Michigan 40, Ohio State 34

Denard Robinson accounted for five touchdowns, helping 17th-ranked Michigan beat Ohio State 40-34 on Saturday and snap a school-record seven-game losing streak against the Wolverines’ archrival.

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with students after beating Ohio State 40-34 at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ohio State v Michigan
ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with students after beating Ohio State 40-34 at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
<p>The schools wouldn’t abide by the rules. The NCAA president predicted chaos. College sports stood on the precipice of disaster. So what happened?</p><p>The schools changed the rules, and everyone survived. Many thrived. The leaders of college sports today would do well to remember what happened seven decades ago, because they’re about to face a similar choice.</p><p>The headlines will grow increasingly dire as more information emerges from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. On Friday, Yahoo! writers Pat Forde and Pete Thamel published <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/exclusive-federal-documents-detail-sweeping-potential-ncaa-violations-involving-high-profile-players-schools-103338484.html" data-ylk="slk:the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller</a>. The story included a who’s who of recent college basketball stars, and the fact that the FBI has wiretaps and witnesses suggests that dozens of high-profile basketball programs could be charged by the NCAA with—at the very least—using players who had broken the NCAA’s amateurism rules and therefore rendered themselves ineligible and—at worst—having coaches or other school employees arrange payments in networks that included agents and shoe company executives. The worst-case scenario? Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, USC, Alabama and many others could find themselves headed for a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and those programs could face harsh sanctions.</p><p>This scandal will be cast as an existential crisis for college hoops in particular and college sports in general. And it could very well be an existential crisis if the people in charge of college athletics let it become one. If the schools simply enforce the rules as written, programs will go down, coaches will get fired and at some point in the near future CBS and Turner will televise an NCAA tournament almost devoid of name brands and star power. Or the schools could use this FBI investigation as a jumping-off point for a much larger conversation that could help them solve several major potential issues going forward. To understand why the latter is the smarter choice, they should turn back the clock 70 years and consider their own history with the NCAA.</p><p>Before we proceed, let’s establish something that tends to get lost when discussing NCAA rules and potential punishments.</p><p>• No matter how many times an NCAA official or millionaire coach says it, there is nothing morally wrong with giving someone money for being good at sports. There also is nothing morally wrong with giving even more money to a person who is much better at sports than other people.</p><p>That position is utterly unassailable. Want to test how unassailable? Replace “sports” with “singing” or “plumbing” or “building websites” and think about how stupid it would sound to defend the idea of a cabal of competitors coming together to make rules to fix the price of labor in those markets.</p><p>Now that we’ve established that simple premise, let’s examine how the fallout from the FBI investigation could affect the schools and the NCAA. The important thing to remember is that the schools—which make and ultimately enforce the NCAA’s rules—have always moved the goalposts when it comes to amateurism. When college sports first became popular near the turn of the 20th century, coaches were not supposed to recruit off campus. They were only supposed to use players who happened to be students of each particular school. Athletic scholarships were not allowed. Because humans are competitive, not all coaches adhered to those rules. Some offered players jobs or found ways for their tuition to be paid.</p><p>Eventually, the schools decided that if everyone was going to give athletic scholarships under the table, they would simply allow athletic scholarships. But they wanted to standardize the practice. The names, the amounts and the mechanisms have changed, but the current college basketball situation isn’t all that different from the brief period in which the NCAA’s member schools lived by something called the “Sanity Code.” The code was enacted in 1948, and it codified the scholarship. Schools could pay a player’s tuition and cover one meal a day during the playing season. Schools could not provide room and board but could give players jobs to work off the costs of their lodging and food. Later, the NCAA sent surveys to schools to ensure the Sanity Code was being followed. Seven schools (Boston College, The Citadel, Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech) answered honestly. They weren’t following the Sanity Code, because they believed they should be allowed to offer room and board as part of the athletic scholarship.</p><p>The only penalty on the NCAA’s books at the time was expulsion from the NCAA, but a vote to expel the schools the media dubbed “The Sinful Seven” failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. It was a popular theory that the seven were stalking horses for a large group of mostly Southern schools that wanted to loosen the rules. In 1951, the Sanity Code was repealed. Iowa professor Karl Lieb, who served as the NCAA’s president at the time, predicted college sports would descend into madness. He was laughably wrong. The schools simply moved the goalposts again with new rules that allowed for tuition, room and board.</p><p>In recent years, schools have added cash stipends that allow the athletic scholarship to match the actual cost of attendance that the schools report to the federal government. Why did this not breach their moral code? Because the Ninth Circuit ordered them to allow it when the NCAA lost a case brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon.</p><p>NCAA president Mark Emmert is predictably picking up where Lieb left off. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert said in a statement Friday. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.” Emmert’s first statement is correct. This is a systematic failure that must be fixed. His second statement is wrong. “People who engage in this type of behavior” are capitalists trying to make money. This is America. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Such people have a place in nearly every enterprise in this country. Emmert and his seven-figure salary should understand that. The problem is they’ve been forced underground by the schools’ decision to collude to keep overhead low. Change the rules, and the behavior is no different than, say, a coach getting shopped around by his agent to get a bigger paycheck from either his current employer or another employer. Emmert hasn’t ripped Jimmy Sexton for getting Florida State-turned-Texas A&#38;M football coach Jimbo Fisher the best deal. What’s the difference here?</p><p>The schools and NCAA have always been flexible regarding the rules when it suits their needs, and this appears to be one of those times. Given the star power of the programs involved, Too Big To Fail could come into play as NCAA officials imagine CBS and Turner asking to renegotiate the terms of their multibillion-dollar deal to televise the men’s basketball tournament. How valuable is the television product if the blueblood schools are serving postseason bans?</p><p>Or perhaps CBS and Turner would weather a few years without the name brands and not ask for a dime back. Still, the schools also need to consider the fact that these particular issues are a direct result of their rules. This particular black market—where shoe companies, agents and schools work together to funnel money to basketball players—exists because of the arbitrary compensation cap imposed by the schools through the NCAA rules. (And because the NBA doesn’t allow the players to go directly to the pros. The schools can’t do anything about that, but they must live with it.) Take away those rules, and the underground market rises to the surface, where transactions can be tracked, catalogued and taxed.</p><p>This would infuriate fans of schools who faced recent NCAA judgments. Louisville (basketball) and Ole Miss (football) are dealing with sanctions handed down because of the rules the schools may need to adjust in the wake of this much larger scandal. Their anger would be justified, but the schools need to take the long view here.</p><p>There are two reasons why. First, with no changes, the schools will scandalize themselves, harm the value of a product they sell to television networks and invite this to happen again. The FBI may cool off the agents and the shoe companies for a little while, but don’t expect the federal government to dump millions into investigating something like this again. While there are state laws against agents paying athletes and federal conspiracy laws that can be twisted in a way to make the schools seem like victims, there are no laws against a non-agent simply paying someone for being good at basketball or football. The agent laws are rarely enforced at the state level. The NCAA enforcement department—which has no subpoena power—should view this as a one-time affair. Everyone will be back doing exactly the same thing within five years if the rules don’t change.</p><p>More importantly, the rules may have to change anyway because they’re about to be challenged in federal court by the antitrust attorney (Jeffrey Kessler) who helped bring free agency to the NFL. Loosening them ahead of this could soften the impact of a verdict that goes against the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences. The people who run college sports probably would rather build their own new system than have the courts impose one on them.</p><p>What might that new system look like? The most sensible answer is the Olympic model. <a href="https://www.si.com/more-sports/2011/07/27/new-rules" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:You can read about it in more detail here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">You can read about it in more detail here</a>, but these are the basics: Schools would continue to only pay full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Anyone else who wanted to pay the athletes could pay them. This would eliminate any Title IX concerns because every athlete would have exactly the same opportunity to get paid. The market would decide who got how much. Does that mean boosters would pay the players? Yep. (But they already pay them under the table now.) Does that mean agents would pay football and basketball players? It sure would. (They also pay them under the table now.) Would the players have to pay taxes on anything they make? Of course. Would this increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Nope. Alabama, Ohio State and the like would still sign the highest rated football recruits. Duke, Kentucky and the like would still sign the highest rated basketball recruits. (But maybe SMU, which thrived when it was paying big under the table, could become good at football again.)</p><p>The amounts wouldn’t be astronomical, either. People between the ages of 17 and 21 make for notoriously risky investments, so after a few years most boosters probably would opt for the relative safety of donating for a new dorm. Agents already have set their market, so it’s difficult to imagine the prices rising too much. For example, Yahoo! reported that former NC State point guard Dennis Smith is listed in the Miller documents as having received $43,500 in payments and $73,500 in loans from the agency. (It should be noted that the information currently available does not suggest any of this money was for attending NC State. Smith’s value to an agent is based largely on potential endorsement deals.) Those amounts total $117,000. That is a lot of money. But is it that much for the best player on a team that, according to data submitted by NC State to the U.S. Department of Education, brought in $14.6 million in revenue during the 2016-17 school year? Smith’s take—which as far as we know didn’t come from NC State—represented one 124th of what the basketball program took in. Add the $23,976 that NC State had to pay for Smith’s scholarship as an in-state student, and it still represents one 103rd of NC State’s total basketball take. Relatively speaking, that’s a bargain for a guy who averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists as a freshman in the ACC. (And one could argue that based on NC State’s 15–17 overall record and 4–14 ACC record in Smith’s only season, some more cash should have been spread around to get the guy some help.)</p><p>The schools could end the scandal now if they’d just remove the stigma from paying college athletes for being good at sports. Much of society has already come to that conclusion, and most the people who believe college athletes shouldn’t be paid are the types who swallow anything a governing body decrees. All the schools have to do is say it’s O.K., and it will then be O.K. Justice Department honchos might be mad that they wasted millions investigating something that isn’t really a crime, but it wasn’t really a crime when the investigation began, either.</p><p>Like their counterparts decades ago, school presidents and athletic directors stand at a crossroads. They can continue a misguided moral crusade against an act that isn’t actually bad, or they can begin to build a new system that will help them avoid such scandals in the future.</p><p>All they have to do is the thing they’ve always done. Move the goalposts.</p>
The NCAA Must Change the Rules in Order to Solve College Basketball’s Existential Crisis

The schools wouldn’t abide by the rules. The NCAA president predicted chaos. College sports stood on the precipice of disaster. So what happened?

The schools changed the rules, and everyone survived. Many thrived. The leaders of college sports today would do well to remember what happened seven decades ago, because they’re about to face a similar choice.

The headlines will grow increasingly dire as more information emerges from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. On Friday, Yahoo! writers Pat Forde and Pete Thamel published the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller. The story included a who’s who of recent college basketball stars, and the fact that the FBI has wiretaps and witnesses suggests that dozens of high-profile basketball programs could be charged by the NCAA with—at the very least—using players who had broken the NCAA’s amateurism rules and therefore rendered themselves ineligible and—at worst—having coaches or other school employees arrange payments in networks that included agents and shoe company executives. The worst-case scenario? Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, USC, Alabama and many others could find themselves headed for a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and those programs could face harsh sanctions.

This scandal will be cast as an existential crisis for college hoops in particular and college sports in general. And it could very well be an existential crisis if the people in charge of college athletics let it become one. If the schools simply enforce the rules as written, programs will go down, coaches will get fired and at some point in the near future CBS and Turner will televise an NCAA tournament almost devoid of name brands and star power. Or the schools could use this FBI investigation as a jumping-off point for a much larger conversation that could help them solve several major potential issues going forward. To understand why the latter is the smarter choice, they should turn back the clock 70 years and consider their own history with the NCAA.

Before we proceed, let’s establish something that tends to get lost when discussing NCAA rules and potential punishments.

• No matter how many times an NCAA official or millionaire coach says it, there is nothing morally wrong with giving someone money for being good at sports. There also is nothing morally wrong with giving even more money to a person who is much better at sports than other people.

That position is utterly unassailable. Want to test how unassailable? Replace “sports” with “singing” or “plumbing” or “building websites” and think about how stupid it would sound to defend the idea of a cabal of competitors coming together to make rules to fix the price of labor in those markets.

Now that we’ve established that simple premise, let’s examine how the fallout from the FBI investigation could affect the schools and the NCAA. The important thing to remember is that the schools—which make and ultimately enforce the NCAA’s rules—have always moved the goalposts when it comes to amateurism. When college sports first became popular near the turn of the 20th century, coaches were not supposed to recruit off campus. They were only supposed to use players who happened to be students of each particular school. Athletic scholarships were not allowed. Because humans are competitive, not all coaches adhered to those rules. Some offered players jobs or found ways for their tuition to be paid.

Eventually, the schools decided that if everyone was going to give athletic scholarships under the table, they would simply allow athletic scholarships. But they wanted to standardize the practice. The names, the amounts and the mechanisms have changed, but the current college basketball situation isn’t all that different from the brief period in which the NCAA’s member schools lived by something called the “Sanity Code.” The code was enacted in 1948, and it codified the scholarship. Schools could pay a player’s tuition and cover one meal a day during the playing season. Schools could not provide room and board but could give players jobs to work off the costs of their lodging and food. Later, the NCAA sent surveys to schools to ensure the Sanity Code was being followed. Seven schools (Boston College, The Citadel, Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech) answered honestly. They weren’t following the Sanity Code, because they believed they should be allowed to offer room and board as part of the athletic scholarship.

The only penalty on the NCAA’s books at the time was expulsion from the NCAA, but a vote to expel the schools the media dubbed “The Sinful Seven” failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. It was a popular theory that the seven were stalking horses for a large group of mostly Southern schools that wanted to loosen the rules. In 1951, the Sanity Code was repealed. Iowa professor Karl Lieb, who served as the NCAA’s president at the time, predicted college sports would descend into madness. He was laughably wrong. The schools simply moved the goalposts again with new rules that allowed for tuition, room and board.

In recent years, schools have added cash stipends that allow the athletic scholarship to match the actual cost of attendance that the schools report to the federal government. Why did this not breach their moral code? Because the Ninth Circuit ordered them to allow it when the NCAA lost a case brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon.

NCAA president Mark Emmert is predictably picking up where Lieb left off. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert said in a statement Friday. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.” Emmert’s first statement is correct. This is a systematic failure that must be fixed. His second statement is wrong. “People who engage in this type of behavior” are capitalists trying to make money. This is America. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Such people have a place in nearly every enterprise in this country. Emmert and his seven-figure salary should understand that. The problem is they’ve been forced underground by the schools’ decision to collude to keep overhead low. Change the rules, and the behavior is no different than, say, a coach getting shopped around by his agent to get a bigger paycheck from either his current employer or another employer. Emmert hasn’t ripped Jimmy Sexton for getting Florida State-turned-Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher the best deal. What’s the difference here?

The schools and NCAA have always been flexible regarding the rules when it suits their needs, and this appears to be one of those times. Given the star power of the programs involved, Too Big To Fail could come into play as NCAA officials imagine CBS and Turner asking to renegotiate the terms of their multibillion-dollar deal to televise the men’s basketball tournament. How valuable is the television product if the blueblood schools are serving postseason bans?

Or perhaps CBS and Turner would weather a few years without the name brands and not ask for a dime back. Still, the schools also need to consider the fact that these particular issues are a direct result of their rules. This particular black market—where shoe companies, agents and schools work together to funnel money to basketball players—exists because of the arbitrary compensation cap imposed by the schools through the NCAA rules. (And because the NBA doesn’t allow the players to go directly to the pros. The schools can’t do anything about that, but they must live with it.) Take away those rules, and the underground market rises to the surface, where transactions can be tracked, catalogued and taxed.

