Monday, February 04, 2008

NCAA Tournament Projections have nothing on the NY Giants

Where is the Bubble?

Five weeks remain until Selection Sunday and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of “the bubble.” If you take a look at the major conferences, you’ll find there is an obvious distinction between tournament-teams and everyone else. The only conference immune to this phenomenon is the ACC. However, the only reason the ACC has its own bubble is because the #1 conference in America has to have more than four teams make the tournament. I think it's law or something. So, teams like Miami (FL), Wake Forest, Maryland, and Virginia Tech get the “bubble treatment” even with less-than-stellar resumes. Their equivalents in other conferences—Oregon and Arizona St. in the Pac-10, Seton Hall and Villanova in the Big East, Texas Tech and Missouri in the Big XII, and Minnesota in the Big Ten are obvious omissions at this point. So, we’re left with an empty or—more appropriately—a non-existent bubble. Although, Syracuse may disagree. When you enter "NCAA Bubble" into Wikipedia's search engine, "Syracuse Orange men's basketball" is the only result with 100% relavence. That's no joke.

Here is a look at the giant-sized separation between the top-half and bottom-half of each conference:

Big East

The cutoff in the Big East clearly occurs after Syracuse and West Virginia. Seton Hall could work its way into a bubble-type position if it can take advantage of its fortuitous remaining schedule. However, every Big East-team after West Virginia is clearly out of the tournament at this point.

Pac 10

UCLA, Arizona, Washington St., USC, and Stanford are all easily in the tournament. The rest of the Pac 10 is clearly out of the tournament. Oregon and Arizona St. could get on a roll and change things but they are nowhere near the field right now.

Big Ten

The cutoff in the Big Ten is clearly between Ohio St. and Minnesota. Michigan St., Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio St. are all in at this point. All other teams are hopeless.


There are teams in the SEC that can work their way out of the field like Mississippi St., Mississippi, and Arkansas. However, the cutoff in the SEC is obvious as well. Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi St., and Florida are all in at this point. Nobody else even has a prayer.


The Big XII is no different. Kansas, Kansas St., Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Baylor are all clearly in. No other team even has a chance.


As I mentioned before, the ACC has a “forced” bubble. Logic would suggest that a conference as highly-rated as the ACC would get more than four teams into the field. So, marginal teams that may not otherwise garner a look get a bump by playing in the ACC. Still, the separation in the ACC between the tourney teams and non-tourney teams appears to occur after Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, and NC State.


The same can be said for the A-10. Xavier, Dayton, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and St. Joe’s are clearly in the field at this point while no other team even has a chance.

Normally, this sort of thing would mean the bubble is saturated with mid-majors. However, just like in the major conferences, there is an obvious distinction between the tournament-bound mid-majors and everyone else. BYU and Gonzaga appear to be tournament-bound. The argument could be made that VCU, Kent St., Illinois St. and Houston are legitimate bubble teams because they sport decent resumes and would be the second teams out of their respective conferences. I'm not buying that argument at this point but it could be made nonetheless. The rest of the above-average mid-majors (Ohio, Creighton, Western Kentucky, San Diego St., Wright St., and New Mexico,) have resumes that stink like Matthew McConaughey. So, we’re left without a bubble which makes it significantly easier to project the field. Not having a bubble also makes people say dumb things in an attempt to create a bubble. The Big Ten Network's studio panel and its love for Iowa—11-12 record and 138 RPI and all—is an example of this.


Here is how I view the field right now (at-large bids are sorted by conference):

1 ACC North Carolina
2 SEC Tennessee
3 Big East Georgetown
4 Big 12 Kansas
5 Big Ten Michigan St.
6 Pac-10 UCLA
7 MVC Drake
9 WAC Utah St.
10 A-10 Xavier
11 Colonial George Mason
12 MAC Akron
13 WCC St. Mary’s
14 C-USA Memphis
15 Sun Belt S. Alabama
16 Horizon Butler
17 MAAC Marist
18 Big Sky N. Arizona
19 MCC Oral Roberts
20 Big West Cal St. Northridge
21 OVC Austin Peay
22 Ivy Cornell
23 Southern Davidson
24 Patriot Lafayette
25 Southland Sam Houston St.
26 Northeast Wagner
27 AEC MD Baltimore County
28 Big South NC Asheville
29 Atl. Sun Belmont
30 SWAC Alabama St.
31 MEAC Hampton
32 At-Large Gonzaga
33 At-Large Duke
34 At-Large Clemson
35 At-Large NC State
36 At-Large Syracuse
37 At-Large Marquette
38 At-Large Pittsburgh
39 At-Large West Virginia
40 At-Large Notre Dame
41 At-Large Connecticut
42 At-Large Louisville
43 At-Large USC
44 At-Large Stanford
45 At-Large Arizona
46 At-Large Washington St.
47 At-Large Baylor
48 At-Large Oklahoma
49 At-Large Kansas St.
50 At-Large Texas A&M
51 At-Large Texas
52 At-Large Purdue
53 At-Large Ohio St.
54 At-Large Wisconsin
55 At-Large Indiana
56 At-Large Mississippi St.
57 At-Large Vanderbilt
58 At-Large Mississippi
59 At-Large Florida
60 At-Large Arkansas
61 At-Large Dayton
62 At-Large Massachusetts
63 At-Large Rhode Island
64 At-Large St. Joe's
65 At-Large BYU

Changes from last week:

In: Arkansas and Syracuse
Out: Miami FL and Kent St.

