Fun Extreme Sport

Le foto di surf e di altri sport estremi

<p>PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.</p><p>Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”</p><p>Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.</p><p>Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.</p><p>Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.</p><p>The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.</p><p>Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.</p><p>The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.</p><p>If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)</p><p>The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.</p><p>At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.</p><p>Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.</p><p>Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.</p><p>Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.</p><p>We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.</p><p>Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.</p><p>?</p><p>That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.</p><p>Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.</p><p>Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”</p><p> Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.</p><p>?</p><p>In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.</p><p>Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.</p><p>NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.</p><p>And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”</p><p> PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.</p>
Age of Miracles: Chloe Kim and Other Young Olympic Stars Are Set to Shine for Longer Than Ever Before

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.

Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”

Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.

Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.

Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.

The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.

Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.

The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.

If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)

The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.

Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.

Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.

Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.

We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.

Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.

?

That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.

Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.

Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”

Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.

?

In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.

Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.

NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.

And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”

PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.

<p>PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.</p><p>Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”</p><p>Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.</p><p>Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.</p><p>Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.</p><p>The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.</p><p>Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.</p><p>The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.</p><p>If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)</p><p>The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.</p><p>At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.</p><p>Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.</p><p>Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.</p><p>Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.</p><p>We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.</p><p>Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.</p><p>?</p><p>That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.</p><p>Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.</p><p>Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”</p><p> Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.</p><p>?</p><p>In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.</p><p>Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.</p><p>NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.</p><p>And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”</p><p> PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.</p>
Age of Miracles: Chloe Kim and Other Young Olympic Stars Are Set to Shine for Longer Than Ever Before

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.

Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”

Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.

Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.

Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.

The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.

Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.

The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.

If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)

The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.

Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.

Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.

Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.

We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.

Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.

?

That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.

Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.

Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”

Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.

?

In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.

Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.

NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.

And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”

PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.

<p>PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.</p><p>Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”</p><p>Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.</p><p>Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.</p><p>Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.</p><p>The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.</p><p>Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.</p><p>The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.</p><p>If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)</p><p>The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.</p><p>At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.</p><p>Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.</p><p>Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.</p><p>Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.</p><p>We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.</p><p>Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.</p><p>?</p><p>That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.</p><p>Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.</p><p>Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”</p><p> Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.</p><p>?</p><p>In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.</p><p>Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.</p><p>NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.</p><p>And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”</p><p> PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.</p>
Age of Miracles: Chloe Kim and Other Young Olympic Stars Are Set to Shine for Longer Than Ever Before

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Phoenix Snow Park, which hosted various events at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, featured two venues that were absolutely perfect for 17-year-old American Chloe Kim. One was the halfpipe, where Kim won a gold medal. The other was the press conference room, where she started to cash in on it.

Kim cracked jokes and bubbled over about achieving her lifelong dream, and the fact that hers has been such a short life only made it more charming. She dedicated her last run to her Korean grandmother, and she teased her father. “My dad didn’t cry at all, which I don’t get,” the snowboarder said. “I’m like: What are you doing?”

Jong Jin Kim was standing in the back of the room, amused. Maybe he was just saving the tears for 2022 in Beijing, or for 2026 in whatever city the International Olympic Committee chooses for those Games. One perk of winning a gold medal at age 17 is that you don’t have to stop there. Chloe Kim can compete in three more Winter Olympics and still be younger than this year’s men’s snowboard halfpipe gold medalist, Shaun White.

Kim is a phenomenon, but not a lone one. Wherever you went in PyeongChang, you found an extraordinarily young gold medalist. These Olympics are a riveting display of what millennials can accomplish when they put down their phones.

Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, 21, became the youngest gold medalist in the history of cross-country skiing, which is pretty much the history of snow. Red Gerard, 17, of the U.S., won gold in slopestyle snowboarding, then won over America’s hearts when his family declared its love for beer manufacturers.

The U.S.’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the giant slalom, and though Shiffrin finished fourth in her best event, the slalom, there is another way to look at that: Shiffrin won what isn’t even her best event.

Then again, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka, 22, won gold in the Super-G and skiing isn’t even her best sport. As of Monday, Ledecka was still set to compete in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. She has two months to add a forehand and qualify for the French Open.

The action indoors skewed young as well. Yuzuru Hanru became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win the individual gold medal in two Olympics—and Hanru is just 23. He could three-peat in Beijing, but he will have to beat two record-setting Americans to do it. Nathan Chen, 18, set an Olympic record by landing five quadruple jumps in his long program. Vincent Zhou, 17, became the first Olympian to land a quad Lutz.

If the young stars needed proof that they can contend for medals through several Olympic cycles, they didn’t have to look far. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the downhill at age 35, making him the oldest man to win Alpine gold. White won his third gold medal in halfpipe, 12 years after winning his first. (White may not wait four years for his next Olympics—he says he might try skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.)

The story of the PyeongChang Olympics is that none of the stories were just about the PyeongChang Olympics. The days of capturing fame in a bottle once every four years are gone. To understand why, consider two well-worn and seemingly contradictory bits of advice: Follow your dreams, and follow the money.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the U.S. won six gold medals. The men’s hockey team won one of those. Speed skater Eric Heiden won the other five. And when those Olympics ended, so did the Olympic careers of nearly every one of those athletes. Only two U.S. players, Phil Verchota and John Harrington, would play Olympic hockey again. Heiden stopped skating and dove into careers in medicine and cycling. He signed three endorsement deals. He had no interest in more. Heiden’s path after 1980 was unusual, but his Olympic career arc was not. Like many successful figure skaters, Dorothy Hamill had to capitalize on her 1976 gold medal, so she turned pro. Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione gained fame from his golden goal against the Soviets—and never played another game.

Back then, the IOC’s amateurism rules forced athletes to make a choice: Compete in the Olympics or turn professional. Occasionally, a U.S. athlete would star in more than one Olympics, but only occasionally. In the 1980s, amateurism began to give way to professionalism. The IOC allowed pros to compete in basketball, tennis and hockey.

Sports that were considered purely recreational, like snowboarding, spawned professional circuits. Athletes could aspire to more than just a shot at Olympic glory; they could build lucrative careers around it. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn do not just ski for their country and themselves. They ski for Red Bull.

Truly elite athletes do not compete just for the money, but the money allows them to keep competing. For athletes who are healthy and retain their love of their sport, there is no incentive to stop. Today’s Olympians have career paths that are more like NFL stars’ than their Olympic predecessors’. White won his first gold in the halfpipe in 2006, two years before Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback.

We now tune in to the Winter Olympics expecting to see White, just as we turn on Green Bay games expecting to see Rodgers. White, aka the Flying Tomato, is savvy enough to know what the Olympics mean to his image and, in turn, his bank account. After winning gold in South Korea and bursting into tears, he composed himself and then set an Olympic record for time spent talking to the media in the mixed zone. White accommodated every camera and digital recorder, telling the same stories with the same enthusiasm for every audience.

Like most great athletes, White does not get tired of his own glory. Actually, he just doesn’t seem to get tired. Four years ago, he started working out regularly for the first time. Improvements in nutrition and training methods have allowed 30-year-olds to push themselves like 22-year-olds.

?

That means we should get used to seeing German biathlete Laura Dahlmeier (24 years old, two golds and a bronze in PyeongChang) and France’s Perrine Laffont (19, gold in moguls) and Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg (22, gold in biathlon). People around the world have always fallen in love with gold medalists. The difference now is that we get to stay in love. And nobody caused more people to swoon in South Korea than Chloe Kim.

Snowboarding has gained some mainstream acceptance since its debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano. But most Americans still think a McTwist is a dessert at McDonald’s, and if your neighbor knows what a crippler seven is, you must live on a mountain.

Nonetheless, Chloe Kim is a star now. We don’t need to fully understand what she does. We just need to know that she does it better than anybody else. Her personality can take care of the rest. At the start of the Olympics, Kim had fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers; by the end of the first week, she was nearing 300,000. Her mid-competition tweets about wanting ice cream and being “hangry” after not finishing her breakfast sandwich were social media gold. Was this her goal? Absolutely not . . . well, sort of. “My mom [Boran] and I are always talking about followers,” Kim says. “She’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so Ican get more followers!’”

Social media followings are not just a reflection of popularity; they are a catalyst. Kim can stay in the public’s consciousness even when we aren’t following her events. “You’re not just relying on a two-week television window every four years,” says Elizabeth Lindsey, managing partner of the Wasserman agency.

?

In her role at Wasserman, Lindsey helps sponsors strike deals with athletes, and she thinks Kim can transcend her sport the way White has. (Wasserman also represents many athletes, but she does not rep Kim.) Kim combines athletic greatness, charisma and authenticity—a mixture that advertisers crave.

Wasserman has a proprietary system tracking more than 200 audience variables across 330 million social accounts. At the start of the Olympics, Kim attracted mostly snowboarding fans. Soon after she won, her average fan was three times less interested in extreme sports, which is actually a positive indicator for her potent marketability. Fans don’t have to love her sport to love her.

NBC does not hold a monopoly on Olympic star-making anymore, but that actually makes the network’s job easier. When Mikaela Shiffrin arrives in Beijing in 2022, we will know if she has surpassed Lindsey Vonn as the greatest female skier ever—and as skiing’s endorsement queen. NBC may have to remind us that Nathan Chen followed his disastrous short program in PyeongChang with an extraordinary free skate, but we will have heard the story before. Chen’s attitude—“I already fell so many times, I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens”—has surely earned him more fans.

And Kim will not just be the new smiling face of a sport that most of us don’t follow. She will be a celebrity. “She does have a long path in front of her,” says Lindsey. “She is going to be at this a long time. It’s all about relevance. The more you are competing, the more relevant you are.”

PyeongChang introduced many Americans to Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and plenty of others. Tune in four years from now if you are hangry to see them again.

<p>LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.</p><p>Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.</p><p>The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Sekou Doumboya, F, France</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’9” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.</p><p>Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.</p><p><strong>Luka Samanic, F, Croatia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.</p><p>With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria</strong><br><strong>Height:</strong> 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>225 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint. </p><p>Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage. </p><p><strong>Killian Hayes, G, France</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’5” | <strong>Weight: </strong>190 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.</p><p>One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.</p><p><strong>N’Faly Dante, C, Mali</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>7’0”<strong> | Weight: </strong>220<strong> | Draft-eligible: </strong>2021<br>The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.</p><p><strong>Josh Green, SG, Australia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’6” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 190 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.</p><p><strong>AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>160 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.</p><p><strong>Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>200 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.</p><p><strong>Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.</p><p><strong>Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2021<br>One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.</p><p><strong>Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.</p><p><strong>Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’6” | <strong>Weight: </strong>170 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.</p>
Evaluating the Top International Prospects at Basketball Without Borders

LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.

Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.

The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.

Sekou Doumboya, F, France
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.

Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.

Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.

With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.

Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 225 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint.

Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage.

Killian Hayes, G, France
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.

One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.

N’Faly Dante, C, Mali
Height: 7’0” | Weight: 220 | Draft-eligible: 2021
The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.

Josh Green, SG, Australia
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.

AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 160 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.

Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 200 | Draft-eligible: 2019
One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.

Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.

Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2021
One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.

Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.

Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 170 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.

