Monday, March 10, 2008

"Projections" has sweaty palms

Next Sunday is “Go Time!”

Feel free to check in next Sunday before the Selection Show to see my final “projections.” I should have them up by mid-afternoon since a). any remaining games likely won't have any impact on the field and b). I'll only be posting the projections so it won't take me long to put a post together. Hopefully I can nail all 65 teams (31 of which are automatic qualifiers). I came close last year missing a perfect projection by one. If I am lucky enough to get all the picks right, then I might just have to retire the "projections" column. In the likely event that I don’t get all 65 teams correct, you’ll have to put up with this nonsense again next year.

Best freshmen class of all-time?

I haven’t been alive—or coherent—long enough to know the answer to this question but if there has been a better class than the 2007 freshmen crop, I would love to hear about it. The 2008 NBA Draft should provide a cornucopia of riches for lottery teams as there are franchise players abound. Everyone knows about Michael Beasley who is not only the best freshman—and overall player—in the country this season, he might be the greatest freshman in college basketball history. He will undoubtedly go #1 to whichever team is lucky enough to win the lottery. Miami is dreaming of a D-Wade/Matrix/Beasley lineup and Minnesota is dreaming about an Al Jefferson/Beasley frontcourt for the ages. For those who haven’t gotten a chance to see Beasley play, a comparison to Tim Duncan isn’t so far off. There are some major differences between the two. Beasley isn’t as big as Duncan which is definitely an advantage for TD. On the flip side, Beasley is more athletic and has more range than Duncan. If it came down to it, I bet most NBA scouts would take Beasley’s skill-set over Duncan’s circa 1997. That is saying a lot since TD is easily one of the ten greatest basketball players in NBA history.

The rest of the ’07 freshmen crop is outstanding. Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon are 2a and 2b when it comes to NBA talent and readiness. Gordon is like a 6’4 Charles Barkley who plays shooting-guard. He can jump out of the gym and has range to match. Rose is a 6’3 point guard with freakish athleticism. Jerryd Bayless is another point guard with a fantastic repertoire. Kevin Love is an extremely skilled big-man with an NBA ready frame. Long before this class made it to college, O.J. Mayo was considered, far and away, the best recruit in the class. He’s probably no better than the 5th or 6th best prospect at this point but that’s because the rest of the group has been so good. Mayo has led USC to the brink of the NCAA Tournament averaging 21 ppg while shooting 41% from 3-point range. DeAndre Jordan is easily the most unheralded of the group but he is a 7-foot superstar in the making. In some years, he would be the #1 pick in the draft.

In fact, Beasley, Gordon, Rose, Bayless, Mayo, and Jordan may have all gone #1 overall in the ’01, ’05, and ’06 drafts. This has the makings to be the most prolific NBA Draft of all-time. At the very least it should rival ’03, ’99, ’96, and ’84 as the best drafts ever. The 2007 freshmen class is so deep and talented that it will likely not only dominate the 2008 NBA Lottery but the 2009 NBA Lottery as well. The following players will be in the running as top ten selections next season if they opt to stay in school for one more year: Anthony Randolph, J.J. Hickson, Blake Griffin, Donte Green, James Harden, Austin Daye, Kosta Koufos, Patrick Patterson, Davon Jefferson, James Johnson, Bill Walker, and Jonny Flynn.


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 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 Winthrop
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 Miami FL
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 Oregon
44 At-Large Stanford
45 At-Large Arizona
46 At-Large Washington St.
47 At-Large USC
48 At-Large Oklahoma
49 At-Large Kansas St.
50 At-Large Texas A&M
51 At-Large Texas
52 At-Large Baylor
53 At-Large Purdue
54 At-Large Wisconsin
55 At-Large Indiana
56 At-Large Ohio St.
57 At-Large Vanderbilt
58 At-Large Arkansas
59 At-Large Mississippi St.
60 At-Large Kentucky
61 At-Large Mississippi
62 At-Large Massachusetts
63 At-Large Dayton
64 At-Large Illinois St.
65 At-Large UNLV

Changes from last week:

In: Ohio St., Oregon, Syracuse, and Mississippi
Out: UAB, Florida, Va. Tech, and Maryland

*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). Arizona

I can’t rationalize keeping Arizona out at this point even with an 8-10 conference record. TV pundits love to play the “in” or “out” game when discussing the tournament bubble. The problem is that you can’t just look at a team’s resume and say, “Weak resume= no tournament.” The field is graded on a curve. Teams with questionable resumes can make the tournament if there aren’t better options available. It’s one thing to make a statement like, “Arizona doesn’t deserve to make the tournament” but for that to be true, you have to come up with a team that deserves to be in over Arizona. Va. Tech and Maryland certainly don’t. New Mexico doesn’t. Villanova and St. Joe’s don’t. So, until a few spots get erased by conference tournament-upsets, Arizona remains in the field. I do have one problem that I’m having a difficult time resolving. Arizona lost to Arizona St. twice. Arizona St. also has a better record in the same conference. There is a huge discrepancy in the RPIs which is why Arizona gets the nod but Arizona St. should be one of the final five or six teams in the bubble discussion if it can win a game or two in the Pac-10 Tournament. Arizona will beat Oregon St. (0-16 conference record) in the first round of the P10 Tournament which will set up a make or break game against Stanford in the second round. A win there probably gets ‘Zona in to the tournament. A loss would do the opposite unless the rest of the bubble teams fail to impress as well.

