In the first Big Ten Tournament semifinal in Indianapolis, the Michigan Wolverines suffered what appeared to be a fatal 76-59 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers. Happenings elsewhere in the country Friday night and during Saturday afternoon mean that John Beilein's team may have profited despite losing.
First off, bubble teams from coast-to-coast should give thanks that the Texas A&M Aggies flat-out embarrassed the LSU Tigers and the Kentucky Wildcats pulled away from the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament semifinals. That eliminates two possible bid thieves from the picture. In the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the VCU Rams blew out the Davidson Wildcats to take out another.
On the flip side, the American Tournament added another name to the bubble pile, as the conference's top seed, the Temple Owls, fell to the Connecticut Huskies, who looked amazingly fresh for a team that just played a quadruple-OT game Friday afternoon. Those hoping for a bid need to cheer for the Huskies to defeat their opponent in Sunday afternoon's championship game. Neither the Tulane Green Wave nor Memphis Tigers are joining the field of 68 without cutting down the nets in Orlando.
Just one game remains Saturday evening that might affect the picture: the San Diego State Aztecs' showdown with the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Mountain West Tournament final. The Aztecs will be yet another team that the Selection Committee will discuss heavily should they fall in Las Vegas.
For now, here's a fresh look at the picture near the cut line, after a long afternoon of re-examining profiles.
Note: All records only include games played against Division I competition. Ratings Percentage Index and Strength of Schedule rankings were accessed just before publication on RPIForecast.com.
Last Four IN
26-5; 15-3 WCC; RPI: 37; SOS: 148; Non-conf. SOS: 171; KenPom: 33
Perversely, the Gaels' WCC Tournament final loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs might have been the best thing to happen to their at-large candidacy. Had Saint Mary's lost to Pepperdine Waves for a third time in the semifinals, their hopes would have been toast and Gonzaga likely wouldn't have cracked the Top 50. But that finals loss changed the Gaels' record against the Top 50 to a loss at California on December 12th, to that defeat and a 2-1 mark in games against the Zags.
While Randy Bennett's team went 9-4 in games away from Moraga, only one of those—that loss in Berkeley—came outside of WCC play. If the Selection Committee feels like punishing a team for not scheduling ambitiously in November and December, McKeon Pavilion will see an NIT game or three.
22-12, 10-8 Big Ten; RPI: 58; SOS: 43; Non-conf. SOS: 189; KenPom: 56
Oh, Wolverines. You could have made this far easier on the committee by defeating Purdue for a second time Saturday, but now you must present a dossier that features no bad losses and a 4-11 record against the RPI Top 50, a .267 winning percentage, and an 8-8 mark away from Crisler Arena. With so many teams in contention, anything could happen, but the committee may feel Michigan left too many opportunities on the table—just like Florida and Ohio State did—to earn a spot. However, they have a bit more to hang their hat on than the next few teams I'll detail.
21-11, 14-4 American; RPI: 61; SOS: 74; Non-conf. SOS: 74; KenPom: 82
The American regular season title might not be enough to get the Owls in. Neither might ending the SMU Mustangs' hopes for a perfect regular season. Nor might regular season sweeps of Cincinnati and UConn, whom the Owls fell to in the conference tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon. Instead, non-conference struggles (the Owls' best non-league win came against the 202nd-ranked Fairleigh Dickinson) and the weakness of the American (Temple had to play East Carolina twice, a series they split, UCF twice, and South Florida three times) drag Temple's numbers down.
If the Owls are evaluated on the entire season, from November to March, they're in real trouble. Without a conference double, this is a First Four profile at best.
27-7, 17-3 MAAC; RPI: 53; SOS: 167; Non-conf. SOS: 102; KenPom: 67
The Hawks' profile has slowly disintegrated since their Metro Atlantic final loss to Iona. While their two Top 50 wins over Notre Dame and USC still look miles better than ones over Georgetown and UCLA, they don't look quite as impressive as they did a few weeks ago. Plus, while every team on this list, save Michigan, has a bad loss to its name, Monmouth has three from outside of the Top 200.
