Although there are still some doubts about this team, Purdue is in an enviable position by college basketball standards. Barring a complete and utter collapse we will make the NCAA tournament. While a good seed will certainly help you advance in said tournament, multiple teams have proven that you need only make the field to be able to make a run. George Mason made a Final Four as an 11 seed and knocked off three former National Champs along the way. Villanova won a national title as an eight seed. Butler nearly won a title last year as a five seed and certainly earned its way back home to Indiana.
In March only 68 teams will have a chance to advance to the Final Four. We will be one of them. Because of that, I wanted to take a look at our non-conference opponents again and an overall look at our NCAA profile as a whole:
ESPN/USAToday Ranking: 12
AP Poll ranking: 14
CBSSports RPI: 11
ESPN Bracketology Seed: 3 Southwest opening in Chicago (1 seed: Texas, 2 seed: Notre Dame, 4 seed: Syracuse)
Top 50 RPI wins: 28 Minnesota
Top 100 RPI wins: 52 Michigan State, at 55 Michigan, at 56 Valparaiso, 62 Penn State, at 62 Penn State, at 67 Virginia Tech, 80 Oakland, 83 Northwestern, 90 Alabama.
Worst loss: 71 Richmond (neutral court)
Remaining games: 3 Ohio State, 19 Wisconsin, at 40 Illinois, 40 Illinois, at 52 Michigan State, at 142 Iowa, at 152 Indiana
Our overall profile is not bad, but we would probably be a solid two seed if we had pulled out two of the three games at Minnesota, West Virginia or Wisconsin. West Virginia has a ton of losses, but is still 17 in the RPI. Wisconsin is 19. Arguably our best win is over Minnesota at home, but that one is falling.
Unfortunately, the struggles of everyone in Big Ten play is really hurting us. The Michigan State win has lost a lot of value. Just when Penn State was on the verge of cracking the top 50 and giving us two top 50 wins, they lost to Michigan. Valparaiso had a chance to crack the top 50, but they lost at Cleveland State. The good news is that with five opponents right on the edge of top 50 territory we can see our profile boosted if those teams can solidify their own positions. The big gainer is Alabama, who has recovered from an awful non-conference season to lead their division in the SEC. they are still a fringe at large candidate, but that win is gaining a lot of value.
Sunday's game at Illinois is critical because it is our last chance at getting a top 50 road win unless Michigan State moves up or Penn State, Michigan, and Valpo get a boost into the top 50. If we lose, I think we can kiss any chance at a 2 seed goodbye. If we somehow go 7-0 down the stretch I think a 2 seed is probable because it would include a win over the current top-ranked team in the nation. It would also give us four more top 50 wins in the closing stretch when we only have one to date. Going 3-1 against those top 50s and sweeping the others would probably put as a solid 3. We must avoid a bad loss at Iowa or Indiana. A 5-2 run (say we lose to OSU and MSU) would still have us as a good 3 I think. As I have said before, I at least want a top 3 seed to have us on the opposite side of the bracket from a 1 seed.
Part of our problem has been the top of the Big Ten not being as good as advertised. Michigan State has fallen off a cliff, while Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, and even Indiana each have surprising wins. Michigan is making itself into a fringe bubble candidate that has a finishing stretch that is not that bad. They could go 5-1 and sneak into at large consideration with a 20-11 overall record and 10-8 league mark. Northwestern and Illinois have performed below expectations so far, so the combination of struggles at the top coupled with surprises from the bottom have brought the entire league down.
I don't think it is a coincidence that the Big Ten got seven teams (and was robbed of an 8th with Penn State) into the dance in 2009 when Iowa and Indiana were two teams EVERYBODY beat up on. They finished a combined 6-30 in league play with two of their wins coming against each other. Two more wins came against Northwestern and Penn State, who also missed the tourney (though Penn State would have been in had they beaten Iowa, and maybe even Northwestern had they done the same and held off Ohio State in their regular season finale). With no defined bottom to give everyone a couple of wins the entire league lowers a bit.
Now, let's look at each non-conference opponents individually:
Howard (5-18, 3-7 MEAC) RPI: 332 - The Bisons are only one spot above last place in one of the worst conferences in the country thanks to their recent win over South Carolina State. The only thing they have remotely close to a good win was their season opener over Bowling Green, who is one of the better teams in the MAC. That's not saying a lot.
Alcorn State (3-18, 3-8 SWAC) RPI: 333 - For the record, there are only 345 spots in the RPI. The Braves are the lowest rated team we play, ahead of only South Dakota, Jacksonville State, Prairie View A&M, Grambling, Sacramento State, Central Arkansas, Georgia Southern, Southern, South Carolina State, Centenary (winless and dropping to division III soon), Texas-Pan American, and Houston Baptist. Two of Alcorn state's three wins have come over teams ranked below them in the RPI (Grambling and Southern). Amazingly, their third win is over Jackson State, who is 9-2 in the SWAC and in second place.
