The calendar is about to turn from January to February, and that means it is winning time for Matt Painter's teams. Tomorrow night's home game with Michigan is a big one, especially after getting blown out at Michigan State. For the first time this year I am turning my eyes from the Big Ten title to simply securing an NCAA berth. Yes, we're still very much alive in the conference title race, but we haven't shown enough consistency to give me a lot of confidence. If we follow the path of Painter's previous teams we will get the job done in February as it all comes together.
As we have seen over 20 games, this is a team that can beat anyone when they are playing well, but they can also lose to anyone when they play poorly. That is going to have us oscillating wildly all season long. People need to be prepared for this and not attack each other in the comments, as I had to do more policing yesterday than I have in 3 years of running the site.
In terms of that NCAA berth we're still doing well, and the next three games (two at home, one at Northwestern) can go a long way toward securing it. We have three good opponents, but they are games we can win to boost our profile. The loss to Michigan State, who is No. 4 in the RPI, is far from a bad one, and we can still return the favor with a good night's rest and the friendlier rims of Mackey Arena.
I still think the formula of a 10-8 record in the Big Ten is enough to feel completely safe. I am not talking about being on the Bubble, either. I am talking about being 100% safely in the field without a doubt come selection Sunday. If we finish 10-8 and add a win or two in Indianapolis it will be highly unlikely we'll be left out.
Some quickie notes about our top 50 wins: Minnesota slipped just barely out of the top 50 this week to No. 51. I can't figure it out, either, since they beat No. 34 Northwestern yesterday, but I don't think CBSSports has figured that win in yet. They should move back into the top 50, but maybe at our expense since we're No. 49.
Record: 14-6, 4-3 Big Ten (No. 1 RPI conference)
RPI: 49 (according to CBS Sports)
Top 25 RPI wins: Illinois (18), Temple (22) (neutral)
Top 50 RPI wins: Iona (45) (neutral)
Record vs. Top 50: 3-4
Bad Losses (sub 100 teams): Butler (107) (neutral), at Penn State (124)
Northern Illinois Huskies - 2-15, 1-4 MAC West, RPI: 338 - The Huskies creeped back closer to the bottom this week with two losses to Toledo (by 30) and Ball State. As stated before, we almost lose by even playing this game, as they continue to be one of the worst teams in the country. Somehow Towson, who is 0-20 and hasn't won a game since 2010, is ranked ahead of them. It's just another oddity of the RPI.
High Point Panthers - 7-13, 3-7 Big South, RPI: 296 - No one can say the signs of inconsistency weren't there early. We blew out one of the lowest rated teams by almost 60 points in game one, then survived by two over a team now creeping closer to 300. High Point lost to Radford, VMI, and Liberty all last week and now has virtually no chance in the Big South.
Iona Gaels - 15-4, 7-1 MAAC, RPI: 45 - As expected, the general malaise of the MAAC is dragging down Iona's overall RPIU. They keep winning, beating Rider by 20 this week before hosting Siena tonight, but they can't do much until BracketBusters later on to boost their profile. If they could get a road game at Murray State and pull that one off it would be great. Until then, this RPI is going to go down and may slip out of the top 50.
Temple Owls - 13-5, 2-2 Atlantic 10, RPI: 22 - Temple did exactly what we needed them to do in beating another ACC team, this time Maryland, to get another major conference win. They also got a nice conference win over a strong LaSalle team to move to 2-2 in the A-10. When people start assessing our profile this is going to be a very good bonus chip in our favor.
Alabama Crimson Tide - 13-6, 2-3 SEC, RPI: 34 - It was a rough week for the Tide, as they had two very good chances to prove they were legitimate contenders and blew them both. It started with a 10 point home loss to Vanderbilt and ended with a close road loss to Kentucky, dropping them to 2-3 in the SEC. The corresponding RPI hit dropped them out of the top 25 as well, since they have lost three in a row overall.
Western Michigan Broncos - 9-10, 3-2 MAC West, RPI: 139 - WMU had a split this week in their home state, losing an overtime decision to Eastern Michigan but beating Central Michigan. It looked early on like their RPI might be able to creep over the 100 line, but they took a big dip with the EMU loss. Currently they trail EMU and Ball State by a game in the MAC West Division, but both conference losses have come to those two schools.
Coppin St. Eagles - 9-10, 4-2 MEAC, RPI: 240 - Coppin State had a chance to assert itself in the MEAC race, but lost at home to league leader Norfolk State by 8. They recovered to beat North Carolina Central, but they are another team with a dropping RPI instead of a rising one. At 4-2 they are fourth in the MEAC, so they are a possible conference tournament threat.
Miami Hurricanes - 10-7, 1-3 ACC, RPI: 53 - I don't think this RPI is figuring in Sunday's game, which would have been a chance for the Canes to break into the top 50. They held off Clemson for a good 76-73 home win mid-week, but they couldn't beat North Carolina State at home yesterday. They go to Georgia Tech and Boston College this week for games they need to win if they want to go to the tournament. Tech and BC are two of the worst teams in the ACC. so it is imperative that Miami handles its business.
Xavier Musketeers - 13-6, 4-2 Atlantic 10, RPI: 43 - No change in Xavier's RPI this week as they beat St. Joeseph's and lost to Dayton. Both this loss and the Alabama one are double-edged right now. At the time, they looked like they would be to consistent top 25 teams. Instead, they are teams closer to us in that they are wildly inconsistent and in the 7-10 seed range in terms of the NCAAs. It would have been good to get them as wins, but since both teams are struggling it make us look worse in turn. We should have zipped this one up because at least it would be a road win.
Western Carolina Catamounts - 9-11, 3-4 Southern, RPI: 217 - The Catamounts made news last week with a gigantic victory over Toccoa Falls by an obscene 141-39 margin. Unfortuantely, they could have won by 7,000 and it wouldn't have mattered since it was a non-Division I team, therefore it doesn't officially count in terms of RPI or tournament selection. The game that does count was a 12 point loss to Appalachian State. That pushed them below the 200 line.
Eastern Michigan Eagles - 9-10, 4-1 MAC West, RPI: 198 - The Eagles got a pair of wins over Western Michigan and Toledo, but their RPI still dropped by two spots. As mentioned above, they lead the MAC West at the moment with Ball State, and they hold the tiebreaker with a win over the Cards in Muncie.
Butler Bulldogs - 12-9, 6-3 Horizon, RPI: 107 - Of all our small conference opponents Butler may have the best chance of stealing an auto-bid in their conference tournament. They won twice in Chicago at Loyola and UIC this past week to move within a game of first place in the Horizon League. Unfortunately, five teams are either 7-2 or 6-3 in this league. The No. 1 seed gets a double bonus of hosting the conference tournament as well as a bye to the semifinals, while the No. 2 seed also gets a bye and the right to host the conference title game if the No. 1 seed loses in the semis. Butler at least needs to get above the 100 line for us.
IPFW Mastodons - 9-10, 3-7 Summit, RPI: 249 - IPFW has now lost four in a row and is in 7th place in the Summit League, which is pretty lousy as a league this year. Oral Roberts is 10-0 at the top with South Dakota State in second at 8-1. Don't expect a lot out of IPFW the rest of the year.