Bubble banter: 15 spots up for grabs in NCAA tourney

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At some point, the bubble is going to start shrinking.  We lost three teams this week with several others on the edge of elimination.  There are still an amazing 15 spots up for grabs in our latest bracket projection.  Some are more secure than others.  If the next two weeks continue like the others, we’ll be in for a wild ride during Championship Week. 

Bubble Banter will be updated more often over the next couple of weeks.  Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.

UPDATED: Tuesday, Feb. 22

Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (17): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Some of these projected locks may become automatic qualifiers should they win their conference tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): While not yet locks, these are teams in good position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (34): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates, or those whose profiles are not yet complete enough to be considered as Should Be In as of the this update.
  • Spots available (15): Number of available openings for the bracket based on spots reserved for automatic qualifiers, projected locks, and teams projected as Should Be In at this update.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Oklahoma State, New Mexico, UTEP
  • Joining the Bubble: Michigan
  • Below is a conference breakdown of the bubble picture
Atlantic 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Temple, Xavier | Bubble: Duquesne, Richmond
  • Duquesne (16-8 | 9-3) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 118 | – Duquesne has a win over Temple at home, but little else is helping. The loss at Dayton knocked the Dukes a step behind the A-10 leaders. If Duquesne can win its last four games, they could still be in consideration heading into the A-10 Tournament. Anything else won’t be enough.
  • Richmond (21-7 | 10-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 132 | – The Spiders continue to hover right at the cutline. Richmond is just 1-2 vs. Top 50 RPI teams – the win over Purdue keeps on giving. At this point, however, the margin for error is razor thin. How the Spiders play in the A-10 Tournament will be critical – along with other developments in early March. Richmond closes the season at home vs. Duquesne; the loser could be eliminated.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 19 | – BC came close but lost at North Carolina this past weekend and was one of the last at-large teams to make Monday’s bracket update. Other than the early win over Texas AM, there’s nothing out of conference helping the Eagles, and BC is just 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams. Right now, the Eagles’ good SOS numbers are helping, but that will only last so long. Beating Virginia Tech at home also helps, the rematch is March 1. A sweep would be huge for the Eagles. BC has dropped 5 of its past 7 games.
  • Clemson (18-9 | 7-6) | RPI:65| SOS: 83 | – The win at Miami-FL keeps Clemson on the bubble ahead of a must-win vs. Wake Forest. Then it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. The Tigers have to beat both the Deacons and Hokies. The game at Duke is the Tigers’ last chance to post a marquis win, but winning that one doesn’t seem likely. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is light. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
  • Florida State (19-7 | 9-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 101 | – The Seminoles are close to moving up and off the bubble, but with a testy trip to Maryland up next, we can’t quite take the leap. FSU also has a home date left with Carolina. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 230), could still spell trouble if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a win over Duke – which helps. Finishing third in the ACC standings would likely be enough. That’s looking more and more promising.
  • Virginia Tech (18-8 | 8-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 98 | – Being swept by Virginia could prove very problematic for the Hokies – who were the first team “out” of Monday’s bracket. Sound familiar? Va. Tech is clinging to a wins over Florida State, Penn State, and a sweep of Maryland as its best assets. If that seems concerning, it is. Duke visits this weekend. The closing two are Boston College and at Clemson. Since Va.Tech lost at BC earlier, a sweep could be another roadblock. Win out and the Hokies will be in good shape. Going 2-2 will make the ACC Tournament very important.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville | Should Be In: West Virginia, St. John’s | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
  • Cincinnati (21-6 | 8-6) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 94 | – Following up the home win over Louisville with a victory at Providence puts the Bearcats in a nice spot heading into a closing four-game stretch. UC meets Georgetown twice along with Connecticut and a trip to fellow Big East bubble dweller Marquette. On that note, the Bearcats control their road to the NCAAs. A split should be enough given the weak bubble surrounding UC. The Bearcats are 3-6 vs. Top 50 teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville) which is acceptable – especially since UC is one of the few teams without a “bad” loss.
  • Marquette (16-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 33 | – Beating Seton Hall at home was must. Now, it’s off to Connecticut before home dates with Providence and Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles are 3-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. Posting wins is still important, however, as Marquette is 5-11 vs. Top 100 teams. If Marquette wins the games it should down the stretch, the Golden Eagles may still Dance. But the margin for error is decreasing. Good losses alone aren’t going to be enough. If there is a bright side, it’s the overall weakness of the bubble. Marquette’s profile is still better than some other bubble dwellers.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (17-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 20 | – Illinois continues to tread water. With a trip to Purdue still on the calendar, it’ll be critical for the Illini to win remaining home games against Iowa and Indiana. Finishing 9-9 in the Big 10 might be enough without a bad loss in the Big 10 tournament, but the Illini won’t be comfortable on Selection Sunday. Adding a win over Purdue would make it a lot easier down the stretch. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. The losses at Indiana and UIC are sore points.