This would infuriate fans of schools who faced recent NCAA judgments. Louisville (basketball) and Ole Miss (football) are dealing with sanctions handed down because of the rules the schools may need to adjust in the wake of this much larger scandal. Their anger would be justified, but the schools need to take the long view here.

There are two reasons why. First, with no changes, the schools will scandalize themselves, harm the value of a product they sell to television networks and invite this to happen again. The FBI may cool off the agents and the shoe companies for a little while, but don’t expect the federal government to dump millions into investigating something like this again. While there are state laws against agents paying athletes and federal conspiracy laws that can be twisted in a way to make the schools seem like victims, there are no laws against a non-agent simply paying someone for being good at basketball or football. The agent laws are rarely enforced at the state level. The NCAA enforcement department—which has no subpoena power—should view this as a one-time affair. Everyone will be back doing exactly the same thing within five years if the rules don’t change.

More importantly, the rules may have to change anyway because they’re about to be challenged in federal court by the antitrust attorney (Jeffrey Kessler) who helped bring free agency to the NFL. Loosening them ahead of this could soften the impact of a verdict that goes against the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences. The people who run college sports probably would rather build their own new system than have the courts impose one on them.

What might that new system look like? The most sensible answer is the Olympic model. You can read about it in more detail here, but these are the basics: Schools would continue to only pay full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Anyone else who wanted to pay the athletes could pay them. This would eliminate any Title IX concerns because every athlete would have exactly the same opportunity to get paid. The market would decide who got how much. Does that mean boosters would pay the players? Yep. (But they already pay them under the table now.) Does that mean agents would pay football and basketball players? It sure would. (They also pay them under the table now.) Would the players have to pay taxes on anything they make? Of course. Would this increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Nope. Alabama, Ohio State and the like would still sign the highest rated football recruits. Duke, Kentucky and the like would still sign the highest rated basketball recruits. (But maybe SMU, which thrived when it was paying big under the table, could become good at football again.)

The amounts wouldn’t be astronomical, either. People between the ages of 17 and 21 make for notoriously risky investments, so after a few years most boosters probably would opt for the relative safety of donating for a new dorm. Agents already have set their market, so it’s difficult to imagine the prices rising too much. For example, Yahoo! reported that former NC State point guard Dennis Smith is listed in the Miller documents as having received $43,500 in payments and $73,500 in loans from the agency. (It should be noted that the information currently available does not suggest any of this money was for attending NC State. Smith’s value to an agent is based largely on potential endorsement deals.) Those amounts total $117,000. That is a lot of money. But is it that much for the best player on a team that, according to data submitted by NC State to the U.S. Department of Education, brought in $14.6 million in revenue during the 2016-17 school year? Smith’s take—which as far as we know didn’t come from NC State—represented one 124th of what the basketball program took in. Add the $23,976 that NC State had to pay for Smith’s scholarship as an in-state student, and it still represents one 103rd of NC State’s total basketball take. Relatively speaking, that’s a bargain for a guy who averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists as a freshman in the ACC. (And one could argue that based on NC State’s 15–17 overall record and 4–14 ACC record in Smith’s only season, some more cash should have been spread around to get the guy some help.)

The schools could end the scandal now if they’d just remove the stigma from paying college athletes for being good at sports. Much of society has already come to that conclusion, and most the people who believe college athletes shouldn’t be paid are the types who swallow anything a governing body decrees. All the schools have to do is say it’s O.K., and it will then be O.K. Justice Department honchos might be mad that they wasted millions investigating something that isn’t really a crime, but it wasn’t really a crime when the investigation began, either.

Like their counterparts decades ago, school presidents and athletic directors stand at a crossroads. They can continue a misguided moral crusade against an act that isn’t actually bad, or they can begin to build a new system that will help them avoid such scandals in the future.

All they have to do is the thing they’ve always done. Move the goalposts.

<p>Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno is stepping down after three years with the team, <a href="https://twitter.com/BruceFeldmanCFB/status/967074944835231745" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sources" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sources</a> told <em>Sports Illustrated&#39;s</em> Bruce Feldman. The news was first <a href="http://thewolverinelounge.com/2018/02/tim-drevno-resigns-from-michigan-football/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reported" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reported</a> by The Wolverine Lounge.</p><p>Drevno has been in Ann Arbor since 2015, arriving with coach Jim Harbaugh. He coached under Harbaugh from 2011-13 as the offensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers before going to USC for a season as the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. Drevno also served as the offensive line caoch at Michigan.</p><p>Sources <a href="https://twitter.com/BruceFeldmanCFB/status/967075722639458306" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:told" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">told</a> Feldman that Ed Warinner, a former offensive line coach at Minnesota and Ohio State who was hired by the Wolverines as an analyst, is expected to take over the offensive line.</p><p>Michigan climbed toward the top of the Big Ten in scoring in Drevno&#39;s first two years, and in 2016 the team averaged 40.3 points, the 11th best mark in the nation and top mark in the conference. Additionally, 10 of the starters earned all-conference recognition while the team racked up the fifth most points in program history.</p><p>After averaging 35.8 points in his first two seasons, the Michigan offense fell off in 2017, averaging just 25.2 points, which was tied for eighth in the Big Ten with Purdue. However, senior quarterback Wilton Speight missed most of the season with injury, forcing the team to rely on backup John O&#39;Korn.</p>
Sources: Michigan Offensive Coordinator Tim Drevno Stepping Down

Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno is stepping down after three years with the team, sources told Sports Illustrated's Bruce Feldman. The news was first reported by The Wolverine Lounge.

Drevno has been in Ann Arbor since 2015, arriving with coach Jim Harbaugh. He coached under Harbaugh from 2011-13 as the offensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers before going to USC for a season as the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. Drevno also served as the offensive line caoch at Michigan.

Sources told Feldman that Ed Warinner, a former offensive line coach at Minnesota and Ohio State who was hired by the Wolverines as an analyst, is expected to take over the offensive line.

Michigan climbed toward the top of the Big Ten in scoring in Drevno's first two years, and in 2016 the team averaged 40.3 points, the 11th best mark in the nation and top mark in the conference. Additionally, 10 of the starters earned all-conference recognition while the team racked up the fifth most points in program history.

After averaging 35.8 points in his first two seasons, the Michigan offense fell off in 2017, averaging just 25.2 points, which was tied for eighth in the Big Ten with Purdue. However, senior quarterback Wilton Speight missed most of the season with injury, forcing the team to rely on backup John O'Korn.

<p>Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (27–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: beat Northwestern, beat Illinois<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Wisconsin</p><p>The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)</p><h3>2. Virginia (24–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: OFF<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh</p><p>The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.</p><h3>3. Villanova (24–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: lost to Providence, beat Xavier<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. DePaul, at Creighton</p><p>You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.</p><h3>4. Duke (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse</p><p>The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.</p><h3>5. Kansas (22–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas</p><p>It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.</p><h3>6. Xavier (24–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Georgetown</p><p>The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at San Diego, at BYU</p><p>Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.</p><h3>8. Purdue (24–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota</p><p>While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.</p><h3>9. Texas Tech (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: lost to Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas</p><p>The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.</p><h3>10. North Carolina (21–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Louisville<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Syracuse, vs. Miami</p><p>The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.</p><h3>11. Auburn (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas</p><p>Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/17/auburn-anfernee-mclemore-stretchered-court-ankle-injury" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury</a>. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore. </p><h3>12. Wichita State (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19)</strong>: beat Temple, beat Cincinnati<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Tulane, at SMU</p><p>What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.</p><h3>13. Arizona (21–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: beat Arizona State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oregon State, at Oregon</p><p>The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, <em>great</em> offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.</p><h3>14. Cincinnati (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa </p><p>The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.</p><h3>15. Ohio State (23–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Indiana</p><p>Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/game/1949540" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to say" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to say</a> that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.</p><h3>16. Rhode Island (22–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s</p><p>In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.</p><h3>17. West Virginia (20–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: lost to Kansas, beat Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech</p><p>In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.</p><h3>18. Tennessee (19–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: lost to Georgia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Florida, at Mississippi</p><p>The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.</p><h3>19. Nevada (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (25)</strong>: beat Boise State, beat Utah State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State</p><p>The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.</p><h3>20. Michigan (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Iowa, beat Ohio State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Penn State, at Maryland</p><p>The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.</p><h3>21. Clemson (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: lost to Florida State, lost to Duke<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech</p><p>It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.</p><h3>22. Houston (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Cincinnati, beat Temple<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina</p><p>The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.</p><h3>23. Baylor (17–11)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma</p><p>The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.</p><h3>24. Kentucky (19–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Missouri</p><p>And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.</p><h3>25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. UAB</p><p>Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&#38;M, Alabama, Oklahoma</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler</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><strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.</p><p><strong>Nevada</strong>: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.</p><p><strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.</p><p><strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.</p><p><strong>Loyola Chicago</strong>: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.</p>
Power Rankings: Duke and Kansas Return to Top 5

Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State (27–3)

Last Week (1): beat Northwestern, beat Illinois
Next Week: at Wisconsin

The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (2): OFF
Next Week: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.

3. Villanova (24–3)

Last Week (3): lost to Providence, beat Xavier
Next Week: vs. DePaul, at Creighton

You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.

4. Duke (22–5)

Last Week (11): beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson
Next Week: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse

The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.

5. Kansas (22–6)

Last Week (12): beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas

It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.

6. Xavier (24–4)

Last Week (4): beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova
Next Week: at Georgetown

The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.

7. Gonzaga (25–4)

Last Week (9): beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine
Next Week: at San Diego, at BYU

Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.

8. Purdue (24–5)

Last Week (6): lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State
Next Week: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota

While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.

9. Texas Tech (22–5)

Last Week (7): lost to Baylor
Next Week: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas

The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.

10. North Carolina (21–7)

Last Week (16): beat Louisville
Next Week: at Syracuse, vs. Miami

The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.

11. Auburn (23–4)

Last Week (10): beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina
Next Week: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas

Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore.

12. Wichita State (21–5)

Last Week (19): beat Temple, beat Cincinnati
Next Week: vs. Tulane, at SMU

What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.

13. Arizona (21–6)

Last Week (18): beat Arizona State
Next Week: at Oregon State, at Oregon

The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, great offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.

14. Cincinnati (23–4)

Last Week (5): lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State
Next Week: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa

The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.

15. Ohio State (23–7)

Last Week (8): lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers
Next Week: at Indiana

Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann to say that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.

16. Rhode Island (22–4)

Last Week (13): lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle
Next Week: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s

In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.

17. West Virginia (20–8)

Last Week (20): lost to Kansas, beat Baylor
Next Week: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech

In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.

18. Tennessee (19–7)

Last Week (15): lost to Georgia
Next Week: vs. Florida, at Mississippi

The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.

19. Nevada (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat Boise State, beat Utah State
Next Week: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State

The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.

20. Michigan (22–7)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa, beat Ohio State
Next Week: at Penn State, at Maryland

The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.

21. Clemson (20–6)

Last Week (14): lost to Florida State, lost to Duke
Next Week: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech

It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.

22. Houston (21–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Cincinnati, beat Temple
Next Week: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina

The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

23. Baylor (17–11)

Last Week (NR): beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma

The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.

24. Kentucky (19–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas
Next Week: vs. Missouri

And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech
Next Week: vs. UAB

Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.

DROPPED OUT: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&M, Alabama, Oklahoma

NEXT FIVE OUT: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler

Mid-Major Meter

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

Gonzaga: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.

Loyola Chicago: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.

<p>Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (27–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: beat Northwestern, beat Illinois<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Wisconsin</p><p>The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)</p><h3>2. Virginia (24–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: OFF<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh</p><p>The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.</p><h3>3. Villanova (24–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: lost to Providence, beat Xavier<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. DePaul, at Creighton</p><p>You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.</p><h3>4. Duke (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse</p><p>The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.</p><h3>5. Kansas (22–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas</p><p>It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.</p><h3>6. Xavier (24–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Georgetown</p><p>The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at San Diego, at BYU</p><p>Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.</p><h3>8. Purdue (24–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota</p><p>While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.</p><h3>9. Texas Tech (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: lost to Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas</p><p>The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.</p><h3>10. North Carolina (21–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Louisville<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Syracuse, vs. Miami</p><p>The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.</p><h3>11. Auburn (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas</p><p>Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/17/auburn-anfernee-mclemore-stretchered-court-ankle-injury" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury</a>. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore. </p><h3>12. Wichita State (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19)</strong>: beat Temple, beat Cincinnati<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Tulane, at SMU</p><p>What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.</p><h3>13. Arizona (21–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: beat Arizona State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oregon State, at Oregon</p><p>The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, <em>great</em> offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.</p><h3>14. Cincinnati (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa </p><p>The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.</p><h3>15. Ohio State (23–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Indiana</p><p>Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/game/1949540" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to say" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to say</a> that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.</p><h3>16. Rhode Island (22–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s</p><p>In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.</p><h3>17. West Virginia (20–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: lost to Kansas, beat Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech</p><p>In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.</p><h3>18. Tennessee (19–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: lost to Georgia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Florida, at Mississippi</p><p>The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.</p><h3>19. Nevada (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (25)</strong>: beat Boise State, beat Utah State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State</p><p>The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.</p><h3>20. Michigan (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Iowa, beat Ohio State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Penn State, at Maryland</p><p>The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.</p><h3>21. Clemson (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: lost to Florida State, lost to Duke<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech</p><p>It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.</p><h3>22. Houston (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Cincinnati, beat Temple<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina</p><p>The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.</p><h3>23. Baylor (17–11)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma</p><p>The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.</p><h3>24. Kentucky (19–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Missouri</p><p>And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.</p><h3>25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. UAB</p><p>Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&#38;M, Alabama, Oklahoma</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler</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><strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.</p><p><strong>Nevada</strong>: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.</p><p><strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.</p><p><strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.</p><p><strong>Loyola Chicago</strong>: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.</p>
Power Rankings: Duke and Kansas Return to Top 5

Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State (27–3)

Last Week (1): beat Northwestern, beat Illinois
Next Week: at Wisconsin

The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (2): OFF
Next Week: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.

3. Villanova (24–3)

Last Week (3): lost to Providence, beat Xavier
Next Week: vs. DePaul, at Creighton

You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.

4. Duke (22–5)

Last Week (11): beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson
Next Week: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse

The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.

5. Kansas (22–6)

Last Week (12): beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas

It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.

6. Xavier (24–4)

Last Week (4): beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova
Next Week: at Georgetown

The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.

7. Gonzaga (25–4)

Last Week (9): beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine
Next Week: at San Diego, at BYU

Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.

8. Purdue (24–5)

Last Week (6): lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State
Next Week: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota

While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.

9. Texas Tech (22–5)

Last Week (7): lost to Baylor
Next Week: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas

The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.

10. North Carolina (21–7)

Last Week (16): beat Louisville
Next Week: at Syracuse, vs. Miami

The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.

11. Auburn (23–4)

Last Week (10): beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina
Next Week: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas

Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore.

12. Wichita State (21–5)

Last Week (19): beat Temple, beat Cincinnati
Next Week: vs. Tulane, at SMU

What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.

13. Arizona (21–6)

Last Week (18): beat Arizona State
Next Week: at Oregon State, at Oregon

The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, great offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.

14. Cincinnati (23–4)

Last Week (5): lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State
Next Week: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa

The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.

15. Ohio State (23–7)

Last Week (8): lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers
Next Week: at Indiana

Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann to say that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.

16. Rhode Island (22–4)

Last Week (13): lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle
Next Week: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s

In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.

17. West Virginia (20–8)

Last Week (20): lost to Kansas, beat Baylor
Next Week: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech

In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.

