I had hoped I wouldn't have to do this again this year, but Alabama's recent losses have put them square on the bubble once again. Unlike last year, we're not trying to play our way in so much as trying to not play our way out. Alabama is currently situated at #37 in the RPI which is okay, though last year Harvard had the highest RPI of any team to not make the tournament (sorry Matt), and they were 35th. Obviously the best thing Alabama can do to help their case is to keep winning, but getting some help along the way can't hurt. So here I present the 21 teams with whom the Tide are currently competing for the 14 seeds in the 10-12 range. All current standings are determined by the The Bracket Project, which has collected data from 68 different bracket projections to create one mass projection. To give you an idea as to their accuracy, the Bracket Project matrix correctly predicted 65 of the 68 teams last year. Their only errors were projecting that Virginia Tech, Colorado, and St. Mary's would be in the tournament while VCU, USC, and UAB would be out. The Tide are currently ranked as the top 11 seed, averaging a 10th seed and projected to be in the tournament on 62 ballots. Their highest current seeding projection is an 8 seed.
10 seeds -
California Golden Bears (22-6, 12-3 PAC-12): @ Utah (Thu 8:00)
Cal is just ahead of Alabama in the RPI rankings at 29. They've put together a good record in a weak conference and are currently projected as the only PAC-12 team in the tournament. They've won 10 of their last 12 games and their toughest games are all past them so they should have smooth sailing the rest of the way but any losses (especially against Utah) could severely damage their resume.
Rooting Interest: Cal beat the 5-21 Utes by 36 points in Berkeley so a loss here is unlikely. But turning the PAC-12 into a one-bid league would help Alabama greatly, so pull for Utah.
Purdue Boilermakers (17-9, 7-6 B1G): Nebraska (Wed 5:30)
Like Alabama, Purdue has struggled in conference play and currently sits in sixth place in the Big Ten with an RPI of 52. It's tough to root against Purdue since they're one of only two potential tournament teams that Alabama has beaten, but with two road games against Top 25 teams and their other two games against the B1G cellar dwellers a loss against either Nebraska or Penn State could easily see them finish 18-13 and out of the tournament.
Rooting Interest: It's tough to say. Purdue winning helps Bama's resume, but there's a very real chance that both teams will be fighting over a 12-seed come Selection Sunday. I'll call this one a toss-up.
Harvard Crimson (23-3, 9-1 Ivy): Princeton (Fri 6:00)
Last week's loss at Princeton knocked Harvard out of the Top 25 but their 23-3 record keeps them firmly in contention for the Ivy League's first ever at-large tournament bid. This would be a very bad thing for Alabama and the other bubble teams. With no conference tournament and Penn, Yale, and Princeton all nipping at the Crimson's heels, it's imperative that Harvard keeps winning and seals up the Ivy League's automatic bid.
Rooting Interest: See above. Harvard needs to win and keep winning.
Kansas State Wildcats (18-8, 7-7 Big XII): @ #3 Missouri (Tue 6:00, ESPN2)
Well the Wildcats have officially squandered their 11-1 non-conference slate and their conference struggles have dropped them to 49th in the RPI rankings. K-State can't afford any more bad losses and they've got nothing but bad loss opportunities after this Missouri game. This weekend's win at 10th-ranked Baylor boosts their resume, and given their early season success, a .500 record in conference play might be enough for the Wildcats, but anything worse than 9-9 will put them in danger come Selection Sunday.
Rooting Interest: Kansas State's record does have a small effect on Bama's RPI, but in this case it's best that they lose.
11 Seeds -
Seton Hall Pirates (18-9, 7-8 Big East): #9 Georgetown (Tue 6:00, ESPN3)
A .500 record in the Big East is nothing to turn your nose up at, just look at UCONN last year. Still, Seton Hall has struggled against the better teams in the league, dropping six straight before winning their last three games against the dregs of the Big East. An RPI of 34 certainly helps, but they likely need one more good win since, like Bama, they have only two wins against likely tournament teams.
Rooting Interest: Seton Hall would be the eighth Big East team in the tournament and Alabama decidedly does not want that. Root for the Hoyas.
Illinois Fighting Illini (16-11, 5-9 B1G): @ #6 Ohio State (Tue 6:00, ESPN)
Finishing below .500 in league play is never good but Illinois has a trio of Top 25 wins (Gonzaga, Michigan State, Ohio State) to hang their hats on and three more possible as they close the season with the Buckeyes, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Their RPI of 69 isn't doing them any favors, so they need to rack up as many big wins as they can before the season closes. And losing 8 of their last 9, including by 23 at Nebraska this weekend, surely doesn't help. A note that will also apply to Minnesota and Northwestern below: According to Joe Lunardi, only once in NCAA Tournament history has a team finished four games below .500 in conference play and made the tourney. All three of the mediocre B1G teams are facing that fate.
