Nearly 10 weeks into this wildly unpredictable season, NBA-DRAFT.com is releasing their first overview of the Bubble Watch for the 2012 NCAA Tournament- the road to New Orleans.
We still have a few undefeated teams, including Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference, one of the nation's weakest conferences and thus, is seriously threatening to run the table through the regular-season. Being knocked out of the Top 25 this week is undeniable for Harvard after losing to Fordham on the road, but the Crimson are the overwhelming favorite in the Ivy. If the Racers and the Crimson win out, how high can they go? What about Syracuse? When will Coach Boeheim, with all of his unbelievable depth, finally lose a game? Where do the defending champion Huskies fall? We know Indiana can win at home, but can they win on the road in the Big Ten? Will Xavier end their slide and how many teams will the A-10 end up with? When Pittsburgh finally gets Travon Woodall back from injury, will the Panthers win enough to save their falling stock? All of these questions and more will undoubtably be answered in conference play and throughout the remainder of the regular-season.
Should Be In:
Temple (RPI: 17, Strength of Schedule: 33): The Owls are in pretty good shape after a semi-home win over then-No. 3 Duke combined with a neutral court victory over Wichita State and a win over rival the-falling Villanova. All of this without starting center Michael Eric who will only make this team stronger with his size, depth and defensive prowess.
Xavier (RPI: 54, Strength of Schedule: 18): What's up with the Musketeers? We could blame some of the losses on not having their entire rotation dressed, but now whats their excuse? After a stellar non-conference slate (prior to mid-December), Xavier could use a strong run in A-10 play.
In The Mix:
Saint Louis (RPI: 55, Strength of Schedule: 163): Back-to-back close losses on the road against Dayton and New Mexico have the Billikens down, but not for long. They have Temple at home next week and get a rematch with the Flyers of Dayton at home as well. This is a team that could realistically could win the A-10 with a 14-2 or 13-3 record, but they could also fall back to mediocrity and only win 10 games or so.
St. Joe's (RPI: 34, Strength of Schedule: 52): The resurgent Hawks are in the field for now, let's hope there is not a letdown in conference play. The headliner on their resume is beating Creighton at home, while narrowly missing out on Harvard, Iona and Seton Hall all away from home. With two shots at Temple and one against Saint Louis and Xavier, the Hawks have some work to do to maintain their status in the field.
Dayton (RPI: 26, Strength of Schedule: 7): The A-10's shot of getting four or five teams rests of Dayton's ability to pull-off some quality wins down the stretch. Saint Louis was a nice place to start, but lost opportunities like Seton Hall or Miami (OH) could prove costly.
North Carolina (RPI: 12, Strength of Schedule: 45): With Duke's defensive struggles, the Tar Heels appear to be in a class of their own in this league, more so than we previously believed and UNC is surging for a No. 1 seed as expected. Kendall Marshall has been the nation's best point guard to date, hitting his bigs inside and finding open shooters on the perimeter. John Henson is one of the top two or three best defensive anchors in the country with his 10 boards and 3.2 blocks per game, while we know UNC is capable of putting up points (88 points per game, first in the country; 19.5 assists, second in the country) better than anyone.
Duke (RPI: 2, Strength of Schedule: 3): Don't get all down on the Blue Devils just because they lost on the road at Temple. We are a bit concerned at the quality of run the Dukies can make with their inconsistent guard play on both ends of the floor- who will emerge as a playmaker on the offensive end and who will stop the penetration from the perimeter? If you can get the Blue Devils backtracking in perimeter defense or put their guards/bigs in pick-and-roll defense, they struggle tremendously. But with Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, they can surely light-it-up from the perimeter.
Should Be In:
Virginia (RPI: 49, Strength of Schedule: 228): The Cavs have been impressive this season behind legitimate Player of the Year candidate, fifth-year senior Mike Scott and his 16 points on 62 percent shooting and 9 rebounds per game. While the Cavs are likely to be outclassed when they travel to Cameron Indoor next week, they don't play North Carolina until the middle of February. They can post plenty of wins during ACC play and their final seeding and true value will be tested when they take on the Tar Heels, Florida State and Maryland in the regular-season's final ten days.
