Bubbling Basketball, 3/2/09

With two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, there is still a fairly large group of bubble teams, but the potential at-large pool has become more defined.  My current groups of eight:

Group 1:  Connecticut, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke

I have three Big East teams in the top five of my S-curve, but it is unlikely that conference winds up with three #1 seeds.  UConn and Pitt still have to play again in the regular season (at Pitt), and then the Big East tournament will have a culling effect of sorts.  Memphis is also a strong candidate for a #1 seed.  Oklahoma may not win the Big XII regular season after losing two games due to Blake Griffin’s concussion, but I don’t think that is going to cost the Sooners much, if anything, in terms of grabbing a #1.

Group 2:  Kansas, Wake Forest, Washington, Missouri, Villanova, LSU, Purdue, Marquette

Kansas and Missouri both being on the 3 line after this weekend’s blowout win for the Jayhawks gave me pause, but that’s just the way it is.  Washington has made a strong push, with nine wins in its last twelve games (six of its last seven).  LSU is going to run away with the SEC regular season title, and even in a bad year for that league, it’s hard to see the Bayou Bengals not being rewarded with a top 16 seed.  If LSU chokes in the SEC tourney, though, that could change.

Marquette stays where it is, and will continue to do so, until it is demonstrated that Marquette is significantly affected by the season-ending injury to Dominic James.  I think it’s almost certain that his injury will have a negative effect on the team’s performance over time, but losing a competitive game to Louisville doesn’t really make it obvious.

Group 3:  Xavier, Florida State, UCLA, Clemson, Illinois, Butler, Gonzaga, Utah

I think you have to rate Florida State ahead of Clemson at this point.  The Tigers are only 6-6 in their last 12 games, which includes a loss at Virginia and a home loss to Virginia Tech, in addition to the sweep at the hands of the Seminoles.  Butler has eleven “true” road wins, including a victory at Xavier.  In other respects its profile does not really scream “6 seed”, though.

Gonzaga is going to play USC Upstate and its 290 RPI before beginning play in the WCC tournament.  It will be the sixth time Mark Few’s men have played a team with a current RPI of 276 or worse.  Four of those are conference games against Loyola-Marymount and Pepperdine.  Two other teams in the WCC also have RPIs below 200.  Keep that in mind, but not to hold against Gonzaga.   Just wait until we get to the bubble teams and one league in particular…

Group 4:  Arizona State, Syracuse, West Virginia, California, Dayton, Boston College, Tennessee, Texas

Most of these teams can just about book their tournament reservations at this point.  Syracuse is essentially a lock, and the rest probably need just one more win.  You could make a good argument that ASU and the ‘Cuse should be rated ahead of Utah.  Tennessee separated itself from the other SEC bubblers with its win on Sunday against Florida (completing a sweep of the Gators), thanks in large part to separating itself from its league brethren before the season started with its strong non-conference schedule.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Brigham Young, Ohio State, UNLV, Creighton, Minnesota, Texas A&M, South Carolina

Ah, here is where the fun really starts…

Wisconsin played a very good schedule (currently rated sixth nationally).  Its biggest non-conference scalp came at Virginia Tech, which will come in handy, along with sweeps of Michigan and Penn State and a victory over Ohio State.  The Badgers next play Minnesota, and need to win to avoid being swept by the Gophers.  A win in Minneapolis won’t be easy, but if Wisconsin gets it and beats Indiana in its home finale, it should be set.  Even a loss to Minnesota won’t be fatal, although the Badgers may want to win a game or two in the Big 10 tourney just to be safe.  The average RPI of the teams Wisconsin has defeated is 104, which is a very impressive number.

BYU is 8-3 on the road this season, and also has a neutral-site victory over Utah State.  None of the road victories was a really good one, but on the other hand, BYU played a representative schedule and only has one serious flaw on its resume, a sweep at the hands of UNLV.  There are worse teams to have been swept by, though.  I’m not overly enthused by the Cougars’ profile, but they’ve done what they needed to do, which is why the RPI is 22, and BYU will make the NCAAs unless it badly stumbles down the stretch.  I will give BYU credit for not scheduling a lot of games against 200+ RPI teams.