18. Tennessee (19–7)

Last Week (15): lost to Georgia
Next Week: vs. Florida, at Mississippi

The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.

19. Nevada (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat Boise State, beat Utah State
Next Week: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State

The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.

20. Michigan (22–7)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa, beat Ohio State
Next Week: at Penn State, at Maryland

The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.

21. Clemson (20–6)

Last Week (14): lost to Florida State, lost to Duke
Next Week: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech

It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.

22. Houston (21–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Cincinnati, beat Temple
Next Week: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina

The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

23. Baylor (17–11)

Last Week (NR): beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma

The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.

24. Kentucky (19–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas
Next Week: vs. Missouri

And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech
Next Week: vs. UAB

Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.

DROPPED OUT: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&M, Alabama, Oklahoma

NEXT FIVE OUT: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler

Mid-Major Meter

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

Gonzaga: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.

Loyola Chicago: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.

<p>Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (27–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: beat Northwestern, beat Illinois<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Wisconsin</p><p>The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)</p><h3>2. Virginia (24–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: OFF<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh</p><p>The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.</p><h3>3. Villanova (24–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: lost to Providence, beat Xavier<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. DePaul, at Creighton</p><p>You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.</p><h3>4. Duke (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse</p><p>The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.</p><h3>5. Kansas (22–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas</p><p>It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.</p><h3>6. Xavier (24–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Georgetown</p><p>The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at San Diego, at BYU</p><p>Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.</p><h3>8. Purdue (24–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota</p><p>While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.</p><h3>9. Texas Tech (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: lost to Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas</p><p>The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.</p><h3>10. North Carolina (21–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Louisville<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Syracuse, vs. Miami</p><p>The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.</p><h3>11. Auburn (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas</p><p>Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/17/auburn-anfernee-mclemore-stretchered-court-ankle-injury" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury</a>. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore. </p><h3>12. Wichita State (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19)</strong>: beat Temple, beat Cincinnati<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Tulane, at SMU</p><p>What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.</p><h3>13. Arizona (21–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: beat Arizona State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oregon State, at Oregon</p><p>The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, <em>great</em> offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.</p><h3>14. Cincinnati (23–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa </p><p>The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.</p><h3>15. Ohio State (23–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Indiana</p><p>Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/game/1949540" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to say" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to say</a> that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.</p><h3>16. Rhode Island (22–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s</p><p>In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.</p><h3>17. West Virginia (20–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: lost to Kansas, beat Baylor<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech</p><p>In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.</p><h3>18. Tennessee (19–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: lost to Georgia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Florida, at Mississippi</p><p>The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.</p><h3>19. Nevada (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (25)</strong>: beat Boise State, beat Utah State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State</p><p>The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.</p><h3>20. Michigan (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Iowa, beat Ohio State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Penn State, at Maryland</p><p>The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.</p><h3>21. Clemson (20–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: lost to Florida State, lost to Duke<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech</p><p>It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.</p><h3>22. Houston (21–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Cincinnati, beat Temple<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina</p><p>The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.</p><h3>23. Baylor (17–11)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma</p><p>The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.</p><h3>24. Kentucky (19–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Missouri</p><p>And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.</p><h3>25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. UAB</p><p>Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&#38;M, Alabama, Oklahoma</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler</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><strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.</p><p><strong>Nevada</strong>: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.</p><p><strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.</p><p><strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.</p><p><strong>Loyola Chicago</strong>: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.</p>
Power Rankings: Duke and Kansas Return to Top 5

Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State (27–3)

Last Week (1): beat Northwestern, beat Illinois
Next Week: at Wisconsin

The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (2): OFF
Next Week: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.

3. Villanova (24–3)

Last Week (3): lost to Providence, beat Xavier
Next Week: vs. DePaul, at Creighton

You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.

4. Duke (22–5)

Last Week (11): beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson
Next Week: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse

The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.

5. Kansas (22–6)

Last Week (12): beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas

It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.

6. Xavier (24–4)

Last Week (4): beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova
Next Week: at Georgetown

The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.

7. Gonzaga (25–4)

Last Week (9): beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine
Next Week: at San Diego, at BYU

Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.

8. Purdue (24–5)

Last Week (6): lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State
Next Week: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota

While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.

9. Texas Tech (22–5)

Last Week (7): lost to Baylor
Next Week: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas

The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.

10. North Carolina (21–7)

Last Week (16): beat Louisville
Next Week: at Syracuse, vs. Miami

The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.

11. Auburn (23–4)

Last Week (10): beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina
Next Week: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas

Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore.

12. Wichita State (21–5)

Last Week (19): beat Temple, beat Cincinnati
Next Week: vs. Tulane, at SMU

What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.

13. Arizona (21–6)

Last Week (18): beat Arizona State
Next Week: at Oregon State, at Oregon

The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, great offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.

14. Cincinnati (23–4)

Last Week (5): lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State
Next Week: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa

The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.

15. Ohio State (23–7)

Last Week (8): lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers
Next Week: at Indiana

Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann to say that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.

16. Rhode Island (22–4)

Last Week (13): lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle
Next Week: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s

In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.

17. West Virginia (20–8)

Last Week (20): lost to Kansas, beat Baylor
Next Week: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech

In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.

18. Tennessee (19–7)

Last Week (15): lost to Georgia
Next Week: vs. Florida, at Mississippi

The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.

19. Nevada (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat Boise State, beat Utah State
Next Week: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State

The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.

20. Michigan (22–7)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa, beat Ohio State
Next Week: at Penn State, at Maryland

The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.

21. Clemson (20–6)

Last Week (14): lost to Florida State, lost to Duke
Next Week: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech

It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.

22. Houston (21–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Cincinnati, beat Temple
Next Week: at Memphis, vs. East Carolina

The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

23. Baylor (17–11)

Last Week (NR): beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma

The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.

24. Kentucky (19–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas
Next Week: vs. Missouri

And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech
Next Week: vs. UAB

Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.

DROPPED OUT: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&M, Alabama, Oklahoma

NEXT FIVE OUT: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler

Mid-Major Meter

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

Gonzaga: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.

Loyola Chicago: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.

<p>Teams have a pretty good idea of what they think of draft prospects right now—but combine week, starting Tuesday, is a turning point.</p><p>After combine, they’ll have full medicals to go along with what’s been built up on scouting reports over the last couple of years. After combine, the GMs and head coaches will be able compare their impressions from interviews with the players to what area scouts came back with from campus visits. And after combine, they’ll have some testing numbers to confirm that fast guys are fast, and strong guys are strong.</p><p>So yes, there will be winners and losers in Indianapolis, but teams are now coming out of draft meetings with early boards set and consensus starting to come together within their building on who should fall where. And it’s with that backdrop that I’m going to give you my second mock of this draft season (here’s <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/11/07/mock-draft-2018-cleveland-browns-san-francisco-49ers-sam-darnold-josh-rosen-saquon-barkley" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the November version" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the November version</a>).</p><p>As always, <b>this isn’t based on any evaluation of mine, it’s based on discussions with decision-makers and evaluators across the NFL—and four months of reporting from having done <a href="https://www.si.com/column/The+NFL+Draft+Column" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The NFL Draft Column" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The NFL Draft Column</a> in the fall</b>. With that background, I put together a mock on Sunday, and vetted it with guys from eight teams. Over that time, I rearranged it three times, and finally came up with this. Enjoy!</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/20/draft-1936-first-draft-owners-bill-polian-lamar-jackson-quenton-nelson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:• THE ORIGINAL ‘DRAFT BIBLE’ AND BILL POLIAN ON LAMAR JACKSON: The book every owner had at the first draft in 1936, plus an old, stale controversy, mock draft roundup and Quenton Nelson in the YouTube highlights of the week." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>• THE ORIGINAL ‘DRAFT BIBLE’ AND BILL POLIAN ON LAMAR JACKSON: The book every owner had at the first draft in 1936, plus an old, stale controversy, mock draft roundup and Quenton Nelson in the YouTube highlights of the week.</strong></a></p><p><b>1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold, QB, USC</b><br>Drafting a quarterback high has a lot to do with comfort level, and I think John Dorsey will find himself most comfortable with Darnold—despite his funky delivery—because of his off-the-charts intangibles.</p><p><b>2. N.Y. Giants: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming</b><br>I’ve put Josh Rosen in this spot consistently. Why did I move him out? My feeling is, in the end, Allen will be a better personality fit with Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur.</p><p><b>3. Indianapolis: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State </b><br>Chubb might be the safest pick in the draft (though that can be the kiss of death, ask Aaron Curry), and he fulfills Chris Ballard’s desire to get more athletically imposing at a premium position.</p><p><b>4. Cleveland (from Houston): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State</b><br><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/13/nfl-draft-top-prospects-big-board" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Barkley is the draft’s best player" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Barkley is the draft’s best player</a>, but the non-premium position makes him a wild card. I like the idea of pairing him with a rookie quarterback, like Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott two years ago.</p><p><b>5. Denver: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA</b><br>The fifth and sixth picks could hinge on where Kirk Cousins lands. I’m going with a Case Keenum/Rosen pairing in Denver, and this could be a grand slam. Rosen is the most gifted QB in this year’s crop.</p><p><b>6. N.Y. Jets: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame</b><br>This is assuming the Jets get Cousins. Nelson is a generational guard prospect, widely considered <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:better than fellow Irish alum Zack Martin at the same stage" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">better than fellow Irish alum Zack Martin at the same stage</a>. And he’ll bring nastiness.</p><p><b>7. Tampa Bay: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama</b><br>What you’re getting here is a Malcolm Jenkins-type player—corner/safety versatility that’s incredibly valuable in today’s NFL—and a front-of-the-program guy.</p><p><b>8. Chicago: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State</b><br>The only knock on Ward is that he’s short. Outside of that? He’s worthy to carry on the rich recent lineage of Buckeye DBs going pro. And Vic Fangio will love his ability to play man.</p><p><b>9. San Francisco: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech</b><br>Edmunds came on my radar late in the season. He’s a freak, built for the K.J. Wright/De’Vondre Campbell role in the Niners’ Seattle-style scheme.</p><p><b>10. Oakland: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia</b><br>The Raiders would be lucky in this scenario—their biggest hole would be filled by the best available player. Smith is a heat-seeking sideline-to-sideline linebacker who could man the Oakland middle for a decade.</p><p><b>11. Miami: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma</b><br>Call this a hunch. Senior Bowl week once again showed teams Mayfield’s bravado isn’t for everyone, but I like the match with Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill is turning 30 and has $0 guaranteed left on his deal.</p><p><b>12. Cincinnati: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma</b><br>All eyes were on Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton last year, but Cincinnati’s biggest problem was the decline of its offensive line. This NFL legacy helps them fix it.</p><p><b>13. Washington: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, Texas-San Antonio</b><br>So I really wanted to put Davenport higher than this—and believe he’ll go before 13. Just watch. The converted receiver from a mid-major school will put on a show in Indianapolis.</p><p><b>14. Green Bay: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa</b><br>New coordinator Mike Pettine covets corners who can man receivers up, and that’s the rangy Jackson’s specialty. Once a receiver, Jackson is just scratching the surface of his potential.</p><p><b>15. Arizona: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama</b><br>New coach Steve Wilks is coming from Carolina, where a dominant defense was built up the middle with stout interior defensive linemen. And Payne is a great value at 15.</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl-free-agents-rankings-by-position-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:• FREE AGENCY RANKINGS AND TRACKER: Ranking the best players available via the free-agent route." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>• FREE AGENCY RANKINGS AND TRACKER: Ranking the best players available via the free-agent route.</strong></a></p><p><b>16. Baltimore: Connor Williams, OT, Texas</b><br>Williams is coming off a knee injury, but was very highly thought of at the beginning of the year. If he’s right, the Ravens can bookend him with Ronnie Stanley for years to come.</p><p><b>17. L.A. Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame</b><br>Protecting an aging Philip Rivers is paramount, and Russell Okung is 30. That makes McGlinchey a good candidate to come in as a right tackle/eventual successor at left tackle.</p><p><b>18. Seattle: Derwin James, S, Florida State</b><br>James is an incredible athlete and tough as nails, but he didn’t come back from his 2016 knee injury at the level he played at as a freshman. That said, he could be Seattle’s next Kam Chancellor.</p><p><b>19. Dallas: Vita Vea, DT, Washington</b><br>There’s a lot of buzz around what this 340-pounder might show athletically in Indianapolis. And a big couple days certainly could bump him higher than this.</p><p><b>20. Detroit: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College</b><br>Landry was well regarded coming into 2017, and had a good, not great final year at BC. But he’s still solid, and seems like Matt Patricia’s kind of player (as well as Ziggy Ansah insurance).</p><p><b>21. Buffalo: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU</b><br>I’ve had Sutton higher than this. I’ve since heard teams were a tad disappointed in his 2017 season. But he’s got huge potential, and is both Sean McDermott’s kind of receiver and person.</p><p><b>22. Buffalo (from Kansas City): Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan</b><br>Marcell Dareus is gone and Kyle Williams is 34 with an expired deal. Yes, Hurst is short, and may not quite look the part. But he produces, and fits the KK Short role in McDermott’s D.</p><p><b>23. L.A. Rams: Billy Price, C, Ohio State</b><br>Center is vital in Sean McVay’s offense, and John Sullivan filled the role ably last year. But Price has the head and the physical mentality to be an ideal long-term solution there for the Rams.</p><p><b>24. Carolina: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado</b><br>Oliver is another player who came on my radar late, and fits the NFL’s desire for longer corners. And the Panthers could use a potential star at the position.</p><p><b>25. Tennessee: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama</b><br>Evans closed the year on fire for the champion Tide, and could pair with or replace impending free agent Avery Williamson.</p><p><b>26. Atlanta: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida</b><br>While there are some questions about his instincts, Bryan has all the athleticism and toughness that Dan Quinn looks for in his defensive linemen, and gives the Falcons a layer of depth there.</p><p><b>27. New Orleans: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&#38;M</b><br>The Saints have fewer pressing needs than they’ve in a while, allowing them to add another young slash weapon to their offense who will also juice to their return units.</p><p><b>28. Pittsburgh: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU</b><br>Le’Veon Bell’s gigantic tag number complicates negotiations on a long-term deal, and Guice would give the Steelers a logical heir to the throne.</p><p><b>29. Jacksonville: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama</b><br>Unless they deem a QB worthy of going here, the Jags help the one they already have with the most pro-ready receiver in the draft. It’s sensible given Allen Robinson’s uncertain future.</p><p><b>30. Minnesota: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU</b><br>I’m really thinking Key will fall out of the first round, and could keep on falling. He has a lot of off-field questions to answer, and wasn’t great on the field last year. His potential, though, is limitless.</p><p><b>31. New England: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State</b><br>The Patriots need pieces in the front seven, and Vander Esch would give them insurance for Dont’a Hightower, as well as perhaps his eventual replacement.</p><p><b>32. Philadelphia: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA</b><br>Jason Peters is 36 and expensive, and the Eagles have shown steadfastly that they want to keep Lane Johnson on the right side. So they get a year ahead on left tackle by plucking Miller here.</p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
NFL Mock Draft Vol. 2: Josh Allen a Giant? The Pre-Combine, Pre-Free Agency Projection

Teams have a pretty good idea of what they think of draft prospects right now—but combine week, starting Tuesday, is a turning point.

After combine, they’ll have full medicals to go along with what’s been built up on scouting reports over the last couple of years. After combine, the GMs and head coaches will be able compare their impressions from interviews with the players to what area scouts came back with from campus visits. And after combine, they’ll have some testing numbers to confirm that fast guys are fast, and strong guys are strong.

