BUBBLE BANTER: Georgetown-Butler in a critical bubble clash, Duke’s road test

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Georgetown (KenPom: 57, RPI: 71) dug themselves a massive hole at the start of the season.

In addition to a pair of close losses to Maryland (in College Park) and Duke (in NYC), the Hoyas lost to Radford, Monmouth and UNC Asheville at home. That’s a pretty big hole they were going to have to dig themselves out of, but things looked promising as Big East play kicked off. Georgetown won five of their first seven games in the league, with the only two losses coming at much-better-than-their-RPI Creighton and at home against league favorite Villanova. Throw in a win at Xavier, which may be one of the five best RPI wins we see this season, and it looked like the Hoyas had turned a corner.

But then they lost at UConn, needed a wild comeback to beat Creighton and home and lost to Providence in a game that wasn’t quite as close as the 73-69 final would indicate. That’s where Georgetown was when they entered Indianapolis on Tuesday night. They left is an uninspiring loss to Butler (KenPom: 48, RPI: 65), who needed the win just as badly as the Hoyas.

Butler, you see, was heading in the opposite direction. The Bulldogs entered the final week of January with an excellent win against Purdue on a neutral court, another solid win at Cincinnati … and that’s about it. The strength of their profile was centered around the fact that they hadn’t lost to anyone that wasn’t a top 25 team.

Then they lost to Creighton, whose RPI is 102.

And they lost to Marquette, whose RPI is 119.

And suddenly, like Georgetown, Butler was on the outside looking in, according to the latest NBC Sports Bracketology.

That’s what made this game so important. For both teams. It wasn’t simply the fact that they needed wins added to their profile, it’s that another loss to a marginal (yes, marginal, that’s what you are when your RPI is outside the top 60) team may not be something that they could survive.

Nothing says “the bubble” quite like talking about how avoiding bad losses is just as important as collecting good wins.

Anyway, the bottom-line is this: Butler just landed the kind of confidence-boosting win that a 3-6 Big East team badly needed while Georgetown’s slide continued. But at the end of the day, both teams still get one more shot at Xavier and Villanova apiece. Winning those two games could erase a lot of the ugly.

WINNERS

  • Syracuse (KenPom: 42, RPI: 35): The Orange got taken to overtime, but they were able take care of business against Virginia Tech. The Orange are in a pretty good spot right now, especially when you consider that their 4-5 stretch without Jim Boeheim will be evaluated the same way the committee evaluates a team when they’re missing a good player.
  • Clemson (KenPom: 50, RPI: 83): The Tigers picked up a road win over Wake Forest, which is exactly the kind of win that can help a team with an RPI that is Struh. Guh. Ling. The Tigers played the 335th-best non-conference schedule and they have a pair of sub-150 losses on their profile already. Those are the kind of things that are computer profile killers. The good news? They have six top 50 wins and will still get a shot at Notre Dame and Virginia at home.
  • Duke (KenPom: 19, RPI: 27): Let me be clear: Duke is not on the bubble yet. But the Blue Devils’ best wins are against VCU and Indiana, and even with a win at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, they are 9-6 against the top 100. Here’s the other part of it: in their last nine games, Duke gets Louisville twice, North Carolina twice, Virginia at home, Florida State at home and Pitt on the road. Considering that the Blue Devils had lost four of their last five and were defending about as well as a bad JV team, it’s reasonable to expect Duke to have some losses coming on the horizon. They need to make sure they take care of business in their winnable games.
  • No. 22 Indiana (KenPom: 25, RPI: 50): Indiana picked up a nice win at Michigan on Tuesday night, a win they needed for the same reason that Duke needed to win. Michigan is a top 50 road win on Indiana’s résumé now, and with a so-so profile as it is and five of their last seven games coming against Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland and Iowa, the Hoosiers don’t have too much margin for error. This win certainly helps.
  • LSU (KenPom: 59, RPI: 79): The Tigers picked up a win at Auburn, meaning that they avoided a loss to Auburn. Because that’s about all that win is worth for the Tigers.
  • San Diego State (KenPom: 60, RPI: 52): Put simply, based on who they have left on their schedule and who they have already lost to, I don’t think the Aztecs can lose a game and still get an at-large bid. They won on Tuesday.

LOSERS

  •  No. 25 South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 29): The Gamecocks lost at Georgia on Tuesday, making their bubble standing even more precarious. To be clear: they’re probably not in danger as of today. But their best win, for RPI purposes, is Alabama. Their non-conference schedule was terrible. Their next five games: at Texas A&M, LSU, Kentucky, at Missouri, Florida. We’re going to know a lot more about this team in about two and a half weeks.
  • Michigan (KenPom: 32, RPI: 31): The Wolverines have two great wins — Maryland and Texas, which keeps getting better and better — without a bad loss to their name. That said, they have just one other quality win, meaning they’re 3-6 against the top 100. Losing to Indiana isn’t a killer by any stretch, but it certainly didn’t help their cause.