Ohio State beat Butler at home, Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and Miami (FL) on the road (where it got lucky, frankly).  Those results and no bad losses will go a long way to getting an at-large bid, but the Buckeyes are only 8-8 in the Big 10 (including getting thumped over the weekend by Purdue) and probably need two more wins.  As it happens, they close with games at Iowa and home to Northwestern.

UNLV has the aforementioned sweep of BYU, a win over Utah, and most importantly, a win at Louisville.  The Rebels have also lost at Colorado State and at TCU, and as a result find themselves in fifth place in the Mountain West.  I think UNLV has the profile to get an at-large bid and become team #3 ouf of the MWC, but it needs to win its last two (including at San Diego State, which would get the Rebels at least a tie for 4th in the league), and then not fall apart at the Mountain West tournament, particularly since that tournament is in Vegas this year.

Creighton has won ten straight games and heads into the Missouri Valley tournament with the #2 seed (losing a tiebreaker after tying for the regular season title).  The Blue Jays don’t have a win on their resume that will make you stand up and take notice, but one thing Creighton apparently did was try to figure out what other mid-majors might be good this season, and then proceeded to schedule them.  In addition to the Bracketbusters game against George Mason, Creighton has also played Dayton, New Mexico, Arkansas-Little Rock, Oral Roberts, and St. Joseph’s, winning all of those games with the exception of a last-second lost to UALR.  I would like the profile a little better without the losses to Wichita State and Drake, but 25 wins while playing in the nation’s ninth-rated conference is worth serious consideration when doling out at-large bids.

Minnesota has a neutral-site win over Louisville, a win at Wisconsin, and a win over Illinois in one of the Big 10′s notorious “first to 40 wins” contests.  The Gophers are only 5-7 in their last twelve and really need a couple of wins down the stretch to feel secure.  They have two home games remaining, both of serious bubble interest, as they play Wisconsin and Michigan.  The Gophers are the quintessential major-conference bubble team.

Texas A&M has excellent computer numbers (RPI of 35).  The Aggies have a neutral-site win over LSU and home wins over Texas and Arizona.  The problem for A&M is that it is only 7-7 in a Big XII that no one is favorably comparing to the ACC or Big East.  Texas A&M is building momentum, though, with four straight wins, and it figures to be five after a game at Colorado on Wednesday.  The Aggies finish the regular season with a home game against Missouri and a chance to play its way into the NCAAs.

Before getting to South Carolina, let’s review Group 6, which has six teams, and then the rest of the hopefuls which as of right now aren’t in my tournament projections:

Group 6:  Oklahoma State, Miami (FL), Arizona, Maryland, Florida, Michigan

Also hoping:  Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, Providence, Rhode Island, Utah State, Georgetown, Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Davidson, Siena, New Mexico, UAB, San Diego State

Oklahoma State is a lot like Texas A&M; I have a hard time separating them.  They split two meetings.  Oklahoma State has a one-game lead over A&M in the conference standings.  The Aggies beat LSU and Arizona; the Cowboys have neutral-site wins over Siena and Rhode Island.  Both beat Texas.  Okie State has won five straight and finishes with Kansas State at home and Oklahoma in Norman.

Miami (FL) and Arizona are similar in that they need to take care of business.  The Hurricanes have two very winnable games to get to 8-8 in the ACC; then Miami probably needs to win a game in the ACC tournament.  Arizona is 8-8 in the Pac-10 and is poised to get the fifth bid from that league, but needs to beat Stanford and either Cal or its first-round opponent in the Pac-10 tournament (which may in fact be Cal).