<p>LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.</p><p>Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.</p><p>The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Sekou Doumboya, F, France</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’9” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.</p><p>Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.</p><p><strong>Luka Samanic, F, Croatia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.</p><p>With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria</strong><br><strong>Height:</strong> 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>225 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint. </p><p>Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage. </p><p><strong>Killian Hayes, G, France</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’5” | <strong>Weight: </strong>190 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.</p><p>One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.</p><p><strong>N’Faly Dante, C, Mali</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>7’0”<strong> | Weight: </strong>220<strong> | Draft-eligible: </strong>2021<br>The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.</p><p><strong>Josh Green, SG, Australia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’6” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 190 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.</p><p><strong>AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>160 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.</p><p><strong>Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>200 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.</p><p><strong>Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.</p><p><strong>Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2021<br>One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.</p><p><strong>Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.</p><p><strong>Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’6” | <strong>Weight: </strong>170 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.</p>
Evaluating the Top International Prospects at Basketball Without Borders

LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.

Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.

The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.

Sekou Doumboya, F, France
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.

Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.

Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.

With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.

Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 225 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint.

Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage.

Killian Hayes, G, France
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.

One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.

N’Faly Dante, C, Mali
Height: 7’0” | Weight: 220 | Draft-eligible: 2021
The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.

Josh Green, SG, Australia
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.

AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 160 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.

Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 200 | Draft-eligible: 2019
One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.

Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.

Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2021
One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.

Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.

Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 170 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.

Gangneung (Korea, Republic Of), 17/02/2018.- A composite picture showing Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic (L) on her way to win the Women&#39;s Super-G race at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre during the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, South Korea, 17 February 2018. At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games Ledecka (R) was starting in the Women&#39;s Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 19 February 2014. (República Checa, Corea del Sur, Rusia) EFE/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO / JENS BUETTNER GERMANY OUT
Gangneung (Korea, Republic Of), 17/02/2018.- A composite picture showing Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic (L) on her way to win the Women's Super-G race at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre during the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, South Korea, 17 February 2018. At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games Ledecka (R) was starting in the Women's Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 19 February 2014. (República Checa, Corea del Sur, Rusia) EFE/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO / JENS BUETTNER GERMANY OUT
Gangneung (Korea, Republic Of), 17/02/2018.- A composite picture showing Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic (L) on her way to win the Women's Super-G race at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre during the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, South Korea, 17 February 2018. At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games Ledecka (R) was starting in the Women's Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 19 February 2014. (República Checa, Corea del Sur, Rusia) EFE/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO / JENS BUETTNER GERMANY OUT
A l’image de la &quot;boîte en carton&quot; décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG,&#160;difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
Cavani, Federer… c’est la saison des trophées pourris ?
A l’image de la "boîte en carton" décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG, difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
A l’image de la &quot;boîte en carton&quot; décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG,&#160;difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
Cavani, Federer… c’est la saison des trophées pourris ?
A l’image de la "boîte en carton" décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG, difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
A l’image de la &quot;boîte en carton&quot; décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG,&#160;difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
Cavani, Federer… c’est la saison des trophées pourris ?
A l’image de la "boîte en carton" décernée à Roger Federer pour son retour à la place de numéro un mondial vendredi à Rotterdam, ou de la statuette remise à Edinson Cavani pour son record de buts avec le PSG, difficile de ne pas souligner l’extrême laideur de certains trophées en ce début d’année 2018. Mais ce mauvais goût fait le bonheur des réseaux sociaux…
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the men&#39;s ski slopestyle final to win the silver medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kenworthy already has an Olympic medal, from Sochi, and the chance for another at the games in Pyeongchang. But what gives the skier even greater satisfaction than winning is when his pioneering and still rare example as an openly gay athlete encourages others be open about themselves, too. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
The Latest: Shiffrin misses, Hansdotter wins gold on Day 7
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the men's ski slopestyle final to win the silver medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kenworthy already has an Olympic medal, from Sochi, and the chance for another at the games in Pyeongchang. But what gives the skier even greater satisfaction than winning is when his pioneering and still rare example as an openly gay athlete encourages others be open about themselves, too. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
<p>PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—It is almost as if Mikaela Shiffrin knew better than the rest of us what could lie ahead, and the peril in tallying up medals not yet won and history not yet made. Late Thursday afternoon beneath a setting sun on a cold, white mountainside thousands of miles from home, she won an Olympic gold medal in the giant slalom. Then she put that medal in perspective. There was momentum in the air, and a propulsive energy. Her best event, the slalom, would come next, and two more events after that. Perhaps she would win three gold medals or even four in one Olympics, which no skier had ever done. It was intoxicating to imagine. Shiffrin surely felt it, too, but instead she said, “I don’t want to assume that anything else is going to happen. Every day is a new day.”</p><p>Almost 24 hours later, on Friday afternoon in South Korea (late Thursday night in the U.S.), Shiffrin stood in the same place, addressing the same reporters. Again the sun was setting to her left and again a cold wind whistled down behind her. But this time, at the base of the mountain behind her, three skiers—gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, silver medalist Wendy Holdener of Switzerland and surprise bronze medalist Katharina Gallhuber of Austria—were presented with tiny stuffed animals and gathered for photos, a precursor to the formal medal ceremony that would follow later that evening.</p><p>Shiffrin, the Olympic champion from Sochi, has been the best slalom skier in the world for five years, and this season has won seven of the nine slalom races contested in World Cup competition, often by wide margins. She was a prohibitive favorite in the slalom in PyeongChang, but she finished fourth, 0.08 seconds from a bronze medal and 0.40 seconds behind Hansdotter.</p><p>“This is going to sound <em>so </em>arrogant,” Shiffrin said after the race. “I <em>know </em>that I’m the best slalom skier in the world, because I’ve done that skiing <em>so much. </em>What I did in the race today was not even anywhere close to that, not even anywhere close to what I’ve been doing with my free-skiing.”</p><p>Shiffrin paused. Even if her words did sound arrogant, they were manifestly true. In the four years since Sochi, there have been 34 slalom races on the World Cup circuit. Shiffrin has won 26, including two world championships. At just 22 years old, she has accumulated 41 World Cup victories and 30 of them have come in slalom; only two women—Marlies Schild of Austria and Vreni Schneider of Switzerland—have won more slaloms in their entire careers. Mikaela Shiffrin is a transcendent slalom racer.</p><p>But:</p><p>“But the race is when it counts,” she said Friday.</p><p>The race: Under another blue sky and temperatures in the high 20s, Shiffrin was fourth from the starting gate in the first of two slalom runs. She skied solidly, but not with the jaw-dropping dynamism and edge control that has defined her nascent career. She came down in second place, behind Holdender. Two more racers, Hansdotter and Swedish teammate Ann Swenn Larsson, also came down in front of Shiffrin, leaving her fourth, 0.48 seconds behind Holdener. Hansdotter is third in the World Cup slalom standings, and Holdener fourth; they were real contenders but have been unable to challenge Shiffrin for most of the season.</p><p>Shortly after Shiffrin hit the finish of the first run came word that NBC’s excellent on-course reporter, and former World Cup skier, Steve Porino, had reported seeing Shiffrin vomiting near the starting line. A year ago, Shiffrin struggled with anxiety at the start of races, often feeling the need to throw up, and occasionally doing so. There were two reasons: First, Shiffrin draws confidence from productive volume training and her training early last season had been inconsistent. This led to the second issue: a fear of letting people down. “I started to worry about disappointing people,” she told me last fall, <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/29/mikaela-shiffrin-winter-olympics-2018-pyeongchang" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:for a profile" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">for a profile</a> that was published last month. “My team, the media. My feelings were scattered all over the place.”</p><p>That issue resurfaced before Friday’s first run. Asked if she was sick, Shiffrin said, “Nope. Just nerves.” She went on: “I dealt with that all season long last year. So when that actually happened, I was like… huh. <em>I’ve dealt with this before, I’ll be fine.</em> But when I ended up skiing the course, I ended up skiing really, really conservatively. That’s not something that deserves to win a medal.”</p><p>Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, who is also her primary coach, saw the struggle coming. After winning her gold medal in giant slalom Thursday, Mikaela did dozens of interviews and arrived home at 5 pm. (All gold medalists do this.) Then she went to the medal ceremony and didn’t get back to the family’s rented home until 10 p.m. when she went to sleep. “Every night here I’ve been going to bed before 8:30,” Mikaela said.</p><p>In a post-race phone interview with <em>Sports Illustrated, </em>Eileen said, “The writing was on the wall [Thursday] night. I saw the look in here eyes when we got home from the medal ceremony and I just thought, Oh, no. She was exhausted. When we got to the start [Friday] morning, she just looked kind of empty. And you can’t be that way in slalom. You’ve got to be really sharp.”</p><p>After winning eight races in 22 days in late December and early January, Shiffrin failed to finish three of her last five races before the Olympics, including her last slalom, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Shiffrin and her mother both attributed that slump to exhaustion. She took four days off in the run up to the Olympics, and then won a gold medal in her first race and seemed poised to win more.</p><p>The original Olympic race schedule would have helped her accomplish this. Shiffrin would have raced giant slalom last Monday, slalom Wednesday and then had two days off before, potentially, racing the super-G on Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.). Four days later would come the downhill and two days after that, the Alpine combined. Instead, weather postponements forced Shiffrin to follow her gold medal race, and the long night that followed with another race that morning, and she struggled to perform at her customary level. (The giant slalom silver and bronze medalists did not race the slalom and none of the slalom medalists had won medals in the giant slalom.) Mikaela said, “After yesterday’s race was such an emotional high. I let myself feel <em>too </em>much. Peaks and valleys. Too much of a peak yesterday, too much of a valley today.’’</p><p>Eileen Shiffrin said that Mikaela’s anxiety is often prompted by exhaustion. Neither Eileen nor Mikaela asked for sympathy. It’s something that has happened in the past and Shiffrin has fought it by seeing a sports psychologist, smartly mixing training and racing and, of all things, tinkering with her playlist. But the Olympics asks athletes to manage extreme situations.</p><p>Shiffrin had a chance to recover from her mediocre first run. At 1:54 p.m. in PyeongChang (11:54 p.m. EST), she pushed out for her second run of slalom. Coming from behind to win is rare for Shiffrin; she had done it just twice in those 26 victories since Sochi, once in 2015 and once in January. Her second run was better than her first, and she skied into second place, 0.08 behind the 20-year-old Gallhuber, who has never made a World Cup podium and who skied the fastest second run in the field. But Hansdotter came down and pushed Shiffrin to third, and then Holdener knocked her off the podium.</p><p>“My mentality was better on the second run,” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t puke.” But she did slip at a gate halfway down the course. And while her skiing was better, it was not at the level of her best work. Others were shocked. “It was a big surprise,” said Gallhuber, “because she has been the best slalom skier all season.”</p><p>Shiffrin is not finished. She will skip the super-G on Saturday, a decision that was made before the slalom. She will race Wednesday’s downhill <em>if </em>she is among the four fastest U.S. skiers in training runs on Monday and Tuesday. “It’s a [U.S. Ski Team] coach’s decision,” said Eileen. “If the other girls are faster, they should race. We want the fastest team.” Lindsey Vonn and Shiffrin are the only U.S. speed racers with World Cup downhill victories this season, and the team’s depth was weakened when Jackie Wiles was injured just before the Olympics. It will be a surprise if Shiffrin is not among the four fastest qualifiers for the downhill. She will also race the Alpine combined next Friday (Thursday night in the U.S.), a race in which she will be among the favorites.</p><p>But of course, as Shiffrin said: <em>The race is when it counts.</em></p>
Peaks And Valleys: Mikaela Shiffrin Finishes Fourth in Slalom, Fails to Defend Gold From Sochi

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—It is almost as if Mikaela Shiffrin knew better than the rest of us what could lie ahead, and the peril in tallying up medals not yet won and history not yet made. Late Thursday afternoon beneath a setting sun on a cold, white mountainside thousands of miles from home, she won an Olympic gold medal in the giant slalom. Then she put that medal in perspective. There was momentum in the air, and a propulsive energy. Her best event, the slalom, would come next, and two more events after that. Perhaps she would win three gold medals or even four in one Olympics, which no skier had ever done. It was intoxicating to imagine. Shiffrin surely felt it, too, but instead she said, “I don’t want to assume that anything else is going to happen. Every day is a new day.”

