Monday, February 06, 2006

NCAA Tournament Projections (week of 2-6)

There are quite a few teams in college basketball that are seemingly attempting to play their way out of the NCAA Tournament. Xavier, Washington, Arizona, and Vanderbilt are just a few teams that have failed to match their early season successes. Stanford, California and Miami (FL) have made the best of their second seasons (conference play) after horrible starts to the season. I only made one adjustment to my projected at-large bids this week and that was replacing a struggling Vanderbilt team with an Iowa St. team that seems to be treading water. As bad as teams like Xavier have been, there isn’t a slew of teams with impressive resumes waiting to replace them. Just when I think a team like Temple is going to just up and steal a spot from a struggling team like Xavier, they lose to LaSalle. The season is starting to get interesting. I’m pay particular attention to Stanford’s quest at making the tournament with possibly the worst non-conference performance by an at-large team in tournament history. I’m also interested in seeing how Miami does in its next four games.

Here are the changes I made to the projected automatic bid winners:

OVC Murray St. replaces Samford
Atl. Sun Belmont replaces Lipscomb
Northeast Farleigh Dickinson replaces C. Connecticut St.
Big Sky N. Arizona replaces Montana
MAC Kent St. replaces Akron

Here is how I view the field right now (in no particular order):

1 ACC Duke
2 SEC Florida
3 Big East Connecticut
4 Big 12 Texas
5 Big Ten Illinois
6 Pac-10 Washington
7 MVC N. Iowa
8 MWC Air Force
9 WAC Nevada
10 A-10 Xavier
11 Colonial George Mason
12 MAC Kent St.
13 WCC Gonzaga
14 C-USA Memphis
15 Sun Belt W. Kentucky
16 Horizon Wisconsin-Mil.
17 MAAC Iona
18 Big Sky N. Arizona
20 Big West UC-Irvine
21 OVC Murray St.
22 Ivy Penn
23 Southern Davidson
24 Patriot Bucknell
25 Southland Northwestern St.
26 Northeast Farleigh Dickinson
27 AEC Albany
28 Big South Winthrop
29 Atl. Sun Belmont
30 SWAC Southern
31 MEAC Delaware St.
32 At-Large Seton Hall
33 At-Large Syracuse
34 At-Large Villanova
35 At-Large Pittsburgh
36 At-Large W. Virginia
37 At-Large Cincinnati
38 At-Large Marquette
39 At-Large Georgetown
40 At-Large NC State
41 At-Large Boston College
42 At-Large N. Carolina
43 At-Large Maryland
44 At-Large California
45 At-Large MSU
46 At-Large Indiana
47 At-Large Michigan
48 At-Large Ohio St.
49 At-Large Wisconsin
50 At-Large Iowa
51 At-Large Kentucky
52 At-Large Tennessee
53 At-Large LSU
54 At-Large Iowa St.
55 At-Large Oklahoma
56 At-Large Kansas
57 At-Large Colorado
58 At-Large Arkansas
59 At-Large Arizona
60 At-Large UCLA
61 At-Large UAB
62 At-Large GW
63 At-Large Wichita St.
64 At-Large Creighton
65 At-Large S. Illinois

I haven't listed the 65 teams in order yet. I'll start doing that in a few weeks. The field that I have "projected" now 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. That could push five, if not more, of my "projected" teams out of the field. Come conference tournament time, the last two or three teams that I have in the tourney will probably get pushed out by upsets.

The last seven teams in the tourney right now:

1. Xavier

I think it’s safe to say that Xavier doesn’t have a lot going for it right now. After playing “under the radar” for much of the season, the Musketeers have just about played their way out of the tournament field. Just two weeks ago, Xavier was 12-2 with a victory over Cincinnati and two narrow losses to Illinois and Creighton. Xavier followed its fast start with a 1-4 stretch including two losses to St. Louis. The only reason that I haven’t taken Xavier out of the Tournament all together is because of its incredibly easy league schedule to close out the season. It would not surprise me if Xavier goes 7-1 in its last eight games. Anything worse than that would likely put Xavier in the NIT.

RPI rating: 69
Pomeroy rating: 41

Quality wins: Cincinnati, @ St. Joseph’s

Bad losses: St. Louis, @ St. Louis,

2. Arkansas

Arkansas only played once this past week but it was a big win against S. Carolina. The Razorbacks are 15-6 on the season and 4-4 in the SEC. I think Arkansas can sneak into the tournament with an 8-8 league record. With Vanderbilt struggling, the SEC needs a fifth team. Arkansas and Alabama are the only other teams in the mix. The Razorbacks have impressive victories over Kansas and Missouri St. Unfortunately for Arkansas, its RPI rating is dangerously low and 8-8 in the SEC is no sure thing with games against all of the conferences best teams still to come. If Arkansas goes 3-1 in its next four games, then the tournament is a likely proposition.

