How long can Purdue dodge a drop? This past week the Boilers got one of their best wins to date, but suffered a road loss where they blew a late lead. In a way, Purdue won while it lost. Yes, any loss sucks, but the victory by Michigan was strong enough to move the Wolverines into the top 50 of the RPI at 50, so Purdue "gained" a top 50 win. They actually gained two, as Wisconsin's major road upset of Maryland moved them to 46. As a result, Purdue went from two top 50 RPI wins to five this week.
The Boilers were also helped by a ton of other ranked teams losing. Maryland, Oklahoma, Iowa, Xavier, Virginia, Michigan State, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas A&M, SMU (who also shouldn't be ranked), Providence, Baylor, USC, Texas, and Wichita State were all AP top 25 teams that dropped at least one game in addition to Purdue. South Carolina and Indiana, who were in the coaches poll in place of Louisville and SMU (not ranked because they are NCAA ineligible) also lost. That is 18 out of 27 teams ranked in either poll that suffered at least one loss, and several suffered two.
Basically, Purdue held steady and had a win over a top 10 team offset by a loss on the road to an NCAA caliber team. It was pretty much a gigantic missed opportunity to move higher in the polls and secure a better Big Ten Tournament seed. With five games left there is still opportunity there, too. With five games left Purdue currently holds the 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Should it win out, however, it would pass Wisconsin and, with one additional loss elsewhere, Indiana to get into the top 4. If Michigan drops another game the tiebreakers become tricky. Since the teams split the next tiebreaker would be record against the highest team in the standings on down. They still have to go to Maryland and could go 1-1 against them. They also still host Iowa while Purdue goes to Indiana. Beating the Hoosiers, therefore, could be a critical tiebreaker over Michigan since they lost to Indiana. Purdue also needs to beat Maryland at home since Michigan beat them in Ann Arbor.
That is where the Michigan loss (and the Iowa home loss. And the Illinois loss, and the Maryland loss) really hurts. In those four games I just mentioned Purdue was either favored by a lot (in the case of Illinois) or had the game in control deep into the second half. All four our missed opportunities, so the season feels like a disappointment because even though it is going well, it feels like it could have been so much more. A Big Ten title and top 2 seed was right there for the taking. It was not taken.
There are still opportunities waiting though. A top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still in play since Purdue has three games (at Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin) left against NCAA caliber competition. The game at Indiana looms the largest because a road victory over a team above us in the Big Ten standings would be huge. Purdue would then gain the tiebreaker with the Hoosiers, who would still need to drop one more game (and Purdue go undefeated in its other four) to fall into a tie with the Boilers. With them having to go to Iowa and host Maryland the chances are at least decent that happens.
And once you get into the NCAAs anything can happen, as George Mason, Butler, VCU, and others have shown.
Basically, all the Michigan loss did was end faint Big Ten title hopes (barring an absolute collapse by Iowa, and don't rule that out after they struggled with Minnesota) and it made getting a top 4 B1G Tournament seed much more difficult. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, however. Purdue can piss and moan about its plight or go do something about it.
RPI: 20 (Up 2 from last week)
KenPom: 17 (Down 2 from last week)
RPI top 50 wins: 31 Florida (neutral floor), at 44 Pittsburgh, at 46 Wisconsin, 50 Michigan, 18 Michigan State.
KenPom top 50 wins: 3 Michigan State, 28 Vanderbilt, at 33 Wisconsin, 34 Florida (neutral floor), 48 Michigan
Bad losses: at Illinois (RPI 142, KenPom 124)
North Carolina A&T (RPI: 338, KenPom: 333) - 8-18, 5-6 MEAC - NCA&T has now won two in a row and three of four after beating Florida A&M on Saturday 75-68 for their only game of the week.
Vermont (RPI: 169, KenPom: 195) - 15-12, 7-5 America East - On Monday the Catamounts lost to D-I newcomer UMass-Lowell, 100-93 completing the season sweep by them. They did recover to beat Hartford 92-81 on Sunday. The America East is being run away with by Stony Brook, who is 20-4, 13-0 and has an RPI of 55 to possibly be an at large selection if they win out but stumble in the conference title game.
