Monday, February 18, 2008

"Projections" on fire like Michigan Basketball

Michigan continued its supremacy over Michigan St. in basketball by picking up another transitive property victory by virtue of its win at Iowa. Last week I stated what everyone already knows—Penn St. is the barometer in college basketball. Head to head results, RPI, and conference standings mean very little. It’s how you fare against Penn St. that really matters. The second most important barometer in college basketball is, of course, how you fare against Iowa. Michigan St. lost at Iowa. Michigan won at Iowa. The result is Michigan having Michigan St. beat in the two most important differentiating factors in college basketball. Plus, Michigan is 3-0 in its last three games. MSU is 1-2. Other than how you fare against Iowa and Penn St., the best gauge for comparing two teams is—yep, you guessed it—how you fare over your last three games. It must be tough to be a Sparty right now.

A-10 is sinking faster than Aretha Franklin’s seat

Pardon my attack on the Queen of Soul but nobody messes with Beyonce without ending up on the wrong side of a punch-line. It wasn’t but three weeks ago that—in this same spot—I raved about the A-10’s fantastic body of work out of conference. Conferences don’t just accidentally run off a string of victories as impressive as what the A-10 accomplished earlier this season. The A-10 was—and still should be—for real. Xavier, Rhode Island, Dayton, and Massachusetts spent much of the year near the top of the RPI. After two weeks of self-destruction, Xavier is the only team that remains in the RPI 20. Massachusetts has all but played its way out of the tournament-field by losing three of its last five including dreadful losses to St. Louis and Fordham. The most surprising collapse, though, belongs to Dayton. The Flyers have followed suit with abysmal displays against Duquesne, GW, and Richmond. If Dayton and Massachusetts continue to falter, then the A-10 could be looking at only two bids. If Dayton and UMASS get back on track and St. Joe’s continues to play well, then the A-10 could be looking at five bids. The A-10’s fate on Selection Sunday remains the biggest mystery in college basketball aside from Oregon’s recruiting tactics.

Memphis is the new UNLV

Perhaps the biggest regular season game in recent college basketball history will be played on Saturday as Memphis battles Tennessee. The game is intriguing enough with the #1 and #2 teams in the RPI duking it out for a likely #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and for supremacy in the state of Tennessee. However, the stakes are much higher as Memphis tries to close out the first perfect regular season in college basketball since UNLV did it in 1991. There have been a number of teams in the last few years alone that have entered the last week of the regular season undefeated. Illinois lost to Ohio St. in 2005 after starting 29-0. St. Joe’s lost to Xavier in 2004 after starting 27-0. Stanford lost to Washington in 2004 after starting 26-0. All three lost the week before Selection Sunday. It would appear that Memphis would have a cakewalk to 34-0 if it can get passed Tennessee since the Tigers don’t play another team in the regular season with an RPI better than 77. However, one thing to consider is that Memphis will likely have to play Houston or UAB for a third time this season in the C-USA Tournament. The latter would be particularly difficult since it would mean Memphis would have to play UAB three times over 28 days. Considering how close their first match-up was (79-78 Memphis), that could be interesting. It’s tough to beat a decent team—and I think Houston and UAB qualify as decent—three times in one season. One thing is for certain—Memphis won’t be criticized for not being tested like it was last season. If Memphis can defeat Tennessee, it will boast non-conference victories over Georgetown, Tennessee, Connecticut, Arizona, USC, Gonzaga, and Oklahoma. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more impressive collection of non-conference victories by one team.


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 Purdue
6 Pac-10 UCLA
7 MVC Drake
9 WAC Utah St.
10 A-10 Xavier
11 Colonial George Mason
12 MAC Kent St.
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 Maryland
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 Michigan St.
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 Arkansas
59 At-Large Florida
60 At-Large St. Joe's
61 At-Large Dayton
62 At-Large Massachusetts
63 At-Large Rhode Island
64 At-Large Houston
65 At-Large BYU

Changes from last week:

In: Houston
Out: Mississippi

*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 eight “in” (no particular order)

1). Dayton

Dayton has a strong RPI (23) and a nice collection of wins over Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island. Still, I’m not sure a .500 conference record in the A-10 is good enough for an at-large bid. That means Dayton will have to finish 4-1 over its final five games. That won’t be easy with Xavier and St. Joe’s in that group. Fortunately for Dayton, both are home games.

2). Houston

I only have Houston tentatively in the field so don’t start questioning my insanity just yet. I’m disappointed that the pool of potential at-large teams is so weak that I have no other realistic options. Mississippi and Oregon clearly can’t be “in” at this point. VCU just lost to a bad Old Dominion team. Anything short of a 6-0 finish to the season and I’ll find a replacement. On an unrelated note, back in the "Phi Slama Jama" days of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, the team actually wore warm-ups that said “Phi Slama Jama.” Can you imagine any coach signing off on that today?

3). Oklahoma

I mentioned last week that OU needed a 2-0 week to stay in the projections. The Sooners went 2-0 and thus stay safe for another week. With non-conference victories over Gonzaga, West Virginia, and Arkansas, I think a .500 conference record will be good enough for a bid. Plus, Kelvin Sampson isn’t their coach anymore. It was a good week to be a Sooner.

