Random bubble thoughts and theories, 3/8

I’m going to wait a few days before writing a post-mortem on The Citadel’s hoops season.  It was a little bit of an odd year.  Part of me is disappointed in the overall record (16-16, 9-9), but another part of me remembers that in the last two years the Bulldogs have won 24 SoCon games.  In the six previous years, The Citadel had won 15.  Total.

The past brings perspective.

Sometimes the past also helps when trying to evaluate bubble teams and seeding scenarios.  The membership of the selection committee has changed over time, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look back and see what the committee did when presented with certain situations.

— Let’s face it, the Pac-10 is wretched this season.  California won the outright Pac-10 title.  Is that good enough to guarantee the Bears an at-large bid if they don’t win the Pac-10 tourney?

History says yes.  Exhibit A:  Air Force, 2004.  That season the Falcons were 22-5 during the regular season and won the Mountain West, but did almost nothing outside the league, managing to beat no one of consequence and losing games to UT-Pan American and Belmont.  However, Air Force was 12-2 in league play and won the MWC outright by two games.

Air Force lost in the quarterfinals of the MWC tournament to Colorado State (by 12 points).  Despite that, the Falcons still made the NCAAs.  When asked about it, selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby noted AFA’s less-than-stellar profile, but pointed out that the Falcons had been the regular-season champion of a top-10 league — and that achievement, in the opinion of the committee, merited Air Force’s inclusion.

I can’t say I disagree with that argument.  (It’s certainly a better line of reasoning than the one Bowlsby’s successor as committee chair, Craig Littlepage, gave for the committee’s absurd decision to put Air Force in the field two years later.  I still have no idea how that was justified.)

If winning a top-10 league is good enough, then Cal is safe.  Admittedly, it’s not quite the same situation; Air Force won the MWC in 2004 by two games, while Cal edged Arizona State by just one game in the standings.  Also, 12-2 is better than 13-5.  Still, it’s a factor, as is the fact we’re talking about the Pac-10, and not one of the “mid-major” leagues (even if it isn’t as good as some of those leagues this season).  Cal better not lose in the Pac-10 quarterfinals, though.

Incidentally, the same argument would presumably work in the favor of Utah State.

— Could last-second seeding adjustments actually happen?

This season there will be four conference title games played on Selection Sunday.  The SEC, ACC, and Atlantic 10 title games will all tip at 1 pm ET, while the Big 10 final will start at 3:30 pm ET.

Let’s say that Duke and Ohio State are both in their respective conference finals. Would the committee wait until the end of the Big 10 game to finalize the seeding?

Someone asked Joe Lunardi about this in an ESPN “chat session” :

A lot of experts think that Ohio State has the best shot this side of Durham to collect the final 1-seed if they win the Big Ten tournament. Isn’t there a good chance though that they could get screwed by the schedule. The Big Ten final doesn’t start until 3:30 on Sunday and the ACC championship is at at 1:00 on Sunday. I know that the brackets take a long time to put together and the top seeds are placed first. If Duke lost in the Final and Ohio State won, is it possible that their fates would already be set before those games finish?

Joe Lunardi:  It has happened this way in the past…More recently, however, the Committee has built multiple brackets accounting for the various Sunday scenarios. I would be disappointed in this group if they bailed on the process and didn’t finish the job (and I do not expect they will).

Lunardi may be right, but I think most of those “various Sunday scenarios” have revolved around teams playing on Sunday who were “auto bid or bust” types — like Mississippi State last season, or Georgia the year before that.  I’m less than sure the committee is going to wait until the last moment (or prepare alternative brackets) for a question of one seeding line.  Besides, should one game really be the difference between a team getting a 1 or a 2?  What about the previous 30+ games?

This reminds me that in the past, there were occasionally conference tournaments still going on when the selections were announced.  The Big West did this several times (this was back when UNLV was in the league).  It invariably led to scenarios where the committee would have either/or bracket lines where a team would be in the field, unless the Big West had a surprise champ (in other words, if  Vegas didn’t win).

This finally ended after the committee basically decided to hose any at-large hopeful out of the Big West until it quit playing its tourney so late.  I recall Long Beach State being a bubble team that found out at halftime of the conference final that it had to win, or else.

Another league that at one time played its final after the pairings was the SWAC.  Now, with the SWAC there wasn’t any at-large issues; it was just a question of what team would advance.  However, it did pose a problem for the committee when trying to seed.  These days the SWAC is an easy 16 (if not play-in game) pick, but back then it wasn’t always the case.