  • Michigan State (15-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans have won 3 of 4 and seem to be regaining a bit of momentum. Beating Illinois Saturday avoided a season-sweep by the Illini. MSU is still trying to capture its identity after the dismissal of Korie Lucious. Michigan State is 5-8 vs. Top 50 teams, but just 11-11 vs. the Top 200 – a stat lines that often suggests NIT. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to feel safe.
  • Michigan (16-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 24 | While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 6 of 8 to be on the fringe of consideration. Other than a win at Michigan State, the Wolverines best in-league hope is a sweep of Penn State. Up next is Wisconsin at home. Hold serve and the Wolverines stay. A loss probably eliminates them. After that, it’s a trip to Minnesota followed by Michigan State at home.
  • Minnesota (17-10 | 6-9) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 30 | The Gophers’ have lost 6 of 7 since the injury to Al Nolan and this isn’t the same team that posted early wins over UNC and West Virginia. The Selection Committee has to evaluate the current squad, and the results aren’t favorable. Thus, they are among the First Five Out this week. If there’s good news, it’s that two of the Gophers’ final three games are at home. These battles will decide who stays in the at-large picture and who doesn’t.
  • Penn State (14-12 | 7-8) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 6 | Penn State has a lot of work ahead to stay alive, but we’ll leave the Nittany Lions here for now. A strong SOS is helping, along with home wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is just 1-8 in road games (the lone win at Indiana). Two of Penn State’s final three are away from home, so things don’t look promising. Up next a trip to Northwestern.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM | Bubble: Kansas State, Baylor
  • Baylor (16-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 69 | – The Bears are back on the wrong side of the bubble after losing at home to Texas Tech. Their overall profile remains weak with a 1-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams and only 4 Top 100 victories (the best is at Texas AM). Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 236. The closing four won’t be easy, so time if of the essence. Baylor may need to win 3 of 4 down the stretch to feel decent about it’s at-large chances heading into the Big 12 tournament.
  • Kansas State (17-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 10 | – Beating arch-rival Kansas in Manhattan gave K-State it first Top 50 RPI win (1-6 overall). But … one big win won’t keep the Wildcats in the Field of 68. K-State was swept by Colorado – we’ll see if that comes into play – should the Buffaloes make a late charge. So far, the Wildcats have avoided a bad RPI losss, something other bubble teams can’t necessarily say. Next up is a tough trip to Nebraska followed by Missouri at home. Get those two and K-State will be in decent shape heading to Texas.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 43 | – Missing a chance to sweep UNLV could be something that haunts the Rams on Selection Sunday. It could set up a clear divide between the Top 3 in the MTW and everyone else. CSU probably needs to beat San Diego State and/or BYU to feel good about its chances, and they can’t afford a loss to Utah or Air Force down the stretch. CSU is 2-4 vs. the Top 50 and 5-6 vs. the Top 100. Winning at UNLV was a high point, but losses to Sam Houston and Hampton are not.
PAC 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona | Bubble: Washington, Washington State, UCLA
  • Washington (19-8 | 10-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 51 | – The Huskies would feel alot more secure had they swept Arizona, but a one-point loss in Tucson is nothing to worry about. What’s important is winning out. After a stop over vs. Seattle, Washington closes with three at home vs. teams below them in the Pac-10 pecking order. Win all three and the Huskies can feel pretty safe on Selection Sunday. Drop more than one and it could be a very nervous week.
  • Washington State (17-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 96 | – Being swept by Arizona and Arizona State knockes WSU to the very edge of bubble consideration. Overall, WSU is just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 5-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Next up is a trip to Washington – now a must-win for the Cougars if they want to remain in the at-large picture. In reality, the Cougars need to win their remaining three Pac-10 games. Odds are not looking good.
  • UCLA (19-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 44 | – The overtime loss at Cal wont’ be a big deal unless the Bruins can’t rebound at home against Arizona State and Arizona. Having won 6 of 7, the Bruins are good position with a second-place standing in the Pac-10. Victories over St. John’s and BYU are solid, although UCLA is still light on quality wins (2-4 vs. Top 50 teams). RPI and SOS numbers are good, but not outstanding. The Bruins’ only real blemish is an early defeat to Montana.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Kentucky,Vanderbilt, Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (18-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 32 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee was huge because it moved them up the SEC East standings and added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. Now, there’s also a little more breathing room on the trip to Florida. Besides Tennessee, UGA has an early victory over Kentucky and a win over UAB. All of the Bulldogs losses have been to teams ranked in the Top 40 of the RPI, so that’s a plus. A 2-2 finish might be enough provided Georgia doesn’t lost at home to LSU or South Carolina.