So yes, there will be winners and losers in Indianapolis, but teams are now coming out of draft meetings with early boards set and consensus starting to come together within their building on who should fall where. And it’s with that backdrop that I’m going to give you my second mock of this draft season (here’s the November version).

As always, this isn’t based on any evaluation of mine, it’s based on discussions with decision-makers and evaluators across the NFL—and four months of reporting from having done The NFL Draft Column in the fall. With that background, I put together a mock on Sunday, and vetted it with guys from eight teams. Over that time, I rearranged it three times, and finally came up with this. Enjoy!

• THE ORIGINAL ‘DRAFT BIBLE’ AND BILL POLIAN ON LAMAR JACKSON: The book every owner had at the first draft in 1936, plus an old, stale controversy, mock draft roundup and Quenton Nelson in the YouTube highlights of the week.

1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Drafting a quarterback high has a lot to do with comfort level, and I think John Dorsey will find himself most comfortable with Darnold—despite his funky delivery—because of his off-the-charts intangibles.

2. N.Y. Giants: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
I’ve put Josh Rosen in this spot consistently. Why did I move him out? My feeling is, in the end, Allen will be a better personality fit with Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur.

3. Indianapolis: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
Chubb might be the safest pick in the draft (though that can be the kiss of death, ask Aaron Curry), and he fulfills Chris Ballard’s desire to get more athletically imposing at a premium position.

4. Cleveland (from Houston): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley is the draft’s best player, but the non-premium position makes him a wild card. I like the idea of pairing him with a rookie quarterback, like Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott two years ago.

5. Denver: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The fifth and sixth picks could hinge on where Kirk Cousins lands. I’m going with a Case Keenum/Rosen pairing in Denver, and this could be a grand slam. Rosen is the most gifted QB in this year’s crop.

6. N.Y. Jets: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
This is assuming the Jets get Cousins. Nelson is a generational guard prospect, widely considered better than fellow Irish alum Zack Martin at the same stage. And he’ll bring nastiness.

7. Tampa Bay: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
What you’re getting here is a Malcolm Jenkins-type player—corner/safety versatility that’s incredibly valuable in today’s NFL—and a front-of-the-program guy.

8. Chicago: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The only knock on Ward is that he’s short. Outside of that? He’s worthy to carry on the rich recent lineage of Buckeye DBs going pro. And Vic Fangio will love his ability to play man.

9. San Francisco: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds came on my radar late in the season. He’s a freak, built for the K.J. Wright/De’Vondre Campbell role in the Niners’ Seattle-style scheme.

10. Oakland: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Raiders would be lucky in this scenario—their biggest hole would be filled by the best available player. Smith is a heat-seeking sideline-to-sideline linebacker who could man the Oakland middle for a decade.

11. Miami: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Call this a hunch. Senior Bowl week once again showed teams Mayfield’s bravado isn’t for everyone, but I like the match with Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill is turning 30 and has $0 guaranteed left on his deal.

12. Cincinnati: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
All eyes were on Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton last year, but Cincinnati’s biggest problem was the decline of its offensive line. This NFL legacy helps them fix it.

13. Washington: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, Texas-San Antonio
So I really wanted to put Davenport higher than this—and believe he’ll go before 13. Just watch. The converted receiver from a mid-major school will put on a show in Indianapolis.

14. Green Bay: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
New coordinator Mike Pettine covets corners who can man receivers up, and that’s the rangy Jackson’s specialty. Once a receiver, Jackson is just scratching the surface of his potential.

15. Arizona: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
New coach Steve Wilks is coming from Carolina, where a dominant defense was built up the middle with stout interior defensive linemen. And Payne is a great value at 15.

• FREE AGENCY RANKINGS AND TRACKER: Ranking the best players available via the free-agent route.

16. Baltimore: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Williams is coming off a knee injury, but was very highly thought of at the beginning of the year. If he’s right, the Ravens can bookend him with Ronnie Stanley for years to come.

17. L.A. Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Protecting an aging Philip Rivers is paramount, and Russell Okung is 30. That makes McGlinchey a good candidate to come in as a right tackle/eventual successor at left tackle.

18. Seattle: Derwin James, S, Florida State
James is an incredible athlete and tough as nails, but he didn’t come back from his 2016 knee injury at the level he played at as a freshman. That said, he could be Seattle’s next Kam Chancellor.

19. Dallas: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
There’s a lot of buzz around what this 340-pounder might show athletically in Indianapolis. And a big couple days certainly could bump him higher than this.

20. Detroit: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
Landry was well regarded coming into 2017, and had a good, not great final year at BC. But he’s still solid, and seems like Matt Patricia’s kind of player (as well as Ziggy Ansah insurance).

21. Buffalo: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
I’ve had Sutton higher than this. I’ve since heard teams were a tad disappointed in his 2017 season. But he’s got huge potential, and is both Sean McDermott’s kind of receiver and person.

22. Buffalo (from Kansas City): Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Marcell Dareus is gone and Kyle Williams is 34 with an expired deal. Yes, Hurst is short, and may not quite look the part. But he produces, and fits the KK Short role in McDermott’s D.

23. L.A. Rams: Billy Price, C, Ohio State
Center is vital in Sean McVay’s offense, and John Sullivan filled the role ably last year. But Price has the head and the physical mentality to be an ideal long-term solution there for the Rams.

24. Carolina: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Oliver is another player who came on my radar late, and fits the NFL’s desire for longer corners. And the Panthers could use a potential star at the position.

25. Tennessee: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans closed the year on fire for the champion Tide, and could pair with or replace impending free agent Avery Williamson.

26. Atlanta: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
While there are some questions about his instincts, Bryan has all the athleticism and toughness that Dan Quinn looks for in his defensive linemen, and gives the Falcons a layer of depth there.

27. New Orleans: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Saints have fewer pressing needs than they’ve in a while, allowing them to add another young slash weapon to their offense who will also juice to their return units.

28. Pittsburgh: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Le’Veon Bell’s gigantic tag number complicates negotiations on a long-term deal, and Guice would give the Steelers a logical heir to the throne.

29. Jacksonville: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Unless they deem a QB worthy of going here, the Jags help the one they already have with the most pro-ready receiver in the draft. It’s sensible given Allen Robinson’s uncertain future.

30. Minnesota: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
I’m really thinking Key will fall out of the first round, and could keep on falling. He has a lot of off-field questions to answer, and wasn’t great on the field last year. His potential, though, is limitless.

31. New England: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Patriots need pieces in the front seven, and Vander Esch would give them insurance for Dont’a Hightower, as well as perhaps his eventual replacement.

32. Philadelphia: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Jason Peters is 36 and expensive, and the Eagles have shown steadfastly that they want to keep Lane Johnson on the right side. So they get a year ahead on left tackle by plucking Miller here.

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

While Rhode Island and Kentucky worked hard for key road wins, Michigan State and Ohio State rolled at home.
Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: URI survives, Kentucky comes back, Michigan State and Ohio State roll
While Rhode Island and Kentucky worked hard for key road wins, Michigan State and Ohio State rolled at home.
While Rhode Island and Kentucky worked hard for key road wins, Michigan State and Ohio State rolled at home.
Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: URI survives, Kentucky comes back, Michigan State and Ohio State roll
While Rhode Island and Kentucky worked hard for key road wins, Michigan State and Ohio State rolled at home.
<p>With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.</p><p>Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.</p><h3>Locks (19)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 27</h3><p>68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27</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>Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)</h3><p>I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this week’s Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this week’s Bracket Watch</a>. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)</h3><p>Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.</p><h3>Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)</h3><p>The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.</p><h3>Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.</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>Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)</h3><p>Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&#38;M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.</p><h3>Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&#38;M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.</p><h3>Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.</p><h3>Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)</h3><p>The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.</p><h3>Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.</p><h3>Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)</h3><p>The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.</p><h3>Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)</h3><p>I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.</p><h3>Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)</h3><p>This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.</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>Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.</p><h3>Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.</p><h3>TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.</p><h3>Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&#38;M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.</p><h3>Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.</p><h3>Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.</p><h3>Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.</p><h3>Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.</p><h3>Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the field in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the field in our latest Bracket Watch</a>, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.</p><h3>UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.</p><h3>USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.</p><h3>LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.</p><h3>Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.</p><h3>Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.</p><h3>Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.</p><h3>Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.</p><h3>Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.</p>
Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Bubble as Competitive as Ever

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.

Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.

Locks (19)

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

Spots remaining: 27

68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27

Solid Selections

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

Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)

I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in this week’s Bracket Watch. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.

Texas A&M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)

Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.

Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.

Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.

Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.

Safer Than Most

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

Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)

There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.

Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)

Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.

Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)

Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.

Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)

The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.

Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)

The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.

Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)

The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.

Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)

The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.

Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)

A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)

I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.

Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)

Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.

Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)

This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.

True Bubble Teams

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

Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.

TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.

NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.

Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.

Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.

Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.

Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.

Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.

Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.

St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them in the field in our latest Bracket Watch, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.

Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.

UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.

USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.

LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.

Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.

Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.

?

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.

Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.

Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.

Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.

Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.

Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

<p>With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.</p><p>Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.</p><h3>Locks (19)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 27</h3><p>68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27</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>Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)</h3><p>I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this week’s Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this week’s Bracket Watch</a>. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)</h3><p>Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.</p><h3>Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)</h3><p>The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.</p><h3>Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.</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>Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)</h3><p>Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&#38;M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.</p><h3>Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&#38;M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.</p><h3>Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.</p><h3>Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)</h3><p>The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.</p><h3>Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.</p><h3>Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)</h3><p>The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.</p><h3>Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)</h3><p>I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.</p><h3>Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)</h3><p>This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.</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>Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.</p><h3>Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.</p><h3>TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.</p><h3>Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&#38;M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.</p><h3>Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.</p><h3>Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.</p><h3>Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.</p><h3>Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.</p><h3>Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the field in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the field in our latest Bracket Watch</a>, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.</p><h3>UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.</p><h3>USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.</p><h3>LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.</p><h3>Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.</p><h3>Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.</p><h3>Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.</p><h3>Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.</p><h3>Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.</p>
Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Bubble as Competitive as Ever

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.

Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.

Locks (19)

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

Spots remaining: 27

68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27

Solid Selections

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

Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)

I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in this week’s Bracket Watch. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.

Texas A&M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)

Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.

Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.

Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.

Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.

Safer Than Most

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

Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)

There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.

Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)

Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.

Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)

Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.

Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)

The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.

Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)

The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.

Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)

The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.

Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)

The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.

Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)

A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)

I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.

Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)

Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.

Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)

This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.

True Bubble Teams

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

Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.

TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.

NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.

Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.

Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.

Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.

Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.

Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.

Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.

St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them in the field in our latest Bracket Watch, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.

Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.

UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.

USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.

LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.

Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.

Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.

?

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.

Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.

Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.

Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.

Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.

Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

<p>With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.</p><p>Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.</p><h3>Locks (19)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 27</h3><p>68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27</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>Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)</h3><p>I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this week’s Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this week’s Bracket Watch</a>. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)</h3><p>Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.</p><h3>Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)</h3><p>The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.</p><h3>Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.</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>Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)</h3><p>Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&#38;M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.</p><h3>Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&#38;M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.</p><h3>Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.</p><h3>Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)</h3><p>The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.</p><h3>Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.</p><h3>Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)</h3><p>The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.</p><h3>Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)</h3><p>I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.</p><h3>Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)</h3><p>This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.</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>Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.</p><h3>Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.</p><h3>TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.</p><h3>Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&#38;M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.</p><h3>Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.</p><h3>Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.</p><h3>Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.</p><h3>Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.</p><h3>Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the field in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the field in our latest Bracket Watch</a>, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.</p><h3>UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.</p><h3>USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.</p><h3>LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.</p><h3>Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.</p><h3>Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.</p><h3>Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.</p><h3>Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.</p><h3>Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.</p>
Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Bubble as Competitive as Ever

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.

Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.

Locks (19)

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

Spots remaining: 27

68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27

Solid Selections

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

Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)

I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in this week’s Bracket Watch. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.

Texas A&M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)

Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.

Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.

Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.

Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.

Safer Than Most

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

Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)

There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.

Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)

Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.

Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)

Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.

Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)

The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.

Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)

The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.

Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)

The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.

Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)

The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.

Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)

A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)

I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.

Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)

Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.

Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)

This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.

True Bubble Teams

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

Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.

TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.

NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.

Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.

Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.

Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.

Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.

Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.

Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.

St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them in the field in our latest Bracket Watch, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.

Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.

UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.

USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.

LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.

Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.

Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.

?

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.

Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.

Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.

Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.

Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.

Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

<p>With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.</p><p>Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.</p><h3>Locks (19)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 27</h3><p>68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27</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>Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)</h3><p>I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this week’s Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this week’s Bracket Watch</a>. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)</h3><p>Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.</p><h3>Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)</h3><p>The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.</p><h3>Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)</h3><p>The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.</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>Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)</h3><p>Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&#38;M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.</p><h3>Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&#38;M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.</p><h3>Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)</h3><p>The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.</p><h3>Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)</h3><p>The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.</p><h3>Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.</p><h3>Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)</h3><p>The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.</p><h3>Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)</h3><p>I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.</p><h3>Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)</h3><p>This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.</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>Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.</p><h3>Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.</p><h3>TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.</p><h3>Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&#38;M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.</p><h3>Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.</p><h3>Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.</p><h3>Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.</p><h3>Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.</p><h3>Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/19/ncaa-tournament-bracket-watch-kansas-purdue-duke-rhode-island" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the field in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the field in our latest Bracket Watch</a>, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.</p><h3>UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.</p><h3>USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.</p><h3>LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.</p><h3>Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.</p><h3>Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.</p><h3>Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.</p><h3>Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.</p><h3>Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.</p><h3>Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.</p>
Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Bubble as Competitive as Ever

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the top of the tournament field at this time of the season is as uncertain as it has been in recent memory. It’s also as soft as it has been in a while, all the way through the No. 5 and 6 lines, where it has been more difficult than expected to find worthy teams in the Bracket Watch.

Conversely, this is as strong a bubble as I remember in my five years at the head of SI.com’s Bubble Watch committee. We project teams such as Texas, Arkansas and Butler as No. 9 and 10 seeds, which would make them prototypical bubble teams in an ordinary year. However, they are closer to taking themselves off the bubble in a good way than they are to falling out of the field, as are many of their neighbors in the seed list. The teams at the top of the seed list may be more flawed than usual, but those at the bottom of the at-large picture are creating the most competitive Bubble Watch in years.

Locks (19)

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

Spots remaining: 27

68 total spots — 19 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 27

Solid Selections

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

Rhode Island (21-4, RPI: 8, SOS: 37, Q1 record: 2-4)

I detailed my trouble with seeding the Rams in this week’s Bracket Watch. They’re worthy of a No. 5 seed right now, but that may not be the case when Selection Sunday gets here. Teams like Florida, Alabama and Houston have as many Q1 wins as the Rams have in Q1 and Q2 combined. The bet here is that they’re ultimately a No. 6 or 7 in the actual bracket.

Texas A&M (17-10, RPI: 21, SOS: 9, Q1 record: 7-8)

Sure, the Aggies have had good fortune to play 15 Q1 games, but they deserve credit for winning seven of them. They were just shy of earning lock status this week, but so long as they take care of business against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they’ll be in the lock section next week.

Kentucky (18-9, RPI: 18, SOS: 3, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Wildcats earned an important win over Alabama at home last Saturday, ending a four-game slide. All four of those losses were to certain or likely tournament teams, with three coming on the road. A split in games against Arkansas and Missouri this week would likely be enough to consider the Wildcats locks.

Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 28, SOS: 65, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils lost the only game they played last week, a 77-70 reversal at home against Arizona. They may not have the ceiling they once hinted at, but it would take utter disaster for them to fall out of the tournament picture. What kind of disaster? For starters, they’d have to go 1-3 or 0-4 in their final regular season games, which are against Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. That’s not going to happen.

Creighton (18-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7)

The Bluejays lost at home to Marquette over the weekend, but their resumé is resilient enough to handle that loss. Like Arizona State, it would take a highly unlikely disaster to push them onto the bubble, let alone out of the field. If they can win at Butler or protect their home floor against Villanova this week, we’ll consider them a lock for the dance.

