Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ranking the Bubble Part 1

Every year at this time I start to put together my NCAA tournament projections. Now I'm not going to mess with an actual bracket until some time during championship week, but for now I have ranked the teams I see as on the bubble. A few reminders there is a ton that will change over the next few weeks. A team like Cal, or St Mary's, or Old Dominion has no chance to improve its resume without winning their conference tournaments. Teams like UCONN, ND, St Louis (because of the strength of the A10 this year), Dayton, Charlotte, Ole Miss... all can improve their resume's. My rankings right now are just projections as of this time. A team like Charlotte can play their way in with some big wins down the stretch...a team like St Mary's needs help (unless they win the conference tournament).

The Cutoff for bubble teams right now is at SD State...but that could easily change if say Gonzaga does not win the West Coast Conference tournament, Butler does not win the Horizon League, or Northern Iowa does not win the Missouri Valley. That would mean less spots for those bubble teams.

Alright here it is:

Clemson- 2-4 against the RPI top 25, 2-1 against RPI 26-50. They have a top 30 RPI and are tied for third in the ACC. Their best wins are over Butler and Maryland. They've also swept fellow bubble team Florida State. They split with fellow bubble team Georgia Tech, but should be above them in the pecking order at this point.

Marquette- With their 69-48 victory thrashing of Louisville I think Marquette has earned their way into the dance. Marquette now has 11 Big East wins. They have 2 top 25 rpi wins beating Xavier and Georgetown (though 6 losses) and are 2-1 against the RPI 26-50 beating Louisville and UCONN. Marquette has to unfathomable losses to NC State and Depaul, but the overall resume should be enough to overcome those.

Georgia Tech- With their loss to Clemson, Georgia Tech is now under .500 in the ACC. They are 1-2 vs. the RPI top 25 and 3-4 against RPI 26-50. They have a great win over Duke...their other big wins are Wake Forest, Clemson and Siena. Despite a split with Clemson they are likely below them in the pecking order.

UNLV- The Rebels are in pretty good position to earn an at large bid. They are 4-4 against the RPI top 50 beating Louisville, SD State, BYU and New Mexico. The New Mexico win was in the Pit and with New Mexico sitting in prime position for a 2 or 3 seed that victory is looking better by the day. If UNLV wins their season finale against a 7-19 Wyoming squad I think they will probably be dancing.

Louisville- Finishing over .500 in the Big East may be enough to get them in the tournament but they shouldn't be too comfortable at this point. The Cardinals are only 1-5 against the RPI top 25 (a great road win over Syracuse). They are 2-1 against RPI 26-50. They swept UCONN, and beat Cincinnati and ND. Getting smacked by Marquette did not help their tournament chances. Louisville could really use another win over Syracuse on Saturday...or a couple wins in the Big East tournament if they want to avoid sweating bullets on Selection Sunday.

Florida State- They are 0-3 against the RPI top 25 and are 2-4 against RPI 26-50 (though they beat Marquette who sits just outside the top 50 and is another bubble team). Both of their top 50 victories were over bubble team Georgia Tech which is a plus, but Georgia Tech probably has a stronger overall body of work. Florida State was swept by fellow bubble team Clemson.

Illinois- They sit at 73 in the RPI which would be among the lowest for any team to make the tournament. Still Illinois is a very respectable 3-3 against the RPI top 25 beating Vanderbilt and Michigan State at home and getting a great road win in Wisconsin. Illinois also has a victory over fellow bubble team Clemson. Getting the sweep of Wisconsin Saturday would put Illinois in great position to earn a bid, otherwise they have some work to do in the Big Ten tournament.

Florida- The recipe for them getting in is pretty simple...beat Kentucky To date Florida is 2-6 against the RPI top 25 (victories over Tennessee and Michigan State) and 1-1 against RPI 26-50 (beating fellow bubble team Florida State). They missed their chance last night against Vanderbilt and now really need that upset over Kentucky. If they can manage to get that 3rd victory over RPI top 25 teams this week I think they'll be a tournament team (baring an awful SEC tournament performance). If they don't they'll need to be very impressive in the SEC tournament...semis at least...maybe a trip to the title game.

