Alabama 42, Auburn 14

Trent Richardson and No. 2 Alabama have convinced Nick Saban that they’re worthy of competing for college football’s top prize. They’ll have to wait a while before for the final decision is rendered.

<p>This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.</p><h3>No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure</h3><p><strong>Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.</p><p><strong>St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75</strong></p><h3>Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma 81, Texas 72</strong></p><h3>Syracuse at Miami</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, CBS</strong></p><p>Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.</p><p><strong>Miami 67, Syracuse 59</strong></p><h3>Providence at Butler</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, FOX</strong></p><p>We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.</p><p><strong>Butler 78, Providence 69</strong></p><h3>Alabama at Kentucky</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS</strong></p><p>The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.</p><p><strong>Kentucky 64, Alabama 62</strong></p><h3>No. 21 Texas A&#38;M at Arkansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN</strong></p><p>The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&#38;M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M 70, Arkansas 67</strong></p><h3>No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX</strong></p><p>Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.</p><p><strong>Xavier 87, Villanova 85</strong></p><h3>No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs <em>and</em> losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.</p><p><strong>Kansas 78, West Virginia 69</strong></p><h3>No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/15/bracket-watch-xavier-villanova-florida-state-oklahoma-missouri" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the latest Bracket Watch</a>. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.</p><p><strong>Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58</strong></p><h3>No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.</p><p><strong>North Carolina 83, Louisville 75</strong></p><h3>Marquette at Creighton</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 10 p.m. ET</strong></p><p>Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.</p><p><strong>Creighton 92, Marquette 82</strong></p><h3>No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.</p><p><strong>Duke 82, Clemson 74</strong></p><h3>No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS</strong></p><p>Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.</p><p><strong>Michigan 71, Ohio State 70</strong></p><h3>Houston at Temple</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</strong></p><p>The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.</p><p><strong>Houston 70, Temple 66</strong></p><h3>No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.</p><p><strong>Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70</strong></p>
Picks: No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 4 Xavier Showdown Headlines Weekend of Ranked Matchups

This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.

No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.

St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75

Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.

Oklahoma 81, Texas 72

Syracuse at Miami

Saturday, noon ET, CBS

Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.

Miami 67, Syracuse 59

Providence at Butler

Saturday, noon ET, FOX

We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.

Butler 78, Providence 69

Alabama at Kentucky

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS

The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.

Kentucky 64, Alabama 62

No. 21 Texas A&M at Arkansas

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.

Texas A&M 70, Arkansas 67

No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.

Xavier 87, Villanova 85

No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs and losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.

Kansas 78, West Virginia 69

No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 in the latest Bracket Watch. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.

Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58

No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.

North Carolina 83, Louisville 75

Marquette at Creighton

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.

Creighton 92, Marquette 82

No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson

Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network

Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.

Duke 82, Clemson 74

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.

Michigan 71, Ohio State 70

Houston at Temple

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.

Houston 70, Temple 66

No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.

Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70

<p>This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.</p><h3>No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure</h3><p><strong>Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.</p><p><strong>St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75</strong></p><h3>Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma 81, Texas 72</strong></p><h3>Syracuse at Miami</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, CBS</strong></p><p>Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.</p><p><strong>Miami 67, Syracuse 59</strong></p><h3>Providence at Butler</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, FOX</strong></p><p>We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.</p><p><strong>Butler 78, Providence 69</strong></p><h3>Alabama at Kentucky</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS</strong></p><p>The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.</p><p><strong>Kentucky 64, Alabama 62</strong></p><h3>No. 21 Texas A&#38;M at Arkansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN</strong></p><p>The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&#38;M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M 70, Arkansas 67</strong></p><h3>No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX</strong></p><p>Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.</p><p><strong>Xavier 87, Villanova 85</strong></p><h3>No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs <em>and</em> losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.</p><p><strong>Kansas 78, West Virginia 69</strong></p><h3>No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/15/bracket-watch-xavier-villanova-florida-state-oklahoma-missouri" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the latest Bracket Watch</a>. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.</p><p><strong>Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58</strong></p><h3>No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.</p><p><strong>North Carolina 83, Louisville 75</strong></p><h3>Marquette at Creighton</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 10 p.m. ET</strong></p><p>Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.</p><p><strong>Creighton 92, Marquette 82</strong></p><h3>No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.</p><p><strong>Duke 82, Clemson 74</strong></p><h3>No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS</strong></p><p>Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.</p><p><strong>Michigan 71, Ohio State 70</strong></p><h3>Houston at Temple</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</strong></p><p>The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.</p><p><strong>Houston 70, Temple 66</strong></p><h3>No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.</p><p><strong>Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70</strong></p>
Picks: No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 4 Xavier Showdown Headlines Weekend of Ranked Matchups

This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.

No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.

St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75

Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.

Oklahoma 81, Texas 72

Syracuse at Miami

Saturday, noon ET, CBS

Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.

Miami 67, Syracuse 59

Providence at Butler

Saturday, noon ET, FOX

We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.

Butler 78, Providence 69

Alabama at Kentucky

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS

The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.

Kentucky 64, Alabama 62

No. 21 Texas A&M at Arkansas

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.

Texas A&M 70, Arkansas 67

No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.

Xavier 87, Villanova 85

No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs and losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.

Kansas 78, West Virginia 69

No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 in the latest Bracket Watch. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.

Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58

No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.

North Carolina 83, Louisville 75

Marquette at Creighton

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.

Creighton 92, Marquette 82

No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson

Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network

Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.

Duke 82, Clemson 74

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.

Michigan 71, Ohio State 70

Houston at Temple

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.

Houston 70, Temple 66

No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.

Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70

<p>This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.</p><h3>No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure</h3><p><strong>Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.</p><p><strong>St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75</strong></p><h3>Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma 81, Texas 72</strong></p><h3>Syracuse at Miami</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, CBS</strong></p><p>Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.</p><p><strong>Miami 67, Syracuse 59</strong></p><h3>Providence at Butler</h3><p><strong>Saturday, noon ET, FOX</strong></p><p>We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.</p><p><strong>Butler 78, Providence 69</strong></p><h3>Alabama at Kentucky</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS</strong></p><p>The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.</p><p><strong>Kentucky 64, Alabama 62</strong></p><h3>No. 21 Texas A&#38;M at Arkansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN</strong></p><p>The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&#38;M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M 70, Arkansas 67</strong></p><h3>No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX</strong></p><p>Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.</p><p><strong>Xavier 87, Villanova 85</strong></p><h3>No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs <em>and</em> losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.</p><p><strong>Kansas 78, West Virginia 69</strong></p><h3>No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/15/bracket-watch-xavier-villanova-florida-state-oklahoma-missouri" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the latest Bracket Watch</a>. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.</p><p><strong>Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58</strong></p><h3>No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.</p><p><strong>North Carolina 83, Louisville 75</strong></p><h3>Marquette at Creighton</h3><p><strong>Saturday, 10 p.m. ET</strong></p><p>Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.</p><p><strong>Creighton 92, Marquette 82</strong></p><h3>No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.</p><p><strong>Duke 82, Clemson 74</strong></p><h3>No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS</strong></p><p>Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.</p><p><strong>Michigan 71, Ohio State 70</strong></p><h3>Houston at Temple</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</strong></p><p>The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.</p><p><strong>Houston 70, Temple 66</strong></p><h3>No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati</h3><p><strong>Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.</p><p><strong>Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70</strong></p>
Picks: No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 4 Xavier Showdown Headlines Weekend of Ranked Matchups

This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.

No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.

St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75

Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.

Oklahoma 81, Texas 72

Syracuse at Miami

Saturday, noon ET, CBS

Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.

Miami 67, Syracuse 59

Providence at Butler

Saturday, noon ET, FOX

We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.

Butler 78, Providence 69

Alabama at Kentucky

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS

The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.

Kentucky 64, Alabama 62

No. 21 Texas A&M at Arkansas

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.

Texas A&M 70, Arkansas 67

No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.

Xavier 87, Villanova 85

No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs and losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.

Kansas 78, West Virginia 69

No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 in the latest Bracket Watch. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.

Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58

No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.

North Carolina 83, Louisville 75

Marquette at Creighton

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.

Creighton 92, Marquette 82

No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson

Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network

Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.

Duke 82, Clemson 74

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.

Michigan 71, Ohio State 70

Houston at Temple

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.

Houston 70, Temple 66

No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.

Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70

<p>Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class is, judging by the simplest measures available, a letdown. On National Signing Day, the Wolverines watched their top-ranked offensive line target, Berkeley (Fla.) Prep five-star Nicholas Petit-Frere, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-nicholas-petit-frere-committment" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sign with rival Ohio State" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sign with rival Ohio State</a> even after they practiced at his high school in advance of their bowl game on New Year’s Day. <a href="https://twitter.com/nickbaumgardner/status/961265421742612480" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Within a half hour" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Within a half hour</a>, a coveted linebacker who’d been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, Lee County (Ga.) High’s Otis Reese, had flipped to Georgia.</p><p>Those two decisions left the Wolverines’ 2018 haul with zero players ranked in the top 100 in the nation and a team ranking of No. 21 in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. That team ranking is 16 spots better than that of the first class head coach Jim Harbaugh signed in Ann Arbor in February 2015, but Harbaugh had only one full month to assemble that group after being hired the previous December. By contrast, the Wolverines’ ’16 and ’17 classes ranked eighth and fifth in the country, respectively, with higher average player ratings in both years (89.86 in ’16, 91.20 in ’17) than the ’18 class’s 88.75, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>It would be misguided to ignore the possibility of the rankings underselling at least a few members of Michigan’s 2018 haul. One intriguing possibility is Cameron McGrone, an outside linebacker out of Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis whom Rivals and Scout both rank outside the top 190 in the class of 2018 but whom 247Sports assessed a five-star rating in January after he bounced back from a knee injury suffered during his junior season to earn a spot on the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>’s Central Indiana Super Team as a senior. “Some guys may check a couple boxes, but McGrone checks them all,” <a href="http://247sports.com/Article/Michigan-signee-Cameron-McGrone-earns-a-fifth-star-113839409" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone</a>.</p><p>Plus, although this player won’t be filed away as part of Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class, the Wolverines are bringing in one of the most esteemed prizes on the transfer market. In December, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, who passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions over seven games for the Rebels last season, announced he would transfer to Michigan. Depending on whether he’s granted immediate eligibility on appeal, Patterson could make a bigger instant impact than any class of 2018 recruit the Wolverines could have signed.</p><p>That said, as <a href="https://twitter.com/SBNrecruiting" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SB Nation’s Bud Elliott" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SB Nation’s Bud Elliott</a> has detailed using his <a href="https://www.sbnation.com/a/cfb-preview-2017/blue-chip-ratio" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Blue-Chip Ratio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Blue-Chip Ratio</a>, today’s national champions are fueled by four- and five-star recruits, and Michigan’s 2018 class has seven fewer of those than its 2016 class did and 14 fewer than its 2017 class did, according to the 247Sports Composite. Part of that is a result of a lousy closing stretch that culminated with Petit-Frere picking Ohio State and Reese’s flip to Georgia. On a recent episode of the Michigan site MGoBlog’s podcast, founder Brian Cook was asked about Michigan’s finish to the 2018 recruiting cycle. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not good. It needs to be better.”</p><p>One of the most troubling aspects of the class has nothing to do with who Michigan received National Letters of Intent from on the first Wednesday of February. It’s who signed on with other Big Ten East heavyweights. Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5) both inked classes ranked in the top five nationally, with 19 top-100 high school players combined, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions now <a href="http://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2018/2/8/16990550/college-football-recruiting-rankings-2018-class" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings</a>, compared to 15th for Michigan.</p><p>Those numbers reflect the grim reality that the Wolverines’ recruiting downturn in the 2018 cycle coincided with a pair of Big Ten East competitors infusing their rosters with a lot of top-end prospects. As two of Michigan’s biggest obstacles to national contention—whose College Football Playoff aspirations are in direct conflict with the Wolverines’ by virtue of their residence in the same division—were putting the finishing touches on classes stuffed with elite high schoolers, Michigan was building a strong candidacy for <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-winners-losers-recruiting-class-grades" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems</a>.</p><p>The MGoBlog discussion touched on the notion that the Wolverines’ 2018 recruiting may well have been affected by a season that included losses to the four Big Ten teams ranked above them in Football Outsiders’ final S&#38;P+ ratings (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) and ended with a total dud, a 26–19 defeat to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl that dropped the Wolverines’ win-loss record to 8–5. Their underwhelming efforts on fall Saturdays, unsurprisingly, did not seem to help matters on the recruiting trail.</p><p>Only one of the players in Michigan’s 2018 class who issued his verbal pledge after July, according to Rivals’ tracking of the program’s commitments, ranked better than 25th at his respective position in the 247Sports Composite: Ridge Point (Tex.) High tight end Mustapha Muhammad. Harbaugh’s efforts to add an offensive tackle prospect to that list were foiled when Mission Viejo (Calif.) High four-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson reportedly cut Michigan from his list of schools in late January (he later committed to Notre Dame) and Petit-Frere picked Ohio State on signing day. (It’s worth mentioning that Michigan is still in the mix for <a href="http://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/01/calvin-anderson-rice-transfer-texas-michigan-auburn" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson</a>.)</p><p>The early returns on the Wolverines’ 2019 recruiting are encouraging. Already they’ve secured verbal commitments from one top-20 prospect, Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.) School defensive end Chris Hinton, in addition to two other top-70 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite. Plus, Michigan should have an opportunity to make up for its offensive tackle misses in 2018 by reeling in one of four bluechip OTs in 2019 who hail from within state lines, including uncommitted five-star Devontae Dobbs.</p><p>Another subpar season, though, could undermine whatever progress the Wolverines make on their 2019 class through the summer. This was already shaping up as a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/14/jim-harbaugh-herm-edwards-dear-andy-mailbag" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:pivotal campaign for Harbaugh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">pivotal campaign for Harbaugh</a>, who has come under fire for his perceived inability to back up prolific headline generation off the field with favorable results on it: He’s posted a 3–6 record against Big Ten East challengers Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, including an 0–3 mark in 2017, and is coming off a third consecutive finish of third place or worse in the division. Another failure to break into the top two would make the <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/university-michigan/2018/01/02/ums-harbaugh-qbs-take-heat-outback-bowl-loss/109097430/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:post-Outback Bowl criticism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">post-Outback Bowl criticism</a> Harbaugh incurred feel tame by comparison.</p><p>Michigan should be better this fall than it was in 2017, a transition season in which it brought back only five starters, fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team, according to analyst Phil Steele. Title odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook peg the Wolverines at 12/1, behind only four squads (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State), and they made the top 15 of some early top 25 rankings. Getting Patterson eligible would be a nice boost, although the schedule looks brutal: Conference road games against Michigan State and Ohio State, conference home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the opener at Notre Dame. All five of those teams sit in the top 12 of the early S&#38;P+ ratings for 2018.</p><p>The best way for Michigan to protect against another lackluster recruiting cycle is to strengthen its pitch to prospects by making tangible on-field progress from last season. Anything less could result in another signing day that feels a lot like the one that came and went earlier this month.</p>
Another Down Year Could Put Michigan in a Dangerous Hole

Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class is, judging by the simplest measures available, a letdown. On National Signing Day, the Wolverines watched their top-ranked offensive line target, Berkeley (Fla.) Prep five-star Nicholas Petit-Frere, sign with rival Ohio State even after they practiced at his high school in advance of their bowl game on New Year’s Day. Within a half hour, a coveted linebacker who’d been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, Lee County (Ga.) High’s Otis Reese, had flipped to Georgia.

Those two decisions left the Wolverines’ 2018 haul with zero players ranked in the top 100 in the nation and a team ranking of No. 21 in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. That team ranking is 16 spots better than that of the first class head coach Jim Harbaugh signed in Ann Arbor in February 2015, but Harbaugh had only one full month to assemble that group after being hired the previous December. By contrast, the Wolverines’ ’16 and ’17 classes ranked eighth and fifth in the country, respectively, with higher average player ratings in both years (89.86 in ’16, 91.20 in ’17) than the ’18 class’s 88.75, according to the 247Sports Composite.

It would be misguided to ignore the possibility of the rankings underselling at least a few members of Michigan’s 2018 haul. One intriguing possibility is Cameron McGrone, an outside linebacker out of Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis whom Rivals and Scout both rank outside the top 190 in the class of 2018 but whom 247Sports assessed a five-star rating in January after he bounced back from a knee injury suffered during his junior season to earn a spot on the Indianapolis Star’s Central Indiana Super Team as a senior. “Some guys may check a couple boxes, but McGrone checks them all,” 247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone.

Plus, although this player won’t be filed away as part of Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class, the Wolverines are bringing in one of the most esteemed prizes on the transfer market. In December, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, who passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions over seven games for the Rebels last season, announced he would transfer to Michigan. Depending on whether he’s granted immediate eligibility on appeal, Patterson could make a bigger instant impact than any class of 2018 recruit the Wolverines could have signed.

That said, as SB Nation’s Bud Elliott has detailed using his Blue-Chip Ratio, today’s national champions are fueled by four- and five-star recruits, and Michigan’s 2018 class has seven fewer of those than its 2016 class did and 14 fewer than its 2017 class did, according to the 247Sports Composite. Part of that is a result of a lousy closing stretch that culminated with Petit-Frere picking Ohio State and Reese’s flip to Georgia. On a recent episode of the Michigan site MGoBlog’s podcast, founder Brian Cook was asked about Michigan’s finish to the 2018 recruiting cycle. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not good. It needs to be better.”

One of the most troubling aspects of the class has nothing to do with who Michigan received National Letters of Intent from on the first Wednesday of February. It’s who signed on with other Big Ten East heavyweights. Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5) both inked classes ranked in the top five nationally, with 19 top-100 high school players combined, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions now check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings, compared to 15th for Michigan.

Those numbers reflect the grim reality that the Wolverines’ recruiting downturn in the 2018 cycle coincided with a pair of Big Ten East competitors infusing their rosters with a lot of top-end prospects. As two of Michigan’s biggest obstacles to national contention—whose College Football Playoff aspirations are in direct conflict with the Wolverines’ by virtue of their residence in the same division—were putting the finishing touches on classes stuffed with elite high schoolers, Michigan was building a strong candidacy for the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems.

The MGoBlog discussion touched on the notion that the Wolverines’ 2018 recruiting may well have been affected by a season that included losses to the four Big Ten teams ranked above them in Football Outsiders’ final S&P+ ratings (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) and ended with a total dud, a 26–19 defeat to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl that dropped the Wolverines’ win-loss record to 8–5. Their underwhelming efforts on fall Saturdays, unsurprisingly, did not seem to help matters on the recruiting trail.

Only one of the players in Michigan’s 2018 class who issued his verbal pledge after July, according to Rivals’ tracking of the program’s commitments, ranked better than 25th at his respective position in the 247Sports Composite: Ridge Point (Tex.) High tight end Mustapha Muhammad. Harbaugh’s efforts to add an offensive tackle prospect to that list were foiled when Mission Viejo (Calif.) High four-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson reportedly cut Michigan from his list of schools in late January (he later committed to Notre Dame) and Petit-Frere picked Ohio State on signing day. (It’s worth mentioning that Michigan is still in the mix for highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson.)

