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Bracketology 2013: One last look at the bubble picture

With Mississippi's win over Florida in the SEC tournament championship game, the Rebels took their fate out of the Selection Committee's hands. But how does the Ole Miss win affect the rest of the picture?


Mississippi jumped into the RPI Top 50 with Saturday's win over Missouri in the SEC semis, which eliminated one at-large and might have given hope to Middle Tennessee, who defeated the Rebels in Murfreesboro back in December and Tennessee, since their sweep by Andy Kennedy's charges now doesn't look quite so bad. After reviewing the profiles one last time, here are my final thoughts on which teams are headed to Dayton for the First Four and the unlucky quartet that just misses.

Avoiding Dayton: Cincinnati, Boise State, Wichita State, Oklahoma

Last Four In

Note: All RPI and SOS information is courtesy Basketball State and is accurate as of Saturday, March 16, 2013. All records reflect only games against Division I opposition.

20-11; 12-6 Pac-12; RPI: 52; Strength of Schedule (SOS): 35; Non-conf.: SOS: 50; Road/Neutral (R/N) Record: 9-6
As the Golden Bears were the last team avoiding the First Four on Saturday night, they slip down to Dayton (for the second season in a row) after Mississippi's win. The Bears played a solid non-conference schedule, though they missed a few opportunities in those games (against UNLV and Creighton, most notably). Cal has a win at Arizona, two victories over Oregon and home triumphs over UCLA and Colorado. A bad loss to Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals wasn't the greatest final impression, but given the fact that many teams in the field have worse defeats -- multiple ones in some cases -- and are still in, California should be OK.

La Salle
21-9; 11-5 A-10; RPI: 43; SOS: 79; Non-conf. SOS: 107; Road/Neutral (R/N) Record: 8-7
The biggest things working against the Explorers are a relative lack of quality non-conference wins -- a home win over Villanova on November 25th is by far their best -- and a damaging loss to Central Connecticut State that came one week earlier. Victories over Saint Louis one week ago and Butler in the A-10 quarterfinals on Friday would have helped bolster a Top 50 record that now stands at 3-4, but wins at VCU and against the Bulldogs and Wildcats at home are nothing to sneeze at. A loss at Miami is a quality one, but defeats at Bucknell, Charlotte, Xavier and to UMass at Tom Gola Arena are problematic, especially since they combine to make La Salle a dicey 5-8 against the Top 100. All the Explorers can do now is wait.

20-12; 11-7 SEC; RPI: 61; SOS: 59; Non-conf. SOS: 88; R/N Record: 6-9
If the Volunteers had managed to find some offense in back-to-back early losses at Georgetown (37-36) and Virginia (46-38), I wouldn't have needed to write this paragraph ... but here we are. Winner of eight of its last nine heading into the SEC Tournament, Tennessee was one of the hottest teams in the country, then the Vols lost to Alabama in Friday's quarterfinals, muddying the picture. Three of Tennessee's late victories -- over Kentucky, Florida and Missouri -- are quality ones, though all of them came at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols also own a quality non-conference win over Wichita State, which again came in Knoxville. However, the Shockers are renowned as a quality road team. On the flip side, Tennessee has lost to Virginia, was swept by SEC Tournament champion Ole Miss and Georgia, an NIT team at best. Making things worse, the Volunteers now have two losses in three games against Alabama. Injuries have taken a toll, as Jeronne Maymon has missed the entire season with a knee injury and several other Vols have missed games in 2012-13. The fact Tennessee has responded while shorthanded should give it a boost when its fate is discussed, but winning games in Nashville would have helped the Vols' case more.

St. Mary's
26-6; 14-2 WCC; RPI: 33; SOS: 112; Non-conf. SOS: 121; R/N Record: 11-5
The Gaels could have used a close loss to Gonzaga in Monday night's WCC final, instead of the 14-point hammering they received. Making matters worse, St. Mary's lost the services of guard Jorden Page, who left in the first half with what appeared to be a rather severe knee injury. Since a December 23rd loss at Northern Iowa, the Gaels have lost just three times -- with all of those defeats inflicted by the pollsters' No. 1 team. However, the best of the 19 wins in that span came against Creighton in Moraga and BYU home and away. Add in a pair of bad early losses to Georgia Tech and Pacific (later avenged at home) in the Directv Classic the Gaels were favored to win, and it will be a tense Selection Weekend in the East Bay. Note that Jamie Zaninovich, the West Coast Conference Commissioner, is on the Selection Committee. That isn't supposed to matter, but he would be able to make a case for St. Mary's before having to leave the room before any votes are taken on the Gaels' status.

