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The Morning After: Bubble Watch edition

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action. Yesterday, my editor worked 18 hours. When he arrived at the office, it was February. When he left, it was March. Sweet, glorious March. Which is a little like my arrival and departure from Welsh-Ryan Arena last night.

Point is? March is here. Thirty days of unbridled glory. Let's make every day count, you guys.

There were 58 games to track last night, and many of them held bubble implications. According to Section 10, Rule 2b, Subsection 3-48(d)(a) of the College Basketball Internet Writer's Manual, this means I am required to make a list of these teams and discuss what each result meant for their respective bubble statuses (statusii?). I don't make the rules, people.

Anyway, let's get to it, because Dana and I have to tape a podcast in, like ... oh, shoot, I really have to get going:

Cincinnati Bearcats (beat No. 7 Marquette 72-61): It is growing increasingly difficult to see just how the committee would justify keeping the Cincinnati Bearcats out of the NCAA tournament. Before last night, the only plausible reason for doing so was nonconference performance: A No. 320-ish-ranked nonconference strength of schedule, a loss to Presbyterian, too many cupcake wins, not enough done in the Big East to compensate. That last part of the argument would have been shaky, but it really is now: Cincinnati has now picked off Marquette, Georgetown (at Georgetown), Louisville and Notre Dame. The first two are top-10 bubble teams. The latter two are safely in the tournament field. I know the committee is all about nonconference SOS these days -- win or lose, they want to see you go out and play somebody, to make November and December interesting -- and Cincinnati didn't do that. But everything they've done since screams: tournament team. (And now that their RPI is creeping upward inside the 70 threshold, it's getting a little bit easier to swallow). Hard to say Mick Cronin's team doesn't belong.

Northwestern Wildcats (lost to No. 11 Ohio State, 75-73, in immensely heartbreaking fashion): Northwestern is not a team that could be criticized for failing to take on top teams. Its league, the Big Ten, is chock full of them. Which is partially the problem: After last night's devastating loss -- if NU wins we're probably not having this discussion -- the Wildcats are 7-10 in the Big Ten, with eight of their 12 losses coming to conference foes ranked higher than 50 in the RPI. In fact, Northwestern is just 1-8 against the RPI top 25. The fact that they've played eight games against the RPI top 25 is, in and of itself, a nice addition to the resume. The fact that Northwestern has managed just one win in that bunch (Michigan State at home) doesn't speak volumes.

But here's the good news: Northwestern doesn't have any bad losses. The worst is probably a one-point home loss to Illinois on Jan. 4, long before Illinois had spiraled into oblivion. A loss at Iowa on Saturday wouldn't be a bad loss in reality, but it would be the sub-100 RPI loss. It's hard to know how the committee will judge this profile. The bottom line: As a disappointed but upbeat John Shurna told ESPN.com Wednesday, the Wildcats just "got to win." A loss, and this conversation might be, unfortunately, over.

Colorado State (toppled No. 17 UNLV, 66-59): Colorado State's chief concern in the past three weeks has been the addition of big wins. The Rams have long had some of the better (and more inflated) RPI numbers in the country, but they lacked few results to which Colorado State could point and say, "See? It's not just that the RPI makes no sense! We're pretty good, too!" They got another one here Wednesday night. In eight days, the Rams have toppled UNLV and New Mexico, part of their unbeaten home record in Mountain West play. A 3-5 record against the RPI top 50 is nothing to scoff at; neither are wins against all three guaranteed tourney locks from your own league. The only problem is CSU hasn't traveled at all well: They're 4-9 away from Ft. Collins this season, including losses at Boise State, Stanford, Wyoming, Northern Iowa, and TCU. Now, many of those losses are understandable. TCU, Wyoming, and UNI are all great at home, and most seasons, it's hard to fault a quasi-mid-major like CSU for losing at Stanford. But the Rams are still just 8-8 vs. the RPI top 100. Not great, not bad. Will the top-20 RPI and top-five SOS push them over the edge?

