The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 1, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races–February 1, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, January 31, 2008

It’s only the first of February, but this first week of the month promises to affect the conference races more than any other week of the season.  Let’s call this “moving week,” because in at least 10 leagues, there will be games between the contenders that should shed strong light on which teams will eventually win said leagues.  In the power conferences, the bubble will begin to burst for some teams, while the improving teams will ascend toward “In good shape” mode.

To explain what you are about to read, the terms used (Locks, In Good Shape, On the Bubble, Can Still Get There) refer to the teams’ receiving at-large invitations to the NCAA Tournament.  Obviously, every team can still get there if they win their conference tournament, or in the case of the Ivy League, win the regular season title.

This week, if you count the number of likely bids, the minimum comes to 65.  We all know that only 65 teams will be chosen on Selection Sunday, so any amount of upsets in the conference tournaments is going to force a deserving team out of the cotillion.  Some of these teams will play themselves out of contention in the coming weeks, and by mid-February, the number of likely bids will drop to 55 to 60 teams.  That will then give you a better look at how many bubble teams are fighting for an approximate number of bids up for grabs.

After the Bracket Buster on February 22 and 23, many of the mid-major teams will be eliminated.  That will make this exercise quite a bit easier.

Enjoy!  Before you know it Selection Sunday will be here.  I’ll bet you can hear the “Road to the Final Four” music in your head as you read this.

America East

Likely Bids:               1

Locks:                        None

In Good Shape:        None

On the Bubble:        None

Can Still Get There:            None

Tournament:                        March 7-9 @ Binghamton, NY

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Maryland-Balt. Co.              6-2/14-7         Sat. @ Vermont

Vermont                                6-2/11-9         Sat. vs. UMBC

Binghamton                         6-2/10-10      Sat. vs. Hartford

Albany                                   4-4/9-11         Sat. vs. Stony Brook

Hartford                                4-4/10-13      Sat. @ Binghamton

New Hampshire                   4-4/7-13         Sat. vs. Boston U.

UMBC’s tough defense stifled Boston U and Albany, and now the Retrievers visit Vermont for a rematch of a game they won by 18 points at home.  If UMBC wins this one, they have a Saturday, February 9 home date with Binghamton and a chance to wrap up the A-East regular season title.  Still, the only thing that matters is the A-East Tournament, and Binghamton hosts it this year.  Until someone proves they can win at Binghamton, they are the favorite for the lone bid.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Likely Bids:               6

Locks:                                    Duke, North Carolina

In Good Shape:        Clemson

On the Bubble:        Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest

Can Still Get There:            Florida State, Miami, N.C. State, Georgia Tech

Tournament:                        March 13-16 @ Charlotte, NC

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Duke                          6-0/18-1                    Sat. vs. Miami

North Carolina         5-1/20-1                     Sun. @ Florida St.

Virginia Tech                        4-3/13-8                    Sat. vs. Virginia

Clemson                    3-3/15-5                     Sat. vs. Boston College

Wake Forest             3-3/13-6                    Sun. @ North Carolina St.

Boston College         3-3/12-7                     Sat. @ Clemson

Maryland                   3-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech                        3-3/10-9                    Sat. vs. Maryland

Only Virginia is not in contention for an at-large bid.  All it takes for any of the number three through 11 teams to become worthy is a two-game ACC winning streak.  Virginia Tech won at Boston College and against Florida St to move to the top side of the bubble.  Boston College lost two in a row to move down to the lower side of the bubble.

Wednesday night, the big Tobacco Road rivalry renews as Duke visits North Carolina.

Atlantic Sun

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-8 @Nashville (Lipscomb)

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Jacksonville              7-1/11-9                      Sat. vs. Gardner-Webb

Belmont                    6-2/14-8                    Sat. vs. Fla-Gulf Coast

East Tennessee        5-2/11-9                     Fri. vs. Mercer, Sun. vs. Kennesaw St.

Stetson                      5-3/10-12                   Sat. @ Lipscomb

Mercer                       4-3/9-11                     Fri. @ ETSU, Sun. @ USC-Upstate

Gardner-Webb         4-4/10-12                  Sat. @ Jacksonville

Fla. Gulf Coast         4-4/8-14                    Sat. @ Belmont

Belmont picked up consecutive road wins against Mercer and Stetson, and the Bruins get to play six of their final eight games at home.  One of those six is a Thursday match against Jacksonville.  If Belmont wins that one, they are in the driver’s seat for the regular season championship.  With the tournament being played a couple miles up the road at Lipscomb, a three-peat is definitely possible.

