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Bubble Breakdown: It's all coming to a head

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor


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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Success, more often than not, is earned. There will be times that mediocrity is rewarded as a last resort, but in those rare instances, the euphoria is short-lived. In other cases, potential is given an opportunity to become great. Some climb the mountain when given the harness, others fall.

Those scenarios paint life's portrait -- a collection of lessons that teach us that honors are not given without reasons, exclusive invitations not postmarked without thoughtful dissection of their worth.

In this arena, some invitations have already been stamped; other invites will be earned over the next several weeks. The NCAA Tournament's selection committee will use erasers on some, change the addresses of others and even send a few with indignation because, well, 37 at-large invites are mandatory at this dance.

We will break down the bubble over the next three Fridays, providing many of the benchmarks the committee will review in that pressure cooker it calls a war room.

In an attempt to avoid repetition, let's put several clear indicators out in the open. The selection committee uses a team's Rating Percentage Index (RPI) as a discussion tool for inclusion, yet the committee is far more concerned with the wins and losses over certain RPI sectors, whether it be W's over the Top-25 or 50, a team's record against the Top-100, or bad losses that determined threshold.

Also, the selection committee cares about Strength of Schedule (SOS), but weighs a team's non-conference slate (the schedule it controls each season) to a higher degree. With that said, both the RPI and SOS will be listed for each bubble-sitter because those indicators start the review. After that, a team's full profile is dissected into blocks, a process similar to the committee's line of thinking.

This column will not include anything of substance about teams deemed to have already sewn up bids. They will be mentioned underneath conference affiliation and left to discussion for another day (the Monday column or analysis once the field is released).

Any questions or comments, contact From the End of the Bench on Twitter at @jtrex0830 or email me at jtt128@comcast.net.

RPI and SOS Rankings are current as of end of play on Thursday, February 23, courtesy of cbssports.com.

ACC

On the guest list: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Virginia, Miami, North Carolina State

Virginia (21-6; RPI 37; SOS 99)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-3
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 6-1
Record outside RPI 100: 13-2

The Cavaliers have two "bad" losses (home to Virginia Tech and at Clemson), but they have no profile-damaging losses against teams with an RPI over 200. Prognosticators ramble on about Virginia's profile being supported by a late November home victory over Michigan, but that's not the complete case. The Cavaliers have a host of wins over fellow bubble-sitters (Miami, Oregon, North Carolina State, LSU, and Drexel). It's those five wins that mean just as much, if not more than the win over the Wolverines.

Miami (16-10; RPI 51; SOS 34)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-7
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 2-3
Record outside RPI 100: 13-0

Miami will be an interesting debate leading up to Selection Sunday. The Hurricanes have the computer numbers -- historically decent RPI and even better SOS -- but they haven't taken advantage of their opportunities, posting a 3-10 record against the Top-100. So, do you reward Miami for beating who it should and scheduling Purdue, Memphis and West Virginia out of league, or do you penalize it for no quality W's to speak of other than the win at Duke (which is a big fish)? Also, throw in the situation involving big man Reggie Johnson's injury early in the season, and you have quite the quandary. The Hurricanes can help solve it with upcoming tests against Florida State and North Carolina State.

North Carolina State (18-10; RPI 60; SOS 30)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 0-8
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-1
Record outside RPI 100: 14-1

The Wolfpack, without a late miracle run, will go back to the 20-point second- half lead they squandered at Duke. That was the signature win they needed, because without it there aren't any Top-50 wins now that Miami slipped back to No. 51. A non-league win against fellow bubble-sitter Texas looks nice, but zero wins in eight tries against the Top-50 won't sit well with the committee. Sweeping Miami is a must, but even 10-6 in the ACC may not be enough due to "soft" W's along with a lack of overall profile quality.

Big 12

On the guest list: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Iowa State, Texas

Iowa State (20-8; RPI 41; SOS 64)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 1-2
Record outside RPI 100: 17-2

The Cyclones are in good shape with victories over Kansas, Kansas State and Texas. If Iowa State finishes off a season sweep of the Wildcats this weekend in Manhattan, it will move onto the guest list. Without it, a victory over Missouri or Baylor would be nice or a W or two in the league tourney just to be sure.

