Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ranking the Bubble 2012

Note on my evaluation process: I do not use any computer rankings other than RPI. I would love to factor in KenPom and Sagerin, but the committee uses RPI as the lens which it evaluates teams and I want to try to reflect the committee as best I can. The committee is technically allowed to use other measures, but the field every year and the mock process consistently show that the RPI is the driving force from which teams are evaluated. This does not mean just what a teams RPI ranking is, instead the committee evaluates who teams beat (top 50, top 100 RPI wins), where they beat them (home or road), who they played (strength of schedule, non-conference strength of schedule) and who teams lose to (bad losses, good losses). I focus most on teams that prove they can beat other tournament teams as traditionally this has been the area where the committee focuses the most. When teams are close SOS and non-conference SOS become very important. The committee says they use the eye test, which is hard to evaluate though with borderline teams, but I try to take it into account.

The good news. Having gone through all of the resumes I cannot conceive of a way the Bearcats could possibly be left out at this point. I have them in the 8-9 seed range at this point with the potential to go up and likely not fall any lower than a 10. You will see as I go through this team by team, but the bottom of the bubble is very weak (it gets said every year, but this year at least to me it really stand out). It was a year where I look at the field and wish the field was only 64 teams. As I see it right now there are 24 teams competing for 11-12 spots (depending on conference championships).

Teams I am pretty sure are in no matter what:

West Virginia- Bob Huggins team managed to get to .500 in Big East play and sits at number 43 in the RPI. Over the course of the season the Mountaineers have wins over Cincinnati, Kansas State and Georgetown who all will be tournament teams as well as wins over bubble teams Miami(Fl) and South Florida. They also beat MAC regular season champion, Akron. They currently have the number 11 SOS in the country. Even with a loss to Uconn I see no way West Virginia gets left out of the field.

Colorado State- I think the RPI numbers are so strong that I do not see them getting left out at this point. Colorado State sits at 22 in the RPI with the number 8 Strength of Schedule. They finished over .500 in what is considered the 5th rated conference according to the RPI (ahead of the Southeastern Conference and just behind the ACC). In a vacuum this would not be enough but Colorado State managed to get wins over each of the top three in that conference (New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV) to supplement their strong computer profile. Even a first round loss to TCU would not be a bad enough loss to knock Colorado State out, in my opinion.

Uconn- Finishing below .500 in the Big East and really struggling down the stretch is not good for Uconn, but their overall profile is just vastly superior to the rest of the bubble. Uconn has an RPI of 33 and the number 2 Strength of Schedule in the country. Their profile includes wins over tournament teams Florida State, West Virginia, and Notre Dame. They beat likely NCAA tournament team and at least Co-Champion of the Ivy League, Harvard. They also have wins over bubble teams like Seton Hall and South Florida. They did lose to Seton Hall, and Tennessee (another team sitting squarely on the bubble). Strong computer numbers and very credible wins should get Uconn in at this point, especially considering they avoided the bad loss to Depaul this afternoon.

Mississippi State- With an RPI of 63 and an inability to beat anyone of note down the stretch, Mississippi State certainly does not have a stellar tournament resume. That said, their resume looks strong enough considering the teams they will be competing for bids with. Mississippi State got 3 top 50 RPI wins, beating West Virginia, Alabama and Vandy. They also have wins over bubble teams Arizona (a weak bubble team), Tennessee and Ole Miss (another weak bubble team). Again it is not stellar, but it holds up against the rest. A win in the SEC tournament would be nice, but I think they have done just enough to survive even if they lose their first SEC tournament game.

Harvard- If Princeton beats Penn tonight his will be a moot point as Harvard will earn the automatic bid from the Ivy league. If Penn beats Princeton, Harvard can still earn the automatic bid by beating Penn in a winner take all championship game. If Penn manages to beat Princeton and Harvard I think Harvard will get in. At that point Harvard would have only 5 losses on the year, only one of which would have come against a team outside the RPI top 100. Harvard will have beaten tournament team Florida State and bubble team St Josephs. They'll be close to the bubble, but I think it would be enough.

Teams With Work to Do/ On the Edge

Long Beach State- I think had they ran the table in the Big West they would likely be in, but the loss to Cal State Fullerton makes their bid less certain. Long Beach State will still be the favorite in the Big West tournament and can erase all doubt by taking the automatic birth, but they still have a decent resume even if they lose. Long Beach State went out and tested themselves in the non-conference schedule. They were competitive in games against potential 1 seeds UNC and Kansas. They also played Louisville (another loss) and Creighton (a 2 point loss). While their win at Pitt has not held up, their win against bubble team Xavier certainly helps. Long Beach State may not have beaten enough good teams, but they challenged themselves against the best of the best and held up fairly well. I think if they make the finals of the Big West Tournament the committee would reward them for that, though their resume certainly is not one where them being left out would be surprising.