The early returns on the Wolverines’ 2019 recruiting are encouraging. Already they’ve secured verbal commitments from one top-20 prospect, Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.) School defensive end Chris Hinton, in addition to two other top-70 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite. Plus, Michigan should have an opportunity to make up for its offensive tackle misses in 2018 by reeling in one of four bluechip OTs in 2019 who hail from within state lines, including uncommitted five-star Devontae Dobbs.

Another subpar season, though, could undermine whatever progress the Wolverines make on their 2019 class through the summer. This was already shaping up as a pivotal campaign for Harbaugh, who has come under fire for his perceived inability to back up prolific headline generation off the field with favorable results on it: He’s posted a 3–6 record against Big Ten East challengers Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, including an 0–3 mark in 2017, and is coming off a third consecutive finish of third place or worse in the division. Another failure to break into the top two would make the post-Outback Bowl criticism Harbaugh incurred feel tame by comparison.

Michigan should be better this fall than it was in 2017, a transition season in which it brought back only five starters, fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team, according to analyst Phil Steele. Title odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook peg the Wolverines at 12/1, behind only four squads (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State), and they made the top 15 of some early top 25 rankings. Getting Patterson eligible would be a nice boost, although the schedule looks brutal: Conference road games against Michigan State and Ohio State, conference home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the opener at Notre Dame. All five of those teams sit in the top 12 of the early S&P+ ratings for 2018.

The best way for Michigan to protect against another lackluster recruiting cycle is to strengthen its pitch to prospects by making tangible on-field progress from last season. Anything less could result in another signing day that feels a lot like the one that came and went earlier this month.

<p>Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class is, judging by the simplest measures available, a letdown. On National Signing Day, the Wolverines watched their top-ranked offensive line target, Berkeley (Fla.) Prep five-star Nicholas Petit-Frere, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-nicholas-petit-frere-committment" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sign with rival Ohio State" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sign with rival Ohio State</a> even after they practiced at his high school in advance of their bowl game on New Year’s Day. <a href="https://twitter.com/nickbaumgardner/status/961265421742612480" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Within a half hour" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Within a half hour</a>, a coveted linebacker who’d been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, Lee County (Ga.) High’s Otis Reese, had flipped to Georgia.</p><p>Those two decisions left the Wolverines’ 2018 haul with zero players ranked in the top 100 in the nation and a team ranking of No. 21 in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. That team ranking is 16 spots better than that of the first class head coach Jim Harbaugh signed in Ann Arbor in February 2015, but Harbaugh had only one full month to assemble that group after being hired the previous December. By contrast, the Wolverines’ ’16 and ’17 classes ranked eighth and fifth in the country, respectively, with higher average player ratings in both years (89.86 in ’16, 91.20 in ’17) than the ’18 class’s 88.75, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>It would be misguided to ignore the possibility of the rankings underselling at least a few members of Michigan’s 2018 haul. One intriguing possibility is Cameron McGrone, an outside linebacker out of Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis whom Rivals and Scout both rank outside the top 190 in the class of 2018 but whom 247Sports assessed a five-star rating in January after he bounced back from a knee injury suffered during his junior season to earn a spot on the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>’s Central Indiana Super Team as a senior. “Some guys may check a couple boxes, but McGrone checks them all,” <a href="http://247sports.com/Article/Michigan-signee-Cameron-McGrone-earns-a-fifth-star-113839409" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone</a>.</p><p>Plus, although this player won’t be filed away as part of Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class, the Wolverines are bringing in one of the most esteemed prizes on the transfer market. In December, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, who passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions over seven games for the Rebels last season, announced he would transfer to Michigan. Depending on whether he’s granted immediate eligibility on appeal, Patterson could make a bigger instant impact than any class of 2018 recruit the Wolverines could have signed.</p><p>That said, as <a href="https://twitter.com/SBNrecruiting" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SB Nation’s Bud Elliott" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SB Nation’s Bud Elliott</a> has detailed using his <a href="https://www.sbnation.com/a/cfb-preview-2017/blue-chip-ratio" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Blue-Chip Ratio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Blue-Chip Ratio</a>, today’s national champions are fueled by four- and five-star recruits, and Michigan’s 2018 class has seven fewer of those than its 2016 class did and 14 fewer than its 2017 class did, according to the 247Sports Composite. Part of that is a result of a lousy closing stretch that culminated with Petit-Frere picking Ohio State and Reese’s flip to Georgia. On a recent episode of the Michigan site MGoBlog’s podcast, founder Brian Cook was asked about Michigan’s finish to the 2018 recruiting cycle. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not good. It needs to be better.”</p><p>One of the most troubling aspects of the class has nothing to do with who Michigan received National Letters of Intent from on the first Wednesday of February. It’s who signed on with other Big Ten East heavyweights. Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5) both inked classes ranked in the top five nationally, with 19 top-100 high school players combined, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions now <a href="http://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2018/2/8/16990550/college-football-recruiting-rankings-2018-class" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings</a>, compared to 15th for Michigan.</p><p>Those numbers reflect the grim reality that the Wolverines’ recruiting downturn in the 2018 cycle coincided with a pair of Big Ten East competitors infusing their rosters with a lot of top-end prospects. As two of Michigan’s biggest obstacles to national contention—whose College Football Playoff aspirations are in direct conflict with the Wolverines’ by virtue of their residence in the same division—were putting the finishing touches on classes stuffed with elite high schoolers, Michigan was building a strong candidacy for <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-winners-losers-recruiting-class-grades" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems</a>.</p><p>The MGoBlog discussion touched on the notion that the Wolverines’ 2018 recruiting may well have been affected by a season that included losses to the four Big Ten teams ranked above them in Football Outsiders’ final S&#38;P+ ratings (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) and ended with a total dud, a 26–19 defeat to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl that dropped the Wolverines’ win-loss record to 8–5. Their underwhelming efforts on fall Saturdays, unsurprisingly, did not seem to help matters on the recruiting trail.</p><p>Only one of the players in Michigan’s 2018 class who issued his verbal pledge after July, according to Rivals’ tracking of the program’s commitments, ranked better than 25th at his respective position in the 247Sports Composite: Ridge Point (Tex.) High tight end Mustapha Muhammad. Harbaugh’s efforts to add an offensive tackle prospect to that list were foiled when Mission Viejo (Calif.) High four-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson reportedly cut Michigan from his list of schools in late January (he later committed to Notre Dame) and Petit-Frere picked Ohio State on signing day. (It’s worth mentioning that Michigan is still in the mix for <a href="http://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/01/calvin-anderson-rice-transfer-texas-michigan-auburn" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson</a>.)</p><p>The early returns on the Wolverines’ 2019 recruiting are encouraging. Already they’ve secured verbal commitments from one top-20 prospect, Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.) School defensive end Chris Hinton, in addition to two other top-70 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite. Plus, Michigan should have an opportunity to make up for its offensive tackle misses in 2018 by reeling in one of four bluechip OTs in 2019 who hail from within state lines, including uncommitted five-star Devontae Dobbs.</p><p>Another subpar season, though, could undermine whatever progress the Wolverines make on their 2019 class through the summer. This was already shaping up as a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/14/jim-harbaugh-herm-edwards-dear-andy-mailbag" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:pivotal campaign for Harbaugh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">pivotal campaign for Harbaugh</a>, who has come under fire for his perceived inability to back up prolific headline generation off the field with favorable results on it: He’s posted a 3–6 record against Big Ten East challengers Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, including an 0–3 mark in 2017, and is coming off a third consecutive finish of third place or worse in the division. Another failure to break into the top two would make the <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/university-michigan/2018/01/02/ums-harbaugh-qbs-take-heat-outback-bowl-loss/109097430/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:post-Outback Bowl criticism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">post-Outback Bowl criticism</a> Harbaugh incurred feel tame by comparison.</p><p>Michigan should be better this fall than it was in 2017, a transition season in which it brought back only five starters, fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team, according to analyst Phil Steele. Title odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook peg the Wolverines at 12/1, behind only four squads (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State), and they made the top 15 of some early top 25 rankings. Getting Patterson eligible would be a nice boost, although the schedule looks brutal: Conference road games against Michigan State and Ohio State, conference home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the opener at Notre Dame. All five of those teams sit in the top 12 of the early S&#38;P+ ratings for 2018.</p><p>The best way for Michigan to protect against another lackluster recruiting cycle is to strengthen its pitch to prospects by making tangible on-field progress from last season. Anything less could result in another signing day that feels a lot like the one that came and went earlier this month.</p>
Another Down Year Could Put Michigan in a Dangerous Hole

Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class is, judging by the simplest measures available, a letdown. On National Signing Day, the Wolverines watched their top-ranked offensive line target, Berkeley (Fla.) Prep five-star Nicholas Petit-Frere, sign with rival Ohio State even after they practiced at his high school in advance of their bowl game on New Year’s Day. Within a half hour, a coveted linebacker who’d been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, Lee County (Ga.) High’s Otis Reese, had flipped to Georgia.

Those two decisions left the Wolverines’ 2018 haul with zero players ranked in the top 100 in the nation and a team ranking of No. 21 in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. That team ranking is 16 spots better than that of the first class head coach Jim Harbaugh signed in Ann Arbor in February 2015, but Harbaugh had only one full month to assemble that group after being hired the previous December. By contrast, the Wolverines’ ’16 and ’17 classes ranked eighth and fifth in the country, respectively, with higher average player ratings in both years (89.86 in ’16, 91.20 in ’17) than the ’18 class’s 88.75, according to the 247Sports Composite.

It would be misguided to ignore the possibility of the rankings underselling at least a few members of Michigan’s 2018 haul. One intriguing possibility is Cameron McGrone, an outside linebacker out of Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis whom Rivals and Scout both rank outside the top 190 in the class of 2018 but whom 247Sports assessed a five-star rating in January after he bounced back from a knee injury suffered during his junior season to earn a spot on the Indianapolis Star’s Central Indiana Super Team as a senior. “Some guys may check a couple boxes, but McGrone checks them all,” 247Sports director of football recruiting Steve Wiltfong said of McGrone.

Plus, although this player won’t be filed away as part of Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class, the Wolverines are bringing in one of the most esteemed prizes on the transfer market. In December, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, who passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions over seven games for the Rebels last season, announced he would transfer to Michigan. Depending on whether he’s granted immediate eligibility on appeal, Patterson could make a bigger instant impact than any class of 2018 recruit the Wolverines could have signed.

That said, as SB Nation’s Bud Elliott has detailed using his Blue-Chip Ratio, today’s national champions are fueled by four- and five-star recruits, and Michigan’s 2018 class has seven fewer of those than its 2016 class did and 14 fewer than its 2017 class did, according to the 247Sports Composite. Part of that is a result of a lousy closing stretch that culminated with Petit-Frere picking Ohio State and Reese’s flip to Georgia. On a recent episode of the Michigan site MGoBlog’s podcast, founder Brian Cook was asked about Michigan’s finish to the 2018 recruiting cycle. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not good. It needs to be better.”

One of the most troubling aspects of the class has nothing to do with who Michigan received National Letters of Intent from on the first Wednesday of February. It’s who signed on with other Big Ten East heavyweights. Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5) both inked classes ranked in the top five nationally, with 19 top-100 high school players combined, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions now check in first and eighth, respectively, in Bill Connelly’s two-year recruiting rankings, compared to 15th for Michigan.

Those numbers reflect the grim reality that the Wolverines’ recruiting downturn in the 2018 cycle coincided with a pair of Big Ten East competitors infusing their rosters with a lot of top-end prospects. As two of Michigan’s biggest obstacles to national contention—whose College Football Playoff aspirations are in direct conflict with the Wolverines’ by virtue of their residence in the same division—were putting the finishing touches on classes stuffed with elite high schoolers, Michigan was building a strong candidacy for the “loser” columns of media outlets’ NSD postmortems.

The MGoBlog discussion touched on the notion that the Wolverines’ 2018 recruiting may well have been affected by a season that included losses to the four Big Ten teams ranked above them in Football Outsiders’ final S&P+ ratings (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) and ended with a total dud, a 26–19 defeat to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl that dropped the Wolverines’ win-loss record to 8–5. Their underwhelming efforts on fall Saturdays, unsurprisingly, did not seem to help matters on the recruiting trail.

Only one of the players in Michigan’s 2018 class who issued his verbal pledge after July, according to Rivals’ tracking of the program’s commitments, ranked better than 25th at his respective position in the 247Sports Composite: Ridge Point (Tex.) High tight end Mustapha Muhammad. Harbaugh’s efforts to add an offensive tackle prospect to that list were foiled when Mission Viejo (Calif.) High four-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson reportedly cut Michigan from his list of schools in late January (he later committed to Notre Dame) and Petit-Frere picked Ohio State on signing day. (It’s worth mentioning that Michigan is still in the mix for highly touted Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson.)

The early returns on the Wolverines’ 2019 recruiting are encouraging. Already they’ve secured verbal commitments from one top-20 prospect, Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.) School defensive end Chris Hinton, in addition to two other top-70 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite. Plus, Michigan should have an opportunity to make up for its offensive tackle misses in 2018 by reeling in one of four bluechip OTs in 2019 who hail from within state lines, including uncommitted five-star Devontae Dobbs.

Another subpar season, though, could undermine whatever progress the Wolverines make on their 2019 class through the summer. This was already shaping up as a pivotal campaign for Harbaugh, who has come under fire for his perceived inability to back up prolific headline generation off the field with favorable results on it: He’s posted a 3–6 record against Big Ten East challengers Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, including an 0–3 mark in 2017, and is coming off a third consecutive finish of third place or worse in the division. Another failure to break into the top two would make the post-Outback Bowl criticism Harbaugh incurred feel tame by comparison.

Michigan should be better this fall than it was in 2017, a transition season in which it brought back only five starters, fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team, according to analyst Phil Steele. Title odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook peg the Wolverines at 12/1, behind only four squads (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State), and they made the top 15 of some early top 25 rankings. Getting Patterson eligible would be a nice boost, although the schedule looks brutal: Conference road games against Michigan State and Ohio State, conference home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the opener at Notre Dame. All five of those teams sit in the top 12 of the early S&P+ ratings for 2018.

The best way for Michigan to protect against another lackluster recruiting cycle is to strengthen its pitch to prospects by making tangible on-field progress from last season. Anything less could result in another signing day that feels a lot like the one that came and went earlier this month.

