With a football void this weekend (no, the Pro Bowl doesn’t count), it’s a perfect time to check out some college basketball. In an effort to catch you up, let’s take another look at which teams are sitting pretty and which have a lot of work to do before Selection Sunday.
Teams will be broken down into three categories:
· “Wallflowers” are bubble teams. Everyone wants to get into the Big Dance, but not all of them have the guts to ask someone out on the dance floor.
· A school in the middle is “On the Way.”
· And elite teams that are safely in are “Dancing.”
Last four in: Michigan, Tennessee, DePaul, Northern Iowa
First four out: Texas Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Minnesota
Next four out: Virginia, Xavier, Richmond, Rhode Island
Let’s break things down by conference.
Dancing: Duke (2 seed), Florida State (3), Louisville (3)
Wallflowers: Virginia Tech (10), NC State (10), Pittsburgh (2nd team out), Syracuse (3rd team out), Virginia (5th team out)
On Jan. 4, Louisville had just lost its second straight game and owned a team sheet that lacked a single Quadrant 1 victory. Since then, the Cardinals have won five in a row, including Q1 games at Pitt and – more importantly – at Duke.
Virginia Tech has won four of five to put itself in the field. The Hokies have no bad losses, are 5-5 against Q1 and Q2 and still holds that big neutral-court victory over Michigan State back on Nov. 25.
North Carolina State has also reeled off four of five, with its only setback coming at the aforementioned Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack possesses a trio of Q1 wins (vs Wisconsin, at Virginia, at UNCG).
The bubble is loaded with ACC teams in this down year for the conference. Not many people are talking about Pitt due to its 74 NET ranking, but the Panthers have Q1 victories over Florida State and Rutgers, are 4-2 away from home and have a 57 schedule strength. Up next is a huge game at Syracuse.
Speaking of the Orange, they have risen from the dead with a four-game winning streak highlighted by an emphasis on interior offense. Close home losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech during the first week of January have them on the outside looking in, but there’s still plenty of time to change that.
The game that turned Syracuse’s season around was the one that may have sent Virginia’s off a cliff. On Jan. 11, the Orange scored 20 points in overtime (more than they scored in the second half) to beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. The defending national champs have dropped four of five and have twice as many Q3 losses as Q1 wins.
Dancing: Baylor (1), Kansas (1), West Virginia (2)
Wallflowers: Oklahoma (11), Texas Tech (1st team out)
Nearly everyone has Texas Tech in their projected field right now, but I don’t know why. After losing by 11 at TCU on Tuesday, the Red Raiders are now 1-6 against Q1. In fact, they’re also under .500 in Q1-2 games, Q1-3 games and road/neutral games. A neutral court win over Louisville in December is great, but you have to do more than that, considering Texas Tech’s nonconference strength of schedule is 232.
Dancing: Seton Hall (2), Butler (3), Villanova (3)
On the Way: Marquette (6), Creighton (6)
Wallflowers: DePaul (12), Xavier (6th team out)
Seton Hall’s nine-game win streak is tied for the fourth-best in the nation and the Pirates’ 2 seed reflects it. They are 7-0 in the NET’s top-rated conference with six Q1 victories and nothing close to a bad loss.
Villanova is also on fire, having won five straight over NET top-87 teams Creighton, Georgetown, DePaul, UConn and Butler.
All that winning by the top of the league has been bad news for the bottom of the conference. DePaul has lost five of six, but is hanging on to one of the final spots in the field thanks, in part, to a 13-point win over Butler on Saturday. That was the Blue Demons third Q1 victory (at Iowa, at Minnesota), and they are 4-2 in true road games.
Xavier hasn’t been as lucky. A win over Georgetown on Wednesday keeps the Musketeers on the page (and drops the Hoyas off), but their best victory of the season remains a triumph at TCU.
Dancing: Maryland (4), Michigan State (4)
On the Way: Iowa (5), Penn State (6), Rutgers (7), Wisconsin (7)
Wallflowers: Illinois (9), Ohio State (9), Indiana (10), Michigan (11), Minnesota (4th team out)
Michigan State took a step backward with 29-point beating at Purdue and another with a loss at Indiana. The Spartans are under .500 in Q1 games, not something you want if you have desires of being on the top 3 seed lines.
Iowa has surged up the pecking order over the past two weeks with four straight wins, including two against NET top-20 opponents in Maryland and Rutgers. The Hawkeyes are 5-3 against Q1 and 8-4 in Q1 or Q2 games.
