This is why you play the games. Coming into the season, many presumed that the Xavier Musketeers would be a favorite for the A-10 title and almost certainly an NCAA tournament team. But here we sit, less than two weeks from Selection Sunday, and Xavier has fallen out of the bracket entirely.
Right now, the Musketeers fall right on the cusp as the first team out. They have one game remaining before the start of the A-10 tournament when they take on Charlotte (RPI 162) this Saturday. Lose that game and the Musketeers' bid hopes will be on life support. Xavier's RPI of 54 would suffer (again) and its record would bloat to 18-12 heading into the postseason. The only good news is that the Musketeers' two best wins (at Vanderbilt and against Purdue) are looking better as the season winds down. The Commodores are now up to No. 22 in the RPI after knocking off Florida on Tuesday night, giving the Musketeers their only top-25 RPI victory of the season.
For now, the beneficiary of the Musketeers' misfortune is South Florida. The Bulls become our last at-large team into the field but have their work cut out to stay there. USF travels to Louisville on Wednesday night in a pivotal game not only for an NCAA berth but also a possible top-four finish and double bye in the Big East tournament. More on the Bulls below, but first here's a look at the latest S-Curve.
This is where teams would fall if Selection Sunday were today. Remember, the curve flows left to right, then right to left, then back again as you read down the chart. Teams with an asterisk currently lead their conference and project to receive an automatic bid, per the rules of bracketology.
GREEN: Teams with tourney odds of 80 percent or better through games of Feb. 28.
YELLOW: "Last four in" (will play March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio)
GOLD: Lowest four auto-bids (will play March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio)
RED: "First four out" (teams 69-72 on the S curve)
The Full S-Curve
*conference leader (teams)
Take our "solid" at-large candidates (current tournament odds at 85 percent or better) and you have 34 teams in the field. Add in the remaining automatic qualifiers and that's another 20 spots. All told, we have 54 of the 68 spots accounted for, with only 14 up for grabs among current bubble teams.
The bubble (26 teams for 14 spots)
IN (14, in S-Curve order):
35-Southern Miss, 36-California, 37-Cincinnati 38-Alabama, 41-Arizona, 43-Seton Hall, 44-Connecticut, 45-West Virginia, 46-Mississippi St., 47-BYU, 48-Miami (Fla.), 49-Texas, 50-Northwestern, 51-South Florida
OUT (12, in S-Curve order)
69-Xavier, 70-Saint Joseph's, 71-VCU, 72-Colorado State, 73-Oregon, 74-Colorado, 75-Dayton, 76-NC State, 77-Illinois, 78-New Mexico St., 79-Ohio, 80-Central Florida
With South Florida entering the bracket, the Big East is up to 10 teams in the NCAA field. But before the howling starts, let's take a closer look at the bubble.
Currently, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia sit at No. 43, 44 and 45 on the S-Curve and are all in jeopardy of missing the cut, which right now falls at No. 51. And as mentioned, South Florida will need to finish strong to stick in the field, but the Bulls present a very interesting case. At worst they will finish seventh in the Big East. Since the Big East's expansion, that's traditionally been safe territory for an at-large bid. You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time a team finishing seventh (in this case, tied for seventh) missed the cut. (DePaul and West Virginia were both denied bids after finishing tied for seventh with Villanova, which did get in.) However, the Bulls' biggest problem is that they have just one top-50 RPI win to date (at home, by one point, against Seton Hall). The Bulls certainly have some heavy lifting left to do, and a big win Wednesday against Louisville would do wonders.
A quick look at the rest of the conferences shows the Big Ten (7), Big 12 (6), ACC (5), SEC (5), Mountain West (3), Pac-12 (3), WCC (3), A-10 (2), C-USA (2) and MVC (2) with multiple bids at this time.