Almost 24 hours later, on Friday afternoon in South Korea (late Thursday night in the U.S.), Shiffrin stood in the same place, addressing the same reporters. Again the sun was setting to her left and again a cold wind whistled down behind her. But this time, at the base of the mountain behind her, three skiers—gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, silver medalist Wendy Holdener of Switzerland and surprise bronze medalist Katharina Gallhuber of Austria—were presented with tiny stuffed animals and gathered for photos, a precursor to the formal medal ceremony that would follow later that evening.

Shiffrin, the Olympic champion from Sochi, has been the best slalom skier in the world for five years, and this season has won seven of the nine slalom races contested in World Cup competition, often by wide margins. She was a prohibitive favorite in the slalom in PyeongChang, but she finished fourth, 0.08 seconds from a bronze medal and 0.40 seconds behind Hansdotter.

“This is going to sound so arrogant,” Shiffrin said after the race. “I know that I’m the best slalom skier in the world, because I’ve done that skiing so much. What I did in the race today was not even anywhere close to that, not even anywhere close to what I’ve been doing with my free-skiing.”

Shiffrin paused. Even if her words did sound arrogant, they were manifestly true. In the four years since Sochi, there have been 34 slalom races on the World Cup circuit. Shiffrin has won 26, including two world championships. At just 22 years old, she has accumulated 41 World Cup victories and 30 of them have come in slalom; only two women—Marlies Schild of Austria and Vreni Schneider of Switzerland—have won more slaloms in their entire careers. Mikaela Shiffrin is a transcendent slalom racer.

But:

“But the race is when it counts,” she said Friday.

The race: Under another blue sky and temperatures in the high 20s, Shiffrin was fourth from the starting gate in the first of two slalom runs. She skied solidly, but not with the jaw-dropping dynamism and edge control that has defined her nascent career. She came down in second place, behind Holdender. Two more racers, Hansdotter and Swedish teammate Ann Swenn Larsson, also came down in front of Shiffrin, leaving her fourth, 0.48 seconds behind Holdener. Hansdotter is third in the World Cup slalom standings, and Holdener fourth; they were real contenders but have been unable to challenge Shiffrin for most of the season.

Shortly after Shiffrin hit the finish of the first run came word that NBC’s excellent on-course reporter, and former World Cup skier, Steve Porino, had reported seeing Shiffrin vomiting near the starting line. A year ago, Shiffrin struggled with anxiety at the start of races, often feeling the need to throw up, and occasionally doing so. There were two reasons: First, Shiffrin draws confidence from productive volume training and her training early last season had been inconsistent. This led to the second issue: a fear of letting people down. “I started to worry about disappointing people,” she told me last fall, for a profile that was published last month. “My team, the media. My feelings were scattered all over the place.”

That issue resurfaced before Friday’s first run. Asked if she was sick, Shiffrin said, “Nope. Just nerves.” She went on: “I dealt with that all season long last year. So when that actually happened, I was like… huh. I’ve dealt with this before, I’ll be fine. But when I ended up skiing the course, I ended up skiing really, really conservatively. That’s not something that deserves to win a medal.”

Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, who is also her primary coach, saw the struggle coming. After winning her gold medal in giant slalom Thursday, Mikaela did dozens of interviews and arrived home at 5 pm. (All gold medalists do this.) Then she went to the medal ceremony and didn’t get back to the family’s rented home until 10 p.m. when she went to sleep. “Every night here I’ve been going to bed before 8:30,” Mikaela said.

In a post-race phone interview with Sports Illustrated, Eileen said, “The writing was on the wall [Thursday] night. I saw the look in here eyes when we got home from the medal ceremony and I just thought, Oh, no. She was exhausted. When we got to the start [Friday] morning, she just looked kind of empty. And you can’t be that way in slalom. You’ve got to be really sharp.”

After winning eight races in 22 days in late December and early January, Shiffrin failed to finish three of her last five races before the Olympics, including her last slalom, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Shiffrin and her mother both attributed that slump to exhaustion. She took four days off in the run up to the Olympics, and then won a gold medal in her first race and seemed poised to win more.

The original Olympic race schedule would have helped her accomplish this. Shiffrin would have raced giant slalom last Monday, slalom Wednesday and then had two days off before, potentially, racing the super-G on Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.). Four days later would come the downhill and two days after that, the Alpine combined. Instead, weather postponements forced Shiffrin to follow her gold medal race, and the long night that followed with another race that morning, and she struggled to perform at her customary level. (The giant slalom silver and bronze medalists did not race the slalom and none of the slalom medalists had won medals in the giant slalom.) Mikaela said, “After yesterday’s race was such an emotional high. I let myself feel too much. Peaks and valleys. Too much of a peak yesterday, too much of a valley today.’’

Eileen Shiffrin said that Mikaela’s anxiety is often prompted by exhaustion. Neither Eileen nor Mikaela asked for sympathy. It’s something that has happened in the past and Shiffrin has fought it by seeing a sports psychologist, smartly mixing training and racing and, of all things, tinkering with her playlist. But the Olympics asks athletes to manage extreme situations.

Shiffrin had a chance to recover from her mediocre first run. At 1:54 p.m. in PyeongChang (11:54 p.m. EST), she pushed out for her second run of slalom. Coming from behind to win is rare for Shiffrin; she had done it just twice in those 26 victories since Sochi, once in 2015 and once in January. Her second run was better than her first, and she skied into second place, 0.08 behind the 20-year-old Gallhuber, who has never made a World Cup podium and who skied the fastest second run in the field. But Hansdotter came down and pushed Shiffrin to third, and then Holdener knocked her off the podium.

“My mentality was better on the second run,” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t puke.” But she did slip at a gate halfway down the course. And while her skiing was better, it was not at the level of her best work. Others were shocked. “It was a big surprise,” said Gallhuber, “because she has been the best slalom skier all season.”

Shiffrin is not finished. She will skip the super-G on Saturday, a decision that was made before the slalom. She will race Wednesday’s downhill if she is among the four fastest U.S. skiers in training runs on Monday and Tuesday. “It’s a [U.S. Ski Team] coach’s decision,” said Eileen. “If the other girls are faster, they should race. We want the fastest team.” Lindsey Vonn and Shiffrin are the only U.S. speed racers with World Cup downhill victories this season, and the team’s depth was weakened when Jackie Wiles was injured just before the Olympics. It will be a surprise if Shiffrin is not among the four fastest qualifiers for the downhill. She will also race the Alpine combined next Friday (Thursday night in the U.S.), a race in which she will be among the favorites.

But of course, as Shiffrin said: The race is when it counts.

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the men&#39;s ski slopestyle final to win the silver medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kenworthy already has an Olympic medal, from Sochi, and the chance for another at the games in Pyeongchang. But what gives the skier even greater satisfaction than winning is when his pioneering and still rare example as an openly gay athlete encourages others be open about themselves, too. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the men's ski slopestyle final to win the silver medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kenworthy already has an Olympic medal, from Sochi, and the chance for another at the games in Pyeongchang. But what gives the skier even greater satisfaction than winning is when his pioneering and still rare example as an openly gay athlete encourages others be open about themselves, too. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the men's ski slopestyle final to win the silver medal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Kenworthy already has an Olympic medal, from Sochi, and the chance for another at the games in Pyeongchang. But what gives the skier even greater satisfaction than winning is when his pioneering and still rare example as an openly gay athlete encourages others be open about themselves, too. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
<p>Travis Lindquist, Senior Director, Editorial Photography, Getty Images Photo - Tom Pennington <br>Using a long telephoto lens and a fast shutterspeed Getty Images photographer Tom Pennington was able to capture the incredible speed and control of this skier during the Men’s Alpine Downhill <br>Combined. Seeing the gate contorted after the skier hit it and nearly 100km per hour and still maintaining his form, control, and concentration is a testament to skill these athletes have and the <br>talent the photographer has to capture everything in this split second. <br>Our photographers covering the Alpine skiing are facing extreme temperatures, their day on the mountain often begins before sun up in an effort to scout the course to find the best shooting location with the given course set or gate placement. The gates change for the Downhill and Super G, so the photo positions often need to be changed around. In addition to scouting on course, they are constantly scanning outside the A-net and B-net fencing for possible off course photo positions and Alpine is one of the only sports where they are required to be in their shooting position one hour before competition/training begins and they cannot move from these positions. These photo positions are often no larger than 10&quot;X3&quot;, so there is very little room to move around to stay warm – very challenging!!</p>
Winter Olympics: Photos of the Day

Travis Lindquist, Senior Director, Editorial Photography, Getty Images Photo - Tom Pennington
Using a long telephoto lens and a fast shutterspeed Getty Images photographer Tom Pennington was able to capture the incredible speed and control of this skier during the Men’s Alpine Downhill
Combined. Seeing the gate contorted after the skier hit it and nearly 100km per hour and still maintaining his form, control, and concentration is a testament to skill these athletes have and the
talent the photographer has to capture everything in this split second.
Our photographers covering the Alpine skiing are facing extreme temperatures, their day on the mountain often begins before sun up in an effort to scout the course to find the best shooting location with the given course set or gate placement. The gates change for the Downhill and Super G, so the photo positions often need to be changed around. In addition to scouting on course, they are constantly scanning outside the A-net and B-net fencing for possible off course photo positions and Alpine is one of the only sports where they are required to be in their shooting position one hour before competition/training begins and they cannot move from these positions. These photo positions are often no larger than 10"X3", so there is very little room to move around to stay warm – very challenging!!

