Am I getting nervous? Yea, a little bit. If DePaul's RPI rank can't sustain a move up a few spots until they play on Saturday, then we may have a problem. In DePaul's immediate RPI rank vicinity are some major teams who have tough games, and some mid-major traffic who will be starting their conference tournaments. If the majors lose their games, they'll fall behind DePaul. If they win, though, it's a double-whammy – DePaul won't pass them, and the bubble contender will have another marquee win. As for the mid-majors, the effect that is taking hold of DePaul by playing Cincinnati and South Florida at home will now be gripping them for at least a round in their conference tourneys. So their RPI ranks should deteriorate initially by playing mediocre-to-poor teams in early rounds on neutral courts, or even at home. As of this morning, DePaul moved up two spots to RPI rank 59.
Let's go over what happened over the past 48 hours, and what's about to happen in the next 48.
Pittsburgh 80, West Virginia 66. So, the final count of road wins for the Pittsnogles (19-8, 8-7, RPI: 57) – three: Duquesne, Rutgers, Seton Hall. If DePaul can nose ahead of West Virginia for NCAA Tournament inclusion, remember this list. Again, it's not like DePaul's road win list qualifies as "impressive", but it's certainly better than what West Virginia did.
Kansas 67, Oklahoma 65. I give play-by-play man Ron Franklin some credit on Monday night. While everyone on CBS was trying to push Connecticut as a bubble team during their game with Louisville on Sunday, Franklin (who is a very smooth broadcaster, in my opinion) acknowledged that Oklahoma was playing for the NIT, even as they were making their second-half comeback. Some announcers would get swept up in the moment and lose all perspective, proclaiming some nonsense about how Oklahoma (despite an RPI rank in the 90s coming into the game) could still be in the at-large picture (I'm looking at you, Gus Johnson). "Rock, Chalk" (26-4, 13-2, RPI: 13) keeps rolling along, and keeps helping DePaul in the process.
Winthrop 74, Charleston Southern 42. Two good things come out of this first-round tournament game in the Big South. First, the Eagles (22-4, 15-0, RPI: 69) stay on track to get the automatic bid. Second, their RPI rank was nipping at the heels of the Demons, but they fall back six spots by beating RPI rank 331 at home. "Let's go, Win-throp!
Northwestern State 89, Lamar 82. Under the "Every Little Bit Helps" category, the Demons (14-13, 10-5, RPI: 168) pick up a home win over the Cardinals. They have one regular-season game left, traveling to 5-20 Central Arkansas…who clearly has dropped off since Scottie Pippen went there.
Utah 74, San Diego State 68. As quickly as the Aztecs (18-9, 9-6, RPI: 54) make an appearance in the RPI Top 50, they fall to a very mediocre Utah (now 11-17) squad and disappear from it. They should win their regular-season final against TCU, but probably have to make the Mountain West Final to garner at-large consideration now.
Michigan 67, Michigan State 56. So here was my original summary for this game: @#$%^&! Has Michigan State (21-9, 8-7, RPI: 22) ever helped anyone outside the Big 10 when it comes to the bubble? It's almost as if Tom Izzo meets with the rest of the coaches before the season and says, "Okay, guys, here's my game plan. I'm going to schedule 20 home games. If you never beat us at home, we'll have a good computer rank. Then, when we go to your place and play, you can beat us, and you'll get a boost. It's win-win all the way around!" Of course Michigan State is going to breeze into the NCAA Tournament, even though the only team they've managed to beat on the road this season was Penn State. Nice work, Spartans. As for Michigan (20-10, 8-7, RPI: 50), now they have an argument. I don't know how good the argument is, but they didn't have one until this win.
Syracuse 72, Georgetown 58. So the big question: did this win by the Orange (21-8, 10-5, RPI: 47) cause a problem for the Demons? The consensus seems to be "no", since most people seemed to be conceding a bid to Syracuse after they beat Providence on the road on Saturday. Are we rooting for them to win at Villanova on Saturday? I think so. Despite DePaul's win at ‘Nova, I would really like to see the gap closed in RPI ranks between the two schools before the Big East Tournament.
Oklahoma State 84, Kansas State 70. So the freefall in Stillwater stops for a game, as Oklahoma State (19-9, 6-8, RPI: 41) comes up with a win here. As much as I hate to admit it, OSU might be able to redeem themselves in time, despite their recent struggles. They finish with games at Baylor and at Nebraska, both winnable, although both on the road. Meanwhile, does this loss cast some question on the Huggy Bears (20-10, 9-6, RPI: 62)? I think the conference standing will ultimately save them, as will having a home game in their regular-season finale (against Oklahoma). But they still only have one Top 50 win out of their 20 – at Texas.
Summary: For the second consecutive year, yours truly will be attending the semi-finals on Saturday, and I can guarantee I'll likely be the only one in the building in DePaul gear. (Last year, it prompted confused Wichita State fans to ask me what time DePaul was playing.) Three storylines to watch here:
1) Bradley (19-11, 10-8, RPI: 40). Is it possible that they can help DePaul by winning, but not at the expense of taking an at-large bid away from the Demons?
2) Missouri State (20-9, 12-6, RPI: 35). I don't have them forecasted either "in" or "out" at the moment. Will they do enough to not get the Richard Roundtree treatment for a second consecutive year? (you know – "Shaft")
3) Can Northern Iowa or Wichita State win the conference tournament and steal an NCAA Tournament bid?
I think DePaul's hopeful scenario here is to see Bradley win the first round while Missouri State loses, then have the championship pit Southern Illinois against Creighton. Bradley's RPI rank wouldn't be dinged by losing to SIU, but they wouldn't have an "impact" win in the conference tournament, either. A loss by Missouri State would have them at 20-10 and an RPI rank that may or may not settle in the Top 45. I think this scenario would yield two bids for sure, and probably a battle between the Bears and the Braves for a third.
