A couple of our non-conference opponents took big steps forward this weekend toward the NCAA Tournament. While on the surface it may not look like we played a tough schedule, a further investigation reveals a different argument. IPFW, Austin Peay, Indiana State, Oakland, and Valparaiso are all teams that are currently in the top two of their respective conferences. That puts them as favorites in their respective conference tournaments, and therefore possible NCAA Tournament teams. Valparaiso had an especially strong weekend, which is even better because that is a true road victory for us.
This week also marks our final non-conference matchup of the year as we travel to West Virginia. The Mountaineers continue to have a solid profile that will give us another true road win should we come through. People can knock our schedule all they want, but when the season is over we may be the only team in the country with three true road victories against top-100 teams outside of our conference. Here is how our profile currently looks, keeping in mind that our RPI is 11 according to CBS Sports RPI, higher than any team we play. Also, we only have four games left not against the top-50 (Penn State, at Iowa, and both Indiana games)
Record: 15-1, 4-0 Big Ten
Top 50 wins: None (11 games remaining against top 50 in final 15 regular season games)
Top 100 wins: Oakland (73), Austin Peay (89), at Virginia Tech (64), at Valparaiso (58), Northwestern (60), at Penn State (66), at Michigan (72)
Losses: Richmond (neutral court, 71)
Howard (2-12, 0-2 MEAC, RPI: 293) - We're getting no help from the Bisons. They have lost 12 of 13 since opening the season with a win and fell to Morgan State yesterday before facing Coppin State tonight in MEAC play. Out of 346 Division I teams they ranked 340th in scoring and 342nd in assists per game.
Alcorn State (0-13, 0-3 SWAC, RPI: 299) - The Braves are the lowest rated team found anywhere on our schedule. They will likely stay there now as they have entered conference play and the SWAC is one of the worst conferences in America. We can expect Howard and Alcorn State to stay at the bottom of our wins, as the nearest team to them on our schedule is Indiana at 195 (which, by the way, is incredibly fun to say).
Oakland (11-8, 6-0 Summit, RPI: 73) - The Golden Grizzlies stay in the top 100 of the RPI, making them a good win. They have rolled through the Summit League so far, but their toughest game comes Friday when they go to second place IPFW. If they win that game there is a real chance they will go through league play undefeated. Based on their tough schedule, that might be just barely enough to get them in the at large consideration if they falter in the league tournament, but it is still unlikely. Had they held on against Illinois and Michigan State they would have a better at large profile, but I don't think the win over Tennessee is enough even with a perfect Summit League record.
Austin Peay (11-6, 5-0 Ohio Valley, RPI: 89) - The Governors took the biggest leap, jumping from 132 in the RPI to become yet another top 100 RPI victory for us. They currently lead the OVC by two full games in the loss column after beating conference favorite Murray State 66-64 this weekend on the Racers' home floor. They missed on a chance for a big win when they fell by two at Memphis in OT, but the other losses aren't horrible. They have lost twice to a solid Lipscomb club, plus Southern Illinois and Oakland. They play at Tennessee Martin (4-12, 0-5) tonight before going to Tennessee State on Saturday.
Southern Illinois (9-7, 3-2 Missouri Valley , RPI: 153) - The Salukis will have my interest again on Wednesday when they travel to Missouri State to play Cuonzo Martin's Bears. They currently sit right in the middle of the Valley after a weekend split with Creighton (L 72-66 OT) and Illinois State (W 63-59). Missouri State leads the Valley at 5-0 in conference play and 11-3 overall. This looks like a middle of the pack team in their conference.
Richmond (13-4, 2-0 Atlantic 10, RPI: 71) - The Spirders continue to sit right on the Bubble, mostly because they are the only team that has beaten us and we're playing so well at the moment. Right now, their success is hinged more on our own than us on theirs. Yes, we want them to play well so that loss doesn't slip, but they are placing a ton of value on their 11 point win over us. They lost to Bucknell 62-61 on January 2nd, but the Bison are currently 85 in the RPI so that loss isn't as bad as some think. They opened conference play with wins over UNC-Charlotte and LaSalle. This week they have just one game, at home on Thursday against Rhode Island.
Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-1 ACC, RPI: 64) - Our third top-100 win is creeping towards top 50 territory after the Hokies beat Florida State for their 6th straight victory. Their win over Oklahoma State is looking better by the day. This week Virginia Tech goes to Seth Davis' almighty North Carolina on Thursday before hosting Wake Forest on Saturday. Given North Carolina's RPI of 25, a road win over the Tar Heels would help us greatly.
Alabama (9-6, 1-0 SEC, RPI: 180) - The Crimson Tide is finally starting to come together. Their 75-57 win at Mississippi State to open SEC play was their fourth straight. They will still be drawn down by the disastrous Paradise Jam trip, but for now they sit atop a fairly mediocre SEC West. The Tide hosts South Carolina on Wednesday and travels to Arkansas on Saturday. A sweep likely makes them surprise contenders in their division of the SEC.
Valparaiso (12-5, 4-1 Horizon RPI: 58) - Before the weekend Cleveland State looked like they could run away with the Horizon league. After getting spanked by Butler and beaten by Valparaiso, the Crusaders and Bulldogs are now tied for first place. Valparaiso has won 6 of 7, losing only at Butler in that time. Cleveland State was a top 20 RPI team at the time, and they are still a solid 31, so the Crusaders got a nice boost to 58. The Horizon League has a solid overall RPI and Butler (24), Cleveland State (31), and Wright State (109) should help keep this a strong win. For the record, Penn State at Michigan are also current top-100 RPI teams, giving us four true road wins against the top-100.
North Florida (5-10, 2-2 Atlantic Sun, RPI: 118) - I was shocked at how close this game is close to being a top 100 win. The Ospreys have lost 7 of 8, but they have losses against Kansas State, Texas, Purdue, Missouri, and Pittsburgh propping the RPI up. Their lone win was a 57-55 victory at Campbell last week. When all is said and done this will likely be our worst win other than Howard and Alcorn State.
Indiana State (9-7, 4-1 Missouri Valley, RPI: 129) - The Sycamores are creeping up on top-100 territory, and if not for a loss to Evansville (1-4 in the Valley) they would be tied for first place. The Trees gained a sweep of Northern Iowa and at Drake this weekend, putting them in a second place tie with Creighton and Wichita State behind Missouri State. They have yet to play Creighton, Missouri State, or Wichita State though. Wednesday they go to Bradley (whom they already beat in Terre Haute 80-66), before hosting Creighton.
IPFW (10-5, 5-1 Summit, RPI: 157) - This loss has officially tumbled out of the top-100 from 91 to 157. The Mastodons lost at home to IUPUI on Saturday, otherwise they would be tied for the Summit lead with Oakland. They face SIU-Edwardsville tonight in what should be a win before Oakland comes to Ft. Wayne on Friday. IPFW blew a nine point halftime lead against IUPUI, which is frustrating.
West Virginia (10-4, 2-2 Big East, RPI: 16) - The Mountaineers have dropped a little from their lofty perch of 6 in the RPI, but at 16 they would rate as our best road victory unless we win at Ohio State (13). Their Saturday win at Georgetown was nice for their profile. Their RPI will stay steady as long as they do well in the Big East, so a win on Sunday would once again be a major boost.
Conclusion: We have faced a decent schedule so far and, other than the Richmond and Va Tech games, we have dominated. It gets a whole lot tougher starting on Thursday. With 11 games in the last 15 coming against the top 50 we could have the toughest schedule left in the country. It is far from easy when the two lowest rated games come against a bitter rival that is likely going to throw everything they have at us.
We have played 16 games. At minimum we have 16 left (15 regular season, plus one Big Ten Tournament game) before the NCAA Tournament. Based on the strength of the remaining schedule it is safe to say that another 15-1 stretch would give us a #1 seed.