College Basketball: Which Teams Claimed the Biggest Resume Building Wins?
College basketball teams spend the entire season building their respective resumes for the NCAA Tournament. If you only follow along in March, just know that much of what is going on at this point plays a big role in deciding seeding, regions, and the tournament bubble.
Teams have the opportunity to reach outside their normal conference schedule to grab big wins via early-season tournaments and tough non-conference matchups that play a big hand in formulating their RPI, or Rating Percentage Index, which is a system the selection committee heavily relies upon in March.
While there is still a lot of basketball left to play, including some potential previews of Sweet 16 and Final Four games, these teams have collected some important resume building wins in the month of November.
The Baylor Bears were predicted to finish fifth in the conference according to the Big 12 preseason poll, but have looked more like Kansas' strongest competition through the first month. The Bears, who did not receive any votes in the AP or Coaches polls to start the season, have rushed out of the gates and collected the most impressive collection of early-season victories on their way to the AP top-10.
After taking down Oregon at home, Baylor claimed the Battle 4 Atlantis crown by beating VCU and Michigan State before overcoming a 20-point first-half deficit against Louisville in the championship game. While Oregon and Michigan State have struggled a bit early on, victories over those two teams and Louisville will be huge come March since they will be fighting for similar seeds. Baylor, who is ranked 20th by our nERD metric, has another shot at an impressive win on Saturday when Xavier comes to town.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The big knock on South Carolina's resume last season was a lack of impressive non-conference wins. A 25-9 record is usually enough to get a team into the Big Dance, but the Gamecocks were shut out and had to settle for the NIT. This season, South Carolina scheduled and took advantage of opportunities to pick up big wins early by beating Michigan at home and Syracuse at a neutral site in Brooklyn that was filled with Orange supporters.
These victories have catapulted South Carolina, 13th in nERD, into the top-25 and will give them something to lean on while making their case for the school's first tournament bid since 2004.
Butler Bulldogs and Creighton Bluejays
Butler and Creighton did their part in November to solidify a place in the thick of the Big East race and the national rankings. Butler (16th in nERD) beat Arizona to win the Las Vegas Invitational and then defeated Utah in a true road game on their way home. Creighton (23rd) got their biggest win against a Wisconsin team that looks to be a Final Four contender while getting through November undefeated. If the Bulldogs and Bluejays can keep this up, Villanova and Xavier will have more company at the top of the Big East.
Gonzaga (fourth in nERD) is typically a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament as far as mid-major teams go, but it is still important to take advantage of early opportunities, and that is what the Bulldogs have done. The Zags won the Advocare Invitational by knocking off Florida and Iowa State, both of which are currently ranked.
Additionally, they picked up a victory over San Diego State earlier in the season. Gonzaga has one more shot at a top-25 win during non-conference play when they take on Arizona Saturday in Los Angeles. The West Coast Conference is presumably a two-team race between the Zags and Saint Mary's, so it's a good idea for Gonzaga to prepare their at-large resume in case they cannot secure the WCC's auto bid.
Winners With More to Gain
It is not easy for a team as reliant on freshman as UCLA is to get off to such a hot start, but the Bruins (10th in nERD) are making believers of everyone thus far. Outside of wins over Nebraska and Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy, UCLA has not exactly played the toughest schedule, but are winning games convincingly, averaging 97 points per game during an 8-0 start.
The Bruins have a lot to be happy about, but the real test is about to come, starting with a trip to Kentucky on Saturday that will be a measuring stick game. Games against Michigan and Ohio State round out the non-conference before ending the month at Oregon to begin conference play. We will learn a tremendous amount about UCLA based on how they handle this tough December slate.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Like UCLA, Notre Dame (18th in nERD) has gotten off to a hot start offensively against mostly softer opponents. The Irish won the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, taking down Colorado and Northwestern on their way to the crown before beating Iowa at home as a part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Notre Dame will need to continue their hot shooting, as they have averaged 86.6 points per game during a 7-0 start, especially since the schedule does not get any easier.
The Irish have two neutral site games in December, one against Villanova in Newark, NJ and the other against Purdue in Indianapolis. How they fare in these contests will be a good indicator of whether they sink or swim in a loaded ACC. Given the strength of their competition, the Irish will have plenty more opportunities to notch big wins.
Wins to Remember in March
Temple (55th in nERD) defeated Florida State and West Virginia en route to winning the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Owls also take a trip across town to Villanova before conference play begins in another effort to pad their resume.
Rhode Island Rams
Rhode Island (68th in nERD) beat Cincinnati, who was ranked at the time, in a neutral site game. A 10-point neutral site loss to Duke will also help their RPI later in the season. The remainder of the Rams' schedule lacks a currently ranked team, but there is room for improvement within the consistently solid Atlantic-10.
Valparaiso (132nd in nERD) has mostly taken care of their toughest competition during the non-conference schedule, beating Alabama, BYU, and Rhode Island to start their season. A trip to Kentucky will at least help boost their computer numbers if they are unable to beat the top-ranked Wildcats.