BUBBLE BANTER: Clemson-Pitt in a key bubble battle headline the night

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The latest NBCSports.com NCAA Tournament bracket can be found here.

WINNERS

Clemson (13-7, KenPom: 51, RPI: 92) is shaping up to be one of the most interesting bubble teams this season. They already have five wins against the RPI top 50 and a sixth coming at Syracuse, who currently is sitting at 51st in the RPI. They do have a pair of ugly losses to Minnesota and UMass, who are sub-150 on both the RPI and KenPom, and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 331st, which is a major, major black eye on their profile.

In other words, that non-conference RPI number eliminates any margin for error that the Tigers have. If you remember, SMU was snubbed for the 2014 NCAA tournament in a season where just about every bracket projection had them slotted right around a No. 9 seed. They’re currently slotted as an one of the last four at-large bids in our latest bracket.

Clemson cannot afford another loss that could be considered even a moderately bad loss and they probably need to beat Virginia and Notre Dame at home to really feel comfortable. But the fact this team is even in the conversation at this point should go to show you just how good of a job Brad Brownell has done since league play started.

The rest of Wednesday’s winners:

  • Wichita State (15-5, KenPom: 17, RPI: 22): The Shockers are going to be another interesting at-large case. They’re 14-2 on the season when Fred VanVleet is in the lineup and both losses were true road games. But their two best wins are against a UNLV team that could be NIT bound and a Utah team that projects to finish in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. The issue is that the MVC is only going to bring their résumé down, as Evansville is the lone remaining conference member in the RPI top 100, and Wichita State gets them on the road on Saturday. The Shockers beat Loyola (IL) Wednesday night.
  • Seton Hall (14-6, KenPom: 39, RPI: 49): The Pirates avoided losing to St. John’s at home, setting them up for a critical two-week stretch: at Creighton and then a three-game home stand against Marquette, Georgetown and Butler. For a team with just two top 50 wins (Wichita State at home, at Providence) they need to add some depth to their profile.
  • Colorado (16-5, KenPom: 48, RPI: 20): The Buffaloes added another solid win to an already strong résumé when they knocked off Stanford on Wednesday night. They have four RPI top 50 wins and their only two losses outside the RPI top 20 are on the road to league foes. That said, on KenPom, the Buffs only have one top 50 win to their name.
  • St. Joseph’s (17-3, KenPom: 54, RPI 37): The Hawks have no bad losses this season. They also have no good wins. Their best win is either Princeton or at Temple, and beating UMass Wednesday won’t change that. Assuming they beat who they’re expected to beat, the Hawks could see their season come down whether or not they can beat Dayton.
  • Butler (14-6, KenPom: 38, RPI: 53): Beating DePaul earned the Bulldogs their third league win of the season, all of which came against DePaul or St. John’s. Butler is 0-4 against the top of the conference, and while they have no bad losses this season, their only two good wins are against Purdue and over Cincinnati on the road. Butler needs to big off one of the Big East’s Big Boys down the stretch of the season.
  • Arkansas (10-10, KenPom: 55, RPI 103): The Razorbacks have a ways to go to really get back into bubble contention. A good way to start? Beating Texas A&M. Now they have a marquee win to hang on a profile with just one sub-100 loss.

LOSERS

The Pitt Panthers (16-4, KenPom: 50, RPI: 30) have been a bit of a running joke in recent years. That’s what happens when you don’t play anyone in the non-conference portion of your schedule and proceed to get worked over in league play. And while it may seem like the latter has happened this season, Pitt actually has a surprisingly solid résumé, even with Wednesday’s loss at Clemson. They have won at Notre Dame and at Florida State, which are top 50 wins in both the RPI and KenPom. They beat Davidson as well, and their two bad losses – N.C. State at home and at Clemson — both register as top 100 teams in both metrics. The bad? A non-conference strength of schedule that ranks in the 180s and 11 wins over teams that rank 115 or lower on KenPom.

In other words, Pitt has a record of 16-4, an RPI of 30 and a pair of top 50 road wins without a bad loss to their name and games left against Virginia, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Duke. They were a seven seed in our most recent bracket, and it’s hard to see a loss at Clemson changing that too much. So when we talk about Pitt needing to prove themselves and Pitt not being all that good, understand that Pitt can still be in a good spot when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

The rest of Wednesday’s losers:

  • Stanford (11-8, KenPom: 95, RPI 46): The good news for Stanford is that losing at Colorado is anything but a bad loss. The Buffaloes are 20th in the RPI and 48th on KenPom. The Cardinal don’t have a bad loss on their résumé, but they’re just 2-8 against the KenPom top 50 and they have just five total top 100 RPI wins. They’re not in a terrible spot to make a run at a bid, but they need to start racking up some wins.
  • Temple (11-8, KenPom: 97, RPI: 72): The Owls followed up a great home win over SMU by losing to East Carolina. They now have three sub-100 losses in the RPI while a sweep of Cincinnati and a win at UConn are their only other top 150 wins in the RPI. The Owls weren’t even one of the Next Four Out in our most recent bracket, and that was before the loss.
  • Cal (14-7, KenPom: 37, RPI: 35): The Golden Bears actually have a stronger profile that many will realize, particularly if value is put on the RPI. They have five top 50 wins and just two losses outside the top 50, the “worst” of which is against Richmond. A loss at Utah, who is ranked 18th in the RPI, is not going to hurt. The one red flag with this group is that they’re now 1-7 away from home this season.
  • Boise State (15-6, KenPom: 73, RPI: 62): The loss that Boise State took at UNLV on Wednesday will look a lot worse on paper than it was in real life. And if the Rebels continue to play up to their potential, as they have done in the last two weeks, this likely won’t be a sub-100 loss come the end of the season.
  • Tulsa (13-7, KenPom: 66, RPI: 61): The Golden Hurricane took a brutal loss on Wednesday night, getting blown out at Houston, who needed this win to get them back into the RPI Top 150. Tulsa is just 2-5 against the RPI top 100 with their best win coming against a Wichita State team that looks way better on KenPom (17th) than the RPI (50th).
  • Marquette (13-7, KenPom: 120, RPI: 117): This is a team that ranks 280th in non-conference strength of schedule that played a game tonight against Stetson, who ranks 295th in the RPI. They’re not dead yet, but they’re getting close.
  • Virginia Tech (12-9, KenPom: 105, RPI: 103): With just one bad loss (horrific loss, to sub-300 Alabama State), the Hokies still had a fighting chance after starting ACC play 4-1 with a win over Virginia. But after losing to Louisville, they now have six straight games against teams ranked 51st or higher in KenPom, with four of them away.