UCONN- This is another team that will be a real headache for the selection committee. If they can somehow sweep road games this week against ND and South Florida to get to .500 in the league they will probably be a tournament lock. UCONN really does have some strong wins. They are 3-5 against the RPI top 25 but 0-3 against RPI 26-50. They were swept by fellow bubble team Louisville and swept by fringe bubble team Cincinnati. They have two bad losses to Providence and Michigan. Still wins over Villanova, West Virginia, and Texas are probably a better group of wins than any other bubble teams. The committee likes to reward teams for winning big games, but if UCONN does not get to .500 in the Big East they are going to really be on the bubble come selection Sunday.

Notre Dame- Their RPI is only 68 which does not bode well for them, but they have looked more and more like a tournament team. Last week they beat Pitt and Georgetown to keep them on the bubble. Notre Dame is now a very strong 3-2 against the RPI top 25. If they can get a split with Marquette and UCONN this week Notre Dame will be firmly on the bubble. If they can sweep they'll probably be on the good side of the bubble.

Virginia Tech- They will be a very interesting call for the committee. VT has one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country (something the committee generally penalizes teams for) at 344. The Hokies only have two RPI top 50 wins both of which were at home against Clemson and Wake Forest. They are just 2-4 against the RPI top 50 and 5-5 against the top 100. 17 of their 22 wins are against teams with a sub .500 RPI... of those 10 had RPI's below 150 and 8 had RPI's outside the top 200. Basically they inflated their record playing a lot of bad teams. VT may be an NCAA caliber team, but there really is not much on their resume to judge them by. The committee tends to frown on this so I think they'll really need to do something in the ACC tournament to earn a spot.

Dayton- What a hot and cold team they have been all year. Dayton is 1-5 against the RPI top 25 and 2-1 against RPI 26-50. Their win over Xavier looks better by the day. They have a neutral site win over fellow bubble team Georgia Tech and win over Ole Dominion. If Dayton can win both games this week they'll add another top 50 win as they get Richmond this week. Beating Richmond would put Dayton in pretty good position, especially if they make a nice run in the A10 tournament. Dayton would not be in today, but because of the relative strength of the A10 and who is on their schedule they have a chance to play themselves in.

SD State- For a second straight year SD State is going to be sitting squarely on the bubble. Last season I had them as my first team clearly I think they just missed the big dance. SD State is only 2-5 against the RPI top 50 and 3-6 against the top 100. To me that does not scream NCAA team. They did split with bubble team UNLV and get a split against New Mexico. SD State cannot afford to lose either of their last two games and probably needs to beat BYU or New Mexico in the conference tournament to earn a bid.

Seton Hall- Seton Hall is only 3-9 vs. the RPI top 50 with victories over Pitt, Louisville and Cornell. With their only games remaining being against Rutgers and Providence they could easily win those to get to .500 in the conference. Still Seton Would likely need to reach the semis of the Big East tournament to go dancing.

Mississippi State- Mississippi State is going to once again win the SEC west. They also swept fellow bubble team Ole Miss (though their overall resume probably is not as good). They are 1-4 in RPI top 50 games with their only RPI top 50 win came against Old Dominion early in the season. Mississippi State likely needs to make the finals of the conference tournament as well to earn a bid.

St Mary's- They are 2-3 against the RPI top 50 (beating SD State and Utah State). With a trip to the conference finals and not too many upsets in conference tournaments they may have an outside shot at a bid, but in the end 2 RPI top 50 wins may not be enough.

Cal- I would say this is the only team that has a shot at an At-Large bid in the PAC Ten and even their resume is not particularly strong. Cal has zero top 50 RPI wins going 0-4 against the RPI top 50. They only have 1 non-conference RPI top 100 win. They have an RPI of 21 so if they were left out they would be tied for the highest ranked RPI team ever to be left out (Missouri State in 2005 currently holds that distinction). If they make the PAC Ten finals they'll could very well get a bid, but I am really not sure they deserve it. In fact I will not be giving them an at large bid in any projections I do. Their resume simply does not hold up. So yes...the PAC Ten should be a one bid league.