In The Mix:
Florida State (RPI: 70, Strength of Schedule: 24): The Seminoles have been one of the major surprises this season and not in a good way. After beginning the year ranked in the Top 25 due to their enormous defensive potential, they lost their four biggest challenges of the year (Harvard, UConn, Michigan State, Florida) and dropped a shocker to Princeton at home in triple-overtime. With no signature wins to hang their hat on, Florida State is on the outside looking in, but should make up ground in conference play, especially now that guard Ian Miller has become eligible (academics).
NC State (RPI: 62, Strength of Schedule: 42): The Wolfpack don't really have any bad losses- losing to Vanderbilt on a neutral floor, giant-slayer Indiana, Stanford on the road and top-ranked Syracuse at home. However, they don't have any great wins either, with the exception of Texas and the jury is still out on that young team. Right now, we would have to consider them one of the first four teams out with a mediocre resume, but if they can pick up some quality wins and suffer no bad losses in conference play. With CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Richard Howell in the lineup, the talent is there for a solid finish.
Maryland (RPI: 100, Strength of Schedule: 171): Maryland stumbled against quality opponents (Alabama, Iona, Illinois), but ran through the rest of their non-conference schedule which was far from challenging. Terrell Stoglin ranks sixth in the country in scoring, but should see a hit in that average, which is good thing since the Terps have added 7-footer Alex Len in the middle and get Pe'Shon Howard back in the lineup.
Miami (RPI: 64, Strength of Schedule: 69): The Hurricanes were many analysts' favorites to fill-in the slot behind North Carolina and Duke, but injuries and team-imposed suspensions have derailed that dream; there are some close wins that we worry about, like FAU in double-overtime and letting up 89 points to UNC-Greensboro. Miami has lost three of their four true road games and ACC scheduling does not make life easy on them- their first two conference games are at UVA and at North Carolina.
Virginia Tech (RPI: 37, Strength of Schedule: 44): As impressive as their record seems, Virginia Tech will once again finish the season on the outside looking in for what seems like the umpteenth year. Point guard Erick Green has been solid and flown under the radar a bit and freshman forward Dorian Finney Smith has been a tremendous asset as a defensive presence, but we just can't imagine the Hokies challenging the teams ahead of them with this inexperienced lineup.
Baylor (RPI: 5, Strength of Schedule: 46): The Bears have answered questions about their prior inability to win away from home as they have posted wins at Northwestern and at BYU and then neutral court victories over Saint Mary's, West Virginia and Mississippi State.
Missouri (RPI: 23, Strength of Schedule: 190): The Tigers have been one of the best stories in college basketball this season with their 14-0 start. First, they lost head coach Mike Anderson and brought in a questionable hire in Miami's Frank Haith and all the Tigers have done is continue to push the pace like their did under Anderson, and add-in Haith's offensive efficiency. Marcus Denmon has risen up the ranks to top five in the Player of the Year voting for Mizzou's start.
Kansas (RPI: 30, Strength of Schedule: 22): The perennial power in the conference and winner of seven straight titles has one bad loss against Davidson, but solid wins over current Top Ten teams Georgetown and Ohio State and another over ranked Kansas State.
Kansas State (RPI: 29, Strength of Schedule: 91): We are still a bit skeptical on the Wildcats losing to a good, but not great West Virginia team in double-overtime and getting spanked by rival Kansas on the road. The best wins have come over Alabama (neutral court) and Long Beach State (neutral) thus far, but the others are far from impressive. Undefeateds Missouri and Baylor loom.
Should Be In:
In The Mix:
Texas (RPI: 78, Strength of Schedule: 108): Not too sure what to make of the Longhorns just yet; the latest loss at Iowa State hurts, especially since the conference slate only gets more difficult after this with two road games against Missouri, Kansas State and a home game against Kansas. In the Big 12, there are upsets to be had with homecourt advantage, but the Longhorns will need to steal some wins on the road.
Iowa State (RPI: 66, Strength of Schedule: 114): Fred Hoiberg is turning things around in Ames behind the all-around efforts of transfers Royce White and Chris Allen, but there is still a long way to go if this team wants to make the field. There strength of schedule rates out to the mid-120s at this point, but starting off conference play with a win over Texas at home is promising.
Oklahoma (RPI: 44, Strength of Schedule: 84): The Sooners looked poised to have one of their best seasons in years after finishing their non-conference slate 10-2 with a one-point loss to Cincinnati on the road. But then Big 12 play started and OU was walloped by Mizzou (as most teams have been). It's just one game, but let's see how the team responds.
