Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is the Miami Rivalry Finished?

In 2003 I was a college freshman at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Yes it pains me to admit it but i initially made a decision to go to college where there was a free golf course and a 70-30 girl to guy ratio instead of staying where I could continue to attend every Bearcat game. Needless to say I remedied this decision the next year. The week of the Battle for the Victory Bell I spoke to a local sports bar who assured me they would be carrying the game on their ESPN Gameplan package, but little did I know there was a strike brewing at Miami. I believe it was the Miami janitors who were striking...but do not hold me to that. However, the key point is that ESPN refused to cross the picket line. The game was not going to be televised. What was I to do?

At 5 PM I walked down the hall to a friend’s room and asked him the simple question, “What do you think about driving to Cincinnati with me tonight so I can catch the Bearcat vs. Redhawks game tomorrow?” He said he was in and we left within 20 minutes, arriving at my mom’s palatial Loveland estate around 230 AM (and was she ever surprised).

The point of that little foray into Bearcatmark history is that in 2003 I was willing to drive 8 hours spur of the moment so as to not miss the Battle for the Victory Bell. At that time the Bearcat vs. Miami game was the game I probably looked forward to most every season. Today it is just a blip on the radar. So I guess my question is this: Is the rivalry between the University of Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio effective over?

If I was to rank the Bearcat games that I really wanted to attend this season the Miami game would rank above Southeast Missouri State, but below everyone else. This would be fine if it was just my feelings, but I am fairly certain there are plenty of Bearcat fans who share that sentiment. The fact of the matter is these two schools are now on completely different levels. And while Miami is not always going to be as down as they are now and surely they will be successful again...maybe even enough to beat Cincinnati. However, even in those years they will not be playing the same game as the BCS Bearcats... we are simply in two different worlds.

I think Miami fans are even starting to understand it. A few of my Miami graduate friends put together a big group for the Miami vs. Kentucky game at PBS, but are doing their best to avoid the Cincinnati vs. Miami game. They are pretty sure it is going to be a massacre. Over on Redhawk message boards even their fans are acknowledging they are not on UC’s level these days.

Right now we are only a few years removed from when Miami was clearly the better team. The losses against Big Ben are still fresh in our minds. I still have fond memories of the triple overtime battle at Nippert and brutal memories of the kickoff return that beat UC up in Oxford, or the dropped punt when it looked like Gino was going to bring UC all the way back in 2003. What happens as we get further and further removed from this? Bearcat and Redhawk fans alike are already far less stoked for this game than they have been in my lifetime. When does complete apathy set in? It is not much of a rivalry when fans start viewing it as just another game.

Many Bearcat fans have asked should we continue to play the game... and given the circumstance surrounding it I understand the question. I am personally on the side of playing the game. I do not mind watching the Bearcats beat the tar out of the Redhawks once a year. I do not mind having a road game in close driving distance, in a place with a great tailgating lot, in a pretty fun college town. I say grab your pink shirts, pop your collars and get up there Bearcat fans.

As many have pointed out we do not have the money to pay 1A teams for guarantee games. If we are going to struggle for a seventh home game lets have a road game an hour away. For fans like me who drive to Rutgers and hope to fly to South Florida (apparently tickets out of Dayton to Tampa are 130 dollars right now Bearcat fans) a game at Miami is certainly one to take advantage of every other year. This game has still been played for over 100 years. It is still the first college football game played in Ohio and still one of the nations oldest rivalries. So lets smack them around at least for a while longer and take the lead in the series.

I have many fond memories from the Bearcat vs. Miami rivalry. I have a few excruciating ones. Despite that this game is at the bottom of the list when it comes to Bearcat games I want to attend or care about watching. We are a few years removed from when this game was the biggest of the year and already their is a ora of apathy surrounding it. It would be nice if Miami could become at least a good team again on a consistent basis, but even if they do the game has lost its significance. I hope we keep playing, I like the game, but as it appears to me the Miami/Cincinnati rivalry is effective over.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bearcat Offense Will Make it Difficult on Beavers

Tony Pike throws a 7 yard completion to Mardy Gilyard, 6 yard completion to Armon Binns, another 6 yard completion to Armon Binns, 9 yard completion to Ben Guidugli, 6 yard rush for Isaiah Peed, 16 yard completion to Mardy Gilyard forcing a Rutgers timeout, 27 yard completion to D.J. Woods, and the drive is capped off by with a 2 yard touchdown run by Isaiah Peed... the season began that quickly. In a mere 2 and half minutes the Bearcats took the opening kickoff and marched 81 yards in 9 plays for a touchdown. If you were expecting rust, or early mistakes, or starting slow you were mistaken. I could not have pictured a more perfect start to a season. Sure a long pass for a touchdown would have been cool, or a Mardy Gilyard kickoff return for a touchdown would have cause the all of us Bearcats that made the trip and those watching from home to go bonkers, but neither would have told us as much about the Bearcat offense as that incredibly quick and yet still 9 play drive. The Bearcats never got less than 6 yards on any play that drive. For me the highlight of the drive was Rutgers burning a timeout because they simply were not ready for the onslaught of offense and the speed of the attack. This was just a pure, methodical drive. It was exactly what this Bearcat offense is about.

The Bearcats went on to run Rutgers out of their newly expanded stadium and then laid 70 on Southeast Missouri State (a team with the worst nickname in sports). It amazes me the complete 180 many in the media have done on Rutgers since that game. Before the game there were a ton of people picking Rutgers to win the league. They were talking about their 7 game winning streak to end the season, their favorable schedule, their talented defense and all the offensive lineman they returned. After the game the general consensus has seemed to become “Rutgers is not that good.”

To me, however, the game said far more about what this Bearcat offense is capable of than it said about Rutgers. I felt going in this would be the best Bearcat offense in my lifetime, now I feel this will be one of the best in the country. The Bearcats went to a hostile environment and looked brilliant. Trust me when I say this these Rutgers fans and players were absolutely stoked for this game. The Bearcats had become a nemesis to the Scarlet Knights and nothing would have made them happier than to take down Cincinnati in their newly expanded stadium. The ability of our no huddle offense to function at that capacity, on the road in front of 60,000 screaming fans was incredibly impressive. It is going to translate well this week at Oregon State.

To me the most exciting part of the offense this year and been the stellar play of the offensive line. Tony Pike has really not been touched. I believe Pike has been sacked one time this season, on a blitz that was not read as a player came untouched. The Bearcat lineman have absolutely been abusing their opponents. They are also getting down field and hitting people on running plays. They have opened up huge holes for both Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Peed. The size, strength, skill and athleticism of these offensive lineman seems to be exactly what Brian Kelly envision when he described what his offense could be as he took over the Bearcats. If the offensive line continues to knock people around like this I expect the offense to continue to dominate all season.

So what does all this mean for the huge match-up this week in Corvallis, Oregon against the Oregon State Beavers?

Bearcat Offense vs. Oregon State Defense:

The Oregon State defense has given up some yards through the air so far this season and they really have not been able to pressure the quarterback. Bare in mind their first two games were against Portland State and UNLV. Now I am sure Mike Reilly was not showing everything in those games, but that has to give the Beavers pause for concern. I really believe the Bearcats will be able to move the ball against Oregon State. The key will be maintaining the efficiency they have shown in the first two weeks. I believe the first team offense has punted 1 time (a three and out last week where the Bearcats dropped two passes), and turned it over one time (the int against Rutgers). Other than that the Bearcats are scoring and scoring touchdowns. If they can continue to play fast and pick up yards in large chunks they are going to force Oregon State to keep up.

Bearcat Defense vs. Oregon State Offense:

To me this is the area where there are still a bunch of unknowns. I was very happy with the Bearcat performance on defense against Rutgers and I did not read much into their performance against Southeast Missouri State. I still think the Bearcat front seven is very good and will cause problems. Brian Kelly's strategy against Rutgers seemed to be to make the Scarlet Knights sustain long drives if they want to score. I believe we will see a similar strategy against the Beavers. The Oregon State offensive line is probably not as good as the Rutgers line so I believe the Bearcats will be able to do the job at the line of scrimmage. Still to slow down Jaquizz Rodgers the Bearcats linebackers and safeties are going to have to fill the gaps and make tackles. Rodgers is not as explosive a back as you expect but he consistently gets solid yardage. Very few teams have slowed him down.