South Florida- The 12-6 finish in the Big East is very strong, however, they did it by sweeping a weak set of mirror games and then going 6-6 against the rest of the league. Getting wins over tournament teams Cincinnati and Louisville down the stretch helped, however, losing to bubble team WVU did not. I think USF needs to win their first Big East tournament game to feel good about their chances. I think two wins would make them a lock. The Bulls performance in the non-conference portion of the season really hurts them as they have some losses to bad teams and an absolute blowout loss at the hands of Kansas. They are 45 in the RPI, which generally puts BCS teams on the right side of the bubble. I think they are in as of now, but they still have work to do.

Texas- We are beginning to reach the point where I cannot believe I have certain teams in the field. Texas managed to get to 9-9 in the Big 12 and sits at 52 in the RPI. They have a really nice non-conference win over Temple and then wins in conference against tournament teams Kansas State and Iowa State. They could not break through against Baylor, Missouri or Kansas. They also lost to fellow bubble team North Carolina State. I think Texas may get in even with a loss to Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 tournament (though they will be nervous). A win over Iowa State would likely be enough to secure a bid.

Xavier- Yes, Xavier. In my opinion they would be in as of today. Xavier did a good job of scheduling NCAA tournament caliber teams early and they managed to get wins against them. Xavier beat tournament teams Purdue and Cincinnati and also went on the road to beat tournament team Vandy. Xavier sits at 57 in the RPI putting them right on the edge. In conference they were swept by St Louis and lost in their only opportunity against Temple. They also split with fellow bubble team Dayton, but did beat fellow bubble team St Josephs. I think Xavier is in right now and likely to be in with one A10 tournament win. A loss to fellow bubble team Dayton and the Musketeers really start to sweat it out.

BYU- BYU's resume is not good. They have an RPI of 46 which is solid and were 13-5 in the WCC which is very good. They also went 1-4 against the St Mary's/Gonzaga combo and have little else on their resume to supplement that 1 win. The only other meat to their resume is a win over top 50 Nevada and a win over bubble team Oregon (a team likely on the wrong side of the bubble). BYU cannot add at all to their resume. If teams play their way in around them, BYU is in trouble. They may be in the field as of today.

Cal- In my opinion the Pac 12 does not deserve an At-Large bid. The league won 1 game all year against the RPI top 50 outside of conference play (compared to some 30 losses). Cal has the best case for an At Large bid. I have them in the tournament as the league tournament champion and if they do not win the automatic my hope is the committee would not reward them based on their solid RPI of 37. Their resume really has no meat to it at all. Cal has not beaten a single top 50 RPI team all year (their best wins are a sweep of RPI 51 Oregon, which to me puts them above Oregon in the Pac 12 pecking order). They are 6-6 against RPI 51-100 so they do have that going for them...i guess. They could get a bid with a loss in the conference tournament finals, but wow would that be a reach.

Drexel- All my hate on Cal and the Pac Ten and yet I am going to explain why I think Drexel should get an NCAA bid (and more importantly why I think the committee will award them a bid ) unless some other teams step up this week, despite a resume that does not scream tournament team. To me Drexel is a team that the committee is going to have to weigh the eye test and the value of being outright CAA champions with a resume that is incredibly thin. Bearcat fans are familiar with the dreaded SOS talk and Drexel currently has the 223 ranked SOS. Their best non-conference win is over number 93 Princeton. Their best other wins are over NCAA tournament team VCU and a solid George Mason team with an RPI of 81. It is not a strong resume. They also have a loss to fellow bubble team St Josephs. If the committee leaves them out, so be it. Their resume is hard to justify. And yet, they finished the season winning 19 games in a row until they ran into VCU in the conference championship (where VCU essentially gets home court advantage). They lost that championship by 3 points. I think they are going to be one of the best 37 at large teams, but their resume does not necessarily support that. To me Drexel is the hardest bubble team to evaluate this year. As of right now I think they'll be one of the last 4 in, BUT there are lots of teams behind them who will have a chance to play their way in and Drexel out.

Northwestern- They have never made the NCAA tournament and they likely need to beat Michigan to end that streak, though I think as of today they would be one of the last four in. Northwestern finished below .500 in the Big Ten, but the Big Ten was the number 1 conference this year according to the RPI. They have a nice non-conference win over bubble team Seton Hall as well a great win in conference against Michigan State. As far as wins go that, that is really it. 10 of their 12 losses are against RPI top 50 teams and they have zero bad losses as the other two are against RPI top 100 teams. Northwestern has been close to breaking through all year, but without a win against Michigan they likely will fail to dance again.