Rooting Interest: Ohio State is a lock for the tournament, so pull for the Buckeyes to win big.
BYU Cougars (23-6, 11-3 West Coast): @ #24 Gonzaga (Thu 10:00, ESPN2)
BYU's overall record is good, but they lack quality wins, with their home victory over Gonzaga serving as their sole victory over a tournament team. They'll likely need to beat either Gonzaga or Saint Mary's at least once more in order to get into the tournament.
Rooting Interest: This is BYU's last chance for a big win before the WCC tournament, so let's hope the Bulldogs can stop them.
12 seeds -
Texas Longhorns (17-10, 7-7 Big XII): #10 Baylor (Mon 8:00, ESPN)
Let's see if you can detect a theme here. Texas is still seeking one more marquee win since, like Bama, they have only two wins against teams currently projected to be in the tournament. I find it highly unlikely that they'll win at Kansas in the last game of the season, so this is the Longhorns' last chance to get that big win before the conference tournament.
Rooting Interest: The Bears are a lock for the tournament, so hope for Texas to fall.
Miami Hurricanes (16-9, 7-5 ACC): @ Maryland (Tue 7:00, ESPN3)
Miami, say it with me now, is still looking for one more good win to shore up a resume lacking in marquee wins. Theire overtime win at Duke a couple of weeks ago is a great resume boost, but it's also the only win they have against the top five teams in the conference. Record against the bottom half of the ACC: 6-0. Record against the top half: 1-5. That's pretty much the story of the Hurricanes' season. They don't have any really bad losses (except maybe an overtime loss at Ole Miss), but they haven't been able to beat any good teams either.
Rooting Interest: At this point in the season, any iffy losses can crush a team's tourney chances. Fear the turtle!
North Carolina State (18-9, 7-5 ACC): #7 North Carolina (Tue 7:00, ESPN3)
Take everything I just wrote about Miami and copy and paste it here. Record against the top half of the ACC: 1-4 (Miami). Record against the bottom half: 6-1 (Georgia Tech). This home game against the Tar Heels is NC State's last chance for a good win before the ACC tournament.
Rooting Interest: As much as it pains me to say it, pull for UNC.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-10, 5-9 B1G): #8 Michigan State (Wed 7:30)
With three games left against ranked teams it's going to be tough for the Gophers to finish with a .500 conference record and their 72 RPI isn't going to help them any. Only 9 of the 22 brackets that updated on Friday or Saturday had Minnesota ranked so it may just be a matter of time before they drop out. Of course, taking two out of their next three games (all against Top 25 teams) would significantly boost their chances and would force the committee to think twice before leaving them home. But with their Saturday loss at Northwestern, it may be only a matter of time before the Gophers are on the outside looking in.
Rooting Interest: The faster Minnesota leaves the bubble the better. Go Sparty.
Northwestern Wildcats (16-10, 6-8 B1G): #19 Michigan (Tue 7:00)
Everything I just wrote about Minnesota applies here with the exception that Northwestern has played the ninth most difficult schedule in the country and thus has a 43 RPI. If you take anything from this article it should be this: When somebody starts talking about how few wins Alabama has against tournament teams, just ignore them. There are very few bubble teams with more than two wins against tournament teams and the final three weeks of the season are going to provide a lot of chances for a lot of teams to pick up big wins.
Rooting Interest: The Wolverines are a tourney lock, so pull for them.
Xavier Musketeers (17-9, 8-4 A-10): @ UMASS (Tue 6:00)
Xavier is a tale of two teams. The first team started the season 8-0, climbing as high as eighth in the country with wins over Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Purdue. But a late brawl in the December contest with Cincinnati resulted in 11 games worth of suspensions to four players. The Musketeers proceeded to drop five of their next six and have had mixed success in Atlantic 10 play. The result is a middling RPI (53) and early season victories trying to balance out bad mid-season losses to Hawaii and La Salle.
Rooting Interest: UMASS is probably not going to make the tournament, and an upset here would help muddy up whatever's left of Xavier's preseason sheen.