The other key will be that the corners and safeties do not give up big plays to the Oregon State wide receivers. To me this is the way Oregon State can hang around this game. I firmly believe the Oregon State offense is going to have to score 30+ to beat Cincinnati and the only way they are going to do that is by getting some big plays. The Beaver offense has not been nearly as efficient as the Bearcat offense so far this season. UNLV pretty much shut them down in the first half last week. To win the game Cincinnati does not have to shut down Oregon State, instead they need to continue to limit big plays forcing Oregon State to sustain long drives. I do not believe their offense is efficient enough to put up big points that way. Forcing teams to sustain long drives is also how the Bearcats force opponents into into making mistakes and turning the ball over. If the Bearcats win the turnover battle, they are not going to lose this game.

My Prediction:

Clearly I think the Bearcats are the better team in this match-up. I do not think the Oregon State defense is going to be able to slow down Cincinnati's fast, efficient spread offense and I think the Bearcat defense will slow down the Beavers enough to create some separation. For Oregon State to win this game I believe they will need some big plays on offense, to protect the ball on offense, and to force the Bearcats into a 2 or 3 turnovers. Playing out in a very hostile environment where the Beavers rarely lost will not be easy, but the Bearcats showed at Rutgers they are more than capable of being efficient on offense despite a hostile crowd. If Oregon State starts as slow as they did against UNLV they will be in for a long day. My prediction is the Bearcats jump them early, give up a few scores, but win going away.

Bearcats 42
Beavers 23

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bearcat Football Preview 2009

By my count five different teams have been picked to win the Big East Conference this year by various sources. People seem to think the Bearcats will finish anywhere from 1 to 5 in the league. Coming off of their first Big East Championship (and first outright league title in decades) can the Bearcats repeat? With the target on their backs and a defense that only returns 1 starter it would seem a tall order. In good news, however, Brian Kelly remains the coach of the Bearcats and the offense returns almost entirely intact...with all that in mind lets take a detailed look about what to expect this season.

On Defense:

The first thing everyone notices about this Bearcat defense is everything they lost. Gone are drafted secondary members Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, and Brandon Underwood. Gone is Big East sack leader and second round draft pick Conner Barwin. Gone is All American Defensive Tackle Terrill Byrd. All told the Bearcats lost 10 of 11 starters. Also missing is Bearcat defensive coordinator Joe Tressey with his 4-3 zone defense and in his place steps Bob Diaco with his aggressive 3-4. Truth be told this Cincinnati defense could not at first glance look any more different from the 2008 version that helped lead the Bearcats to a Big East Championship.

The good news is this may not be as bad as it appears. The Bearcats appear to have a big, strong, and fast defensive line. Every player returning contributed positively last season. By all accounts Derek Wolfe has been an imposing force throughout camp. At 6'5 and over 300 pounds Wolfe offers a combination of size and skill that has been rarely seen on the Bearcat defensive line. He seems ideally situated to be a force at nose tackle. Combined with other strong, athletic players like John Hughes, Rob Trigg, Ricardo Mathews, Alex Daniels and Dan Giordano I have little doubt the Bearcat defensive line will be able to occupy offensive lineman and allow the linebackers plenty of opportunities to make plays. Any added pressure these guys can put on the quarterback will be a complete bonus for the defense.

With the defensive lineman making life very difficult on opposing offenses it should free up space for the linebackers and safeties to make plays. The starting safeties for Cincinnati are ideally suited to do just that. Aaron Webster was great against the run last season. He was consistently in on tackles, delivering big hits, without allowing big yards. When healthy Bearcat coaches have been very impressed with the play of Drew Frey and I have little doubt he will be very solid in run defense.

Linebacker is a position with far more questions, but lets start with the good news. The outside linebacker position in the 3-4 defense seems like an ideal place to showcase the skills of Curtis Young. Curtis Young was somewhat limited in action last season playing behind all Big East defensive end Conner Barwin, but in that limited action he yielded 4 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss. Young is the type of player who can line up with his hand on the ground at more of a defensive end position and can play straight up like a linebacker. I look for him to be disruptive in opposing backfields all season long. Andre Revels becomes the full time starter for the first time in his career at middle linebacker. Revels has been solid essentially splitting time with Manalac 50-50 over the past two season. The rest of the Bearcat linebacking corp does not lack for strength or athleticism. Former quarterback Demetrius Jones may be the most athletic player on the Bearcat roster. Craig Carey and Marcus Waugh have also taken their abilities and moved to the defensive side of the football. Players like Colin McCafferty, J.K. Schaffer, Robby Armstrong and Dorian Davis will get their chance to make plays. These linebackers probably have more athletic ability than last years and I think this will translate into players who perform strongly against the run all season.

Which brings me to the big question for the Bearcat defense... pass defense. How well will these linebackers, playing in a completely new system and starting for the first time be able to understand and execute the pass defenses Bob Diaco asks them to play? If the Bearcat defense is going to struggle to me this is the obvious area that will give them problems. Beyond the linebackers, will the Bearcats be able to adequately replace the contributions NFL bound Mickens, Smith and Underwood were able to give them. I have a great deal of confidence in Dominique Battle because he was able to do it on the field late last season. Brad Jones has the experience and the size, but he has not been asked to be a full time corner before... will he be up to the task? The Bearcats will need Battle, Jones and some of the other young cornerbacks like Reubon Johnson, MJ James, Chris Williams, and Camerron Cheetham to step up in a big way if they are going to repeat as Big East Champions.

All in all I feel very good about the Bearcat run defense and see some obvious questions when it comes to their pass defense. If the Bearcats can answer those concerns they can be every bit as good, if not better than last years championship squad.

On Offense:

There has never been a season where I have had more confidence about a Cincinnati Bearcat offense heading into week 1. In Gino Guidugli's final season he had a completely new head coach who ran a different type of offense. When Brian Kelly arrived he was trying to switch from power running to shotgun spread and was trying to do it with a relatively undistinguished transfer QB with pins in his arm. Last season everyone was wondering would it be Mauk, Grutza, Pike or someone else leading the show? When Coach Kelly decided on Grutza everyone remembered his mediocre career as Dantonio's starter. Could Kelly turn him into a star? Eventually Grutza went down and Pike took over leading Cincinnati to a Big East Championship. The great part about that was now Cincinnati fans have an idea of what they can get from Pike and the possibilities have us excited.

Not enough is being made of the fact that this is the first time Brian Kelly has known his quarterback going into the spring since he was coaching at Division II Grand Valley State. Think about that for a second. Think about how good Brian Kelly's offenses have looked at Central Michigan and now at Cincinnati and remember that he has done that without getting an entire off-season to really prepare one quarterback. Tony Pike has been the guy all off-season. He has taken the first team reps, been able to continually up is connection with his receivers and running backs, enhance his feel for the offensive lineman and their protections, as well as really master the offense. Last season because of all the injuries and uncertainties the Bearcats slowed things down. They did not get to the line as fast or change the pace like they had in Kelly's first season. Now with Pike being the guy and being prepared all off-season I expect to see everything Kelly wants to throw out there this season. To me this is huge and the biggest story going into the season for Bearcat football. I just cannot imagine this offense not clicking on all cylinders.

This of course would be less relevant if the Bearcats had lost a bunch of players on offense, luckily that is not the case. Pike has back his entire left side of the offensive line to protect his blind side in Linkenbach and Kelce, as well as he gets his starting center back in Chris Jurek. The Bearcats are replacing the right side of the line, but they are doing so with talent that saw plenty of action last season and have the potential to be very good. Alex Hoffman, C.J. Cobb, and Sam Griffen are expected to really solidify the offensive line. The Bearcats have their top three running backs returning and fans expect to see more of play making type backs such as Isaiah Pead and Darrin Williams this season. Perhaps the deepest position on the Bearcat roster is wide receiver where they return first team all Big East wide receiver Mardy Gilyard as well as talented contributors Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, and Marcus Barnett. With all of this talent back, an entire off-season working with Kelly to master the off-season and the prospect of repeating as Big East Champions I have little doubt Tony Pike will lead this offense to huge accomplishments this season. I really believe this will be the best Bearcat offense of the modern era.

On Special Teams:

You do not replace Kevin Huber. The man led the nation in net punting back to back seasons. I am not sure how often that happens but I am willing to bet it is incredibly rare. I have never seen a punter consistently put the ball inside the 10 or at the very least 20 as often as Huber did. When the Bearcats were banged up it was Kevin Huber that allowed the Bearcats to play much more conservatively than I am sure Brian Kelly is used to or ideally wanted to. My hope is the Bearcats get solid punting. If they do that I really feel with the strong offense they can offset the loss of Kevin Huber. Still in close games against top notch defenses that is a worry.

Throwing out Huber, however, I am very confident in Bearcat special teams. Mardy Gilyard took two kickoffs back for touchdowns in 2008 and was one of the premier kickoff returners in the country. I think D.J. Woods has to potential to come into his own as a punt returner this year. Jake Rodgers has gotten his share of grief as a Bearcat but his sophomore year was considerably better than his freshman year and really when you look at the numbers he was very good. Now he has another year of experience. He already has a huge leg (3-4 from 50+) and I really believe this is the year he puts it all together and becomes a huge weapon for the Bearcats (though ideally we will be scoring touchdowns not field goals).