<p><strong><a href="https://twitter.com/fentoozlr24/status/963785431396601856" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:From @fentoozlr24" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">From @fentoozlr24</a>: It feels like the Michigan–Jim Harbaugh honeymoon phase is way over. How hot is Harbaugh’s seat at UM this year and does his job security potentially hinge on Shea Patterson’s eligibility? Going 0–3 against Ohio State/Penn State/Michigan State again seems like it would be a pink slip waiting to happen.</strong></p><p>It definitely feels like the honeymoon phase is over, but even if the doomsday scenario you described happens, I can’t see Michigan firing Harbaugh at the end of year four. If things are going badly, I could see him heading back to the NFL, but I can’t imagine the school pushing him out the door barring anything exceptionally weird. What I can imagine is a much quieter offseason from Harbaugh, who seems to have abandoned the media strategy that garnered him so much attention early in his tenure. He’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t need to create awareness. He needs to create wins.</p><p>Michigan fans certainly seem long past the Harbaugh-walks-on-water phase of the relationship. That group has morphed from Harbaugh’s staunchest ally to his most vocal critic, and that change took place over the last year. Last year, when Harbaugh announced the team would travel to Italy for part of spring practice, the response was “What a great cultural experience for these players.” Last week, when Harbaugh announced that the team would take a trip to France after spring semester final exams—also a great cultural experience that includes a visit to Normandy so players can learn more about one of the most significant events in world history—there was a smattering of “Shouldn’t they just stay in Ann Arbor and lift weights so they might finally beat Ohio State?”</p><p>Let’s take the emotion out of it and examine where Michigan football is right now. The Wolverines made major strides in their first two seasons under Harbaugh, and then they went 8–5 in 2017 after losing 17 starters and finishing the season on their third starting quarterback because of injuries. A dip shouldn’t have been that surprising. Failing to beat a team that finished the regular season with a winning record (Purdue added a seventh win in the Foster Farms Bowl) was surprising. Michigan went 0–3 against the teams that are supposed to be its peers in the Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State). That dropped Harbaugh’s record against those teams to 3–6. The most troubling piece of that record is the 0–3 mark against Ohio State.</p><p>The biggest issue at this point seems to be trajectory. Ohio State just signed a class that would have finished No. 1 in the nation had Georgia not hauled in a historically high-rated group. Penn State signed a top-five class. Michigan State never seems to need highly ranked classes to be competitive under Mark Dantonio, so even though the Spartans finished 11 places below the Wolverines in the recruiting rankings, they do bring back a capable quarterback (Brian Lewerke) and a core of veterans who seemed to arrive a tad early in 2017. Michigan signed the No. 21 class in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, but the optics were worse than the reality because even though the bulk of all these classes got signed in December, the Wolverines lost the top-rated committed player in their class on National Signing Day when linebacker Otis Reese opted to stay in his home state and play for Georgia.</p><p>Harbaugh’s job security certainly doesn’t hinge on the eligibility of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, but this seems like a good place to issue a word of caution. I worry that if the NCAA decides Patterson can play immediately, he’ll be saddled with exorbitant expectations. He is very talented, and it’s quite fun to watch him keep plays alive with his legs and then throw deep. But he shouldn’t be asked to be the savior of Michigan’s program. Patterson had a quality group of receivers at Ole Miss, and Alabama beat the Rebels 66–3. Auburn beat them 44–23. From a talent standpoint, these are decent analogues to Ohio State and Penn State. And if Patterson had stayed at Ole Miss, he’d have found himself in a fight to win the job back from Jordan Ta’amu, who completed a higher percentage and averaged one more yard per attempt—though Ta’amu didn’t have to play Alabama and Auburn—than Patterson last season. Of course, Patterson also didn’t have Rashan Gary and Devin Bush playing on the other side of the ball in Oxford. Don Brown’s defense, which enters 2018 with far more experience than it did last year, should give the Wolverines’ offense some room to grow no matter who winds up starting at quarterback.</p><p>The Wolverines open at Notre Dame, which won’t be easy. (And get ready for a serious sky-is-falling-narrative if Michigan loses.) But the real drama will come in the back half of the schedule. What happens against Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State will determine whether Harbaugh’s tenure returns to its previous bliss or descends further into mad(online)ness.</p><p><strong><a href="https://twitter.com/hammeroid/status/963800998006333447" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:From Sean" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">From Sean</a>: Why is the media so against the Herm Edwards hire? I wasn’t for it to begin with but he’s put together a strong staff and even though he closed strong on National Signing Day part two, the narrative was his folksy interview.</strong></p><p>You’re going to have to expect a healthy dose of skepticism when the athletic director making the hire acts as if he’s doing it because he expects the two coordinators to do much of the heavy lifting and then both coordinators leave within two weeks of the hire. Also, Herm Edwards spent the past nine years talking on television for a living. He should have known exactly what the reception would be for his pre-Signing Day comments that feigned shock that a coach also had to recruit the parents as well as the players. But he said it anyway. Also, Edwards and AD Ray Anderson have touted their organizational structure and its NFL-style evaluation system as if it’s something revolutionary. Nick Saban has had such a system in place—with a much larger staff—since he walked in the door at Alabama in 2007. Did Anderson think other Power 5 head coaches were personally grinding through every Hudl clip that landed in each program’s inbox? Practically every major program has already modeled its recruiting operation on an NFL front office.</p><p>That said, the Sun Devils did close strong on Signing Day despite having to make up a lot of ground. Edwards has the kind of personality that should make him an excellent recruiter. As far as the Xs and Os, we’ll have to see once the games start. The college game in 2018 barely resembles the NFL game he left in 2008. It will be up to Edwards’s assistants to get him up to speed, and it will be up to Edwards to adapt. This could be a lot of fun if it works, but Edwards and the Sun Devils will have to answer some legitimate questions to prove it will.</p><p><strong><a href="https://twitter.com/historyofmatt/status/963800390188838912" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:From @HistoryOfMatt" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">From @HistoryOfMatt</a>: #DearAndy, I get why coaches feel a need to play to the crowd when speaking at booster clubs, but what possessed Mullen to make the “blind squirrel” crack about UGA when his old team and new team were destroyed last year by a combined score of 73–10? Why give Kirby MORE motivation?</strong></p><p>I have to admit, when I first read <a href="https://247sports.com/Bolt/Florida-Gators-Football-Dan-Mullen-lets-Georgia-know-Florida-isnt-going-away-in-the-East-114836871" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this quote from Mullen’s speaking engagement to a fan group on National Signing Day" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this quote from Mullen’s speaking engagement to a fan group on National Signing Day</a>, I wasn’t sure who Mullen was calling the blind squirrel. Was it the Georgia program that just won the SEC and lost the national title game in overtime? Or was it the previous Florida staff, which won the SEC East in 2015 and 2016 but got fired?</p><p>Upon further review, Mullen is definitely talking about Georgia. This is bold and possibly crazy.</p><p>I like the idea of rivals gigging one another. It’s fun. I’d rather hear that than coaches poor-mouthing every time they hold a microphone. That said, Mullen had better be prepared for the comebacks if Oct. 27 comes and Florida hasn’t closed what appears to be a fairly significant gap against Georgia. If the Bulldogs win again, they’ll have the right to say whatever they please, and the Gators will have to take it.</p><p>The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is in a weird spot as rivalries go. Florida had won three in a row before last season, and the Bulldogs <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/10/28/florida-georgia-jim-mcelwain" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:won 42–7 in 2017 on a day when it was clear to everyone that Florida coach Jim McElwain’s tenure was over" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">won 42–7 in 2017 on a day when it was clear to everyone that Florida coach Jim McElwain’s tenure was over</a>. Logically, each side should feel comfortable letting loose with a little playful trash talk. But Georgia’s trajectory—there’s that word again—seems so steep that it feels inadvisable to poke that particular recently awoken Dawg.</p><p>But Mullen has never been shy about mixing it up. His mandate is to prove the Gators still belong in the same sentence as teams that have competed for national titles this decade, and rather than allow his fans to feel downtrodden, perhaps he feels he needs to speak some competitiveness into existence. Because he saw Georgia last year as Mississippi State’s coach, Mullen knows precisely the caliber of opponent he’s provoking. He also knows how far his new team needs to go to compete with such a group.</p><p>So his job these next few months is create a team that can back up his words. Otherwise, he’s going to get them thrown back in his face come the week of Halloween.</p><p><strong><a href="https://twitter.com/tonytuccini/status/963794069104332803" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:From Tony" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">From Tony</a>: If the XFL actually happens, any chance they start poaching stud freshmen and sophomores looking for a paycheck?</strong></p><p>When I first saw the rumors that WWE chairman Vince McMahon might revive the XFL, I wondered if the league might try to make some headlines by offering a lower age limit and a chance for younger players to get a paycheck rather than play for a scholarship. The original incarnation of the XFL had an outlaw mentality, and that is the kind of status quo-bending move I would have expected that league to try had it survived.</p><p>But after watching <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/25/xfl-vince-mcmahon-announcement-football-league" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:McMahon’s presentation about the new iteration of the league" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">McMahon’s presentation about the new iteration of the league</a>, I can’t see it. The ethos this time seems to be status quo preservation, and such a move certainly wouldn’t fit the brand McMahon seems to be trying to mold.</p>
The Different Brands of Skepticism Jim Harbaugh and Herm Edwards Face in 2018

From @fentoozlr24: It feels like the Michigan–Jim Harbaugh honeymoon phase is way over. How hot is Harbaugh’s seat at UM this year and does his job security potentially hinge on Shea Patterson’s eligibility? Going 0–3 against Ohio State/Penn State/Michigan State again seems like it would be a pink slip waiting to happen.

It definitely feels like the honeymoon phase is over, but even if the doomsday scenario you described happens, I can’t see Michigan firing Harbaugh at the end of year four. If things are going badly, I could see him heading back to the NFL, but I can’t imagine the school pushing him out the door barring anything exceptionally weird. What I can imagine is a much quieter offseason from Harbaugh, who seems to have abandoned the media strategy that garnered him so much attention early in his tenure. He’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t need to create awareness. He needs to create wins.

Michigan fans certainly seem long past the Harbaugh-walks-on-water phase of the relationship. That group has morphed from Harbaugh’s staunchest ally to his most vocal critic, and that change took place over the last year. Last year, when Harbaugh announced the team would travel to Italy for part of spring practice, the response was “What a great cultural experience for these players.” Last week, when Harbaugh announced that the team would take a trip to France after spring semester final exams—also a great cultural experience that includes a visit to Normandy so players can learn more about one of the most significant events in world history—there was a smattering of “Shouldn’t they just stay in Ann Arbor and lift weights so they might finally beat Ohio State?”

Let’s take the emotion out of it and examine where Michigan football is right now. The Wolverines made major strides in their first two seasons under Harbaugh, and then they went 8–5 in 2017 after losing 17 starters and finishing the season on their third starting quarterback because of injuries. A dip shouldn’t have been that surprising. Failing to beat a team that finished the regular season with a winning record (Purdue added a seventh win in the Foster Farms Bowl) was surprising. Michigan went 0–3 against the teams that are supposed to be its peers in the Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State). That dropped Harbaugh’s record against those teams to 3–6. The most troubling piece of that record is the 0–3 mark against Ohio State.

The biggest issue at this point seems to be trajectory. Ohio State just signed a class that would have finished No. 1 in the nation had Georgia not hauled in a historically high-rated group. Penn State signed a top-five class. Michigan State never seems to need highly ranked classes to be competitive under Mark Dantonio, so even though the Spartans finished 11 places below the Wolverines in the recruiting rankings, they do bring back a capable quarterback (Brian Lewerke) and a core of veterans who seemed to arrive a tad early in 2017. Michigan signed the No. 21 class in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, but the optics were worse than the reality because even though the bulk of all these classes got signed in December, the Wolverines lost the top-rated committed player in their class on National Signing Day when linebacker Otis Reese opted to stay in his home state and play for Georgia.

Harbaugh’s job security certainly doesn’t hinge on the eligibility of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, but this seems like a good place to issue a word of caution. I worry that if the NCAA decides Patterson can play immediately, he’ll be saddled with exorbitant expectations. He is very talented, and it’s quite fun to watch him keep plays alive with his legs and then throw deep. But he shouldn’t be asked to be the savior of Michigan’s program. Patterson had a quality group of receivers at Ole Miss, and Alabama beat the Rebels 66–3. Auburn beat them 44–23. From a talent standpoint, these are decent analogues to Ohio State and Penn State. And if Patterson had stayed at Ole Miss, he’d have found himself in a fight to win the job back from Jordan Ta’amu, who completed a higher percentage and averaged one more yard per attempt—though Ta’amu didn’t have to play Alabama and Auburn—than Patterson last season. Of course, Patterson also didn’t have Rashan Gary and Devin Bush playing on the other side of the ball in Oxford. Don Brown’s defense, which enters 2018 with far more experience than it did last year, should give the Wolverines’ offense some room to grow no matter who winds up starting at quarterback.

The Wolverines open at Notre Dame, which won’t be easy. (And get ready for a serious sky-is-falling-narrative if Michigan loses.) But the real drama will come in the back half of the schedule. What happens against Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State will determine whether Harbaugh’s tenure returns to its previous bliss or descends further into mad(online)ness.

From Sean: Why is the media so against the Herm Edwards hire? I wasn’t for it to begin with but he’s put together a strong staff and even though he closed strong on National Signing Day part two, the narrative was his folksy interview.

You’re going to have to expect a healthy dose of skepticism when the athletic director making the hire acts as if he’s doing it because he expects the two coordinators to do much of the heavy lifting and then both coordinators leave within two weeks of the hire. Also, Herm Edwards spent the past nine years talking on television for a living. He should have known exactly what the reception would be for his pre-Signing Day comments that feigned shock that a coach also had to recruit the parents as well as the players. But he said it anyway. Also, Edwards and AD Ray Anderson have touted their organizational structure and its NFL-style evaluation system as if it’s something revolutionary. Nick Saban has had such a system in place—with a much larger staff—since he walked in the door at Alabama in 2007. Did Anderson think other Power 5 head coaches were personally grinding through every Hudl clip that landed in each program’s inbox? Practically every major program has already modeled its recruiting operation on an NFL front office.

That said, the Sun Devils did close strong on Signing Day despite having to make up a lot of ground. Edwards has the kind of personality that should make him an excellent recruiter. As far as the Xs and Os, we’ll have to see once the games start. The college game in 2018 barely resembles the NFL game he left in 2008. It will be up to Edwards’s assistants to get him up to speed, and it will be up to Edwards to adapt. This could be a lot of fun if it works, but Edwards and the Sun Devils will have to answer some legitimate questions to prove it will.

From @HistoryOfMatt: #DearAndy, I get why coaches feel a need to play to the crowd when speaking at booster clubs, but what possessed Mullen to make the “blind squirrel” crack about UGA when his old team and new team were destroyed last year by a combined score of 73–10? Why give Kirby MORE motivation?

I have to admit, when I first read this quote from Mullen’s speaking engagement to a fan group on National Signing Day, I wasn’t sure who Mullen was calling the blind squirrel. Was it the Georgia program that just won the SEC and lost the national title game in overtime? Or was it the previous Florida staff, which won the SEC East in 2015 and 2016 but got fired?

Upon further review, Mullen is definitely talking about Georgia. This is bold and possibly crazy.

I like the idea of rivals gigging one another. It’s fun. I’d rather hear that than coaches poor-mouthing every time they hold a microphone. That said, Mullen had better be prepared for the comebacks if Oct. 27 comes and Florida hasn’t closed what appears to be a fairly significant gap against Georgia. If the Bulldogs win again, they’ll have the right to say whatever they please, and the Gators will have to take it.

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is in a weird spot as rivalries go. Florida had won three in a row before last season, and the Bulldogs won 42–7 in 2017 on a day when it was clear to everyone that Florida coach Jim McElwain’s tenure was over. Logically, each side should feel comfortable letting loose with a little playful trash talk. But Georgia’s trajectory—there’s that word again—seems so steep that it feels inadvisable to poke that particular recently awoken Dawg.

But Mullen has never been shy about mixing it up. His mandate is to prove the Gators still belong in the same sentence as teams that have competed for national titles this decade, and rather than allow his fans to feel downtrodden, perhaps he feels he needs to speak some competitiveness into existence. Because he saw Georgia last year as Mississippi State’s coach, Mullen knows precisely the caliber of opponent he’s provoking. He also knows how far his new team needs to go to compete with such a group.

So his job these next few months is create a team that can back up his words. Otherwise, he’s going to get them thrown back in his face come the week of Halloween.

From Tony: If the XFL actually happens, any chance they start poaching stud freshmen and sophomores looking for a paycheck?

When I first saw the rumors that WWE chairman Vince McMahon might revive the XFL, I wondered if the league might try to make some headlines by offering a lower age limit and a chance for younger players to get a paycheck rather than play for a scholarship. The original incarnation of the XFL had an outlaw mentality, and that is the kind of status quo-bending move I would have expected that league to try had it survived.

But after watching McMahon’s presentation about the new iteration of the league, I can’t see it. The ethos this time seems to be status quo preservation, and such a move certainly wouldn’t fit the brand McMahon seems to be trying to mold.