Safer Than Most

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

Florida (17-10, RPI: 64, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6-3)

There’s no question that the RPI is going to be a problem for the Gators. For better or worse, the Selection Committee considers it an important metric. It won’t hurt the Gators too much if they win a couple more games the rest of the season, but losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt last week were truly damaging. The Gators remaining games are against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. An 0-4 finish is absolutely a possibility and then the RPI could conspire to keep them out of the field of 68.

Alabama (17-10, RPI: 33, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 6-5)

Alabama’s remaining schedule is just as tough as Florida’s. They visit Auburn and host Arkansas this week, before finishing with the Gators and Texas A&M next week. The Tide could also be in trouble with an 0-4 finish, though they have more breathing room than Florida. On the other hand, a 2-2 run to end the season would likely leave them without worry on Selection Sunday, no matter how they fare in the SEC tournament. They’ve done enough this season to give the Bubble Watch committee confidence that they’ll be able to win two of the next four, which is why they’re in this section and not the one for true bubble teams.

Missouri (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 5-7)

Last week, the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games with a win over Texas A&M before having it snapped with a loss at LSU over the weekend. Still, that’s a net positive week for a team that continues to surge as Selection Sunday draws near. Two more wins in the regular season should be enough to leave them with a tension-free Selection Sunday. A win at Kentucky on Saturday could vault them all the way up to lock status.

Houston (21-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-3)

The Cougars just recorded the best week of their season with wins over Cincinnati and Temple. Their six Q1 victories give them more than Duke, Clemson, Cincinnati and Kentucky, and as many as Purdue and Oklahoma. They have it pretty easy the rest of the regular season, with games against Memphis, East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Barring disaster, they’ll be dancing.

Michigan (21-7, RPI: 30, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-5)

The Wolverines notched their third Q1 win of the season with a 74-62 victory over Ohio State at home last Sunday. They spend this entire week on the road, with sneaky-tough games against Penn State and Maryland. If they lose both, they’ll go into the Big Ten tournament needing at least one decent win to feel good about themselves on Selection Sunday. A split should leave them all but locked in, while a couple of wins would have them guaranteed to be worry-free as the Selection Committee builds the bracket.

Seton Hall (18-9, RPI: 25, SOS: 25, Q1 record: 3-6)

The Pirates have a tough week ahead with road games at Providence and St. John’s. The Red Storm have proved to not be a pushover of late and Shamorie Ponds is capable of carrying them to victories against nearly any team in the country, evidenced by victories over Duke and Villanova. If the Pirates lose both, they’ll be desperate for wins over Villanova or Butler in the final week of the regular season. This is going to be a tricky few weeks for them to navigate, but they still have far more good than bad on their resumé.

Florida State (19-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 5-4)

The Seminoles enjoyed a strong week, thanks primarily to their overtime win against Clemson. That was their second of the year against a tournament lock, which has them headed in the right direction with two weeks left in the regular season. They play just once this week, visiting North Carolina State on Sunday. They aren’t quite on solid ground, but so long as they avoid multiple bad losses the rest of the way, they should be a comfortable bunch when the bracket is being revealed.

Providence (17-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5-6)

A loss at Butler would be forgivable in any circumstances. When it comes days after beating Villanova, it’s almost as though it didn’t even happen. The Friars’ win over Villanova made them the lone team in the Big East to beat the Wildcats and Xavier thus far this season. Assuming they can keep things clean the rest of the way, they should have more than enough for the committee to easily forgive their losses to Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. The Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday and visit Georgetown on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s (25-4, RPI: 31, SOS: 144, Q1 record: 1-0)

I continue to believe the Gaels face a restrictive seed ceiling. Their win at Gonzaga was unquestionably impressive, but it’s their only win this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid. They also beat likely tournament team New Mexico State, but that team isn’t getting an at-large bid after losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. The Gaels aren’t going to have anything to worry about, even if they lose another game, but there’s no way their resumé is worthy of anything more than a No. 7 seed, and even that would require that they win the WCC tournament.

Nevada (23-5, RPI: 9, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 2-2)

Nevada is in a similar spot to Saint Mary’s. They may have two Q1 wins, but those came against Rhode Island and Boise State. We discussed earlier the deficiencies of Rhode Island’s resumé, and Boise State is unlikely to earn an at-large bid now that it is guaranteed to end the regular season with zero Q1 victories. Nevada also has two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs, which the committee does not like to see. One more bad loss could put their tournament lives in jeopardy, so it is critical that they take care of business against San Jose State and Colorado State this week.

Virginia Tech (19-8, RPI: 55, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 4-5)

This could be higher than you see Virginia Tech in most places, but there aren’t very many teams in the country with two wins that stack up to the Hokies wins over North Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which was on the road. They do have one ugly loss to Saint Louis, but all of their other losses came to teams in the at-large discussion. They have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with home games against Clemson and Louisville this week. Next week, they host Duke before ending the regular season at Miami. That brand of slate definitely brings the possibility of disaster, but a 2-2 record will be good enough to lock them into the field of 68.

True Bubble Teams

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

Texas (16-11, RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 5-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Longhorns got a big win over Oklahoma last weekend, their first win against a certain or likely tournament team since the first weekend of February when they beat…Oklahoma. Their season took a bit of a nosedive when they lost four times in five games, but they’ve still done enough to be on relatively sound footing with two weeks left in the regular season. The Selection Committee will certainly like the five Q1 wins. They could do themselves a favor with a win at Kansas State on Wednesday. They wrap up the week by hosting fringe at-large contender Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Butler (18-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler’s loss to Georgetown last week removed the no-bad-losses sticker from its resumé. The Bulldogs bounced back with a nice win over Providence at home, but it still may have been a net negative week. The win over the Friars, however, was their first against a likely tournament team since they beat Villanova way back on December 30, so to call it a much-needed win is an understatement. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, playing host to Creighton on Tuesday.

TCU (18-9, RPI: 22, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Horned Frogs have about as light a two-week stretch to end the regular season as is realistically possible in the Big 12. They visit Iowa State and host Baylor this week, with a home game against Kansas State and road trip to Texas Tech on tap next week. That’s welcome news for a team that has enough strong wins on its resumé to get into the dance, but would likely be exposed if it still had to go through a gauntlet the rest of the way. Kenpom.com favors them to win their next three games before losing at Texas Tech to end the season. If that comes to fruition, they’ll likely have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.

NC State (18-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5-6, Q2 record: 2-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack are likely to have too many good wins for the committee to ignore despite a few obvious blemishes on their resumé. Put simply, it’s awfully hard to see the committee leaving out a team that has wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. The Wolfpack would really have to stumble down the stretch and that’s equally hard to imagine with games remaining against the likes of Boston College and Georgia Tech. They may not be able to climb too far up the seed list without a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they have almost certainly proved that they are one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country.

Arkansas (19-8, RPI: 26, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Razorbacks have won four straight games, but only the last one (over Texas A&M) came against a likely tournament team. They end their season with a harrowing four game stretch, starting with Kentucky and Alabama, the latter on the road, this week. After that, they host Auburn and visit Missouri next week. This could be make-or-break team for the Razorbacks. Like so many teams that we’ve already discussed with similar stretches to end the season, 2-2 will likely be good enough. Remember, if Selection Sunday were this past weekend, Arkansas would have been relatively safe. That means they don’t need to overwhelm the committee the rest of the season to get into the dance. They just can’t afford to give the committee reasons to keep them out.

Miami (19-8, RPI: 36, SOS: 61, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

If the new quadrants truly matter, then Miami has some serious work to do. Not only does it have just four Q1 victories, those wins came against Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State. They also have wins over Florida State and Syracuse, which is to say their best victories have been over a who’s who of ACC bubble teams. I do not think they’d be in serious jeopardy if Selection Sunday were last weekend, but there are still two weeks of the regular season plus conference tournaments left on the board. A team that I believe is comfortably behind them in the pecking order right now, such as USC or Marquette, has plenty of time and opportunity to leapfrog the Hurricanes.

Kansas State (19-8, RPI: 56, SOS: 97, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats took care of business last week, picking up wins at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State. The next two weeks will be huge for them as they embark on a four-game run against teams that are all in the at-large picture. It starts this week with Texas and Oklahoma, and wraps next week with TCU and Baylor. The major coups would be the middle two games, especially since they are on the road. The Wildcats do have road victories over Baylor and Texas on the year, but adding one against Oklahoma or TCU would be enormous for their at-large hopes. They join the non-exclusive club of teams that can likely make the committee’s job easy by going 2-2 the rest of the way.

Washington (18-9, RPI: 49, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 4-3, Q2 record: 1-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies were the talk of the Bubble Watch a few weeks ago after they knocked off Arizona State and Arizona in succession. They promptly turned around and dropped three straight games to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah. That has them squarely on the bubble with four games left in the regular season. They visit Stanford and Cal this week, and host Oregon State and Oregon next week. Frankly, they need to go 4-0 in those games. Not because they’re desperate for wins, but because at-large quality teams should not lose to those four, especially when they’ve already lost to three of them earlier in the year. Any loss the rest of the way could have the Huskies needing a big win in the Pac-12 tournament to get into the dance.

Baylor (16-10, RPI: 47, SOS: 23, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

What a run for the Bears. They’ve won five straight games, with Kansas and Texas Tech among their victims. Before the streak, they were 12-10 overall, 2-7 in the Big 12, and seemingly without any tournament hopes. Now, they’re a win or two away from feeling great about themselves on Selection Sunday. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier the rest of the regular season, with West Virginia and TCU on tap this week.

Louisville (18-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 1-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s final four games of the regular season are against Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State, with all but the Virginia game on the road. That is excellent news for a team desperate for big wins. The Cardinals are the only team realistically in the at-large discussion with fewer than four combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They’re the only major conference team inside the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch with no more than two Q1 victories. All four of their remaining games will likely be in Q1, which gives them the opportunity to prove they belong in the dance. The Cardinals will make or break their season the next two weeks.

St. Bonaventure (20-6, RPI: 27, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies got the big win they needed by beating Rhode Island at home last Friday. That put them in the field in our latest Bracket Watch, but it might not be enough to keep them in without a deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They aren’t going to strengthen their resumé with any signature victories the rest of the way, and they won’t meet Rhode Island again unless both of them advance to the A-10 championship. That means the Bonnies might need some help from the next few teams in the Bubble Watch. If teams like Syracuse, UCLA, USC, LSU or Marquette pile up victories the rest of the season, they could vault St. Bonaventure, even if the latter doesn’t lose until the A-10 championship.

Syracuse (18-9, RPI: 38, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Orange picked up a monster win at Miami on Saturday, knocking off a fellow bubble team and doing it on the road. They have about as challenging a schedule as possible the rest of the way, starting with games against North Carolina and Duke this week. After a brief respite in the form of Boston College, they’ll wrap up their season with a home game against Clemson. Thanks to their remaining schedule, there may not be a ton of intrigue surrounding the Orange on Selection Sunday. If they lose to North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, they’ll need to do some serious damage in the ACC tournament. If they can beat one of them, they’ll set themselves up to make a compelling case to the committee by skirting any bad losses. If they manage to beat two of them, they may not need to do anything of note in the conference tourney.

UCLA (19-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took care of business last week, beating Oregon State and Oregon. They’re on the road for the rest of the regular season, with possible resumé-builders against Utah this week and USC next week. Neither of those games are gimmies, but the Bruins are in a position where they need at least one of them heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Wins over Arizona, Kentucky, Washington and USC give them the foundation for an at-large bid, but they aren’t quite there just yet. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing at Utah and USC, but doing so would likely confirm that the Bruins are not among the 36 best at-large teams in the country.

USC (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 55, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Like their Los Angeles neighbors, USC beat Oregon and Oregon State last week. They have the same remaining schedule, too, with the obvious difference being that they’ll be home for the rematch with UCLA. It’s hard to picture both Los Angeles Pac-12 teams getting into the dance. There just likely aren’t enough wins to go around at this point, unless both somehow make it to the Pac-12 championship. I’d hesitate to call their meeting next week a de facto elimination game, especially since both have to get through Utah first, but it could come down to that, depending on what they do this week and in the Pac-12 tournament, as well as what their fellow bubble teams do the next three weeks.

LSU (15-11, RPI: 75, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 7-5, Q2 record: 1-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

Depending on what happens the next three weeks, there may be no more interesting team on Selection Sunday than LSU. At the very least, they have the most vexing bubble case at this stage of the season. On the one hand, LSU owns seven Q1 victories after sweeping Texas A&M and Arkansas, beating Houston and Missouri at home, and Michigan on a neutral floor. On the other hand, the Tigers have 11 losses, including reversals against Stephen F. Austin and Vanderbilt. They are done with certain or likely tournament teams in the regular season, with their last four games coming against Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite the seven Q1 wins, they likely need at least three of these to put themselves for an at-large bid with one good win the SEC tournament.

Marquette (15-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Golden Eagles got what they needed with an impressive win at Creighton over the weekend. They’ve added two Q1 road victories to their resumé in the last two weeks, previously winning at Seton Hall. Those two wins have pulled them out of the tailspin they were in after losing four straight games and six of eight. What’s more, they have a soft remaining schedule, with their next three games against St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown, before hosting Creighton to end the regular season. They’ll almost certainly need one more big win to get into the field of 68, but they’ve put themselves in a position where that could be all it will take. That almost certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago.

Temple (15-12, RPI: 44, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 4-0, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Owls had a great opportunity to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, which is built entirely on wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, with their second meetings of the season with the Shockers and Houston. A win in either one would’ve solidified their case that they can play with any team in the country, while victories in both would have given them five top-20 victories. Instead, they lost both and now face a ton of trouble in counterbalancing their four terrible losses. They can’t make up any ground the rest of the regular season, with their final three games against UCF, Connecticut and Tulsa.

?

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Nebraska (20-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 119, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

I know most other bubble watchers and bracket folks think Nebraska is closer to the field than this, but I just don’t see how their resumé is any better than that of Marquette, LSU, USC, UCLA or Syracuse. You could talk me into placing the Cornhuskers over Temple, but that doesn’t exactly place them on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. A win over Penn State in their regular season finale will do them some good, but they need to make some real noise in the Big Ten tournament to get an at-large invite.

Boise State (20-6, RPI: 51, SOS: 132, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Boise State was in the Bubble Watch last week, which means it has to be in this week, but this will be its last appearance. The Broncos lost to Nevada last week, which was their last chance for a win against an at-large quality team in the regular season. They will end the season with their best win coming at home against Loyola-Chicago, which is the favorite in the Missouri Valley but isn’t going to get an at-large bid. The committee rightly has shown no appetite for granting at-large bids to teams with zero at-large quality wins. If Boise State meets Nevada again, it will be in the Mountain West championship game, and a win there would eliminate its need for an at-large bid.

Mississippi State (18-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 128, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

A one-point loss at Vanderbilt on the heels of an overtime loss at Missouri significantly damaged the Bulldogs tournament hopes. The Bulldogs do have some opportunity with games remaining against Texas A&M and Tennessee, but chances are they need to win both of those to get into the dance.

Georgia (15-11, RPI: 66, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 4-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bulldogs got themselves back in the at-large discussion with an excellent week that included wins over Florida and Tennessee. It will be challenging for them to offset their three sub-100 losses, but they’ve at least given themselves a chance to do so. They, too, have Texas A&M and Tennessee remaining on their schedule, with both of those games coming next week. If they beat South Carolina and LSU this week, and split those games next week, they could make things interesting in the SEC tournament.

