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.

The NCAA attacks its own (again)

On Thursday afternoon the NCAA issued a press release entitled “Executive Committee adopts wagering policy”.  Included was the following statement:

“No predetermined or non-predetermined session of an NCAA championship may be conducted in a state with legal wagering that is based upon single-game betting (high school, college or professional) in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship.”

Single-game betting is defined as wagering that involves either a money line or point-spread wager. The recommended policy would not apply to those states that may offer parlay betting, lottery tickets or sports pools/pull tabs.

What this apparently means is that effective immediately, schools in Delaware and Nevada will no longer be able to host any postseason NCAA events.  This includes even those events for which they would have qualified to host by merit.

The policy change will result in the University of Delaware not being able to host an FCS playoff game.  Also affected in that state is Wesley College, which has an excellent football program at the Division III level.  Delaware is a perennial FCS power that has hosted 22 postseason football games, while Wesley has hosted eight Division III playoff games.  The Blue Hens and Wolverines have each hosted playoff games as recently as 2007. 

The University of Nevada-Reno hosted a skiing regional in March and has the capability of hosting other regionals in sports like volleyball, basketball, and baseball.  The opportunity to host those regionals is now off the table for that school (as it is for UNLV). 

Faring a little better than Nevada and Delaware were the state schools in Montana.  There was a fear that the NCAA’s stance would also prohibit events from being held in that state, but the new policy allows sports pools (as opposed to single-game betting), so Montana avoided getting the Nevada/Delaware “treatment”.  This led to a predictably mealy-mouthed response from the Montana state attorney general:

“I applaud the NCAA for coming to a commonsense conclusion that preserves Montana’s right to host playoff and tournament games,” Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said in a prepared statement. “Montana wholeheartedly supports its student athletes. Along with the NCAA, we remain committed to protecting the integrity of collegiate sports.”

What he is really applauding, of course, is that part about Montana (or Montana State) still getting to host playoff games.  He surely can’t serious in supporting the NCAA’s “commonsense conclusion”, since there isn’t anything sensible about it.

Look, I understand the NCAA’s concern about this issue.  There are two points, though, that need to be made.

1)  It isn’t the fault of the schools.  The colleges and universities in Nevada and Delaware have nothing to do with the gambling laws in those states, and can’t do anything about those laws anyway.  Why punish the student-athletes and institutions for something over which they have no control?

The NCAA presumably is hoping that this new policy will cause the politicians in the state of Delaware to reverse themselves (I can’t imagine even the NCAA thinks things will change in Nevada), but the organization has to know that losing an occasional playoff game is not going to be enough to stop the state from instituting single-game betting.  The legislation passed easily in both houses of the Delaware state legislature.  The state is hoping to generate more than $50 million in revenue from sports betting in the first year of implementation alone.  I’m afraid a playoff game against Southern Illinois or Northern Iowa isn’t going to make that kind of cash.

A cynic might think that the NCAA is punishing its member schools in the states because, well, they are the only entities that the NCAA can punish.  It’s like a version of the old Jerry Tarkanian line, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it gave Cleveland State two more years of probation.”

2)  There have been plenty of schools with gambling scandals from states with no state-sponsored gambling.  Toledo, Northwestern, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island, Maine, and Arizona State  (just to name a few) all had serious gambling incidents involving student-athletes just in the last two decades.  What Delaware is going to do won’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

That is what really upset Nevada-Reno director of athletics Cary Groth.  As she put it:

“It’s outrageous,” Groth said. “Having worked in a non-betting state, in Illinois, it was more of an issue for us to monitor betting for our student-athletes than it is here at Nevada because there’s so much more awareness (here)…All anybody has to do is get on the Internet, or pick up the phone, to place a bet (anywhere in the U.S.).”

Groth added something else, just to stir the pot a little more:

“The NCAA has become such a monopoly on so many things, it’s not right,” Groth said, adding all states affected by the ban are home to non-Bowl Championship Series schools.

You knew that would come up, didn’t you?  Again, cynicism rears its ugly (but often intelligent) head.

I think another hot-button issue (at least, hot-button to the NCAA) is going to be affected by this policy, too.  The “non-predetermined” aspect of the ban will surely come to the attention of (among others) the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP.  As Tom Yeager, commissioner of the CAA, put it in an article written three weeks ago about the Delaware situation:

[Yeager compared] the wagering policy to the NCAA’s stance on South Carolina and Mississippi still flying the Confederate flag.The NCAA allows schools in those states to earn the right to host an NCAA championship event. Clemson, in South Carolina, hosted a recent baseball playoff. But the state would not be awarded a predetermined host role for a larger event, such as an NCAA basketball tournament regional.

Yeager argued that the wagering policy should not be any more stern.