<p>Nothing lasts forever, isn’t that the saying? After four straight weeks of Villanova, Purdue and Virginia topping our Power Rankings—in that order—we finally have a changing of the guard at the top after all three lost in the same week. Much like the AP poll, the Cavaliers actually wound up moving up a spot after all the dust settled, which seems like a testament to how unique this season has been. While these rankings weigh strongly (but certainly not entirely) on recent results/performance, it’s important to not be overly reactive to one bad result, especially if it’s an anomaly compared to a team’s overall play or trend of late. Here’s the new top 25:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (25–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois</p><p>After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.</p><h3>2. Virginia (24–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: OFF</p><p>Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.</p><h3>3. Villanova (23–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: lost to St. John’s, beat Butler<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Providence, at Xavier</p><p>Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.</p><h3>4. Xavier (23–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: beat Butler, beat Creighton<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova</p><p>The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.</p><h3>5. Cincinnati (23–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: beat UCF, beat SMU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Houston, vs. Wichita State</p><p>The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&#38;T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.</p><h3>6. Purdue (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: lost to Ohio State, lost to Michigan State<br><strong>Next</strong><strong> Week</strong>: at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State</p><p>The Boilermakers had their first setbacks in a looong time last week, losing back-to-back games to the Big Ten’s other elite teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s not the best optics that Purdue went 0 for 2 in its biggest tests since Thanksgiving weekend, but it did still land a No. 1 seed in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal. Against the Spartans, it was the Isaac Haas show, but good as the 7’2” senior is, Purdue can’t allow opponents to let Haas get his and have the rest of the team be largely shut down. Outside of Haas, the rest of the Boilermakers converted just 8 for 23 (34.8%) two-point attempts and made just 6 of 19 (31.6%) threes despite being the second-best perimeter shooting tem nationally.</p><h3>7. Texas Tech (22–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Baylor</p><p>Now alone in first in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are winners of seven straight. Their latest accomplishment was holding Trae Young to 19 points and seven assists on 4-for-16 shooting, including a 0-for-9 mark from three. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence—Texas Tech has the nation’s 17th-best three-point defense and ranks second in Big 12 play in that area, per kenpom.com. Virginia and Cincinnati’s defenses have grabbed the headlines this season, but the Raiders’ third-ranked defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re giving up just 88.8 adjusted points per 100 possessions, 3.3 fewer than the next closest team, Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3>8. Ohio State (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: beat Purdue, beat Iowa<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Penn State, at Michigan</p><p>A notable jump for the Buckeyes, but they earned one of the most impressive wins of the season in beating Purdue on the road and benefit from losses by all the teams that were in the group above them. Ohio State is now in position to win the Big Ten outright, something even its most ardent fans probably never thought possible three months ago. If you want a reason to believe the Buckeyes are real contenders, look no further than the fact that it didn’t take a crazy shooting night or one player having the game of his life to knock off the Boilermakers. OSU shot 42.1% from the floor, made only 10 of 16 free throws and won the rebounding battle by just one—and still came out on top.</p><h3>9. Gonzaga (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: beat Pacific, beat Saint Mary’s<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Loyola Marymount, vs. Pepperdine</p><p>The Zags restored order in the WCC by taking it to Saint Mary’s on the road in the rematch, pulling into a tie for first place that’s not likely to be broken. Gonzaga looked much more like itself this time around, especially on the defensive end, where it used a double team of Gaels star Jock Landale to hold him to just four field-goal attempts, a far cry from the 15 he had when he scored 26 in Spokane. The Bulldogs also held hot-shooting Saint Mary’s to just 5-of-20 shooting from three, effectively killing both ways the Gaels use to beat opponents. Finally, There’s Something About (Saint) Mary’s that seems to bring out the best in Rui Hachimura, who has now led the Zags in scoring in both games against their chief WCC rival.</p><h3>10. Auburn (22–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: lost to Texas A&#38;M, beat Georgia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina</p><p>The Tigers are still two games up in the SEC race despite falling to Texas A&#38;M by one last week, their first home loss of the season. They’re also in serious play for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, landing fifth in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal—just one off the pace from a No. 1 seed. It’s not surprising that a team like the Aggies is the one that gave Auburn trouble; the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses lie in rebounding and two-point shooting, which Robert Williams and Tyler Davis took advantage of, combining for 31 points on 15-for-21 shooting inside the arc with six offensive boards between the pair.</p><h3>11. Duke (20–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: lost to North Carolina, beat Georgia Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson</p><p>Before the Blue Devils’ loss to UNC last week, SI.com’s Chris Johnson gave a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/08/duke-basketball-defense-grayson-allen-gary-trent-ncaa-tournament-chances" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:good breakdown" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">good breakdown</a> of where the team stands and which areas it needs to improve on to be a true tourney threat. Defense was an obvious subject, and Johnson noted that in both recent years where Duke got bounced by a mid-major in the NCAA first round, it entered the tournament with a top-six offense and a defense ranked in the 70s on kenpom.com. In fact, the 2013–14 team that lost to Mercer had the No. 2 offense and No. 77 defense. This year’s Blue Devils currently rank No. 2 in offense and No. 79 in defense, which is alarmingly similar—for now, at least. Of course, Duke isn’t the country’s only team with a top-10 offense dealing with this kind of imbalance.</p><h3>12. Kansas (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat TCU, lost to Baylor, beat Iowa State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma</p><p>We’re not accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks in the position they’re in; that is, not in position to win the Big 12 with just five games to go. But Kansas is still very much in play for extending its streak, even with a tough schedule on deck. To do so though, it’s going to need much better efforts than the one it gave at Baylor over the weekend, when a poor three-point shooting performance doomed it. The Jayhawks took almost exactly as many threes as twos, but made just six of the former, and had just nine free-throw attempts.</p><h3>13. Rhode Island (21–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Davidson, beat Richmond</p><p><strong>Next Week</strong>: at St. Bonaventure, at LaSalle</p><p>The Rams had a big scare when E.C. Matthews left Tuesday’s game against Richmond with a knee injury, but Dan Hurley <a href="https://twitter.com/BillKoch25/status/963621253885120512" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said afterwards" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said afterwards</a> that the prognosis is “pretty good” regarding the senior, which if accurate would leave fans breathing a side of relief. Losing Matthews for an extended period of time at this point in the season would be crushing for Rhode Island and for Matthews himself, who missed the entire 2015–16 season with an ACL tear. With Matthews, the Rams are a dangerous team that has run the table in the Atlantic 10 so far, including a wire-to-wire win Friday night over Davidson where they held the league’s top offense to 59 points.</p><h3>14. Clemson (20–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (17)</strong>: beat Pittsburgh<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Florida State, vs. Duke</p><p>Up to the program’s highest rank in the AP poll (No. 11) since 2009, expect Littlejohn Coliseum to be absolutely rocking on Sunday when the Tigers host Duke in the two schools’ only regular-season meeting this year. Clemson is currently ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings—something that probably would have seemed incredulous to many at the beginning of the season—and now it has a chance to make its most direct statement yet. The Tigers struggled big time when they faced Virginia back on Jan. 23, but Duke presents a completely different kind of challenge, one Clemson and its 13th-ranked defense may be better apt to face.</p><h3>15. Tennessee (19–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat Kentucky, lost to Alabama, beat South Carolina<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Georgia</p><p>It was an up-and-down week for the Vols, who took down Kentucky at Rupp but then laid an egg in Tuscaloosa before beating South Carolina back in Knoxville. The 28-point loss to Alabama was the most surprising result, with Tennessee’s offense generating just 0.74 PPP and making just 13 of 41 (29.3%) of its two-point shots and 4 of 17 threes. Two-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Vols, with Grant Williams (51.3%) and Kyle Alexander (72.2%) being their only primary players making at least 47% of their twos, but they had been converting much better of late inside the arc before Saturday’s debacle.</p><h3>16. North Carolina (20–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (24)</strong>: beat Duke, beat NC State, beat Notre Dame<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Louisville</p><p>Saying it was a great week for the Tar Heels would be an understatement. They started it with a big win over rival Duke in Chapel Hill, then survived in Raleigh against an NC State squad that was gunning for a season sweep, and finally eased past Notre Dame back at home. Against the Blue Devils, UNC was able to get out in transition, outscore Duke off turnovers by 10 and control the boards in the second half, and against the Wolf Pack, Luke Maye went off for 33 points and 17 rebounds (with six turnovers being the only damper on an otherwise stellar performance). Will the emotional win over Duke stand out long-term as a turning point in UNC’s season?</p><h3>17. Saint Mary’s (24–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Loyola Marymount, lost to Gonzaga<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at San Francisco, at Portland</p><p>The flip side of Gonzaga’s success was the Gaels’, well, lack of it in their first loss since November. The Bulldogs provided the blueprint to beating Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t have the kind of defense that can make up for an off offensive night. But here’s the thing: if Saint Mary’s had shot better from three, it would’ve forced Gonzaga to rethink its strategy on Landale and likely make adjustments, which perhaps would’ve changed the outcome of the game. The Zags deserve a lot of credit for committing defensively, especially in an area (three-point defense) that’s been a weakness for them, but it doesn’t mean other teams will be able to replicate it with ease. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Gaels adjust and respond should they meet Gonzaga again in the WCC tournament final.</p><h3>18. Arizona (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: lost to UCLA, beat USC<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Arizona State</p><p>Seven straight opponents have scored at least 1.0 PPP against the Wildcats, whose defense ranks 107th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Arizona was considered a national title favorite before the season began, but it’s hard to see how that can come to fruition without serious improvement on that end in the next month. The ‘Cats have DeAndre Ayton and his shot-blocking ability inside, but their perimeter defense is severely lacking, ranking 11th in Pac-12 play, and they don’t generate many turnovers. It allowed them to be upset in back-to-back games, with Washington hitting 8 of 14 threes and UCLA connecting on 11 of 24 while also making 55.3% of their shots inside the arc.</p><h3>19. Wichita State (19–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19)</strong>: beat Memphis, beat UConn<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Temple, at Cincinnati</p><p>The good: the Shockers went 2–0 with two routs last week to bounce back from a loss to Temple. The bad: the defensive concerns aren’t exactly alleviated after they gave up 1.12 points per possession to a UConn team that ranks sub-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Against Memphis though, things were better, with the Tigers scoring 0.90 PPP and turning it over 18 times on a quarter of their possessions. Turnovers are an interesting area to look at for Wichita State, because it’s one where this team diverts from the one that had much more overall defensive success last year. The Shockers weren’t an elite team at generating steals or turnovers in 2016–17, but they weren’t bad at it, either. But this season, they rank 268th in defensive turnover percentage (down from 119th last year) and a paltry 320th in defensive steal percentage, down from 123rd.</p><h3>20. West Virginia (19–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: lost to Oklahoma State, beat TCU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Kansas, at Baylor</p><p>After giving up 1.26 PPP over the weekend in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers turned around and held the Big 12’s best offense (and the fifth-best nationally) to 1.03 PPP and 66 points overall on Monday. The WVU offense has been more consistent, posting PPP of 1.15, 1.20, 1.14, 1.06, 1.21 and 1.28 over its last six games. West Virginia’s offense ranks 18th on kenpom.com and is scoring an adjusted 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than any Mountaineer team has finished with in the KenPom era or under Bob Huggins. And it’s doing it despite the fact that its effective field goal percentage ranks 196th in the country.</p><h3>21. Arizona State (19–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat USC, beat UCLA<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Arizona</p><p>The mysterious saga of the Sun Devils continues. After opening 12–0, then going over six weeks without notching back-to-back wins, ASU has now won three straight, including two solid wins over UCLA and USC. It helps that they’ve been getting back to the free throw line: in those two games, they attempted 28 and 32 free throws, respectively, after taking just 14 and 17 freebies in their previous two losses. The Sun Devils have the nation’s seventh-best free-throw rate and get more points from the charity stripe than all but 21 teams nationally, so when they’re kept off the line, it takes away a big weapon. In particular, senior guard Tra Holder hit more free throws against each of USC and UCLA than he had even attempted in the previous 10 games.</p><h3>22. Texas A&#38;M (17–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Auburn, beat Kentucky, lost to Missouri<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Arkansas, vs. Mississippi State</p><p>It’s been a while since the Aggies have appeared here, but they earned their way back with a 2–1 week that included wins over Auburn and Kentucky. A&#38;M became just the second SEC team to beat the Tigers this season and the first to win at Auburn Arena all season. The weekend news that J.J. Caldwell has been dismissed and Jay Jay Chandler suspended indefinitely shouldn’t affect the team’s recent play much, as neither have had a big presence as a now healthy Texas A&#38;M has won six of nine, but it’s a continuing trend of off-court issues threatening to torpedo the Aggies’ season.</p><h3>23. Alabama (17–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Mississippi State, beat Tennessee, beat LSU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Kentucky, at Auburn</p><p>The Crimson Tide have some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies to them, but they’ve been trending in the right direction lately, winning four of six, including an impressive 28-point rout of Tennessee over the weekend. Is this a team that is randomly inconsistent or one that plays to the level of its competition? It has strong wins, including over the Vols, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn, yet has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all since the start of the new year. The remaining SEC schedule for Collin Sexton and Co. is tough: at Kentucky, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&#38;M. It’s make-or-break time for Alabama.</p><h3>24. Oklahoma (16–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: lost to Iowa State, lost to Texas Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Texas, at Kansas</p><p>Things continue to spiral for the Sooners, who frankly despite losing four straight are only hanging on here because so many of the teams that would have been “next up” had bad-to-mixed weeks of their own. To be fair, it’s not like Oklahoma’s recent schedule has been easy: three of those four games were on the road, and two of its last three opponents are ranked in the top 15 on kenpom.com. But OU needs more on the defensive end if it wants to avoid a short stay in the NCAA tournament, and even with Trae Young leading the way, the offensive can have its flaws. Against Texas Tech’s elite defense Tuesday night, Young went 0 for 9 from three, the first time all season he failed to make at least one shot from deep.</p><h3>25. Nevada (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (22)</strong>: lost to UNLV, beat San Diego State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Boise State, at Utah State</p><p>The Wolfpack’s home loss to UNLV last week comes with a caveat: they were without their best player, Caleb Martin, who averages 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 45.1% from three. Then things got worse when it was announced that Martin would be out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain, threatening to cast a big cloud over Nevada’s postseason hopes. Martin was expected to miss multiple—maybe even several weeks—then he suddenly suited up over the weekend for their win over San Diego State. He struggled from three in that game, going 2 for 10 in 23 minutes off the bench, but if Martin is truly O.K. that’s a very fortunate turn of events for the Wolfpack.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan, Butler</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: New Mexico State, Michigan, Kentucky, Butler, Florida</p><h3>Mid-Major Meter</h3><p>(<em>For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10</em>.)</p><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags and the Gaels swap spots here after Gonzaga took the showdown in Moraga.</p><p>2. <strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels can recollect after their home loss knowing all of their goals for the season are still attainable.</p><p>3. <strong>New Mexico State</strong>: The Aggies are closing in on clinching the WAC regular-season title.</p><p>4. <strong>Nevada</strong>: If you didn’t see SI.com’s Jeremy Fuch’s feature on the Martin twins last week, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/09/nevada-wolf-pack-basketball-caleb-and-cody-martin-twins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check it out." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check it out.</a></p><p>5. <strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: The Blue Raiders are currently atop the C-USA at 12–1 and have won seven straight. After what Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has done the last two years, no high major is going to want to see it in a potential first-round NCAA matchup.</p>
Power Rankings: Michigan State Leads New-Look Top 25

Nothing lasts forever, isn’t that the saying? After four straight weeks of Villanova, Purdue and Virginia topping our Power Rankings—in that order—we finally have a changing of the guard at the top after all three lost in the same week. Much like the AP poll, the Cavaliers actually wound up moving up a spot after all the dust settled, which seems like a testament to how unique this season has been. While these rankings weigh strongly (but certainly not entirely) on recent results/performance, it’s important to not be overly reactive to one bad result, especially if it’s an anomaly compared to a team’s overall play or trend of late. Here’s the new top 25:

1. Michigan State (25–3)

Last Week (4): beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota
Next Week: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois

After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (3): beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami
Next Week: OFF

Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.

3. Villanova (23–2)

Last Week (1): lost to St. John’s, beat Butler
Next Week: at Providence, at Xavier

Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.

4. Xavier (23–3)

Last Week (5): beat Butler, beat Creighton
Next Week: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova

The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.

5. Cincinnati (23–2)

Last Week (6): beat UCF, beat SMU
Next Week: at Houston, vs. Wichita State

The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.

6. Purdue (23–4)

Last Week (2): lost to Ohio State, lost to Michigan State
Next Week: at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State

The Boilermakers had their first setbacks in a looong time last week, losing back-to-back games to the Big Ten’s other elite teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s not the best optics that Purdue went 0 for 2 in its biggest tests since Thanksgiving weekend, but it did still land a No. 1 seed in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal. Against the Spartans, it was the Isaac Haas show, but good as the 7’2” senior is, Purdue can’t allow opponents to let Haas get his and have the rest of the team be largely shut down. Outside of Haas, the rest of the Boilermakers converted just 8 for 23 (34.8%) two-point attempts and made just 6 of 19 (31.6%) threes despite being the second-best perimeter shooting tem nationally.

7. Texas Tech (22–4)

Last Week (8): beat Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Baylor

Now alone in first in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are winners of seven straight. Their latest accomplishment was holding Trae Young to 19 points and seven assists on 4-for-16 shooting, including a 0-for-9 mark from three. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence—Texas Tech has the nation’s 17th-best three-point defense and ranks second in Big 12 play in that area, per kenpom.com. Virginia and Cincinnati’s defenses have grabbed the headlines this season, but the Raiders’ third-ranked defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re giving up just 88.8 adjusted points per 100 possessions, 3.3 fewer than the next closest team, Texas A&M.

8. Ohio State (22–5)

Last Week (14): beat Purdue, beat Iowa
Next Week: at Penn State, at Michigan

A notable jump for the Buckeyes, but they earned one of the most impressive wins of the season in beating Purdue on the road and benefit from losses by all the teams that were in the group above them. Ohio State is now in position to win the Big Ten outright, something even its most ardent fans probably never thought possible three months ago. If you want a reason to believe the Buckeyes are real contenders, look no further than the fact that it didn’t take a crazy shooting night or one player having the game of his life to knock off the Boilermakers. OSU shot 42.1% from the floor, made only 10 of 16 free throws and won the rebounding battle by just one—and still came out on top.

9. Gonzaga (23–4)

Last Week (15): beat Pacific, beat Saint Mary’s
Next Week: vs. Loyola Marymount, vs. Pepperdine

The Zags restored order in the WCC by taking it to Saint Mary’s on the road in the rematch, pulling into a tie for first place that’s not likely to be broken. Gonzaga looked much more like itself this time around, especially on the defensive end, where it used a double team of Gaels star Jock Landale to hold him to just four field-goal attempts, a far cry from the 15 he had when he scored 26 in Spokane. The Bulldogs also held hot-shooting Saint Mary’s to just 5-of-20 shooting from three, effectively killing both ways the Gaels use to beat opponents. Finally, There’s Something About (Saint) Mary’s that seems to bring out the best in Rui Hachimura, who has now led the Zags in scoring in both games against their chief WCC rival.

10. Auburn (22–3)

Last Week (7): lost to Texas A&M, beat Georgia
Next Week: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina

The Tigers are still two games up in the SEC race despite falling to Texas A&M by one last week, their first home loss of the season. They’re also in serious play for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, landing fifth in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal—just one off the pace from a No. 1 seed. It’s not surprising that a team like the Aggies is the one that gave Auburn trouble; the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses lie in rebounding and two-point shooting, which Robert Williams and Tyler Davis took advantage of, combining for 31 points on 15-for-21 shooting inside the arc with six offensive boards between the pair.

11. Duke (20–5)

Last Week (9): lost to North Carolina, beat Georgia Tech
Next Week: vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson

Before the Blue Devils’ loss to UNC last week, SI.com’s Chris Johnson gave a good breakdown of where the team stands and which areas it needs to improve on to be a true tourney threat. Defense was an obvious subject, and Johnson noted that in both recent years where Duke got bounced by a mid-major in the NCAA first round, it entered the tournament with a top-six offense and a defense ranked in the 70s on kenpom.com. In fact, the 2013–14 team that lost to Mercer had the No. 2 offense and No. 77 defense. This year’s Blue Devils currently rank No. 2 in offense and No. 79 in defense, which is alarmingly similar—for now, at least. Of course, Duke isn’t the country’s only team with a top-10 offense dealing with this kind of imbalance.

12. Kansas (20–6)

Last Week (10): beat TCU, lost to Baylor, beat Iowa State
Next Week: vs. West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma

We’re not accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks in the position they’re in; that is, not in position to win the Big 12 with just five games to go. But Kansas is still very much in play for extending its streak, even with a tough schedule on deck. To do so though, it’s going to need much better efforts than the one it gave at Baylor over the weekend, when a poor three-point shooting performance doomed it. The Jayhawks took almost exactly as many threes as twos, but made just six of the former, and had just nine free-throw attempts.

13. Rhode Island (21–3)

Last Week (16): beat Davidson, beat Richmond

Next Week: at St. Bonaventure, at LaSalle

The Rams had a big scare when E.C. Matthews left Tuesday’s game against Richmond with a knee injury, but Dan Hurley said afterwards that the prognosis is “pretty good” regarding the senior, which if accurate would leave fans breathing a side of relief. Losing Matthews for an extended period of time at this point in the season would be crushing for Rhode Island and for Matthews himself, who missed the entire 2015–16 season with an ACL tear. With Matthews, the Rams are a dangerous team that has run the table in the Atlantic 10 so far, including a wire-to-wire win Friday night over Davidson where they held the league’s top offense to 59 points.

14. Clemson (20–4)

Last Week (17): beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Florida State, vs. Duke

Up to the program’s highest rank in the AP poll (No. 11) since 2009, expect Littlejohn Coliseum to be absolutely rocking on Sunday when the Tigers host Duke in the two schools’ only regular-season meeting this year. Clemson is currently ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings—something that probably would have seemed incredulous to many at the beginning of the season—and now it has a chance to make its most direct statement yet. The Tigers struggled big time when they faced Virginia back on Jan. 23, but Duke presents a completely different kind of challenge, one Clemson and its 13th-ranked defense may be better apt to face.

15. Tennessee (19–6)

Last Week (12): beat Kentucky, lost to Alabama, beat South Carolina
Next Week: at Georgia

It was an up-and-down week for the Vols, who took down Kentucky at Rupp but then laid an egg in Tuscaloosa before beating South Carolina back in Knoxville. The 28-point loss to Alabama was the most surprising result, with Tennessee’s offense generating just 0.74 PPP and making just 13 of 41 (29.3%) of its two-point shots and 4 of 17 threes. Two-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Vols, with Grant Williams (51.3%) and Kyle Alexander (72.2%) being their only primary players making at least 47% of their twos, but they had been converting much better of late inside the arc before Saturday’s debacle.

16. North Carolina (20–7)

Last Week (24): beat Duke, beat NC State, beat Notre Dame
Next Week: at Louisville

Saying it was a great week for the Tar Heels would be an understatement. They started it with a big win over rival Duke in Chapel Hill, then survived in Raleigh against an NC State squad that was gunning for a season sweep, and finally eased past Notre Dame back at home. Against the Blue Devils, UNC was able to get out in transition, outscore Duke off turnovers by 10 and control the boards in the second half, and against the Wolf Pack, Luke Maye went off for 33 points and 17 rebounds (with six turnovers being the only damper on an otherwise stellar performance). Will the emotional win over Duke stand out long-term as a turning point in UNC’s season?

17. Saint Mary’s (24–3)

Last Week (11): beat Loyola Marymount, lost to Gonzaga
Next Week: at San Francisco, at Portland

The flip side of Gonzaga’s success was the Gaels’, well, lack of it in their first loss since November. The Bulldogs provided the blueprint to beating Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t have the kind of defense that can make up for an off offensive night. But here’s the thing: if Saint Mary’s had shot better from three, it would’ve forced Gonzaga to rethink its strategy on Landale and likely make adjustments, which perhaps would’ve changed the outcome of the game. The Zags deserve a lot of credit for committing defensively, especially in an area (three-point defense) that’s been a weakness for them, but it doesn’t mean other teams will be able to replicate it with ease. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Gaels adjust and respond should they meet Gonzaga again in the WCC tournament final.

18. Arizona (20–6)

Last Week (13): lost to UCLA, beat USC
Next Week: at Arizona State

Seven straight opponents have scored at least 1.0 PPP against the Wildcats, whose defense ranks 107th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Arizona was considered a national title favorite before the season began, but it’s hard to see how that can come to fruition without serious improvement on that end in the next month. The ‘Cats have DeAndre Ayton and his shot-blocking ability inside, but their perimeter defense is severely lacking, ranking 11th in Pac-12 play, and they don’t generate many turnovers. It allowed them to be upset in back-to-back games, with Washington hitting 8 of 14 threes and UCLA connecting on 11 of 24 while also making 55.3% of their shots inside the arc.