St Louis- They are only 86 in the RPI, so their resume does not scream tournament team, but their performance in a strong Atlantic Ten Conference has earned them a spot in the discussion. With wins over Richmond, Dayton, and Rhode Island, St Louis is 3-2 against the RPI top 50. They get Temple and Dayton this week. If they can sweep those games and get to 5-2 against the RPI top 50 ( and 12-4 in a particularly strong A10) they will be right there.

Ole Miss- The Rebels have been riding their incredibly impressive victory neutral site win over Kansas State all season long. That simply is not going to be good enough unless they make a run in the SEC tournament. Ole Miss is only 1-5 against the RPI top 25 (and again that 1 win was early) and 1-1 against RPI 26-50 (another early season win against UTEP). Basically since conference play began Ole Miss has not been an NCAA team. They need to get to 9-7 in the SEC (which they should) and then probably reach the finals of the SEC tournament.

Minnesota- They are 3-6 against the RPI top 50 with wins over Butler, Wisconsin and Ohio State (and the Ohio State win was with Evan Turner). Still getting drilled by Michigan probably eliminated them from at large consideration unless they can make a big run in the Big Ten tournament.

Charlotte- Another hot and cold team that seems to have fizzled out of late. Charlotte is 3-7 against the RPI top 50 with wins over Louisville, Richmond and Temple (Richmond and Louisville were both true road games). Getting drilled by fellow bubble team Dayton will not help. Nor will their recent loss to George Washington. Charlotte has two games this week against top 50 RPI teams (Rhode Island and Richmond). If they could somehow sweep those games all of a sudden they become a very viable bubble team...without those and they'll likely be staying home.

Cincinnati- The Bearcats having been clinging to their two big non-conference victories all season long. Those victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland have looked stronger and stronger all season long. The problem is since conference play the Bearcats just do not have enough to hold their hat on. They are only 4-9 against the RPI top 50 (the 2 other victories being their sweep of UCONN). Cincinnati has a lot of close losses to good teams, but in the end you have win one or two big games for those to come into play. Had the Bearcats managed to get to .500 in the Big East all of a sudden you can look at overtime losses to Xavier, Marquette and Gonzaga and give the Bearcats some credit. At this point those don't come into play. The Bearcats need to beat Georgetown on Saturday, but baring a run to the finals of the Big East tournament it looks like they will be once again watching the NCAA tournament not participating in it.

Rhode Island- Rhode Island is likely going to be on the outside looking in (like it appears many of these A10 bubble teams will be). They are only 2-4 against the RPI top 50 beating Oklahoma State on a neutral floor and beating Dayton on the road. Their biggest issue is they are only 1-5 against the A10 teams contending for an at-large bid. They'll need to win out and then get a victory over a Temple or Xavier in the conference tournament to be in the discussion.
UTEP- One of two Conference USA teams with a decent at-large candidacy. They are clearly first in the pecking order of those teams having clinched the outright conference championship. They are only 1-1 against the RPI top 50, that victory being over UAB. They get UAB again this week and probably need a win to be in the at large discussion. They also probably cannot lose to anyone but UAB or Memphis in the conference tournament if they want an at large bid.

UAB- They have a nice win over Butler and a win over Cincinnati, but really that is about it. They are only 1-2 against the RPI top 50. If they beat UTEP this week then lose to them in the finals maybe they'll be in the discussion, but even then I am not sure.

Utah State- They have rolled through their conference, they are 8-4 against the RPI top 100 and 8-5 in true Road Games. They have a big win over BYU, but they are only 1-1 against the RPI top 50 (a close loss at New Mexico). I doubt 1-1 will be enough to get them an at large bid, but they did get a bid in 2005 with zero top 50 who knows.

Old Dominion- They are 1-1 against the RPI top 25 and 0-3 against RPI 26-50. The win over Georgetown is impressive, but probably not impressive enough to earn an at large bid.

Cornell- They are not getting an at-large bid, but it won't matter because they are going to win the Ivy League.

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