<p>Travis Lindquist, Senior Director, Editorial Photography, Getty Images Photo - Tom Pennington.<br>Using a long telephoto lens and a fast shutterspeed, Getty Images photographer Tom Pennington was able to capture the incredible speed and control of this skier during the Men’s Alpine Downhill <br>Combined. Seeing the gate contorted after the skier hit it at nearly 100km per hour and still maintaining his form, control, and concentration is a testament to skill these athletes have and the <br>talent the photographer has to capture everything in this split second.</p><p>Our photographers covering the Alpine skiing are facing extreme temperatures, their day on the mountain often begins before sun up in an effort to scout the course to find the best shooting location with the given course set or gate placement. The gates change for the Downhill and Super G, so the photo positions often need to be changed around.</p><p>In addition to scouting on course, they are constantly scanning outside the A-net and B-net fencing for possible off course photo positions and Alpine is one of the only sports where they are required to be in their shooting position one hour before competition/training begins and they cannot move from these positions.</p><p>These photo positions are often no larger than 10&quot;X3&quot;, so there is very little room to move around to stay warm – very challenging!</p>
Winter Olympics: Day 4

Travis Lindquist, Senior Director, Editorial Photography, Getty Images Photo - Tom Pennington.
Using a long telephoto lens and a fast shutterspeed, Getty Images photographer Tom Pennington was able to capture the incredible speed and control of this skier during the Men’s Alpine Downhill
Combined. Seeing the gate contorted after the skier hit it at nearly 100km per hour and still maintaining his form, control, and concentration is a testament to skill these athletes have and the
talent the photographer has to capture everything in this split second.

Our photographers covering the Alpine skiing are facing extreme temperatures, their day on the mountain often begins before sun up in an effort to scout the course to find the best shooting location with the given course set or gate placement. The gates change for the Downhill and Super G, so the photo positions often need to be changed around.

In addition to scouting on course, they are constantly scanning outside the A-net and B-net fencing for possible off course photo positions and Alpine is one of the only sports where they are required to be in their shooting position one hour before competition/training begins and they cannot move from these positions.

These photo positions are often no larger than 10"X3", so there is very little room to move around to stay warm – very challenging!

Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
Mesut Ozil will start Arsenal's Europa League tie against Ostersunds, Arsene Wenger confirms
Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
Mesut Ozil will start Arsenal's Europa League tie against Ostersunds, Arsene Wenger confirms
Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
Mesut Ozil will start Arsenal's Europa League tie against Ostersunds, Arsene Wenger confirms
Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal’s campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said Ozil will start on Thursday against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe’s premier competition. Defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier Leauge, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Asked if Ozil will start, Wenger said: “Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition. “When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can.” In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role. Danny Welbeck will lead the line for Arsenal Credit: Getty images “It is where I prefer him, personally,” Wenger said of Welbeck. “He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp.” The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish club’s history. Ostersunds was formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager. It is a new frontier for Ostersunds and Potter, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over as manager in 2011. They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said the contrasting size and history between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie. “Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin,” he said. “But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely.” The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch. Graham Potter has likened this tie to an FA Cup third round match-up Credit: Getty images Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: “No, I’m not disappointed at all. The thing you don’t want is for it to be a farce with the conditions. “A couple of weeks ago it was minus 23 degrees. That was cold. That wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody, because those conditions don’t suit anyone. “Now it’s quite pleasant. It’s like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It’s not the conditions that are a factor, it’s how well we play. “Our advantage is an 8,000-seater stadium in the north of Sweden. Their advantage will be a slightly bigger stadium in a slightly bigger city. But it doesn’t really matter, we have to play well. “The cold or the pitch doesn’t win you a game. The players have to play well. We have to do the things that we are good at.” Despite the artificial surface, Wenger said he was not tempted to fly out to Sweden earlier and provide his players with more time to adjust to the pitch. “I think we will adapt,” he said. “We have played some times indoors. We have an artificial pitch, even if it is completely different. I have heard this is 4G but we have 3G so it is different but no matter, we have to not make too big a problem with it.” Predicted teams Arsenal(4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck Ostersunds (4-3-3): Keita, Mukiibi, Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Edwards, Bergqvist, Nouri; Ghoddos, Gero, Sema
<p>Predicting college basketball’s national champion is a treacherous enough prospect when the NCAA tournament field is actually set. Picking one in mid-February is a fool’s errand, but for nearly two decades now, in a tradition begun by Grant Wahl and carried on by Luke Winn, SI.com has ventured to do just that. The key, however, is to pick not one team, but a pool of eight from which the eventual national champion will emerge.</p><p>Of course, the Magic Eight is not as simple as just listing the eight best teams in the country. Tradition dictates that the degree of difficulty be upped by excluding at least two of the top eight teams in the current AP poll, and including at least one team from outside that poll’s top 15. With the blessing of Luke, now ensconced in the Toronto Raptors’ front office, I present to you this year’s Magic Eight, in no particular order:</p><h3><strong>Virginia (24-2, 13-1 ACC)</strong></h3><p>Picking the current No. 1 team in the country seems as safe a choice as any, but the Cavaliers don’t exactly have the usual profile of a national champion. Their offense currently ranks 44th in adjusted efficiency; in the KenPom era (since 2002), only one team has entered the tournament with an offense ranked lower than 21st. That was the UConn team whose offense was the country’s 57th-most efficient in 2014, in one of the least predictable and least replicable tournament runs of the modern era. Virginia doesn’t have Shabazz Napier, but what it does have is the most efficient defense we’ve seen in the 16 seasons of KenPom data. The Cavs were a better scoring team the seasons of their 2014 and 2016 second-weekend flameouts, but they’ve never had a defense <em>this</em> good—nor has anyone in a long time. It could be good enough to finally bring a title to Charlottesville.</p><h3><strong>Purdue (23-4, 12-2 Big Ten)</strong></h3><p>When you look for championship-level balance, the Boilermakers offer as good a profile as anybody’s. They currently rank third in offensive efficiency and 14th on defense, joining Michigan State and Gonzaga as the only teams in the top 20 on both ends of the floor, a distinction shared by 10 of the last 16 national champions. There’s also a balance in their roster: 7’2” big man Isaac Haas is a post-up machine, and the four starters around him all shoot at least 39.9% from three. The two starting Boilermakers who shoot the least often— Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson—are actually their two most efficient scorers, meaning there really isn’t anyone defenses can ignore. And Purdue boasts a very experienced roster, starting four seniors and a sophomore who might be their most explosive scorer in guard Carsen Edwards. There’s no obvious hole here.</p><h3><strong>Michigan State (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten)</strong></h3><p>As mentioned above, the Spartans rank in the top 20 in efficiency on both offense (ninth) and defense (fifth) and even before Saturday’s win against Purdue had been closer to looking like a national title contender than many had given them credit for. Perhaps that’s because Michigan State’s only previous win against a team currently in the top 35 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings had been in November against an all-over-the-place North Carolina team, although that discounts a Nov. 30 win over pre-injury-plague Notre Dame. Anyway, the Spartans don’t take care of the ball particularly well and don’t do much damage from outside, but they do have an elite interior defender (Jaren Jackson Jr.), two NBA lottery talents (Jackson and Miles Bridges), and one of the best-assisting point guards out there (Cassius Winston). And that Tom Izzo guy has won some games in March.</p><h3><strong>Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East)</strong></h3><p>The worst an eventual national champion has been ranked in pre-tourney defensive efficiency has been 37th, accomplished by both 2009 North Carolina and 2015 Duke; Jay Wright’s squad currently ranks 48th. This team entered its conference schedule top-10 in that category, but has since ranked <em>eighth in the Big East</em> during league play. Still, no other team has a tandem of All-America candidates that can match the Wildcats’ Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, with sophomore Donte DiVincenzo growing into one of the country’s most dangerous third options alongside them. Villanova also gives away very few possessions (its turnover rate is the country’s third-lowest), shoots with extreme effectiveness (third in effective field goal percentage), and starts two players who were part of a previous title team (three if you count Eric Paschall, who was redshirting in 2015-16). The Wildcats have been all-or-nothing in recent postseasons, and this year’s defense thus far is the worst they’ve had since missing the tournament in 2012. But there’s reason to believe this offense is good enough to make this season one for the books.</p><h3><strong>Arizona (20-6, 10-3 Pac-12)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats are barely outside the AP top 15 (they rank 17th) and currently lead a power conference by two games, but this is a riskier pick than those facts suggest. Arizona’s pre-tournament defense is currently worse than all but one Final Four team of the last 16 seasons (VCU in 2011, which benefited from the atypicality of Shaka Smart’s Havoc press) and ranks a full 69 spots lower than the worst defense to have won it all. So why include them? For one, their inside-outside combo of junior wing Allonzo Trier and freshman big man Deandre Ayton is as good as anyone’s. Also, history has shown that the best iteration of the AP poll for predicting tournament success is the preseason one; in that, the Wildcats were tabbed the No. 3 team in the country. Sean Miller still has a lot of work to do with this defense, his leakiest since his first season in Tucson in 2009-10, but has proven himself as a defensive coach in the past. Now he has to pull this one together for its best three-week stretch to date.</p><h3><strong>Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC)</strong></h3><p>The Blue Devils’ inclusion is most justified by their past and future selves: the team everyone expected them to be before the season, when they entered the year ranked No. 1, and the team they may be a month from now. Duke’s defense has been an issue for months, but with such a young team and such a bevy of offensive talent—all under the tutelage of one of the game’s best coaches ever—it’s not wholly unreasonable to think that some light bulb might switch on over the next seven weeks. Marvin Bagley III will be (arguably, at worst) the best player on the floor in all of their games, and is it that hard to imagine Grayson Allen going out with that kind of bang? If the defense and point guard situation improve, there isn’t a team in this range with a higher ceiling.</p><h3><strong>Gonzaga (23-4, 13-1 West Coast)</strong></h3><p>Just sneaking into the top-20-on-both-ends club over the weekend, the Zags are surprisingly unheralded for a name-brand program coming off a national title game appearance and playing at this level. Their resume doesn’t wow you — before beating Saint Mary’s last week, they hadn’t had a notable win since the beginning of December — but they have the kind of balance you look for in a championship profile and a strong interior combo in Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, with sophomore Rui Hachimura having the kind of talent to emerge as a difference-making March reserve a la Zach Collins a year ago. Maybe they follow North Carolina’s lead from last season and go from runner-up to champ.</p><h3><strong>Kansas (19-6, 8-4 Big 12)</strong></h3><p>They don’t have interior depth. They’re too dependent on jump shots. <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/13/kansas-jayhawks-big-12-conference-title-streak" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:They may finally not win the Big 12 title." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">They may finally not win the Big 12 title.</a> But how many teams have more quality wins than the Jayhawks? Going by the NCAA’s new quadrant system, they have nine Quadrant 1 wins (against four losses), which leads all teams, and they’ll have the chance to pick up at least three more. They’ve gone from being the country’s worst team at getting to the free throw line to nearly doubling their rate in Big 12 play. We have yet to see the best of Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman at the same time. If those two are both clicking and Devonte Graham plays like he did in the first three rounds last year, this supposedly disappointing Kansas team could prove reports of their death greatly exaggerated.</p><h3><strong>Notable omissions</strong></h3><p><strong>Xavier: </strong>Doing this just days after the selection committee revealed its current top 16 teams, I gave myself the additional challenge of excluding a No. 1 seed. The Muskies were the odd men out because of their defense (59th in efficiency) and their being 7-0 in games decided by five points or less, suggesting that they are a few wrong bounces away from a slightly less impressive resume.</p><p><strong>Cincinnati and Texas Tech:</strong> Two of the country’s best defensive teams get left out due to lack of offensive firepower. If there’s one player between these two who might have a little Shabazz Napier to him, it’s the Red Raiders’ Keenan Evans, who recently posted back-to-back 30-point games in late January. And to the city of Cincinnati, I swear I harbor no ill will, and am in fact wearing a Rhinegeist T-shirt as I type this.</p><p><strong>Ohio State: </strong>Perhaps I should apologize to the entire state of Ohio. The Buckeyes don’t have a quality win outside of the Big Ten and lost decisively to Gonzaga, Clemson and North Carolina. Getting a top-four seed and possible Big Ten title will make this a truly remarkable season in Chris Holtmann’s first year, but it’s hard to see them adding the top hardware to their bounty.</p><p><strong>Auburn:</strong> The Tigers play fast and with a youthful confidence, and their defense is trending in the right direction. But their lack of size and experience concern me, as does the fact that Tennessee might be the only single-digit seed they’ve beaten so far.</p><p><strong>North Carolina:</strong> The defending champs have not proven to be very trustworthy, losing home games to Wofford and North Carolina State even while beating Duke, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Clemson, among others. It’s too easy to foresee another lapse to predict another title.</p><p><strong>Clemson: </strong>The ACC’s surprise team has had a middle-of-the-road offense in conference play and its only starter with NCAA tournament experience is guard Marcquise Reed, who reached the dance with Robert Morris in 2015. The good news: with four starters due back next year, this could be the precursor to a better 2019 showing.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma:</strong> There may be no better candidate than Trae Young to become this tournament’s takeover artist who keys a surprise title run. But the Sooners’ defense and their recent struggles as Young has proven mortal make Oklahoma seem like a highly entertaining potential second-weekend team, but not a national champ.</p>
The Magic Eight: One of These Teams Will Win the NCAA Tournament in 2018