One year the committee puzzled just about everyone by deciding the winner of the SWAC title game would get a 13 seed.  Nobody could believe the SWAC got so high a seed, especially because no one knew yet which team would be the league representative.

As it happened, Southern won the tournament final (televised immediately after the selection show), and the lucky 4 seed it drew as an opponent was ACC tournament champ Georgia Tech.  Well, maybe not so lucky.  Ben Jobe’s Jaguars shocked Bobby Cremins’ Yellow Jackets in the first round, 93-78.

— This season, there seem to be several “as long as they don’t lose to a really bad team, they should be okay” situations.  It’s all right if Virginia Tech loses to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament, but if Miami upsets the Demon Deacons and then beats the Hokies, VT is in trouble.  Washington might get an at-large bid if it loses to Cal in the Pac-10 final, but can’t afford to lose to another school — and it also would hurt the Huskies if their semifinal opponent wasn’t Arizona State.

As mentioned earlier, Cal can’t afford to lose in the Pac-10 quarters.  Utah State needs to avoid losing until it plays Nevada in the WAC final, because Nevada is hosting the event, and a loss then would be more acceptable.  However, Utah State couldn’t afford to lose to another school in the final, because then it would be a neutral-site loss.  Also in the same position, perhaps, is UTEP, which could face host Tulsa in the C-USA semifinals.

Conversely, Mississippi needs to beat Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals — but it does the Rebels no good at all if the Vols are upset by LSU in the first round.  If that happened, then Mississippi would have to beat LSU and (presumably) Kentucky to get the needed big-win bounce.  Mississippi State is expected to play Florida in a “play-out” game in the SEC quarters, but if Auburn upends the Gators, then Mississippi State would have to beat the Tigers and Vanderbilt (if form holds) to reach the final — and it still would not have a strong enough at-large case.

Then there is Illinois, which is a good example of a team that would probably be better off not playing a game at all.  As it is, the Illini play Wisconsin for the second time in a week in the Big 10 quarterfinals — and for Illinois, it’s probably a win-you’re-in, lose-you’re-out situation.

— Memphis is starting to show up on some bubble watches.  I’m trying to figure out how a team that has not won a game this season against a prospective tournament team (unless Oakland wins the Summit League tourney) is a viable at-large candidate.

— If the tournament would have been expanded to 96 teams for this season, we would be discussing the bubble candidacies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, and St. John’s.  There is a good chance all four would have made the field of 96.

Expansion is such a dumb idea, it’s inevitable that it will happen…

Breaking down the broken: Pac-10 basketball

You’ve probably read or heard that Pac-10 basketball is not exactly top-of-the-line this season.  I was looking through some stats this morning and was struck by just how poor the league has really been on the hardwood.  It’s too much information for a Tweet, obviously, or even a regular post on a message board, so I figured I would stick it on the blog…

Last season the Pac-10 was 102-37 in non-conference play, a solid record of success that led to the conference receiving six bids to the NCAA tournament.  This season, however, the Pac-10 is only 75-44 out of conference (through 1/10/10), which is a very mediocre record for a power league. 

In fact, the Pac-10’s winning percentage out of league play is exceeded by both the Missouri Valley (71-32) and the Mountain West (79-38) and is roughly the same as that of the Atlantic 10 (113-70).  Indeed, the Pac-10 is currently 8th in conference RPI, behind the MWC and A-10 and just ahead of the MVC.

As a comparison, the cumulative records of the other BCS conferences:

ACC:  129-30
Big East:  152-37
Big 10:  94-38
Big XII:  136-30
SEC:  123-46

Incidentally, when the SEC was widely (and justifiably) mocked last year for not having the usual number of NCAA-quality teams for a major conference, its non-league record was 131-51.

The Pac-10 was 16-23 last season against the other power leagues, not great but not embarrassing.  This season, the league is 9-24, with none of those nine victories occurring in a “true” road game.  Only one school in the conference, Arizona, has more than one win against BCS opponents.

The Wildcats have two, a neutral-site win over habitual Big XII cellar-dweller Colorado (by four points) and a home victory over ACC bottom-feeder North Carolina State (by two).   Arizona has not been as successful against Mountain West squads, as it is 0-3 versus teams in that league, including a 17-point loss to San Diego State and a 30-point beatdown by BYU that was played at the McHale Center (as was a defeat at the hands of UNLV).

Losing at home by 30 is embarrassing for a proud program like Arizona, but it’s far from the worst loss this season by a Pac-10 club.  That honor probably has to go to Oregon State, which last week lost 99-48 to Seattle – and that game was played in Corvallis.  The Beavers have also lost to TAMU-Corpus Christi by 24 points and dropped a home game to Sacramento State.  All three of those opponents, by the way, have losing records.