Season Projections:

@ Rutgers, Monday September 7: Talk about an enormous way to open the season. This is a Labor Day conference game against two of the favorites to win the conference. This really is a game the Bearcats cannot afford to lose if they want to win the Conference. Rutgers is returning a bunch on defense and their offensive line is completely intact from last year. They do, however, lose their quarterback and top two receivers. I really believe there is not a better time to catch Rutgers, because once they get their quarterback situation settled they are going to be as good as anyone in the league. Rutgers has the advantage of playing all of the projected contenders at home (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and South Florida). If Cincinnati can win this game it will be them with a huge leg up on the other contenders who will have to go to Rutgers after they get their QB situation in order. Leaning Towards Win

Southeast Missouri State, Saturday September 12: The first home game of the year should be a route. WIN

@ Oregon State, Saturday September 19: A huge non-league road trip where the Bearcats will really get the opportunity to represent the Big East. Two years ago the Bearcats absolutely abused the Beavers at Nippert. Oregon State has one of the best running backs in the country in Jacquizz Rodgers. They return a good amount of starters from a team that tied for second in the PAC Ten. It is never easy to win in Corvallis...just ask Pete Carroll and USC who lost the last 2 times they went there(including last season). I like the Bearcats' ability to stop the run, but this will be a very difficult road environment. Tossup

Fresno State, Saturday September 26: Fresno State is always a tough non-conference test for BCS teams. They seem to always come ready to play and have consistently competed for WAC titles. This game is sandwiched in between a trip to the west coast and a traditional rivalry game so we have to hope the Bearcats remain focused. That being said I do not anticipate a loss. WIN

@Miami (OH), Saturday October 3: A rivalry that is going to be one-sided for a while. WIN

@ USF, Thursday October 15: The Bearcats are lucky in that they get their first bye week to prepare for a Thursday night game at league rival USF (USF also has a bye so it is not an advantage). The Bearcats have owned the Bulls and particularly Matt Grothe the past few seasons, however, this game has an interesting twist with former Bearcat defensive coordinator Joe Tresey running the Bulls defense. Tresey and his knowledge of the Bearcats and what they do scares me a bit, but in the end I still like this team to get the job done. Leaning Towards Bearcats

Louisville, Saturday October 24: Homecoming... I know it is a rivalry, but I expect Louisville to be really bad. WIN

@Syracuse, Saturday October 31: It is Syracuse...they are starting a Duke Flopper who has not played football in four years at quarterback... I have confidence. WIN

UCONN, Saturday November 7: Big revenge game for the Bearcats who absolutely fell apart last season in the forth quarter against UCONN. Last year was the first game where I have really questioned Kelly's strategy as he refused to run the ball even with Anderson looking awful. UCONN is never an easy team to play. They are well coach and have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball. I really do not think they have enough offense. WIN

West Virginia, Friday November 13: It is Friday the 13th and the Bearcats have a huge conference game against WVU. To me this is the game that really could decide the conference championship. West Virginia had owned the Bearcats in Big East play up until last season. I personally believe that Brown is going to do a very good job running an offense that will be very balanced this year for the Mountaineers. Can the Bearcats beat the Mountaineers and repeat as Big East champions? I think being at home gives the Bearcats a slight advantage... very slight. Leaning Towards Bearcats (barely)

Illinois, Friday November 27: The Bearcats get a week off to refocus after the WVU game. That is nice, because this is another great chance for the Big East to show what they have out of conference. It is hard to know what to expect from Illinois. Last year they really struggled, two years ago they made the Rose Bowl. The talent is there, will they perform? I say not in a hostile Nippert. WIN

@Pittsburgh: I think the loss of McCoy hurts more than many believe. Pittsburgh has a very good defense, but to me not as dominate as some have made it out to be. I think the Bearcats are able to score enough to win while Pittsburgh struggles to run the football on the Bearcat defense. This game scares me a bit because if Pittsburgh can get consistent production from the quarterback position they could be as good as anyone in the conference (and potentially a top 15 team). I, however, have not seen anything to really prove that will happen. WIN (but worries me a little)

Looking back at my projections I have 7 solid wins for the Bearcats to go with 1 win that worries me a little, 3 leaning towards win and 1 true tossup. Of those 5 non wins I am going to assume the Bearcats lose no more than 4 and lose at least 1. With all that said my range for the Bearcats this season is 8-4 to 11-1. I am leaning towards the higher totals that fits with my projection that has many of the tossup type games as close Bearcat wins. My projection is 10-2 with a 6-1 or 5-2 conference record. If we go 6-1 in conference I think we have a great shot at a Big East Championship. Looking at everything I still think the Bearcats have the best odds of any team in the conference to win the Big East. (Last year my projection was 11-2 and said if 1 of the wins was at WVU we'd be Big East Champions)... So there you have it. Monday cannot get here soon enough. Still to come this week is my full Big East Preview... until then... OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH OHHHHHHHHHHHH OHHHHHHHHHHH OH OH OH OH UC!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Games I Am Looking Forward to in the Opening Round


8. LSU vs. 9. Butler (Greensboro, 12:20pm)- I love how the NCAA committee gave no respect to the SEC…frankly the SEC did not earn respect. I like this Butler team, they are young, but they have showed a lot of promise.

8. BYU vs. 9. Texas A&M (Philadelphia 12:30 pm)- another 8 vs. 9 matchup between a mid-major and power conference team. I like Texas A&M in this game but I always like to see the non-power conference get a win and BYU certainly has a solid squad.

5. Purdue vs. 12. Northern Iowa (Portland 2:30 pm)- The Missouri Valley has traditionally been a tough out in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa is not particularly athletic, but they play smart basketball and can shoot the ball. As everyone knows by now 12 seeds almost always beat a 5 seed at least once in the NCAA tournament. I do not think this is the matchup, not because Northern Iowa is not capable, but because Purdue is really playing well right now. Purdue with a healthy Hummel is a fine basketball team and can make a nice run.

7. California vs. 10. Maryland (Kansas City 2:55 pm)- Both these teams have top notch coaches. Maryland made the necessary run they needed late in the year to make the dance. On their best night the Terps are capable of beating anyone. Cal has been more consistent throughout the season… still I like the ACC over the Pac Ten in this one.

4. Washington vs. 13. Mississippi State (Portland 5 pm)- With their backs to the wall Mississippi State made it happen. They won 4 games in 4 days to earn their way into the Big Dance. My favorite part of March every year is almost every team in America gets to play until they lose, in that sense the conference tournaments are an extension of the NCAA tournament…everyone is alive. Anyone who has not seen Vernado play is missing out. He reminds me of Kenyon Martin. Though he does not have the offensive skill Kenyon displayed he is a better shot blocker…the best in the country.

7. Texas vs. 10. Minnesota (Greensboro 7:10 pm)- The first of the games featuring a mediocre big ten team. Minnesota has had their moments this year, but I do not think they are good enough to beat Texas when they play well.

7. Clemson vs. 10. Michigan (Kansas City 7:10 pm)- Clemson has been really falling apart down the stretch. I also have no confidence in any Clemson team to win anything. Beilein is a heck of a coach. This is a game I think Michigan can win.

4. Gonzaga vs. 13. Akron (Portland 7:25 pm)- I think Gonzaga is capable of making a nice run this year, but am always interested in seeing the Ohio teams. The MAC has not one and NCAA tournament game in years, I believe since Antonio Gates was killing it at Kent State. I expect that trend to continue.

6. UCLA vs. 11. VCU (Philadelphia 9:50 pm)- Two years ago Eric Maynor lit up duke as VCU pulled a big first round upset (also as an 11 seed). Maynor is averaging 22 points per game in his senior campaign and he is added by Sophomore big man Larry Sanders. VCU is certainly capable of a big upset.

5. Illinois vs. 12. Western Kentucky (Portland 9:55 pm)- Another possible 12/5 upset. Western Kentucky was in the sweet 16 last season. They are probably not as good this time around, but Illinois has been a bit up and down. They will likely be without or at the very best with the limited services of their starting point guard. (And that concludes day 1)


8. Oklahoma State vs. 9. Tennessee (Dayton 12:25)- Another 8 vs. 9 battle and this could be a high scoring game. Both of these two teams like to run. Tennessee has been very inconsistent but they have the talent to give teams trouble. (Quick tangent here…the sound at wherever I watch the games in Vegas needs to be on the Dayton Regional where Bill Raftery is doing color commentary. Raftery is the Babe Ruth of sports announcing. He defines the position. Whether he’s telling you what defense a team is starting in (MANTOMAN) or telling you how clutch a player is for making a huge play (ONIONS) or announcing a game as a Pitt player breaks the backboard “Send it in Jerome!” Raftery brings this flair to the job that is fun, but not over the top. Raftery understands the game but does not annoy you with his own personal agendas. Bill Simmons can have Gus Johnson… I’ll take Bill Raftery every time.)