4). Baylor

Baylor was 15-2. Now, it’s 16-7. That isn’t good. Baylor went from a near sure-thing to extremely questionable in just a matter of weeks. I can only guess that the team realized it was Baylor. With an RPI of 43 and a resume short on marquee wins, Baylor is reeling. The good news is that a 3-3 finish might be enough and not having to play Kansas or Texas makes that a decent proposition.

5). Florida

Florida has had a weak RPI all season. However, its gaudy record was always enough to fall back on. Florida was 15-2. Now, it’s 19-7. With its gaudy record gone, it doesn’t have much in the name of a resume. Its RPI is weak at 57. It has one win in the RPI 50. Still, Florida only plays one team in the RPI 45 in its last five games. A 3-2 record should be enough to garner a bid.

6). Ohio St.

Ohio St. hasn’t beaten a team with an RPI better than 100 since December 22. That is hard to do. The Buckeyes beat Syracuse and Florida in the non-conference schedule but have feasted exclusively on the bottom-feeders of the Big Ten. I’m starting to think that OSU needs to get to 10-6 to secure a bid.

7). Texas A&M

The Aggies are one of three Big XII teams barely hanging on to a bid. A&M is in the best shape of the bunch with victories over Ohio St., Oral Roberts, and Texas. However, its remaining Big XII schedule is brutal. Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Baylor are four of the final six opponents. The Aggies need at least a 9-7 record to feel good about its chances and I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

8). Syracuse

I thought it was all over for Syracuse when it lost to S. Florida on Wednesday. Three days later, a victory over Georgetown put the Orangemen right back in the field. Syracuse gladly would’ve accepted a loss to S. Florida if it meant a victory over Georgetown.

First eight “out” (no particular order)

1). Oregon

Oregon is pretty much toast. But, if it can go 5-1 over its final six Pac-10 games, I think that would be enough. Unfortunately for Ernie Kent and Co., UCLA, USC, and Arizona are still on the schedule.

2). Mississippi

Despite a 3-7 conference record, Mississippi is in better shape than Oregon. The Rebels only have one opponent in the RPI 45 left on the schedule. A 5-1 finish could be enough. Anything short, though, and they’re done.

3). Arizona St.

ASU keeps coming and going. Every time I think they’re dead, they reel off a string of improbable victories. Every time I think they’re here to stay, they lay an egg. If ASU can go 3-3 over its last six conference games, then I think they might be in good shape. Victories over Xavier, Stanford, and Arizona twice are respectable. To get those three wins it badly needs, ASU will likely either have to win at Oregon or at home against USC.

4). W. Kentucky

It is possible for a team to achieve a good RPI without any wins of note. It doesn’t happen often but W. Kentucky has certainly done so this year. WKU has zero victories inside the RPI 130. Yet, it sports an RPI of 50. The only way WKU gets an at-large bid is if it beats S. Alabama this week and the rest of the fringe teams collapse in a major way. Or, I suppose Darrin Horn could get fellow W. Kentucky alum Clem Haskins to pay someone on the Selection Committee.

5). Miami FL

Miami kept any slim chance it had at making the tournament alive by narrowly escaping at Georgia Tech. Despite a solid RPI of 41, Miami will likely have to beat Duke on Wednesday to have any shot at a bid.

6). VCU

I thought VCU was going to sneak out a bid by winning its last nine Colonial games. A loss to Old Dominion derailed that notion. VCU has wins over Houston and Maryland but the Colonial isn’t particularly strong this year. A bid seems unlikely at this point. Things could change, though.

7). Kentucky

Kentucky had a Syracuse-like week. It was embarrassed by 41 points at Vanderbilt on Tuesday but then beat LSU on Saturday to bring its conference record to 7-3. Kentucky only needs to go 3-3 in its final six SEC games to get to 10-6. The 10-6 mark is usually as good as gold but if there was ever a 10-6-team undeserving, it would be Kentucky.

8). Wright St/S. Illinois/Illinois St/New Mexico

None of these teams are likely to make the tournament. However, if any can win the rest of their regular season games, that would change. I doubt any are good enough to do it but it’s possible.

Top Seeds

#1 Seeds

North Carolina

#2 Seeds


#3 Seeds


#4 Seeds


#5 Seeds

Notre Dame
Michigan St.
St. Mary’s

#6 Seeds

Washington St.

#7 Seeds

Kansas St.
Rhode Island

#8 Seeds

Texas A&M

Big Games this Week


Xavier @ Rhode Island
Texas A&M @ Texas
Syracuse @ Louisville


Purdue @ Indiana
Baylor @ Oklahoma


Houston @ UAB
Mississippi St. @ Mississippi


Massachusetts @ Rhode Island
Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame
Arizona St. @ Washington St.
Oregon @ USC
S. Alabama @ Western Kentucky
Sam Houston St. @ Stephen F. Austin


Davidson @ Winthrop


Kansas St. @ Baylor
Oklahoma @ Texas
George Mason @ Ohio
VCU @ Akron
Tennessee @ Memphis
Drake @ Butler
Kent St. @ St. Mary’s
Arizona @ Washington St.
Oregon @ UCLA
Arkansas @ Kentucky


St. Joe’s @ Rhode Island
Xavier @ Dayton
Wisconsin @ Ohio St.
Louisville @ Pittsburgh
Syracuse @ Notre Dame

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