19. Wichita State (19–5)

Last Week (19): beat Memphis, beat UConn
Next Week: vs. Temple, at Cincinnati

The good: the Shockers went 2–0 with two routs last week to bounce back from a loss to Temple. The bad: the defensive concerns aren’t exactly alleviated after they gave up 1.12 points per possession to a UConn team that ranks sub-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Against Memphis though, things were better, with the Tigers scoring 0.90 PPP and turning it over 18 times on a quarter of their possessions. Turnovers are an interesting area to look at for Wichita State, because it’s one where this team diverts from the one that had much more overall defensive success last year. The Shockers weren’t an elite team at generating steals or turnovers in 2016–17, but they weren’t bad at it, either. But this season, they rank 268th in defensive turnover percentage (down from 119th last year) and a paltry 320th in defensive steal percentage, down from 123rd.

20. West Virginia (19–7)

Last Week (20): lost to Oklahoma State, beat TCU
Next Week: at Kansas, at Baylor

After giving up 1.26 PPP over the weekend in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers turned around and held the Big 12’s best offense (and the fifth-best nationally) to 1.03 PPP and 66 points overall on Monday. The WVU offense has been more consistent, posting PPP of 1.15, 1.20, 1.14, 1.06, 1.21 and 1.28 over its last six games. West Virginia’s offense ranks 18th on kenpom.com and is scoring an adjusted 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than any Mountaineer team has finished with in the KenPom era or under Bob Huggins. And it’s doing it despite the fact that its effective field goal percentage ranks 196th in the country.

21. Arizona State (19–6)

Last Week (NR): beat USC, beat UCLA
Next Week: vs. Arizona

The mysterious saga of the Sun Devils continues. After opening 12–0, then going over six weeks without notching back-to-back wins, ASU has now won three straight, including two solid wins over UCLA and USC. It helps that they’ve been getting back to the free throw line: in those two games, they attempted 28 and 32 free throws, respectively, after taking just 14 and 17 freebies in their previous two losses. The Sun Devils have the nation’s seventh-best free-throw rate and get more points from the charity stripe than all but 21 teams nationally, so when they’re kept off the line, it takes away a big weapon. In particular, senior guard Tra Holder hit more free throws against each of USC and UCLA than he had even attempted in the previous 10 games.

22. Texas A&M (17–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Auburn, beat Kentucky, lost to Missouri
Next Week: at Arkansas, vs. Mississippi State

It’s been a while since the Aggies have appeared here, but they earned their way back with a 2–1 week that included wins over Auburn and Kentucky. A&M became just the second SEC team to beat the Tigers this season and the first to win at Auburn Arena all season. The weekend news that J.J. Caldwell has been dismissed and Jay Jay Chandler suspended indefinitely shouldn’t affect the team’s recent play much, as neither have had a big presence as a now healthy Texas A&M has won six of nine, but it’s a continuing trend of off-court issues threatening to torpedo the Aggies’ season.

23. Alabama (17–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Mississippi State, beat Tennessee, beat LSU
Next Week: at Kentucky, at Auburn

The Crimson Tide have some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies to them, but they’ve been trending in the right direction lately, winning four of six, including an impressive 28-point rout of Tennessee over the weekend. Is this a team that is randomly inconsistent or one that plays to the level of its competition? It has strong wins, including over the Vols, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn, yet has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all since the start of the new year. The remaining SEC schedule for Collin Sexton and Co. is tough: at Kentucky, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&M. It’s make-or-break time for Alabama.

24. Oklahoma (16–9)

Last Week (18): lost to Iowa State, lost to Texas Tech
Next Week: vs. Texas, at Kansas

Things continue to spiral for the Sooners, who frankly despite losing four straight are only hanging on here because so many of the teams that would have been “next up” had bad-to-mixed weeks of their own. To be fair, it’s not like Oklahoma’s recent schedule has been easy: three of those four games were on the road, and two of its last three opponents are ranked in the top 15 on kenpom.com. But OU needs more on the defensive end if it wants to avoid a short stay in the NCAA tournament, and even with Trae Young leading the way, the offensive can have its flaws. Against Texas Tech’s elite defense Tuesday night, Young went 0 for 9 from three, the first time all season he failed to make at least one shot from deep.

25. Nevada (21–5)

Last Week (22): lost to UNLV, beat San Diego State
Next Week: at Boise State, at Utah State

The Wolfpack’s home loss to UNLV last week comes with a caveat: they were without their best player, Caleb Martin, who averages 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 45.1% from three. Then things got worse when it was announced that Martin would be out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain, threatening to cast a big cloud over Nevada’s postseason hopes. Martin was expected to miss multiple—maybe even several weeks—then he suddenly suited up over the weekend for their win over San Diego State. He struggled from three in that game, going 2 for 10 in 23 minutes off the bench, but if Martin is truly O.K. that’s a very fortunate turn of events for the Wolfpack.

DROPPED OUT: Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan, Butler

NEXT FIVE OUT: New Mexico State, Michigan, Kentucky, Butler, Florida

Mid-Major Meter

(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)

1. Gonzaga: The Zags and the Gaels swap spots here after Gonzaga took the showdown in Moraga.

2. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels can recollect after their home loss knowing all of their goals for the season are still attainable.

3. New Mexico State: The Aggies are closing in on clinching the WAC regular-season title.

4. Nevada: If you didn’t see SI.com’s Jeremy Fuch’s feature on the Martin twins last week, check it out.

5. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders are currently atop the C-USA at 12–1 and have won seven straight. After what Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has done the last two years, no high major is going to want to see it in a potential first-round NCAA matchup.

<p>Nothing lasts forever, isn’t that the saying? After four straight weeks of Villanova, Purdue and Virginia topping our Power Rankings—in that order—we finally have a changing of the guard at the top after all three lost in the same week. Much like the AP poll, the Cavaliers actually wound up moving up a spot after all the dust settled, which seems like a testament to how unique this season has been. While these rankings weigh strongly (but certainly not entirely) on recent results/performance, it’s important to not be overly reactive to one bad result, especially if it’s an anomaly compared to a team’s overall play or trend of late. Here’s the new top 25:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (25–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois</p><p>After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.</p><h3>2. Virginia (24–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: OFF</p><p>Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.</p><h3>3. Villanova (23–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: lost to St. John’s, beat Butler<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Providence, at Xavier</p><p>Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.</p><h3>4. Xavier (23–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: beat Butler, beat Creighton<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova</p><p>The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.</p><h3>5. Cincinnati (23–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: beat UCF, beat SMU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Houston, vs. Wichita State</p><p>The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&#38;T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.</p><h3>6. Purdue (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: lost to Ohio State, lost to Michigan State<br><strong>Next</strong><strong> Week</strong>: at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State</p><p>The Boilermakers had their first setbacks in a looong time last week, losing back-to-back games to the Big Ten’s other elite teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s not the best optics that Purdue went 0 for 2 in its biggest tests since Thanksgiving weekend, but it did still land a No. 1 seed in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal. Against the Spartans, it was the Isaac Haas show, but good as the 7’2” senior is, Purdue can’t allow opponents to let Haas get his and have the rest of the team be largely shut down. Outside of Haas, the rest of the Boilermakers converted just 8 for 23 (34.8%) two-point attempts and made just 6 of 19 (31.6%) threes despite being the second-best perimeter shooting tem nationally.</p><h3>7. Texas Tech (22–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Baylor</p><p>Now alone in first in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are winners of seven straight. Their latest accomplishment was holding Trae Young to 19 points and seven assists on 4-for-16 shooting, including a 0-for-9 mark from three. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence—Texas Tech has the nation’s 17th-best three-point defense and ranks second in Big 12 play in that area, per kenpom.com. Virginia and Cincinnati’s defenses have grabbed the headlines this season, but the Raiders’ third-ranked defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re giving up just 88.8 adjusted points per 100 possessions, 3.3 fewer than the next closest team, Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3>8. Ohio State (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: beat Purdue, beat Iowa<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Penn State, at Michigan</p><p>A notable jump for the Buckeyes, but they earned one of the most impressive wins of the season in beating Purdue on the road and benefit from losses by all the teams that were in the group above them. Ohio State is now in position to win the Big Ten outright, something even its most ardent fans probably never thought possible three months ago. If you want a reason to believe the Buckeyes are real contenders, look no further than the fact that it didn’t take a crazy shooting night or one player having the game of his life to knock off the Boilermakers. OSU shot 42.1% from the floor, made only 10 of 16 free throws and won the rebounding battle by just one—and still came out on top.</p><h3>9. Gonzaga (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: beat Pacific, beat Saint Mary’s<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Loyola Marymount, vs. Pepperdine</p><p>The Zags restored order in the WCC by taking it to Saint Mary’s on the road in the rematch, pulling into a tie for first place that’s not likely to be broken. Gonzaga looked much more like itself this time around, especially on the defensive end, where it used a double team of Gaels star Jock Landale to hold him to just four field-goal attempts, a far cry from the 15 he had when he scored 26 in Spokane. The Bulldogs also held hot-shooting Saint Mary’s to just 5-of-20 shooting from three, effectively killing both ways the Gaels use to beat opponents. Finally, There’s Something About (Saint) Mary’s that seems to bring out the best in Rui Hachimura, who has now led the Zags in scoring in both games against their chief WCC rival.</p><h3>10. Auburn (22–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: lost to Texas A&#38;M, beat Georgia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina</p><p>The Tigers are still two games up in the SEC race despite falling to Texas A&#38;M by one last week, their first home loss of the season. They’re also in serious play for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, landing fifth in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal—just one off the pace from a No. 1 seed. It’s not surprising that a team like the Aggies is the one that gave Auburn trouble; the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses lie in rebounding and two-point shooting, which Robert Williams and Tyler Davis took advantage of, combining for 31 points on 15-for-21 shooting inside the arc with six offensive boards between the pair.</p><h3>11. Duke (20–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: lost to North Carolina, beat Georgia Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson</p><p>Before the Blue Devils’ loss to UNC last week, SI.com’s Chris Johnson gave a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/08/duke-basketball-defense-grayson-allen-gary-trent-ncaa-tournament-chances" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:good breakdown" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">good breakdown</a> of where the team stands and which areas it needs to improve on to be a true tourney threat. Defense was an obvious subject, and Johnson noted that in both recent years where Duke got bounced by a mid-major in the NCAA first round, it entered the tournament with a top-six offense and a defense ranked in the 70s on kenpom.com. In fact, the 2013–14 team that lost to Mercer had the No. 2 offense and No. 77 defense. This year’s Blue Devils currently rank No. 2 in offense and No. 79 in defense, which is alarmingly similar—for now, at least. Of course, Duke isn’t the country’s only team with a top-10 offense dealing with this kind of imbalance.</p><h3>12. Kansas (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat TCU, lost to Baylor, beat Iowa State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma</p><p>We’re not accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks in the position they’re in; that is, not in position to win the Big 12 with just five games to go. But Kansas is still very much in play for extending its streak, even with a tough schedule on deck. To do so though, it’s going to need much better efforts than the one it gave at Baylor over the weekend, when a poor three-point shooting performance doomed it. The Jayhawks took almost exactly as many threes as twos, but made just six of the former, and had just nine free-throw attempts.</p><h3>13. Rhode Island (21–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Davidson, beat Richmond</p><p><strong>Next Week</strong>: at St. Bonaventure, at LaSalle</p><p>The Rams had a big scare when E.C. Matthews left Tuesday’s game against Richmond with a knee injury, but Dan Hurley <a href="https://twitter.com/BillKoch25/status/963621253885120512" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said afterwards" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said afterwards</a> that the prognosis is “pretty good” regarding the senior, which if accurate would leave fans breathing a side of relief. Losing Matthews for an extended period of time at this point in the season would be crushing for Rhode Island and for Matthews himself, who missed the entire 2015–16 season with an ACL tear. With Matthews, the Rams are a dangerous team that has run the table in the Atlantic 10 so far, including a wire-to-wire win Friday night over Davidson where they held the league’s top offense to 59 points.</p><h3>14. Clemson (20–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (17)</strong>: beat Pittsburgh<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Florida State, vs. Duke</p><p>Up to the program’s highest rank in the AP poll (No. 11) since 2009, expect Littlejohn Coliseum to be absolutely rocking on Sunday when the Tigers host Duke in the two schools’ only regular-season meeting this year. Clemson is currently ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings—something that probably would have seemed incredulous to many at the beginning of the season—and now it has a chance to make its most direct statement yet. The Tigers struggled big time when they faced Virginia back on Jan. 23, but Duke presents a completely different kind of challenge, one Clemson and its 13th-ranked defense may be better apt to face.</p><h3>15. Tennessee (19–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat Kentucky, lost to Alabama, beat South Carolina<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Georgia</p><p>It was an up-and-down week for the Vols, who took down Kentucky at Rupp but then laid an egg in Tuscaloosa before beating South Carolina back in Knoxville. The 28-point loss to Alabama was the most surprising result, with Tennessee’s offense generating just 0.74 PPP and making just 13 of 41 (29.3%) of its two-point shots and 4 of 17 threes. Two-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Vols, with Grant Williams (51.3%) and Kyle Alexander (72.2%) being their only primary players making at least 47% of their twos, but they had been converting much better of late inside the arc before Saturday’s debacle.</p><h3>16. North Carolina (20–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (24)</strong>: beat Duke, beat NC State, beat Notre Dame<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Louisville</p><p>Saying it was a great week for the Tar Heels would be an understatement. They started it with a big win over rival Duke in Chapel Hill, then survived in Raleigh against an NC State squad that was gunning for a season sweep, and finally eased past Notre Dame back at home. Against the Blue Devils, UNC was able to get out in transition, outscore Duke off turnovers by 10 and control the boards in the second half, and against the Wolf Pack, Luke Maye went off for 33 points and 17 rebounds (with six turnovers being the only damper on an otherwise stellar performance). Will the emotional win over Duke stand out long-term as a turning point in UNC’s season?</p><h3>17. Saint Mary’s (24–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Loyola Marymount, lost to Gonzaga<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at San Francisco, at Portland</p><p>The flip side of Gonzaga’s success was the Gaels’, well, lack of it in their first loss since November. The Bulldogs provided the blueprint to beating Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t have the kind of defense that can make up for an off offensive night. But here’s the thing: if Saint Mary’s had shot better from three, it would’ve forced Gonzaga to rethink its strategy on Landale and likely make adjustments, which perhaps would’ve changed the outcome of the game. The Zags deserve a lot of credit for committing defensively, especially in an area (three-point defense) that’s been a weakness for them, but it doesn’t mean other teams will be able to replicate it with ease. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Gaels adjust and respond should they meet Gonzaga again in the WCC tournament final.</p><h3>18. Arizona (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: lost to UCLA, beat USC<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Arizona State</p><p>Seven straight opponents have scored at least 1.0 PPP against the Wildcats, whose defense ranks 107th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Arizona was considered a national title favorite before the season began, but it’s hard to see how that can come to fruition without serious improvement on that end in the next month. The ‘Cats have DeAndre Ayton and his shot-blocking ability inside, but their perimeter defense is severely lacking, ranking 11th in Pac-12 play, and they don’t generate many turnovers. It allowed them to be upset in back-to-back games, with Washington hitting 8 of 14 threes and UCLA connecting on 11 of 24 while also making 55.3% of their shots inside the arc.</p><h3>19. Wichita State (19–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19)</strong>: beat Memphis, beat UConn<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Temple, at Cincinnati</p><p>The good: the Shockers went 2–0 with two routs last week to bounce back from a loss to Temple. The bad: the defensive concerns aren’t exactly alleviated after they gave up 1.12 points per possession to a UConn team that ranks sub-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Against Memphis though, things were better, with the Tigers scoring 0.90 PPP and turning it over 18 times on a quarter of their possessions. Turnovers are an interesting area to look at for Wichita State, because it’s one where this team diverts from the one that had much more overall defensive success last year. The Shockers weren’t an elite team at generating steals or turnovers in 2016–17, but they weren’t bad at it, either. But this season, they rank 268th in defensive turnover percentage (down from 119th last year) and a paltry 320th in defensive steal percentage, down from 123rd.</p><h3>20. West Virginia (19–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: lost to Oklahoma State, beat TCU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Kansas, at Baylor</p><p>After giving up 1.26 PPP over the weekend in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers turned around and held the Big 12’s best offense (and the fifth-best nationally) to 1.03 PPP and 66 points overall on Monday. The WVU offense has been more consistent, posting PPP of 1.15, 1.20, 1.14, 1.06, 1.21 and 1.28 over its last six games. West Virginia’s offense ranks 18th on kenpom.com and is scoring an adjusted 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than any Mountaineer team has finished with in the KenPom era or under Bob Huggins. And it’s doing it despite the fact that its effective field goal percentage ranks 196th in the country.</p><h3>21. Arizona State (19–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat USC, beat UCLA<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Arizona</p><p>The mysterious saga of the Sun Devils continues. After opening 12–0, then going over six weeks without notching back-to-back wins, ASU has now won three straight, including two solid wins over UCLA and USC. It helps that they’ve been getting back to the free throw line: in those two games, they attempted 28 and 32 free throws, respectively, after taking just 14 and 17 freebies in their previous two losses. The Sun Devils have the nation’s seventh-best free-throw rate and get more points from the charity stripe than all but 21 teams nationally, so when they’re kept off the line, it takes away a big weapon. In particular, senior guard Tra Holder hit more free throws against each of USC and UCLA than he had even attempted in the previous 10 games.</p><h3>22. Texas A&#38;M (17–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Auburn, beat Kentucky, lost to Missouri<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Arkansas, vs. Mississippi State</p><p>It’s been a while since the Aggies have appeared here, but they earned their way back with a 2–1 week that included wins over Auburn and Kentucky. A&#38;M became just the second SEC team to beat the Tigers this season and the first to win at Auburn Arena all season. The weekend news that J.J. Caldwell has been dismissed and Jay Jay Chandler suspended indefinitely shouldn’t affect the team’s recent play much, as neither have had a big presence as a now healthy Texas A&#38;M has won six of nine, but it’s a continuing trend of off-court issues threatening to torpedo the Aggies’ season.</p><h3>23. Alabama (17–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Mississippi State, beat Tennessee, beat LSU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Kentucky, at Auburn</p><p>The Crimson Tide have some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies to them, but they’ve been trending in the right direction lately, winning four of six, including an impressive 28-point rout of Tennessee over the weekend. Is this a team that is randomly inconsistent or one that plays to the level of its competition? It has strong wins, including over the Vols, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn, yet has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all since the start of the new year. The remaining SEC schedule for Collin Sexton and Co. is tough: at Kentucky, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&#38;M. It’s make-or-break time for Alabama.</p><h3>24. Oklahoma (16–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: lost to Iowa State, lost to Texas Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Texas, at Kansas</p><p>Things continue to spiral for the Sooners, who frankly despite losing four straight are only hanging on here because so many of the teams that would have been “next up” had bad-to-mixed weeks of their own. To be fair, it’s not like Oklahoma’s recent schedule has been easy: three of those four games were on the road, and two of its last three opponents are ranked in the top 15 on kenpom.com. But OU needs more on the defensive end if it wants to avoid a short stay in the NCAA tournament, and even with Trae Young leading the way, the offensive can have its flaws. Against Texas Tech’s elite defense Tuesday night, Young went 0 for 9 from three, the first time all season he failed to make at least one shot from deep.</p><h3>25. Nevada (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (22)</strong>: lost to UNLV, beat San Diego State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Boise State, at Utah State</p><p>The Wolfpack’s home loss to UNLV last week comes with a caveat: they were without their best player, Caleb Martin, who averages 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 45.1% from three. Then things got worse when it was announced that Martin would be out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain, threatening to cast a big cloud over Nevada’s postseason hopes. Martin was expected to miss multiple—maybe even several weeks—then he suddenly suited up over the weekend for their win over San Diego State. He struggled from three in that game, going 2 for 10 in 23 minutes off the bench, but if Martin is truly O.K. that’s a very fortunate turn of events for the Wolfpack.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan, Butler</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: New Mexico State, Michigan, Kentucky, Butler, Florida</p><h3>Mid-Major Meter</h3><p>(<em>For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10</em>.)</p><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags and the Gaels swap spots here after Gonzaga took the showdown in Moraga.</p><p>2. <strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels can recollect after their home loss knowing all of their goals for the season are still attainable.</p><p>3. <strong>New Mexico State</strong>: The Aggies are closing in on clinching the WAC regular-season title.</p><p>4. <strong>Nevada</strong>: If you didn’t see SI.com’s Jeremy Fuch’s feature on the Martin twins last week, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/09/nevada-wolf-pack-basketball-caleb-and-cody-martin-twins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:check it out." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">check it out.</a></p><p>5. <strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: The Blue Raiders are currently atop the C-USA at 12–1 and have won seven straight. After what Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has done the last two years, no high major is going to want to see it in a potential first-round NCAA matchup.</p>
Power Rankings: Michigan State Leads New-Look Top 25

Nothing lasts forever, isn’t that the saying? After four straight weeks of Villanova, Purdue and Virginia topping our Power Rankings—in that order—we finally have a changing of the guard at the top after all three lost in the same week. Much like the AP poll, the Cavaliers actually wound up moving up a spot after all the dust settled, which seems like a testament to how unique this season has been. While these rankings weigh strongly (but certainly not entirely) on recent results/performance, it’s important to not be overly reactive to one bad result, especially if it’s an anomaly compared to a team’s overall play or trend of late. Here’s the new top 25:

1. Michigan State (25–3)

Last Week (4): beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota
Next Week: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois

After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (3): beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami
Next Week: OFF

Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.