Predicting college basketball’s national champion is a treacherous enough prospect when the NCAA tournament field is actually set. Picking one in mid-February is a fool’s errand, but for nearly two decades now, in a tradition begun by Grant Wahl and carried on by Luke Winn, SI.com has ventured to do just that. The key, however, is to pick not one team, but a pool of eight from which the eventual national champion will emerge.

Of course, the Magic Eight is not as simple as just listing the eight best teams in the country. Tradition dictates that the degree of difficulty be upped by excluding at least two of the top eight teams in the current AP poll, and including at least one team from outside that poll’s top 15. With the blessing of Luke, now ensconced in the Toronto Raptors’ front office, I present to you this year’s Magic Eight, in no particular order:

Virginia (24-2, 13-1 ACC)

Picking the current No. 1 team in the country seems as safe a choice as any, but the Cavaliers don’t exactly have the usual profile of a national champion. Their offense currently ranks 44th in adjusted efficiency; in the KenPom era (since 2002), only one team has entered the tournament with an offense ranked lower than 21st. That was the UConn team whose offense was the country’s 57th-most efficient in 2014, in one of the least predictable and least replicable tournament runs of the modern era. Virginia doesn’t have Shabazz Napier, but what it does have is the most efficient defense we’ve seen in the 16 seasons of KenPom data. The Cavs were a better scoring team the seasons of their 2014 and 2016 second-weekend flameouts, but they’ve never had a defense this good—nor has anyone in a long time. It could be good enough to finally bring a title to Charlottesville.

Purdue (23-4, 12-2 Big Ten)

When you look for championship-level balance, the Boilermakers offer as good a profile as anybody’s. They currently rank third in offensive efficiency and 14th on defense, joining Michigan State and Gonzaga as the only teams in the top 20 on both ends of the floor, a distinction shared by 10 of the last 16 national champions. There’s also a balance in their roster: 7’2” big man Isaac Haas is a post-up machine, and the four starters around him all shoot at least 39.9% from three. The two starting Boilermakers who shoot the least often— Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson—are actually their two most efficient scorers, meaning there really isn’t anyone defenses can ignore. And Purdue boasts a very experienced roster, starting four seniors and a sophomore who might be their most explosive scorer in guard Carsen Edwards. There’s no obvious hole here.

Michigan State (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten)

As mentioned above, the Spartans rank in the top 20 in efficiency on both offense (ninth) and defense (fifth) and even before Saturday’s win against Purdue had been closer to looking like a national title contender than many had given them credit for. Perhaps that’s because Michigan State’s only previous win against a team currently in the top 35 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings had been in November against an all-over-the-place North Carolina team, although that discounts a Nov. 30 win over pre-injury-plague Notre Dame. Anyway, the Spartans don’t take care of the ball particularly well and don’t do much damage from outside, but they do have an elite interior defender (Jaren Jackson Jr.), two NBA lottery talents (Jackson and Miles Bridges), and one of the best-assisting point guards out there (Cassius Winston). And that Tom Izzo guy has won some games in March.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East)

The worst an eventual national champion has been ranked in pre-tourney defensive efficiency has been 37th, accomplished by both 2009 North Carolina and 2015 Duke; Jay Wright’s squad currently ranks 48th. This team entered its conference schedule top-10 in that category, but has since ranked eighth in the Big East during league play. Still, no other team has a tandem of All-America candidates that can match the Wildcats’ Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, with sophomore Donte DiVincenzo growing into one of the country’s most dangerous third options alongside them. Villanova also gives away very few possessions (its turnover rate is the country’s third-lowest), shoots with extreme effectiveness (third in effective field goal percentage), and starts two players who were part of a previous title team (three if you count Eric Paschall, who was redshirting in 2015-16). The Wildcats have been all-or-nothing in recent postseasons, and this year’s defense thus far is the worst they’ve had since missing the tournament in 2012. But there’s reason to believe this offense is good enough to make this season one for the books.

Arizona (20-6, 10-3 Pac-12)

The Wildcats are barely outside the AP top 15 (they rank 17th) and currently lead a power conference by two games, but this is a riskier pick than those facts suggest. Arizona’s pre-tournament defense is currently worse than all but one Final Four team of the last 16 seasons (VCU in 2011, which benefited from the atypicality of Shaka Smart’s Havoc press) and ranks a full 69 spots lower than the worst defense to have won it all. So why include them? For one, their inside-outside combo of junior wing Allonzo Trier and freshman big man Deandre Ayton is as good as anyone’s. Also, history has shown that the best iteration of the AP poll for predicting tournament success is the preseason one; in that, the Wildcats were tabbed the No. 3 team in the country. Sean Miller still has a lot of work to do with this defense, his leakiest since his first season in Tucson in 2009-10, but has proven himself as a defensive coach in the past. Now he has to pull this one together for its best three-week stretch to date.

Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC)

The Blue Devils’ inclusion is most justified by their past and future selves: the team everyone expected them to be before the season, when they entered the year ranked No. 1, and the team they may be a month from now. Duke’s defense has been an issue for months, but with such a young team and such a bevy of offensive talent—all under the tutelage of one of the game’s best coaches ever—it’s not wholly unreasonable to think that some light bulb might switch on over the next seven weeks. Marvin Bagley III will be (arguably, at worst) the best player on the floor in all of their games, and is it that hard to imagine Grayson Allen going out with that kind of bang? If the defense and point guard situation improve, there isn’t a team in this range with a higher ceiling.

Gonzaga (23-4, 13-1 West Coast)

Just sneaking into the top-20-on-both-ends club over the weekend, the Zags are surprisingly unheralded for a name-brand program coming off a national title game appearance and playing at this level. Their resume doesn’t wow you — before beating Saint Mary’s last week, they hadn’t had a notable win since the beginning of December — but they have the kind of balance you look for in a championship profile and a strong interior combo in Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, with sophomore Rui Hachimura having the kind of talent to emerge as a difference-making March reserve a la Zach Collins a year ago. Maybe they follow North Carolina’s lead from last season and go from runner-up to champ.

Kansas (19-6, 8-4 Big 12)

They don’t have interior depth. They’re too dependent on jump shots. They may finally not win the Big 12 title. But how many teams have more quality wins than the Jayhawks? Going by the NCAA’s new quadrant system, they have nine Quadrant 1 wins (against four losses), which leads all teams, and they’ll have the chance to pick up at least three more. They’ve gone from being the country’s worst team at getting to the free throw line to nearly doubling their rate in Big 12 play. We have yet to see the best of Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman at the same time. If those two are both clicking and Devonte Graham plays like he did in the first three rounds last year, this supposedly disappointing Kansas team could prove reports of their death greatly exaggerated.

Notable omissions

Xavier: Doing this just days after the selection committee revealed its current top 16 teams, I gave myself the additional challenge of excluding a No. 1 seed. The Muskies were the odd men out because of their defense (59th in efficiency) and their being 7-0 in games decided by five points or less, suggesting that they are a few wrong bounces away from a slightly less impressive resume.

Cincinnati and Texas Tech: Two of the country’s best defensive teams get left out due to lack of offensive firepower. If there’s one player between these two who might have a little Shabazz Napier to him, it’s the Red Raiders’ Keenan Evans, who recently posted back-to-back 30-point games in late January. And to the city of Cincinnati, I swear I harbor no ill will, and am in fact wearing a Rhinegeist T-shirt as I type this.

Ohio State: Perhaps I should apologize to the entire state of Ohio. The Buckeyes don’t have a quality win outside of the Big Ten and lost decisively to Gonzaga, Clemson and North Carolina. Getting a top-four seed and possible Big Ten title will make this a truly remarkable season in Chris Holtmann’s first year, but it’s hard to see them adding the top hardware to their bounty.

Auburn: The Tigers play fast and with a youthful confidence, and their defense is trending in the right direction. But their lack of size and experience concern me, as does the fact that Tennessee might be the only single-digit seed they’ve beaten so far.

North Carolina: The defending champs have not proven to be very trustworthy, losing home games to Wofford and North Carolina State even while beating Duke, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Clemson, among others. It’s too easy to foresee another lapse to predict another title.

Clemson: The ACC’s surprise team has had a middle-of-the-road offense in conference play and its only starter with NCAA tournament experience is guard Marcquise Reed, who reached the dance with Robert Morris in 2015. The good news: with four starters due back next year, this could be the precursor to a better 2019 showing.

Oklahoma: There may be no better candidate than Trae Young to become this tournament’s takeover artist who keys a surprise title run. But the Sooners’ defense and their recent struggles as Young has proven mortal make Oklahoma seem like a highly entertaining potential second-weekend team, but not a national champ.

<p>Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.</p><p>That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.</p><p>Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington&#39;s offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.</p><p>Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.</p><p>That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.</p><p>All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.</p><h3>Five Big Questions</h3><p><strong>1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?</strong></p><p>Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.</p><p>All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.</p><p>Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.</p><p>As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.</p><p><strong>2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?</strong></p><p>Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.</p><p>There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.</p><p>There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.</p><p>The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both <em>Baseball America</em> and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.</p><p>Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.</p><p><strong>3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?</strong></p><p>There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.</p><p>Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.</p><p>Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he <a href="https://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/02/dodgers-notes-chris-taylor-making-his-case-to-stay-in-majors/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:worked with the same hitting consultants" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">worked with the same hitting consultants</a> who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.</p><p>My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.</p><p>Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers&#39; order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.</p><p><strong>4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?</strong></p><p>The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.</p><p>There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let&#39;s focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.</p><p>Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.</p><p>Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs&#39; lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.</p><p><strong>5. Where’s the love for the veterans?</strong></p><p>Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.</p><p>Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.</p><p>Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6</p>
Second Base Primer: Jose Altuve and a Whole Lot More

Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.