Atlantic 10

Likely Bids:                           4

Locks:                                                Xavier

In Good Shape:                    Dayton, Rhode Island

On the Bubble:                    U Mass, St. Joe’s

Can Still Get There:                        Charlotte, Temple, Duquesne

Tournament:                        March 12-15 @ Atlantic City, NJ

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Xavier                                    5-1/17-4                     Sat. vs. LaSalle                    

St. Joseph’s               5-1/13-5                     Sat. vs. Fordham, Mon. vs. Villanova

Charlotte                   4-1/13-6                     Sat. vs. Richmond

Rhode Island                        4-2/18-3                    Sat. vs. Dayton

Temple                       3-2/10-9                    Sun. vs. G. Washington

Dayton                       3-3/15-4                     Sat. @ Rhode Island

Massachusetts          3-3/14-6                    Sat. @ St. Louis

Duquesne                  3-3/13-6                    Sat. @ St. Bonaventure

Richmond                 3-3/10-9                    Sat. @ Charlotte

LaSalle                       3-3/8-11                     Sat. @ Xavier

While Xavier is getting all the headlines, and the Musketeers are now a virtual lock for an at-large bid, it’s St. Joe’s that needs some publicity here.  It’s not enough to note that the Hawks have won nine out of 10 games.  What’s really impressive is that eight of those wins have come on the road!  The two co-leaders have yet to meet and still play each other twice.  I think if St. Joe’s wins one of those games, they will end the regular season as an at-large lock.

Charlotte’s status will become clearer in the next two weeks when they face Richmond, Dayton, and Xavier.  The 49ers are the one team that has knocked off St. Joe’s, plus they own wins at Clemson and against Wake Forest and Davidson.  If they can finish 10-6 in the league, they should be a strong at-large candidate.

This is the start of crunch time for Rhode Island, Dayton, U Mass, and Temple.  Two of these teams are going to emerge as the leading candidates for the remaining bids, while two are going to drop out of contention.  More than four teams may be deserving by mid-March, but I cannot see the A-10 getting more than four in the Dance.

Big East

Likely Bids:               7 or 8

Locks:                                    Pittsburgh, Georgetown

In Good Shape:        Connecticut, Marquette, Notre Dame

On the Bubble:        Louisville, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia

Can Still Get There Cincinnati, DePaul, Villanova, Providence

Tournament:                        March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Georgetown              7-1/17-2                     Sat. vs. Seton Hall

Notre Dame              5-2/15-4                     Sat. vs. DePaul

Pittsburgh                 5-3/17-4                     Sat. @ Connecticut

Marquette                 5-3/15-4                     Sat. @ Cincinnati

Connecticut              5-3/15-5                     Sat. vs. Pittsburgh

Seton Hall                 5-3/15-6                     Sat. @ Georgetown

Louisville                  5-3/15-6                     Sat. vs. Rutgers

Syracuse                    5-4/15-7                     Sat. @ Villanova

Cincinnati                 5-4/10-11                   Sat. vs. Marquette

West Virginia           4-4/15-6                     Sat. @ Providence

DePaul                       4-4/9-11                     Sat. @ Notre Dame

This league has quality all the way down to number 14 Rutgers, who won at Pittsburgh.  Speaking of the Panthers, their game at Connecticut is Saturday’s headline contest.

Seton Hall has put together five straight wins to move into bubbleville.  If the Pirates win a sixth consecutive game, it will move them into the top 25 and place them in the “In Good Shape” field.  Of course, they have to play at Georgetown Saturday to pick up that win.

Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia have tough games this weekend, and they need to win them to stay in the at-large race.  Cincinnati and DePaul are hanging around and would have to win 10 or more conference games to get in the discussion.

Notre Dame and Marquette are both moving close to rising up to lock status. 

Big Sky

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8, 11-12 @ Regular Season Champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Weber St.                              6-2/11-9                     Sat. @ Idaho St.

Portland St.                          5-2/12-8                    Sat. vs. Montana St.

Northern Arizona                6-3/14-8                    off until Feb. 7

Montana St.                          5-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Portland St.

Idaho St.                                5-3/8-13                    Sat. vs. Weber St.

By next Friday morning, we will know a lot more about this race.  Montana State is the current hot team, having won four consecutive games (two on the road).  The Bobcats play at Portland State and Montana in the coming week, and if they win them both, they just might keep winning until the own the regular season title.  However, I don’t see them winning at Portland St.

Northern Arizona stubbed its toe after beating Weber State last week; The Lumberjacks dropped back-to-back road games against Idaho State and Northern Colorado.  Seven games remain on NAU’s regular season schedule, and five of them are in Flagstaff.  I look for the Lumberjacks to recover and take the regular season title, which will allow them to host the Big Sky Tournament.