Summary: While Butler (24-5, 13-3, RPI: 31) is the more-heralded story, it's Wright State (21-9, 13-3, RPI: 81) who is the tournament's #1 overall seed. While Loyola (18-10, 10-6, RPI: 105) lurks in the semi-finals for Butler, they'll be playing on 24 hours rest, while Butler will have had a week off – mainly to stew about Loyola beating them at home last week and costing the Bulldogs the overall #1 seed. If you're looking at a possible final between Wright State and Butler, each team won on its home court. Needless to say, the Bulldogs are getting into the NCAA Tournament, regardless of whether they win the conference title or not. It would be good news for DePaul if no one else from the conference joined them.
Games to Watch
Villanova at Connecticut. If the Huskies (17-11, 6-8, RPI: 88) can somehow pull this game out, a DePaul victory on Saturday would guarantee that the Demons would finish ahead of Villanova (18-9, 7-7, RPI: 21) in the Big East without any tiebreakers in play. Their computer numbers still look great, but they could be in for a hit if Iowa, Drexel or Oklahoma go out early in their conference tournaments.
Providence at South Florida. As a courtesy, we'll put Providence (17-10, 7-7, RPI: 71) on here, but they're going to have to do much more than sweep their last two road games to qualify for an at-large NCAA berth.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech. You know, the Ramblin' Wreck (18-10, 6-8, RPI: 52) seems to be getting a lot of RPI mileage out of beating Memphis in Maui and Duke at home to start the conference season. They have six sub-200 RPI wins, and that number could move to eight if Penn State and Jackson State each slip about ten spots. I'm sure they'll go full-force knowing that beating North Carolina could likely put them in the Dance, but they do have a better shot at a win later in the week at home against Boston College. If they lose both, though, they're going to the NIT.
Miami (FL) at Clemson. I'm tired of having to type the "FL" part of Miami every time they come up, so I'm glad they don't come up much. As if Miami (OH) has done anything relevant basketball-wise since Wally Szcerbiak. Anyway, if Clemson (19-9, 5-9, RPI: 42) somehow manages to spit the bit on Senior Night to the worst team in conference, I will suggest nothing short of making the ACC Tournament Final would keep them in the at-large picture.
Georgia at Kentucky. Feast or famine here for DePaul. If Kentucky (19-9, 8-6, RPI: 11) wins, the Demons get the double benefit of a former opponent winning, plus another bubble contender getting knocked down. I'm not really sure how the math works that a nine-loss team is in the RPI Top 15, but I'll take it. If Georgia (16-10, 8-6, RPI: 53) wins, not only do they score an impact win…not only do they hurt DePaul's chances…but they would also move ahead of Kentucky in the SEC East standings. Channel your energies to Lexington, DePaul fans, and help support the cause of this woman:
(It took all season, but I finally worked a picture of Ashley Judd into the Bubble Report. Question: why does Kentucky have a hockey team? Better question: what's the board's opinion of THEIR marketing department?)
Mississippi at Alabama. I'll give everyone who just came back from that picture in the previous blurb a second.
Mississippi State at Arkansas. Some games, I can get enthusiastic writing about them. Some, I can't. This game falls in the latter. Two fringe bubble teams who wouldn't even be in this conversation except that they play in the SEC square off in Starkville. Whoopee. Loser gets eliminated from bubble talk; winner gets to force themselves into our collective psyche until the weekend.
Minnesota at Purdue. In just about every bracket projection, Purdue (18-10, 7-7, RPI: 48) is sitting as one of the "Last Four In" or "Last Four Out". By the way, who decided it was the last "four"? Why isn't it three, or five, or six? The brainwashing of America by Joe Lunardi continues. Fight it! Anyway, because of Purdue's tenuous position, I'm going to advocate something I rarely do in terms of DePaul opponents – I want them to lose. A home loss to Minnesota would be catastrophic (not to be dramatic, of course) for a team whose calling card all season has been its strength at home.
Baylor at Texas Tech. The chances of Baylor winning this game in Lubbock remind me of a phrase I once heard about a snowball and a very warm place. However, should the unthinkable happen, Texas Tech's (18-11, 7-7, RPI: 46) at-large chances would take a serious hit. As Cotton McKnight said in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story", "Do you believe in unlikelyhoods!?"
Arizona State at Stanford. See Baylor at Texas Tech above, although Arizona State is worse than Baylor. Stanford (17-10, 9-7, RPI: 43) looks like it might be establishing the Pac 10 "cut" line, just like the Red Raiders are doing in the Big XII.
Arizona at California. Arizona is in no bubble trouble, even though they may end up with 11 losses when all is said and done. And I don't really consider Cal (14-14, 6-10, RPI: 70) a bubble contender. However, it's a game that bears watching from DePaul's perspective, even if a win by the Bears could temporarily push Cal's RPI rank over DePaul's.
St. Joseph's at Xavier. One coach I will never underestimate is Phil Martelli, who really has no inherent advantages at St. Joseph's (16-11, 9-5, RPI: 86), but keeps the Hawks competitive, year in and year out. If they can somehow stun the Musketeers (21-7, 11-3, RPI: 32) at Xavier, their RPI rank would be due for a tumble, as would the conference standing.
Nevada at Utah State. I have to admit, this game makes me a bit nervous. Utah State (19-9, 8-6, RPI: 63) doesn't have a good conference record and has a middling RPI rank, but a home win over a 25-2 Nevada team could shoot them right back into at-large contention. If the Wolf Pack can take care of business, Utah State is down and out.
Let's go, Demons.