Notre Dame (15-12, RPI: 68, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

We can’t yet write off the Irish with a game remaining against Virginia. If they can find a way to win that one and do some damage in the ACC tournament, they can still sneak into the dance. Bonzie Colson is out of his walking boot, a big step toward getting him back on the court. Indeed, he dressed and warmed up with his teammates before Monday’s loss to Miami, but did not play. The Irish expected to get D.J. Harvey back for last Saturday’s game at Boston College, but he suffered a setback with his knee at Friday’s practice. Still, there’s hope he can return this season. The Irish remain a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

Penn State (19-10, RPI: 76, SOS: 99, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Nittany Lions barely have an at-large pulse left, but it does still register after they completed a season sweep of Ohio State last week. They host Michigan and visit Nebraska this week, and both games would improve their profile should the come away with victories. Lose either one, though, and they’ll likely need to do some major damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Oklahoma State (15-12, RPI: 105, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-9, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys play Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in three of their four remaining games. That, combined with what they’ve done, still has them showing up as a blip on the at-large radar. If they lose to Texas Tech and Texas this week, they will fade away.

Utah (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah has a real chance to make up some ground with home games against UCLA and USC this week. If they win both games they could vault the Los Angeles teams in the Pac-12, which would put them near the field of 68. The Utes likely need to win out—which also includes a game against Colorado next week—to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

<p>Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.</p><p>Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.</p><p>But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to <em>his</em> résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”</p><p>Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.</p><p>So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.</p><p>But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/01/jimbo-fisher-texas-am-coach-contract-florida-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimbo Fisher money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimbo Fisher money</a>—or <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/03/dave-aranda-lsu-defensive-coordinator-ed-orgeron-jimbo-fisher" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Aranda money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Aranda money</a> for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.</p><p>Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.</p><p>Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.</p><p>So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.</p><p>One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.</p><p>He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.</p><p>Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.</p><p>Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”</p><p>Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”</p><p>Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.</p><p>Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.</p><p>“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p>This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.</p><p>That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.</p><p>So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.</p><p><strong>1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…</em></p><p>The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.</p><p><strong>2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here</em></p><p>Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.</p><p><strong>3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable</em></p><p>The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for <em>your</em> Valentine.</p><p><strong>4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man</em></p><p>It’s every bit the protest song <em>Fortunate Son </em>is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)</p><p><strong>5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?</em></p><p>It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.</p><p><strong>6. “Your Love”, The Outfield</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover</em></p><p>This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.</p><p><strong>7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad</em></p><p>While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)</p><p><strong>8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still</em></p><p>This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.</p><p><strong>9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard</em></p><p>More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.</p><p><strong>10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me</em></p><p>This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.</p><h3>Three and Out</h3><p><strong>1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, <a href="http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/22482464/former-florida-coach-jim-mcelwain-signs-deal-join-jim-harbaugh-michigan" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low</a>.</strong> McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).</p><p>Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.</p><p><strong>2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer.</strong> Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.</p><p><strong>3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, <a href="http://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy_sports/ac-cs-jarren-jasper-home-20180215-story.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:returned home last week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">returned home last week</a> for the first time following a heart transplant.</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/college-football-heads-in-wrong-direction-with-largest-attendance-drop-in-34-years/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17</a>. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.</p><p>Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.</p><p>SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.</p><p>That is all.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.</p><p>When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.</p><p><em>LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark &#38; sweet plantains</em></p><p>Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.</p><p>Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.</p><p>If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.</p><p>After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.</p><p>My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.</p><p>Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.</p>
Not Every Coaching Career Starts at a Urinal, but Most Have Equally Humble Beginnings

Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.

Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.

But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to his résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”

Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.

So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.

But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make Jimbo Fisher money—or Dave Aranda money for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.

Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.

Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.

So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.

One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.

He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.

Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.

Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”

Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”

Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.

Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.

“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”

A Random Ranking

This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.

That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.

1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind

Sample lyric: Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…

The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.

2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast

Sample lyric: Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here

Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.

3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others

Sample lyric: Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable

The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for your Valentine.

4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen

Sample lyric: So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man

It’s every bit the protest song Fortunate Son is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)

5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow

Sample lyric: There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?

It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.

6. “Your Love”, The Outfield

Sample lyric: You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover

This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.

7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes

Sample lyric: I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad

While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)

8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations

Sample lyric: Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still

This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.

9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon

Sample lyric: Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard

More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.

10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans

Sample lyric: Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me

This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.

Three and Out

1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low. McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).

Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.

2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer. Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.

3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, returned home last week for the first time following a heart transplant.

What’s Eating Andy?

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.

Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.

SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

That is all.

What’s Andy Eating?

Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.

When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.

LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark & sweet plantains

Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.

Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.

If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.

After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.

My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.

Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.

<p>Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.</p><p>Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.</p><p>But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to <em>his</em> résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”</p><p>Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.</p><p>So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.</p><p>But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/01/jimbo-fisher-texas-am-coach-contract-florida-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimbo Fisher money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimbo Fisher money</a>—or <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/03/dave-aranda-lsu-defensive-coordinator-ed-orgeron-jimbo-fisher" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Aranda money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Aranda money</a> for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.</p><p>Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.</p><p>Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.</p><p>So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.</p><p>One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.</p><p>He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.</p><p>Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.</p><p>Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”</p><p>Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”</p><p>Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.</p><p>Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.</p><p>“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p>This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.</p><p>That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.</p><p>So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.</p><p><strong>1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…</em></p><p>The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.</p><p><strong>2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here</em></p><p>Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.</p><p><strong>3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable</em></p><p>The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for <em>your</em> Valentine.</p><p><strong>4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man</em></p><p>It’s every bit the protest song <em>Fortunate Son </em>is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)</p><p><strong>5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?</em></p><p>It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.</p><p><strong>6. “Your Love”, The Outfield</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover</em></p><p>This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.</p><p><strong>7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad</em></p><p>While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)</p><p><strong>8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still</em></p><p>This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.</p><p><strong>9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard</em></p><p>More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.</p><p><strong>10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me</em></p><p>This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.</p><h3>Three and Out</h3><p><strong>1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, <a href="http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/22482464/former-florida-coach-jim-mcelwain-signs-deal-join-jim-harbaugh-michigan" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low</a>.</strong> McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).</p><p>Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.</p><p><strong>2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer.</strong> Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.</p><p><strong>3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, <a href="http://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy_sports/ac-cs-jarren-jasper-home-20180215-story.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:returned home last week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">returned home last week</a> for the first time following a heart transplant.</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/college-football-heads-in-wrong-direction-with-largest-attendance-drop-in-34-years/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17</a>. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.</p><p>Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.</p><p>SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.</p><p>That is all.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.</p><p>When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.</p><p><em>LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark &#38; sweet plantains</em></p><p>Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.</p><p>Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.</p><p>If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.</p><p>After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.</p><p>My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.</p><p>Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.</p>
Not Every Coaching Career Starts at a Urinal, but Most Have Equally Humble Beginnings

Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.

Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.

But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to his résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”

Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.

So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.

But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make Jimbo Fisher money—or Dave Aranda money for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.

Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.

Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.

So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.

One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.

He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.

Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.

Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”

Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”

Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.

Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.

“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”

A Random Ranking

This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.

That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.

1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind

Sample lyric: Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…

The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.

2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast

Sample lyric: Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here

Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.

3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others

Sample lyric: Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable

The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for your Valentine.

4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen

Sample lyric: So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man

It’s every bit the protest song Fortunate Son is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)

5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow

Sample lyric: There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?

It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.

6. “Your Love”, The Outfield

Sample lyric: You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover

This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.

7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes

Sample lyric: I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad

While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)

8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations

Sample lyric: Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still

This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.

9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon

Sample lyric: Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard

More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.

10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans

Sample lyric: Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me

This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.

Three and Out

1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low. McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).

Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.

2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer. Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.

3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, returned home last week for the first time following a heart transplant.

What’s Eating Andy?

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.

Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.

SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

That is all.

What’s Andy Eating?

Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.

When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.

LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark & sweet plantains

Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.

Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.

If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.

After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.

My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.

Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.

<p>Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.</p><p>Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.</p><p>But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to <em>his</em> résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”</p><p>Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.</p><p>So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.</p><p>But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/01/jimbo-fisher-texas-am-coach-contract-florida-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimbo Fisher money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimbo Fisher money</a>—or <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/03/dave-aranda-lsu-defensive-coordinator-ed-orgeron-jimbo-fisher" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Aranda money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Aranda money</a> for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.</p><p>Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.</p><p>Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.</p><p>So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.</p><p>One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.</p><p>He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.</p><p>Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.</p><p>Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”</p><p>Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”</p><p>Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.</p><p>Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.</p><p>“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p>This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.</p><p>That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.</p><p>So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.</p><p><strong>1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…</em></p><p>The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.</p><p><strong>2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here</em></p><p>Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.</p><p><strong>3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable</em></p><p>The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for <em>your</em> Valentine.</p><p><strong>4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man</em></p><p>It’s every bit the protest song <em>Fortunate Son </em>is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)</p><p><strong>5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?</em></p><p>It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.</p><p><strong>6. “Your Love”, The Outfield</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover</em></p><p>This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.</p><p><strong>7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad</em></p><p>While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)</p><p><strong>8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still</em></p><p>This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.</p><p><strong>9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard</em></p><p>More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.</p><p><strong>10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me</em></p><p>This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.</p><h3>Three and Out</h3><p><strong>1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, <a href="http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/22482464/former-florida-coach-jim-mcelwain-signs-deal-join-jim-harbaugh-michigan" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low</a>.</strong> McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).</p><p>Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.</p><p><strong>2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer.</strong> Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.</p><p><strong>3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, <a href="http://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy_sports/ac-cs-jarren-jasper-home-20180215-story.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:returned home last week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">returned home last week</a> for the first time following a heart transplant.</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/college-football-heads-in-wrong-direction-with-largest-attendance-drop-in-34-years/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17</a>. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.</p><p>Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.</p><p>SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.</p><p>That is all.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.</p><p>When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.</p><p><em>LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark &#38; sweet plantains</em></p><p>Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.</p><p>Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.</p><p>If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.</p><p>After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.</p><p>My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.</p><p>Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.</p>
Not Every Coaching Career Starts at a Urinal, but Most Have Equally Humble Beginnings

Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.

Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.

But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to his résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”

Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.

So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.

But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make Jimbo Fisher money—or Dave Aranda money for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.

Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.

Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.

So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.

One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.

He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.

Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.

Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”

Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”

Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.

Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.

“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”

A Random Ranking

This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.

That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.

1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind

Sample lyric: Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…

The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.

2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast

Sample lyric: Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here

Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.

3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others

Sample lyric: Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable

The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for your Valentine.

4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen

Sample lyric: So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man

It’s every bit the protest song Fortunate Son is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)

5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow

Sample lyric: There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?

It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.

6. “Your Love”, The Outfield

Sample lyric: You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover

This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.

7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes

Sample lyric: I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad

While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)

8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations

Sample lyric: Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still

This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.

9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon

Sample lyric: Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard

More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.

10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans

Sample lyric: Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me

This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.

Three and Out

1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low. McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).

Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.

2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer. Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.

3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, returned home last week for the first time following a heart transplant.

What’s Eating Andy?

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.

Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.

SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

That is all.

What’s Andy Eating?

Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.

When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.

LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark & sweet plantains

Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.

Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.

If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.

After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.

My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.

Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.

<p>Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.</p><p>Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.</p><p>But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to <em>his</em> résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”</p><p>Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.</p><p>So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.</p><p>But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/01/jimbo-fisher-texas-am-coach-contract-florida-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimbo Fisher money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimbo Fisher money</a>—or <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/03/dave-aranda-lsu-defensive-coordinator-ed-orgeron-jimbo-fisher" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Dave Aranda money" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Dave Aranda money</a> for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.</p><p>Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.</p><p>Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.</p><p>So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.</p><p>One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.</p><p>He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.</p><p>Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.</p><p>Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”</p><p>Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”</p><p>Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.</p><p>Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.</p><p>“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p>This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.</p><p>That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.</p><p>So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.</p><p><strong>1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…</em></p><p>The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.</p><p><strong>2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here</em></p><p>Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.</p><p><strong>3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable</em></p><p>The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for <em>your</em> Valentine.</p><p><strong>4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man</em></p><p>It’s every bit the protest song <em>Fortunate Son </em>is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)</p><p><strong>5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?</em></p><p>It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.</p><p><strong>6. “Your Love”, The Outfield</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover</em></p><p>This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.</p><p><strong>7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad</em></p><p>While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)</p><p><strong>8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still</em></p><p>This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.</p><p><strong>9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard</em></p><p>More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.</p><p><strong>10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans</strong></p><p>Sample lyric: <em>Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me</em></p><p>This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.</p><h3>Three and Out</h3><p><strong>1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, <a href="http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/22482464/former-florida-coach-jim-mcelwain-signs-deal-join-jim-harbaugh-michigan" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low</a>.</strong> McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).</p><p>Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.</p><p><strong>2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer.</strong> Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.</p><p><strong>3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, <a href="http://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy_sports/ac-cs-jarren-jasper-home-20180215-story.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:returned home last week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">returned home last week</a> for the first time following a heart transplant.</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/college-football-heads-in-wrong-direction-with-largest-attendance-drop-in-34-years/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17</a>. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.</p><p>Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.</p><p>SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.</p><p>That is all.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.</p><p>When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.</p><p><em>LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark &#38; sweet plantains</em></p><p>Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.</p><p>Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.</p><p>If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.</p><p>After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.</p><p>My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.</p><p>Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.</p>
Not Every Coaching Career Starts at a Urinal, but Most Have Equally Humble Beginnings

Until last month, I’d never called a phone number that I’d found on a men’s room wall. Of course, none of the other numbers were attached to a résumé that included Jim Tressel as a reference.

Mike Brewster didn’t originally plan on posting copies of his résumé on the wall above the urinals in the highest trafficked men’s room at the American Football Coaches Association convention, but desperate times called for a little ingenuity. Brewster had carefully assembled résumé packets before traveling from Orlando to Charlotte, but he had quickly realized he had to scrap his original plan if he wanted to get his name in front of coaches who might hire him. A four-year starter at center for Ohio State who had spent all or part of four seasons on various NFL rosters, Brewster had been bitten by the coaching bug upon his retirement from football. He had spent the 2017 season working with the offensive line at Orlando’s Orangewood Christian. Orangewood’s head coach, Orlando prep legend Bill Gierke, had coached Brewster at Edgewater High. Brewster figured his next step was to try to land a graduate assistant job at the college level. So he took the GRE and devised a written presentation to hand to coaches at the convention.

But when Brewster walked into the Charlotte Convention Center, he realized he wasn’t going to get the face time he’d hoped with FBS coaches. The place was crawling with thousands of coaches from every level, and nearly every one of them wanted to move up. Nobody was taking résumés. Instead, hundreds of them were pegged to bulletin boards in the hallways. Needless to say, Nick Saban and Clay Helton weren’t perusing the board for candidates—in spite of the free Dos Equis coupons one enterprising quality control assistant had attached to his résumé. The few head coaches who did brave the convention center hallways always seemed to be on the phone or surrounded by coaches begging for a moment of their time. “Well, there goes my plan on handing these packets out,” Brewster thought. “How am I even going to find anybody?”

Instead, Brewster devised a surefire way to get his information in front of as many coaches as possible. Pee would meet CV. Brewster blocked out the phone numbers for references that included Tressel, the former Ohio State coach who is now Youngstown State’s president, and Jim Bollman, Brewster’s college offensive line coach who now serves as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator. Then he stuck them to the wall above a place almost every coach would have to visit at least once.