3. Kansas vs. 14. North Dakota State (Minneapolis 12:30)- 2 of the last 3 years Kansas has been eliminated in round 1 (by Bucknell and Bradley). North Dakota State is a great story making the NCAA tournament in their first year of Division 1 college basketball. They redshirted this year’s senior class a few years back so they would be available for their first year in Division 1. Ben Westbrook is scoring over 22 per game and has gone for 60 this year. I do not think North Dakota State will do it, but I am very intrigued by this game (particularly since Kansas has lost to Texas Tech and Baylor in the last two weeks).

6. Marquette vs. 11. Utah State (Boise 12:30)- People think Marquette is done without James. I know they have lost 5 of 6, but those games were to 1 seeds and 3 seeds (yea every loss) and three were ridiculously close. I think they are getting their act together. I am anxious to see them come to play against Utah State (and in the next round I think their guards are too good to be bothered by the Missouri press). I also do not know what it is about the Boise location but it always seems to produce the best NCAA tournament early round games. I swear one of these years I am going to make a trip to Boise for the opening rounds.

6. Arizona State vs. 11. Temple (Miami 2:45 pm)- Another 6/11 game of intrigue. James Harden vs. Deonte Christmas will be a really good matchup.

6. West Virginia vs. 11. Dayton (Minneapolis 3 pm)- West Virginia has really been valued this year by guys like Ken Pomeroy who calculate offensive and defensive efficiency. They are 1 of 6 teams in the country to be in the top twenty nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency (Every champion since 2005 has had that trait). Huggins 13-3 in his career in first round games and has not loss an opening round game as anything higher than an 8 seed. I think WVU makes a statement here and I look for them to make a run.

5. Utah vs. 12. Arizona (Miami 7:10pm)- I think a 5 seed was very generous for Utah (I had them as a 7). Many people do not think Arizona earned their way in, but they have some big time quality victories. With Arizona it always depends on which team shows up. I think they have a great set to put the “upset.”

7. Boston College vs. 10. USC (Minneapolis, 7:20)- Boston College is another team with some great wins and bad losses. The USC Trojans have been facing elimination since Pac Ten tournament play began. I like their chances to continue their run of success.

4. Xavier vs. 13. Portland State (Boise 7:25)- Reading up on Portland State they are a much more dangerous team for Xavier than I originally thought. I think they are going to really pressure Xavier’s point guards, which tends to result in turnovers for X. The key for Portland State will be hitting threes. Xavier has lost 5 of their last 10 and at times to teams not as good as Portland State. This could be another game where the magic of Boise shines through.

4. Wake Forest vs. 13. Cleveland State (Miami 9:40)- I thought Wake Forest earned a 3 seed, but the committee thought differently. A 3 seed would have produced a much more favorable matchup. Cleveland State is very good having already beaten Syracuse and played WVU pretty tough this season. If Wake Forest shows up and plays their best they will win, but they have struggled against lesser teams from time to time this year.

8. Ohio State vs. 9. Siena (Dayton 9:40)- Can Siena overcome the home court advantage that Ohio State will have? Siena is a very good basketball team that as a 13 seed last year was able to advance to the second round. This year they get a better matchup, but in a tougher venue. Ohio State seems to be playing their best basketball. I expect them to move on, but Siena should give them a fight.

5. Florida State vs. 12. Wisconsin (Boise 9:55)- I think Florida State was very under-seeded. They are a really good team. The more I have looked at Wisconsin’s resume the less impressed I have been. Bo Ryan’s teams are always dangerous, but I think the Seminoles take care of business.

Most Likely First Round Upsets in order of likelihood…I think you will see 4 or 5 (11 seeds and below)
12. Arizona over 5. Utah
11. VCU over 6. UCLA
11. Temple over 6. Arizona State
12. Western Kentucky over 5. Illinois
13. Mississippi State over 4. Washington
13. Cleveland State over 4. Wake Forest
11. Utah State over 6. Marquette
12. Wisconsin over 5. Florida State
14. North Dakota State over 3. Kansas
13. Akron over 4. Gonzaga
11. Dayton over 6. West Virginia

Sleeper Teams that can make the Sweet 16 and beyond, in order of likelihood (seeded 6 and below…I think there will be 3-5)
West Virginia
Western Kentucky
Southern Cal
Boston College
Mississippi State

6 Final Four Sleepers (3 seeds and Below)
West Virginia
Florida State

My Final 4

Pitt over U of L

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Me vs. The Selection Committee

All in all it was a pretty good year for me predicting the field of 65. I nailed 27 of the 65 teams exactly on their seed-line and an additional 32 of 65 within 1 of their seed-line. So the field as a whole I got 59-65 either on or within 1 seed-line of their eventual seed. I did not have any team seeded any more than 2 lines from the selection committee. You may not be surprised, but I really think the committee did the best job I have ever seen them do this year. Here is a look at the teams I nailed exact as well as the teams I was within 1 line on.

Teams I nailed their seed (seeds before the name)- 27 of 65
1. Louisville
1. Pitt
1. UNC
2. Memphis
2. Michigan State
2. Duke
2. Oklahoma
3. Syracuse
3. Villanova
4. Washington
6. Arizona State
8. Oklahoma State
9. Butler
10. Southern Cal
11. Utah State
11. Temple
12. Arizona
14. American
15. Cal State Northridge
15. Binghampton
15. Robert Morris
16. Chattanooga
16. Radford
16. Alabama State
16. Morehead State

Teams I was within one seed line (32 of 65)
Boston College, Texas A&M, Northern Iowa, Gonzaga, Cleveland State, Wake Forest, Portland State, Marquette, Cornell, California, Missouri, Western Kentucky, VCU, Clemson, Minnesota, Stephen F Austin, BYU, Kansas, North Dakota State, West Virginia, Mississippi State, Maryland, Dayton, Morgan State, Texas, Michigan, Purdue, Xavier, Akron, Illinois, Ohio State, Siena

My Six Big Misses
Utah- I had Utah as a 7 seed (and the last 7 seed at that) and the committee made them a five. Needless to say I think they are too high. Utah has great RPI numbers, which probably explains their lofty seed. They do not, however have a ton of high profile wins. In the end I am fine with the seed, but I just happen to disagree with the merits of it.

Florida State- I think this team has inexplicably flown under the radar all season. Not even a run to the finals of the ACC tournament was enough to move them up. I had them as a 3, they probably had the body of work of a 4 seed. Tough break being a 5 and drawing dangerous Wisconsin team to open the tournament. Still I do not think Florida State can be too upset with playing a fading Xavier team in the second round.

Wisconsin- I think the Committee got it right with Wisconsin. I had them as my 5th to last team in. It looks like the committee had them as their second to last team or last team. Their resume really does not jump out at you. I probably had them slightly too high.

LSU- I thought the committee would give more credit to LSU’s success in a very bad SEC. I am thrilled to see that this was not the case. I had LSU as a 6…I think an 8 seed is much closer to where they deserve to be. It was very clear from their seed and then Tennessee’s seed that the committee did not think very highly of the SEC this season. I applaud them for this judgment.

Tennessee- Another decision I applaud the committee for. I had them as a 7, the committee made them a 9. Tennessee has a strong strength of schedule but has been about as up and down as a team can be. They played in a conference that was way down and only managed a share of the Eastern Division Title. Well done by the committee.

East Tennessee State- Portland State, Cornell and East Tennessee State currently are 114, 115, and 116 in the RPI respectively. Portland State is a 13 seed, Cornell is a 14 seed and East Tennessee State is only a 16 seed. I think they were seeded too low, but seeding those last teams from small conference is somewhat of a crapshoot.

All in all I think the committee did a fantastic job this year and put together a very good NCAA tournament field. I feel bad for San Diego State, but with the conference tournament upsets a deserving team or two (Penn State) was going to be left out. I’ll have more throughout the week including a list of my favorite matchups of round 1, some sleeper teams, some possible upsets and some teams I think got great draws for the type of game they like to play.

My Final Bracket Projection

A couple of things of note as I unveil my final bracket projection before the committee announces the field of 65 at 6 pm. First I have Ohio State and Purdue slotted and the results of there game will have no outcome on my bracket. I think their body of work is complete enough without their third game in three days meaning much.