Oakland (17-9, 12-1 Summit) RPI: 80 - Any chance the Golden Grizzlies had at an at large bid probably went away with their 100-88 loss at IUPUI last week. They still lead the Summit League by two full games and host IPFW tonight, making the favorite to win the conference tournament.
Austin Peay (15-11, 9-5 Ohio Valley) RPI: 130 - The Governors were doing well at the start of Ohio Valley play. They started 5-0 and had a near miss with an overtime loss at Memphis that likely would have kept them in the top 100. They have since lost 5 of 8 to fall into third place. This is a possible conference tournament winner, as they have wins over conference leader Murray State and second place Morehead State.
Southern Illinois (11-14, 5-9 Missouri Valley) RPI: 186 - The Salukis are only above Howard and Alcorn State on our list of wins. They had lost five in a row before surprising Wichita State 56-53 on the road Tuesday night. The Shockers are leading the Valley at the moment with Cuonzo Martin's Missouri State team. That shows you how cannibalistic the Valley is this year.
Richmond (19-6, 8-2 Atlantic 10) RPI: 71 - Right now we are pretty much keeping the Spiders' at large hopes by ourselves. They've won three straight and are half a game out of first place in a very tough Atlantic 10. Losses to Iona, Georgia Tech, and Bucknell are not helping their cause. This is the definition of a Bubble team.
Virginia Tech (15-7, 5-4 ACC) RPI: 67 - I am very, very glad that we got this win right now because if it had been a loss it would be more ammo for the committee to drop us by saying we can't win on the road. The Hokies are sitting square on the Bubble without the benefit of a defining win like Richmond has over us. Their top four wins are over Oklahoma State, Florida State, Penn State, and Miami, but only Oklahoma State is barely a top 50 win (47). All told, they are a sickly 1-5 against the top 50. Their profile is almost identical to Richmond's, but Richmond is at least 2-4 vs. the top 50. Richmond's top 50 wins are us and 49 Virginia Commonwealth. I'd have to slot Richmond ahead of VaTech solely because they beat us on a neutral floor while the Hokies had us at home and lost.
Alabama (15-7, 7-1 SEC) RPI: 90 - And here comes the Crimson Tide! Since getting into SEC play they have been playing excellent basketball. Their lone loss was at Arkansas (not awful), while they have upset Kentucky and won at Tennessee. They have a huge game tonight at Vanderbilt that will go a long way toward helping their at large cause. A victory would give them a top 25 road RPI win and a huge boost in profile. They are currently 2-2 against the top 50, beating Kentucky and Tennessee but losing at Purdue and Oklahoma State. Their worst loss is against 142 Iowa as part of their 0-3 Paradise Jam trip. Alabama is currently the only team with one SEC loss.
Valparaiso (17-7, 9-3 Horizon) RPI: 56 - Twp things are really hurting the Crusaders right now: They have an absolute anchor of a loss at Toledo (320) and they missed a chance at grabbing a top 50 road win at Cleveland State. This could be the second time in a calendar year the Rockets have hurt us, with the football loss being the first. If you're looking strictly at profiles, I think Valpo has a bigger case than VaTech or Richmond. Their RPI is higher, they are 2-4 against the top 50 (beat Butler and Cleveland State, lost to Butler, Cleveland State, Purdue, and Kansas) and they are leading a pretty tough conference. I think the Horizon can be a two-bid league, but Butler's case is done and Cleveland State's is weak. Valpo has an RPI-building game in the BracketBusters against Missouri State next weekend that could help.
North Florida (9-16, 6-8 Atlantic Sun) RPI: 166 - The Ospreys have lost 4 of 5 and are no real threat to win their conference. Belmont at 22-4 is a fringe at large candidate leading their league.
Indiana State (13-12, 8-6 MVC) RPI: 121 - Ah, the Trees. The Sycamores blew out to the Missouri Valley lead with a 7-1 start, but lost five straight before winning at Illinois State last night. They were swept by Evansville (who is surging at the moment) and they got a nice win over Missouri State. This is a team that could win the Missouri Valley Tournament or lose in the first. Neither would surprise me.
IPFW (16-8, 9-4) RPI: 170 - The Mastodons have established themselves as the #3 team in the Summit League, going 9-1 against the teams behind them but 0-3 against Oakland and IUPUI ahead of them. They get one last shot at Oakland tonight.
West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) RPI: 17 - The Mountaineers have all the looks of being one of those teams that messes up NCAA Tournament pools. They have played the fourth toughest schedule in the nation and they will likely make the tournament with a high seed, but they are too wild to predict how well they will do. Their best win is at Georgetown, but they also lost to Marshall. They beat Purdue at home, but lost to Miami on the road. A 5-5 record against the top 50 is good, but Cleveland State and Cincinnati are wins over teams that are struggling to make the tournament. They are a hard team to figure out because they are solid at home, but somewhat questionable away from home. A return at least to the Sweet 16 is not outside their realm of possibility, especially since their seed will likely get a +1 OMG Big East Is Awesome boost.