Monday, February 27, 2006

NCAA Tournament projections (week of 3-1)

With two weeks left until Selection Sunday, there are only a handful of teams that are in limbo in terms of their tournament status. The Missouri Valley Conference continues to be the feel-good story of the mid-major world this season. If the season ended today and all of the best teams win their conference tournaments, the MVC would get six teams in the Big Dance. That would be more than the Pac 10, the Big XII and the ACC. There aren’t a whole lot of bubble teams with convincing resumes. In fact, it wasn’t difficult at all for me to leave out any team of my current projected field. However, if Air Force, Gonzaga, Nevada, George Washington, Memphis, and Bucknell don’t win their conference tournaments, projecting the field will become extremely difficult. For instance, how does one differentiate between NC Wilmington and Hofstra or S. Illinois and Bradley? The amount of upsets in the conference tournaments will determine the difficulty in selecting the field. The field I have right now assumes all favorites win their conference tournaments.

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

MWC Air Force replaces San Diego St.

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

1 ACC Duke
2 SEC Florida
3 Big East UCONN
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 George Washington
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 Pacific
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 Hofstra
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 Indiana
44 At-Large California
45 At-Large MSU
46 At-Large NC Wilmington
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 Alabama
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 Bradley
62 At-Large Missouri St.
63 At-Large Wichita St.
64 At-Large Creighton
65 At-Large S. Illinois

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. That would push five 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 if not more.

The last seven teams in the tourney right now:

1. Bradley

Of the six candidates from the Missouri Valley Conference that are looking for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Bradley will probably be listed last in the pecking order. I think this is a mistake, though. Bradley is 9-2 in its last 11 games including wins @ N. Iowa, S. Illinois, and Missouri St. Bradley deserves a bid to the tourney regardless of how many MVC teams get in. S. Illinois will probably get in ahead of Bradley but this would be a mistake.

RPI rating: 43
Pomeroy rating: 34

Quality wins: W. Kentucky, N. Iowa, @ N. Iowa, Creighton, Missouri St., and S. Illinois,

Bad losses: @ Loyola Chicago, @ Indiana St. and @ Drake

2. S. Illinois

If S. Illinois gets in ahead of Bradley, it can thank two things; 1). Its slight advantage in RPI and 2). It’s slight advantage in conference record. The Salukis are two spots ahead in the RPI and are one game better in terms of conference record. The way I see it, these teams are tied. They have essentially the same computer ratings and conference records. They each have beaten more than a handful of teams from the RPI top 50. They each have three bad losses. The only thing that sets these two teams apart is recent performance. S. Illinois is 7-6 in its last 13 games. Bradley is 9-2 in its last 11 including a win over S. Illinois. Bradley also has a huge advantage in the Pomeroy ratings. S. Illinois lost to Division 2 Alaska Anchorage which isn’t factored into the computer ratings. That would seriously damage its RPI. If one of these teams bows out early in the MVC Tournament, that might differentiate them more for the committee. With conference tournament upsets surely to come, one of these teams will likely miss out on the tourney.

RPI rating: 41
Pomeroy rating: 69

Quality wins: Wichita St, Bradley, Creighton, @ Creighton, Missouri St, and N. Iowa

Bad losses: Monmouth (neutral), @Alaska Anchorage, Indiana St, and @ Evansville

3. Indiana

I had Indiana out of the tournament last week and that could still happen. The Hoosiers have to finish 8-8 in the Big Ten to have a better than 50/50 shot at getting a bid. The win over Michigan St. yesterday was a big surprise and gave Indiana a big-time boost. Indiana has quality wins on the year but it is 3-7 over its last ten games. The Hoosiers have two Big Ten games remaining. It will have to win at least one to stay in contention for a bid.

RPI rating: 45
Pomeroy rating: 53

Quality wins: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio St., Illinois, and Michigan St.

Bad losses: @ Indiana St. and @ Penn St.