RPI rating: 67
Pomeroy rating: 36

Quality wins: Kansas, Missouri St., Vanderbilt

Bad losses: @ Mississippi St.

3. Cincinnati

I don’t think Cincinnati will hold on to make the tournament. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt right now considering its RPI rating and resume to date. The Bearcats have beaten Vanderbilt and Marquette on the road and LSU at a neutral site. As impressive is that is, the bigger issue is how Cincy will manage to finish above .500 in the Big East. The remaining conference slate is brutal. The Bearcats would be lucky to go 3-4 in their last seven conference games which would only be good enough for 7-9 on the season. That probably won’t cut it unless their RPI is in the top 35.

RPI rating: 35
Pomeroy rating: 48

Quality wins: @ Vanderbilt, @ Marquette, and LSU (neutral site)

Bad losses: Dayton

4. Iowa St.

I took Iowa St. out of my projected field last week only to put the Cyclones right back in this week. Like Arkansas, Iowa St. only played one game this week but it was possibly the biggest game of the season for the Cyclones. They beat Colorado to bring their conference record to 4-4. With a relatively easy game against Kansas St up next, Iowa St. should be 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the conference heading into a big rematch against Kansas. Iowa St’s non-conference success would be enough to put it into the tournament with a .500 conference record. Anything less would likely mean an NIT bid considering how weak the Big XII is this year.

RPI rating: 53
Pomeroy rating: 54

Quality wins: Iowa, N. Iowa, Northwestern St., Colorado

Bad losses: Fresno St., @ Texas Tech, Texas A&M

5. S. Illinois

At this point in the season, it looks like the Missouri Valley Conference will get at least three teams into the tournament with the possibility of a fourth. S. Illinois lost a heart breaker on Saturday to Wichita St. but that wasn’t the loss that crippled its resume. The Salukis lost to conference bottom dweller Indiana St. That loss could also be the game that costs S. Illinois a shot at the conference title. Despite going 0-2 last week, S. Illinois has a very good RPI score and an equally impressive conference record (9-4) in the MVC. All of that means nothing if S. Illinois loses at home to Missouri St. this week. My prediction is that the loser of that game will not make the tournament. Both teams should look at that game as an elimination game as far as contending for an at-large birth.

RPI rating: 39
Pomeroy rating: 58

Quality wins: Kent St., Creighton, Bradley, Wichita St., @ Murray St.

Bad losses: Indiana St., Monmouth (neutral site), @Alaska-Anchorage, @St. Louis

6. Washington

Washington is sitting a little prettier than its RPI would indicate. The Huskies are at .500 in the Pac-10 including their current three-game losing streak. If Washington loses to USC on Thursday, they will be on the outside looking in. However, assuming the Huskies beat USC and take advantage of their remaining weak Pac-10 schedule, they will make the tournament on the strength of victories over Gonzaga, UCLA, and Air Force.

RPI rating: 59
Pomeroy rating: 35

Quality wins: Gonzaga, UCLA, and Air Force

Bad losses: Washington St., @ Washington St.

7. Arizona

If RPI counted for everything, Arizona would have no reason to worry. However, the RPI only adds or subtracts to a team’s record and resume. Arizona is at a tournament unfriendly 13-9 on the season. The good news for the Wildcats is that they don’t have to play UCLA anymore this season. Their talent should be enough to go on a mini-run to finish the Pac-10 schedule. Arizona has played a brutal schedule which should look good to the selection committee. However, there is a point at which a record can be so bad as to override computer numbers and a tough schedule. Arizona would do well by not losing more than two more games in the Pac-10.

RPI rating: 17
Pomeroy rating: 42

Quality wins: Kansas (neutral site), Virginia, W. Kentucky, @ Washington, California

Bad losses: @ Houston, @ Oregon St., @ Oregon, @ USC

The teams waiting in the wings:

1. Missouri St.

This spot should really be a joint venture shared equally by Missouri St. and S. Illinois. These two teams are the fourth and fifth teams in the MVC. It just remains to be seen which will be which. Conveniently, they play each other on Tuesday. Unfortunately for these two teams, each follows this showdown with a game on the road against an MVC powerhouse. Missouri St. has to travel to N. Iowa while S. Illinois has to play at Creighton. If one of these teams could somehow go 2-0 this week, then that would likely be enough to wrap up a fourth bid for the MVC. If one of these teams goes 0-2 this week, then that would essentially eliminate that team from at-large consideration.