Maryland and Michigan have some similarities as well.  Both have played difficult schedules.  Both have major out of conference victories (North Carolina and Michigan State for the Terps; Duke and UCLA for the Wolverines).  Of course, Maryland beat Michigan earlier in the season, which is another solid OOC victory for the  Terps.  Maryland is 7-7 in ACC play; Michigan is 8-9 in the Big 10, with a game at Minnesota left to conclude its regular season.  I think Maryland needs to finish 8-8 in conference, and possibly (but not necessarily) win an ACC tourney game.  Michigan might be good to go if it can get that win against Minnesota (which would have the added benefit of hurting the chances of another bubble team).  Otherwise, the Wolverines may have to do some damage in the Big 10 tournament.

South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky — let’s look at the SEC bubblers, shall we?

Earlier I noted that Gonzaga had played six teams with RPIs of 276 or worse.  Four of them are in the Bulldogs’ league, which means Gonzaga had no control over the scheduling of those games.  Because of these games, the average RPI of the teams Gonzaga has beaten this season is 160.

The average RPI of the teams Florida has defeated is 179.  Kentucky?  173.  South Carolina?  172.

Florida has actually played seven teams with RPIs worse than 276, all as part of its non-conference slate.  The Gators have 21 wins, but has beaten only two teams in the top 75 of the RPI — Washington (in Kansas City) and South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have not much more heft to their resume, with a sweep of Kentucky to go with a win over Florida and a victory at Baylor, all as part of a schedule not much stronger than that of the Gators.

Kentucky has swept Tennessee and beaten the Gators, and has a neutral-site win over West Virginia.  Kentucky also has six wins against teams with RPIs of 299 or worse, dragging down its computer numbers, which are also affected by home losses to Mississippi State and (especially) VMI.

Just to give you an idea of how the SEC teams compare with other teams in terms of scheduling wins, the average RPI of the teams defeated by some of their fellow major conference bubblers:

Michigan – 133, Arizona – 139, Miami (FL) – 139, Oklahoma State – 148, Texas A&M – 143, Minnesota – 142, Maryland – 146, Virginia Tech – 150, Cincinnati – 152, Georgetown – 110, Notre Dame – 167, Providence – 165, Penn State – 170

It’s rather striking when looked at that way.  It shows why Georgetown is still a bubbler despite all its losses, why Penn State has work to do (despite road wins over Michigan State and Illinois), and why Notre Dame is essentially done, especially after losing at home by 17 to Villanova.  Georgetown got its win over Villanova, and Providence still has a game to play against the Wildcats.

It also shows why the SEC resumes are less than the sum of their parts.  Florida and Kentucky face each other in what some are calling a “play-in” game; I would suggest it should be called a “play-out” game, with the winner still having work to do in the SEC tourney.

Rhode Island has played a lot of “close but no cigar” games, including a three-point loss at Duke, a one-point loss at Providence, and a two-point loss to Xavier.  The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games and will get a look from the committee if they go deep in the A-10 tournament.  If you don’t take into account the close losses, though, URI’s profile isn’t quite good enough, and I’m not sure you should take into account close losses.

As to what the committee will do if St. Mary’s makes the WCC final and loses to Gonzaga, I really don’t know.  I suspect the Gaels, with a healthy Patty Mills, are at-large quality.  The resume doesn’t really bear that out, however.

I don’t think the remaining non-BCS candidates have much of a shot at an at-large bid.  Of the group, I like Davidson the best, but I don’t think Stephen Curry and crew can absorb another loss, even if it would be to one of the better SoCon teams, like The Citadel or the College of Charleston.  UAB had a chance to make a statement against Memphis; instead, Memphis made the statement.  The Blazers do have a win over Arizona, but have not really been dominant against the non-Memphis C-USA teams.

Siena’s loss on Friday to Niagara probably torpedoed any at-large hopes.  New Mexico, San Diego State, and Utah State all have less-than-imposing resumes with little to offer in the way of significant non-conference wins.  Utah State does have a win over Utah, and probably has the best shot of an at-large among the western non-BCS schools.

There is still a lot of action remaining in the regular season.  Not unlike the weather, if there is something you don’t like concerning the bubble picture, just wait — things will change.