  • Alabama (18-8 | 10-2) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 128 | – How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views a dominant performance in the SEC West. Beating Auburn at home is must before a trip to Ole Miss. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning one of those would be a big plus. Whether the Committee will overlook the Tide’s poor start (losses to St. Peter’s, Iowa, Seton Hall) largely depends on how the Tide finish. If they close out the SEC West by multiple games and win a couple of games in the SEC tournament, odds of an at-large bid should be pretty good.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: NONE | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Wichita State, Old Dominion, George Mason, VCU, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Butler (19-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 75 | – Butler has won 6 straight and could still earn the Horizon League’s top seed if Cleveland State were to lose one of its last two games – the Bulldogs swept CSU in the season series. Not that a shared title would bump the Bulldogs into the bracket, but it would mean home games in the conference tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State is fading some. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would probably put BU right on the cutline.
  • Cleveland State (21-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 110 | – The loss at Old Dominion in the BracketBuster will make it tough for the Vikings to earn an at-large bid, especially since they were swept by conference foe Butler in the season series. The task at hand is winning their last two Horizon League games (Milwaukee, Green Bay) and securing the regular-season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The downside, of course, is that by hosting the tournament final, a loss – especially a third to Butler – would likely be a major issue.
  • Missouri State (21-7 | 13-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 134 | – Losing at Valparaiso in the BracketBuster may have ended Missouri State’s at-large chances unless they win the outright Missouri Valley title and reach their conference tournament final. The Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific. The Bears host Wichita State on February 26 – a game that could decide first place. Whoever loses that game is likely off the bubble for good.
  • Wichita State (21-6 | 13-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 105 | – The Shockers are in real trouble after losing to VCU at home in the BracketBuster. Now,WSU has to win at Missouri State this weekend and try to capture the MVC title. That’s all that’s keeping the Shockers on the bubble. After that, it’ll take a visit to the MVC conference tourney final to stick around.
  • Memphis (21-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 41 | – Losing a lopsided game at Rice was no way to take charge of Conference USA. The good news is Memphis owns a season sweep of Southern Miss and and UAB, so it could be tough to bypass the Tigers in favor of either of those two. Memphis does have a road win at fellow bubble-dweller Gonzaga. The Tigers’ best bet continues to be an outright C-USA title. Next up is a trip to UTEP. The at-large margin is very thin. Memphis was blown out in its matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee.
  • UAB (19-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 58 | – The Blazers would fall behind Memphis in the at-large pecking order (swept by Memphis this season). The only solution is winning an outright C-USA title. The process includes a road trip to Houston next, followed by one to Southern Miss. As the Blazers have lost to So. Miss once, another loss would eliminate them from any realistic at-large consideration. UAB is 0-4 vs. Top 50 teams (Duke, Memphis, Georgia, So. Miss), and their best non-conference win is VCU at home. There’s also losses at Tulsa and Arizona State.
  • Southern Mississippi (18-6 | 9-4) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 100 | – After a trip to Central Florida, the Eagles host UAB in a C-USA elimination game. So. Miss beat the Blazers early, so a sweep would be very helpful in developing a pecking order within the conference. Of course, So. Miss has been swept by Memphis, so work remains. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 248.
  • Old Dominion (22-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 63 | – Beating Cleveland State in the BracketBuster keeps ODU on track for an at-large bid, if needed. Solid non-conference wins include Xavier, Richmond, and Clemson. ODU also played Georgetown to within three points. A 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams will help as will a non-league SOS ranked No. 25. Closing the regular season on a 6-game winning streak would put ODU in a good spot heading into the CAA tournament.
  • VCU (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 124 | – Winning its BracketBuster matchup at Wichita State was a bubble saver for the Rams. Get the last two (@Drexel, James Madison) and VCU will remain an at-large candidate heading into the CAA tournament. VCU is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams but would fall behind George Mason and Old Dominion in the CAA at-large pecking order.
  • George Mason (23-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 21 | SOS: 65 | – Beating Northern Iowa on the road pushes GMU to 12-0 in its last 12 games. The Patriots lead the Colonial by two full games, and winning the league by that margin should be enough to give GMU an at-large bid, if needed. The Patriots are 9-4 vs. Top 100 teams. The lone miscue is Wofford in November.
  • Gonzaga (18-9 | 9-3) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 90 | – Gonzaga has won 6 of 7 and makes the bracket this week as one of the final at-large teams – largely due to wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but the big game is a trip to St. Mary’s on Thursday. Win that, and the ‘Zags are back in contention for a WCC title. A 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is still troubling as is a 9-9 mark vs. the Top 200.
  • St. Mary’s (20-6 | 10-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 127 | – The Gaels have somewhat hit the skids – losing at woeful San Diego before dropping a home game to Utah State in the BracketBuster. SMU’s at-large profile has taken a real hit, and an outright WCC title might be necessary. Other than a November win over St. John’s at home, the Gaels have beaten Gonzaga; that’s it. SMU is just 2-5 vs. Top 100 teams. Gonzaga visits Thursday and a sweep of the ‘Zags would go a long way toward pushing St. Mary’s back on track.
  • Utah State (24-3 | 12-1) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 109 | – Huge win for the Aggies at St. Mary’s. It gave USU a legitimate Top 100 RPI win and would likely push the Aggies ahead of St. Mary’s in the at-large pecking order. Even so, we can’t say USU has locked up an at-large yet. They need to win their last three WAC games and complete a dominant league run. Then, avoid an early flameout in the league tournament.

