1. Which upper-tier ACC and SEC teams are in the greatest danger of missing the Big Dance? North Carolina State is tied for fourth in the ACC with Virginia and Miami but has slipped to 60th in ESPN Insider’s Daily RPI and is listed in Joe Lunardi’s latest ESPN Bracketology as the first team out of the NCAA tournament grid. Lunardi has Mississippi State in as a No. 9 seed, but the Bulldogs are 56th in RPI and have lost three in a row. Not helping either case: N.C. State carries a home loss against Georgia Tech, which is 173rd in RPI, and Mississippi State has a home loss against Georgia, which is 115th.
2. Is it possible the highly regarded Colonial Athletic Association — that’s Georgia State’s conference — could wangle only one NCAA bid? Yes. Both Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports place only one CAA team in the field, and that constitutes a surprise. Three Colonial reps made it last year, and VCU memorably went from playing in the First Four in Dayton to the Final Four in Houston. The issue, as ever, is RPI. The three teams tied atop the CAA — VCU, Drexel and George Mason — rank 72nd, 73rd and 87th, and none of them, according to ESPN, has a non-conference strength-of-schedule rating under 20o.
3. What team from Georgia stands the best shot of making the field of 68? Given that Mercer is second in the Atlantic Sun — first-place Belmont visits Mercer on Saturday — and given that next week’s Atlantic Sun tournament will be held in Macon, you’d have to count the Bears in with a chance. But don’t sleep on Savannah State, which leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and has won 10 in a row. For the record, Savannah State played host to Georgia Tech on Dec. 10 and lost by 20; Mercer beat the Jackets 12 days later at the Gwinnett Arena.
1. Kentucky: Two more tests for the unbeaten-in-SEC-play Wildcats: At Mississippi State on Tuesday, home against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
2. Syracuse: The Orange stand only three games from finishing their final Big East regular season 17-1, and two of those will be at home.
3. Missouri: Saturday brings the game of the year in the Big 12: Mizzou at Kansas for what figures to be the regular-season league title.
4. Kansas: Remember the disappointing Tyshawn Taylor? Say hello to the reborn Tyshawn Taylor, maybe the nation’s best point guard.
5. Duke: Down 10 points with 2:10 left at North Carolina. Down 20 points with 11 1/2 minutes left against N.C. State. Duke won both, FYI.
6. Michigan State: Now alone atop the Big Ten, and the Spartans’ key remaining game — Ohio State on March 4 — will be staged at home.
7. North Carolina: Three of the Heels’ final regular-season games will be played on the road — at N.C. State, at Virginia, at Duke.
8. Wichita State: Talk about a bust-out game — the Shockers traveled to Davidson on BracketBuster weekend and won by 17 points.
9. Georgetown: Second seed in the massive Big East tournament could well be decided when the Hoyas play Marquette on March 3.
10. New Mexico: The Lobos had the best week of any team this season — won at San Diego State by 10, beat UNLV in the Pit by 20.
11. Ohio State: Wasn’t it just yesterday that some guy was calling the Buckeyes the nation’s best team? Who was that nut? (Why, me.)
12. Marquette: Weird. The Golden Eagles are 11-3 in Big East play but were 1-2 against SEC opposition in their pre-conference schedule.
13. Florida: The get-well Gators responded to an 0-2 week by beating Alabama at home and trouncing Arkansas by 30 on the road.
14. Murray State: The biggest game on the BracketBuster card turned into a Racer runaway — Murray beat Saint Mary’s by 14 points.
15. Florida State: With Duke upcoming Thursday in Tallahassee, this is the prove-it week in the Seminoles’ bid to finish atop the ACC.
16. Louisville: Cardiac Cards followed a close home loss against Syracuse, which is good, with an overtime escape at DePaul, which isn’t.
Dropped out: UNLV, Baylor, Saint Mary’s.
By Mark Bradley