                                   

Big South

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2 (3-5% chance of 2)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        UNC-Asheville, Winthrop

Tournament:                        March 4-6-8   1st round and finals at higher seeds, semi-finals at #1 seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

UNC-Asheville                     6-0/17-4                    Sat. vs. Winthrop

Winthrop                              5-1/14-7                     Sat. @ UNC-Asheville

Liberty                                   4-2/12-9                    Sat. @ Radford

High Point                            3-3/11-9                     Sat. vs. VMI

Saturday is the most important day in the Big South regular season.  Winthrop visits UNC-Asheville with a chance to regain supremacy.  The Bulldogs and the Southern Conference’s Davidson give the State of North Carolina two of the best mid-major teams in the nation.  UNCA is an extremely tough match-up for any team with giant 7-7 Kenny George and go-to guy Bryan Smithson.  Out of the league, UNCA looked like they belong in close losses to Tennessee and North Carolina, and they took out South Carolina in Columbia.

Winthrop is still the perennial dominant team in the Big South, even without Coach Gregg Marshall.  Don’t discount their chances to win the big game Saturday.

If any other team emerges as the automatic qualifier, it will be a surprise.  UNCA could possibly receive at-large consideration if they sported a 27-5 or 26-6 record, but I highly doubt it would happen.

Big 10

Likely Bids:                           4 or 5

Locks:                                                Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

In Good Shape:                    Purdue, Ohio State

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Minnesota

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Indianapolis, IN

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Michigan State                     7-1/19-2                     Sat. @ Penn State               

Wisconsin                             7-1/17-3                     Sun. @ Minnesota

Purdue                                   7-1/16-5                     Sat. @ Illinois

Indiana                                  6-1/17-3                     Sun. vs. Northwestern

Ohio State                             6-2/15-6                     Sat. @ Iowa

Minnesota                             3-4/13-6                    Sun. vs. Wisconsin

I am dating myself here, but what I see when I look at this year’s Big 10 race is the 1967 American League Pennant race.  1967 was a year where none of the junior circuit’s 10 teams were particularly strong.  It led to one of the most fantastic chases that wasn’t decided until the final day of the season.

Michigan State is the 1967 White Sox.  They have excellent pitching (defense and rebounding) and score just enough to win ugly. 

Wisconsin is the Minnesota Twins.  They have to the World Series recently, and they have the talent to do so again, but they just seem to be missing that killer instinct (take last night’s snoozer over Indiana, where they tried to blow a big lead).

Purdue is the Detroit Tigers.  They have a couple of guys who can play with anybody, but they are still weak in a few areas and ultimately will peak next year.

Indiana is the Boston Red Sox.  They have the league’s true superstar Triple Crown winner, and I expect them to take the league crown at the end.

Ohio State is the California Angels.  They have a bunch of young guys winning games, but I expect them to drop enough contests in February to fall out of contention before the final weekend (but, they should still be in good shape for an at-large bid if the league gets five invitations).

Minnesota is the Baltimore Orioles.  Their best days are a couple years down the road.  For now, they will take their lumps when they play the contenders, and they will enjoy their games against the Senators, Indians, and Athletics (Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa).

Big 12

Likely Bids:                           5 or 6

Locks:                                                Kansas, Baylor, Texas

In Good Shape:                    Kansas State

On the Bubble:                    Oklahoma, Texas A&M

Can Still Get There:                        Iowa State, Missouri, Texas Tech

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Kansas City

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Kansas State                         5-0/15-4                     Sat. @ Missouri

Kansas                                   5-1/20-1                     Sat. @ Colorado

Baylor                                                4-1/16-3                     Sat. @ Texas

Texas                                      3-2/16-4                    Sat. vs. Baylor

Oklahoma                             3-2/15-5                     Sat. @ Texas A&M

Texas A&M                            3-3/17-4                     Sat. vs. Oklahoma

Iowa State                             3-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Nebraska

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!  Just who is number one in the league today?  Kansas State hasn’t been on top of the league since it was the Big Eight Conference.  Something tells me their sole possession of the top spot could last just one game.  Missouri is waiting in ambush in Columbia, and KSU may not be ready to play this game after knocking off Kansas.  All this hinges on Tiger Coach Mike Anderson reinstating the four healthy players who were suspended for their game against Nebraska.

The more I look at this league, the more I think it might be a little overrated.  If I had to bet on it, I would bet against any Big 12 team (including Kansas) making the Final Four this year, and I wouldn’t want to risk money predicting more than two making the Sweet 16.

Big West

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Cal St. Northridge

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Anaheim, CA

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Cal St. Northridge               7-0/15-4                     Sat. vs. Cal St Fullerton

Cal St. Fullerton                  6-2/13-6                    Sat. @ Cal St Northridge

Pacific                                                5-2/14-6                     Sat. @ UC Davis

UC-Santa Barbara               5-3/16-5                     off until Feb. 7

When you think of Northridge, California, earthquakes come to mind.  This year, the 8.0 on the Richter scale is due to all the jumping up and down in The Matadome.  The Matadors have combine good defense, smart offense, and great depth into the complete package for a Big West team.  Their leading scorer, Deon Tresvant, and leading rebounder, Tremaine Townsend, come off the bench!

Northridge hosts Fullerton Saturday.  A Matador win gives them a three-game lead in the loss column, and that would just about wrap up the regular season title.  However, because they don’t have a great non-conference resume, Northridge will still have to win the Big West Tournament to make it to the Dance.