My number 1 seeds are Louisville, Pitt, UNC and UCONN in that order. Louisville by virtue of winning the Big East regular season and tournament title has earned the number 1 overall seed. I considered Memphis for a one seed but in the end I do not think their body of work compares to the other four teams. I think they are certainly better now than early in the season, but we have nothing to compare them to the other one seeds with. With the absence of a meaningful way to evaluate them against the other 1 seeds I cannot justify putting them on the top line of the bracket.

I think Syracuse has played themselves into a 3 seed with their run to the Big East tournament finals. Syracuse has wins over Kansas, UCONN and Memphis… I don’t think any team in the country has a more impressive set of three victories. Similarly I think Florida State’s run in the ACC played them into a 3 seed.

I have never seen such a run of dwindling at large spots because of conference tournaments. The Horizon, Atlantic Ten, Pac Ten, and SEC all eliminated at large opportunities for a number of teams.

My breakdown by conference is as follows:
Big East- 7
ACC- 7
Big 10- 7
Pac Ten- 6
Big 12- 6
SEC- 3
Atlantic 10- 3
Mountain West- 2
Horizon- 2
All other leagues- 1 each

Last Four In

First Five Out
San Diego State
Penn State
St Mary’s

Here are some thoughts on those last teams in and first few out.

Dayton- I am very confident they are in.

Minnesota- Also very confident they are in. Their non-conference victory over Louisville has a lot of legs and I think they did enough in the Big 10.

Maryland- I think they left the committee with a good impression and they have three of the best victories in the country beating Michigan State, North Carolina and Wake Forest. They have been inconsistent much of the year, which hurts, but they won when they had to in the ACC tournament to get a bid. I think the committee will put them in because of that.

Arizona- Here is the spot I am most likely to be wrong on. Many have Arizona out. They have been dreadful on the road going 2-9, which will hurt. In the past the committee has continually rewarded teams that scheduled and won out of conference. In their non-conference schedule the Wildcats beat Kansas, San Diego State, and Gonzaga. In the conference they beat Washington, UCLA and Southern Cal. That gives Arizona 6 RPI top 50 victories (two top 25), which is considerably better than most of the teams they are competing with. I think the committee once again will reward a team that scheduled ambitiously and beat some teams by giving them the last spot.

The Five I Have Just Out
San Diego State- They did everything that I thought they had to do in the Mountain West tournament and it might not be enough. I would have no problem with the committee selecting San Diego State over Arizona or Maryland.

Penn State- They scheduled atrociously out of conference and the committee has generally not been kind to bubble teams that scheduled poorly. They have several big wins in conference play including two big road wins over Michigan State and Illinois. The committee could put them in because of those road wins, I think they come up just short.

Creighton- Left the committee with a bad impression getting waxed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals. Their victory over Dayton does not look as good as it once did. Their other big victories are New Mexico, Northern Iowa and Illinois State…those wins are simply not good enough. I think Creighton is out.

St Mary’s- I keep hearing the case that this team is different with Patty Mills, which is probably true. They still do not have the necessary wins to tell me they are a tournament team. I know their record with Mills is very good, but they have not really beaten anyone of significance. They lost all three to Gonzaga (including getting smoked in the West Coast Conference finals). Their best victories are over Utah State and San Diego State. I think side by side with the rest of the bubble teams that is not enough.

Auburn- They played really well down the stretch in a very bad conference. I think they needed to beat Tennessee to have a case. They did not do that. They have nothing to distinguish themselves in their non-conference play. They are out.

For my bracket i followed a true S-curve not worrying about locations (for instance Louisville will likely be sent to Dayton for their first round games). In the true S curve the top 1 seed would play in the region with the lowest 2 seed. The only shifts i made were to avoid early matchups between conference teams and to make sure protected seeds from the same conference were not in the same region. This took more work this year because 9 of the top 12 seeds in my bracket are from the Big East and ACC. All conference champions are in bold for your convenience. With all that out there, here is my field of 65:

Indianapolis Region

1. Louisville
16. Radford/ Chattanooga

8. Boston College
9. Texas A&M

4. Washington
13. Northern Iowa

5. Gonzaga
12. Cleveland State

3. Wake Forest
14. Portland State

6. LSU
11. Utah State

7. Marquette
10. Southern Cal

2. Oklahoma
15. Cornell

Boston Region

1. Pittsburgh
16. Alabama State

8. California
9. Butler

4. Missouri
13. Western Kentucky

5. Arizona State
12. VCU

3. Villanova
14. American

6. Clemson
11. Minnesota

7. Tennessee
10. Wisconsin

2. Duke
15. Stephen F Austin

Memphis Region

1. North Carolina
16. Morehead State

8. Oklahoma State
9. BYU

4. Kansas
13. North Dakota State

5. West Virginia
12. Mississippi State

3. Syracuse
14. East Tennessee State

11. Maryland

7. Utah
10. Dayton

2. Michigan State
15. Cal State Northridge

Arizona Region

16. Morgan State

8. Texas
9. Michigan

4. Purdue
13. Binghampton

5. Xavier
12. Arizona

3. Florida State
14. Akron

6. Illinois
11. Temple

7. Ohio State
10. Siena

2. Memphis
15. Robert Morris

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Projection of the Field

Here is my first projection for the NCAA field this selection Sunday. I think it is important to note a few things. There are always a few procedural changes. Protected teams from the same conference cannot play each other until the final four…so for example I flipped three seeds Wake Forest and Villanova to avoid a Sweet 16 clash of Wake Forest and Duke as well as an Elite Eight clash of UCONN and Villanova. Also the committee likes to avoid teams from the same conference meeting in the first two rounds, so there were a few switches made based on that.

I only have 2 SEC teams in my field at this time. I think there is still a good chance another can make the finals to play themselves in(and I think they need to make the finals to do that). Teams that have already won automatic births are in BOLD. Teams that will need an automatic birth to make it have their conference in brackets after their name. I think Providence must beat Louisville to make the NCAA tournament. I think VT, Maryland, and Miami Florida must win two in the ACC tournament. I think Northwestern has to win 2, maybe three. I think Kansas State has to make the finals of the Big 12. My last four in are pretty weak so it will be easy for them to fall out, but others behind have to step up.

I will have one more projection on Selection Sunday, shortly before the brackets are released.

Indianapolis Region

1. Pittsburgh
16. Radford/Alabama State (SWAC)

8. Butler
9. Tennessee

4. Xavier
13. Northern Iowa

5. Missouri
12. Cleveland State

3. Villanova
14. Cornell

6. Arizona State
11. Siena

7. West Virginia
10. Penn State

2. Duke
15. Morehead State

Boston Region

16. Steven F Austin (Southland)

8. Boston College
9. Ohio State

4. Washington
13. North Dakota State

5. Clemson
12. Utah State (WAC)

3. Wake Forest
14. American (Patriot)

6. Marquette
11. Minnesota

7. Utah
10. Michigan

2. Memphis
15. Cal State Northridge (Big West)

Memphis Region

1. North Carolina
16. Chattanooga

8. Texas A&M
9. Arizona

4. Purdue
13. Western Kentucky

5. Syracuse
12. VCU

3. Kansas
14. Portland State (Big Sky)

6. California
11. San Diego State

7. Gonzaga
10. Oklahoma State

2. Michigan State
15. Bowling Green (MAC)

Arizona Region

1. Oklahoma
16. Morgan State (MEAC)

8. Dayton
9. BYU

4. Florida State
13. Binghampton (American East)

12. New Mexico

3. Illinois
14. East Tennessee State

6. LSU
11. Creighton

7. Texas
10. Wisconsin

2. Louisville
16. Robert Morris (Northeast)
Last Four In

San Diego State
New Mexico

First Four Out

Kansas State
Miami (Florida)

Next Four Out

Virginia Tech
St. Mary’s

Still in the Mix

Rhode Island
South Carolina
Utah State

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ranking the Bubble - Early Championship Week

It is very difficult to predict what the NCAA Selection Committee will do, because their criteria seems to be very subjective. They do have a list of things they look at, but often to justify who gets in they stress different criteria. My criteria for the ranking the teams on the bubble is basically as follows:1. I don't want to rank who is the most talented or who I believe is the BEST team...I want to rank who has done the most to warrant a bid. I value winning games against other tournament teams and winning games against other teams on the bubble. It is also important to prove you can win games away from home. A team that has shown an ability to win games against multiple NCAA teams away from home will get favorable treatment. There is also a ton to be said for consistency. A team like Maryland this season has two great wins (North Carolina and Michigan State), but a lot of bad losses. On Maryland’s best day they are a tournament team, but their best days are few and far between. 2. I have one slight bias. I tend to favor Conference Champions from small conferences over teams from major conferences with a lacking resume. A team like George Mason a few years ago receives very few chances to play teams from the major conferences. If they have shown they can compete with those teams AND been the dominant team in their conference I am inclined to give them the opportunity in the NCAA over teams like Florida and South Carolina from this year which yea have some good wins but has not really done quite enough with the opportunities they have been given. This year the Mountain West offers San Diego State and New Mexico who fit that mold. Another team like that is Creighton out of the Missouri Valley.

