For a couple of weeks there, Long Beach State was winning every Big West game they played -- and yet their RPI ranking was going down. This week, they lost at the buzzer on the road against a very good Creighton team, and their RPI went up a few spots. Go figure.
The RPI is a key tool that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will use just weeks from now to determine the 68 teams that will make up the tournament field. Last week the 49ers were at 41 -- after the loss in a nationally televised BracketBuster game in Omaha, they're now at 36. That puts them in a place where they certainly could receive an at large bid to the tournament -- but it wouldn't exactly be unprecedented if they didn't. The best strategy remains to win the Big West tournament, bearing in mind that a loss to any Big West team would be considered a "bad loss" by the selection committee and would definitely hurt their chances.
The selection committee tells mid-majors to schedule tough games if they want to get into the tournament. That's what Coach Dan Monson did -- to a ridiculous degree, really. Creighton was the eighth time this season that the 49ers have played a non-conference opponent that has spent time in the top 25 -- all of those games on the road or in neutral locations, because let's face it, those teams aren't willing to risk a game in the Pyramid. They're just 2-6 in those games, but hopefully close losses at Kansas, North Carolina, San Diego State and Creighton count for something to the committee.
In another BracketBuster game, Loyola Marymount beat Valparaiso, completing their best week of the season after they defeated #16 St. Mary's -- on the road -- last Wednesday. The Lions seem determined to close the season strong and now appear to be a legitimate threat to win the WCC tournament. An NIT bid certainly seems like a real possibility at this point.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of February 20):
1. Long Beach State 49ers 19-7 (Last week: 1)
Long Beach State went into Omaha to face the 22-5 Creighton Bluejays, and they controlled the majority of the game. They had trouble with National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, who scored 36 and grabbed 11 rebounds, but then most teams do. The Beach never trailed from about six minutes in -- until Creighton's Antoine Walker sank the game-winner with .3 seconds left. A win in Omaha would have put Long Beach on firm footing for the NCAA tournament. The loss puts them right back on the bubble. Back to the Big West, the 49ers can clinch the Big West regular season title with a couple of wins this week.
This week: Santa Barbara (15-8) Feb. 22; Riverside (12-15) Feb. 25
2. Loyola Marymount Lions 18-10 (2)
The Lions are playing their best basketball at the right time, as March approaches. Wins last week over #16 St. Mary's and on TV over Valparaiso in the BracketBuster couldn't have come at a better time. More importantly, with road wins over both St. Mary's and BYU this season, LMU will have confidence in the WCC tournament that they can beat anyone there. All season it felt like if the Lions could get completely healthy, they'd be a very good team. Well, they're now healthy, and they're good. With two weak opponents at home this week, the Lions could reach 20 wins for the first time since Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were in Westchester.
This week: San Diego (11-16) Feb 23; Santa Clara (8-19) Feb 25
3. Cal State Fullerton Titans 18-7 (4)
Fullerton, or as I like to call them Transfer U, is closing in on a 20 win season. They've won five straight, and eight of their last nine. The Titans are in as good a position as any team to challenge Long Beach in the Big West tournament -- but it's still a long shot.
This week: @ Pacific (11-15) Feb 23; @ Davis (4-22) Feb 25
4. UCLA Bruins 15-12 (3)
UCLA beat USC last Wednesday, but given the state of the Trojans, that's not saying much. The Bruins then went to New York to play former coach Steve Lavin's St. John's Red Storm and lost. The Bruins are now 2-8 in road and neutral court games this season. They've won just once outside of Southern California. Perhaps more disturbing, St. John's was UCLA's last chance for a win this season against a major conference opponent. Basically, all of UCLA's wins this season have come at home, against mid-major schools or the Pac-12, which can hardly be considered a major this year. It's not a strong profile in any way.
This week: @ Arizona State (8-19) Feb 23; @ Arizona (19-9) Feb 25
5. UC Irvine Anteaters 10-17 (5)
The best thing you can say about UCI this year is that they're not as bad as Pepperdine, USC and Northridge. They got to double digit wins by beating Eastern Washington on Saturday.
This week: Santa Barbara (13-8) Feb 15; Eastern Washington (11-14) Feb 18.
Tie - Last. Pepperdine Waves 9-18 (tie-last)
Pepperdine, 329th in the nation in points per game at just under 60, managed to score 70 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season, and even got a rare win in the process. In beating Portland Saturday, four starters were in double figures -- a veritable offensive explosion for the scoring-challenged Waves. Mercifully, this difficult season is almost over, with only one regular season game left on the schedule.
This week: @ Santa Clara (8-19) Feb 23
Tie - Last. USC Trojans 6-21 (tie-last)
Speaking of scoring challenged, injury-ravaged USC is 341st in the nation in scoring, at just over 54 points per game. In their loss to UCLA last Wednesday, they got exactly zero points off the bench.
This week: @ Arizona (19-9) Feb 23; @ Arizona State (8-19) Feb 25
Tie - Last. Cal State Northridge Matadors 7-18 (tie-last)
The Matadors got a rare win this week, beating Pacific to improve to 7-18 on the season, and 3-10 in the Big West. Good thing too, because UC Davis has caught fire, and now has two conference wins of their own, so Northridge needed that win to avoid the Big West cellar.
This week: Riverside (12-15) Feb 22; @ Irvine (10-17) Feb 25
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
Long Beach State versus Santa Barbara at the Pyramid, Wednesday at 8 PM. The 49ers are closing in on an undefeated regular season, but the Gauchos are the team that has knocked them out of the Big West tournament the last two seasons.