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

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