A 2-2 mark against the RPI Top 50 and 3-4 mark against the Top 100 is still quality, and the 17-6 record away from home helps. But those three bad losses are something no team on this list has, and that's a red flag.
First Four OUT
19-13; 9-9 ACC; RPI: 70; SOS: 42; Non-conf. SOS: 115; KenPom: 41
The Orange's poor finish—one win in their last six—and three bad losses, all during Jim Boeheim's NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension are blemishes on what otherwise would be a pretty good profile. Victories over UConn and Texas A&M in Syracuse's final two games in the Battle 4 Atlantis keep on looking better and better, especially as their record against the Top 50 has jumped to 5-6. A win at Duke is also a great accomplishment.
On the other hand, three losses to Pittsburgh, with the last coming by a single point on Wednesday afternoon, which feels like it was about 10 years ago, hurt, but not as much as those losses at Georgetown and St. John's (especially the latter) and a home defeat at the hands of a Clemson team that faded badly late.
The loss to the Red Storm in particular drags the Orange's RPI down. If the Committee can overlook it, Syracuse could be a surprise entry.
23-8, 11-7 SEC; RPI: 64; SOS: 125; Non-conf. SOS: 271; KenPom: 50
Thanks in part to three losses to Georgia, the last of which came Friday night in the SEC quarterfinals, the Gamecocks are no longer the safe bet they were earlier in the week. If South Carolina ends up in the NIT, they can point to two factors. First, they were horribly inconsistent on the road in SEC play, falling at Tennessee, Mississippi State and, worst of all, Missouri. Secondly, the Gamecocks' non-conference schedule isn't that great, as their two best wins came to two teams outside of the RPI Top 50, Hofstra and Tulsa, at the Paradise Jam in November.
The Gamecocks' impressive 8-5 record against the Top 100 doesn't look as good when you dig deeper, as 11 of those games came against teams out of the field. A win at Texas A&M is a great accomplishment, but that game and a bad home loss to Kentucky are the only two games against likely NCAA teams the Gamecocks played. Given the competition here, that's likely not going to be enough.
24-6, 16-2 Horizon; RPI: 49; SOS: 162; Non-conf. SOS: 52; KenPom: 36
Since the Crusaders were viewed as a team that could win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament well before the season began, coach Bryce Drew struggled to build a schedule. While Valpo managed to play Oregon close in Eugene and beat Oregon State in Corvallis, they also had to schedule two games against non-Division I foes and an unconventional non-conference home-and-home with Belmont (which ended in a split).
As I've mentioned previously, Valparaiso's profile reminds me of the one that Iona, who I saw the Crusaders run out of the gym in person on this season's first Sunday, presented the committee in its at-large season of 2012. While the Horizon League regular season champs don't have as many marquee wins as this season's MAAC darlings, Monmouth, they did do better in the bad loss department, avoiding defeats against teams outside of the Top 200. A 12-5 mark in games away from the ARC is also helpful.
19-13, 11-7 SEC; RPI: 61; SOS: 38; Non-conf. SOS: 24; KenPom: 26
Over the final three weeks of the regular season, following a one-point loss at Mississippi State, the Commodores were really starting to look like the team everyone thought they'd be in November—a threat to at least get to the Sweet Sixteen. Last Saturday's loss at Texas A&M wasn't helpful, but it wasn't fatal either. However, Thursday's two-point defeat at the hands of archrival Tennessee put Vanderbilt's celebration plans on ice.
While the Commodores did an admirable job of non-conference scheduling, their best win early in the season came against America East champ Stony Brook. Vandy also struggled mightily on the road, winning just five times in 16 games away from Memorial Gym. Their only three road wins in conference play came against Florida (somewhat helpful), Tennessee and Auburn (not so much in either case).
Oddly enough, that lack of success away from Memorial Gym might result in Vanderbilt getting at least one more home game.
Next Four Out: Florida, Hofstra, Tulsa, Georgia
I plan on doing a complete scrub of the bracket from top to bottom before Sunday morning, so a fresh look might change things again. With so many contenders boasting significant flaws, it's no wonder there are reports of unprecedented debate within the Committee room in New York.
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