Oregon State followed up that hideous loss to Seattle by beating Oregon – in Eugene, no less.  Oregon was 2-0 in the league following a road sweep of the Washington schools, but nobody should have been too shocked to see the Ducks blow their home opener in the league, since they had already lost at home to Montana (and have also lost to solid WCC outfits Portland and St. Mary’s, the latter setback yet another loss at McArthur Court).

Meanwhile, UCLA did the heretofore unthinkable, losing to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in the same season (neither Big West club currently has a winning record).  Those two games were played in Anaheim, as was the Bruins’ 27-point loss to Portland.

Southern California may be the Pac-10 school that acquitted itself the best in non-conference play, having beaten Tennessee by 22 and winning a tournament in Hawaii (which included wins over St. Mary’s and UNLV).  In keeping with the rest of its conference brethren, the Trojans did manage to lose at home to Loyola-Marymount. 

Alas, the Trojans are now ineligible for postseason play thanks to the O.J. Mayo/Tim Floyd follies.

With all that, the Pac-10 will struggle to be a three-bid league.  It doesn’t help that the league appears on its way to not having a “tiered” group of contenders and non-contenders.  Despite no team playing more than three games so far in league play, every school has at least one win and won loss in conference action.  There could be a lot of 8-10, 9-9, 10-8 conference records, and that (along with Southern Cal’s self-imposed probation) could lead to the league’s worst-case scenario. 

Could the Pac-10 only have one team advance to the NCAA Tournament?  I doubt it, but it’s certainly not out of the question.  What isn’t out of the question is that leagues like the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 (and possibly the Missouri Valley) will expect – not hope, but expect — to receive more NCAA tourney bids than the Pac-10, and deservedly so.

How a second non-BCS team could sneak into the BCS bowls

As of now, it looks likely that at least one non-BCS school is going to make a BCS bowl.  There are still three undefeated non-BCS teams, Utah (#7 in the BCS standings), Boise State (#9), and Ball State (#14).  In addition, BYU is #17 and could conceivably crash the top 12 if the one-loss Cougars were to beat Utah on November 22.

The real question is, could two non-BCS teams grab a BCS berth?  Probably not.  The rules state that if there are multiple non-BCS teams in the top 12, only the highest-ranked of them is guaranteed a bid.  Any other non-BCS school would go into the at-large pool.

The top 14 teams in the standings are eligible to be selected for an at-large bid.  Now, it’s possible that one of them could be selected over a BCS school for an at-large berth, but it strikes me as extremely unlikely.  After all, this whole setup is designed for the BCS schools, and the non-BCS’ers only got their meager semi-invitation to the party thanks to Congress raising its collective eyebrows.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for one of the outsiders to grab a bid.  What needs to happen is that a BCS bowl has no option but to pick a non-BCS school for an at-large bid.  How that could happen for this particular season…

There are 5 BCS bowls, so there are 10 spots available.  6 are reserved for conference champions.  No more than two teams from one conference can get bids (this is key).  Right now the top 14 in the BCS standings, by conference, is as follows:  Big XII – 5, SEC – 3, Big 10 – 2, Pac-10 – 1, Mtn. West – 1, WAC – 1, MAC – 1

So three of those Big XII teams can’t be picked, and one of the SEC teams can’t either.  Assuming the Big XII and SEC each get two teams into the BCS, which is just about a lock at this point, you have six spots left to fill.  Four of those go to the other BCS conference champions, and two are at-large selections.  One of those at-larges, though, technically becomes an automatic bid if a non-BCS school breaks into the top 12, which will almost certainly happen.  That leaves one spot for a second Big 10 team, a second non-BCS team, or…a second Pac 10 team.

Yes, a second Pac-10 team — and that team would be Southern California.  That’s because right now Oregon State still has the edge for the automatic berth out of the Pac-10, with the same number of conference losses as the Trojans and the tiebreaker by virtue of its victory over Southern Cal earlier this season.  If the Beavers win their last three games, they would go to the Rose Bowl, and then Southern Cal would become a very desirable at-large candidate.  That would eliminate any possibility of a second non-BCS school getting a BCS bid.

The other scenario involves the Big 10, which has two schools in the top 14 plus Michigan State, which is sitting at #15 and has an opportunity to at least tie for the conference title with a victory over Penn State.  Ohio State has two games left, against Illinois and Michigan, as does Penn State (the Nittany Lions play Indiana this weekend before finishing with the Spartans).  For a second non-BCS school to grab a berth, two of those three teams need to finish outside the top 14.  If you’re a fan of Boise State or Ball State, you probably should be rooting for Penn State to beat Michigan State, because there is a chance the Nittany Lions could stay in the top 14 even with a loss to the Spartans.  I tend to doubt it, but it’s possible (especially given that other schools in the top 14 will be losing too, as some of them play each other, so there will be further movement).  A loss by Michigan State definitely takes the Spartans out of the mix.