Bubbling Basketball, 2/23/09

Every season about this time I start to take a look at how the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is shaping up, and begin to project the bracket, just like numerous other lost souls, some of whom get paid to do so.  It’s probably a pointless exercise, because A) it’s still too early, and B) it’s not really possible to replicate the selection committee.  Kyle Whelliston at The Mid-Majority made this point in a chat about ten days ago, and he’s absolutely right.  As he says, individual projecting “involves one person trying to simulate the groupthink brain processes of ten people”.

Even if you took a bunch of projections and combined them, it’s not quite the same thing, because it doesn’t account for the interaction between people sitting together in one room and developing a consensus.  It also doesn’t account for the nuts and bolts of the process, which involves a lot of voting on teams, grouping of teams, etc.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to guess at what the brackets might look like on Selection Sunday, though…

Before I get into specifics for this year’s tournament, I want to address the notion that various teams are “locks” for the tournament.  To me, a “lock” is a team that could lose every game the rest of the season and still make the NCAAs.  In other words, there aren’t a lot of locks at this point.  Nothing is more ridiculous than to assert a team is a lock in your brackets, then to take lock status away from that team and put it back in the mix of teams competing for at-large berths, all because it lost a game or two.

ESPN.com did just that this past week with Butler, which had been a “lock” in that site’s version of “Bubble Watch” for about a month.  Once Butler dropped games to Loyola of Chicago and UW-Milwaukee, though, the Bulldogs were “de-locked”.  Butler is now again a “lock” on ESPN.com after beating Davidson on Saturday.  Truthfully, Butler won’t be a lock until (or if) it wins the Horizon League tournament.

On this site, you won’t see any team called a lock unless it really is one.  Sipping on some Paul Masson somewhere in the great beyond, I think Orson Welles approves of this notion.

I’m not going to play the assign-a-team-a-regional game today.  I’m going to simply break down the prospective field by groups of eight:

Group 1:  Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Connecticut, North Carolina, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke, Louisville

I don’t think the committee is going to penalize Oklahoma too much for losing a close game at Texas in which Blake Griffin was a non-factor due to injury.  As of right now, though, Pittsburgh almost has to be the number 1 overall seed.

Group 2:  Villanova, Kansas, Missouri, Clemson, Wake Forest, Purdue, Washington, Marquette

I think Washington will grab a top-16 seed if it wins the Pac-10 regular season title outright.  It would also help the selection committee when assigning teams to regionals.  There is a distinct lack of western options when it comes to highly seeded teams.

Group 3:  Arizona State, Xavier, UCLA, Utah, Florida State, Illinois, West Virginia, LSU

I don’t know what the committee will do with Utah or LSU in terms of seeding.  I know LSU has a gaudy SEC record, but this season that’s not the most impressive of accomplishments.  Utah has done similar work in the Mountain West — and of course, beat LSU earlier this season by 30 points.  I think LSU is a 6 seed-type, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers wind up with a 4.

Group 4:  Texas, Gonzaga, California, Syracuse, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Dayton

Distinguishing between the bubblicious SEC teams is not easy.  Kentucky has swept Tennessee and may deserve to be in this group;  it can move to this level by winning at South Carolina or at Florida (the Wildcats also have a home game against LSU, so it’s all in front of them).  The Vols played a much tougher non-conference schedule than its fellow SEC East contenders and will presumably be rewarded for it.  Florida has 21 wins, but the average RPI of the teams it has beaten is 176.  Of course, South Carolina’s average RPI victory is 179, while Kentucky’s is 169.  LSU?  173.  (Tennessee’s is 125.)

You get the idea.  This is not a banner season for the SEC.  This is highlighted by Gonzaga’s average RPI win being 155, better than any of the SEC contenders save Tennessee, despite the Bulldogs playing in the WCC (and having also played a non-conference game against Texas Southern of the SWAC).  Comparing the SEC numbers with those of standard-bearers for the Big East and ACC is even more instructive.  Pittsburgh has beaten teams with an average RPI of 100; North Carolina’s number is 96.  Honestly, I think the SEC teams could each be a group below where I’ve listed them.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Ohio State, Butler, Kentucky, Boston College, UNLV, Arizona, Minnesota

I like UNLV’s resume a little more than some people.  Vegas has some tough road losses to overcome (Colorado State, Wyoming, TCU), but also has road wins over Louisville and BYU (the latter completing a sweep).  Minnesota also has a win over Louisville, but needs to win a couple more games down the stretch. 