UCSB has played themselves out of the regular season title race and out of at-large contention. 

Pacific gets Northridge at home Thursday night.  They may be the one team standing in the Matadors’ way of running the table.  For that game to many anything, the Tigers have to take care of business at UC-Davis.

Colonial Athletic

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Richmond Coliseum (VCU)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Virginia Commonwealth   8-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. Towson

George Mason                      7-3/15-6                     Sat. vs. James Madison

UNC-Wilmington                7-3/15-8                     Sat. @ Wm. & Mary

William & Mary                   7-3/11-9                     Sat. vs. UNCW

Delaware                               6-4/9-11                     Sat. @ Hofstra

Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason both hold tiny at-large chances.  If either team wins the regular season championship, that team will continue to stay on the bubble, while the other team will have to earn the automatic bid to have any chance.  GMU beat VCU Tuesday night in their only meeting of the regular season.

UNCW has put together a nice five-game winning streak which includes a victory over George Mason.  They must still play at VCU, so chances are they will come up a bit short.

Conference USA

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Memphis

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Houston, UAB, Central Florida

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Memphis

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Memphis                               6-0/20-0                   Sat. vs. UTEP

Houston                                4-1/15-4                     Sat. @ UCF

UAB                                        4-1/14-6                     Sat. vs. Marshall

Tulane                                   4-2/14-6                    Sat. @ Rice

UTEP                                      4-2/13-6                    Sat. @ Memphis

Central Florida                    4-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Houston

Two down and two to go.  Memphis knocked off Gonzaga and Houston and will face UAB and Tennessee in a couple of weeks.  They should be a number one seed in one of the four regions. 

If the rest of the league beats up on themselves, it’s likely that nobody else will get an at-large bid.  With the C-USA Tournament in Memphis, it’s even more unlikely that someone will upset the Tigers for automatic admittance.  

Horizon

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Butler

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Valparaiso, Wright St., Cleveland St., UW-Milw.

Tournament:                        March 4, 7, 10-11 Quarter & Semifinals at top seed & Finals at higher seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Butler                                                8-2/19-2                    Tue. @ Valpo

Cleveland St.                         7-3/14-8                    Sat. @ Loyola (Chi.)

UW-Milwaukee                    7-4/14-9                     Sat. @ Wright St.

Wright St.                             6-4/13-6                    Sat. vs. UW-Milw.

Valparaiso                             5-4/14-7                     Tue. Vs. Butler

UW-Green Bay                     5-5/11-9                     Sat. @ Detroit

Illinois-Chicago                   5-5/11-10                   Sat. vs. Youngstown

Cleveland State must have read from a past Cleveland Indians script-the one from 1966, where the Tribe shot out of the gate with 10 straight wins en route to a 26-10 start and 4 ½ game lead before struggling to finish the season 81-81.  After starting Horizon play at 7-0, including wins over Butler and Valparaiso, CSU has dropped three in a row on the road to fall behind Butler.

Butler has a big game Tuesday night at Valparaiso.  A win there could end the Horizon race.  Win or lose, the Bulldogs are in good shape for earning a bid to the Field of 65.  I’d bet against any team beating Butler at Hinkle Field house in the Horizon League Tournament.

Independents

Likely Bids:                           0

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    None

Texas Pan American is 14-11 and the only independent above .500. Head coach Tom Schuberth is a pepper pot guy.  As a player at Mississippi State in the 1970’s, he once tried to pick a fight against 6-7 muscle man Charles Davis of Vanderbilt at Vandy’s Memorial Gym.  Before transferring to Miss. St., he played on the 1977 Final Four team at UNLV.  Keep an eye on Schuberth; he could be on his way to bigger and better things, but his team will be left out of the NIT picture this year. 

Ivy

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        All 8 teams

Tournament:                                    None, bid goes to regular season champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Cornell                                   2-0/10-5                    Fri. @ Brown, Sat. @ Yale

Brown                                                1-1/9-7                       Fri. vs. Cornell, Sat. vs. Columbia

Dartmouth                           1-1/8-8                       Fri. @ Princeton, Sat. @ Penn

Yale                                        1-1/7-9                       Fri. vs. Columbia, Sat. vs. Yale

Harvard                                 1-1/6-12                     Fri. @ Penn, Sat. @ Princeton

Penn and Princeton finally begin conference play tonight (Friday).  Neither team appears to be the behemoth they used to be, so this league is wide open.  Cornell leads because they swept Columbia last weekend, but they could easily be 2-2 by Saturday night.  It wouldn’t surprise me if two or three teams finished tied for first with 10-4 records this year.