If seeing Rutgers as a 7 seed surprises you, just think where the Scarlet Knights would’ve been had they held on to beat Iowa on Wednesday. Losing in Iowa City is not a blight on the resume, but it did highlight RU’s struggles away from the RAC. The Scarlet Knights are 1-5 in road/neutral games with their only win coming at Nebraska.
On Dec. 21, Ohio State had just beaten Kentucky and was looking like a team headed for the No. 1 ranking. Since then, the Buckeyes have lost six of seven and dropped to 3-6 in Q1 games. They’re also under .500 even when you add in Q2 games and just 1-4 in road contests.
Like Texas Tech, Michigan is a team that most bracketologists have safely in the field. I don’t get it. A 9-point loss at home against Penn State on Wednesday extended the Wolverines’ losing streak to three games, dropping them to 2-5 in the Big Ten and 11-7 overall. Michigan has three Q1 wins, but it also has seven losses in that quadrant. As we found out last year with TCU and Texas, it doesn’t matter how many Q1 victories you have, if you have way more Q1 losses. The Wolverines are also under .500 when you add in Q2 and even when you add in Q3. Oh, and they’re 0-5 on the road.
Purdue drops out of consideration following a 17-point home loss against Illinois on Tuesday. The Boilermakers have dropped four of five to fall to 10-9.
Dancing: Oregon (4)
On the Way: Arizona (5), Colorado (6), Stanford (8)
Wallflowers: USC (11)
USC is making a charge. The Trojans rallied from 20 down at the half to beat Stanford in overtime on Saturday for their ninth win in 10 games. It was also their third Q1 win to go along with victories over LSU and TCU. They’d be in even better shape if they didn’t squander an opportunity Thursday night, when they lost in double overtime at Oregon.
Washington is headed in the wrong direction. The Huskies have lost four of five and six of eight. That neutral-court win over Baylor back on Nov. 8 isn’t enough to keep UW in the conversation after a loss at Utah.
Dancing: Auburn (4)
On the Way: Kentucky (5), LSU (5), Arkansas (8), Florida (8)
Wallflowers: Tennessee (11)
Auburn’s undefeated season ended with back-to-back losses at Alabama and Florida, but those are both Q1 losses and the Tigers are 6-2 against Q1 and Q2.
Here comes LSU! The Tigers have won seven in a row to rise from a 9 to a 5 seed. They’re undefeated in the SEC and 8-4 in Q1/2 games.
Florida was LSU’s most recent victim – an 84-82 decision in Baton Rouge – but that was right after the Gators beat Auburn, so they’re still trending in the right direction. Florida has won five of seven and has a huge showdown at home against Baylor on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Tennessee is also making a run. The Vols have won four of five to sneak into the field. They have Q1 victories over VCU and Washington and no bad losses. UT travels to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for their Big 12/SEC Challenge game.
Dancing: Gonzaga (1), San Diego State (1), Dayton (2)
On the Way: Wichita State (7), BYU (7), Houston (8)
Wallflowers: Memphis (9), Saint Mary’s (9), VCU (10), East Tennessee State (11), Northern Iowa (12), Liberty (12), Richmond (7th team out), Rhode Island (8th team out)
Wichita State’s nine-game winning streak came to an end with consecutive losses to Temple and Houston. The Shockers still don’t own a Q1 win, but are 5-3 against Q1/2 and don’t have any bad losses.
The Cougars, meanwhile, benefited greatly from that victory at Wichita State. It was their second Q1 win and they’ve won nine of 10.
Oof. That’s all you can say about Memphis’ 80-40 drubbing at Tulsa on Wednesday. The loss dropped the Tigers 13 spots to 41 in the NET. On the bright side, they still hold a pair of Q1 wins and no Q3/4 defeats.
Following a two-point loss at Southern Illinois on Wednesday, Northern Iowa dropped to second place in the Missouri Valley behind Loyola-Chicago. That means the Panthers are in the at-large pool, but barely hold on to a place in the field as the last team in. That’s thanks to a win at Colorado back on Dec. 10, a 5-2 road record and a 90 nonconference strength of schedule.
12 – Yale, Akron
13 – SFA, North Texas, Vermont, Loyola-Chicago
14 – New Mexico State, William & Mary, UC Irvine, Colgate
15 – Wright State, Montana, South Dakota State, Winthop
16 – Austin Peay, Little Rock, Prairie View A&M, Monmouth, Robert Morris, Norfolk State