South Florida (won at No. 18 Louisville, 58-51): Say what you will about the South Florida Bulls. You can't fault them for effort. Or, for that matter, timing. USF's win at Louisville last night was huge: It gave South Florida its best Big East win against a team not named Seton Hall or Cincinnati (not to mention a game that wasn't a one-point win at home) helping to bump this once-questionable RPI up into the top-35 range. USF's schedule ranks No. 19; its nonconference schedule strength is No. 54. The committee says it doesn't look at conference record closely, and in this instance, that makes sense: 12-5 in the Big East looks gaudy, until you dig in and see how imbalanced South Florida's schedule was, and which teams it actually beat. Still, though, you can't fault Stan Heath's team Wednesday night. They needed a huge win at Louisville, and they got it. But with a 5-10 road record and other bubble teams (like Northwestern, for example) with just-as-good-wins and fewer bad losses (USF lost to Old Dominion, Auburn and Penn State in the nonconference), USF's big Wednesday night hardly guarantees them a spot in the field. It puts them in contention, but a home win against West Virginia on Saturday (and a decent showing in the Big East tournament) is still the recommended course of action.

Saint Joseph's (lost at St. Bonaventure, 98-93, in double OT): Brutal loss for the Hawks. Phil Martelli's team has kept creeping into the fringes of the bubble picture before, only to lose a game and fall off again, but after Saturday's 10-point win against Temple, Saint Joe's put itself very much back in the conversation. They're still there, but only barely. Home losses to Richmond and Charlotte are knocks against this team, as is a road loss at American. A 6-9 record against the RPI top 100 reveals a team that has stockpiled 13 of its wins below the top 100 line. Probably a long shot now, but the A-10 tournament could help it get in position.

Dayton (lost at Richmond, 82-71): Richmond is not a horrible team by any means, and it can't be much fun to play on the Spiders' home turf, but even so, this was a rough loss for the Flyers -- who, like Saint Joseph's began the week as a fringe bubble team and look likely to end it there now as well. Archie Miller's team has racked up its fair share of quality wins, but also has a bunch of not-so-quality losses. When your RPI is No. 71 and you're 8-7 in the A-10 -- a good league, to be sure, but still -- you're going to have trouble getting a solid look on Selection Sunday. Much more work to do.

Miami (lost at NC State, 77-73): When you're a bubble team playing another bubble team, particularly one like the Wolfpack, which damaged itself with three straight missed chances (at Duke, vs. Florida State and UNC) and a subsequent overtime loss at Clemson, your best bet is to just go out and win. Miami didn't do that Wednesday night, instead falling to fellow putative bubble team NC State in Raleigh. Bad news for the Hurricanes. Worse news: Even Reggie Johnson's return from an eligibility scare didn't help. The Hurricanes are still in the hunt, but with only Boston College left on the schedule, can a win at Duke and a home win against Florida State really be enough?

Southern Miss (beat Southern Methodist at home, 67-60): This one was all about the avoidance of a bad loss, and USM got the job done. With an 11-4 record in CUSA, a 9-6 record at home, a 3-2 record against the RPI top 50 and very good (probably too good) RPI and SOS numbers, even a loss at Marshall on Saturday probably wouldn't do much to knock Larry Eustachy's team out of the field.

Texas (beat Oklahoma at home, 72-64): A home loss to Oklahoma might not be a home loss to Texas Tech, but it would have been ugly either way. Why? Because Texas's regular-season finale just so happens to come at Kansas on Saturday, where the Jayhawks pretty much never lose, and it's almost impossible to imagine (short of a legendary J'Covan Brown explosion) the young Longhorns leaving Lawrence with a signature win. A win would be great, obviously, but if (when) it doesn't happen, Texas will find itself right in the thick of the bubble chase heading into the Big 12 tournament, where upset opportunities abound. For now, they've stayed very much in the chase.