Metro Atlantic

Likely Bids:                           1 (very slim chance at 2)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Marist, Siena, Rider

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Albany, NY (Siena)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Rider                                      9-2/16-6                    Sat. @ Siena

Siena                                      8-2/13-7                    Sat vs. Rider

Marist                                                8-3/14-8                    Mon. @ Siena

Niagara                                  7-3/13-6                     Fri. vs. Loyola, Sun. Vs. Fairfield

Loyola (Md.)                         7-3/12-10                   Fri. @ Niagara, Sun @ Canisius

With eight consecutive wins including a road victory against Marist, Rider has leapfrogged to the top of the MAAC.  If they make in nine in a row, it could be enough to put them in the driver’s seat.  Saturday’s Rider-Siena game will go a long way in deciding the regular season champ.  If Rider wins, they would more than likely have to repeat the feat in five weeks in the MAAC Tournament.

Niagara defeated Rider at the beginning of conference play, and they still must travel to Rider.  If they could sweep the series, they could end up at the top of the league.  Of course, winning the MAAC regular season crown only guarantees a spot in the NIT.

Mid-American

Likely Bids:                           2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    Kent State

On the Bubble:                    Ohio U

Can Still Get There:                        Akron

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Cleveland

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

East

Kent State                             6-1/17-4                     Sat. @ Toledo

Ohio U                                   5-2/14-6                     Sat. @ Northern Ill.

Akron                                     5-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. E. Michigan

Bowling Green                     5-2/10-9                    Sat. @ Western Mich.

West

Western Michigan               5-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Bowling Green

All of the strength is in the East Division.  The winner of the East should be on the bubble regardless of which team it is.  If it’s Kent State, they could actually be close to a lock since they would probably have 25 wins.

Ohio dominated Kent State when they played in Athens.  The Bobcats must still travel to Kent.

Western Michigan can give the West some respect by taking care of business against Bowling Green.

MEAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 10-15 @ Raleigh, NC

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Morgan St.                            6-1/11-8                     Sat. vs. UMES, Mon. vs. Del St.

Hampton                               5-1/11-7                      Sat. @ Norf., Mon @ NC A&T

Norfolk St.                            5-1/9-9                       Sat. vs. Hamp., Mon. vs. Howard

North Carolina A&T                        4-2/10-9                    Sat. vs. Howard, Mon. vs. Hamp.

Delaware St.                         4-2/7-11                     Sat @ Coppin, Mon. @ Morgan St

Florida A&M                         4-3/8-11                     Sat. vs. W-S, Mon. vs. SCSU

This is becoming an interesting race, but I still think Hampton is the class of the league.  Morgan State came to town and pulled off the big win to vault into first place, so you cannot discount MSU.

Norfolk State may pass Hampton in the standings, as they get Hampton and Howard at home, while Hampton has to play at North Carolina A&T after playing at Norfolk.

History shows that a middle of the pack team will emerge with a hot streak in the MEAC Tournament more often than the average league. 

Missouri Valley

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Drake

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Illinois State

Can Still Get There:                        Southern Illinois, Creighton

Tournament:                                    March 6-9 @ St. Louis

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Drake                                     10-0/19-1                   Sat. @ Indiana St.

Illinois St.                             7-3/15-6                     Sat. @ Missouri St.

Southern Illinois                 6-4/11-10                   Sat. @ N. Iowa

Creighton                              5-5/14-6                     Sat. vs. Wichita St.

Northern Iowa                     5-5/13-8                     Sat. vs. Southern Ill.

Bradley                                  5-5/12-10                   Sat. @ Evansville

Indiana St.                            5-5/10-10                   Sat. vs. Drake

Drake swept Creighton, and that basically ended the conference race for the year.  Well, there is still a little shadow of doubt.  If Illinois State can win on the road tomorrow (Saturday), they host Drake Tuesday Night with a chance to pull within two games.  Should Drake have already fallen at Indiana State, then it could bring Redbirds to within one game of the lead.  The more likely scenario is that Drake will win at Indiana State to move to 11-0 and then edge Illinois State to take a four-game conference lead with six games to go.

Southern Illinois is getting ready for a February sprint.  I expect the Salukis to go on a tear and finish in second place at 12-6 or 13-5 in the league.  They are a headache for any team to play, and I wouldn’t count them out in St. Louis.

Creighton is in trouble; the Blue Jays have just about forced themselves to win the Conference Tournament to go dancing.  They play three consecutive home games, including a tilt against SIU, and they must win them all to get back on the bubble.

Mountain West

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    UNLV, BYU

Can Still Get There:                        San Diego St., New Mexico

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Las Vegas

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

UNLV                                     5-1/15-4                     Sat. vs. New Mexico

Brigham Young                   5-1/16-5                     Sat. @ Wyoming

San Diego St.                                    5-2/14-6                     Off until Feb. 6

New Mexico                          3-3/16-5                     Sat. @ UNLV

T C U                                      3-3/10-8                    Sat. vs. Air Force

Air Force                               3-3/9-8                      Sat. @ TCU

San Diego State fell to the two teams now ahead of them in the standings.  The loss to UNLV was at home, and now the Running Rebels and Cougars are the teams du jour.  UNLV has the easier schedule between now and February 16 when they play at BYU.  I expect them to have at least a one game MWC lead by the time they head to Provo.