Tennessee- This is another team that will likely cause some headaches on selection Sunday. As of right now I have them as my last team in the field on the strength of better wins than the teams behind them. At 75, Tennessee would be the lowest rated team to make the tournament since the new RPI was implemented. At one point this season Tennessee was 2-6 with losses to Pittsburgh, Oakland, Austin Peay, and Charleston (not exactly a murderers row). Tennessee also went 2-5 to start SEC play, but they have now won 8 of 9 to finish 2nd in the solid SEC East. Tennessee has wins over Uconn, Vandy and a sweep of Florida. They also beat bubble team Ole Miss. 13 losses is a ton, especially when you look at some of the weak losses they have, but given the way Tennessee finished and their quality wins I think Tennessee could very well earn a bid on selection Sunday. If they lose their first SEC tournament game it is likely a wrap, but a trip to the finals and Tennessee would likely be on the right side of the bubble.

Out But Could Play Their Way In:

Seton Hall- Seton Hall was sitting pretty and then inexplicably lost to Rutgers and at Depaul. Now Seton Hall finished below .500 in the Big East and has work to do. Wins over West Virginia, Uconn and Georgetown are very strong. They also have a win over bubble team Dayton. Their loss to fellow bubble team Northwestern was their only non-conference loss. Seton Hall cannot afford to lose on Day 1 of the Big East tournament, and may very well need to win on Day 2 to make the NCAA tournament.

Miami (FL)- Every year there is a team that has a couple awesome wins that really screams they are a tournament team (though usually that team is Virginia Tech) but does almost nothing else to support that feeling. This year that team is Miami who won at Duke and beat Florida State. Miami also managed to get to 9-7 in ACC play. That said Miami lost their other 10 games against NCAA tournament caliber teams and bubble competition. These included losses to WVU, Purdue, Memphis Virginia, and bubble team Ole Miss. They were also swept by bubble team NC State. How much does the committee value big wins vs. those losses? Miami cannot afford to lose to Georgia Tech and likely needs to beat Florida State for the second time to earn a bid.

NC State- I have NC State below Miami (Fl) in the pecking order despite their sweep of Miami, because NC State's wins are not as good. NC State was not able to beat anyone in the top 4 of the ACC , going 0-6 against Duke, UNC, FSU and Virginia. They did sweep Miami to earn the 5 seed in the ACC tournament (both teams finished 9-7). NC State also has a nice win out of conference over fellow bubble team Texas. That is really about it. I think NC State needs to beat Virginia in the second round of the ACC tournament to have a shot. It absolutely cannot be upset by Boston College in round 1.

St Josephs- Another of the 3 A10 bubble teams. Their non-conference win over bubble team Drexel is nice, and their win over Creighton is excellent. St Josephs also got a big win over Temple to go with a win over bubble team Dayton. They lost to bubble team Xavier. To get in the tournament St Josephs at the very least has to beat Temple again in the A10 semis.

Dayton- The last of the A10 bubble teams has been an enigma this year. They have some great wins that make Dayton seem like a tournament team and some bad losses that make you think the exact opposite. Dayton lost to bubble team St Josephs and split with bubble team Xavier in conference. They also lost to bubble team Seton Hall in the non-conference. They have also inexplicably bad losses against Miami (OH) and Rhode Island. Dayton counters those losses with a win over bubble team Mississippi, a win over Alabama, a win over St. Louis and a great win at Temple. If Dayton beats George Washington it likely sets up a do or die game between them and Xavier. Dayton may also need to beat St. Louis to in the semis to secure a bid.

Mississippi- Andy Kennedy's team seems to be surviving key injuries every single season to finish right around .500 in conference play. To make the tournament they have a lot of work to do, but in the SEC that can be done. In the non-conference schedule they have a win over bubble team Miami (Fl), but a loss to bubble team Dayton. In conference they split with Mississippi State and Alabama who both look like tournament teams. Ole Miss clearly has not done enough on their resume right now, but a run to the finals of the SEC tournament could get them right there. To do that they would need to beat Auburn, Tennessee and then likely the winner of Vandy/Miss St.

Should Not Get At-Large Bids:

Oregon/Washington- I am talking about these two teams together. I do not think either has done enough to get in, but if either makes a run to the finals of the Pac 12 tournament they will be in the discussion. As I said earlier, I don't believe any Pac 12 team has done enough or will have done enough to deserve an at large bid, but you never really know what the committee will do.

Oral Roberts/Iona- these are two teams that I don't think did quite enough, that have no way to play themselves in, because their conference tournaments are done. I think they end up on the outside looking in.

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