4. Hofstra

As I mentioned right here last week, if NC Wilmington is a tournament team, then Hofstra should be as well. Hofstra finally played George Mason and came out victorious. Now, nothing separates Hofstra from NC Wilmington. Both teams beat George Mason. Both teams won a game against the other. Hofstra has a better record. Hofstra has more wins in the RPI top 55. Hofstra has beaten Old Dominion twice while NC Wilmington lost its only meeting with Old Dominion. Barring a major upset along the way, the CAA should be able to secure three bids to the tournament which would be a huge surprise. What makes it even more surprising is that one of those teams won’t be Old Dominion.

RPI rating: 38
Pomeroy rating: 59

Quality wins: NC Wilmington, George Mason, Old Dominion, @ Old Dominion
Bad losses: @ Towson

5. Cincinnati

As long as Cincy wins one of its two remaining Big East games, it will easily make the tournament. The Bearcats play a struggling Seton Hall team and W. Virginia. If Cincy loses both games, it would stand at 17-12 entering the Big East Tournament. Cincy won’t win the Big East Tournament so they would definitely pick up another loss. That would leave Cincy at 18-13 with few big wins on the season. It has a nice RPI right now but three straight losses would likely push Cincy out of the RPI top 35 and right on out of the tournament. Don’t be surprised if that happens.

RPI rating: 26
Pomeroy rating: 41

Quality wins: @ Vanderbilt, LSU (neutral), @ Marquette, @ Syracuse

Bad losses: Dayton

6. Syracuse

Syracuse is in the exact same boat as Cincinnati. If the Orange does not win at least one of its two remaining games in the Big East, things could go south quickly. Syracuse plays @ DePaul and Villanova. Losses to both teams and a loss in the Big East Tournament would leave Syracuse at 20-12 with even fewer good wins than Cincinnati. Its RPI would likely be outside of the top 35.

RPI rating: 28
Pomeroy rating: 43

Quality wins: Cincinnati, and W. Virginia

Bad losses: none

8. Michigan

Michigan is in the tournament. The Wolverines were on the fast-track out of the field but a stunning victory over Illinois put Michigan right back in position. Had Michigan not beaten Illinois, Michigan would’ve needed a victory over Indiana to secure a bid. Judging from Michigan’s struggles against Indiana recently it would’ve been a tall order. Had Michigan not beaten Illinois and ended the season on a three-game losing streak, there is no way Michigan would’ve made the tournament. Michigan would’ve been 1-7 in its last eight games. It would’ve been 7-9 in conference play. Even worse, Michigan would have had only TWO wins in the RPI top 68! Out of the RPI top 55, only Wisconsin Milwaukee would’ve had less wins against the RPI top 68. I don’t know if there has been a team in the history of college basketball to go 1-7 in its last eight regular season games and go 7-9 (or worse) in its conference and still make the tournament as an at-large. Thankfully, Michigan beat Illinois and secured at least an 8-8 conference record. After waiting eight long years, Michigan is in!

RPI rating: 25
Pomeroy rating: 38

Quality wins: Michigan St, Illinois, Wisconsin

Bad losses: @ Purdue

The teams waiting in the wings:

For the first time this year, there aren’t any teams that I’ve left out of my “projected” list that I feel deserve to be in. Maryland probably looks awkward being on the outside looking in but Maryland’s season has been overwhelmingly unimpressive. If they get in, it will be on reputation alone. The rest of these teams are virtual locks to miss the tournament with the exception of UAB. The Selection Committee has been kind to UAB in past seasons. There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve been surprised to see the Blazers show up on Selection Sunday. Because of that, I would not be shocked to see them again this year. However, there are far more deserving candidates.

1. UAB

UAB is a victim of a poor schedule. For the majority of the season, I had UAB pegged as a tournament team. UAB has done nothing but win since yet I have them headed to the NIT. The Blazers can blame its 170th ranked strength of schedule for missing the tournament this year. Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette’s departure to the Big East caused Conference USA to plummet in the conference ratings. That left few marquee games for UAB. The Blazers did play and beat some name schools in its non-conference schedule (Massachusetts, Nebraska, Old Dominion, and Oklahoma St.) but none of those schools appear in the RPI top 50. UAB’s best win this season was against fellow conference foe Houston. That leaves a lot to be desired. UAB does have one chance at making the tournament and that involves beating Memphis in its last regular season game. The game will be at home which gives UAB a chance. A loss would close the door on a tournament bid. A win would likely give UAB a marquee win good enough to send it to the NCAA Tournament. I’d say the chances are about 15%.

