, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Auburn at Kentucky, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network/ESPN3)
LSU at Alabama, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
At-Large Bids Today: 1/At-Large Bids On Friday: 0
Protected Seeds (1): East No. 2 Gonzaga
The Bulldogs just got out of San Diego on Saturday to move to 8-0 in the West Coast Conference and 20-2 in all games against Division I opposition. Gonzaga is in great position for a No. 2 seed, though that early loss to Illinois might end up costing it a shot at the top line, particularly if the Illini keep struggling.
Safe for Now (1 auto bid): Belmont (OVC leader, No. 17 in RPI)
Belmont has opened its first Ohio Valley campaign with 10 straight wins, though it will face a huge test on Thursday night at 2012 champion Murray State. Since the two are in opposite divisions of the expanded OVC, the only way these two can meet again will be in the conference final. The Bruins are still in position to earn an at-large should they fail to cut down the nets in Nashville in March, as they remain in the Top 20 of the RPI. A surprisingly strong OVC isn't damaging their computer numbers as much as expected back in December.
Bubble In (1 auto bid + 1 at-large): Memphis (C-USA leader), St. Mary's
Five Top 100 wins and a lack of bad losses should be enough for Memphis this season, though the Tigers will have to keep rolling through Conference USA to be sure. Saturday's trip to Hattiesburg, the first of two meetings with Southern Miss. in a two-week span, will be vital to both teams' hopes. On the Pacific Coast, St. Mary's is a game behind Gonzaga in the loss column in the WCC standings. The Gaels' win at BYU still gives them a slight at-large edge over the Cougars, but St. Mary's schedule strength, or lack thereof, gives them a dicey case for inclusion. A home BracketBusters matchup with MVC leader Creighton might be the difference between the NCAA and NIT for the Gaels.
Bubble Out: Southern Mississippi, BYU
Southern Mississippi will likely have to win Conference USA's auto bid, despite a record that's pretty similar to Memphis', thanks to a lack of Top 100 wins (1-4, compared to 5-3 for the Tigers, though neither owns a Top 50 win yet) and a whole lot of victories against the dregs of Division I. Of course, the Selection Committee is known for taking C-USA teams with questionable profiles, so you might see a late groundswell of support for the Golden Eagles if power conference bubble teams struggle in the season's final weeks.. As for BYU, the Cougars have had far more chances against quality opposition than their WCC rivals from Moraga, California, but they've not taken advantage of them (3-6 vs. 2-2 for St. Mary's). BYU will get two more chances to make an impression before the WCC Tournament, as they visit St. Mary's and host Gonzaga on consecutive Thursdays later this month.
Five Other Games To Watch
Belmont at Murray State, Thursday 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
BYU at San Diego, Thursday 10 p.m. ET (BYU TV)
St. Mary's at Santa Clara, Thursday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Memphis at Southern Mississippi, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Oral Roberts at Stephen F. Austin, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (CSN Houston)
My next update arrives on Friday morning, and who knows what changes we'll see then. Enjoy the early week slate of games.