There are 3 conferences that I think will remain one bid leagues regardless of who wins their conference championship, but it is possible I could be wrong: the Southern Conference (likely Davidson), the MAAC (Siena) and the WAC (Utah State)… I think Siena is the most likely of that group to win an at large bid. There are other conferences where we could see the at large pool shrink if there are some upsets, so those on the bubble will be pulling for the conference favorites: the Mountain West (BYU or Utah), the A10 (Dayton and Xavier), the WCC (Gonzaga), the Horizon (Butler) and Conference USA (root for Memphis). Right now I have 21 teams competing for the last 9 at large spots. The number of at large spots could shrink if there are upsets in the above conference tournaments. With all that in mind here is how I would rank the bubble right now.

Off the Bubble (earned their way in)

Boston College- Boston College finished with a winning record in the ACC, which should be good enough to get them in the NCAA tournament. BC has two of the best wins in the country having taken down both North Carolina and Duke so they have proven they can compete with anyone. BC is 4-4 against the RPI top 50 with three of those wins coming against the RPI top 25.

Dayton- Their wins against Xavier and Marquette are excellent. Their RPI numbers say this is a tournament team. If the bubble field was stronger perhaps Dayton would sweat longer, but this team is in. Dayton is 4-2 against the RPI top 50.

Ohio State- Their win against Northwestern to get to 10-8 in the Big Ten cemented their status as an NCAA tournament team. Ohio State has looked shaky at times, but boasts five wins over the RPI top 50. When you look at those victories in detail they are not spectacular. They beat a Purdue team without Hummel at home, they swept bubble team Michigan, beat bubble team Minnesota and beat NCAA bound Butler. Still, the five wins and a bubble that has faded at the bottom will keep Ohio State in the dance.

BYU- 24-6, a first place finish in a pretty strong Mountain West conference and good wins over Utah, San Diego State and New Mexico will be enough. BYU sits at 22 in the RPI…only Missouri State in the committee’s inexplicable 2005 selections has missed the NCAA tournament with an RPI that low.

Texas A&M- They have exactly what the committee says they want from bubble teams good wins inside and outside of the conference. They have beaten LSU and Arizona in their non-conference slate and now have victories over Texas, Oklahoma State, and Missouri in Big 12 play. Texas A&M is 4-5 against the RPI top 50.

Tennessee- Their computer numbers are too good and they played too good a schedule to not make the NCAA tournament. This is one of the more inconsistent teams in the country. They lost this weekend to Alabama, were swept by Kentucky and lost to Ole Miss in conference play. Their wins over Marquette, Georgetown and their sweep of SEC bubble teams South Carolina and Florida…combined with their number 1 Strength of Schedule and good RPI numbers will keep them in the dance.

Arizona- It is strange to think a team that lost 4 of 5 down the stretch and only finished .500 in a mediocre conference is probably safely in the NCAA tournament, but that is exactly the case for the Wildcats. Arizona is also only 2-9 outside of Tucson Arizona. To their credit the Wildcats have 5 top 50 victories including wins over Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Washington and UCLA. The strength of those wins will carry Arizona into the dance.

On the Good Side of the Bubble (In my opinion, for now)

Wisconsin- The Badgers have the best RPI of all the Big Ten teams on the massive Big Ten Bubble (by my count there are 5 and that does not include Ohio State, who some still consider a bubble team). The Badgers have finished relatively strong (compared to the rest of the fading bubble) going 7-2 down the stretch. The Badgers swept two fellow bubble teams in Michigan and Penn State. They also have home victories over Illinois and Ohio State.

Oklahoma State- the Oklahoma State Cowboys will be one of the more interesting cases on selection Sunday. They have played one of the nation’s better schedules and have inflated RPI numbers as a result. They own victories over bubble teams Siena and Rhode Island as well as conference foes Texas A&M and Texas. Still, the Cowboys are only 4-12 against the RPI top 50 including 0-5 against the RPI top 25. In truth they have played a ton of very good teams but won a very small percentage of those games. I think the committee will reward them for playing a tough schedule and getting what wins they did get, particularly with the rest of the bubble fading.

Penn State- Because of a very poor non-conference schedule Penn State has the lowest RPI of all of the Big Ten bubble teams, but they have been one of the better performs and have the best wins. The committee tends to reward road wins and the Nittany Lions have two enormous ones over Michigan State and Illinois. They have three other RPI top 50 wins beating Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan at home. Those wins and a 10-8 record in the Big Ten probably have Penn State on the right side of the bubble on selection Sunday.

Michigan- Michigan got a very important victory this weekend over Minnesota to move to .500 in Big Ten play. That might have been necessary, but now their big wins really come into play. Michigan played a difficult slate of nonconference games and came away with wins over UCLA and Duke. They also have victories over Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue. They have 6 victories over RPI top 50 teams, which is among the best for all of the teams on the bubble.

San Diego State- The Aztecs have probably become third in line for a bid out of the Mountain West Conference. A week ago I thought they were a long shot to make the NCAA’s, now I think they are going to be one of the last teams in. They do seem to lack some big wins. They have beaten Utah, New Mexico and swept UNLV. An early loss in the Mountain West tournament would probably doom their chances.

Minnesota- Minnesota lost an opportunity to lock up a bid against Michigan on Saturday. The Golden Gophers still can make a compelling case with a great non-conference victory over potential number 1 seed Louisville on a neutral court. They have 4 other top 50 RPI wins over Illinois, Ohio State and a sweep of Wisconsin. A win over Northwestern in round one of the Big Ten tournament will likely be enough.

Providence- The more I look at Providence the more I think they lack an NCAA caliber resume. They did finish 10-8 in one of the toughest conferences you will ever see, and have two great wins beating a virtually lock for a number 1 seed in Pitt and an immensely talented Syracuse team…but that is really the only meat on their resume. Providence is only 2-8 against the top 50 and 6-12 against the top 100. To be fair to Providence many of those losses are to the brutal top of the Big East, which few teams could probably get many wins against. To be a lock I think Providence is going to have to beat Cincinnati and Louisville in the Big East tournament (assuming Cincinnati gets by Depaul). A win over Cincinnati probably puts them teetering on the edge, dangerously close to not getting a bid.

Creighton- Creighton’s entire body of work is in place. Them staying in the tournament will largely depend on the performance of bubble teams around them like Providence, Minnesota, Miami (Fl), and Virginia Tech…as well as surviving the possibility of upsets in conferences like the Atlantic Ten, Mountain West, and Horizon. Creighton won a very solid Missouri Valley conference and was red hot down the stretch. They are 3-2 against the RPI top 50, their best win being against Dayton. They have other solid wins over Northern Iowa and New Mexico. They were 8-4 in road games this season and the committee loves true road wins. At 26-7 with an RPI of 39 I think they are sitting in fairly good position…their biggest issue is if some other teams play their way in they will be in trouble.

New Mexico- As of right now they are my last team in the NCAA tournament and I am not entirely comfortable with that. They finished with only 3 top 50 wins to 4 losses and have some less than desirable losses against Texas Tech, Central Florida, and drake. They did, however, win 10 of their last 12 including wins over Utah, BYU and San Diego State (all ahead of them in the pecking order). It should be noted that all three of those wins were at home. They still may need to beat Utah in the second round of the Mountain West tournament to make the NCAA’s.

On the Wrong Side of the Bubble (Once again in my opinion…for now)

UNLV- At some point a few great wins can only carry you so far and I think UNLV has finally reached that point. UNLV has a road victory over Big East champion Louisville, a sweep of NCAA bound BYU and a victory over Utah. They, however, have some bad losses of late against RPI 107 Wyoming, 156 TCU, and 196 Colorado State. They finished 5th in the Mountain West (a conference that is not getting 5 teams and though I have four in right now I doubt they will get four by Sunday), were swept by fellow bubble team San Diego State and lost recently to New Mexico. I think UNLV may need to make the finals (beating San Diego State and then BYU for a third time) to get a bid. Some great wins have carried UNLV for a while, but I do not think they will carry them in at this point.