RPI rating: 52
Pomeroy rating: 51

Quality wins: Houston
Bad losses: none

2. Maryland

Maryland is on Selection Sunday life-support. The Terps have to win their last two conference games (Miami and @ Virginia) just to have a shot at making the tournament. Both of those games are winnable. That would leave Maryland at 8-8 in the ACC and 17-11 overall heading into the ACC Tournament. Assuming Maryland gets to 8-8 in the ACC, a first round loss in the ACC Tournament would likely keep Maryland out of the tournament. This is a quintessential bubble team. If it were up to me, Maryland would not make the tournament. Its resume is extremely light on quality wins with zero wins in the RPI top 34.

RPI rating: 51
Pomeroy rating: 54

Quality wins: Arkansas (neutral) Boston College
Bad losses: @ Clemson

3. Seton Hall

Seton Hall seemed like a lock just a few weeks ago. Enter a 1-4 stretch that included three losses to teams with an RPI of 90 or higher and the Pirates have fallen all the way to 60 in the RPI. That number is too low to overcome for any team, not to mention a team that might finish below .500 in its conference and has six losses to teams outside of the RPI top 87. Seton Hall’s strength of schedule would be considered a good thing considering it played both Duke and Connecticut. However, it lost both of those games by a combined 95 points. The door is still open for the Hall but considering its final two Big East games are against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, things will likely continue to fall apart for Seton Hall.

RPI rating: 60
Pomeroy rating: 61

Quality wins: @ N. Carolina St, @ Syracuse, W. Virginia

Bad losses: @Richmond, Northwestern, @ Rutgers, @ St. John’s, and @ DePaul

4. Houston

At least Conference USA is fair to its bubble teams. Houston, like UAB, will also have a season ending shot at making the tournament in the form of playing Memphis. Unfortunately for Houston, it has to play at Memphis. As far as I was concerned, Houston only needed to win its remaining regular season games sans Memphis to get serious consideration for the tournament. Instead, Houston lost to UTEP last week which put it in the back of the pack for bubble teams. Last week, ESPN was talking about Conference USA getting three bids. The way I see it, they will get one assuming Memphis wins the conference tournament.

RPI rating: 54
Pomeroy rating: 79

Quality wins: @ LSU, Arizona, UTEP

Bad losses: @ S. Alabama, @ UNLV, @ Rice, and C. Florida

5. Utah St.

Utah St. won’t blow anyone away with its 97th rated schedule but it is 6-2 in the RPI top 100. The problem for Utah St. is that it has five losses outside of the RPI top 100. There is no way that a team with that on its resume will get an at-large bid. Utah St. will have to win its conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. I feel obligated to include the Aggies on this list because they have a fairly impressive RPI of 49 which could rise a few spots by the end of the year.

RPI rating: 49
Pomeroy rating: 62

Quality wins: @ Nevada, BYU, and Northwestern St.

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

Highest rated RPI teams projected “out” of the tournament
#49 Utah St.
#50 St. Joseph's
#51 Maryland
#52 UAB
#54 Houston
#55 Old Dominion
#56 BYU
#57 Texas A&M
#58 San Diego St.
#60 Seton Hall
#61 Temple
#62 Vanderbilt
#64 UTEP
#65 Florida St.

Lowest rated RPI teams projected “in” the tournament
#59 California
#48 Colorado
#46 Arkansas
#45 Indiana
#44 Kansas
#43 Bradley
#42 Kentucky
#41 S.Illinois
#40 Bucknell
#39 Air Force
#38 Hofstra
#37 NC Wilmington
#36 Alabama
#35 Boston College

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

ACC (5)
NC State
Boston College
N. Carolina

SEC (6)

Big East (8)
W. Virginia

Big 12 (4)

Big Ten (7)
Ohio St.

Pac-10 (4)

C-USA (1)

A-10 (1)

MVC (6)
N. Iowa
Wichita St.
S. Illinois
Missouri St.

George Mason
NC Wilmington

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