“We continue to support the stand the NCAA has taken but also recognize that member institutions really aren’t part of a fight and shouldn’t be disadvantaged when having earned the right to host [NCAA] games on their campuses,” Yeager said.

It’s hard to argue with Yeager’s last point in particular (member institutions are just bystanders when it comes to these issues).  It’s also not unreasonable to suggest that if the NCAA is going to ban hosting even when merited for the likes of Delaware State or UNLV, the same principle presumably should apply to Mississippi State or Clemson.  The fact that there are four BCS schools in those two states may or may not be a factor.

You can bet there will be more to come on that front.

There are other aspects of this issue that need to be addressed (will the NCAA continue to sanction the Las Vegas Bowl?), but the bottom line is that here again we have an NCAA policy that will mostly, if not entirely, only affect its member institutions and its student-athletes in a negative manner.  I’m not sure who in the organization thought it was a good idea.  I only hope that, like the Andy Oliver case, it comes back to bite the NCAA in a major way.

Bubbling Basketball, 3/14

There is a lot more uncertainty than usual on the Saturday morning before Selection Sunday.  Part of that is due to several surprise conference tournament finalists, and part of it is due to a more-mediocre-than-normal bubble.  Combine that with the traditional difficulty of evaluating mid-majors against middle-of-the-road majors and you have a bit of a mess.

Locks by conference:

ACC (6):  North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson, Boston College
Pac-10 (4):  Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, California
Big East (7):  Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova, Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia
SEC (2):  LSU, Tennessee
Big 10 (4):  Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State
Big XII (5)  Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State
Mountain West (2):  Utah, Brigham Young
Other conferences (3):  Memphis, Xavier, Butler

How things shape up going into Saturday’s action…

  • The Atlantic-10 is likely a three-bid league, with today’s Temple-Duquesne winner joining Xavier and (probably) Dayton in the field.  Dayton is not quite a lock, but a lot of things would have to happen for the Flyers not to make the NCAAs.  Temple does not have enough to get an at-large bid, despite last night’s win over Xavier.  It’s a win-and-you’re-in situation for the Owls and Dukes.
  • Utah State survived New Mexico State last night and now must beat Nevada in Reno to grab the WAC’s automatic bid.  I don’t think an at-large will be available for the Aggies, although it would be tough for the committee to leave out a team with 29 wins.
  • Tulsa must beat Memphis and garner the automatic bid for C-USA if it hopes to make the NCAAs.  An at-large bid is not a realistic option for the Golden Hurricane.
  • Likewise, Baylor must beat Missouri in the Big XII final to grab a spot and steal a bid from an at-large contender.
  • Southern California will have a shot at an at-large bid if it loses the Pac-10 final to Arizona State, but I think the Trojans have to win that game.  The run to the final has probably moved Southern Cal ahead of Arizona on the committee’s S-curve, but that isn’t going to be enough.  The Pac-10 may wind up with just four bids.
  • San Diego State can guarantee a bid by winning the Mountain West tourney today, but the Aztecs are in fairly good shape now even if they don’t beat Utah.  SDSU’s chances of making the field absent a victory on Saturday are probably in the 80% range.  New Mexico tied for the MWC regular-season title but has nothing else to offer to the committee, and I don’t see four teams getting bids in the MWC.  UNLV is out after wasting a solid non-conference effort by going only 9-7 in the league and losing at home in the first round of the conference tournament to SDSU, which beat the Rebels three times this season.
  • I still think the SEC will get three bids no matter what, but the worst-case scenario for the league has unfolded.  Auburn can get that third bid with a win today over Tennessee, but a loss to the Vols leaves the Tigers in a precarious position, with several other bubble teams having better resumes.  I suppose it’s possible the SEC will just be a two-bid league, but I find it hard to believe.  Florida is almost certainly out, and so if Auburn loses the choice for a potential third SEC team in the field comes down to Auburn and South Carolina.
  • Maryland’s victory over Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals gives it three wins this season over teams ranked in the top 10 of the RPI, with two of those on neutral sites, plus a handy win over Michigan.  The Terps still don’t have a true road win over a top 100 team, but no other bubble team has as many high-end victories.  Barring another embarrassing loss to Duke in the ACC semis, Maryland looks to be in good shape for an at-large bid.  Beating Duke would make a trip to the dance a lock, of course.
  • The Big 10 is still hoping to get eight bids, but I think it’s going to be seven, with Penn State being left out after getting blown out by Purdue in the conference quarterfinals.  Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all have better resumes, and none of them are locks, either.