RPI rating: 36
Pomeroy rating: 33

Quality wins: S. Illinois, Bradley

Bad losses: none

2. Utah St.

After having Nevada penciled in as receiving the WAC’s automatic bid from day one, Utah St. has made things interesting. As it stands now, it’s about a 50/50 proposition for both teams. Utah St. beat Nevada on the road earlier in the season. If Nevada doesn’t win the WAC tournament, it will likely garner strong consideration for an at-large bid. Utah St., on the other hand, will likely pay the price for an underwhelming non-conference slate if it doesn't win the WAC's automatic bid. At the very least, Utah St. should plan on winning the regular season title. Anything less would likely mean Utah St’s impressive record is heading to the NIT.

RPI rating: 40
Pomeroy rating: 46

Quality wins: @ Nevada

Bad losses: @ Middle Tennessee, @ Utah, @ Fresno St., @ New Mexico St.

3. Vanderbilt

The Commodores are embarking on their annual late season collapse. As true as college basketball is played indoors, Vanderbilt chokes down the stretch. I like Vanderbilt. They have no business being competitive in college basketball yet they seem to do it very well. My first memory of Vanderbilt basketball was when Billy McCaffrey transferred from Duke. Given my extreme distaste for Duke, McCaffrey instantly became one of my favorite players. Vanderbilt reaped the benefits with an impressive run in the SEC. There are still remnants of my McCaffrey-born affinity for Vanderbilt even today. That probably explains why I’m always heartbroken to see everything begin to unravel as the SEC season roles along. Vandy is 1-5 in its last six games (all in the SEC). Its RPI has free-fallen to 64. With big games against Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee remaining, it doesn’t look good. Bummer.

RPI rating: 64
Pomeroy rating: 60

Quality wins: @ Georgetown, @ Kentucky

Bad losses: @ Georgia Tech, Georgia, S. Carolina

4. NC Wilmington

I feel for the Colonial Athletic Association. This conference has been better than anyone expected which is evidenced by pre-season favorite Old Dominion’s current fourth place standing. The CAA will probably not receive an at-large bid unless George Mason doesn't win the conference tournament. However, I think they deserve one. NC Wilmington, along with Hofstra, has solid computer ratings to go along with impressive overall records. While Hofstra may have the better argument come seasons end, NC Wilmington has a better RPI and a .5 game lead in the standings. While these teams are destined for NIT births, I hope the selection committee at least considers a second team from the CAA

RPI rating: 43
Pomeroy rating: 62

Quality wins: George Mason

Bad losses: College of Charleston, @ E. Carolina

5. Stanford

Stanford is going to test all of the conventional wisdom as to what constitutes a tournament-worthy resume. The Cardinal has some of the worst losses by any big-time college basketball team this season. They lost to UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, and Montana just to name a few. However, Stanford has somehow turned its season around with an 8-3 record in the Pac-10. Stanford hasn’t beaten a team with an RPI higher than 50. Stanford has lost to four teams with an RPI lower than 100. My guess is that the next two games will decide Stanford’s fate. First up is a conference showdown at California. The winner will be 9-3 in the conference which would be all but a lock for the tournament. Next-up is a season-making showdown at Gonzaga. If Stanford wins both games, you can punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. An 0-2 showing would bring Stanford’s season record to 12-9 which might be too mediocre for a +.500 conference record to save.

RPI rating: 79
Pomeroy rating: 79

Quality wins: @ UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, @ Montana, Va. Tech (neutral site), @ USC

Bad losses: Washington, California

6. Miami (FL)

Miami’s season is divided into two distinct halves. The first half is very bad. The second half is very good. How good the second half is will decide if the Hurricanes sneak into the tournament. At 6-3 in the ACC, Miami stands in third place in one of the top conferences in America. Miami has beaten N. Carolina and Maryland to solidify itself as a team to be reckoned with this season. However, Miami’s next four games will make or break its season. A brutal stretch against NC State, N. Carolina, B. College and Duke looms over the next two weeks. A 2-2 stretch would almost certainly send Miami to the NCAA tournament. Even a 1-3 stretch would keep its hopes alive. However, 0-4 is a possibility which would ruin Miami’s season.

RPI rating: 61
Pomeroy rating: 47

Quality wins: Maryland, @ N. Carolina, @ FSU

Bad losses: none

7. Louisville

The Cardinals will probably not make the tournament. That said, they saved their season by holding off a game Notre Dame team this past weekend. Louisville moved to 3-6 in the Big East which leaves a lot to be desired. The Cardinals have seven conference games remaining. At the very least, they have to go 4-3. That would at least keep Louisville in the mix at 7-9. In the toughest conference in college basketball, 7-9 might be good enough to get into the tourney. My guess is that it wouldn’t be especially with the Big East already having nine possible births. Louisville would be the tenth. I don’t see it happening but an upset over Uconn or W. Virginia could make it happen.

