By Kevin Duffy

This week’s top 25 will be a list of the 25 teams closest to the bubble. No. 1 is the bubble team with the best chance of getting into the field of 65, and No. 25 has the least chance. With the losses by South Alabama and Gonzaga in their Conference Tournaments, the bubble has become even softer.

1. Kansas State
Record: 19-10 (10-6)
RPI: 44
SOS: 23

Assuming K-State wins at least one game in the Big 12 tournament, it should be as close to an automatic selection as any of the “bubble teams.” I know the committee is supposed to examine each team without bias, but it will be very hard for the NCAA to leave its best player, Michael Beasley, out of the Big Dance.

2. Kentucky
Record: 18-11 (12-4)
RPI: 49
SOS: 11

It’s tough to ignore an 18-11 overall record, which included losses Gardner-Webb, San Diego, UAB, and Houston. But it’s also tough to ignore a 12-4 mark in the SEC. The Wildcats early-season struggles can be chalked up to playing under a new head coach. After winning 11 of their last 13 games, the ‘Cats figure to be included in the field, but a win or two in the SEC tournament wouldn’t hurt.

3. Saint Mary’s
Record: 24-6 (12-3)
RPI: 38
SOS: 143

Despite a WCC semifinal loss to San Diego, the Gaels should have no trouble finding a spot in the Big Dance. They were in the top 25 for most of the year and with non-conference wins over Drake and Oregon, Saint Mary’s projects anywhere from an 8-10 seed.

4. South Alabama
Record: 24-6 (17-3)
RPI: 35
SOS: 117

The Jaguars shot themselves in the foot on Monday night when they lost to Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt semifinals. Middle Tennessee State’s loss to Western Kentucky in the finals helped them breathe easier as there was a good chance the committee wouldn’t have taken three Sun Belt teams. The Jags have just six losses, some good wins, including two over Western Kentucky and a home victory over Mississippi State, and as close to a moral victory as there is in a 91-88 overtime loss to Vanderbilt.

5. Miami (Fl.)
Record: 20-9 (8-8)
RPI: 26
SOS: 30

The ACC has North Carolina and Duke firmly in the tournament. In all likelihood, Clemson will find a way in as well. There’s no way the ACC will only get three teams into the tournament, and thanks to late-season blunders from Maryland and Virginia Tech, Miami is in terrific position to make itself the fourth team from the Dicky V conference.

6. Baylor
Record: 20-9 (9-7)
RPI: 31
SOS: 28

In my humble opinion, the Big 12 is by far the most underrated conference in the nation. If the committee feels the same way, we should at least two out of the following three teams–Kansas State, Baylor, and Texas A&M–earn bids. Because they have a winning conference record, 20 overall wins, a very strong RPI and SOS, and non-conference wins over Notre Dame and Winthrop, the Bears are likely to earn a middle-of-the-road seed.

7. Arizona State
Record: 19-11 (9-9)
RPI: 76
SOS: 87

The numbers don’t look good, but to me, the Sun Devils deserve to be included ahead of in-state rival Arizona and Oregon. With two victories against Jerryd Bayless’ squad–and wins over Stanford, USC, and Xavier, AZ State should be in the field right now. A first-round loss in the Pac-10 tourney against USC should have no impact on their fate. The Sun Devils are not getting nearly the respect they deserve and with freshman James Harden and Jeff Pendegraph have a team that could make a serious run in the tournament.

8. Arizona
Record: 17-13 (8-10)
RPI: 29
SOS: 1

Between having the No. 1 schedule and two bonafide stars in Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger, it will be awfully hard for the committee to leave ‘Zona out. The Wildcats are almost a lock to earn their typical No. 8 or No. 9 seed. They could lose in the first round (as they did a few years ago to Seton Hall in the 8/9 game), or they could go to the Elite Eight. This team is volatile.

9. Syracuse
Record: 19-12 (9-9)
RPI: 46
SOS: 7

Calling last year’s exclusion a snub would be a serious understatement. Syracuse’s resume isn’t what it was in 2007, but I doubt the committee would exclude the Orange two years in a row, especially with its impressive strength of schedule. However, ‘Cuse’s bubble could burst in a big way if it loses to Villanova on Wednesday. As far as I’m concerned, the winner of that game will be the eighth and final Big East team in the field, with West Virginia in regardless of what happens in their match up with Providence.

10. Kent State
Record: 25-6 (13-3)
RPI: 25
SOS: 118

The Golden Flashes will likely need to advance to the MAC Finals to earn a bid. Their late-season win over St. Mary’s was big, and it’s tough to leave out a team with a top 25 RPI, but at the same time, there are major-conference teams with better resumes. If Kent State falls before the conference finals, it will be very, very anxious for the rest of the week.

11. Oregon
Record: 18-12 (9-9)
RPI: 53
SOS: 26

No one was likely hurt more by Gonzaga’s loss in the WAC championship than the Pac-Ten, as there’s a good chance the selection committee will elect to leave one of 7 deserving Pac-Ten teams out. The Ducks have an explosive offense, but have been wildly inconsistent all year–beating K-State and battling in the best conference in America and losing to teams such as Nebraska and Oakland. The Ducks went 1-7 against the Pac-Ten’s top four teams. If Oregon is hot, it can beat anyone, but it will likely have to win a game or two in the Pac-Ten Tourney or take that philosophy to the NIT instead of the Big Dance.