3. Villanova (23–2)

Last Week (1): lost to St. John’s, beat Butler
Next Week: at Providence, at Xavier

Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.

4. Xavier (23–3)

Last Week (5): beat Butler, beat Creighton
Next Week: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova

The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.

5. Cincinnati (23–2)

Last Week (6): beat UCF, beat SMU
Next Week: at Houston, vs. Wichita State

The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.

6. Purdue (23–4)

Last Week (2): lost to Ohio State, lost to Michigan State
Next Week: at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State

The Boilermakers had their first setbacks in a looong time last week, losing back-to-back games to the Big Ten’s other elite teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s not the best optics that Purdue went 0 for 2 in its biggest tests since Thanksgiving weekend, but it did still land a No. 1 seed in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal. Against the Spartans, it was the Isaac Haas show, but good as the 7’2” senior is, Purdue can’t allow opponents to let Haas get his and have the rest of the team be largely shut down. Outside of Haas, the rest of the Boilermakers converted just 8 for 23 (34.8%) two-point attempts and made just 6 of 19 (31.6%) threes despite being the second-best perimeter shooting tem nationally.

7. Texas Tech (22–4)

Last Week (8): beat Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Baylor

Now alone in first in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are winners of seven straight. Their latest accomplishment was holding Trae Young to 19 points and seven assists on 4-for-16 shooting, including a 0-for-9 mark from three. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence—Texas Tech has the nation’s 17th-best three-point defense and ranks second in Big 12 play in that area, per kenpom.com. Virginia and Cincinnati’s defenses have grabbed the headlines this season, but the Raiders’ third-ranked defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re giving up just 88.8 adjusted points per 100 possessions, 3.3 fewer than the next closest team, Texas A&M.

8. Ohio State (22–5)

Last Week (14): beat Purdue, beat Iowa
Next Week: at Penn State, at Michigan

A notable jump for the Buckeyes, but they earned one of the most impressive wins of the season in beating Purdue on the road and benefit from losses by all the teams that were in the group above them. Ohio State is now in position to win the Big Ten outright, something even its most ardent fans probably never thought possible three months ago. If you want a reason to believe the Buckeyes are real contenders, look no further than the fact that it didn’t take a crazy shooting night or one player having the game of his life to knock off the Boilermakers. OSU shot 42.1% from the floor, made only 10 of 16 free throws and won the rebounding battle by just one—and still came out on top.

9. Gonzaga (23–4)

Last Week (15): beat Pacific, beat Saint Mary’s
Next Week: vs. Loyola Marymount, vs. Pepperdine

The Zags restored order in the WCC by taking it to Saint Mary’s on the road in the rematch, pulling into a tie for first place that’s not likely to be broken. Gonzaga looked much more like itself this time around, especially on the defensive end, where it used a double team of Gaels star Jock Landale to hold him to just four field-goal attempts, a far cry from the 15 he had when he scored 26 in Spokane. The Bulldogs also held hot-shooting Saint Mary’s to just 5-of-20 shooting from three, effectively killing both ways the Gaels use to beat opponents. Finally, There’s Something About (Saint) Mary’s that seems to bring out the best in Rui Hachimura, who has now led the Zags in scoring in both games against their chief WCC rival.

10. Auburn (22–3)

Last Week (7): lost to Texas A&M, beat Georgia
Next Week: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina

The Tigers are still two games up in the SEC race despite falling to Texas A&M by one last week, their first home loss of the season. They’re also in serious play for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, landing fifth in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal—just one off the pace from a No. 1 seed. It’s not surprising that a team like the Aggies is the one that gave Auburn trouble; the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses lie in rebounding and two-point shooting, which Robert Williams and Tyler Davis took advantage of, combining for 31 points on 15-for-21 shooting inside the arc with six offensive boards between the pair.

11. Duke (20–5)

Last Week (9): lost to North Carolina, beat Georgia Tech
Next Week: vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson

Before the Blue Devils’ loss to UNC last week, SI.com’s Chris Johnson gave a good breakdown of where the team stands and which areas it needs to improve on to be a true tourney threat. Defense was an obvious subject, and Johnson noted that in both recent years where Duke got bounced by a mid-major in the NCAA first round, it entered the tournament with a top-six offense and a defense ranked in the 70s on kenpom.com. In fact, the 2013–14 team that lost to Mercer had the No. 2 offense and No. 77 defense. This year’s Blue Devils currently rank No. 2 in offense and No. 79 in defense, which is alarmingly similar—for now, at least. Of course, Duke isn’t the country’s only team with a top-10 offense dealing with this kind of imbalance.

12. Kansas (20–6)

Last Week (10): beat TCU, lost to Baylor, beat Iowa State
Next Week: vs. West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma

We’re not accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks in the position they’re in; that is, not in position to win the Big 12 with just five games to go. But Kansas is still very much in play for extending its streak, even with a tough schedule on deck. To do so though, it’s going to need much better efforts than the one it gave at Baylor over the weekend, when a poor three-point shooting performance doomed it. The Jayhawks took almost exactly as many threes as twos, but made just six of the former, and had just nine free-throw attempts.

13. Rhode Island (21–3)

Last Week (16): beat Davidson, beat Richmond

Next Week: at St. Bonaventure, at LaSalle

The Rams had a big scare when E.C. Matthews left Tuesday’s game against Richmond with a knee injury, but Dan Hurley said afterwards that the prognosis is “pretty good” regarding the senior, which if accurate would leave fans breathing a side of relief. Losing Matthews for an extended period of time at this point in the season would be crushing for Rhode Island and for Matthews himself, who missed the entire 2015–16 season with an ACL tear. With Matthews, the Rams are a dangerous team that has run the table in the Atlantic 10 so far, including a wire-to-wire win Friday night over Davidson where they held the league’s top offense to 59 points.

14. Clemson (20–4)

Last Week (17): beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Florida State, vs. Duke

Up to the program’s highest rank in the AP poll (No. 11) since 2009, expect Littlejohn Coliseum to be absolutely rocking on Sunday when the Tigers host Duke in the two schools’ only regular-season meeting this year. Clemson is currently ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings—something that probably would have seemed incredulous to many at the beginning of the season—and now it has a chance to make its most direct statement yet. The Tigers struggled big time when they faced Virginia back on Jan. 23, but Duke presents a completely different kind of challenge, one Clemson and its 13th-ranked defense may be better apt to face.

15. Tennessee (19–6)

Last Week (12): beat Kentucky, lost to Alabama, beat South Carolina
Next Week: at Georgia

It was an up-and-down week for the Vols, who took down Kentucky at Rupp but then laid an egg in Tuscaloosa before beating South Carolina back in Knoxville. The 28-point loss to Alabama was the most surprising result, with Tennessee’s offense generating just 0.74 PPP and making just 13 of 41 (29.3%) of its two-point shots and 4 of 17 threes. Two-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Vols, with Grant Williams (51.3%) and Kyle Alexander (72.2%) being their only primary players making at least 47% of their twos, but they had been converting much better of late inside the arc before Saturday’s debacle.

16. North Carolina (20–7)

Last Week (24): beat Duke, beat NC State, beat Notre Dame
Next Week: at Louisville

Saying it was a great week for the Tar Heels would be an understatement. They started it with a big win over rival Duke in Chapel Hill, then survived in Raleigh against an NC State squad that was gunning for a season sweep, and finally eased past Notre Dame back at home. Against the Blue Devils, UNC was able to get out in transition, outscore Duke off turnovers by 10 and control the boards in the second half, and against the Wolf Pack, Luke Maye went off for 33 points and 17 rebounds (with six turnovers being the only damper on an otherwise stellar performance). Will the emotional win over Duke stand out long-term as a turning point in UNC’s season?

17. Saint Mary’s (24–3)

Last Week (11): beat Loyola Marymount, lost to Gonzaga
Next Week: at San Francisco, at Portland

The flip side of Gonzaga’s success was the Gaels’, well, lack of it in their first loss since November. The Bulldogs provided the blueprint to beating Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t have the kind of defense that can make up for an off offensive night. But here’s the thing: if Saint Mary’s had shot better from three, it would’ve forced Gonzaga to rethink its strategy on Landale and likely make adjustments, which perhaps would’ve changed the outcome of the game. The Zags deserve a lot of credit for committing defensively, especially in an area (three-point defense) that’s been a weakness for them, but it doesn’t mean other teams will be able to replicate it with ease. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Gaels adjust and respond should they meet Gonzaga again in the WCC tournament final.

18. Arizona (20–6)

Last Week (13): lost to UCLA, beat USC
Next Week: at Arizona State

Seven straight opponents have scored at least 1.0 PPP against the Wildcats, whose defense ranks 107th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Arizona was considered a national title favorite before the season began, but it’s hard to see how that can come to fruition without serious improvement on that end in the next month. The ‘Cats have DeAndre Ayton and his shot-blocking ability inside, but their perimeter defense is severely lacking, ranking 11th in Pac-12 play, and they don’t generate many turnovers. It allowed them to be upset in back-to-back games, with Washington hitting 8 of 14 threes and UCLA connecting on 11 of 24 while also making 55.3% of their shots inside the arc.

19. Wichita State (19–5)

Last Week (19): beat Memphis, beat UConn
Next Week: vs. Temple, at Cincinnati

The good: the Shockers went 2–0 with two routs last week to bounce back from a loss to Temple. The bad: the defensive concerns aren’t exactly alleviated after they gave up 1.12 points per possession to a UConn team that ranks sub-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Against Memphis though, things were better, with the Tigers scoring 0.90 PPP and turning it over 18 times on a quarter of their possessions. Turnovers are an interesting area to look at for Wichita State, because it’s one where this team diverts from the one that had much more overall defensive success last year. The Shockers weren’t an elite team at generating steals or turnovers in 2016–17, but they weren’t bad at it, either. But this season, they rank 268th in defensive turnover percentage (down from 119th last year) and a paltry 320th in defensive steal percentage, down from 123rd.

20. West Virginia (19–7)

Last Week (20): lost to Oklahoma State, beat TCU
Next Week: at Kansas, at Baylor

After giving up 1.26 PPP over the weekend in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers turned around and held the Big 12’s best offense (and the fifth-best nationally) to 1.03 PPP and 66 points overall on Monday. The WVU offense has been more consistent, posting PPP of 1.15, 1.20, 1.14, 1.06, 1.21 and 1.28 over its last six games. West Virginia’s offense ranks 18th on kenpom.com and is scoring an adjusted 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than any Mountaineer team has finished with in the KenPom era or under Bob Huggins. And it’s doing it despite the fact that its effective field goal percentage ranks 196th in the country.

21. Arizona State (19–6)

Last Week (NR): beat USC, beat UCLA
Next Week: vs. Arizona

The mysterious saga of the Sun Devils continues. After opening 12–0, then going over six weeks without notching back-to-back wins, ASU has now won three straight, including two solid wins over UCLA and USC. It helps that they’ve been getting back to the free throw line: in those two games, they attempted 28 and 32 free throws, respectively, after taking just 14 and 17 freebies in their previous two losses. The Sun Devils have the nation’s seventh-best free-throw rate and get more points from the charity stripe than all but 21 teams nationally, so when they’re kept off the line, it takes away a big weapon. In particular, senior guard Tra Holder hit more free throws against each of USC and UCLA than he had even attempted in the previous 10 games.

22. Texas A&M (17–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Auburn, beat Kentucky, lost to Missouri
Next Week: at Arkansas, vs. Mississippi State

It’s been a while since the Aggies have appeared here, but they earned their way back with a 2–1 week that included wins over Auburn and Kentucky. A&M became just the second SEC team to beat the Tigers this season and the first to win at Auburn Arena all season. The weekend news that J.J. Caldwell has been dismissed and Jay Jay Chandler suspended indefinitely shouldn’t affect the team’s recent play much, as neither have had a big presence as a now healthy Texas A&M has won six of nine, but it’s a continuing trend of off-court issues threatening to torpedo the Aggies’ season.

23. Alabama (17–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Mississippi State, beat Tennessee, beat LSU
Next Week: at Kentucky, at Auburn

The Crimson Tide have some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies to them, but they’ve been trending in the right direction lately, winning four of six, including an impressive 28-point rout of Tennessee over the weekend. Is this a team that is randomly inconsistent or one that plays to the level of its competition? It has strong wins, including over the Vols, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn, yet has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all since the start of the new year. The remaining SEC schedule for Collin Sexton and Co. is tough: at Kentucky, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&M. It’s make-or-break time for Alabama.

24. Oklahoma (16–9)

Last Week (18): lost to Iowa State, lost to Texas Tech
Next Week: vs. Texas, at Kansas

Things continue to spiral for the Sooners, who frankly despite losing four straight are only hanging on here because so many of the teams that would have been “next up” had bad-to-mixed weeks of their own. To be fair, it’s not like Oklahoma’s recent schedule has been easy: three of those four games were on the road, and two of its last three opponents are ranked in the top 15 on kenpom.com. But OU needs more on the defensive end if it wants to avoid a short stay in the NCAA tournament, and even with Trae Young leading the way, the offensive can have its flaws. Against Texas Tech’s elite defense Tuesday night, Young went 0 for 9 from three, the first time all season he failed to make at least one shot from deep.

25. Nevada (21–5)

Last Week (22): lost to UNLV, beat San Diego State
Next Week: at Boise State, at Utah State

The Wolfpack’s home loss to UNLV last week comes with a caveat: they were without their best player, Caleb Martin, who averages 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 45.1% from three. Then things got worse when it was announced that Martin would be out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain, threatening to cast a big cloud over Nevada’s postseason hopes. Martin was expected to miss multiple—maybe even several weeks—then he suddenly suited up over the weekend for their win over San Diego State. He struggled from three in that game, going 2 for 10 in 23 minutes off the bench, but if Martin is truly O.K. that’s a very fortunate turn of events for the Wolfpack.

DROPPED OUT: Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan, Butler

NEXT FIVE OUT: New Mexico State, Michigan, Kentucky, Butler, Florida

Mid-Major Meter

(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)

1. Gonzaga: The Zags and the Gaels swap spots here after Gonzaga took the showdown in Moraga.

2. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels can recollect after their home loss knowing all of their goals for the season are still attainable.

3. New Mexico State: The Aggies are closing in on clinching the WAC regular-season title.

4. Nevada: If you didn’t see SI.com’s Jeremy Fuch’s feature on the Martin twins last week, check it out.

5. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders are currently atop the C-USA at 12–1 and have won seven straight. After what Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has done the last two years, no high major is going to want to see it in a potential first-round NCAA matchup.

<p><b>1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State</b><br>Evaluators told The MMQB <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/09/26/saquon-barkley-penn-state-2018-nfl-draft" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was</a> two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.</p><p><b>2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame</b><br>The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/12/27/2018-nfl-mock-draft-notes-marcus-davenport-quenton-nelson-tremaine-edmunds-derwin-james" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame</a>. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.</p><p><b>3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama</b><br>As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.</p><p><b>4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State</b><br>He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.</p><p><b>5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech</b><br>Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.</p><p>?<b>6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC</b><br>He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.</p><p><b>7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia</b><br>He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.</p><p><b>8. Derwin James, S, Florida State</b><br>He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.</p><p><em>*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.</em></p><p><b>9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA</b><br>A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the <a href="https://youtu.be/TBAhx8Uadfg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Independent Thought Alarm" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Independent Thought Alarm</a>) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.</p><p><b>10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State</b><br>Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.</p><p><b>11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama</b><br>His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6&#39; 1&quot;, 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.</p><p><b>12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA</b><br>Built like a power forward (6&#39; 5&quot;, 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).</p><p><b>13. Da&#39;Ron Payne, DT, Alabama</b><br>His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.</p><p><b>14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas</b><br>He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.</p><p><b>15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington</b><br>The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they <i>sometimes</i> did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.</p><p><b>16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma</b><br>The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6&#39; 8&quot;, 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though <a href="https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/05/31/nfl-left-tackles-michael-lewis-blindside-right-tackles-left-defensive-ends" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore</a>) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.</p><p><b>17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama</b><br>Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.</p><p><b>18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma</b><br>There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if <a href="https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2018/01/02/baker-mayfield-troll-oklahoma-georgia-hot-clicks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin</a>), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/column/Baker+Mayfield:+The+Scouting+Report" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tailing Mayfield throughout draft season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tailing Mayfield throughout draft season</a>.)</p><p><b>19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College</b><br>He’s a bit undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.</p><p><b>20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming</b><br>Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.</p><p><b>21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame</b><br>With a nice blend of length (6&#39; 8&quot;, 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.</p><p><b>22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa</b><br>A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6&#39; 1&quot;, 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.</p><p><b>23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF</b><br>He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5&#39; 11&quot;, 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.</p><p><b>24. James Daniels, C, Iowa</b><br>One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.</p><p><b>25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama</b><br>A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.</p><p><b>26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida</b><br>Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6&#39; 4&quot;, 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.</p><p><b>27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU</b><br>A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.</p><p><b>28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.</p><p><b>29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado</b><br>Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.</p><p><b>30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville</b><br>Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6&#39; 3&quot; and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.</p><p><b>31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.</p><p><b>32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC</b><br>Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6&#39; 0&quot;, 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.</p><p><b>33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn</b><br>A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6&#39; 1&quot;, 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.</p><p><b>34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State</b><br>A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.</p><p><b>35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU</b><br>One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6&#39; 6&quot;, 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).</p><p><b>36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU</b><br>Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.</p><p><b>37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU</b><br>Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.</p><p><b>38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland</b><br>The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5&#39; 11&quot;, 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.</p><p><b>39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville</b><br>He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.</p><p><b>40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina</b><br>He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.</p><p><b>41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn</b><br>A big back (6&#39; 0&quot;, 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.</p><p><b>42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC</b><br>Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.</p><p><b>43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&#38;M</b><br>A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.</p><p><b>44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan</b><br>Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.</p><p><b>45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. </b><br>He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5&#39; 11&quot;, 210 lbs.).</p><p><b>46. Brian O&#39;Neill, OT, Pittsburgh</b><br>A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6&#39; 6&quot;) and athleticism.</p><p><b>47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia</b><br>Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.</p><p><b>48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson</b><br>Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6&#39; 1&quot;, 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.</p><p><b>49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State</b><br>A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.</p><p><b>50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP</b><br>A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6&#39; 2&quot;, 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.</p><p><i>Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.</i></p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
The 2018 NFL Draft Big Board

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Evaluators told The MMQB Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.