Kansas State- The Wildcats are severely lacking in their out of conference resume. They are 7th in the Big 12 pecking order. They have wins over Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri (all tournament teams) but that is about it. Their 10-7 record in the Big 12 is solid, but their 102 Strength of Schedule and 77 RPI is not. They have a first round bye in the Big 12…I think they will need to get to the finals to warrant a bid (they’d likely have to beat Texas and Kansas).

Virginia Tech- They have two premier road victories over Clemson and Wake Forest but after that their season was filled with a ton of heartbreak. They lost on a half court shot to Xavier, lost on a last second shot to Wisconsin and lost late to Georgia. They have lost 6 of 7 to close the regular season and finished below .500 in the ACC. They are only 2-8 over the RPI top 50 and 6-11 vs. the RPI top 100. Virginia Tech does have a victory over Boston College and a road win over fellow bubble team Miami. Their first round ACC game against the Miami Hurricanes is essentially an elimination game…the loser will not make the tournament. I then think they will have to beat North Carolina to make the tournament.

Miami (Florida)- They have a very similar resume to the Hokies. They finished 7-9 in the ACC with a sweep over Boston College to their credit. The Hurricanes split with Maryland and have two very good victories over Wake Forest and Florida State. Miami is only 2-7 against the RPI top 50 and 7-10 vs. the top 100. A loss in the first round to Virginia Tech and they are done…even with a win I think they will have to beat North Carolina to earn a bid.

St Mary’s- If St Mary’s fails to win the West Coast Conference tonight they will be a headache for the selection committee. I happen to believe they should not make the tournament. Their biggest problem is they only have two victories over potential NCAA tournament teams. Their best wins are over San Diego State (a bubble team at best) and Utah State (another bubble team who I do not think will get in without an NCAA bid). All of their bad losses came when star Patty Mills was hurt, in fact they are 18-1 with Mills in the lineup. Still without the high caliber wins I still think it is automatic bid or bust for St Mary’s.

Northwestern- They played their way back on to the bubble by racking up some great wins. The Wildcats can claim road victories over Michigan State, and Purdue. They have other wins over Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. They did very little to distinguish themselves out of conference, and finished below .500 in Big Ten play. They are out right now, but with a run to the Big Ten tournament finals…I think they still have an outside shot.

Rhode Island- The loss to Massachusetts probably killed their chances for an at-large birth. Rhode Island’s resume is better than you might think at first glance. They have good wins over Temple and Virginia Commonwealth to go with victories over Penn State (likely NCAA team) and Dayton (an NCAA lock). They finished second in the Atlantic Ten. If they can beat Dayton again and then make the A10 finals would that be enough? Maybe. I think the loss would have to be to Xavier and they would have to be competitive.

Temple- They have a solid RPI and finished in that 3-way tie for second in the Atlantic Ten. They have wins over Rhode Island, Penn State and Tennessee. If they can beat Xavier in the A10 tournament they will be in the conversation. I still think Temple probably has to win the Atlantic Ten tournament to get a bid.

Maryland- At 65 they have the lowest RPI of all the ACC bubble teams. To get to 8-8 in ACC play all they had to do was beat Virginia…they failed. Maryland has two great wins against North Carolina and Michigan State. They are 3-8 against the top 50 and split games with Miami (Florida) and Virginia Tech. Still Maryland only looks like a tournament team about 25 percent of the time. They have losses to Morgan State and Virginia. They must beat NC State and Wake Forest to be considered for an at large bid.

South Carolina- About the only thing I can say for South Carolina is they finished 10-6 in the SEC East. They have one victory over the RPI top 50 and that is over the Florida Gators (49). They are 7-7 against the RPI top 100. Other than Florida their best win is probably Auburn followed by a sweep of quickly fading Kentucky. I just do not see how this team is NCAA worthy (as much as a would love to watch Downey in the dance). About the best thing I can say for them vs. the other SEC bubble teams is that they did not lose to Georgia. If they beat LSU to make the SEC tournament finals maybe you can consider them, but even then I think their resume is very thin.

Florida- Another of the SEC bubble teams with incredibly meager resumes. Their game against Auburn in the second round of the SEC tournament will be an elimination game. Then they must at least beat Tennessee to be in consideration (I still think they may have to win the SEC tournament to earn a birth). They have two top 50 victories over Washington on a neutral site and over South Carolina. They are only 2-7 on the road.

Auburn- Another team that may actually have to win the SEC to make it, but I will include them on the bubble. The Florida game will be an elimination game, then they have to beat Tennessee to be considered. They did absolutely nothing in the nonconference (their best victory was against Virginia). They did, however, finish 8-1 down the stretch beating Tennessee and drilling LSU at home this weekend. I think the SEC is at best a 3 team league, and could be a 2 team league (though a surprise conference tournament champion for a second straight season would not surprise me at all).

Siena- They have great RPI numbers, but their best wins are over Niagara and Northern Iowa. They did their job of making the conference tournament finals, but I still think they need to beat Niagara tonight to go to the dance.

Off the Bubble…Must win their conference tournaments
Utah State
Notre Dame

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bubble Look: Kentucky vs. Cincinnati

I am still of the belief that Cincinnati makes the tournament if they can win their last two games and make the quarterfinals of the Big East (they'd have to likely beat Depaul and either Providence, Syracuse or WVU to do that...the Providence game if that happens would likely be an elimination game). I am still a little baffled by how anyone can distinguish between the resume of say Kentucky and Cincinnati and put UK on top. The obvious answer is right now Kentucky beat 4 teams in most projected tournament brackets while Cincinnati only beat two... But let’s look closer and the wins are not very different.

For both teams their best win is WVU, though it is a better win for UK because it is on a neutral site.

They both have sweeps against two fading teams who have played great schedules and have strong RPI numbers in Georgetown for UC and Tennessee for UK (I know Georgetown and Tennessee are on opposite sides of the bubble, but their profiles do not differ too much)
The Bearcats win over UNLV on the road is a better win that Kentucky's home win over Florida.
The main difference in the teams is who the have lost to. Kentucky's worse losses are VMI, Ole Miss, Mississippi State (whom UC smoked), Vandy and twice to a South Carolina team with one top 50 RPI win (Kentucky was smoked by South Carolina in their second meeting).
The Bearcats two worse losses are getting swept by Providence which is comparable to the sweep of UK by South Carolina. Other than that their losses are to top 25 teams. (And for the most part top 15)... UCONN, Pitt, Louisville, Villanova, Marquette, Syracuse, Xavier, Memphis and Florida State. That is a murders row of games.
So UK and Cincinnati essentially have the same wins, but Kentucky has way worse losses... The quality of teams it has taken to beat Cincinnati this year is infinitely better than the teams it has taken to beat UK.
I know this is just one example...One side by side comparison, but to me it is a good one. In the end every single Cincinnati loss could be to an NCAA team. How many bubble teams in the country can make that claim?

Monday, March 2, 2009

My First Analysis of the Bubble

After Cincinnati get smoked yesterday I spent some time doing basic analysis of the bubble ( I don’t like getting too in depth until championship week). I wanted to see who we are competing with for bids. I started off doing comparisons of basic numbers and wins and trying to rank teams 1 to 65 (I got to 60 when they started to be less relevant). Then I spent some time figuring out which are the 1 bid leagues and how many spots will be available to the other leagues. My rankings are still in the early stages so I won’t share them…but I will show you my analysis of what I see the bubble being at this point.

Here are the teams I still think are fighting for at large births. Every team ahead I think has almost secured their spot in the field. As of right now I have listed 20 teams competing for 9 at larges spots. I have 19 conferences listed that I am pretty positive will be one bid leagues, no matter what. A 20th, the Missouri Valley I think has a good chance to be a 1 bid league but Creighton could steal a bid if they lose in the conference tournament finals. There are 3 conferences I am assuming will be one bid leagues regardless of the conference tournament results that may not have been at various points in the year: the Southern Conference (likely Davidson), the MAAC (Sienna) and the WAC (Utah State)…I don’t see either of those three getting an at large bid. There are conferences where we want to root for the teams already in the field, and potentially could be dangerous for teams stealing bids: the Mountain West (root for BYU, Utah or UNLV), the A10 (Root for Dayton and Xavier), the WCC (Root for Gonzaga), the Horizon (root for Butler) and Conference USA (root for Memphis). I am willing to bet that one or two of those leagues will see upsets that shrink the at large pool. So keep that in mind…the 9 spots that look available now could shrink and worst case scenario they could shrink by 5 (I think this is very unlikely).

The following teams are the 20 fighting for the 9 spots available today. I have not done an in depth analysis but I do have some initial thoughts.