“I trust the SEC office will do the right thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says after bump from official

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Tennessee 63-58 loss to Texas A&M wasn’t without some controversy.

In the final seconds of the game, official Mike Nance appeared to bump into Vols coach Rick Barnes, who was standing stationary on the sideline, and the two exchanged words.

“I really have a lot of confidence in the SEC office that they are going to look at that,” Barnes said after the game about the incident, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I believe they will look at this game and take it apart. I just think they will do that. That shouldn’t happen in any way shape or form. I would like to say what I want to say, but I won’t because I trust the SEC office will do the right thing.”

Nance was headed to the monitor to review a call when the bump occurred, and Nance appeared to ask Barnes if the coach initiated the contact.

“Coach (Bob) Knight told me a long time ago that in a game officials are going to miss seven to nine or 10, 11, 12 calls,” Barnes said. “He kept going up every year. He said, ‘You just hope things aren’t egregious at any point in time.'”

Coach K screams at Duke fans, defending Jeff Capel

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In one of the stranger things that we’ve seen in college basketball this season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went off on the Cameron Crazies for what he believed was a shot they were taking at former Duke player Jeff Capel.

The crazies were chanting, “Jeff Capel sit with us.” Coach K thought he heard something else.

Check out the video:

After the game, Coach K acknowledged that he misheard what the fans said, adding that he will apologize for the mishap.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “But I’d rather make a mistake for the protection of my guy.

“I love Jeff. I erred on that side. I just hope the ACC doesn’t fine me like they did [Mike] Brey.”

He ended the back and forth with this: “Jeff can sit with me anytime.”

 

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah State absolutely could not lose at Wyoming (299) on Tuesday, and they didn’t. The Aggies have neutral site wins over LSU (25) and Florida (37), which is enough to keep them in this discussion despite road losses at Boise State (102), UNLV (130) and Air Force (184). They make the trip to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State (2) on Saturday, and that feels like a must-win for Utah State at this point.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): The Boilermakers dropped to 11-10 on the season with a 70-63 loss at Rutgers (23) on Tuesday night. That means Purdue has dropped five of their last seven games. They’re 2-7 against Quad 1 opponents with a 29 point win over Michigan State (8), but there are a lot of losses on their resume already and the Big Ten is a bear.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies did themselves no favors by losing at Miami (106) on Tuesday night. In the last three days, they’ve suffered their two worst losses of the season. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas lost their third straight game on Tuesday night and have now dropped six of their last eight. Making things worse is that they were up by 13 points on Butler (9) late in the first half. This was their best chance to land an elite win this season. They still get Villanova (14) and Seton Hall (12) at home, but the biggest issue with Georgetown’s tournament chances is that they are trending in the wrong direction with just seven scholarship players.

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.