4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.

?6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.

7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia
He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.

8. Derwin James, S, Florida State
He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.

*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.

9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the Independent Thought Alarm) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.

10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5' 10", 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.

11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6' 1", 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.

12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Built like a power forward (6' 5", 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).

13. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.

14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6' 6", 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.

15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they sometimes did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6' 4", 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.

16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6' 8", 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.

17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama
Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.

18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko tailing Mayfield throughout draft season.)

19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
He’s a bit undersized (6' 2", 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.

20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.

21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
With a nice blend of length (6' 8", 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.

22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6' 1", 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.

23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5' 11", 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.

24. James Daniels, C, Iowa
One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.

25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.

26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6' 4", 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.

27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.

28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
An undersized (6' 2", 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.

29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.

30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6' 3" and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.

31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
An undersized (6' 2", 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.

32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6' 0", 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.

33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6' 1", 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.

34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.

35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6' 6", 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).

36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6' 4", 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.

37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5' 10", 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.

38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5' 11", 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.

39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.

40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.

41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
A big back (6' 0", 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.

42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC
Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.

43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.

44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6' 6", 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.

45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St.
He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5' 11", 210 lbs.).

46. Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6' 6") and athleticism.

47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.

48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6' 1", 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.

49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.

50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6' 2", 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.

Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p><b>1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State</b><br>Evaluators told The MMQB <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/09/26/saquon-barkley-penn-state-2018-nfl-draft" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was</a> two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.</p><p><b>2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame</b><br>The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/12/27/2018-nfl-mock-draft-notes-marcus-davenport-quenton-nelson-tremaine-edmunds-derwin-james" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame</a>. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.</p><p><b>3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama</b><br>As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.</p><p><b>4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State</b><br>He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.</p><p><b>5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech</b><br>Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.</p><p>?<b>6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC</b><br>He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.</p><p><b>7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia</b><br>He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.</p><p><b>8. Derwin James, S, Florida State</b><br>He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.</p><p><em>*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.</em></p><p><b>9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA</b><br>A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the <a href="https://youtu.be/TBAhx8Uadfg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Independent Thought Alarm" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Independent Thought Alarm</a>) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.</p><p><b>10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State</b><br>Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.</p><p><b>11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama</b><br>His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6&#39; 1&quot;, 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.</p><p><b>12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA</b><br>Built like a power forward (6&#39; 5&quot;, 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).</p><p><b>13. Da&#39;Ron Payne, DT, Alabama</b><br>His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.</p><p><b>14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas</b><br>He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.</p><p><b>15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington</b><br>The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they <i>sometimes</i> did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.</p><p><b>16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma</b><br>The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6&#39; 8&quot;, 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though <a href="https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/05/31/nfl-left-tackles-michael-lewis-blindside-right-tackles-left-defensive-ends" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore</a>) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.</p><p><b>17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama</b><br>Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.</p><p><b>18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma</b><br>There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if <a href="https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2018/01/02/baker-mayfield-troll-oklahoma-georgia-hot-clicks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin</a>), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/column/Baker+Mayfield:+The+Scouting+Report" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tailing Mayfield throughout draft season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tailing Mayfield throughout draft season</a>.)</p><p><b>19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College</b><br>He’s a bit undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.</p><p><b>20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming</b><br>Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.</p><p><b>21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame</b><br>With a nice blend of length (6&#39; 8&quot;, 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.</p><p><b>22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa</b><br>A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6&#39; 1&quot;, 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.</p><p><b>23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF</b><br>He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5&#39; 11&quot;, 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.</p><p><b>24. James Daniels, C, Iowa</b><br>One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.</p><p><b>25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama</b><br>A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.</p><p><b>26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida</b><br>Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6&#39; 4&quot;, 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.</p><p><b>27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU</b><br>A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.</p><p><b>28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.</p><p><b>29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado</b><br>Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.</p><p><b>30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville</b><br>Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6&#39; 3&quot; and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.</p><p><b>31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.</p><p><b>32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC</b><br>Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6&#39; 0&quot;, 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.</p><p><b>33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn</b><br>A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6&#39; 1&quot;, 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.</p><p><b>34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State</b><br>A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.</p><p><b>35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU</b><br>One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6&#39; 6&quot;, 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).</p><p><b>36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU</b><br>Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.</p><p><b>37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU</b><br>Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.</p><p><b>38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland</b><br>The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5&#39; 11&quot;, 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.</p><p><b>39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville</b><br>He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.</p><p><b>40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina</b><br>He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.</p><p><b>41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn</b><br>A big back (6&#39; 0&quot;, 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.</p><p><b>42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC</b><br>Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.</p><p><b>43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&#38;M</b><br>A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.</p><p><b>44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan</b><br>Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.</p><p><b>45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. </b><br>He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5&#39; 11&quot;, 210 lbs.).</p><p><b>46. Brian O&#39;Neill, OT, Pittsburgh</b><br>A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6&#39; 6&quot;) and athleticism.</p><p><b>47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia</b><br>Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.</p><p><b>48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson</b><br>Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6&#39; 1&quot;, 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.</p><p><b>49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State</b><br>A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.</p><p><b>50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP</b><br>A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6&#39; 2&quot;, 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.</p><p><i>Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.</i></p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
The 2018 NFL Draft Big Board

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Evaluators told The MMQB Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.

4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.

?6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.

7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia
He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.

8. Derwin James, S, Florida State
He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.

*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.

9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the Independent Thought Alarm) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.

10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5' 10", 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.

11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6' 1", 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.

12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Built like a power forward (6' 5", 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).

13. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.

14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6' 6", 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.

15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they sometimes did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6' 4", 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.

16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6' 8", 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.

17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama
Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.

18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko tailing Mayfield throughout draft season.)

19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
He’s a bit undersized (6' 2", 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.

20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.

21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
With a nice blend of length (6' 8", 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.

22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6' 1", 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.

23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5' 11", 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.

24. James Daniels, C, Iowa
One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.

25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.

26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6' 4", 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.

27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.

28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
An undersized (6' 2", 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.

29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.

30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6' 3" and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.

31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
An undersized (6' 2", 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.

32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6' 0", 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.

33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6' 1", 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.

34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.

35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6' 6", 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).

36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6' 4", 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.

37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5' 10", 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.

38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5' 11", 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.

39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.

40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.

41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
A big back (6' 0", 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.

42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC
Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.

43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.

44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6' 6", 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.

45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St.
He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5' 11", 210 lbs.).

46. Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6' 6") and athleticism.

47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.

48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6' 1", 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.

49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.

50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6' 2", 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.

Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

?

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

?

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

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True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

?

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>Recruiting classes are typically <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-winners-losers-recruiting-class-grades" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:evaluated in their entirety" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">evaluated in their entirety</a>. They are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/07/national-signing-day-2018-college-football-class-rankings" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:assessed rankings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">assessed rankings</a> based on the number and caliber of players they contain, and those rankings inform our evaluations of how much talent teams have. This exercise takes a different approach, highlighting programs that recruited the best at each position group in the 2018 cycle. Adding one really good prospect at a position is obviously a big deal, but we took into account both the quality and quantity of prospects for each category.</p><h3>Quarterback: Washington</h3><p>You almost certainly won’t see either of the quarterbacks the Huskies added as part of their 2018 recruiting class on the field this fall. That’s because Jake Browning is back as a senior with three years of starting experience. Yet in Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High four-star Colson Yankoff and Bothell (Wash.) High four-star Jacob Sirmon, Washington added two enviable replacement candidates with different skill sets. Both Yankoff (No. 91) and Sirmon (No. 94) rank in the top 100 of the 247Sports Composite, and Yankoff checks in sixth among dual-threat passers, while Sirmon checks in sixth among pro-style passers. (Pac-12 North challenger Stanford was the only other program to add two of the nation’s top 20 quarterbacks, according to the 247Sports Composite, as part of its 2018 class, and one of them, four-star Tanner McKee, won’t play until 2020 because he’s serving a two-year LDS mission.)</p><p>Yankoff and Sirmon can spend the upcoming season learning under Browning while getting ready to battle recently announced Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 out of Lake Stevens (Wash.) High, for the starting job.</p><h3>Running back: Georgia</h3><p>The top running back tandem in the country, one that propelled Georgia to its first SEC championship in more than a decade and a national title game berth last season, won’t be around in 2018, but the Bulldogs have recruited well enough to not fret too much over the departure of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Their 2018 class includes Scotland (N.C.) High’s Zamir White, the No. 1 running back and No. 9 overall player in the country, and Miami Northwestern Senior (Fla.) High’s James Cook, the No. 3 all-purpose back in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>White has a nickname that should stick (Zeus), provided he fully recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in November, while Cook has strong football bloodlines: The former Florida State commit is the brother of former Seminoles standout Dalvin Cook. White and Cook will bolster a rushing rotation led by freshman All-SEC honoree D’Andre Swift (618 yards, 7.6 yards per carry) that also includes two other backs who recorded at least 200 yards on the ground for Georgia last season, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien.</p><h3>Wide receiver: LSU</h3><p>Perhaps the best piece of news for LSU on an overall dour National Signing Day was Archbishop Rummel (La.) High wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s decision to stay home and play for the Tigers rather than sign with a different SEC West program, Auburn. Chase, the No. 15 WR in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, was previously committed to both Kansas and Florida. (Not to mention the possibility that he also could have pledged to TCU, only for the NFL Network to <a href="http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2017/07/04/nfl-network-screws-up-its-foray-into-recruiting/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:foil a planned announcement" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">foil a planned announcement</a>.)</p><p>Chase ultimately settled on LSU after the Tigers had already snagged an even more highly touted player at Chase’s position in this cycle. That player, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/22/terrace-marshall-commits-lsu-national-signing-day" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Parkway (La.) High’s Terrace Marshall" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Parkway (La.) High’s Terrace Marshall</a>, signed with LSU during the early period and ranks above every other player from the state of Louisiana in 2018, including Chase, who ranks fourth. The two other wideouts in the Tigers’ 2018 haul are Berwick (La.) High four-star Kenan Jones and Jena (La.) High three-star Jaray Jenkins. Add it all up, and LSU assembled a promising crop of pass catchers who could spend the next few years tormenting SEC defensive backs.</p><h3>Tight end: Miami</h3><p>The Hurricanes did well to address a number of positions with their loaded 2018 class, which ranks second in the ACC (behind only Clemson) and eighth in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, but one position that stands out is tight end. Miami signed two four-star TE prospects from different parts of the country who can help fill in for outgoing senior Christopher Herndon IV, who ranked second on the team with 477 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns last season, and compete with returnee Michael Irvin II.</p><p>Brevin Jordan heads to Coral Gables as the top-ranked tight end in the 247Sports Composite rankings, after hauling in 63 passes for 1,111 yards with 13 touchdowns as a senior at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, according to MaxPreps. Providence (Fla.) School’s Will Mallory, checking in at No. 8 in those same rankings, stuck with Miami after issuing a verbal commitment to the Hurricanes in April, even though his father and uncles played at Michigan.</p><h3>Offensive line: Georgia</h3><p>Georgia got deeper and more talented up front by signing two five-star prospects and two four-stars. One of the five-stars, Pace (Ga.) Academy’s Jamaree Salyer, is the No. 1 guard and No. 10 player in the class of 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite, and the other, No. 3 tackle Cade Mays, is a former Tennessee commit out of Knoxville Catholic High who opted to leave Volunteers territory for a different SEC East program. (At least he didn’t <a href="https://www.knoxnews.com/story/sports/college/university-of-tennessee/football/2018/02/07/tennessee-vols-football/314531002/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:chuck a Tennessee baseball cap" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">chuck a Tennessee baseball cap</a> when he revealed he was headed to Georgia.)</p><p>The Bulldogs’ O-line haul is rounded out by two in-state prospects projected to play on the interior: North Gwinnett High center Warren Ericson and guard Deontrey Hill, who blocked for current Georgia starting quarterback Jake Fromm when the latter was at Houston County High. This group will help ensure Fromm is well protected as long as he’s under center in Athens, and neither White, Cook nor any of the Bulldogs’ returning tailbacks need to worry about whether they’ll have adequate running room to gash opposing defenses.</p><h3>Defensive line: Ohio State</h3><p>Clemson is deserving of recognition after reeling in the No. 1 strongside defensive end (Xavier Thomas) and No. 3 weakside defensive end (KJ Henry) in addition to two other four-star DLs (Justin Mascoll and Josh Belk) and one three-star (Darnell Jeffries). But Ohio State added five high-end high school prospects in this position group, only two of which, Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep’s Tyler Friday and Pickerington North (Ohio) High’s Alex Williams, are ranked outside the top 60 overall recruits in the 247Sports Composite. The three others are IMG (Fla.) Academy five-star tackle Taron Vincent, Heights (Ohio) High end Tyreke Smith and Highland (Idaho) High tackle Tommy Togiai. (That count excludes four-star Javontae Jean-Baptiste, whom 247Sports classifies as an outside linebacker, but whom Ohio State lists as a defensive end.)</p><p>The Buckeyes also landed the 247Sports Composite’s No. 1 junior college recruit in the class of 2018, defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson Jr., who transferred from Auburn to Blinn (Tex.) College in 2017. The infusion of talent will help Ohio State replenish a line losing first-team All-Big Ten honoree Tyquan Lewis, second-team All-Big Ten honoree Sam Hubbard and seniors Jalyn Holmes and Tracy Sprinkle.</p><h3>Linebacker: Georgia</h3><p>Two signing-day flips lifted the Bulldogs past other contenders for this spot, including USC and Ohio State. Georgia convinced four-star Crisp County (Ga.) High Alabama commit Jaquavian Walker to rebuff the Crimson Tide, and it persuaded four-star Lee County (Ga.) High OLB Otis Reese to back off his longstanding verbal pledge to Michigan. Those two moves, plus additional signings from Rome (Ga.) High five-star OLB Adam Anderson and Spring Valley (S.C.) High four-star ILB Channing Tindall, give the Bulldogs four of the top 11 linebackers in the 247Sports Composite rankings.</p><p>The crop of young, top-shelf LBs arrives at an opportune time for Georgia, which is waving farewell to Butkus Award winner and projected first-round NFL draft pick Roquan Smith, in addition to fellow linebackers Reggie Carter, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. Georgia also lists Stockbridge (Ga.) High five-star Brenton Cox and Marietta (Ga.) High four-star Azeez Ojulari as linebackers, but for the purposes of this exercise, they were viewed as defensive ends.</p><h3>Secondary: Texas</h3><p>Longhorns head coach Tom Herman and his staff assembled the No. 3 class in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, and five of the six top-ranked prospects in that class, including the top four, are classified as defensive backs: five-star Steele (Tex.) High safety Caden Sterns, five-star Angleton (Tex.) High safety B.J. Foster, four-star Heights (Tex.) High cornerback Jalen Green and four-star Arp (Tex.) High safety DeMarvion Overshown. In sum, Texas grabbed three of the six highest ranked safeties and three of the 15 highest ranked cornerbacks in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>The Longhorns will need to make progress on the other side of the ball, after ranking 99th in Football Outsiders S&#38;P+ metric in 2017, to reenter college football’s elite tier, but short of cloning Gary Patterson, stockpiling elite cover men may be one of the only ways to counter the high-octane offenses rattling Big 12 scoreboards, most notably the one that has made rival Oklahoma the conference’s premier team in the College Football Playoff era.</p><h3>Specialists: Texas</h3><p>In 2017, Michael Dickson won his second Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year award, led the conference in averaging punting distance for the second consecutive season and earned the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s best punter. The Longhorns did about as well as they could have finding a replacement for Dickson, who chose to forgo his senior season in favor of entering the draft, by signing Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski. Like Dickson, Bujcevski hails from Australia, and the former Australian Rules football player is ranked the No. 2 punter in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.</p><p>The Longhorns also may have upgraded their field goal kicking (after finishing ninth in the Big 12 with a 57.9% make rate on 19 attempts in 2017) by adding a player they didn’t need to travel very far to scout. The 247Sports Composite’s No. 4 kicker in the class of 2018, Cameron Dicker, attended Lake Travis High in Austin, where he <a href="https://twitter.com/LTHSCavFootball/status/912088975690608640" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:knocked in" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">knocked in</a> a 53-yarder during his senior season.</p>
Which School Landed the Best Recruiting Class at Each Position?

Recruiting classes are typically evaluated in their entirety. They are assessed rankings based on the number and caliber of players they contain, and those rankings inform our evaluations of how much talent teams have. This exercise takes a different approach, highlighting programs that recruited the best at each position group in the 2018 cycle. Adding one really good prospect at a position is obviously a big deal, but we took into account both the quality and quantity of prospects for each category.

Quarterback: Washington

You almost certainly won’t see either of the quarterbacks the Huskies added as part of their 2018 recruiting class on the field this fall. That’s because Jake Browning is back as a senior with three years of starting experience. Yet in Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High four-star Colson Yankoff and Bothell (Wash.) High four-star Jacob Sirmon, Washington added two enviable replacement candidates with different skill sets. Both Yankoff (No. 91) and Sirmon (No. 94) rank in the top 100 of the 247Sports Composite, and Yankoff checks in sixth among dual-threat passers, while Sirmon checks in sixth among pro-style passers. (Pac-12 North challenger Stanford was the only other program to add two of the nation’s top 20 quarterbacks, according to the 247Sports Composite, as part of its 2018 class, and one of them, four-star Tanner McKee, won’t play until 2020 because he’s serving a two-year LDS mission.)