2). Oregon

I expect Oregon to get bounced from the Pac 10 Tournament in expedited-fashion so its candidacy might not be an issue next week. However, it’s tough to ignore Oregon. Like ASU, Oregon beat Arizona twice and has a better conference record. Unlike ASU, Oregon’s RPI is actually respectable. Its still a ways behind Arizona’s but the Ducks are good enough to be in the tournament at this point. One comparison that I do not want to have to make is if the last spot in the tourney came down to Oregon and Arizona. However, Oregon would have to get by Washington St. in its first game in the P10 Tournament for that to be an issue.

3). Syracuse

Syracuse—like Arizona and Oregon—is only in the discussion because there just aren’t many teams worthy of the last few at-large bids. In most years, Syracuse’s resume would only be good enough to be one of the last few teams passed over by the committee. At this point, Syracuse has to be one of the at-large teams. Upsets in conference tournaments might change that but right now, the ‘Cuse is in. The first round of the Big East Tournament conveniently pits Syracuse against Villanova effectively eliminating the loser from at-large contention. Its too bad sorting out the rest of the bubble isn’t this easy. A “bubble tournament” would go a long way in ending Selection Sunday injustice and--not as ideal--suspense.

4). Mississippi

Mississippi might not get into the tournament but if that happens, I think it’ll be because of perception and not because of merit. Mississippi finished 7-9 in the SEC after a horrible start. The Rebels boast an RPI of 42 along with five wins in the RPI 50. Va. Tech and Maryland have a combined total of zero wins in the RPI 50. Mississippi has a legitimate chance at playing its way into the tournament. It should have no problem dispatching Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament. That would set up a make or break second round affair with Kentucky. If Mississippi can beat Kentucky, I think it’ll sneak into the field.

5). Texas A&M

The Aggies have a Syracuse-like resume—their RPIs are 47 and 46 respectively—that will be difficult to distinguish from the rest of the bubble teams. They finished 8-8 in the Big XII. Their key non-conference wins were against Ohio St. and Oral Roberts. They did manage to beat Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor but lost to all three as well. An early loss in the conference tournament by any of the five teams on this list would likely be a deathblow to any tourney chances. Texas A&M should have no problem picking up a win in the Big XII Tournament as it faces Iowa St. in the first round. A win over Kansas St. in the second round would pretty much lock things up. A loss would leave the Aggies in the precarious situation of hoping there aren’t many unforeseen automatic qualifiers.

First five “out” (no particular order)

1). New Mexico

A totally undeserving team like New Mexico gets admitted into the tournament every year. Whether it’s UAB ’05 or Air Force ’06—they combined for zero wins against the RPI 50 but still managed at-large bids—the Selection Committee always makes at least one totally inexplicable decision. New Mexico very well could be that decision this year. Unlike the UAB and Air Force teams, New Mexico actually has a win in the RPI 50 albeit one. New Mexico is 3-4 in the top 100. No team with only three wins in the RPI 100 deserves an at-large bid, ever.

2). Va. Tech

One team that I wouldn’t mind seeing New Mexico get an at-large big ahead of would be the Hokies. Va. Tech’s resume is deplorable. It boasts zero wins in the RPI 50 and zero non-conference wins in the RPI 125. The combination of “ACC team” and “+.500 conference record” makes this a Selection Committee darling but even the biggest ACC fan couldn’t rationalize Va. Tech getting a bid with such a crummy resume. Because the ACC is the ACC, I think if Va. Tech wins two games in the ACC Tournament it’ll be escorted to the NCAA Tournament as a VIP. Va. Tech would likely need to beat Miami FL and North Carolina for that to happen which would leave...

3). Maryland

I’m not sure whether Maryland has a better resume than Va. Tech. The Terps went 0-2 against Va. Tech this season but at least Maryland beat a top 50 team and an incredibly good one at that. Maryland’s win at North Carolina ranks as one of the most impressive wins by any team this season. Still, Maryland’s resume is atrocious. The Terps lost to a number of bad teams including Missouri, Boston College, Ohio, and American. Unfortunately, they don’t have the marquee wins to make up for those losses. Maryland only needs to beat Boston College and Clemson to pick up two victories in the ACC Tournament but Sunday's devastating loss to Virginia means Maryland will have to march all the way to the ACC Chmapionship Game to have a shot at a bid.

4). Villanova

Villanova is close but loses out “head-to-head” to too many bubble teams to be in the field at this point. Syracuse and St. Joe’s have slightly more impressive resumes with better RPIs and better wins. Nova also has three bad losses to Rutgers, DePaul, and Cincinnati. Villanova gets its shot against Syracuse in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The winner of that game gets Georgetown in the second round for a chance to put an end to any speculation.

5). St. Joe’s

There were a number of choke-jobs in the A-10 but only Rhode Island’s failure to capitalize on a 20-4 start can rival St. Joe’s losing to Duquesne, St. Louis, and LaSalle down the stretch. A win over any of those 100+ RPI-teams probably would’ve been enough. Instead, St. Joe’s needs a miracle. Fortunately for the Red Hawks, that miracle could come in the form of a nicely set-up bracket in the A-10 Tournament. St. Joe’s gets Fordham in the first round. A win there would bring a match-up in the second round against Richmond (Richmond is the #4 seed, St. Joe’s is the #6 seed!). A win there would set-up a colossal showdown against Xavier just an hour away from the St. Joe’s campus. The first two games should be easy wins. A win over Xavier would likely send St. Joe’s to the tourney.

Top Seeds

#1 Seeds

North Carolina

#2 Seeds


#3 Seeds


#4 Seeds

Notre Dame

#5 Seeds

Washington St.

#6 Seeds

Michigan St.

#7 Seeds


#8 Seeds

Miami FL
Mississippi St.
Kent St.

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