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.