Texas (17-11; RPI 53; SOS 17)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-8
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 1-1
Record outside RPI 100: 13-2

The only reason a team with 11 overall losses and an under .500 conference mark makes this list is because of a strong scheduling number and three Top-50 wins over Kansas State, Iowa State and Temple. The bad losses aren't crippling, especially since they happened outside Austin, but the Longhorns somehow need to find the better side of .500 in the league or they may be on the outside looking in.

Big East

On the guest list: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia, Cincinnati, South Florida

Seton Hall (19-9; RPI 32; SOS 27)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-7
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-1
Record outside RPI 100: 12-1

The Pirates are not only the benefactors of historically at-large-worthy computer numbers, but they have the wins to back it up -- seven Top-100 victories include a non-league road win at bubble-sitter Dayton. Tuesday's romp of Georgetown got the Hall back to .500 in the league and put a third Top-50 win on the resume. Two more conference W's (with Rutgers and DePaul on the horizon) lock up an NCAA invite.

Connecticut (17-10; RPI 23; SOS 3)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 6-6
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 2-3
Record outside RPI 100: 9-1

Profile beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The committee values current form, and UConn's isn't tournament-worthy with a 3-7 mark in its last 10 games. However, the Huskies' computer numbers (while inflated by a staggering 12 games against the RPI Top-50) are hard to ignore, as are the six Top-50 wins, including a neutral court victory over Florida State. The dangling carrot is a visit from Syracuse on Saturday, but even without that, this profile at the MOMENT is, surprising as it may seem, enough to put the Huskies in the field. Why? Weak bubble, great computer numbers, too many quality wins to ignore.

West Virginia (17-11; RPI 45; SOS 8)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-7
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-2
Record outside RPI 100: 9-2

Let's hope, for West Virginia's sake, the committee didn't pay much attention to the 71-44 thrashing it took at Notre Dame. There is only one real tourney enhancer left on the schedule, a home date Friday with Marquette. The RPI and SOS are good enough to get into the conversation, but then what? There is just one Top-150 road win on the resume (at Pittsburgh), but some very good non- conference W's at home or on a neutral floor as well (Kansas State, Oral Roberts, Miami-Florida).

Cincinnati (20-8; RPI 74; SOS 114)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 5-3
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 1-2
Record outside RPI 100: 14-3

The Bearcats are flying up the bubble hierarchy after consecutive must-wins against Seton Hall and Louisville. Those W's now leave Cincinnati with an impressive five Top-50 wins, which are necessary for its place on this list considering horrible computer metrics and three bad losses, including one that may come back to haunt it -- against Presbyterian (RPI 258). Really it is a tale of two seasons. On one hand there is the 319th-ranked non-conference schedule, during which it lost three times, but then there are 10 conference wins in a league vying for eight or nine entries. The game at South Florida could eliminate the Bulls or severely damage Cincinnati's at-large hopes.

South Florida (17-11; RPI 48; SOS 28)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-7
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 3-1
Record outside RPI 100: 12-3

It's very possible that the Bulls may beat the Huskies by two games in the Big East standings, yet find themselves outside watching UConn dance the night away. There is only one Top-50 win on the resume (a one-point win at home over Seton Hall) and the three victories in the next subset are all at the lower end. This resume just lacks substance, but there are two more opportunities: at Louisville next Wednesday and home against West Virginia on March 3. If the Bulls can hold off Cincinnati this weekend, they will likely need one of those two, save a Big East tourney run.

Big Ten

On the guest list: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Purdue, Northwestern

Purdue (18-10; RPI 50; SOS 24)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 4-7
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-1
Record outside RPI 100: 10-2

The RPI number is weighed down by all of the games outside the Top-100, but the Boilermakers swept Northwestern and have three other impressive non- conference wins over Temple, MAAC leader Iona and Miami. However, not a single one of their eight conference wins has come against the five teams already on the guest list. So, it seems the Boilermakers are a team that beat the teams it should have in conference and picked off a few Top-50 teams in November. The eight Top-100 wins have them IN the field by a thread for now, but beating either Michigan or Indiana would be a nice addition.