First Four Out

Middle Tennessee
28-5; 19-1 Sun Belt; RPI: 30; SOS: 133; Non-conf. SOS: 177; R/N Record: 13-5
On Sunday night, the Blue Raiders were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals by Florida International, a year after they fell unexpectedly in the quarterfinals in Hot Springs. That leaves Middle Tennessee’s fate in the hands of the Selection Committee, which faces be an interesting debate. On one hand, the Blue Raiders’ RPI is superior to last season’s Iona squad that earned a First Four spot (32nd vs. 40th). Neither squad beat at Top 50 foe, but that Gaels squad went 5-3 against the Top 100. On this front, the Blue Raiders do not compare favorably. They're 2-3, and none of those games came after a December 13th loss at Belmont. Sure, Middle Tennessee has a home win over Mississippi, but head-to-head results aren’t necessarily a tiebreaker. Making matters worse, UCF, who is currently Middle Tennessee’s fifth Top 100 opponent, has been jumping in and out of the classification this week. I suspect that despite the respectable RPI, the lack of quality wins will keep the Blue Raiders out, much like Drexel who dominated the CAA last season and was left out after losing in the championship game. I can’t say I’d be disappointed if I was proven wrong, however.

In my opinion, it's a close call between the Gaels and Blue Raiders. If the Committee, likes quality wins, St. Mary's gets the nod. If non-conference scheduling is the call, it's Middle Tennessee. There are no wrong answers here ... at least from a neutral perspective.

21-11; 11-7 ACC; RPI: 75; SOS: 120; Non-conf. SOS: 78; R/N Record: 3-10
In a season full of messy profiles, the Cavaliers, along with Indiana State, really take the cake. On the plus side, the Cavaliers have a nice record of 8-4 against the RPI Top 100, with a 4-3 mark against the Top 50. That quartet of wins -- over Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State at home and at Wisconsin -- is among the finest in America. However, Virginia is 13-7 against teams from outside the Top 100, a winning percentage that is weighing down its RPI. The worst loss came at the hands of Old Dominion, 318th out of 347 Division I teams, on a neutral court in Richmond, though the Cavaliers were without point guard Jontel Evans on that afternoon. However, the Cavaliers have continued to play woefully on the road, as illustrated by losses to Florida State, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson. Sunday's overtime win over Maryland, a team with slim NCAA hopes of its own, was a good start, but the Cavaliers really needed to take advantage of Friday's game with N.C. State. They didn't. So, it's now likely that the NIT beckons.

21-11; 12-6 SEC; RPI: 57; SOS: 69; Non-conf. SOS: 82; R/N Record: 5-9
One week ago, the Wildcats picked up their second win against a team in the RPI Top 50, as they toppled SEC regular season champion Florida. Curiously, both that win and a home victory over Missouri came after Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Kentucky's loss in Gainesville. Since its star went down, John Calipari's team has gone 4-5, with all of the wins coming at home -- typical for an SEC club this season. With Noel, the Wildcats grabbed a rare quality SEC road win at fellow bubble squad Mississippi and lost at another, Alabama. Tennessee also blew UK out of the water in the first full game Noel missed. At just 7-9 against the Top 100, and owning a bad loss to Georgia, Kentucky could not afford the embarrassing defeat Vanderbilt handed it in Friday's SEC quarterfinals. Considering the Wildcats' play without Noel, it's likely they are heading to the NIT this season.

Southern Mississippi
23-9; 12-4 C-USA; RPI: 31; SOS: 83; Non-conf. SOS: 123; R/N Record: 13-8
Such is the shape of this season’s bubble, that the Golden Eagles, a team with no Top 50 wins and four Top 100 wins, is still under consideration. In reality, the set of Top 100 wins may not help Southern Miss all that much, considering that the names Denver, UCF and UTEP (whom the Eagles beat twice) probably won't carry much weight in the Committee room. Making matters worse, Southern Miss lost by four on the final Tuesday of the regular season to a Marshall team it beat by 56 in Huntington in January. Yes, I know the Selection Committee occasionally throws in an undeserving C-USA team, but 2010 UTEP and 2011 UAB managed to beat Memphis and earn a conference title. USM did neither during the regular season.

Next Four Out: UMass, Alabama, Maryland, Baylor

My final bracket of the season will be posted before 6 p.m. ET.

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