New Mexico is capable of getting into the mix.  They still must play UNLV twice and host BYU later in the month.  I think they will come up short this year.

Northeast

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 6-9-12 @ Higher Seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Wagner                                  8-1/15-5                     Sat. @ C. Conn. St.

Sacred Heart                         9-2/12-10                  Sat. @ St. Francis, NY

Robert Morris                      7-2/16-6                     Sat. @ Mt. St. Mary’s

Quinnipiac                            7-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. FDU

Mt. St. Mary’s                       6-4/10-11                   Sat vs. Robert Morris

Since the top three teams play on the road this weekend, this race could really become a logjam if the home teams hold serve.  Five of Wagner’s next seven games are on the road.  Sacred Heart must play at Wagner and Quinnipiac in February.  Quinnipiac and Robert Morris have five road games in the next month.    Robert Morris has the most favorable remaining schedule, but they have to make up 2 ½ games in the standings.  This could become a jumbled finish, and since the higher-seeded team hosts every conference tournament game, I expect the next few weeks to become fierce in this league.

Ohio Valley

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Austin Peay

Tournament:                        March 4, 7-8 1st rd at higher seeds, semifinals and finals at Nashville

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Austin Peay                          10-3/14-9                  Sat. vs. Tenn. St.

Murray St.                             9-4/13-8                    Sat. vs. Jacksonville St.

Morehead St.                                    8-5/10-10                  Sat. Kentucky Christian

Eastern Kentucky                7-5/10-10                   Sat. @ Tennessee Tech

S.E. Missouri                                    7-6/12-11                   Sat. UT-Martin

Tennessee State                   7-6/10-12                   Sat. @ APSU

Samford                                 7-7/10-12                   Sat. vs. E. Illinois

Tennessee Tech                   7-7/10-14                   Sat vs. EKU

Austin Peay tasted defeat at Samford and SEMO to come back to the pack, but the Governors reclaimed sole possession of first place Thursday night by nipping Murray State in overtime.  APSU finishes the regular season with three tough road games, so they could drop out of first if they don’t separate themselves from their nearest contenders.

Four of Murray State’s next six games will be road contests.  The Racers had won six in a row before losing to Peay.

Morehead has won six of seven, and the Eagles play non-Division 1 Kentucky Christian this weekend.  That will get them over .500 for the season.  They have the most favorable schedule of the contenders to make a late run at the Govs.

As for EKU, SEMO, TSU, Samford, and TTU, these five will be in a mad dash to finish in the upper division and host a first round game in the OVC Tournament.  SEMO is the one I’d look out for as a breakthrough team.

Pac-10

Likely Bids:                           6

Locks:                                                UCLA, Washington St., Arizona, Stanford

In Good Shape:                    Southern Cal, Arizona St.

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Oregon, Washington, California

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Los Angeles Staples Center

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

U C L A                                  7-1/19-2                                 Sat. vs. Arizona

Stanford                                6-2/17-3                                 Sat. @ Wash. St.

Washington St.                    5-3/17-3                                 Sat. vs. Stanford

Arizona                                  5-3/15-6                                 Sat @ UCLA

Arizona St.                            4-4/14-6                                Sat. @ USC

Southern Cal                                    4-4/13-7                                 Sat. vs. Arizona St.

California                              3-5/12-7                                 Sat. @ Washington

Oregon                                   3-5/12-8                                Sat. vs. Oregon St.

Washington                          3-5/12-9                                 Sat. vs. Cal

Oregon, Washington, and California have been moved from the bubble to “Can Still Get There” status.  Even in a tough conference like the Pac-10, I think any team expecting to get an at-large bid will have to finish at least 9-9 in league play.

UCLA is starting to look like the team to beat for the national title.  The Bruins finally have enough offense to defeat the top-rated teams.  What they did to Arizona State Thursday night is reminiscent of the good ole days in Westwood.  They are out-rebounding opponents by 10.4 per game to go along with a better than +2 turnover rating.

Stanford can go a long way toward wrapping up the number two spot by winning at Washington State tomorrow.  The Cardinal have defeated Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, and Washington to move to 6-2.

Washington State is starting to falter somewhat.  The Cougars have to play with the same top intensity for at least 35 minutes to win games in the Pac-10.  They just don’t have enough offensive firepower to dominate in the league.  Most of the top contenders are the type of team that can score 10 points in two minutes or 20 points in five minutes.  WSU cannot do that, and it takes just one opposition run to doom them to defeat.