That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.

Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington's offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.

Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.

That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.

All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.

Five Big Questions

1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?

Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.

All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.

Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.

As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.

2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?

Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.

There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.

There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.

The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both Baseball America and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.

Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.

3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?

There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.

Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.

Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he worked with the same hitting consultants who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.

My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.

Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers' order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.

4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?

The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.

There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let's focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.

Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.

Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs' lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.

5. Where’s the love for the veterans?

Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.

Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.

Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6

<p>Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.</p><p>That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.</p><p>Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington&#39;s offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.</p><p>Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.</p><p>That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.</p><p>All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.</p><h3>Five Big Questions</h3><p><strong>1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?</strong></p><p>Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.</p><p>All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.</p><p>Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.</p><p>As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.</p><p><strong>2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?</strong></p><p>Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.</p><p>There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.</p><p>There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.</p><p>The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both <em>Baseball America</em> and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.</p><p>Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.</p><p><strong>3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?</strong></p><p>There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.</p><p>Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.</p><p>Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he <a href="https://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/02/dodgers-notes-chris-taylor-making-his-case-to-stay-in-majors/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:worked with the same hitting consultants" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">worked with the same hitting consultants</a> who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.</p><p>My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.</p><p>Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers&#39; order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.</p><p><strong>4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?</strong></p><p>The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.</p><p>There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let&#39;s focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.</p><p>Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.</p><p>Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs&#39; lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.</p><p><strong>5. Where’s the love for the veterans?</strong></p><p>Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.</p><p>Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.</p><p>Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6</p>
Second Base Primer: Jose Altuve and a Whole Lot More

Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.

That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.

Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington's offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.

Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.

That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.

All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.

Five Big Questions

1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?

Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.

All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.

Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.

As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.

2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?

Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.

There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.

There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.

The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both Baseball America and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.

Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.

3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?

There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.

Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.

Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he worked with the same hitting consultants who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.

My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.

Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers' order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.

4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?

The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.

There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let's focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.

Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.

Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs' lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.

5. Where’s the love for the veterans?

Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.

Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.

Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6

<p>Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.</p><p>That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.</p><p>Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington&#39;s offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.</p><p>Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.</p><p>That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.</p><p>All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.</p><h3>Five Big Questions</h3><p><strong>1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?</strong></p><p>Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.</p><p>All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.</p><p>Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.</p><p>As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.</p><p><strong>2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?</strong></p><p>Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.</p><p>There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.</p><p>There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.</p><p>The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both <em>Baseball America</em> and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.</p><p>Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.</p><p><strong>3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?</strong></p><p>There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.</p><p>Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.</p><p>Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he <a href="https://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/02/dodgers-notes-chris-taylor-making-his-case-to-stay-in-majors/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:worked with the same hitting consultants" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">worked with the same hitting consultants</a> who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.</p><p>My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.</p><p>Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers&#39; order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.</p><p><strong>4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?</strong></p><p>The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.</p><p>There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let&#39;s focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.</p><p>Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.</p><p>Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs&#39; lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.</p><p><strong>5. Where’s the love for the veterans?</strong></p><p>Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.</p><p>Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.</p><p>Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6</p>
Second Base Primer: Jose Altuve and a Whole Lot More

Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.

That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.

Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington's offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.

Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.

That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.

All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.

Five Big Questions

1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?

Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.

All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.

Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.

As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.

2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?

Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.

There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.

There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.

The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both Baseball America and MLB.com rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.

Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.

3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?

There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.

Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.

Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he worked with the same hitting consultants who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.

My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.

Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers' order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.

4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?

The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.

There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let's focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.

Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.

Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs' lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.

5. Where’s the love for the veterans?

Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.

Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.

Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6

<p><b>1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State</b><br>Evaluators told The MMQB <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/09/26/saquon-barkley-penn-state-2018-nfl-draft" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was</a> two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.</p><p><b>2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame</b><br>The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/12/27/2018-nfl-mock-draft-notes-marcus-davenport-quenton-nelson-tremaine-edmunds-derwin-james" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame</a>. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.</p><p><b>3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama</b><br>As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.</p><p><b>4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State</b><br>He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.</p><p><b>5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech</b><br>Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.</p><p>?<b>6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC</b><br>He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.</p><p><b>7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia</b><br>He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.</p><p><b>8. Derwin James, S, Florida State</b><br>He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.</p><p><em>*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.</em></p><p><b>9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA</b><br>A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the <a href="https://youtu.be/TBAhx8Uadfg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Independent Thought Alarm" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Independent Thought Alarm</a>) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.</p><p><b>10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State</b><br>Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.</p><p><b>11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama</b><br>His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6&#39; 1&quot;, 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.</p><p><b>12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA</b><br>Built like a power forward (6&#39; 5&quot;, 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).</p><p><b>13. Da&#39;Ron Payne, DT, Alabama</b><br>His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.</p><p><b>14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas</b><br>He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.</p><p><b>15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington</b><br>The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they <i>sometimes</i> did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.</p><p><b>16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma</b><br>The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6&#39; 8&quot;, 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though <a href="https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/05/31/nfl-left-tackles-michael-lewis-blindside-right-tackles-left-defensive-ends" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore</a>) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.</p><p><b>17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama</b><br>Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.</p><p><b>18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma</b><br>There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if <a href="https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2018/01/02/baker-mayfield-troll-oklahoma-georgia-hot-clicks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin</a>), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/column/Baker+Mayfield:+The+Scouting+Report" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tailing Mayfield throughout draft season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tailing Mayfield throughout draft season</a>.)</p><p><b>19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College</b><br>He’s a bit undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.</p><p><b>20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming</b><br>Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.</p><p><b>21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame</b><br>With a nice blend of length (6&#39; 8&quot;, 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.</p><p><b>22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa</b><br>A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6&#39; 1&quot;, 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.</p><p><b>23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF</b><br>He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5&#39; 11&quot;, 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.</p><p><b>24. James Daniels, C, Iowa</b><br>One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.</p><p><b>25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama</b><br>A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.</p><p><b>26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida</b><br>Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6&#39; 4&quot;, 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.</p><p><b>27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU</b><br>A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.</p><p><b>28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.</p><p><b>29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado</b><br>Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.</p><p><b>30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville</b><br>Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6&#39; 3&quot; and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.</p><p><b>31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.</p><p><b>32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC</b><br>Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6&#39; 0&quot;, 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.</p><p><b>33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn</b><br>A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6&#39; 1&quot;, 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.</p><p><b>34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State</b><br>A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.</p><p><b>35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU</b><br>One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6&#39; 6&quot;, 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).</p><p><b>36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU</b><br>Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.</p><p><b>37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU</b><br>Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.</p><p><b>38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland</b><br>The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5&#39; 11&quot;, 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.</p><p><b>39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville</b><br>He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.</p><p><b>40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina</b><br>He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.</p><p><b>41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn</b><br>A big back (6&#39; 0&quot;, 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.</p><p><b>42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC</b><br>Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.</p><p><b>43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&#38;M</b><br>A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.</p><p><b>44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan</b><br>Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.</p><p><b>45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. </b><br>He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5&#39; 11&quot;, 210 lbs.).</p><p><b>46. Brian O&#39;Neill, OT, Pittsburgh</b><br>A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6&#39; 6&quot;) and athleticism.</p><p><b>47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia</b><br>Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.</p><p><b>48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson</b><br>Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6&#39; 1&quot;, 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.</p><p><b>49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State</b><br>A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.</p><p><b>50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP</b><br>A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6&#39; 2&quot;, 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.</p><p><i>Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.</i></p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
The 2018 NFL Draft Big Board

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Evaluators told The MMQB Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.

4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.

?6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.

7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia
He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.

8. Derwin James, S, Florida State
He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.

*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.

9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the Independent Thought Alarm) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.

10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5' 10", 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.

11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6' 1", 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.

12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Built like a power forward (6' 5", 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).

13. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.

14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6' 6", 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.

15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they sometimes did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6' 4", 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.

16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6' 8", 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.

17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama
Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.

18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko tailing Mayfield throughout draft season.)

19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
He’s a bit undersized (6' 2", 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.

20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.

21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
With a nice blend of length (6' 8", 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.

22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6' 1", 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.

23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5' 11", 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.

24. James Daniels, C, Iowa
One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.

25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.

26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6' 4", 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.

27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.

28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
An undersized (6' 2", 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.

29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.

30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6' 3" and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.

31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
An undersized (6' 2", 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.

32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6' 0", 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.

33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6' 1", 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.

34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.

35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6' 6", 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).

36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6' 4", 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.

37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5' 10", 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.

38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5' 11", 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.

39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.

40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.

41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
A big back (6' 0", 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.

42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC
Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.

43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.

44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6' 6", 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.

45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St.
He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5' 11", 210 lbs.).

46. Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6' 6") and athleticism.

47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.

48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6' 1", 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.

49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.

50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6' 2", 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.

Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p><b>1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State</b><br>Evaluators told The MMQB <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/09/26/saquon-barkley-penn-state-2018-nfl-draft" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was</a> two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.</p><p><b>2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame</b><br>The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/12/27/2018-nfl-mock-draft-notes-marcus-davenport-quenton-nelson-tremaine-edmunds-derwin-james" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame</a>. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.</p><p><b>3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama</b><br>As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.</p><p><b>4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State</b><br>He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.</p><p><b>5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech</b><br>Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.</p><p>?<b>6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC</b><br>He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.</p><p><b>7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia</b><br>He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.</p><p><b>8. Derwin James, S, Florida State</b><br>He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.</p><p><em>*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.</em></p><p><b>9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA</b><br>A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the <a href="https://youtu.be/TBAhx8Uadfg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Independent Thought Alarm" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Independent Thought Alarm</a>) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.</p><p><b>10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State</b><br>Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.</p><p><b>11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama</b><br>His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6&#39; 1&quot;, 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.</p><p><b>12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA</b><br>Built like a power forward (6&#39; 5&quot;, 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).</p><p><b>13. Da&#39;Ron Payne, DT, Alabama</b><br>His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.</p><p><b>14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas</b><br>He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.</p><p><b>15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington</b><br>The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they <i>sometimes</i> did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.</p><p><b>16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma</b><br>The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6&#39; 8&quot;, 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though <a href="https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/05/31/nfl-left-tackles-michael-lewis-blindside-right-tackles-left-defensive-ends" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore</a>) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.</p><p><b>17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama</b><br>Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.</p><p><b>18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma</b><br>There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if <a href="https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2018/01/02/baker-mayfield-troll-oklahoma-georgia-hot-clicks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin</a>), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/column/Baker+Mayfield:+The+Scouting+Report" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tailing Mayfield throughout draft season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tailing Mayfield throughout draft season</a>.)</p><p><b>19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College</b><br>He’s a bit undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.</p><p><b>20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming</b><br>Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.</p><p><b>21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame</b><br>With a nice blend of length (6&#39; 8&quot;, 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.</p><p><b>22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa</b><br>A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6&#39; 1&quot;, 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.</p><p><b>23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF</b><br>He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5&#39; 11&quot;, 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.</p><p><b>24. James Daniels, C, Iowa</b><br>One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.</p><p><b>25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama</b><br>A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.</p><p><b>26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida</b><br>Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6&#39; 4&quot;, 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.</p><p><b>27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU</b><br>A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.</p><p><b>28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.</p><p><b>29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado</b><br>Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.</p><p><b>30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville</b><br>Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6&#39; 3&quot; and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.</p><p><b>31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan</b><br>An undersized (6&#39; 2&quot;, 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.</p><p><b>32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC</b><br>Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6&#39; 0&quot;, 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.</p><p><b>33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn</b><br>A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6&#39; 1&quot;, 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.</p><p><b>34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State</b><br>A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.</p><p><b>35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU</b><br>One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6&#39; 6&quot;, 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).</p><p><b>36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU</b><br>Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6&#39; 4&quot;, 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.</p><p><b>37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU</b><br>Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5&#39; 10&quot;, 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.</p><p><b>38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland</b><br>The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5&#39; 11&quot;, 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.</p><p><b>39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville</b><br>He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.</p><p><b>40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina</b><br>He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.</p><p><b>41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn</b><br>A big back (6&#39; 0&quot;, 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.</p><p><b>42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC</b><br>Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.</p><p><b>43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&#38;M</b><br>A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.</p><p><b>44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan</b><br>Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6&#39; 6&quot;, 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.</p><p><b>45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. </b><br>He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5&#39; 11&quot;, 210 lbs.).</p><p><b>46. Brian O&#39;Neill, OT, Pittsburgh</b><br>A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6&#39; 6&quot;) and athleticism.</p><p><b>47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia</b><br>Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.</p><p><b>48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson</b><br>Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6&#39; 1&quot;, 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.</p><p><b>49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State</b><br>A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.</p><p><b>50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP</b><br>A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6&#39; 2&quot;, 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.</p><p><i>Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.</i></p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
The 2018 NFL Draft Big Board

