Well, we didn't get any help from Michigan or Minnesota in the last two games. I give credit to the Spartans for holding on late in both games. Michigan couldn't have played a worse final two minutes last night though. Their strategy consisted of refusing to attack the basket with the lead and settling for airballed 3-pointers. If you saw their shooting percentage for the night though you would know they didn't deserve to win. If the Gophers and Wolverines had managed just one more basket we could be looking at a totally different Big Ten today.
The way Michigan State is surviving though helps us in an odd way. There is no rule that both us and Michigan State can't be high seeds in March. The media all took turns rubbing each other down last year when the Big East got three number one seeds (even though it was ACC vs. Big Ten for the title). That is even funnier when I saw an ESPN poll yesterday asking which conference was more dominant: Big East basketball or SEC football. There is no question it is SEC football, because they win these things lately called "championships".
We shouldn't give up on the dream of a higher seed though. As we see with the following opponents update, we already have victories over three teams in the top 25 of the RPI with at least three games (#10 Wisconsin and #13 Michigan State x2) left. We can add one more against a top 50 team (#45 Ohio State), meaning two of our losses can hardly be considered "bad losses" The third loss, at Northwestern, is also not an awful loss as they are currently 56th in the RPI before last night's loss at Minnesota.
Northwestern will be an interesting case as long as they can get to around 10-8 in conference play. They have had an ugly start against a tough slate at the beginning of conference play, but there are plenty of chances left for wins with two games against Indiana, Penn State, and Iowa each while hosting Michigan, Minnesota, and Chicago State. Their only serious tests left are at Michigan State this weekend and at Wisconsin February 21. An 8-2 finish for the Wildcats in conference play is entirely possible, but will it be enough?
We should be fine as long as we hold serve at home, split at Michigan State and at Ohio State, win at Minnesota (we dominated them in Mackey), and avoid a bad loss. Minnesota (RPI: 63 before last night) is another team that could crack the top 50. Illinois is at 75, giving us our highest rated road victory. I know RPI is not everything when it comes to seeding, but it helps. We have built a resume that we can still add to with a good conference finish even if we don't win the Big Ten. If we finish 14-4 in conference play and make a deep run at Conseco I have a hard time seeing drop from the top 10-15 in RPI. With that in mind, here is who is helping and hurting our overall cause.
Purdue: Current RPI: 12 SOS: 21 (All RPI's are CBS Sports RPI as of Tuesday evening)
Cal State Northridge (7-12, 2-4 Big West RPI: 238) - This was an NCAA team last year out of the Big West, but the Matadors will not be one this year. Since our last update they lost to Division I provisional team Seattle by 10 and at Cal Poly 73-72. We're not going to get any help from this win, save a small boost if they get hot and win the Big West Tournament. Even then, they will be a 16 seed at best.
South Dakota State (10-10, 6-3 Summit RPI:211) - I find this one absolutely hilarious because the Jackrabbits, who have never made the NCAA Tournament and have only been in Division I for five years, are ranked ahead of one of supposed "elite" teams in college basketball. Just behind them, in spot #212: The Indiana Hoosiers. Yes, beating South Dakota State is now officially a better resume win than beating our biggest rivals. I know it won't stay that way forever, but damn it is fun to see right now. SDSU even has a better chance to go to the NCAA's. IUPUI and Oakland are the two favorites and will battle tomorrow night in Indianapolis for first place. Oakland handed the Jaguars their only conference loss at Oakland earlier, while the Golden Grizzlies are undefeated in Summit play. SDSU is right behind them both in 3rd place, but got its third league loss at defending champ North Dakota State last week.
St. Joseph's (8-11, 2-3 Atlantic 10 RPI: 136) - The Hawks are making a bit of a midseason run after winning three in a row last week. Beating Towson and Penn means very little, but beating a very good Dayton team (who earlier this year beat Georgia Tech) is a nice win for the Hawks. If they can continue the turnaround this could morph into a top 100 win for us.
Tennessee (15-3, 3-1 SEC RPI: 15) - In my opinion, this is our best win because it came early in the season, JJ was in foul trouble all night, the Volunteers were at full strength, and we were away from Mackey Arena. This team, while shorthanded, took down Kansas and still has to play Kentucky at least twice. With the Wildcats falling last night at South Carolina that opens up the SEC race. Since our last update the Vols squeezed out a 63-56 win at Alabama, but lost at Georgia 78-63. This is a win that will keep on giving and look even better if Tennessee continues to have success while shorthanded. The committee will remember we beat them at full strength.
Central Michigan (9-8, 4-1 MAC RPI: 197) - To quote Clark Griswold, "I couldn't be more surprised if I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet." The Chippewas are currently in first place in the MAC. They have accomplished this by beating Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois within the past week. Sure, it's not much, but it is a win over a first place team. Of course, since we played half the MAC we're bound to have gotten a win over its best team.
Wake Forest (14-4, 4-2 ACC RPI: 18) - This is looking more and more like a surprisingly good win, especially with the Demon Deacons being a half game out of first place behind Maryland. Wake earned a split last week at Duke and North Carolina, winning in the DeanDome but losing at Cameron. They followed it with a weekend win over Virginia. Their only other non-conference loss (other than us) is not a bad one against #44 William & Mary, but the Tribe is struggling.
Buffalo (10-6, 3-2 MAC RPI: 90) - The Bulls are hanging on as a top 100 win on our resume despite the anchor that is the MAC schedule. It is surprising too because we stomped them in our best offensive performance of the season. They have beaten MAC favorite Akron 78-65, but got walloped by Kent State (89-54) and Ohio (99-77) in their last two games. It's too bad too. Had they won those it would have really helped us.
Valparaiso (10-11, 5-4 Horizon RPI: 180) - If Butler wins at Green Bay this week no one is going to catch the Bulldogs in Horizon League play. The Crusaders, however, are doing all they can to avoid the Bulldogs for as long as they can in the conference tournament. Once there, they might even steal a bid if Brandon Wood goes off again. Valpo has now won four in a row to creep close to .500 overall.
Alabama (12-7, 2-3 SEC RPI: 88) - The Crimson Tide missed another chance for a good home win by losing to Tennessee last week. They have whiffed on several chances for good home wins (Purdue, Kansas State, Tennessee), so they will need to get it done on the road. They did beat Mississippi State last week, but they'll have to show some consistency to get on the good side of the bubble.
Ball State (9-9, 3-3 MAC RPI: 245) - The Cardinals have won three of four now to get right in the middle of the MAC. They did survive in double overtime last night against Miami (OH), but recently lost to Eastern Michigan. We'll get no help here unless they win the MAC Tournament.
SIU-Edwardsville (3-17, RPI: 327) - With that low of an RPI I think we might have gotten more help if we had played a scrimmage against five guys over at the Co-Rec. At least then we might have been able to claim a true road win, even if it was a couple of blocks away from Mackey Arena. Was Jesse Berry and Lafayette Jeff High School busy that night? Of course, Berry keeps getting himself suspended anyway.
West Virginia (17-3, 5-2 Big East RPI: 6) - The Mountaineers cruised to another Big East win at DePaul last night. They also won a true rivalry game over Marshall and got a big home win over Ohio State this weekend. I am not sure if that helps us because we beat West Virginia soundly, or hurts us because we lost to Ohio State. I'll go with helps us for now, especially if we can erase the Ohio State loss in Mackey by winning in Columbus. The Big East continues to be wide open too, with plenty of chances for big wins over Syracuse, Villanova, and others.