BUBBLE BANTER: Vandy’s key win, UCLA in trouble?

(AP Photo/Michael Baker)
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Two weeks ago, Vanderbilt (KenPom: 37, RPI: 63) was barely even on the bubble radar. But last Tuesday, the Commodores picked up a win over Florida, an RPI top 25 win, and after losing (in fairly unimpressive fashion) at Texas over the weekend, Vandy went out and beat down Texas A&M on Thursday.

And suddenly, Vanderbilt might be in the tournament as of today.

Seriously.

That’s the difference that two wins of that quality can make. Because if you do the math now, Vanderbilt now has three top 50 wins, six top 100 wins and zero sub-100 losses to go with a top 50 non-conference strength of schedule and three more chances at top 25 wins before the regular season is over. To put it simply, 3-7 against the top 50 looks far better than 1-7 against the top 50.

I’m not saying they’re a lock to dance mind you. (If that’s the way you took it, you probably couldn’t get into Vanderbilt.) They’re very much on the cut line and likely will be until the last week of February; their last three games are at Florida, Kentucky at home and at Texas A&M. That stretch will make or break their bid.

But they went from afterthought to in the mix really, really quickly.

And I promise you, if you’re a No. 6 seed, you do not want to see Vanderbilt in the first round.

WINNERS

  • Oregon State (KenPom: 84, RPI: 52): The Beavers landed a huge win over Utah at home on Thursday. The Utes are an RPI top 20 team, and that random foul by Utah’s Brandon Taylor at half court could end up being a difference maker on Selection Sunday. The win over Oregon will look great on their profile all year long, and the Beavers now have four top 35 wins in total, including three top 20. They also have no bad losses, although they are just 4-6 against the top 50 and 5-8 against the top 100. With seven top 100 opponents — including three top 25 — left on their schedule, they still have some work left to do. There are no easy nights in the Pac-12.
  • Cincinnati (KenPom: 33, RPI: 56): The Bearcats avoided what would have been a killer loss to South Florida on Thursday night. Cincinnati’s margin for error is going to be small moving forward. They play just three more top 100 opponents, and only one of them (SMU) is ranked in the top 50. With VCU being their best win and just four top 100 wins in total, the Bearcats are not as safe as Mick Cronin would like them to be.
  • UConn (KenPom: 27, RPI: 57): UConn won at Memphis on Thursday, which sounds a lot more impressive than it is on paper. UConn is currently just 4-6 against the top 100, but they do own a win at Texas that continues to look better and better. They have some awful teams left on their schedule, and with mediocre computer numbers, I think this group could really use a win in one of their two games against SMU.
  • Gonzaga (KenPom: 35, RPI: 71): Gonzaga avoided what could have been a killer loss to Loyola Marymount on Thursday night. The Zags are just 4-5 against the top 100 with nothing resembling a great win. Call it a gut feeling, but I think their NCAA tournament chances come down to whether or not they win at SMU.
  • USC (KenPom: 30, RPI: 19): USC now owns a sweep of UCLA after knocking off the Bruins in the Galen Center tonight. They have four top 50 wins and are 8-5 against the top 100. Their worst loss of the season? At Oregon State. The Pac-12 is a bear, so the Trojans are going to be tested every night the rest of the season, but at this point, we should feel pretty safe slotting this team in the tournament.

LOSERS

  • Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 24, RPI: 46): The Gaels lost at BYU on Thursday, which, in a vacuum, is not a bad loss. But we’re not in a vacuum, we’re currently in a world where the Gaels don’t have a top 50 win on their résumé and have won just four RPI top 150 games all season long. With just two top 100 teams left on their schedule, I’m not sure this group can get an at-large bid.
  • Colorado (KenPom: 49, RPI: 23): The Buffaloes got smacked around at Oregon on Thursday, a loss that looked far worse on TV than it does on their NCAA tournament profile; the Ducks are the No. 3 team in the RPI and this game was in Eugene. I think Colorado will end up getting a bid as long as they avoid a total collapse. They’re 6-6 against the top 100 with no sub-50 RPI losses. Add a few more top 100 wins, avoid losing to Washington State, go to the NCAA tournament.
  • UCLA (KenPom: 62, RPI: 68): A loss to USC on Thursday dropped the Bruins to 13-10 on the season. They’re just 2-8 against the top 50, and while they do have seven top 100 wins, they lost to Washington State, who slots in as an RPI sun 150 team. The good news for UCLA? They have a top 30 strength of schedule and finish the season with five top 50 and three more top 100 opponents. They’re talented, and if they get hot, they can beat anyone. And if that happens, they can still churn out a really strong profile. So … when is that run going to start?