Tournament Thursday: The margin for error gets smaller

This guy really needs to start playing as if his career will end in a month, otherwise it actually might. - Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State's loss to a suddenly hot West Virginia team means the bubble talk just got a lot more serious for Bruce Weber and co.

Well, Kansas State's loss at West Virginia last Saturday erased any remaining doubts. It doesn't really matter that WVU is pushing to establish itself in the top half of the conference, the 'Cats still have some serious road problems.

In case you forgot, the only road win for Bruce Weber's team was that sleepy victory at TCU nearly a month ago. That's sort of like a left-handed hitter whose only home run came at Morehead State.

K-State still has four away games left, starting with a seemingly winnable one at Baylor on Feb. 15. At this point, even a win at Texas Tech (who doesn't have a non-TCU win other than that weird Baylor game in Lubbock) seems like a challenge. Hopefully I'm overreacting.

We'll get into the implications of this a little more later, but needless to say it's quite concerning. Road games factor quite heavily into the RPI, and therefore tournament selection, so the committee may be inclined to balk at a team that can't ever win one, even if that team is really good at home. Just ask Arkansas last season.

Moving on, let's take a look at the abbreviated RPI watch.

Northern Colorado: 13-6 (7-3 Big Sky, 2nd) ESPN RPI 183
Oral Roberts: 10-11 (4-5 Southland, T-9th) ESPN RPI 201
Long Beach State (twice): 9-12 (5-2 Big West, 2nd) ESPN RPI 130
Charlotte: 14-7 (5-3 C-USA, 6th) ESPN RPI 113
Georgetown: 113-9 (4-6 Big East, 7th) ESPN RPI 59
Central Arkansas: 5-15 (2-7 Southland, 12th) ESPN RPI 344
Ole Miss: 15-7 (6-3 SEC, 3rd) ESPN RPI 55
South Dakota: 9-13 (3-4 Summit, T-3rd) ESPN RPI 241
Troy: 7-14 (2-7 Sun Belt, 9th) ESPN RPI 275
Gonzaga: 19-3 (9-1 WCC, 1st) ESPN RPI 25
Tulane: 11-11 (3-4 C-USA, 8th) ESPN RPI 235
George Washington: 18-4 (6-2 A-10, 3rd) ESPN RPI 29

Yep, Northern Colorado lost two in a row to finally drop out of first place, but at least Georgetown got a nice RPI boost with a shocking win over Michigan State (who was missing 2 starters, but still) to end a 5-game losing streak. Also, Gonzaga woke up just in time Wednesday night to avoid a lossafter blowing a 22-point lead at home to Portland. Come on, guys.

Current status: Good side of bubble

This is considerably tighter than last week, but K-State is still OK. For now. One more unexpected loss might be all it takes for this status to change.

First of all, I'd like to recognize USA Today for showing laudable discipline and waiting until this week to publish its first bracketology. Seriously, well done, guys. That said, I'm not super impressed with Shelby Mast putting Baylor as the last team in, Missouri as the first team out, and most importantly Kansas State as a 10-seed vs. UMass in Buffalo. Gross.

Joe Lunardi put K-State as a 9 seed against VCU in Orlando, which would create a very intriguing clash of styles. Michael Beller of SI has joined the trolling of basketball fans in Kansas by putting Kansas State as a 9 seed against UCLA with a possible 2nd round matchup against Wichita State.

Quick sidenote: I live about 4 hours from St. Louis. If Wichita State does somehow end up playing K-State there in a second round game, is there any excuse other than a family tragedy or personal injury that would be acceptable for me missing this game? I'm leaning towards no.

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports also has Kansas State as a 10 seed against UMass, but in Milwaukee, which I suppose is slightly better. However, his prediction of Michigan State as the 2-seed would be awful.

The Bracket Project has dropped Kansas State to a 10 seed, which is how you know we're in serious bubble trouble. Time to turn it up, like the 'Cats have done in February each of the last two seasons.

Last week:

In fact, Saturday's ugly loss at West Virginia was the first time K-State has lost its first game in February since falling 77-74 at Missouri, a game I remember all too well. If you're looking for more bad omens, that was the same season the 'Cats started Big 12 play 8-2 before losing four in a row and barely sneaking into the NCAA tourney as an 11 seed (yes, the one that beat O.J. Mayo and USC).

On the plus side, West Virginia's recent hot streak that continued with a win over Oklahoma Wednesday night does at least help Kansas State's tournament case. It does not, however, make me feel any better about a loss in which the Wildcats' perimeter defense was terrible and the offense failed to give Thomas Gipson and Marcus Foster much help at all.

