Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NCAA Tournament Projections

I hope the “bubble” picture goes from analog to HD this week because the current reception is frustratingly fuzzy. I struggled to find 65 teams—particularly the last three spots—that were worthy of receiving a bid. Separating teams like Arizona, Creighton, San Diego St., New Mexico, UNLV, S. Carolina, Florida and Penn St. is not an enjoyable task. The conference tournaments will hopefully sort things out with those teams. However, there are some teams on the outside of the bubble who could play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Providence would probably earn a bid by beating Louisville in the second round of the Big East Tournament. Another team on the periphery of the bubble to keep an eye on is Auburn. The Tigers finished 10-6 in the SEC and have an RPI of 65. If they can beat Florida in the second round and Tennessee in the semifinal, then that would certainly open up the door for a bid.

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

1 ACC North Carolina
3 Big East Pittsburgh
4 Big 12 Oklahoma
5 Big Ten Michigan St.
6 Pac-10 Washington
7 MVC N. Iowa
8 MWC Utah
9 WAC Utah St.
10 A-10 Xavier
11 Colonial VCU
12 MAC Miami (OH)
13 WCC Gonzaga
14 C-USA Memphis
15 Sun Belt Western Kentucky
16 Horizon Butler
17 MAAC Siena
18 Big Sky Weber St.
19 MCC North Dakota St.
20 Big West Pacific
21 OVC Morehead St.
22 Ivy Cornell
23 Southern Chattanooga
24 Patriot American
25 Southland Stephen F. Austin
26 Northeast Robert Morris
27 AEC Binghamton
28 Big South Radford
29 Atl. Sun E. Tennessee St.
30 SWAC Alabama St.
31 MEAC Morgan St.
32 At-Large ACC Duke
33 At-Large ACC Wake Forest
34 At-Large ACC Florida St.
35 At-Large ACC Clemson
36 At-Large ACC Boston College*
37 At-Large Big East Connecticut
38 At-Large Big East Louisville
39 At-Large Big East Villanova
40 At-Large Big East Syracuse
41 At-Large Big East Marquette
42 At-Large Big East West Virginia*
43 At-Large Big Ten Illinois
44 At-Large Big Ten Purdue
45 At-Large Big Ten Wisconsin
46 At-Large Big Ten Ohio St.
47 At-Large Big Ten Michigan
48 At-Large Big Ten Minnesota*
49 At-Large Big Ten Penn St.*
50 At-Large Big XII Kansas
51 At-Large Big XII Missouri
52 At-Large Big XII Oklahoma St.
53 At-Large Big XII Texas A&M
54 At-Large Big XII Texas
55 At-Large SEC Tennessee
56 At-Large SEC S. Carolina*
57 At-Large SEC Florida*
58 At-Large Pac 10 UCLA
59 At-Large Pac 10 Arizona St.
60 At-Large Pac 10 Cal
61 At-Large MVC Creighton*
62 At-Large MWC BYU
63 At-Large MWC New Mexico*
64 At-Large A10 Dayton
65 At-Large WCC St. Mary’s*

Auto bids bolded
* Bubble Teams

Last Five “IN”

1.New Mexico

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) has taken the “Mid-Major” mantle—at least temporarily—from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The MWC boasts five teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations. BYU and Utah are “locks” with gaudy RPIs. The other three—New Mexico, San Diego St., and UNLV—are likely fighting for one or two spots. San Diego St. has the best RPI but its resume is the most flimsy with just one win against the RPI 50. UNLV and New Mexico have four and three, respectively. UNLV has the next flimsiest resume of the three boasting a conference record of just 9-7. New Mexico, on the other hand, tied BYU and Utah with a 12-4 conference record. New Mexico also beat every team in the league which is something San Diego St and UNLV failed to do. For now, I’ve got New Mexico in but a lot can—and likely will—change in the MWC over the next week.

2. Penn St.

THE question for Selection Sunday is: how many bids will the Big Ten receive? Believe it or not, that number could’ve gone as high as nine had Northwestern beaten Ohio St. on Sunday. With the Wildcats out of the picture, the cap is set at eight. A lot will depend on how many upsets there are in the various conference tournaments. If the bids were being handed out today, I think the Big Ten would get eight teams in. Michigan St., Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio St. are “locks.” Michigan and Minnesota are nearly locks. Penn State’s season is quite the enigma. Going 10-8 in the second strongest conference in basketball would normally catch a bid with ease. However, there’s nothing “easy” about PSU’s chances. The Nittany Lions had a less-than-impressive non-conference performance which is why their RPI is stuck in the 60s—19 spots behind Michigan and 21 spots behind Minnesota. Penn State’s 80th strength of schedule (SOS) is miserable for a Big Ten team. No other team in the conference is worse than 50th. Penn State does have a few solid wins against Michigan St., Illinois (2), Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue. However, Northwestern has wins against Michigan St., Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio St and nobody thinks Northwestern should get a bid. The only thing Penn St. has going for it at this point is the 10-8 conference record. “The Committee” won’t have to go far to invoke precedent if it chooses to keep PSU out. Providence and Auburn probably won’t get bids despite 10 conference wins each. That said, Penn St. could and likely would play its way into the tournament by beating Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

3. St. Mary’s

Nine years ago, the Cincinnati Bearcats were, far and away, the best team in college basketball. Then, Kenyon Martin broke his leg. The Bearcats were given a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament despite having the most impressive resume in the land. The Selection Committee cited Martin’s pending absence as the reason for the discounted seed. If the Selection Committee takes injuries into question when forming and seeding the field then St. Mary’s should have no problem getting into the tournament. Although, don’t tell that to Dayton who was absolutely robbed of a bid last season after playing much of the season without Chris “Top Flight” Wright. St. Mary’s has been playing without Patty Mills for five weeks. If the Selection Committee knows as much about basketball as it should, then the fact that Mills is one of the premier players in college basketball should be no secret. The Gaels were 16-1 when Mills went down and only 6-4 without him. St. Mary’s beat Providence and Utah St. in an otherwise weak schedule. If the Gaels don’t get in, they’ll only have their schedule to blame. A blowout loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Final certainly doesn’t help.