Texas A&M (RPI: 230, Strength of Schedule: 327): At the beginning of the season, we would have been crazy to think that a conference contender like the Aggies would be on the outside of the bubble starting conference play- the injury of Khris Middleton shocked this team and forced them to play without their best play-maker and scorer. And for a team that doesn't score much, it was a whole new identity. But with Middleton back, this should be a different team in conference play.
Syracuse (RPI: 1, Strength of Schedule: 2): The No. 1 team in all of the land tore through their sub-par non-conference schedule, posting ten wins at home, two on a neutral floor and one on a true road game. In Big East play, they smoked Seton Hall, that same Seton Hall team that later beat West Virginia and UConn handedly. Thus far, they are the tournament's overall top seed.
Connecticut (RPI: 4, Strength of Schedule: 4): This team has had its ups and downs thus far, mostly due to their guards inability to get the ball inside to Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond on a consistent basis. If UConn can pair their outside attack of Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier with their inside duo, this team will likely end up with the conference title.
Georgetown (RPI: 7, Strength of Schedule: 23): With wins over Memphis (twice), Alabama on the road, Louisville on the road and Marquette at home, John Thompson III has put himself in the Coach of the Year race, but has the drastic improvements of Jason Clark (especially in the clutch), Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson to thank. With the way the Hoyas stormed back to defeat Marquette, they have proven they won't be an easy out. They have the makings of a 2- or 3-seed.
Louisville (RPI: 13, Strength of Schedule: 25): Their 12-0 start was erased by back-to-back losses to Georgetown and Kentucky, both Top Ten teams at this point. With the improved scoring of Russ Smith, combined with the playmaking of Peyton Siva and shooting of Kyle Kuric, it's a solid perimeter game, but what happens if Gorgui Dieng gets in foul trouble. Louisville will be a top 5-seed, but whether it's a 3, 4, or 5 depends on how the Cards play in the Big East.
Marquette (RPI: 24, Strength of Schedule: 40): The stellar 10-0 start has the Golden Eagles trading wins and losses in their past five games, a routine the team needs to change in the remainder of Big East play. Next up, Syracuse- a team that Marquette was 2-0 against last year, including a victory that knocked the Orange out early.
Should Be In:
Seton Hall (RPI: 3, Strength of Schedule: 4): In the last two weeks, Kevin Willard has transformed the Pirates into an NCAA Tournament team, something no one thought was possible this year, especially after beginning Big East play with a 26-point deficit against Syracuse. But since then, Seton Hall handled both West Virginia and UConn at home. Several bottom-dwellers loom ahead and the Pirates could rack up plenty of wins as they have Louisville, Marquette, UConn and Georgetown just once, but DePaul, Rutgers, Pitt twice on their future schedule
In The Mix:
West Virginia (RPI: 22, Strength of Schedule: 10): The win over Baylor would have done tremendous things for this team's profile, but unfortunately, the NCAA Selection Committee does not account for moral victories. WVU will need several marquee wins to make their way into the field, but can certainly do so with the way they play at home.
Pittsburgh (RPI: 85, Strength of Schedule: 86): Pittsburgh has lost three times at the Peterson Events Center this year, twice in their non-conference slate- unheard of in previous years where the Panthers have been so dominant. As Travon Woodall misses more and more time recovering from injury, this team looks worse and worse. Of course, toss in the transfer of starting center Khem Birch and that doesn't help either. Can Pitt restore their Panther pride moving forward?
Cincinnati (RPI: 114, Strength of Schedule: 258): The season has been a long, bumpy road until this point. Losses to Presbyterian and Marshall were unthinkable and so was the brawl that ensued the end of the Xavier blowout. But that may have been the best thing to happen to this Bearcats team as Mick Cronin seems to have everything under control and is riding a seven-game win streak.
Ohio State (RPI: 11, Strength of Schedule: 37): There is no question about the talent on this team with potential Player of the Year Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft looking to repeat as conference Defensive Player of the Year. If the Buckeyes play as expected, they could end up with a No. 1 seed despite having three or four losses in Big Ten play.
Michigan State (RPI: 6, Strength of Schedule: 9): After losing their first games of the season against two of the nation's best team, this young Spartans team is finally gelling and perhaps no team has been hotter during this span; Draymond Green and Ketih Appling have been fantastic. Freshman forward Branden Dawson has shown plenty of promise and could take leaps and bounds in his development during the rigors of Big Ten play.