So far, the placement hasn’t landed Brewster a GA job, but plenty of coaches saw his résumé. Three told me about it within a few minutes of walking into the convention last month. And the move should help Brewster’s case. Everyone else pegged their resumes to a board their targets probably wouldn’t read. Brewster quickly improvised and put his in a place where they were guaranteed to be seen by everyone. That’s the kind of ingenuity that can help a coaching staff, and it’s the kind of thing that helps separate a job seeker in a crowded field.

But improvisational skill isn’t the only trait Brewster will need as he embarks on his college coaching adventure. The field is tough to break into, and it has gotten tougher as the salaries at the highest level have risen. Everyone wants to make Jimbo Fisher money—or Dave Aranda money for the aspiring coordinators—but the path to those millions is littered with low-paying, heavy-workload jobs that chew up and spit out those who just want to get rich. The ones who make it are the ones who don’t plan to make any money but know they’ve found their calling.

Brewster and the other job-seekers like him can take some advice from those who have already climbed the ladder. One of the best pieces of advice? Coach because that’s what makes you happy, not because it might pay well.

Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne learned that lesson after he graduated from Cornell in 2002. As a senior, he had been the quarterback on a 2–7 team. “It just kind of sucked the life out of me with football,” Rahne says. “I just felt like I needed to get a real job.” Rahne also had thousands of other reasons to go for the sure paycheck. The Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships, and the bills were about to hit his mailbox. “I had a lot of student loans to pay,” he says.

So Rahne took a job in the management training program at Cintas, an industrial uniform company. He stayed in that job about a year, but he remembers more about what he did after work. “I was playing in three different flag football leagues,” Rahne says. “I was playing on a softball team or a basketball team depending on the season. That was the only thing I looked forward to all week. Everything else was just corporate drudgery.” Rahne thought he might be homesick, so he transferred back to his home state of Colorado. Rahne’s girlfriend Jennifer (who is now his wife) pointed out that he was just as miserable in Colorado. She suggested that he might want to do something different with his life, and she had an idea what that was. She began scouring sites such as FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com to find all the head coaches who had started new jobs and needed to fill out their staffs. She also looked for openings on other staffs. She sent her future husband’s résumé to all those coaches.

One coach in a new place in 2004 was Tom Gilmore. The former Lehigh defensive coordinator had just become the head coach at Holy Cross. Gilmore remembered Rahne from a 2001 game against Cornell. Lehigh had won 38–35, but Gilmore admired Rahne’s toughness. So he gave Rahne a call on a Friday and told him he needed to be in Worcester, Mass., the following Monday. Rahne tried to call his manager at Cintas to discuss the situation but couldn’t reach him. Finally, he packed a few things and started driving east. From the road, he left a message on his manager’s voicemail. “I’m not coming into work on Monday or ever again,” Rahne says.

He arrived at Holy Cross to find out that the offensive position he thought he’d be getting was actually an assistant defensive line coach job. It paid peanuts, and it was on the wrong side of the ball, but it was a coaching gig. Rahne reported to the defensive line coach to begin work. That guy’s name? Sean Spencer. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Spencer currently coaches Penn State’s defensive line. “I learned quickly that energy is an important part of the business,” Rahne says of Spencer. Rahne also cherishes the year he spent on defense before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs. It helped him teach offensive backfield players what to look for when scanning a defense, and it helped him teach tight ends how to block defensive linemen.

Brewster wants to coach offensive line because he wants to teach the skills that Bollman taught him at Ohio State and Andy Heck taught him with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but what if a job comes open with a different position group? He should consider it. It worked for Rahne.

Brewster’s current situation is similar to the one current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found himself in a few years after graduating from Clemson. Elliott had used his engineering degree to get a job working for Michelin, but he couldn’t let go of football. One spring, he volunteered to help with spring practice at Easley (S.C.) High. “I’d go to work all day and then go coach there in the evenings,” Elliott says. “The free work was awesome. I’m out there with the kids. The kids didn’t like it too much. I was too hard on them.”

Elliott made good money at the time, but he knew he wouldn’t be happy at Michelin. Brewster made good money in the NFL and has the degree and connections to get a job in the corporate world, but he wants this. So at some point he may have to take a leap of faith. That’s what Elliott did. In his case, Clemson didn’t have room for any graduate assistants. But Tigers coaches helped Elliott get a job on the South Carolina State staff. He’d taken a big pay cut just as he’d gotten married, but he had to give it a shot. “We went on the honeymoon to the Bahamas, and I get back and move by myself to Orangeburg,” Elliott says. “I’m living with another coach and just coaching ball. I don’t know any of my [players]. I don’t know how to conduct a meeting. I don’t know how to do anything. I’m just there ready to coach ball.”

Elliott coached at South Carolina State for two years. Then he moved up to Furman. In 2011, he was hired at Clemson to coach running backs. Less than six years later, he was calling plays for a national champion.

Every path to the top of the coaching profession is different, but nearly every one starts somewhere humble. Brewster’s path began on the men’s room wall. It’ll be up to him to decide where it leads, but one of the references on that résumé seems certain he’ll succeed.

“Mike is really passionate,” Tressel says. “He just needs his first chance.”

A Random Ranking

This tweet from Raleigh radio host Lauren Brownlow got me thinking about lyrical dissonance.

That inspired a discussion on Twitter, and it gave reader Sean an idea.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 songs in which the notes tell a happy story and the words tell a sad one.

1. “Semi-Charmed Life”,Third Eye Blind

Sample lyric: Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break…

The do-do-do chorus makes it sound like summer jam fluff, but the words quite clearly state this is a song about the horrors of crystal meth addiction. Had the more graphic third verse been included in the radio version, more people might have noticed this.

2. “Hey Ya”, Outkast

Sample lyric: Why-o why-o why-o are we so in denial/When we know we’re not happy here

Andre 3000 crammed a story about a dying relationship into the most danceable song of the past three decades.

3. “My Funny Valentine”, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, others

Sample lyric: Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable

The song is about how ugly its singer’s significant other is. Never play this for your Valentine.

4. “Born In The USA”, Bruce Springsteen

Sample lyric: So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man

It’s every bit the protest song Fortunate Son is, but the music screams three-jet flyover at a football game. So it gets loaded into the soundtrack for every Fourth of July fireworks show. (Of course, one could argue that protest songs are the most American songs. The nation, after all, was founded by people who disagreed with their government.)

5. “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow

Sample lyric: There was blood and a single gun shot/But just who shot who?

It’s peppy! It’s up-tempo! It’s Barry Manilow! It’s about ... a murder.

6. “Your Love”, The Outfield

Sample lyric: You know I’d do anything for you/Stay the night but keep it under cover

This jerk is cheating on Josie (who is on vacation) and has no intention of anything more permanent with the acquaintance he’s using for immediate gratification.

7. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Rupert Holmes

Sample lyric: I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean/But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine/So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad

While in bed next to his sleeping lady, Rupert scans the personal ads in the newspaper looking for someone with whom he might have an affair. He finds one he likes and writes a classified ad of his own. The two ad writers finally meet and the mystery woman is ... Rupert’s lady. (Who was also looking for some strange since Rupert is a bit of a dud.)

8. “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations

Sample lyric: Worst of all/You never call baby when you say you will/But I love you still

This woman treats our singer horribly, but he keeps coming back. The proof is right there in the chorus, but those horns just sound so happy.

9. “You Can Call Me Al”, Paul Simon

Sample lyric: Why am I soft in the middle/The rest of my life is so hard

More happy horns. This time, they obscure an examination of a mid-life crisis.

10. “Lovefool”, The Cardigans

Sample lyric: Love me love me/Pretend that you love me/Leave me leave me/Just say that you need me

This lady knows her significant other is ready to move on, but she can’t let it go and is starting to venture into stalker territory.

Three and Out

1. Michigan has hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers, McElwain told ESPN’s Chris Low. McElwain also will help coordinate the offense and design offensive game plans, which should be interesting considering the Wolverines already have an offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Tim Drevno) and a passing game coordinator (Pep Hamilton).

Late last year, McElwain reached a buyout settlement with Florida for $7.5 million. According to Low, that agreement didn’t include mitigation. That means McElwain will still get the same amount from Florida no matter what Michigan pays him.

2. Quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is headed to UCLA as a graduate transfer. Carta-Samuels, who backed up Jake Browning at Washington, plans on enrolling at UCLA in time for spring practice. That will allow him to compete for the starting job in coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. The competition for Carta-Samuels includes rising sophomore Devin Modster, who started two games last season in place of an injured Josh Rosen. Sophomore Matt Lynch, redshirt freshman Austin Burton and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson also will vie for the job.

3. Jarren Jasper, the teenage son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, returned home last week for the first time following a heart transplant.

What’s Eating Andy?

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com brought us an interesting story last week about a large attendance drop in college football from 2016 to ’17. We’re going to keep seeing these stories, because games have gotten very expensive while the television experience keeps getting better.

Attendance will keep falling for those reasons, but that doesn’t mean the drops can’t be mitigated. I’m going to put on my consultant hat and offer the athletic directors out there some foolproof advice to put more butts in the seats.

SCHEDULE BETTER NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

That is all.

What’s Andy Eating?

Sometimes, I see an item on a menu that I know will make a great story. Maybe it’s a tower of meat between two overwhelmed slices of bread. Maybe it’s an unlikely combination of ingredients that works perfectly, like the peanut butter and jelly burger at Slater’s 50/50 in Southern California. Or maybe it’s an ingredient that I don’t often see on a menu.

When I opened the menu at Dona Arepa, I saw an item that fit two of those categories.

LA MARGARITEÑA: Baby shark & sweet plantains

Baby shark and sweet plantains stuffed inside a grilled corn cake pocket? That sounded like a tremendous story. I love ripe plantains. I love the corn cake that provides the carbohydrate backbone for an arepa. Unfortunately, after a few bites, I realized I don’t love baby shark. I could lie and tell you it was amazing, but it was too bitter and didn’t play well at all with the sweetness of the plantain. So my shock value menu item story was dead.

Fortunately, the other arepas at this tiny Venezuelan spot in Greenacres, Fla., are wonderful. There is no need to for shock value when a place makes one of the treasures of Latin cuisine so well.

If you prefer a taco in a corn tortilla, you’ll love an arepa. It also uses corn flour, but the dough is much thicker. What emerges is a cake that can then be split and stuffed with all manner of meat and cheese. Southerners who grew up with hoecakes will appreciate the taste and texture immediately.

After my shark arepa fizzled, I dug into a Junquito, which packed fried pork, Guyanés cheese and avocado into a fried arepa. I added a tiny drizzle of the house-made hot green sauce and went to heaven. The cheese tastes and feels a little like buffalo mozzarella, and that softness meshes wonderfully with the crispy pork. The avocado smoothed out the fire from the sauce, and it all soaked into the arepa, which remained just slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside.

My server wasn’t sure if she should bring the third item because she assumed I hadn’t realized that each arepa is quite large. I assured her I could handle it, and she brought me a Vemex, which features pork skin in a hot green sauce with black beans and cheese. She said some customers didn’t like the Vemex because they expected crispy pork skin more like the Junquito. Based on the menu, I expected the same thing. The actual dish includes pork skin cooked in the green sauce. It’s not crispy, but it’s still delicious. Texture surprises don’t usually end well, but in this case that beautiful sauce eased any concerns.

Now I need to go back and try the rest of the arepas. Dona Arepa will fill those cakes with just about anything, and I need to find out what combination works best.

<p>There are less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, but the bracket picture isn’t gaining much, if any, clarity. In the seven days of games since the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams, all the No. 1 seeds other than Virginia lost a game. There is uncertainty at the top of the field—with at least six teams in the mix for the final No. 1 seed—and at the bottom of the field, where the last teams in and first teams out seem to shuffle every couple of days. It’s going to be a bracket-shaping three weeks to end the regular season. Find out where we believe everything stands in this week’s Bracket Watch.</p><h3>Last Four In</h3><p>Louisville<br>Baylor<br>Washington<br>St. Bonaventure</p><h3>First Five Out</h3><p>Syracuse<br>UCLA<br>USC<br>LSU<br>Marquette</p><h3>Next Five Out</h3><p>Temple<br>Mississippi State<br>Boise State<br>Nebraska<br>Georgia</p><h3>South Region</h3><p>St. Bonaventure has been on the fringes of the NCAA tournament field for the last few weeks, turning around their fortunes after an ugly 2-4 start in the Atlantic 10. Still, its resumé lacked punch, thanks primarily to the noticeable lack of a signature victory. That is no longer the case after the Bonnies 77-74 win over Rhode Island last Friday. The Bonnies trailed by six points with 4:29 left, but closed the game on a 12-3 run to pick up the win they needed to finally vault into our projected field of 68. They’re now 4-2 in Quadrant 1 games, which, for the time being, is enough to counterbalance two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. Syracuse, UCLA and USC are nipping at their heels, and other teams currently on the outside looking in (such as LSU, Marquette and Temple) have plenty of time to trade spots with the Bonnies. Their resumé isn’t, and won’t become, strong enough to turn them into a lock, and one more bad loss could have them irrevocably on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, though, they have an inside track to their first tournament appearance since 2012.</p><h3>East Region</h3><p>Rhode Island was on the other side of the Bonnies potential season-changing win, and the loss further solidifies their position at the center of one of this season’s most intriguing seed debates. The Rams have dominated the A-10, sitting at 13-1 in the conference. They challenged themselves enough in the non-conference to have the 38th toughest strength of schedule, despite being in a league ranked 11th on kenpom.com, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. They’re ranked seventh in the RPI and they don’t have any bad losses. And yet, the resumé still feels a little thin. They’re just 2-4 in Q1 games. To be fair, their six Q1 opponents to date were more challenging than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s hard not to notice that the Bonnies are two games better than them in a subset of games that the Selection Committee will weigh heavily. That’s not to say that the Bonnies have a better resumé, but simply to point out that Rhode Island’s standing may not be as good as it has seemed for most of the season. I struggled with their seed for this week, but ultimately kept them as a No. 5, just barely ahead of Kentucky, Arizona State and Creighton.</p><h3>Midwest Region</h3><p>Michigan State pulled off one of the key wins of the season on Saturday when it rallied from a 27-point, second-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 65-60. The Wildcats may be nowhere near the at-large picture, and you could rightly question why the Spartans got in so deep a hole in the first place, but all that really matters for our discussion here is that they came out of the game with a win. A loss to a team like Northwestern would have significantly damaged the Spartans argument that they, too, belong in the No. 1 seed discussion. The lack of depth in the Big Ten this season won’t afford any of its tournament-bound teams the luxury of dropping a game to one of its lesser opponents while still being considered top-line material. Michigan State is 14th in RPI with the 84th-toughest strength of schedule. Part of their top-seed appeal is that their only losses are to Duke, Ohio State and Michigan. They protected that by pulling out of the skid at Northwestern on Saturday.</p><h3>West Region</h3><p>Losses by Purdue and Auburn opened up the top line in the West Region. Cincinnati would have been considered, but the Bearcats dropped both their games last week, which sent them down a line rather than up one. Duke was in the mix, too, but its 3-4 record in Q1 games wasn’t enough to get them to the top. Instead, Kansas reclaimed a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch. The Jayhawks railed from a 12-point deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, outscoring the Mountaineers 31-11 in the game’s final 10 minutes to earn a huge 77-69 victory. It was their ninth Q1 win of the season, tied with North Carolina for the most in the country. They may have six losses—more than we typically see on the top line—but this year’s final No. 1 seed is likely to be flawed, given the up-and-down nature of the season across the country. Nine Q1 wins, an RPI of six, and the second toughest schedule in the country? Those are all resumé elements the committee will approve of on Selection Sunday.</p>
Bracket Watch: Kansas Reclaims No. 1 Seed but Uncertainty Remains at the Top of the Field

There are less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, but the bracket picture isn’t gaining much, if any, clarity. In the seven days of games since the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams, all the No. 1 seeds other than Virginia lost a game. There is uncertainty at the top of the field—with at least six teams in the mix for the final No. 1 seed—and at the bottom of the field, where the last teams in and first teams out seem to shuffle every couple of days. It’s going to be a bracket-shaping three weeks to end the regular season. Find out where we believe everything stands in this week’s Bracket Watch.