Northwestern (16-11; RPI 47; SOS 7)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-9
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 3-2
Record outside RPI 100: 11-0

There is something to say for beating the teams you should, but Northwestern may have to do more than that to claim a sought-after bid. At 6-9 in the league, the Wildcats have to take care of business against Penn State and Iowa AND likely pick off Ohio State at home to enter the Big Ten Tournament just in or on the fence.

Pac-12

On the guest list: None

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): California, Washington

California (23-6; RPI 36; SOS 96)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-3
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-1
Record outside RPI 100: 16-2

Is what looks like a tournament team, walks like a tournament team, and talks like a tournament team really a tournament team? The Bears have the gaudy record and the sound RPI, but both top-50 wins are against Oregon, and the damaging losses (RPI 144 Oregon State and RPI 174 Washington State) don't help. Neither do the 18 games against teams outside the Top-100 and Weber State as the best non-league win. In an RPI league ranked below the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and Conference USA, finishing second is no prize. I suggest the Bears win out.

Washington (19-8; RPI 52; SOS 71)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-5
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 3-3
Record outside RPI 100: 15-0

There isn't much substance in the 12-3 league mark with losses in its only meetings against California and Colorado. The New Year's Eve win over Oregon is the only Top-50 victory on the resume. The Huskies may rue their near misses against Duke and Marquette. They need the league crown more than the Bears to prove their worth.

SEC

On the guest list: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt

Bubble-sitters: Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU

Alabama (18-9; RPI 31; SOS 15)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-5
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 7-3
Record outside RPI 100: 9-1

The non-conference schedule was difficult (see the high SOS), and one of the Top-50 wins did come on a neutral floor against Wichita State, but as is the case with many of these bubble teams, there isn't a great road win (best is against RPI 62 LSU). The profile is good -- and that may be "good" enough -- but the upcoming bout with Mississippi State may separate the two teams.

Mississippi State (19-9; RPI 63; SOS 67)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-3
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-4
Record outside RPI 100: 12-2

Teams with RPIs in the 50s and 60s normally need the volume, and the Bulldogs were headed in that direction before a four-game losing streak. They had a golden opportunity against Kentucky, but let it fall by the wayside. The win over West Virginia is a nice one to have in the holster, as is the road victory at Vanderbilt, but a once certain profile is starting to look suspect. The Bulldogs need to tread lightly and maybe even win a game in the SEC Tournament to feel safe. If they sweep the Crimson Tide they will jump them on this list, but if not, worse computer numbers and a bad mark down the stretch could be worrisome.

LSU (17-10; RPI 62; SOS 59)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-6
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 3-2
Record outside RPI 100: 12-2

A long shot, yes, but one that very well could finish 10-6 in conference play. If it finishes at that mark, perhaps all it needs is a win in the conference tourney, but less than that will require a run to the final.

Atlantic 10

On the guest list: Temple, Saint Louis

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Xavier, Dayton

Xavier (17-10; RPI 53; SOS 48)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-6
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-3
Record outside RPI 100: 11-1

The six road/neutral wins are more than most, including a Top-50 road W at Vanderbilt in late November. The wins away from home against Purdue, Saint Joseph's and Dayton also help. Still, one wonders whether anything short of 3-0 down the stretch does the job considering the competition.

Dayton (17-10; RPI 66; SOS 58)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-3
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-4
Record outside RPI 100: 9-3

Not many teams on this list are above .500 against the RPI Top-100 (Dayton is). Not many teams have three Top-50 wins (Dayton does). However, on the flip side, not many teams on this list have three losses outside the Top-100 (like Dayton). The Flyers are an enigma to the very end, and the final three games will do little to solve the issue other than make the record look prettier. It will all come down to the quality vs. quantity. Play down the stretch may be the deal-breaker, meaning the Flyers can't afford a slip-up.