Incarnate Word (RPI: 211, KenPom: 223) 13-9, 8-3 Southland - A 71-60 loss to lowly Nicholls State was crippling for the regular season title hopes of Incarnate Word. They recovered to beat Central Arkansas 71-69, but undefeated in league play Stephen F. Austin looms twice in the final seven games.
Old Dominion (RPI: 178, KenPom: 138) - 14-11, 7-5 Conference USA - ODU continues to shoot itself in the foot. They beat North Texas 67-47 for their fourth straight win on Thursday, but then lost 75-66 at home to Rice.
Florida (RPI: 21, KenPom: 28) - 16-9, 7-5 SEC - The Gators are still solidly in the NCAA Tournament as of today. They beat Mississippi at home 77-72, but loss to a surging Alabama 61-55 on Saturday. This week they go to Georgia and South Carolina, the later being a great opportunity for a name win.
Lehigh (RPI: 203, KenPom: 194) - 10-14, 8-5 Patriot League - The Mountain Hawks are surging and even moved into the top 200 according to KenPom. They beat Lafayette 87-72 and Bucknell 80-65 both on the road this week. They are now just a game and a half behind Bucknell for the conference lead in the Patriot League. Should they get past holy Cross and Navy this week they can win the conference title.
Pittsburgh (RPI: 44, KenPom: 60) - 18-7, 7-6 ACC - The Panthers have now lost three in a row, but they were all to teams in the top 9 of the RPI. Those are missed chances. On Tuesday they lost at Miami 65-63 on a tip-in at the buzzer. They followed that with an 85-64 loss at North Carolina. After hosting Wake Forest tomorrow they go to Syracuse before hosting Louisville and Duke. Getting two of those three would be really nice for us.
New Mexico (RPI: 119, KenPom: 100) - 15-10, 8-4 Mountain West - A home loss to Utah State 80-72 is not what we needed from the Lobos. They continue to sit right on that top 100 border. Staying in the KenPom top 100 is basically an added bonus, but they are barely there for the third straight week exactly at 100. On Saturday they beat San Jose State 74-58 to get back on the winning side. Look for them to be a possible surprise conference tournament winner, as the Mountain West is a one-bid league unless someone other than San Diego State wins it.
IUPUI (RPI: 160, KenPom 188) - 11-16, 7-5 Summit League - Only one game this week for the Hoosiermakers, but it was a 77-56 loss at Oral Roberts. I am removing them from the "Could win auto bid" list for now after their third straight loss.
Howard (RPI: 330, KenPom: 322) - 10-15, 3-6 MEAC - A pair of losses this week has the Bison spiraling towards the bottom of Division I. they dropped a game to Hampton 68-65 and at Coppin State 90-66. James Daniel, who missed the Purdue game, continues to be the nation's leading scorer at 27.4 per game.
Youngstown State (RPI: 263, KenPom: 268) - 9-17, 4-9 Horizon League - The Penguins played once this week and lost at home to Cleveland State 64-59.
Butler (RPI: 64, KenPom: 46) - 17-8, 6-7 Big East - Butler is still probably an NCAA Tournament team, but they have struggled greatly against the top of the Big East. They beat Seton Hall this week 81-75 on the road for just their second top 50 win (the first being over Purdue. A 74-57 home loss to Xavier, however, hurt. Now they have to go to No. 1 Villanova this coming Saturday.
Vanderbilt (RPI: 56, KenPom: 28) - 15-10, 7-5 SEC - The Commodores need just a slight push to get into the top 50 of the RPI and give the Boilers another quality win in that regard. This week they took care of business at home with an 86-71 win over Missouri before winning 86-57 at Auburn. This week they get Mississippi State and Georgia.
Possible NCAA at large teams: Vanderbilt, Florida, Pittsburgh, Butler
Possible auto-bid winners: New Mexico, Lehigh