Arizona is hot on Stanford’s heels for second best in the Pac-10.  Like the Cardinal, the Wildcats have reeled off four consecutive league wins against California, Washington St., Washington, and Southern Cal.  If they should somehow knock off UCLA at Pauley Pavilion tomorrow…

Patriot

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-9-14 at Higher Seed                   

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

Lafayette                               5-1/14-7                                 Sat. vs. American

Lehigh                                   4-2/11-9                                 Sat. @ Holy Cross

Bucknell                                4-2/9-11                                 Sun. vs. Army

American                              3-3/11-10                               Sat. @ Lafayette

Navy                                       3-3/10-11                               Sat. vs. Colgate

American fell twice at home to drop out of contention.  Meanwhile, Lehigh won four in a row, including the big one against rival Lafayette.  Lafayette recovered from the loss and blew away Army.

Bucknell is still tied with Lehigh, but the Bison lost at home to the Hawks.  This looks like a two-horse race between the Pennsylvanian rivals.  Give a slight edge to the Leopards.

Southeastern

Likely Bids:                           6

Locks:                                                Tennessee, Florida

In Good Shape:                    Mississippi St., Ole Miss

On the Bubble:                    Arkansas, Kentucky

Can Still Get There:                        Vanderbilt, Georgia

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Atlanta

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

East

Tennessee                             5-1/18-2                                 Sat. @ Mississippi St.

Florida                                   5-1/18-3                                 Sat. @ Arkansas

Kentucky                               3-2/9-9                                  Sat. @ Georgia

West

Mississippi St.                       5-1/14-6                                 Sat. vs. Tennessee

Arkansas                               4-2/15-5                                 Sat. vs. Florida

Ole Miss                                3-3/16-3                                Sat. vs. South Carolina

Tennessee faces the two big teams back-to-back in the next four days.  They play at Mississippi State Saturday and host Florida Tuesday night.  I expect them to do no worse than split those games.

Florida could win the regular season title with a group of players who will be around for quite awhile.  The Gators could even contend for a third straight Final Four bid.

Mississippi State hit a bump in the road Wednesday night at Arkansas, and now they face a critical game with the Vols.  If the Bulldogs lose tomorrow, Arkansas and Ole Miss are right back in the race.

Ole Miss took care of business at home against Vanderbilt Wednesday night to stay among the contenders, and now they get South Carolina at the Tad Pad.  The Rebels match up well against the Gamecocks and should win by double digits.

Kentucky can prove they belong back in the NCAA Tournament with a win at Georgia tomorrow.  Four of the Wildcats’ next five games are on the road, but they could win all five games!  The schedule is perfect for Billy G and his troops.  After playing at Georgia tomorrow, the Wildcats go to Auburn, come home for Alabama, and then head back on the road to Vanderbilt and LSU.  None of these road games are impossible, and I expect UK to go 3-2 at the worst in this five game stretch.  I’m thinking the Big Blue will finish 10-6 or better in league play, and that will get them back in the Big Dance.

Georgia is 2-3 in the conference and Auburn, South Carolina,  and Vanderbilt are all 2-4 in league play.  I don’t see any of this group finishing with a flurry to get into the mix.  They all have serious weaknesses that the rest of the league can exploit, and I expect the entire quartet to finish under .500 in the SEC.

Southern

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Davidson

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Charleston

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

North

Chattanooga                         9-2/14-7                     Sat. vs. Davidson

Appalachian St.                    8-3/13-7                    Sat. @ W. Carolina

UNC-Greensboro                 6-3/12-6                    Sat. vs. Elon, Mon. @ GSU

South

Davidson                               12-0/14-6                  Sat. @ Chattanooga

Georgia Southern                7-5/14-8                     Mon. vs. UNCG

Could Davidson go 20-0 in SoCon play?  If they win at Chattanooga tomorrow, it’s highly possible that they can.  That would make them 20-6 plus or minus what they do against their Bracket Buster opponent.  Because they couldn’t knock off one of the big teams they played out of conference, they still may be forced to run the table if they are to be considered a lock. 

Chattanooga isn’t as talented as the Wildcats, but they are more than capable of beating them at home.  Two weeks ago, the Mocs lost by 27 at Davidson, so the Wildcats have to be considered an 8 to 10-point favorite tomorrow.

Southland

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin

Tournament:                                    March 12-16 @ Katy, TX (Houston suburb)

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

East

Lamar                                                4-1/10-8                                Sat. vs. McNeese

SE Louisiana                                    4-2/12-7                                 Sat. vs. NW St.

Northwestern St.                 4-3/8-13                                Sat. @ SE La.

West

Sam Houston                       4-2/16-3                                Sat. @ Texas St.

Stephen F. Austin                4-2/16-3                                Sat. @ UT-A

UT-Arlington                                   4-3/13-5                                 Sat. vs. SF Austin

Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin are both getting closer to moving up to bubble status.  If another team wins the automatic bid, at least one of these two deserving squads and possible both will be left out.

Lamar hasn’t gotten much respect this year, and I am not about to give them much.  Their best non-conference win came against lowly Rice.

