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Top of the Arc - January 14, 2009

Jan. 14, 8 a.m.: The following six teams have a combined record of 73-15. None has suffered more than three losses. All have gaudy overall records, and all are hoping to play into the third week of March.

But if you expect to see these half dozen teams in the NCAA tournament, think again. The only rankings they deserve are for the most fraudulent records. Combined, they have beaten 39 lightweights ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. They will soon get a harsh reality checks as they navigate conference schedules.

1) Illinois State (14-2): You’ve got to feel for the Redbirds. They won their first 14 games and got mentions in several mock tournament brackets across the country (including mine). But they are likely to face the same fate they encountered last season, when they won 23 games but missed the NCAAs. This season, they have a 248 strength of schedule rating and have lost two straight Missouri Valley Conference games. Evansville is the only top 50 victory.

2) Louisiana State (12-3): Without question, the Tigers have played the weakest schedule of any power conference team. It is hard to fault Coach Trent Johnson for trying to instill some confidence in his players. But they have played only two teams in the top 100 – Utah and Texas A&M – and lost both games. They have 10 wins against teams ranked among the bottom third of Division I.

3) Nebraska (11-3): The Big 12 has plenty of teams that will qualify for the NCAAs, but the Cornhuskers are not one of them. They have just one win against the top 50, and Missouri (49th) barely qualifies as a top 50 team. More than half their wins have come against teams ranked 200 or worse. And they have a loss to Oregon State on their resume.

4) Houston (10-3): With a strength of schedule rating approaching 300, the Cougars will need a particular gaudy conference record to even be in the so-called bubble conversation in two months. They have only played two teams in the top 100 --- Alabama-Birmingham and Western Kentucky. Memphis looks like the only Conference USA team well positioned for an at-large berth.

5) Texas A&M (14-2): If there is an NCAA tournament team on this list, it is probably the Aggies. The problem is that their margin for error is very small. Half their wins have come against teams ranked 200 or worse. And they lost their only top 50 game, against Oklahoma State. I’ll say this: We will know if this team is for real very soon because their next four opponents are Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

6) South Carolina (12-2): Had South Carolina not beaten Baylor by one point, it would have nothing to hang its hat on. It has only played four teams in the top 100, and half of its wins have come against teams ranked 200 or worse. The Southeastern Conference could get only three tournament berths this season. It is undoubtedly the weakest power conference this year. Coach Darrin Horn has done an excellent job in his first year. The Gamecocks are worth keeping an eye on, but don’t expect them to reach the NCAAs.

By Eric Prisbell  |  January 14, 2009; 8:08 AM ET
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