12. Virginia Commonwealth
Record: 24-7 (16-4)
RPI: 54
SOS: 155

Last season’s upset darlings will be hard-pressed to match their success from the 2007 tournament. George Mason earned the CAA automatic bid, so the Rams will sit and hope to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Luckily for Eric Maynor and Co., a CAA regular season title, some valuable non-conference wins (Maryland and Houston), and their upset-ability (if that’s a word) will all be influential in their possible NCAA berth. The Rams could sneak in and earn anywhere from a 10-12 seed.

13. Villanova
Record: 19-11 (9-9)
RPI: 56
SOS: 61

Nova is about as “on-the-bubble” as a team can get. A win over Syracuse on Wednesday would give them 20 for the season, and considering how bad the ‘Cats got screwed by the refs in a late-season game vs. Georgetown, they potentially could be 11-8 in the conference. If Villanova beats the Cuse in what many are calling a "play in" game, they will likely replace Syracuse on the right side of the bubble.

14. Arkansas
Record: 20-10 (9-7)
RPI: 42
SOS: 38

The Hogs may not have the most impressive resume out there, but they don’t have many holes either. Twenty wins, a strong RPI and SOS, and nine wins in the SEC should be enough to sneak Arkansas into the field as a dangerous 11 or 12 seed.

15. UMass
Record: 21-9 (10-6)
RPI: 40
SOS: 63

The A-10 has been too good to only receive one bid (Xavier). UMass, with a 10-6 conference record, is second in line behind the Musketeers. The Minutemen beat Syracuse and Rhode Island twice, but being swept by St. Joseph’s may really hurt UMass’ cause. I’d say they are in right now, but stay tuned for the A-10 tournament.

16. Texas A&M
Record: 21-9 (8-8)
RPI: 48
SOS: 64

It’s surprising to see a team that was ranked in the 12-15 range for most of the season fall so fast. The Aggies clearly cannot rely on their regular-season accomplishments to earn a bid. They’ll have to advance further than expected in the Big 12 tournament to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament, and given their talent, it’s a strong possibility.

17. Ole Miss
Record: 21-9 (7-9)
RPI: 43
SOS: 62

A losing record in the SEC and a so-so RPI and SOS will seriously hurt the Rebels, who are on the outside looking in right now. Their early season non-conference success, which included wins over Clemson and fellow bubble member South Alabama will help, but unless it makes a run in the SEC tournament, my gut says Ole Miss is out.

18. Dayton
Record: 20-9 (8-8)
RPI: 33
SOS: 36

Dayton’s numbers look good, with the exception of its .500 A-10 record. The Flyers will rely on wins over Louisville and Pitt to get in, but since these victories came early in the season while both teams were going through some serious injury issues, the committee won’t value them as much as you’d think. Dayton needs to do some work in the A-10 tournament to solidify a bid.

19. UNLV
Record: 22-7 (12-4)
RPI: 28
SOS: 55

The Runnin’ Rebels have a legitimate shot of sneaking into the field as a 10-12 seed right now, but could solidify their place by advancing to the Mountain West tournament finals. Aside from UNLV’s 22 wins and impressive conference record, it doesn’t have much else to hang its hat on. It’s most notable non-conference win was against Minnesota.

20. Virginia Tech
Record: 18-12 (9-7)
RPI: 57
SOS: 48

Essentially, Va. Tech beat who it was supposed to and lost to everyone else. It will need to buck that trend in the ACC tournament, or else the Hokies will be dancing in the NIT.

21. St. Joseph’s
Record: 18-11 (9-7)
RPI: 55
SOS: 54

Normally, the Hawks wouldn’t be considered with this resume. But after beating UMass twice, it’s difficult to include the Minutemen over St. Joe’s. I always consider head-to-head match-ups very strongly, but something tells me the committee will look past it if the Hawks don’t do some damage in their conference tourney.

22. Maryland
Record: 18-13 (8-8)
RPI: 69SOS: 16

The Terps need to advance to the ACC finals….period. Their very-iffy resume just will not cut it against the rest of the bubble field.

23. Florida
Record: 21-10 (8-8)
RPI: 65
SOS: 90

Even if Florida advances to the SEC finals, it could still be on the bubble. The Gators have literally ZERO quality wins and will need to be very, very impressive in their conference tournament to have a chance. But then again, the Gators are the two-time defending champs and will thus have a slight edge over other bubble teams.

24. UAB
Record: 22-9(12-4)
RPI: 45
SOS: 85

The Blazers narrowly edge Houston as Conference USA’s second-best team–at least for now. The two will likely meet in the conference semifinals, and the winner will go dancing, while the loser will be NIT’n it.

25. UNC-Asheville
Record: 23-9 (10-4)
RPI: 143

Am I the only one wants to see a 4 vs. 13 UConn vs. UNC-Asheville first-round game featuring Kenny George and Hasheem Thabeet?


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