Yankoff and Sirmon can spend the upcoming season learning under Browning while getting ready to battle recently announced Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 out of Lake Stevens (Wash.) High, for the starting job.

Running back: Georgia

The top running back tandem in the country, one that propelled Georgia to its first SEC championship in more than a decade and a national title game berth last season, won’t be around in 2018, but the Bulldogs have recruited well enough to not fret too much over the departure of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Their 2018 class includes Scotland (N.C.) High’s Zamir White, the No. 1 running back and No. 9 overall player in the country, and Miami Northwestern Senior (Fla.) High’s James Cook, the No. 3 all-purpose back in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.

White has a nickname that should stick (Zeus), provided he fully recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in November, while Cook has strong football bloodlines: The former Florida State commit is the brother of former Seminoles standout Dalvin Cook. White and Cook will bolster a rushing rotation led by freshman All-SEC honoree D’Andre Swift (618 yards, 7.6 yards per carry) that also includes two other backs who recorded at least 200 yards on the ground for Georgia last season, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien.

Wide receiver: LSU

Perhaps the best piece of news for LSU on an overall dour National Signing Day was Archbishop Rummel (La.) High wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s decision to stay home and play for the Tigers rather than sign with a different SEC West program, Auburn. Chase, the No. 15 WR in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, was previously committed to both Kansas and Florida. (Not to mention the possibility that he also could have pledged to TCU, only for the NFL Network to foil a planned announcement.)

Chase ultimately settled on LSU after the Tigers had already snagged an even more highly touted player at Chase’s position in this cycle. That player, Parkway (La.) High’s Terrace Marshall, signed with LSU during the early period and ranks above every other player from the state of Louisiana in 2018, including Chase, who ranks fourth. The two other wideouts in the Tigers’ 2018 haul are Berwick (La.) High four-star Kenan Jones and Jena (La.) High three-star Jaray Jenkins. Add it all up, and LSU assembled a promising crop of pass catchers who could spend the next few years tormenting SEC defensive backs.

Tight end: Miami

The Hurricanes did well to address a number of positions with their loaded 2018 class, which ranks second in the ACC (behind only Clemson) and eighth in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, but one position that stands out is tight end. Miami signed two four-star TE prospects from different parts of the country who can help fill in for outgoing senior Christopher Herndon IV, who ranked second on the team with 477 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns last season, and compete with returnee Michael Irvin II.

Brevin Jordan heads to Coral Gables as the top-ranked tight end in the 247Sports Composite rankings, after hauling in 63 passes for 1,111 yards with 13 touchdowns as a senior at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, according to MaxPreps. Providence (Fla.) School’s Will Mallory, checking in at No. 8 in those same rankings, stuck with Miami after issuing a verbal commitment to the Hurricanes in April, even though his father and uncles played at Michigan.

Offensive line: Georgia

Georgia got deeper and more talented up front by signing two five-star prospects and two four-stars. One of the five-stars, Pace (Ga.) Academy’s Jamaree Salyer, is the No. 1 guard and No. 10 player in the class of 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite, and the other, No. 3 tackle Cade Mays, is a former Tennessee commit out of Knoxville Catholic High who opted to leave Volunteers territory for a different SEC East program. (At least he didn’t chuck a Tennessee baseball cap when he revealed he was headed to Georgia.)

The Bulldogs’ O-line haul is rounded out by two in-state prospects projected to play on the interior: North Gwinnett High center Warren Ericson and guard Deontrey Hill, who blocked for current Georgia starting quarterback Jake Fromm when the latter was at Houston County High. This group will help ensure Fromm is well protected as long as he’s under center in Athens, and neither White, Cook nor any of the Bulldogs’ returning tailbacks need to worry about whether they’ll have adequate running room to gash opposing defenses.

Defensive line: Ohio State

Clemson is deserving of recognition after reeling in the No. 1 strongside defensive end (Xavier Thomas) and No. 3 weakside defensive end (KJ Henry) in addition to two other four-star DLs (Justin Mascoll and Josh Belk) and one three-star (Darnell Jeffries). But Ohio State added five high-end high school prospects in this position group, only two of which, Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep’s Tyler Friday and Pickerington North (Ohio) High’s Alex Williams, are ranked outside the top 60 overall recruits in the 247Sports Composite. The three others are IMG (Fla.) Academy five-star tackle Taron Vincent, Heights (Ohio) High end Tyreke Smith and Highland (Idaho) High tackle Tommy Togiai. (That count excludes four-star Javontae Jean-Baptiste, whom 247Sports classifies as an outside linebacker, but whom Ohio State lists as a defensive end.)

The Buckeyes also landed the 247Sports Composite’s No. 1 junior college recruit in the class of 2018, defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson Jr., who transferred from Auburn to Blinn (Tex.) College in 2017. The infusion of talent will help Ohio State replenish a line losing first-team All-Big Ten honoree Tyquan Lewis, second-team All-Big Ten honoree Sam Hubbard and seniors Jalyn Holmes and Tracy Sprinkle.

Linebacker: Georgia

Two signing-day flips lifted the Bulldogs past other contenders for this spot, including USC and Ohio State. Georgia convinced four-star Crisp County (Ga.) High Alabama commit Jaquavian Walker to rebuff the Crimson Tide, and it persuaded four-star Lee County (Ga.) High OLB Otis Reese to back off his longstanding verbal pledge to Michigan. Those two moves, plus additional signings from Rome (Ga.) High five-star OLB Adam Anderson and Spring Valley (S.C.) High four-star ILB Channing Tindall, give the Bulldogs four of the top 11 linebackers in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

The crop of young, top-shelf LBs arrives at an opportune time for Georgia, which is waving farewell to Butkus Award winner and projected first-round NFL draft pick Roquan Smith, in addition to fellow linebackers Reggie Carter, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. Georgia also lists Stockbridge (Ga.) High five-star Brenton Cox and Marietta (Ga.) High four-star Azeez Ojulari as linebackers, but for the purposes of this exercise, they were viewed as defensive ends.

Secondary: Texas

Longhorns head coach Tom Herman and his staff assembled the No. 3 class in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, and five of the six top-ranked prospects in that class, including the top four, are classified as defensive backs: five-star Steele (Tex.) High safety Caden Sterns, five-star Angleton (Tex.) High safety B.J. Foster, four-star Heights (Tex.) High cornerback Jalen Green and four-star Arp (Tex.) High safety DeMarvion Overshown. In sum, Texas grabbed three of the six highest ranked safeties and three of the 15 highest ranked cornerbacks in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.

The Longhorns will need to make progress on the other side of the ball, after ranking 99th in Football Outsiders S&P+ metric in 2017, to reenter college football’s elite tier, but short of cloning Gary Patterson, stockpiling elite cover men may be one of the only ways to counter the high-octane offenses rattling Big 12 scoreboards, most notably the one that has made rival Oklahoma the conference’s premier team in the College Football Playoff era.

Specialists: Texas

In 2017, Michael Dickson won his second Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year award, led the conference in averaging punting distance for the second consecutive season and earned the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s best punter. The Longhorns did about as well as they could have finding a replacement for Dickson, who chose to forgo his senior season in favor of entering the draft, by signing Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski. Like Dickson, Bujcevski hails from Australia, and the former Australian Rules football player is ranked the No. 2 punter in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.

The Longhorns also may have upgraded their field goal kicking (after finishing ninth in the Big 12 with a 57.9% make rate on 19 attempts in 2017) by adding a player they didn’t need to travel very far to scout. The 247Sports Composite’s No. 4 kicker in the class of 2018, Cameron Dicker, attended Lake Travis High in Austin, where he knocked in a 53-yarder during his senior season.

<p>We’re one month away from Selection Sunday, and this college basketball season continues to be full of surprises. The most notable result of Saturday came when No. 2 Virginia fell to Virginia Tech in overtime at home, its first loss since Dec. 5. The Cavaliers had been 13-point favorites, but it’s hard to quantify the motivation of a bubble team that knows it has a major opportunity in front of it. Meanwhile, the Big 12 race took a turn, Purdue and Michigan State played a thriller and Kentucky’s struggles continued. Here are six takeaways from the day to keep an eye on going forward:</p><p><strong>Who’s No. 1? </strong></p><p>If you’re wondering who will be the top-ranked team in the AP poll on Monday, the answer is fairly obvious: Michigan State will all but assuredly assume the position, thanks to losses by all three teams above it (Villanova, Virginia, Purdue) this week. But if you’re wondering who the best team in the country is, there’s even less clarity than there already has been in this roller-coaster season. The Wildcats, Cavaliers and Boilermakers are all still extremely solid teams that rode the top of the rankings for a month, but their vulnerabilities were on display in the last week. The Spartans are one of the country’s most balanced teams and have now won eight straight, but they aren’t without their own potentially fatal flaws at times—most notably taking care of the ball. Duke’s defense remains a major question mark, and so on. The only thing that seems certain right now is that, unlike many other years, there’s no clear favorite for the national title. This has been a wild, turbulent season so far, and it might wind up bringing one of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments in recent memory.</p><p><strong>Hello, Texas Tech</strong></p><p>With six games remaining on the schedule, the Big 12 leader is… not Kansas? After the Jayhawks lost to Baylor on Saturday and Texas Tech took care of Kansas State, the Red Raiders moved into sole possession of first place in the league at 9–3. They currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Kansas by virtue of their Jan. 2 win in Lawrence, but the two will meet for a rematch on Feb. 24 in Lubbock. That result will likely be pivotal as to whether KU will win at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the 14th straight year, but this final stretch of games won’t be easy for anyone in this merciless conference. In the meantime, West Virginia still lurks in the picture at 7–5 despite its loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. Like the rest of the country, all of the Big 12’s top teams have at least one major area of concern: Texas Tech has an elite defense, but does it have enough offense to seriously contend? Can Kansas find ways to win when its three-point shot isn’t falling? Will West Virginia find the defensive consistency it needs? Will Oklahoma’s defensive deficiencies make Trae Young’s NCAA tournament stay a short one?</p><p><strong>A B1G Upset Brewing</strong></p><p>Who’s now alone in first place in the Big Ten? Hint: It’s not Purdue. And it’s not Michigan State, despite its big win over the Boilermakers on Saturday. That honor belongs to the only team to defeat both this season: Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ improbable run could ultimately result in the program’s first regular-season conference title since 2012. They’re in the driver’s seat with four games left—though three of those will be on the road, including at Michigan—and they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Spartans and Boilermakers. Should Ohio State stumble twice, Michigan State is probably in the best position to take advantage. The Spartans own the head-to-head with Purdue and while three of their remaining four games are on the road, they’re all against teams from the league’s bottom half. Regardless of how the Big Ten title race ends up, expect MSU to enter the conference tournament on a 12-game win streak. It would be highly surprising if anyone outside of Ohio State, Michigan State or Purdue wins the tourney crown, but stranger things have happened—such as last year, when No. 8 seed Michigan became the lowest-seeded team to ever win the Big Ten tournament.</p><p><strong>Panic Time in Lexington? </strong></p><p>Is it time to definitely sound the alarm on Kentucky? The Wildcats dropped a third straight game for the first time in the John Calipari era when they fell by 11 at Texas A&#38;M on Saturday. UK is now 6–6 in the SEC and has a tough remaining schedule, including trips to Auburn and Florida and home contests against Alabama and Missouri. Outside of Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the ‘Cats just aren’t getting enough offensively. Hamidou Diallo hasn’t scored more than 13 points in a game in a month and has made just three of his last 16 three-point attempts. P.J. Washington has scored 13 points total in the last three games. As a team, Kentucky has averaged 0.93 points per possession during its skid. Defensively, its interior defense broke down again Saturday, as the Aggies’ Robert Williams and Tyler Davis combined for 24 points, including six dunks.</p><p>It’s looking increasingly less likely that this team will put everything together in time to make a deep NCAA tournament run. You might remember 2013-14, when a Wildcats team that also started five freshmen turned a No. 8 seed into a Final Four trip, but keep in mind that A) that team finished 12–6 in the SEC, and B) it entered the NCAAs ranked 19th on kenpom.com, with the 19th-best adjusted offensive effiency and 32nd-best defense (Kentucky currently ranks 32nd overall, 57th in offense and 21st in defense). On the flip side, this year’s SEC is stronger and deeper as a whole than that of 2013-14, and for better or for worse, the Wildcats still have six games plus the conference tournament to make changes. Where they go from here is up to them.</p><p><strong>Gonzaga Reasserts Itself</strong></p><p>Back on Jan. 18, the Zags got knocked down a peg when they got beat on their home floor by Saint Mary’s, but they got their revenge and then some on Saturday in a 13-point win over the Gaels that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. The Bulldogs turned around their fortunes by homing in on Jock Landale, double-teaming the big man who torched them for 26 points in Spokane and limiting him to just four field-goal attempts and four points in the rematch. They also held Saint Mary’s, which came into the game ranked third nationally in three-point percentage, to just 25% (5-for-20) from the perimeter. With the win, Gonzaga is now in position to win a share of the WCC crown for the sixth straight year. Both teams are atop the standings at 13–1, making it very likely they’ll finish tied for first (though the Bulldogs must still travel to third-place BYU). It also sets up a rubber match in the WCC tournament final, where Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have met in each of the last two years. It feels like the two are on a collision course for the tournament crown yet again.</p><p><strong>Life on the Bubble</strong></p><p>Saturday was a mixed bag for teams that were listed as “True Bubble Teams” in SI.com’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/06/bubble-watch-alabama-louisville-unc-notre-dame-maryland" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:latest Bubble Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">latest Bubble Watch</a>. Virginia Tech picked up a massive win for its chances by knocking off No. 2 Virginia in overtime, Alabama had an impressive rout of No. 15 Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M defeated Kentucky, Wichita State crushed UConn, TCU took care of Texas, Arkansas handled Vanderbilt, Missouri edged Mississippi State in overtime, LSU beat Ole Miss and Nevada beat San Diego State—but more importantly saw leading scorer Caleb Martin suit up just two days after he was announced out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain in what was thought to be a big blow.</p><p>On the other hand, USC fell at Arizona in its last chance for a marquee win, Providence lost to DePaul by 17 at home, Washington got beat by Oregon State in double OT, NC State couldn’t pull off a season sweep of UNC, Boise State lost to Utah State, Kansas State got shut down by Texas Tech, UCLA fell at Arizona State, Marquette became St. John’s latest victim, Georgia lost to Auburn and South Carolina dropped its fifth straight.</p><p>If you’re keeping track by conference, that’s a pretty brutal day for the Pac-12. Outside of Arizona, and—very likely—Arizona State, the conference has no sure NCAA tourney teams. Washington has some big wins and entered Saturday second in the league, but getting sunk at the buzzer at Oregon State did it no favors. UCLA <em>did</em> do itself plenty of favors with a win over Arizona on Thursday, but squandered a chance to bolster its résumé further at ASU. Meanwhile, USC has nearly played itself out of the at-large discussion and remains with just one top-50 RPI win (Middle Tennessee). </p>
There Isn't a Clear No. 1 in College Basketball, and Other Takeaways From a Crazy Saturday

We’re one month away from Selection Sunday, and this college basketball season continues to be full of surprises. The most notable result of Saturday came when No. 2 Virginia fell to Virginia Tech in overtime at home, its first loss since Dec. 5. The Cavaliers had been 13-point favorites, but it’s hard to quantify the motivation of a bubble team that knows it has a major opportunity in front of it. Meanwhile, the Big 12 race took a turn, Purdue and Michigan State played a thriller and Kentucky’s struggles continued. Here are six takeaways from the day to keep an eye on going forward:

Who’s No. 1?

If you’re wondering who will be the top-ranked team in the AP poll on Monday, the answer is fairly obvious: Michigan State will all but assuredly assume the position, thanks to losses by all three teams above it (Villanova, Virginia, Purdue) this week. But if you’re wondering who the best team in the country is, there’s even less clarity than there already has been in this roller-coaster season. The Wildcats, Cavaliers and Boilermakers are all still extremely solid teams that rode the top of the rankings for a month, but their vulnerabilities were on display in the last week. The Spartans are one of the country’s most balanced teams and have now won eight straight, but they aren’t without their own potentially fatal flaws at times—most notably taking care of the ball. Duke’s defense remains a major question mark, and so on. The only thing that seems certain right now is that, unlike many other years, there’s no clear favorite for the national title. This has been a wild, turbulent season so far, and it might wind up bringing one of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments in recent memory.

Hello, Texas Tech

With six games remaining on the schedule, the Big 12 leader is… not Kansas? After the Jayhawks lost to Baylor on Saturday and Texas Tech took care of Kansas State, the Red Raiders moved into sole possession of first place in the league at 9–3. They currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Kansas by virtue of their Jan. 2 win in Lawrence, but the two will meet for a rematch on Feb. 24 in Lubbock. That result will likely be pivotal as to whether KU will win at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the 14th straight year, but this final stretch of games won’t be easy for anyone in this merciless conference. In the meantime, West Virginia still lurks in the picture at 7–5 despite its loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. Like the rest of the country, all of the Big 12’s top teams have at least one major area of concern: Texas Tech has an elite defense, but does it have enough offense to seriously contend? Can Kansas find ways to win when its three-point shot isn’t falling? Will West Virginia find the defensive consistency it needs? Will Oklahoma’s defensive deficiencies make Trae Young’s NCAA tournament stay a short one?

A B1G Upset Brewing

Who’s now alone in first place in the Big Ten? Hint: It’s not Purdue. And it’s not Michigan State, despite its big win over the Boilermakers on Saturday. That honor belongs to the only team to defeat both this season: Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ improbable run could ultimately result in the program’s first regular-season conference title since 2012. They’re in the driver’s seat with four games left—though three of those will be on the road, including at Michigan—and they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Spartans and Boilermakers. Should Ohio State stumble twice, Michigan State is probably in the best position to take advantage. The Spartans own the head-to-head with Purdue and while three of their remaining four games are on the road, they’re all against teams from the league’s bottom half. Regardless of how the Big Ten title race ends up, expect MSU to enter the conference tournament on a 12-game win streak. It would be highly surprising if anyone outside of Ohio State, Michigan State or Purdue wins the tourney crown, but stranger things have happened—such as last year, when No. 8 seed Michigan became the lowest-seeded team to ever win the Big Ten tournament.

Panic Time in Lexington?

Is it time to definitely sound the alarm on Kentucky? The Wildcats dropped a third straight game for the first time in the John Calipari era when they fell by 11 at Texas A&M on Saturday. UK is now 6–6 in the SEC and has a tough remaining schedule, including trips to Auburn and Florida and home contests against Alabama and Missouri. Outside of Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the ‘Cats just aren’t getting enough offensively. Hamidou Diallo hasn’t scored more than 13 points in a game in a month and has made just three of his last 16 three-point attempts. P.J. Washington has scored 13 points total in the last three games. As a team, Kentucky has averaged 0