*I don't look at other projections—Lunardi's included—at any point in the season. Everything I do is based on researching each team's resume. My projections are based on who I think will be there based on the results of games played and the difficulty of remaining schedules. This isn’t a “if the season ended today”-deal.

This projected field assumes that there are no upsets in the conference tournaments. There could be anywhere from 5-10 teams that make the tournament who wouldn't have otherwise made it just from the conference tournaments alone. Come conference tournament time, the last two or three teams that I have in the tourney will probably get pushed out by upsets if not more.

Last five “in” (no particular order)

1). Mississippi St.


Mississippi St. has the worst RPI of any at-large team that I have projected into the tournament. The Bulldogs have one win in the RPI 80. In fact, there is only one thing keeping MSU in the field at this point and that’s the fact that it leads the SEC West with a 5-2 record. Mississippi St. has five games remaining against teams with an RPI worse than 90. If it wins all five of those games, it’ll finish with no worse than a 10-6 conference record. The home game against Arkansas on February 16 will be the biggest game of the season. If MSU wins that game, it’ll all but wrap up an at-large bid. Otherwise, it could be looking at a 10-6 conference record with one victory over a team in the RPI 80 for the season. That could be a problem.

2). Massachusetts


UMASS entered conference play with a pristine resume. Things have gotten ugly since then. A 3-4 start in conference was capped by a disastrous loss to St. Louis over the weekend (yes, the same St. Louis that scored 20 points against GW). Still, UMASS sports an RPI of 25 and quality wins against Dayton, Boston College, Houston and @ Syracuse. The conference slate eases up a bit as six of the next nine games are against teams with an RPI worse than 100.

3). NC State


NC State has the best chance of being the fourth team out of the ACC but I don’t think it’s anywhere near a likelihood of 50%. Va. Tech, Wake Forest, Miami (FL), Maryland, and NC State are going to have a round-robin elimination-style tournament over the next five weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it because the winner really could be any of the five. NC State gets the nod for now because it has the best resume of the bunch and the best RPI.

4). Syracuse


Pomeroy still predicts a .500 record for the Orangemen. I’m inclined to agree. The remaining slate is brutal with seven of its final eight games against teams with an RPI of 45 or better. The good news for Syracuse is that 4-4 in those eight games would get it done.

5). Arkansas


Arkansas bounced back nicely from its damaging back to back losses to S. Carolina and Georgia with a three-game winning streak. Winning the next three won’t be as easy. Arkansas has Mississippi, Tennessee, and Mississippi St. over the next seven days. Winning all three would make Arkansas a lock for the tourney. Losing all three would probably be a deal-breaker. Anything in between keeps Arkansas safely in the field.

First five “out” (no particular order)

1). Seton Hall


The Pirates are the only team in the Big East whose fate seems up in the air. They sport a 5-4 conference record but have only one win over the RPI 60. They have one of the easiest remaining conference schedules with four games against teams with an RPI of 126 or worse. However, the next four are against Notre Dame, Villanova, Marquette, and West Virgina. A split might get Seton Hall into the field.

2). Houston


I’m uncertain as to whether a 14-2 conference record would get Houston into the field. Conference-USA used to get multiple-bids every year but that was before Marquette, Cincinnati, DePaul, and Louisville jettisoned for the Big East. Houston would have a 25-5 record and an RPI around the 50s. An upset at Memphis on February 13 would seal the deal. Short of that, I think Houston is SOL.

3). VCU


I’m equally uncertain as to whether a 16-2 conference record would get VCU into the tournament. VCU has wins over Houston, Maryland, and Bradley and that’s about it. VCU doesn’t play a team with an RPI better than 100 for the rest of the season. So, I doubt it’ll be able to do much resume-building. Still, the Colonial has built a decent reputation over the last couple years. VCU has to feel a little better off than Houston with its head to head victory.

4). Kent St.


I’m going to predict that Kent St. will receive an at-large bid if it makes it to the MAC Championship game. The Golden Flashes have a number of quality wins against mid-majors including Cleveland St., Illinois St., and George Mason. I had them in the tournament last week but a loss at Toledo—a team as bad as Tom Smykowski’s “Jump to Conclusions” mat—was a killer.

5). Va. Tech


I can’t totally ignore a team from the ACC with an above .500 conference record. Va. Tech probably has the easiest remaining ACC schedule of the “bubble” teams. The Hokies don’t play Duke again and play North Carolina only once more. I think the parity in the ACC will be too much to overcome. Still, a 9-7 record would almost guarantee a bid.

Top Seeds

#1 Seeds

North Carolina

#2 Seeds

Michigan St.

Big Games this Week


Villanova @ St. Joe’s
Louisville @ Marquette
Gonzaga @ St. Mary’s


Va. Tech @ NC State
Drake @ Illinois St.
Florida @ Tennessee


Duke @ North Carolina
Texas @ Oklahoma
Texas Tech @ Baylor
Connecticut @ Syracuse
Notre Dame @ Seton Hall


Rhode Island @ Massachusetts
West Virginia @ Pittsburgh
Oregon @ Stanford
UCLA @ Washington St.




Miami (FL) @ Va. Tech
NC State @ Maryland
Purdue @ Wisconsin
Baylor @ Kansas
Georgetown @ Louisville
Marquette @ Notre Dame
Seton Hall @ Villanova
USC @ Washington St.
Mississippi @ Arkansas


St. Joe’s @ Xavier
Clemson @ North Carolina
Indiana @ Ohio St.
Arizona St. @ Arizona

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