Indiana (RPI: 8, Strength of Schedule: 57): The stunning resurgence and turnaround Tom Crean has provided this season for the Hoosiers is the story of the year. Not only has his team beaten top-ranked Kentucky, but No. 2 ranked Ohio State as well to highlight their resume, but take note of the victory over Michigan as well.
Michigan (RPI: 35, Strength of Schedule: 61): Even without Darius Morris leading the Wolverines, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway give this team a fighting chance every time out. They do not yet have signature wins to boast, but their losses have come to Duke (neutral floor), Virginia (true road game) and Indiana (true road game). Down the stretch, the schedule-makers did Michigan no favors with six home games versus nine away trips.
Wisconsin (RPI: 60, Strength of Schedule: 56): The victory over Michigan State would have been sweet for their resume, their first would-be signature win of the year, but the beauty of the Big Ten means plenty more opportunities. First and foremost, the Badgers need to at least split their next two games, both on the road, against Michigan and Purdue. If not, they would fall to 1-4 in league play.
Should Be In:
Illinois (RPI: 18, Strength of Schedule: 28): The Fighting Illini have a solid combination of RPI and strength of schedule, which would have been greatly improved with they could have finished off the upset of Missouri to hand them their first loss of the year. Minnesota at home is a decent win and stealing one from Northwestern is not bad either.
In The Mix:
Purdue (RPI: 45, Strength of Schedule: 70): Winning at Iowa is now a solid win after the Hawkeyes dispatched Wisconsin and the victory over Illinois is nice, but to lay an egg against Penn State is inexcusable. Luckily, Purdue has a history of success at home where the Boilermakers will have Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State all still to visit.
Minnesota (RPI: 40, Strength of Schedule: 30): At first, it looked like the Golden Gophers could actually manage to cope with the loss of all-league forward Trevor Mbakwe. But three straight losses, all extremely close games, Minnesota looks to have some work to do.
UNLV (RPI: 15, Strength of Schedule: 75): Under Dave Rice, the Rebels are back on the run, led but a quality cast of Chace Stanback, Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield. There are plenty of wins to boast on their resume- North Carolina, Illinois, Cal, even UCSB on the road is a tough task. Next up, MWC play, starting with a road game at San Diego State.
Should Be In:
San Diego State (RPI: 48, Strength of Schedule: 133): The Aztecs are defying every set of expectations after losing four starters, including a first-round pick in Kawhi Leonard. If only some of their quality wins (Cal, Arizona) had held up a little better, their resume would look much better. After some low-quality opponents, things start to pick-up in conference play with UNLV and New Mexico coming up first.
In The Mix:
New Mexico (RPI: 57, Strength of Schedule: 164): The Lobos suffered two early, surprising losses, one to New Mexico State (who they later beat by 20) and Santa Clara in overtime. Without those blotches, this is a very solid team, but unfortunately, the strength of schedule does them no favors.
Should Be In:
Creighton (RPI: 21, Strength of Schedule: 63): The Bluejays have outside talent in guard Antoine Young, inside talent in Greg Echenique and versatile talent, one of our Player of the Year candidates in Doug McDermott. Winning at San Diego State is looking better and better and there will be plenty of opportunities to raise their RPI with the deathly road games in the MVC.
In The Mix:
Wichita State (RPI: 27, Strength of Schedule: 17): The Shockers lost early-on to Alabama and Temple in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and they let Creighton come back and steal a conference game from them at home. They do have a win over UNLV and fellow-bubble team Colorado. Right now, both their RPI and strength of schedule are in the 20s.
Northern Iowa (RPI: 25, Strength of Schedule: 8): Unbeknownst to many, Northern Iowa has played the eighth most difficult schedule so far this year. With a 9-4 record, the Panthers could drastically improve their resume with eight of their next nine league games against top-100 teams.
Should Be In:
In The Mix:
Washington (RPI: 80, Strength of Schedule: 16): Once considered the conference favorites with a stellar backcourt, the Huskies have yet to post a real quality win on the year and already have six losses- the most of any Pac-12 contender, with more to come in a league that is the nation's most unpredictable.
California (RPI: 50, Strength of Schedule: 78): The Bears have been woefully inconsistent- losing three games to current ranked opponents (Missouri, San Diego State, UNLV) all away from home, and have won just one game away from home on the entire season. With Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez, Cal will need to win at least 5 of their remaining 8 conference away games. In the meantime, they are favored to win the league- let's see if they deliver.