Southeast Louisiana must still play Lamar twice.  They could overtake the Cardinals.

Texas-Arlington is number three in the West, and they just might be number three in the entire league.  The Mavericks get a chance to move up in the standings when they host SFA Saturday.

SWAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Birmingham, AL

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Alabama St.                          6-1/7-7                       Sat. vs. Tx Sou., Mon. vs. PVAM

Arkansas Pine Bluff                        5-2/7-9                       Sat. vs. Grambling, Mon. Vs. JSU

Southern                               5-3/6-11                     Sat. vs. Alcorn St.

Miss. Valley                          4-3/4-12                    Sat. vs. JSU, Mon. vs. Grambling

Jackson St.                            4-3/6-14                    Sat. @ MVSU. Mon. @ Ark-PB

The top two teams play two home games in the weekend-Monday series.  I expect both to go 2-0 to distance themselves from the pack.  Alabama State is the only team in the SWAC that I believe can win the play-in game in the NCAA Tournament.

Summit

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Oral Roberts

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8-11 @ Tulsa (Oral Roberts)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Oral Roberts                         9-0/14-5                    Sat. vs. Centenary

IUPUI                                     8-2/16-5                    Sat. vs. UMKC

Oakland                                 6-4/11-10                   Sat. vs. S. Dakota St.

N. Dakota St.            (*)                   5-5/11-10                   Sat. @ IUPUFW

Western Ill.                           5-5/10-11                   Sat. vs. S. Utah

(*) Not eligible for Summit League Title

Oral Roberts must still travel to Indianapolis to play IUPUI.  I think ORU will lose that game.  The Golden Eagles have a two-game cushion in the loss column, so they could lose that one and still win the regular season Summit title.

IUPUI has the talent to finish 15-3 in the league.  They could easily have 23 or 24 wins on Selection Sunday.  Could that be enough for an at-large bid if they fall to ORU in the Tournament Championship Game?  Probably not.  If IUPUI beats ORU for the title, the chances are marginally better for getting two bids.

Sunbelt

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    South Alabama

On the Bubble:                    Western Kentucky

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-11 @ Mobile, AL (S. Ala.)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

East

South Alabama                    9-1/17-4                     Sat. @ UL-Monroe

Western Kentucky              9-1/17-5                     Sat. vs. Denver

Middle Tennessee               6-4/9-11                     Mon. @ Ark. St.

West

Arkansas-Little Rock          6-4/14-7                     Thu. @ Middle Tenn.

Denver                                   5-4/9-11                     Sat. @ WKU

Louisiana Lafayette                        5-5/9-12                     Wed. vs. FIU

Of all the mid-major conferences with a possible second bid on the line, this one may be the most deserving.  Both USA and WKU deserve to go to the Big Dance.  I’m guessing unless they both finish 16-2 in league play and advance to the Conference Tournament Championship Game, only one team will get an invitation. 

I think the Hilltoppers can run the table or lose only one more time and take the regular season title.  Since USA hosts the conference tournament, I think they are better than odds-on to win the automatic bid.

UALR leads the West, but they are much weaker than the two monsters in the East.  They lost at home to USA, and they were brutally beaten at Western.

West Coast

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    St. Mary’s, Gonzaga

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ San Diego

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Gonzaga                                 5-0/16-5                     Sat. @ S Clara, Mon. @ St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s                              4-1/17-3                     Sat. vs. Port., Mon. vs. Gonzaga

San Diego                              4-1/11-11                    Sat. @ LMU, Mon. @ Pepperdine

Santa Clara                           3-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Gonz., Mon. vs. Portland

San Diego sent St. Mary’s back to the San Francisco Bay with their first conference loss.  The win moves the Toreros into the penthouse along with the Gaels and Gonzaga, who still has to play at San Diego.

Santa Clara is the only other team in the mix, as the remaining four teams are as comparatively weak as the bottom four teams in the Big 10.  What this means is that all four upper division teams should fatten up on the bottom four teams.  It should give Gonzaga and St. Mary’s an excellent opportunity to both get bids should one beat the other in the league tournament finals.

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s face off for the first time Monday night in Moraga.

WAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Utah State, Nevada

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico St.)

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Utah State                             5-1/15-6                     Sat. vs. Nevada

Boise State                            6-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. Idaho

Nevada                                   5-2/13-7                     Sat. @ Utah St.

New Mexico St.                    5-3/11-12                   Sat. @ S J State

Hawaii                                   5-3/9-11                     Sat. vs. La. Tech

Utah State should take care of Nevada Saturday, while Boise handles in-state rival Idaho.  That would give the top two teams a little padding.  The Aggies don’t play at Boise until March 6, so this race should continue to be undecided until the very end. 

New Mexico State hosts the league tournament, and the Aggies beat Utah State 100-70 in Las Cruces last week.  They could easily win three home games in three days to gain the automatic and only bid.

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