Mountain West

On the guest list: UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State

Bubble-sitter: Colorado State

Colorado State (17-9; RPI 25; SOS 9)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-4
Record outside RPI 100: 9-1

Like many other at-large candidates, the Rams can't seem to win on the road (their best road win is over RPI 128 UTEP), but they do have a pair of very good wins in the last month (New Mexico, San Diego State) and another decent W, slipping past Colorado, 65-64, back on November 30. The computer numbers are really good, and should improve with UNLV and San Diego State both left on the schedule. Losing both will likely force the Rams to make the Mountain West title game, but picking off one of the big boys may make tournament inclusion more manageable without the MWC miracle.

Missouri Valley

On the guest list: Wichita State, Creighton

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): None

Conference USA

On the guest list: None

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Southern Miss, Memphis, UCF

Southern Miss (22-6; RPI 16; SOS 50)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-2
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 6-1
Record outside RPI 100: 11-3

Larry Eustachy has done a masterful job in Hattiesburg, excelling at a reclamation project no one wanted. Then again, no one wanted Eustachy after his embarrassing exit at Iowa State, so maybe it was a match made in heaven. In any event, the profile is full of those wins that computers love far more than fans -- six of them (sweeps of UCF and New Mexico State included) between 51-100 in the RPI. Then there are the quality Top-30 wins over Colorado State and Memphis. On the flip side, there are some head-scratching losses, including last week to RPI 218 Houston. Even a share of the league title should be enough with the gaudy computer numbers and perhaps 25-plus wins.

Memphis (20-8; RPI 26; SOS 23)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-6
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 6-1
Record outside RPI 100: 13-1

Apparently all top teams in the conference lose to giant-killer UTEP, but aside from that blip on the radar, the profile includes Memphis' typical killer non-league schedule. Granted, the Tigers missed on nearly all of those early chances, but did edge fellow bubble-sitter Xavier as well as Belmont and Miami. The Tigers don't have much rope, so a clean slate leading into a conference tournament at home would be wise.

UCF (19-8; RPI 64; SOS 105)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 1-1
Record outside RPI 100: 14-3

The Golden Knights are only here so I can cover myself in case they run the table (including a win at Memphis) and steal the league crown. That scenario, while unlikely, would push UCF into the field. Otherwise, the computer numbers don't support an at-large bid.

Best of the Rest Rapid Fire

On the guest list: Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, Murray State

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Harvard, Long Beach State, BYU, Middle Tennessee, Drexel

Harvard leads the Ivy League by one game in the loss column over Penn with the Quakers and Princeton (the Crimson's only loss) coming up. If Harvard doesn't win the league, the at-large case would be interesting with neutral floor wins over Florida State and UCF, but the bad loss to Fordham coupled with the poor SOS (193) due to playing in the 14th-ranked RPI conference would likely ruin its hopes. We touched on Long Beach State in Monday's space, but the 49ers still have a great RPI (34) and non-conference SOS (1), but not a single Top-50 win unless Xavier creeps back in. They have dominated the Big West, but is that enough? Middle Tennessee is like a poor man's Long Beach State (not a dig at all) without a Top-50 win but a decent overall RPI (43). It has dominated the Sun Belt and played Vanderbilt tough, but is that enough?

BYU failed to help itself at Gonzaga on Thursday and now sits close to the RPI cliff (46) with some decent wins, but nothing that truly stands out.

No one wants to play Drexel, and at this juncture, no tournament team would have to. The Dragons have won 16 straight ahead of a Saturday trip to Old Dominion, and with a win the CAA title is theirs. Is that enough without a Top-50 win and a SOS of 248? Maybe with a trip to the CAA final, otherwise I'm not so sure.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

Next week, From The End of the Bench predicts all 37 at-large teams, but this week we stick with the infamous last four teams in the field and last four out.

LAST FOUR IN: Colorado State, Cincinnati, Texas and Dayton

LAST FOUR OUT: Washington, Northwestern, Miami, BYU


Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jared Trexler at jtt128@comcast.net.

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