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Evaluators told The MMQB Barkley is a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was two years ago. Barkley is a true workhorse back who would be a first-round prospect solely on his ability as a runner. Add in his passing-game skills—think Le’Veon Bell, a big back who has the ability to create separation when lined up as a receiver—and he’s custom-built for the modern NFL.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The complete package at guard—one evaluator told our Albert Breer that Nelson is a better prospect than Zack Martin was coming out of Notre Dame. Nelson is a violent mauler with brute strength and a nasty disposition, but blends it with nimble athleticism that allows him to thrive in space and as a pass protector.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
As more NFL offenses turn to versatile, movable chess piece types to gain the upper hand, Fitzpatrick provides the antidote. He’s a rangy, instinctive in centerfield, or can come down and match up with flex tight ends and big slot receivers in man coverage. He excels as a blitzer, attacks as a run defender, and has the character and football IQ immediately become a leader in the locker room.

4. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
He can’t match Myles Garrett from an athleticism standpoint, but Chubb combines impressive get-off, an advanced approach to the pass rush and a relentless motor. A strip-sack savant, he’s also athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and hold up in space.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, Stack LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is still something of a work in progress, but with a rare combination of size and athleticism he can be molded into just about anything a coaching staff wants him to be. He has the range to go sideline-to-sideline as a traditional middle linebacker, and the length and fluid athleticism to match up with tight ends in coverage. And despite it not always being in his job description, he’s an explosive edge rusher with star potential if he’s asked to play the edge full-time.

?6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
He had some growing pains in his first full year as a starter—he saw a lot of new looks from opposing defenses, and took some time to adjust. That, combined with mechanical corrections needed for a loopy delivery, could result in a redshirt year in 2018. But few doubt Darnold’s ability to learn at the next level, and his ability to make plays late in the down give him franchise QB potential.

7. Roquan Smith, Stack LB, Georgia
He’s undersized, but Smith is also fast and instinctive (which allows him to play even faster). He’ll need to be covered up by a big defensive line, but brings star potential as a 4-3 WILL or 3-4 ILB.

8. Derwin James, S, Florida State
He was a relative disappointment after bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015, but that might have had something to do with some tentativeness in his first year back from a torn meniscus* that cost him most of the 2016 season. The Seminoles asked James to play near the line of scrimmage more often last season, and he’s not a guy you’d line up in centerfield with regularity. But his versatility—he’s essentially another linebacker in the box, or can lock down tight ends and running backs in man coverage—make him the kind of defensive chess piece to counter what most NFL offenses are currently doing with hybrid pieces.

*—An earlier version incorrectly referred to his 2016 injury as a torn ACL.

9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A pure pocket passer with advanced feel in the pocket and impeccable ball placement, Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the QBs in this year’s class. He won’t make plays late in the down like Sam Darnold does though, and durability is a question mark. He also has the kind of beat-of-a-different-drum personality (hit the Independent Thought Alarm) that will surely cause some evaluators to bristle.

10. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward’s competitiveness and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than his size (5' 10", 190 lbs.), and his loose hips and quick feet allow him to mirror quicker receivers underneath. He’ll likely always have issues against big No. 1 receivers, but can play the slot or outside and thrive.

11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
His numbers were suppressed while playing with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ridley lacks the ideal size of a No. 1 receiver (6' 1", 190 lbs.), but everything else is there. His acceleration and long speed make him a dangerous downfield threat, and he has the fluid athleticism, short-area quickness and overall feel for route running to consistently create space working underneath. He’s the best in a relatively weak WR class.

12. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Built like a power forward (6' 5", 255 lbs.), Davenport dominated hapless Conference-USA opponents with a blend of size and explosiveness rarely seen outside the Power-5 conferences. After getting by purely on athletic gifts during his college career, Davenport has some work to do before he’ll be able to dominate similarly against NFL-caliber athletes. But his ceiling is enormous, and he’s even more intriguing in a draft that’s relatively weak on edge players (and in a year when there are few to be had on the free-agent market).

13. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
His performance in last year’s College Football Playoffs (showing talent on both sides of the ball against Clemson, then dominating against Georgia in the title game) solidified Payne’s spot a top this year’s group of defensive tackles. His brute strength and athleticism will make him a dominant run defender, though he’s still a work-in-progress as a pass rusher.

14. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
He was on a trajectory to be a top-10 and maybe even top-5 overall prospect until an up-and-down junior year. He struggled through a knee injury, which might have had something to do with it. If he returns to form, he has prototypical size (6' 6", 320 lbs.) and athleticism for a left tackle, with some nastiness as a run-blocker as well.

15. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The measurables didn’t always add up to dominance (though they sometimes did), but Vea has a Dontari Poe-like blend of size (6' 4", 345 lbs.) and movement skill that rarely come into the league.

16. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The son of the late Orlando Brown, the long-time Browns and Ravens tackle, the younger Brown brings a similar blend of size (6' 8", 350 lbs.)—both length and width—and nastiness. He’ll be labeled as a “right tackle” (though the designation between left and right tackle doesn’t really matter anymore) due to his mediocre movement skills, but his size and strength are enough to make up for it, especially in an offense that wants to set a tone physically.

17. Rashaan Evans, Stack LB, Alabama
Evans should join C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reuben Foster and Rolando McClain as plug-and-play first-rounder linebackers out of Nick Saban’s program. Evans is fast and physical, though his value on passing downs is likely to come on the blitz more than in coverage.

18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
There’s a reason few 6-foot quarterbacks make it in the NFL, and the fact that he’s coming from an Air Raid offense is a second strike against Mayfield. Still, he was adept at finding throwing lanes at the collegiate level. He’s an anticipatory passer, which will make up for what’s ordinary arm strength for an NFL starter. An offensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative (and you wonder how he’ll handle a more aggressive media throng at the NFL level if the likes of Lee Corso can get under his skin), but with a strong interior line in a timing-based offense, there’s no reason Mayfield can’t have success in the NFL. (By the way, we have Robert Klemko tailing Mayfield throughout draft season.)

19. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
He’s a bit undersized (6' 2", 250 lbs.), but Landry is a fast, flexible edge burner. He returned to school and had an underwhelming, injury-filled senior year though, and needs to add to his repertoire of moves. But the speed and bendability can’t be taught.

20. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Think of him as a younger, extreme version of Cam Newton—a pure power thrower who can attempt passes others can’t (and often from absurd platforms), but accuracy that’s streaky on good days and unacceptable on bad days. (Allen also has value on designed runs, though probably not to the same extent Newton does.) Accuracy problems are difficult to fix, but not impossible; his next position coach can start with often atrocious footwork, and comfort with a more talented group of pass-catchers should lead to more confidence. He’s every bit the boom-or-bust prospect everyone thinks he is.

21. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
With a nice blend of length (6' 8", 315 lbs.) and athleticism, as well as experience on both sides of the line, McGlinchey should become a quality starter. He doesn’t overwhelm opponents and his ceiling doesn’t match the other top tackles in this class, but he’s technically polished with a chance to start immediately, probably on the right side.

22. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
A breakout player in 2017, Jackson is long (6' 1", 195 lbs.) and showed elite ball skills last year. The question is long speed, a question that might be answered in part by his performance at the combine.

23. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
He left North Carolina after his freshman season after earning a suspension for violating team rules, and Hughes spent a year in junior college before emerging as a star at UCF. He’s quick, fast and competitive, playing with a physical edge despite being on the small side (5' 11", 190 lbs.). He can be overaggressive and needs to become more consistent, but the potential to become a No. 1 corner is there. He also offers value as a punt returner.

24. James Daniels, C, Iowa
One of the most athletic pivots in college football, Daniels is on the small side but offers outstanding range, in the Jason Kelce/Maurikce Pouncey mold. He anchors well for his size, and it a team believes he can hold up against NFL nose tackles Daniels will come off the board in Round 1.

25. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
A big, physical safety, Harrison can play in the box but also has the athleticism and speed to roam in centerfield. He has some limitations if asked to play man coverage, but could carve out a role similar to that of former Alabama safety Landon Collins.

26. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
Long and athletic, Bryan is a raw but shows flashes of becoming a disruptive pass rusher. He explodes off the line and plays with a relentless motor, a fluid mover who can bend around a blocker and make plays in the backfield. He’s a bit lanky (6' 4", 290 lbs.) for the interior—he might ultimately be molded into a five-technique.

27. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
A violent, thrashing runner who thrives running through contact, Guice has the talent to make an immediate impact as an early-down bellcow back. The questions are what kind of contributions he’ll make as a receiver, and whether or not he can stay healthy considering his style after battling a nagging ankle injury last season.

28. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
An undersized (6' 2", 300 lbs.) collegiate tackle who will make the transition to guard, Wynn offers excellent athleticism on the interior. He’ll be able to handle himself as a pass protector, and might thrive as a run-blocker in a scheme heavy on outside-zone.

29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Probably the best corner this draft class has to offer from a size/speed standpoint, Oliver has the potential to become a lockdown cover man. It will be a matter of cleaning up his footwork under an NFL position coach.

30. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Sure, maybe he’s a wide receiver one day. But at this point, there’s no denying the significant improvement Jackson made as a passer over his three seasons at Louisville. He’s not there yet as a passer—his footwork gets sloppy and his throws sail high, and he’s streaky throwing on the move—and there’s no guarantee his development will continue on such a promising trajectory. But if his development as a passer stalls, Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and a creative designer could build complexity around that ability as a runner (though durability might then be a concern; he’s 6' 3" and a slender 200 lbs.). Like Allen, Jackson is a gifted athlete who carries a fair amount of risk but an enormously high ceiling if developed properly.

31. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
An undersized (6' 2", 280 lbs.) but disruptive three-technique, Hurst wins with initial quickness and a low center of gravity that allows him to shoot through gaps. He’ll be a bit of an all-or-nothing player, but should create his fair share of havoc.

32. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones is a creative runner with the vision to pick his way for yards between the tackles, but his calling-card is as a home-run hitter. He’s elusive then explosive once he plants his foot. His workload might be limited considering his relatively thin frame (6' 0", 200 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a difference maker even in a committee situation.

33. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
A physical press corner, Davis smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and is extremely difficult to throw on downfield due to his length (6' 1", 205 lbs.). He needs to clean up his foot work and not be so physical downfield, but he has the potential to be a No. 1 corner.

34. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
A rock in the middle of the Buckeyes’ line for four seasons, Price started all 55 of OSU’s games over the past four seasons, with experience at center and guard. A two-time All-America, he is a technician with the toughness and movement skills to fit in just about any scheme, though he doesn’t quite match the athleticism of Iowa’s James Daniels, the top pivot in this class.

35. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
One of the best pure talents in this draft, Key has an outstanding blend of length (6' 6", 250 lbs.) and flexibility on the edge. But he’s raw and regressed over the past year. There are questions surrounding him after he left the LSU program for personal reasons last spring and went through a significant weight gain (which he lost over the course of the 2017 season).

36. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton dominated at the collegiate level thanks to a blend of size (6' 4", 220 lbs.) and athleticism. A contested-catch specialist in the Brandon Marshall mold, he has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver but has a long way to go as far as learning some of the nuances of the position.

37. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 draft (he ran leadoff for LSU’s conference champion 4x100 relay team), Jackson is not only speedy but a loose-hipped, fluid athlete who can mirror quickness underneath. The issue is size (5' 10", 175 lbs.), as Jackson might be relegated to the slot, and will surely be targeted in the run game early in his career.

38. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at quarterback, Moore has the quickness and burst out of his cuts to separate underneath, as well as the long speed to take the top off a defense. He’s small (5' 11", 215 lbs.), but competitive downfield and plays bigger than his size. He could fit as a starter on the outside or in the slot, and could carve out a Golden Tate-type career in the right situation.

39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
He battled a knee injury for most of last season, but when healthy Alexander is a quick, aggressive, ball-hawking corner who is at his best playing off coverage and breaking on the ball. While undersized, he held his own against bigger receivers downfield as well.

40. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
He’s a bit overaged after a stint as a minor league pitcher (he’ll be 25 in August), but Hurst is the kind of movable chess piece teams are looking for at tight end. He can hold his own in-line if needed, though he’s at his best flexing out as a receiving threat. He has the speed to stretch the seam, but does his best work underneath, where he shows the ability to create separation as a route runner and break tackles after the catch.

41. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
A big back (6' 0", 215 lbs.) who runs with exceptional body control, Johnson carried a huge workload for Auburn last season. He can grind out yards between the tackles, and runs with that Le’Veon Bell-like patience. He rolled up 104 yards on 30 carries with an injured shoulder in the Iron Bowl upset of Alabama, and offers an early-down workhorse with a chance to develop in as a receiver.

42. Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC
Green does his best work as an interior pass rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, able to shoot gaps or get into the backfield with second effort thanks to length and fluid athleticism. He isn’t nearly as sturdy against the run and might have to start his career as a passing-down specialist, but could be molded as a three-technique or five-technique in an odd front.

43. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch receiver with the ability to create separation underneath, Kirk is dangerous with the ball in his hands, a hard runner who can create yards after the catch. He too often fights the ball though, and will fail to come up with a lot of catchable balls. He’s strictly a slot receiver, with a chance to become something of a poor man’s Julian Edelman once he adds some polish to his game.

44. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and Botswana before moving to the U.S. in 2010, Okorafor is still new to the sport and a will need a developmental year or two. But someone his size (6' 6", 330 lbs.) isn’t supposed to be able to move like he does. Between his size and nimble feet, he has the raw tools to be a quality starter at right tackle.

45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St.
He ran a limited route tree in Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense, but Washington’s downfield ability will translate. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and consistently beats the jam, with the quickness to accelerate past cornerbacks and the long speed to threaten downfield. He’s competitive in jump ball situations, allowing him to play bigger than his listed size (5' 11", 210 lbs.).

46. Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
A high school wide receiver turned tight end recruit turned offensive tackle, O’Neill hasn’t sacrificed much in terms of movement skills as he bulked up to 300 lbs. He’s still a work in progress, but brings has the raw skills with prototypical left tackle length (6' 6") and athleticism.

47. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Part of the 1-2 punch with Nick Chubb in Georgia’s backfield, it was Michel who emerged as one of the star’s in the college football playoff (222 yards and four TDs on 15 touches against Oklahoma, 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama). He’s a slasher who fits best in a one-cut scheme, outstanding accelerating through the line of scrimmage with true home-run speed. He wasn’t featured heavily as a pass-catcher, but can be dangerous in space and is one of this draft class’s best in blitz pick-up.

48. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain didn’t have the breakout season some expected in 2017, though that was likely due in part to the downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant (a less capable passer) at quarterback. Cain, a high school quarterback himself, offers big upside due to his combination of good size (6' 1", 200 lbs.), easy speed and knack for tracking the ball downfield.

49. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
A late-September ankle injury derailed his senior season, but Rankin showed a solid all-around skillset when healthy. He’s technically sound and has enough athleticism to hold up pass-protecting on an island, one of the higher-floor tackle prospects in this class.

50. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
A massive road-grader, Hernandez (6' 2", 340 lbs.) is a powerful run blocker who dominates at the point of attack. He has the nimble athleticism to lead the way as a pulling blocker. He’s on the short side and could have some issues in pass protection, but should plug in immediately for a team that wants to build around a power run game.

Player bios written by Gary Gramling, with reporting from Albert Breer and the staff of The MMQB.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

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True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

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True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

?

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

<p>The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.</p><p>Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.</p><h3><strong>Locks (18)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining: 28</strong></h3><p>68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28</p><h3><strong>Solid Selections</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)</strong></h3><p>Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.</p><h3><strong>Texas A&#38;M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)</strong></h3><p>This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.</p><h3><strong>Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.</p><h3><strong>Safer Than Most</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3><strong>Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.</p><h3><strong>Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)</strong></h3><p>The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.</p><h3><strong>Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)</strong></h3><p>There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)</strong></h3><p>Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)</strong></h3><p>I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Bracket Watch</a> on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.</p><h3><strong>Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)</strong></h3><p>If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)</strong></h3><p>“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.</p><h3><strong>Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)</strong></h3><p>Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.</p><h3><strong>TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)</strong></h3><p>TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)</strong></h3><p>It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>True Bubble Teams</strong></h3><p><em>Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture</em><em>.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)</strong></h3><p>I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.</p><h3><strong>Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&#38;M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.</p><h3><strong>Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.</p><h3><strong>Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&#38;M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.</p><h3><strong>Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.</p><h3><strong>Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)</strong></h3><p>The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)</strong></h3><p>The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.</p><h3><strong>NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)</strong></h3><p>The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our <em><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Last Four In" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Last Four In</a></em> the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)</strong></h3><p>All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.</p><h3><strong>USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)</strong></h3><p>The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)</strong></h3><p>Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.</p><h3><strong>Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)</strong></h3><p>We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.</p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)</strong></h3><p>The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)</strong></h3><p>Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.</p><h3><strong>LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)</strong></h3><p>LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/12/bracket-watch-selection-committee-top-16-teams-cincinnati" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our latest Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our latest Bracket Watch</a>? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)</strong></h3><p>If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.</p><h3><strong>On the Fringe</strong></h3><p><em>Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.</em></p><h3><strong>SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)</strong></h3><p>The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.</p><h3><strong>Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)</strong></h3><p>Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&#38;M.</p><h3><strong>Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)</strong></h3><p>The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)</strong></h3><p>Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.</p><h3><strong>Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)</strong></h3><p>Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.</p>
Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do

The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.

Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.

Locks (18)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier

Spots remaining: 28

68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)

Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.

Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)

This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.

Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)

Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)

The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.

Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.

Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)

The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.

Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)

Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.

Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)

There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.

Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)

Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.

Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.

Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)

If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)

“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.

Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)

Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.

TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)

TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)

It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.

?

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.

Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)

I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.

Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)

After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.

Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)

The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.

Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)

It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.

Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.

Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.

Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)

The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.

Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.

Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)

Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.

UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)

The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.

NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)

The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.

Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)

If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.

Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)

All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.

USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)

The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.

Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)

Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.

Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.

Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)

We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.

Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)

The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.

Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)

Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.

St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)

Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.

LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)

LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.

Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)

If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.

On the Fringe

Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.

SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)

The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.

Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)

Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.

Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)

The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.

South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)

Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.

Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)

Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.

&quot;Extreme Sailing Series&quot; pronto a decollare con tour mondiale in 8 tappe
"Extreme Sailing Series" pronto a decollare con tour mondiale in 8 tappe
"Extreme Sailing Series" pronto a decollare con tour mondiale in 8 tappe
Van Homan and Brian Kachinsky kicked off their &quot;Uncovered BMX&quot; AM series last month with extreme success! Here they explain in detail how this new contest series came to be, why it&#39;s an AM event, what their motivations are, and how this series will lead to one overall winner getting an all expenses paid trip to this year&#39;s Battle Of Hastings!
AN HONEST CONVERSATION - VAN HOMAN & BRIAN KACHINKSY - UNCOVERED BMX
Van Homan and Brian Kachinsky kicked off their "Uncovered BMX" AM series last month with extreme success! Here they explain in detail how this new contest series came to be, why it's an AM event, what their motivations are, and how this series will lead to one overall winner getting an all expenses paid trip to this year's Battle Of Hastings!
Van Homan and Brian Kachinsky kicked off their &quot;Uncovered BMX&quot; AM series last month with extreme success! Here they explain in detail how this new contest series came to be, why it&#39;s an AM event, what their motivations are, and how this series will lead to one overall winner getting an all expenses paid trip to this year&#39;s Battle Of Hastings!
AN HONEST CONVERSATION - VAN HOMAN & BRIAN KACHINKSY - UNCOVERED BMX
Van Homan and Brian Kachinsky kicked off their "Uncovered BMX" AM series last month with extreme success! Here they explain in detail how this new contest series came to be, why it's an AM event, what their motivations are, and how this series will lead to one overall winner getting an all expenses paid trip to this year's Battle Of Hastings!
Van Homan and Brian Kachinsky kicked off their &quot;Uncovered BMX&quot; AM series last month with extreme success! Here they explain in detail how this new contest series came to be, why it&#39;s an AM event, what their motivations are, and how this series will lead to one overall winner getting an all expenses paid trip to this year&#39;s Battle Of Hastings!