That leaves Ohio State.  I don’t think there is any way a 10-2 Ohio State team isn’t picked for an at-large berth (at least when the options are the Buckeyes or one of Ball State/Boise State).  A loss by Ohio State in either of its last two games, though, might drop it out of the top 14 (especially if the loss is to Michigan), and even if the Buckeyes hang in the top 14, 9-3 might not get it done.  Being a bit of a cynic, though, I suspect a BCS bowl given the choice between a 3-loss Ohio State team and an undefeated Boise State squad is taking the Buckeyes (I don’t think Ball State would have a prayer of getting the nod in that situation).

So basically, if you want two non-BCS schools in BCS bowls, you are rooting against Oregon State and Ohio State, and for everything else to shake out in an normal fashion, or at least as normal a fashion as you can get in college football.  (And you want the non-BCS’ers to run the table, obviously.)

The Big XII really needs a better TV deal

A few observations as I look over my TV listings chart for the upcoming college football weekend:

— The Ivy League will have one conference game not televised this week (Princeton-Cornell).  The Big XII will have two games not televised this week.  One of those games, MIssouri-Baylor, features the 14th-ranked team in the BCS facing a team led by an outstanding young quarterback (Robert Griffin).  It’s sure to be a wild shootout, like almost every other Big XII game this season, but it won’t be on TV.  The other game, Colorado-Texas A&M, isn’t much of a game, but in this day and age a major conference should have every one of its conference games on TV.  The Big XII’s current contract with Fox runs through 2011 and its ABC deal lasts through 2015, so I’m not sure things are going to change much for the next couple of years.

— I just realized the Southern Conference will also have two games not televised this week.  Clearly, the SoCon needs a better TV deal.  Having a deal comparable to the Big XII’s won’t cut it…

— The Pac-10 doesn’t have the greatest TV deal in the world either, but this week, it’s just as well.  Stanford-Washington State is not on TV, to the relief of Cougar fans everywhere.  Winless and soon to be Willingham-less Washington isn’t so lucky, having to travel to L.A. to play Southern Cal in FSN’s game of the week.  ABC snagged the solid Oregon-Cal matchup, so the only other game Fox had available was Arizona State-Oregon State, which will be its late-night game, so as not to offend east coast viewers.

— ESPN made Andre Ware’s travel plans much easier by assigning him Northwestern-Minnesota (with Dave Pasch).  Ware is also the radio analyst for the NFL’s Houston Texans, which are playing the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.  If he wanted, he could sleep in the MetroDome, since both games will be played there.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but during last week’s Texas Tech demolition of Kansas, Ware said something to the effect that his coaches at Houston, Jack Pardee and John Jenkins, didn’t try to run up the score when he was in the game.  I remember Houston beating SMU 95-21 the year Ware won the Heisman (admittedly, he didn’t play in the second half).  Jenkins, of course, was the coach when David Klingler threw 11 TDs in a game (against I-AA Eastern Washington).  Maybe they didn’t let Andre run up the score, but to be honest, that’s probably a subject he should avoid.

— I am assuming we are in for another fabulous “Interactive Tuesday” broadcast for South Florida-Cincinnati on Tuesday night.  Rece Davis and Lou Holtz (but not Mark May for some reason) call that one, with the current king of blowout fodder, Rob Stone, roaming the sidelines.  Personally, I don’t think Interactive Tuesday is the same without having Todd Harris doing play-by-play.  It’s much better when it’s a complete train wreck, as opposed to just a minor derailment.

— The best pre-Saturday game is without question an FCS game, the matchup between #2 Appalachian State and #3 Wofford, on ESPN2 Friday night.

— Florida vs. Georgia.  Florida State vs. Georgia Tech.  Big games in their respective conferences, a state of Florida vs. state of Georgia matchup in both cases, and naturally taking place at the same time.

— Pam Ward will be calling a Michigan State game for the fourth time this season.  Ray Bentley has actually called five Michigan State games, as Pam had WNBA duty for one game (Clay Matvick filled in for that one).  My sympathies to fans of the Spartans.  Hey, at least you’re on national TV every week.

— The most intriguing thing about Michigan-Purdue this week is what hair color Charissa “Not the porn actress” Thompson will be sporting.