This week:

A win Monday night against KU would be the signature win Kansas State now lacks thanks to Oklahoma State's recent slide. It would take a heroic performance at Bramlage, plus an off-night for the Jayhawks, but I guess it could happen.

The more important game is the one Saturday against Texas, who has been just about as good as anybody in the Big 12 if you exclude Tuesday's dud win at TCU. Still, the Longhorns are fairly young and don't have any road wins better than North Carolina or Baylor, two talented teams with serious flaws.

K-State surely recognizes the need to win this game and is definitely capable. It may be the single biggest game left on the schedule at this moment.

Big 12 bubble competition

Let's go ahead and begrudgingly welcome back Baylor thanks to a road win over a struggling Oklahoma State team. Also, yes, I am including West Virginia, mostly by virtue of the fact the Mountaineers are currently tied with Oklahoma for 3rd in the Big 12 standings. Behind Texas.

Who had those 3 teams in the top 4 at the beginning of the season, or the beginning of conference play for that matter? Remember, a quality win is against the RPI Top 50 and a bad loss is any team worse than the RPI Top 100.

Kansas State (15-7, 5-4 RPI 40)

Quality wins: Gonzaga in Wichita, George Washington, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Bad losses: Northern Colorado (183), Charlotte (113)

Road/neutral wins: 3.5 (Gonzaga in Wichita was more like a home game)

Head-to-head: 1-1

Baylor (14-8, 2-7 RPI 59)

Quality wins: Colorado, Kentucky, @ Oklahoma State

Bad losses: @ Texas Tech (125)

Road/neutral wins: 4

Head-to-head: 0-1

West Virginia (14-9, 6-4 RPI 79)

Quality wins: Kansas State, Oklahoma

Bad losses: Purdue (108), @ Virginia Tech (215)

Road/neutral wins: 6

Head-to-head: 2-1

It's kind of painful to see how much that loss at Virginia Tech hurts the Mountaineers' RPI, and unlike me, they've probably been upset by Wisconsin's recent slide since WVU lost to the Badgers by 7 in Madison. Other nonconference losses include Mizzou and Gonzaga, which really isn't bad at all.

The bigger problem for West Virginia is the upcoming five-game gauntlet of @KU, vs. ISU, @UT, vs. BU, @ISU. If they can get two wins out of that it would be kind of impressive but they'll probably need 3 to have a chance at the tourney considering @OU and vs. KU are still on the schedule, too.

Baylor, on the other hand, has a much more favorable next five games with @OU, @TCU, vs.KSU, vs.OSU, and @WVU. Winning three of those seems possible even for Scott Drew and could put them in great shape.

We all know the second half of K-State's schedule is tougher, but I'd love to see wins in 5 out of the next 7. That's vs. UT, vs. KU, @BU, vs.TCU, @OU, @TTU, vs.ISU. Difficult but not impossible.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs:

That would, of course, get Kansas State to five wins with two games, including Senior Day vs. Baylor, still remaining. Needless to say, that would make me feel pretty comfortable.

This isn't exactly a bold prediction, but I'm going to go ahead and say if the 'Cats don't get another road win somewhere (Lubbock counts), they absolutely will not make the NCAA tourney. Of course, it would be possible with a win over KU in Manhattan or a nice run in KC, but I just don't see it happening.

They could even win the rest of their non-KU home games, still finish 9-9, then maybe beat #3 seed OU (or West Virginia???) in KC and still make the tourney. I'd rather not try that out, though.

Why the RPI sucks

You'll see me referencing the RPI a lot in these posts, but rest assured it's not because I'm a fan. Rather, it's because the outdated rankings system still plays a huge role on Selection Sunday, so each week I'm going to highlight an absurdity in the week's rankings. Feel free to make suggestions!

The last three weeks I've highlighted a team ranked too high, so let's switch it up. This week's example is Iowa, who comes in at an egregiously low #37.

You all know how much it pains me to defend a Big Ten team, but the Hawkeyes are 11th in KenPom's rankings, 13th in the USA Today poll, and 17th in the AP. Yes, those rankings are before the home loss to Ohio State Tuesday, which is factored into the RPI, but still.

Iowa's resume includes an overtime loss to Villanova in the Bahamas, a game they could have wonby making free throws and open jump shots in the final seconds in Ames, narrow losses at Wisconsin and Michigan, plus a home loss to Michigan State. The Hawkeyes won at Ohio State, beat Xavier in the Bahamas and generally obliterated the rest of their competition, including a decent Northwestern team both home and away.

Yet this team is ranked behind the likes of Southern Miss and 15-8 Minnesota, a team it beat 94-73 in Iowa City, by the way. Nope, that doesn't make any sense.
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