Last Four In

Louisville
Baylor
Washington
St. Bonaventure

First Five Out

Syracuse
UCLA
USC
LSU
Marquette

Next Five Out

Temple
Mississippi State
Boise State
Nebraska
Georgia

South Region

St. Bonaventure has been on the fringes of the NCAA tournament field for the last few weeks, turning around their fortunes after an ugly 2-4 start in the Atlantic 10. Still, its resumé lacked punch, thanks primarily to the noticeable lack of a signature victory. That is no longer the case after the Bonnies 77-74 win over Rhode Island last Friday. The Bonnies trailed by six points with 4:29 left, but closed the game on a 12-3 run to pick up the win they needed to finally vault into our projected field of 68. They’re now 4-2 in Quadrant 1 games, which, for the time being, is enough to counterbalance two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. Syracuse, UCLA and USC are nipping at their heels, and other teams currently on the outside looking in (such as LSU, Marquette and Temple) have plenty of time to trade spots with the Bonnies. Their resumé isn’t, and won’t become, strong enough to turn them into a lock, and one more bad loss could have them irrevocably on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, though, they have an inside track to their first tournament appearance since 2012.

East Region

Rhode Island was on the other side of the Bonnies potential season-changing win, and the loss further solidifies their position at the center of one of this season’s most intriguing seed debates. The Rams have dominated the A-10, sitting at 13-1 in the conference. They challenged themselves enough in the non-conference to have the 38th toughest strength of schedule, despite being in a league ranked 11th on kenpom.com, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. They’re ranked seventh in the RPI and they don’t have any bad losses. And yet, the resumé still feels a little thin. They’re just 2-4 in Q1 games. To be fair, their six Q1 opponents to date were more challenging than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s hard not to notice that the Bonnies are two games better than them in a subset of games that the Selection Committee will weigh heavily. That’s not to say that the Bonnies have a better resumé, but simply to point out that Rhode Island’s standing may not be as good as it has seemed for most of the season. I struggled with their seed for this week, but ultimately kept them as a No. 5, just barely ahead of Kentucky, Arizona State and Creighton.

Midwest Region

Michigan State pulled off one of the key wins of the season on Saturday when it rallied from a 27-point, second-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 65-60. The Wildcats may be nowhere near the at-large picture, and you could rightly question why the Spartans got in so deep a hole in the first place, but all that really matters for our discussion here is that they came out of the game with a win. A loss to a team like Northwestern would have significantly damaged the Spartans argument that they, too, belong in the No. 1 seed discussion. The lack of depth in the Big Ten this season won’t afford any of its tournament-bound teams the luxury of dropping a game to one of its lesser opponents while still being considered top-line material. Michigan State is 14th in RPI with the 84th-toughest strength of schedule. Part of their top-seed appeal is that their only losses are to Duke, Ohio State and Michigan. They protected that by pulling out of the skid at Northwestern on Saturday.

West Region

Losses by Purdue and Auburn opened up the top line in the West Region. Cincinnati would have been considered, but the Bearcats dropped both their games last week, which sent them down a line rather than up one. Duke was in the mix, too, but its 3-4 record in Q1 games wasn’t enough to get them to the top. Instead, Kansas reclaimed a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch. The Jayhawks railed from a 12-point deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, outscoring the Mountaineers 31-11 in the game’s final 10 minutes to earn a huge 77-69 victory. It was their ninth Q1 win of the season, tied with North Carolina for the most in the country. They may have six losses—more than we typically see on the top line—but this year’s final No. 1 seed is likely to be flawed, given the up-and-down nature of the season across the country. Nine Q1 wins, an RPI of six, and the second toughest schedule in the country? Those are all resumé elements the committee will approve of on Selection Sunday.

<p>There are less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, but the bracket picture isn’t gaining much, if any, clarity. In the seven days of games since the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams, all the No. 1 seeds other than Virginia lost a game. There is uncertainty at the top of the field—with at least six teams in the mix for the final No. 1 seed—and at the bottom of the field, where the last teams in and first teams out seem to shuffle every couple of days. It’s going to be a bracket-shaping three weeks to end the regular season. Find out where we believe everything stands in this week’s Bracket Watch.</p><h3>Last Four In</h3><p>Louisville<br>Baylor<br>Washington<br>St. Bonaventure</p><h3>First Five Out</h3><p>Syracuse<br>UCLA<br>USC<br>LSU<br>Marquette</p><h3>Next Five Out</h3><p>Temple<br>Mississippi State<br>Boise State<br>Nebraska<br>Georgia</p><h3>South Region</h3><p>St. Bonaventure has been on the fringes of the NCAA tournament field for the last few weeks, turning around their fortunes after an ugly 2-4 start in the Atlantic 10. Still, its resumé lacked punch, thanks primarily to the noticeable lack of a signature victory. That is no longer the case after the Bonnies 77-74 win over Rhode Island last Friday. The Bonnies trailed by six points with 4:29 left, but closed the game on a 12-3 run to pick up the win they needed to finally vault into our projected field of 68. They’re now 4-2 in Quadrant 1 games, which, for the time being, is enough to counterbalance two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. Syracuse, UCLA and USC are nipping at their heels, and other teams currently on the outside looking in (such as LSU, Marquette and Temple) have plenty of time to trade spots with the Bonnies. Their resumé isn’t, and won’t become, strong enough to turn them into a lock, and one more bad loss could have them irrevocably on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, though, they have an inside track to their first tournament appearance since 2012.</p><h3>East Region</h3><p>Rhode Island was on the other side of the Bonnies potential season-changing win, and the loss further solidifies their position at the center of one of this season’s most intriguing seed debates. The Rams have dominated the A-10, sitting at 13-1 in the conference. They challenged themselves enough in the non-conference to have the 38th toughest strength of schedule, despite being in a league ranked 11th on kenpom.com, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. They’re ranked seventh in the RPI and they don’t have any bad losses. And yet, the resumé still feels a little thin. They’re just 2-4 in Q1 games. To be fair, their six Q1 opponents to date were more challenging than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s hard not to notice that the Bonnies are two games better than them in a subset of games that the Selection Committee will weigh heavily. That’s not to say that the Bonnies have a better resumé, but simply to point out that Rhode Island’s standing may not be as good as it has seemed for most of the season. I struggled with their seed for this week, but ultimately kept them as a No. 5, just barely ahead of Kentucky, Arizona State and Creighton.</p><h3>Midwest Region</h3><p>Michigan State pulled off one of the key wins of the season on Saturday when it rallied from a 27-point, second-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 65-60. The Wildcats may be nowhere near the at-large picture, and you could rightly question why the Spartans got in so deep a hole in the first place, but all that really matters for our discussion here is that they came out of the game with a win. A loss to a team like Northwestern would have significantly damaged the Spartans argument that they, too, belong in the No. 1 seed discussion. The lack of depth in the Big Ten this season won’t afford any of its tournament-bound teams the luxury of dropping a game to one of its lesser opponents while still being considered top-line material. Michigan State is 14th in RPI with the 84th-toughest strength of schedule. Part of their top-seed appeal is that their only losses are to Duke, Ohio State and Michigan. They protected that by pulling out of the skid at Northwestern on Saturday.</p><h3>West Region</h3><p>Losses by Purdue and Auburn opened up the top line in the West Region. Cincinnati would have been considered, but the Bearcats dropped both their games last week, which sent them down a line rather than up one. Duke was in the mix, too, but its 3-4 record in Q1 games wasn’t enough to get them to the top. Instead, Kansas reclaimed a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch. The Jayhawks railed from a 12-point deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, outscoring the Mountaineers 31-11 in the game’s final 10 minutes to earn a huge 77-69 victory. It was their ninth Q1 win of the season, tied with North Carolina for the most in the country. They may have six losses—more than we typically see on the top line—but this year’s final No. 1 seed is likely to be flawed, given the up-and-down nature of the season across the country. Nine Q1 wins, an RPI of six, and the second toughest schedule in the country? Those are all resumé elements the committee will approve of on Selection Sunday.</p>
Bracket Watch: Kansas Reclaims No. 1 Seed but Uncertainty Remains at the Top of the Field

There are less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, but the bracket picture isn’t gaining much, if any, clarity. In the seven days of games since the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams, all the No. 1 seeds other than Virginia lost a game. There is uncertainty at the top of the field—with at least six teams in the mix for the final No. 1 seed—and at the bottom of the field, where the last teams in and first teams out seem to shuffle every couple of days. It’s going to be a bracket-shaping three weeks to end the regular season. Find out where we believe everything stands in this week’s Bracket Watch.

Last Four In

Louisville
Baylor
Washington
St. Bonaventure

First Five Out

Syracuse
UCLA
USC
LSU
Marquette

Next Five Out

Temple
Mississippi State
Boise State
Nebraska
Georgia

South Region

St. Bonaventure has been on the fringes of the NCAA tournament field for the last few weeks, turning around their fortunes after an ugly 2-4 start in the Atlantic 10. Still, its resumé lacked punch, thanks primarily to the noticeable lack of a signature victory. That is no longer the case after the Bonnies 77-74 win over Rhode Island last Friday. The Bonnies trailed by six points with 4:29 left, but closed the game on a 12-3 run to pick up the win they needed to finally vault into our projected field of 68. They’re now 4-2 in Quadrant 1 games, which, for the time being, is enough to counterbalance two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. Syracuse, UCLA and USC are nipping at their heels, and other teams currently on the outside looking in (such as LSU, Marquette and Temple) have plenty of time to trade spots with the Bonnies. Their resumé isn’t, and won’t become, strong enough to turn them into a lock, and one more bad loss could have them irrevocably on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, though, they have an inside track to their first tournament appearance since 2012.

East Region

Rhode Island was on the other side of the Bonnies potential season-changing win, and the loss further solidifies their position at the center of one of this season’s most intriguing seed debates. The Rams have dominated the A-10, sitting at 13-1 in the conference. They challenged themselves enough in the non-conference to have the 38th toughest strength of schedule, despite being in a league ranked 11th on kenpom.com, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. They’re ranked seventh in the RPI and they don’t have any bad losses. And yet, the resumé still feels a little thin. They’re just 2-4 in Q1 games. To be fair, their six Q1 opponents to date were more challenging than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s hard not to notice that the Bonnies are two games better than them in a subset of games that the Selection Committee will weigh heavily. That’s not to say that the Bonnies have a better resumé, but simply to point out that Rhode Island’s standing may not be as good as it has seemed for most of the season. I struggled with their seed for this week, but ultimately kept them as a No. 5, just barely ahead of Kentucky, Arizona State and Creighton.

Midwest Region

Michigan State pulled off one of the key wins of the season on Saturday when it rallied from a 27-point, second-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 65-60. The Wildcats may be nowhere near the at-large picture, and you could rightly question why the Spartans got in so deep a hole in the first place, but all that really matters for our discussion here is that they came out of the game with a win. A loss to a team like Northwestern would have significantly damaged the Spartans argument that they, too, belong in the No. 1 seed discussion. The lack of depth in the Big Ten this season won’t afford any of its tournament-bound teams the luxury of dropping a game to one of its lesser opponents while still being considered top-line material. Michigan State is 14th in RPI with the 84th-toughest strength of schedule. Part of their top-seed appeal is that their only losses are to Duke, Ohio State and Michigan. They protected that by pulling out of the skid at Northwestern on Saturday.

West Region

Losses by Purdue and Auburn opened up the top line in the West Region. Cincinnati would have been considered, but the Bearcats dropped both their games last week, which sent them down a line rather than up one. Duke was in the mix, too, but its 3-4 record in Q1 games wasn’t enough to get them to the top. Instead, Kansas reclaimed a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch. The Jayhawks railed from a 12-point deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, outscoring the Mountaineers 31-11 in the game’s final 10 minutes to earn a huge 77-69 victory. It was their ninth Q1 win of the season, tied with North Carolina for the most in the country. They may have six losses—more than we typically see on the top line—but this year’s final No. 1 seed is likely to be flawed, given the up-and-down nature of the season across the country. Nine Q1 wins, an RPI of six, and the second toughest schedule in the country? Those are all resumé elements the committee will approve of on Selection Sunday.

Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) defends a jump shot from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) defends a jump shot from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) defends a jump shot from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) defends Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson (34) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) defends Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson (34) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) defends Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson (34) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, defends Ohio State forward Jae&#39;Sean Tate, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, defends Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, defends Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, front left, defends Ohio State forward Jae&#39;Sean Tate, front right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, front left, defends Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate, front right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, front left, defends Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate, front right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan head coach John Beilein, far right, stands with graduating seniors and their families for a group photo prior to an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan head coach John Beilein, far right, stands with graduating seniors and their families for a group photo prior to an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan head coach John Beilein, far right, stands with graduating seniors and their families for a group photo prior to an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan impressive in win vs OSU on senior day
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan impressive in win vs OSU on senior day
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan impressive in win vs OSU on senior day
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
TMI Recap: Michigan impressive in win vs OSU on senior day
TMI Recap: Michigan looked impressive in 74-62 win against Ohio State on senior day.
Ohio State forward Jae&#39;Sean Tate (1) attempts a basket while defended by Michigan guard Duncan Robinson (22) and forward Moritz Wagner, right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate (1) attempts a basket while defended by Michigan guard Duncan Robinson (22) and forward Moritz Wagner, right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, left, defends against Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson (34) under the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, left, defends against Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson (34) under the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12), defended by Ohio State forward Andre Wesson (24), attempts a basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12), defended by Ohio State forward Andre Wesson (24), attempts a basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson (3) defends against a shot-attempt from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson (3) defends against a shot-attempt from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan head coach John Beilein, left, stands with Austin Hatch, center, to honor Hatch&#39;s participation with the Michigan basketball team during senior day celebrations prior to an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Hatch is a two-time plane crash survivor, played for Michigan as a freshman, and has been a student assistant since 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan head coach John Beilein, left, stands with Austin Hatch, center, to honor Hatch's participation with the Michigan basketball team during senior day celebrations prior to an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Hatch is a two-time plane crash survivor, played for Michigan as a freshman, and has been a student assistant since 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (4) defends against a three-point basket-attempt from Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (4) defends against a three-point basket-attempt from Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Duncan Robinson (22) attempts to make a basket, defended by Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) and forward Kyle Young, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan guard Duncan Robinson (22) attempts to make a basket, defended by Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) and forward Kyle Young, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Jordan Poole, right, celebrates making a three point basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
No. 22 Michigan tops No. 8 Ohio St 74-62, helps other rival
Michigan guard Jordan Poole, right, celebrates making a three point basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson (3) defends against a shot-attempt from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson (3) defends against a shot-attempt from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson (3) defends against a shot-attempt from Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Jordan Poole, right, celebrates making a three point basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Jordan Poole, right, celebrates making a three point basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Jordan Poole, right, celebrates making a three point basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Michigan won 74-62. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (4) defends against a three-point basket-attempt from Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (4) defends against a three-point basket-attempt from Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (4) defends against a three-point basket-attempt from Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12), defended by Ohio State forward Andre Wesson (24), attempts a basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12), defended by Ohio State forward Andre Wesson (24), attempts a basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12), defended by Ohio State forward Andre Wesson (24), attempts a basket in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

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