4. Creighton

The MVC started to plunge last season and that turned into a full-fledged nosedive this season. Northern Iowa—a team with an RPI of 70 heading into the MVC Championship Game—won both the regular season and the conference tournament. Even worse, the Panthers have one win in the RPI 50. In 2006, the MVC regular season champ had an RPI of 7 and the conference champ had an RPI of 20. The conference isn’t nearly as strong as it once was and—as a result—might get stuck with just one bid. Creighton is the MVC’s chance at a second bid. The Blue Jays have a solid RPI (41) and eight wins in the RPI 100. They also have solid non-conference wins over Dayton, New Mexico, and George Mason. The degree of difficulty isn’t there but a team with this resume historically gets into the tournament.

5/6. Florida/S. Carolina

Florida and South Carolina have incredibly shaky resumes. They have 46 and 47 RPIs, respectively. Florida has two wins against the RPI 50. South Carolina has just one. They have the 84th and 92nd SOS, respectively. Lastly, they come from a conference that was abysmal this season. Unfortunately for some of the other bubble teams out there, it’s rare that a 10-6 team in the RPI 50 from a major conference gets left out of the tournament. South Carolina is 10-6. Florida—at 9-7—has a better resume than South Carolina. If either team stumbles early in the SEC tournament, they’ll get replaced in short order. If it were up to me, I would not include these teams over a team like Arizona or even SDSU and UNLV. However, there’s a pretty good chance that one gets in and maybe two. Don’t forget that Auburn went 10-6 in the SEC and has a better SOS than both teams. Yet, nobody is even talking about Auburn. These teams are weak and should not get a bid unless they do damage in their conference tournament.

Last Five “Out”

1. Arizona

The fact that Arizona is nearly in my projections is not a good sign for college basketball. The Wildcats have lost four of their last five games. They lost to UNLV, UAB, and Texas A&M in their non-conference schedule. Even worse, they barely made it to .500 in a watered-down conference. Still, Arizona’s resume is near the top of the bubble teams. Zona has six wins over the RPI 50 including victories over Kansas (7), Washington, (15), UCLA (30), California (33), Gonzaga (35), and San Diego St. (44). “The Committee” might take note that Arizona beat zero teams in the RPI 130 on the road. Still, the rest of the bubble teams are so unimpressive that Arizona might get in anyway.


I’m not sure how UNLV could possibly get a bid if San Diego St. does not. UNLV went 9-7 in the MWC. SDSU went 11-5. UNLV has an RPI of 53. SDSU has an RPI of 44. Oh, and these two teams played twice and SDSU won both games! There isn’t a reasonable scenario in which UNLV gets in over SDSU as an at-large team.

3. San Diego St.

San Diego St. played just three games in its non-conference schedule against teams in the RPI 150. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they lost all three games including two against fellow bubble teams—Arizona and St. Mary’s. They picked up a few decent wins in-conference against Utah, UNLV (2), and New Mexico but only managed one win in the RPI 50 on the season. There is nothing on SDSU’s resume—aside from a decent RPI aided heavily by its strong conference—that makes me think they should get a bid.

4. UAB

UAB played a daunting non-conference schedule but playing a tough schedule doesn’t do you any good if you don’t win any of the games. UAB has zero wins the RPI 50. Siena and George Mason are the only other teams in the RPI 80 without a win against the top 50. UAB’s only win against even a decent team was a one-point win at Arizona. It’s amazing that a team could play in a weak conference and beat zero teams in the RPI 50 and still come out with an RPI of 43. Hopefully “The Committee” looks at more than just a number.

5. Temple

Temple is in better shape than UAB but I certainly would not say that its resume is “strong” by any means. Temple has just one win in the RPI 50 (Tennessee). The Owls did win at Penn State which could be a determining factor if the last spot comes down to those two squads. However, PSU also boasts six wins in the RPI 50. That probably trumps any advantage Temple has. If Temple marches to the A10 Championship Game—with victories over St. Joe’s and Xavier along the way—then it would probably get a bid. Anything less would result in a trip to the NIT.

6. Maryland

Maryland had to try hard to screw up its season and it looks like that hard work paid off. Maryland was in fantastic position early on with non-conference wins over Michigan State and Michigan. Maryland then beat North Carolina, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech in the ACC. Losses to Morgan St. and Virginia will end up being the difference between a bid to the NCAA and a trip to the NIT.

Best RPI among at-large teams projected “OUT” of the tournament

#38 Temple
#43 UAB
#44 San Diego St.
#49 Illinois St.
#50 Miami (FL)
#51 Georgetown
#52 UNLV
#55 Niagara
#56 Arizona
#57 Virginia Tech
#59 Rhode Island
#60 USC

Lowest RPI among at-large teams projected “IN” the tournament

#63 Penn St.
#62 New Mexico
#53 Boston College
#47 S. Carolina
#46 Florida
#45 St. Mary’s
#42 Michigan
#41 Creighton
#40 Minnesota
#39 Wisconsin
#37 Texas
#35 Arizona St.

Breakdown of conferences with multiple bids (in no particular order):

Big Ten (8)

Big East (7)

ACC (6)

Big XII (6)

Pac 10 (5)

SEC (4)

MWC (3)

A10 (2)

WCC (2)

MVC (2)

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