RPI rating: 62
Pomeroy rating: 40

Quality wins: Akron, @ Miami (FL), Cincinnati

Bad losses: @ St. John’s

8. Temple

Temple blew its season this week. After a three game winning streak that featured victories over Maryland and Xavier, Temple was steamrolling towards an at-large bid in a weak A-10 conference. However, Temple forgot to show up against LaSalle. I would’ve had Temple in my projected field had they simply beaten a mediocre LaSalle team. Instead, they moved to 12-8 on the season. For some reason, I’m annoyed by Temple’s loss. I think it’s because Temple was such a long shot when they stood at 6-6 earlier in the season. They fought back from such a poor start to seemingly grab an at-large birth. I think Temple was proving that all things are possible. Unfortunately for them, LaSalle proved the same point.

RPI rating: 46
Pomeroy rating: 71

Quality wins: Miami (FL), Alabama, Xavier, Maryland

Bad losses: @ Auburn, @ Massachusetts, @ LaSalle

9. Hofstra

Hofstra’s non-conference resume is about as unimpressive as they come. However, Hofstra has come out on fire in the CAA. The Pride has beaten pre-season favorite Old Dominion twice and NC Wilmington. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Hofstra to win the CAA’s automatic bid. Even if they don’t, it’s possible for Hofstra to finish the season at 22-5 with a top 40 RPI. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t see the CAA getting two bids but Hofstra is at least worth a look.

RPI rating: 58
Pomeroy rating: 83

Quality wins: Old Dominion, @ Old Dominion, NC Wilmington

Bad losses: @Towson, @ Northeastern

10 FSU
11 USC
12 Nebraska
13 Akron
14 Alabama
15 Old Dominion
16 Bradley
17 Virginia
18 BYU

A look at the RPI

Lowest rated teams projected in the tournament (at-large)

#69 Xavier
#67 Arkansas
#59 Washington
#54 California
#53 Iowa St.
#51 Kansas
#49 Colorado
#44 UAB
#41 Maryland
#39 S. Illinois
#38 GW
#35 Cincinnati
#32 Kentucky
#31 Marquette
#30 Syracuse
#29 W. Virginia
#28 B. College
#27 Seton Hall

Highest rated teams projected out of the tournament (at-large)

#36 Missouri St.
#40 Utah St.
#43 NC Wilmington
#45 St. Joseph's
#46 Temple
#48 Old Dominion
#50 Alabama
#52 Bradley
#55 Virginia
#57 San Diego St.
#58 Hofstra
#60 BYU
#61 Miami (FL)
#62 Louisville
#63 Clemson
#64 Vanderbilt
#65 Virginia Commonwealth
#66 Akron

Here is a breakdown of conferences with multiple bids (in no particular order):

ACC (5)
NC State
Boston College
N. Carolina

SEC (5)

Big East (9)
W. Virginia
Seton Hall

Big 12 (5)
Iowa St.

Big Ten (7)
Ohio St.

Pac-10 (4)

C-USA (2)

A-10 (2)

MVC (4)
N. Iowa
Wichita St.
S. Illinois

The Un-luck of the Irish

After discussing the incredible string of last second losses that Notre Dame has experienced this season, I didn’t realize that I would be revisiting the same topic just a week later. Unbelievably, Notre Dame lost another two games this week in which one was an overtime loss and the other was a one-point loss. Notre Dame has now lost its last nine games by a total of 30 points. Even more amazing, at the end of regulation of Notre Dame’s lost nine losses, it has been down by a combined 21 points. For its efforts, Notre Dame stands at 1-8 in Big East play and 10-10 on the season. Here is the most impressive unimpressive resume you’ll ever see:

Michigan 71 Notre Dame 67
Pittsburgh 100 Notre Dame 97 (2 OT)
DePaul 73 Notre Dame 67
Syracuse 88 Notre Dame 82
Marquette 67 Notre Dame 65
Georgetown 85 Notre Dame 82 (2 OT)
Villanova 82 Notre Dame 80
W. Virginia 71 Notre Dame 70
Louisville 89 Notre Dame 86 (OT)

LSU is the Anti-Notre Dame

LSU has proven that a string of close losses does not have to mean a lost season. All six of LSU’s losses have been by five points or less (1, 4, 3, 2, 1, and 5 respectively. While Notre Dame is toiling in oblivion with nine close losses, LSU has suffered a similar string of last second losses but has managed to go 7-1 in the SEC. LSU has virtually locked up an at-large bid despite the following heartbreaking strong of games:

Houston 84 LSU 83
N. Iowa 54 LSU 50
Cincinnati 75 LSU 72
Ohio St. 78 LSU 76
Uconn 67 LSU 66
Alabama 67 LSU 62

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