Oregon (RPI: 63, Strength of Schedule: 97): Don't count out the Ducks just yet because all of their pieces haven't lived up to expectations. Point guard Devoe Joseph has been their best player and could make the chemistry work.
Arizona (RPI: 69, Strength of Schedule: 47): With recruiting services honoring their freshman class, coach Sean Miller couldn't get his Wildcats to play as well as coach John Calipari's young Wildcats. If they can improve their interior play and get some play from Josiah Turner, this could be a solid team, capable of making a run. If not, Arizona will just look forward to another solid recruiting class next season.
Stanford (RPI: 87, Strength of Schedule: 205): Stanford's profile lacks blemishes, but does not have polish either. They have a young and talented backcourt, capable of lighting it up, also quite capable of shooting them out of games as well. This resume needs work.
Kentucky (RPI: 9, Strength of Schedule: 58): The Wildcats have two potential Player of the Year winners in their frontcourt alone with the way Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are playing. Add in Terrence Jones, an All-American caliber player, and this Kentucky team will almost certainly be a No. 1 seed in March.
Mississippi State (RPI: 51, Strength of Schedule: 140): Pending a complete meltdown (which is always possible on a Renardo Sidney-team), Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost will lead this team to an SEC West title and championship appearance in the conference tournament against Kentucky.
Should Be In:
Florida (RPI: 39, Strength of Schedule: 104): We certainly cannot discredit the Gators for losing to Ohio State or Syracuse, but dropping one to Rutgers means Florida has lost all three of their true road games on the year. Florida will pick-up quality victories in conference play, so it is really only a matter of time before they are a lock for the field and a top 4 or 5 seed.
Alabama (RPI: 19, Strength of Schedule: 27): If the Crimson Tide can get JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford all on the same page, Anthony Davis' Alabama team can be quite the load to deal with. Losses against Georgetown, Kansas State and Dayton are not bad, but they need a headlining win, which will come during January of SEC play.
Vanderbilt (RPI: 41, Strength of Schedule: 14): With the "Big Three" back in the lineup together, is there a more talented trio than John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli? Vanderbilt was a bucket away from posting wins over Xavier and Louisville, but the same can be said about losses to Davidson and Oregon State as well. Consistency is key to their seeding.
In The Mix:
LSU (RPI: 83, Strength of Schedule: 117): The Tigers could have certainly used the near-upset over UVA at home, but instead will hang their hat on a win over Marquette. A few more quality wins will be needed to push the envelope- playing in the West does not afford them many opportunities, so they will almost-certainly need to knock off an East foe on the road like Florida or Vanderbilt, which are both very do-able.
Gonzaga (RPI: 6, Strength of Schedule: 10): The Zags are pretty much a lock at this point could use a win over rival St. Mary's to bolster their profile.
Murray State (RPI: 15, Strength of Schedule: 137): How high can the Racers go moving through conference play with a likely shot of going undefeated?
Southern Miss (RPI: 17, Strength of Schedule: 66): Southern Miss was able to take Murray State to double-overtime was but unable to finish. Their RPI will take a hit in conference play, so don't expect it to stay in the teens, but the Golden Eagles are one of the C-USA's better teams.
Memphis (RPI: 40, Strength of Schedule: 5): Their slate of losses are not bad losses at all, but can the Tigers win a quality game this season? They are looking better as of late and should be the favorite in the C-USA despite their struggles.
Harvard (RPI: 31, Strength of Schedule: 152): Harvard's profile took quite a hit by losing to Fordham and their strength of schedule and RPI will only decline come Ivy league play, but wins over Florida State and UCF are looking nice at this point.
Long Beach State (RPI: 20, Strength of Schedule: 1): Despite winning their past two games, Long Beach State's RPI falls. But look at the resume thus far- aside from a blowout loss to Kansas State, LBST has been competitive in all of their big games, even taking home a victory at Pitt and against Xavier on a neutral court.
Saint Mary's (RPI: 24, Strength of Schedule: 70): The Gaels have a couple of quality wins over Northern Iowa and BYU and Gonzaga is coming up quickly at home. Saint Mary's is capable of shooting themselves in and out of every game.
Marshall (RPI: 55, Strength of Schedule: 32): As we were analyzing the Thundering Herd, freshman wing Justin Coleman was reinstated after being suspended violating team rules. Every team can use an athletic wing and his offensive game will come around sooner rather than later.