Group 6 (six teams):  Brigham Young, Penn State, Utah State, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Temple

The remaining 19 bids go to small-conference automatic qualifiers.  One-bid leagues, in my estimation:  MAAC, Southern, Missouri Valley, Colonial, Big South, Big West, MEAC, SWAC, Ivy, Sun Belt, Northeast, America East, Summit, Southland, Atlantic Sun, Patriot, Big West, MAC, Ohio Valley

I don’t think Davidson has enough juice to warrant an at-large bid, no matter how much Stephen Curry’s injury is taken into consideration by the selection committee.  Creighton is making a strong push late in the season, and has a win against Dayton, so the Blue Jays may have a chance at an at-large, if needed.  Siena played a great schedule, but didn’t beat anyone on it.  None of the other sixteen conferences listed has a serious at-large candidate.

Other teams still in the mix include Michigan, Cincinnati, Miami (FL), UAB, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, St. Mary’s, Southern California, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Providence.  That doesn’t mean other schools couldn’t make last-minute runs into the at-large pool, obviously.

Starting around Group 3, you have a lot of teams that haven’t really separated themselves from the field.  It would be surprising, but not completely shocking, for a team from Group 3 to ultimately miss the tournament.  You could make good arguments against all the teams in Groups 5 and 6.  Utah State is in a bit of a tenuous position, because one loss could be enough to end its at-large chances, and of course to need an at-large bid in the first place it would have to lose at least one game (in its conference tournament).  Maryland jumped into the prospective field with its overtime win over North Carolina, giving it two wins over top-6 RPI teams.  The Terps still have work to do.   Of course, you could say that about a lot of teams.

A few other notes:

  • While I’m not overly impressed with Butler’s profile, the Bulldogs have eleven road wins this season — not eleven road/neutral wins, mind you, but eleven “true” road wins.  That currently leads the nation, and is the kind of thing that can differentiate a team (in other words, it’s easier for the committee to justify its selection/seeding).
  • Right now I have only four Big XII schools in the tournament in my projections.  I suspect when the dust settles that the Big XII will wind up with five teams in the tourney, but some team has to make a move.  The best candidate to do so is probably Oklahoma State, which has the computer numbers but not the wins. 
  • Tennessee and Georgetown rank 1-2 in strength of schedule (as of today).  The Volunteers have a slightly better record, and have performed a little better over the last twelve games (6-6 versus 4-8).  The Hoyas still have an opportunity to make the field, despite all their losses, but they have to start winning games.  Louisville comes to town on Monday night.
  • Speaking of big games for at-large consideration, Temple plays at Dayton on Saturday.   It’s possible that the Owls need to win that game to garner at-large consideration.
  • UAB has its shot to make a statement on Thursday night, at home against Memphis.  Right now the Blazers’ resume has a gift-wrapped road win over Arizona and very little else. 
  • I think the SWAC champ can be pencilled in for the play-in game, which is not exactly news, but that league is taking being the lowest-rated conference to a new level; no team has an RPI better than 206, and seven of the ten teams in the conference have RPIs of 294 or worse.  Against Division I competition, the SWAC is 5-96.
  • St. Mary’s is probably an NCAA-caliber team, but I don’t know what the selection committee will think of the Gaels, given both the injury status of Patty Mills and the fact St. Mary’s hasn’t really beaten any team of consequence other than Utah State.  My guess is that the Gaels need to win the WCC tourney.
  • Memphis has to be a serious candidate for a 1 seed; among other things, the Tigers have the longest current winning streak in the country, at 18 games.  The next longest current winning streak is 10, by none other than…The Citadel (which, alas, is not a candidate for an at-large bid).
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 639 other followers