Texas A&M- Might need to beat Missouri or make a run in the Big 12 tournament. I like their chances because they have some good non-conference meat with wins over LSU and Arizona.
Oklahoma State- Really good computer numbers, but really only a few decent wins (Sienna is borderline, Texas A&M is bubble all over, and they beat a struggling Texas team at home)
Miami (fl)- They should get to .500 in the ACC. They have some nice wins. I still think they’ll need 1 or 2 in the ACC tournament
VT- I don’t like their chances… They would be in now, but their schedule down the stretch is brutal… they almost have to beat either UNC at home or Florida State on the road. If they do either they will most like make it.
UNLV- Interesting case… they may finish as low as 5th in the Mountain West and yet they have some great wins on their resume. I think they may become mute because their conference tourney is in Vegas and I would bet on them.
Providence- I think they need to either beat Villanova or make the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament
Kentucky- A loss to Florida puts them firmly on the bubble. UK has some solid wins and the sweep of UT may help, but they have lost to some bad teams.
Michigan- Their great wins make them hard to ignore, but if they lose to Minnesota I think they are out.
Cincinnati- I am getting more and more confident that winning out and getting to the Big East quarterfinals will get UC in. A lot depends on what other teams do, but looking at what some others have left I still think we may be dancing. The other thing that would help tremendously is if UC gets those wins they’ll be 8-4 down the stretch…significantly better than most of their competition for bids.
Penn State- They have nothing out of conference but a lot in conference. If they win 1 of 2 I think they are in pretty good shape.
South Carolina- Killer loss to Vandy. They may need to beat Tennessee to get in.

Resume’s start getting weaker here.

Florida- Incredibly weak resume. If they lose to Kentucky they are done baring a run to the SEC tournament finals. A win against Kentucky keeps them alive.
Creighton- Hopefully they will just win the Missouri Valley tournament…but short of that they may need a run to the finals.
San Diego State- I think they are outside looking in, with little chance to play their way up. They have to win their last two (one is against UNLV) to have a shot.
Maryland- They have two great wins and not much else. I think they may have to beat Wake Forest or make a deep ACC run.
Georgetown- Great wins keep them in it, but they have to make a deep run in the Big East. I don’t know what to think about them… you don’t want them to steal a bid from UC, but it would be difficult to leave out a UC team that beat Georgetown twice if they made the tourney. All of a sudden that would give Cincinnati tourney wins over WVU, UNLV, two over Georgetown and maybe one in the Big East tournament. That would be a damn good resume.
Rhode Island- Probably needs to win out and beat X or Dayton again in the A10 tournament.
Minnesota- I think they are done. I think they need to sweep this week and I don’t see it.
Notre Dame- Has a lot of work left to do in the Big East tournament
Kansas State- they are a long shot and need a deep run at this point.

Judging by all of this I think the top 11 has being in better shape than the bottom 9…I guess we will wait and see. But of that top 11 right now there are 9 spots available ( I know someone like Lunardi has UC in their next four out, which may be true today, but I think Florida is hurting, I think SD State is hurting, I think Maryland must beat Wake… just judging by what is going to happen the rest of the year I still like where we are). As I said I do not think the 9 spots hold up, but I like our chances of getting one. Not all those teams up there are going to remain down the stretch. If UC takes care of business until the Big East quarterfinals and plays a good game in the quarters I would bet on them getting in. By then the sting of Syracuse will be long forgotten.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bearcats Should Still Have NCAA Tournament Aspirations

The Power of Positive Thinking

There are eleven games left in the basketball season and the Bearcats have officially matched their win total from last season. At this point it is really hard to project how the rest of the season will go so I am not going to even try. Last season the Bearcats got their 13th win on February 20 and then went on to lose 7 more times without picking up a win. This team is considerably better than that one so I expect the season to go better this time around. Instead of projecting I want to look at what the Bearcats need to do to make the NCAA Tournament.

Many of you may be thinking that the NCAA tournament is out of reach this season, but we are the University of Cincinnati and the NCAA tournament is exactly where our eyes should be fixed. I think there are a lot of misnomers about what the selection committee looks for in terms of NCAA tournament teams so let’s get out the myths right away.

1. The Selection Committee does not factor in conference affiliation. Playing in a better conference helps insofar as you have opportunities for more quality wins and play a better strength of schedule, but the committee does not count the number of teams in each conference when they are selecting the teams.

2. RPI is purely a grouping mechanism. It is used to get a feel for home many quality wins a team has. In the end it is supposed to come down to the most deserving teams based on their body of work you will see teams with lower RPIs ahead of teams with higher RPIs all the time.

3. The other polls do not matter one bit. The committee does not look at them at all. They discuss the teams, who they have beat and what they thought when they saw them play. In fact when you start looking at seeding you notice how little it really reflects the polls (though the polls generally get the top seeds close to right).

With all that said it is time to take a evaluate the Bearcats to date in much the same way the committee will do come March. As of right now the Bearcats sit at 59 in the RPI . This is not important in and of itself, what is important is who they beat and who they lost to. Five of Cincinnati’s seven losses are to teams in the RPI top 25. Those losses are not really hurting the Bearcats. The Bearcats other two losses are to Providence a team ranked 65 in today’s RPI. These are the losses I worry about come Selection Sunday. Providence beating Cincinnati twice would clearly get the nod if both were sitting on the bubble (though there is always the possibility both could get in).

The Bearcats have 3 solid wins to their credit. UNLV and UAB are both currently sitting in the top 50 RPI (43 and 45 respectively). The UNLV win could loom particularly large for the Bearcats because it will be a road win against a team that likely is going to finish on the good side of the bubble. Mississippi State has a lower RPI but if they could somehow win the SEC west that could help the Bearcats. Both UAB and Mississippi State are likely to be sitting on the wrong side of the bubble come selection Sunday (admittedly there is a lot of basketball to be played).

So the basic numbers you need to know about the Bearcats right now are:

They are 0-5 against the RPI top 25

2-0 against RPI 26-50

1-2 against RPI 50-100 (both losses to Providence)

2-0 against 101-150

And 7-0 against sub 150 RPI teams (This is another issue that hurts the Bearcats. The committee does not look positively when more than half of your nonconference wins are against teams with sub 150 RPIs. It should also be noted that the Bearcats only have 12 victories according to how the committee will evaluate because one of their wins was against a team not factored in the RPIs. )

All in all the Bearcats are not in bad shape right now, but they are going to have to play significantly better basketball to make the Big Dance. I still think losing to Providence twice could loom large, but looking at the rest of the schedule the Bearcats have plenty of opportunities to play their way into the dance. I have bolded some games that are as close to must win games as you can have (they are St John’s @South Florida, and Seton Hall). For the Bearcats to be an NCAA team they almost certainly have to win those games. I think 4-4 in the other 8 games will get the Bearcats into the NCAA tournament. That would put the Bearcats 20-11 overall and 10-8 in the Big East. I think at 3-5 in those 8 games the Bearcats would be left with some work to do in the Big East tournament, but could play their way in with a run to the semi-finals (which would likely include winning 3 games).

January 28 No. 23 Georgetown7:30 PM ET

February 1 at No. 21 Villanova12:00 PM ET

February 4 No. 22 Notre Dame7:30 PM ET

February 7 at No. 23 Georgetown12:00 PM ET

February 11 St. John's7:30 PM ET

February 14 at No. 3 Pittsburgh4:00 PM ET

February 21 No. 7 Louisville2:00 PM ET

February 26 West Virginia7:00 PM ET

March 1 at No. 15 Syracuse2:00 PM ET

March 3 at South Florida7:00 PM ET

March 7 Seton Hall12:00 PM ET

The question then becomes: Where do those wins comes from? The two key four game stretches are Georgetown/Villanova/Notre Dame/Georgetown, and Pittsburgh/Louisville/West Virginia/Syracuse… at least on paper the later looks significantly harder. If the Bearcats can somehow manage to go 3-1 in the next four games it will be time for Bearcat fans to get excited. That is no doubt a tall order, but one that could really pay of huge. If the Bearcats go 2-2 the next four games I think things start to look a little more bleak, but there will still be hope. If the Bearcats go 1-3 I think you can close the door on an NCAA bid.

So let’s say the Bearcats win the next three games before losing to Georgetown on the road. They then manage to spoil Huggy Bear’s homecoming and take out the Mountaineers. That would like give the Bearcats 5-6 top 50 RPI wins with two of those wins possibly being top 25 wins. It would give the Bearcats 20 wins and a winning record in the toughest conference in the nation. That is an NCAA tournament profile.

All in all we are not in terrible shape. The chance will be there to play our way into the tournament over the course of the next few weeks. It is going to take significant improvement. It is going to take big time efforts night in and night out, but it is very possible. The next four games are enormous for this team. By the time they are through it we may start getting a pretty good idea of where the Bearcats are heading come March.