How I see the bubble as of Saturday morning:

Texas A&M
Dayton
Minnesota
San Diego State
Wisconsin
Maryland
Michigan
Auburn
Creighton
—-
St. Mary’s
Southern California
Penn State
Arizona
South Carolina
New Mexico
Providence
Tulsa
Florida

Utah State, if it were to lose tonight, would probably be slotted behind St. Mary’s but ahead of Southern Cal (assuming the Trojans don’t beat Arizona State on Saturday).  Temple would be in the New Mexico-Providence range with a loss.  Baylor is a pure bid thief, Southern Cal could be a bid thief, and Tulsa is a de facto bid thief as well.

Bubble Watch, 3/9/09

I’m posting this prior to the Portland-St. Mary’s game, for the record…

This is my first projection to include seeding and placement, and it’s possible there is an error or two mixed in, because the first go-round is always the toughest.  At any rate, here is how I see the NCAA tournament as of right now (projected automatic bids in all-caps):

South (Memphis, IN)

Greensboro sub-regional
1 North Carolina
16 Radford
8 West Virginia
9 Dayton
Boise sub-regional
4 Missouri
13 AMERICAN
5 Gonzaga
12 Michigan
Minneapolis sub-regional
2 Michigan State
15 ROBERT MORRIS
7 California
10 Oklahoma State
Philadelphia sub-regional
3 Villanova
14 BUFFALO
6 Tennessee
11 UTAH STATE

West (Glendale, AZ)

Kansas City sub-regional
1 Oklahoma
16 CAL STATE-NORTHRIDGE
8 Brigham Young
9 Wisconsin
Miami sub-regional
4 Louisiana State
13 WESTERN KENTUCKY
5 Florida State
12 Providence
Dayton sub-regional
2 Louisville
15 East Tennessee State
7 Purdue
10 St. Mary’s
Portland sub-regional
3 Washington
14 WEBER STATE
6 Butler
11 SIENA

East (Boston, MA)

Philadelphia sub-regional
1 Connecticut
16 MORGAN STATE
8 Texas
9 Ohio State
Portland sub-regional
4 Xavier
13 Northern Iowa
5 Clemson
12 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH
Kansas City sub-regional
2 Memphis
15 Cornell
7 Arizona State
10 Minnesota
Miami sub-regional
3 Wake Forest
14 NORTH DAKOTA STATE
6 Marquette
11 New Mexico

Midwest (Indianapolis, IN)

Dayton sub-regional
1 Pittsburgh
16 Morehead State/ALABAMA STATE (play-in game; also in Dayton)
8 Boston College
9 Texas A&M
Boise sub-regional
4 Ucla
13 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
5 Utah
12 Penn State
Greensboro sub-regional
2 Duke
15 UT-CHATTANOOGA
7 Syracuse
10 Arizona
Minneapolis sub-regional
3 Kansas
14 BINGHAMTON
6 Illinois
11 South Carolina

Notes:

  • As of now, North Carolina has the top overall seed in my projection, based on finishing first in the ACC, while none of the other three #1 seeds won their respective conference titles.  Louisville will be probably be battling Pitt and UConn for two available #1 seeds in the Big East tournament.  I think Memphis has a shot at a #1 if it wins the C-USA tournament and Oklahoma bows out early in the Big XII tourney.
  • The brackets are set up as follows:  South vs. West, East vs. Midwest
  • I had a lot of trouble deciding how the committee would place teams.  I think they are going to want to have at least one “draw” in the Portland and Boise sub-regionals, so putting Washington/UCLA in those sites seemed logical, and Gonzaga will probably be in one of them as well.  It’s a bit of a tough draw for Missouri in particular, but after the first round nobody is protected.  I don’t like putting Villanova in Philly — that struck me as not being in the spirit of things — but if the Wildcats get a 3 seed or better I can see it happening.
  • Every team on seed lines 8 and up is safe for the tournament, and the 9 seeds are all in decent shape.  The bubble action starts on line 10 and goes through line 12, with some automatic bids interspersed here and there.
  • Last six in:  South Carolina (last in), Penn State, Providence, New Mexico, Michigan, St. Mary’s
  • Last six out:  UNLV (last out), Creighton, Florida, Miami (FL), Maryland, Auburn
  • Also considered:  San Diego State, Virginia Tech, Davidson, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Southern California

South Carolina, to be perfectly honest, is a bit of a placeholder; I have the Gamecocks in the field based on my belief that at least three SEC teams will be in the tournament, no matter what happens.  As of right now, I give South Carolina the edge over Florida and Auburn for the third bid from that decidedly mediocre league.  It is possible for the SEC to get four bids, depending on how things shake out in that league’s tourney, as well as tournaments across the country.

At this point Siena and Utah State would be advised to win their respective conference tournaments.  I don’t see either grabbing an at-large bid if it needs one.

St. Mary’s is the toughest call in terms of evaluation/figuring out what the committee will do.  If the Gaels lose to Gonzaga in the WCC final, then I think they will get an at-large bid. Otherwise, I don’t see it happening.

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).