13 seeds -
Long Beach State 49ers (19-7, 12-0 Big West): UC Santa Barbara (Wed 10:00, ESPN2)
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (24-4, 13-1 Sun Belt): @ Louisiana-Monroe (Thu 7:30)
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (25-5, 16-1 Summit): Bye
I wanted to discuss these three teams because they all have a slight, if unlikely, at-large chances should they not win their respective conference tournaments. They all have Top 50 RPIs and are a combined 40-2 in conference play. Long Beach has an RPI of 36 (one spot ahead of Alabama) and impressive list of teams they couldn't beat. In fact, according to Ken Pomeroy, they had the third most difficult non-conference schedule, with losses at San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Creighton, and Kansas State. The unfortunate part is that they do not have a good win and they missed their last shot, losing by two points at Creighton Saturday night. It's tough to say what would happen if they lose in the Big West tournament because such a loss would be against a sub-125 RPI team, but the 49ers are a solid squad who could make some noise as a 12 or 13 seed.
MTSU has a similar resume with an RPI of 38 (one spot behind of Bama). Again, though, they face the problem that any team they would lose to in the conference tournament would be considered a bad less except, maybe, for Denver, whose RPI is 96 and who beat Middle Tennessee two weeks ago.
While we all hoped Oakland would be the Summit League champ, Oral Roberts has emerged as the leader. The Eagles have an RPI of 45 and a win over Xavier to their names. Unfortunately, they also have a sub-200 loss to UT-San San Antonio and a sub-100 loss to Oklahoma. Of the three teams here, Oral Roberts has the worst chance at an at-large bid.
Rooting Interest: Pull for all of these teams to lose during the regular season but win their conference tournaments.
First Four Out -
Arizona Wildcats (19-9, 10-5 PAC-12): USC (Thu 7:30)
The PAC-12 has a mess of mediocre teams at the top and Arizona is just another one. They had won five games in a row prior to Saturday's loss at Washington, but they have only one win against a projected tournament team and that's a road win at Cal.
Rooting Interest: USC is 1-13 in league play. The Trojans are the choice here.
Cincinnati Bearcats (19-8, 9-5 Big East): #18 Louisville (Thu 8:00 ESPN)
The last couple years have seen the Big East regularly place nine teams in the NCAA tournament. Cincinnati would be 2012's ninth Big East team. Whether they deserve to be there, however, is a different question. Unlike the other bubble Big East teams, who combine good non-conference records with mediocre league performances, the Bearcats have several bad losses that they're trying to shake with good wins. Losses to Presbyterian, Marshall, St. John's, and Rutgers are (sort of) canceled out by wins against Notre Dame, at Georgetown, and at UCONN. With remaining games against Louisville and Marquette, as well as the Big East tournament, there is a lot of room for Cincy to move up.
Rooting Interest: Louisville is a tourney lock, so hope the Bearcats fall.
Washington Huskies (19-8, 12-3 PAC-12): Bye
Like Arizona, the Huskies have a lot of iffy losses and no good wins (no thanks to the other PAC-12 programs) to counter-balance. Washington doesn't have any opponents left who can significantly boost their 54 RPI so, barring a deep run in the PAC-12 tournament, they'll likely be on the outside looking in.
Colorado State Rams (16-9, 5-5 Mountain West): New Mexico (Tue 9:00)
Colorado State is a connoisseur of iffy losses, with five of their losses coming against teams with RPIs between 75 and 200. The Rams' own RPI is 30 which, frankly, puts them in good position come Selection Sunday because the committee loves mid-majors with good RPIs. Unfortunately, with games still remaining against the top three teams in the conference, there is a good chance they'll end up with a sub-.500 conference record which, given that it's the MWC, is probably not good enough.
Rooting Interest: New Mexico is currently projected as an 8 seed, which means "Go Lobos!"
Next Four Out -
Dayton Flyers (16-10, 6-6 A-10): @ Duquesne (Wed 6:00)
Dayton is another example of a team with several good wins but many bad losses as well. For every Bama, Minnesota, or Temple, there's a St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Rhode Island, and Miami (OH). At this point, it's really tough seeing Dayton make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.
Rooting Interest: Like Purdue, this one is kind of "eh".
Central Florida Knights (19-7, 8-4 CUSA): @ Rice (Wed 8:00)
UCF is a member of the "few good wins, few bad losses" club, just in Conference USA, which puts them a notch below the others. Any iffy loss at this point will likely send them over the edge.
Rooting Interest: Hoot! Hoot!
Arkansas Razorbacks (17-10, 5-7 SEC): Alabama (Thu 6:00, ESPN2)
We're starting to grasp at straws here. At this point, Arkansas is praying their wins against Michigan and Vandy will make people forget that they lost to Houston, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee. I find that unlikely.
Rooting Interest: Roll Tide!
Oregon Ducks (18-8, 9-5 PAC-12): Bye
No good wins, no bad losses, etc.
Rooting Interest: Root for Bye?