Bracketology 3/8- Yes, It's March!

We’re only a week away from Selection Sunday, and after a tumultous week in which it appeared no one wanted in this thing, some teams made giant strides over the weekend. With a week to go, you want to know who’s in and who’s out? You’ve come to the right place; trust the Matty. I’ve never correctly picked all 64 or 65 teams, but never done worse than 62/64// 63/65 and many years have missed only one team. I’m going for the gold this year.

march-madness-2008

AUTOMATIC BIDS- This is the easy part, even a monkey could do it- will be a total of 31.

Cornell- Ivy League

Radford- Big South

East Tennessee State- Atlantic Sun

Morehead State- Ohio Valley Conference

Northern Iowa- Missouri Valley

AT LARGE TEAMS THAT HAVE CLINCHED A BID

ACC (5)- North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson

Atlantic 10 (2)- Xavier, Dayton

Big 12 (4)- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas

Big East (7)- Pitt, UConn, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia

Big Ten (3)- Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois

Pacific Ten (4)- Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, California

SEC (2)- LSU, Tennessee

Conference USA (1)- Memphis

Horizon (1)- Butler

Mountain West (2)- Utah, BYU

West Coast (1)- Gonzaga

That gives us 32 teams that have clinched at-large berths from 11 conferences, which means that if one of the teams that are listed here clinches the automatic bid by winning their respective conference tourney, then 21 of the 34 at-large bids have already been claimed. Any other teams than those listed above that win their conference tourneys will shrink the remaining amount of at-large bids available, like Georgia did last year by coming out of nowhere to win the SEC. But for now, we’ll assume best case scenario if your team is on the bubble, and that is that all of the 11 conferences above are represented by one of the teams I’ve already listed. This leaves 13 spots in the field.

TEAMS THAT SHOULD BE IN- This is a group of teams that probably should feel fairly comfortable about their chances even if they don’t win again. Winning even one game in their conference tournament should propel them into “lock” status, and they’ll probably be fine even if they lose:

ACC (1)- Boston College

Big 12 (2)- Oklahoma State, Texas A & M

Big Ten (1)- Wisconsin

This eats up another four at-large spots, leaving only nine more. By my count, there are still 16 teams with realistic expectations/ convincing arguments that they deserve these spots. Here are the nine that I think would be there IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY. Remember, we still have a week of hoops to play, and a lot can happen. And of course, all of these teams still have the ability to play their way in by winning their conference tournament.

The Long Jam in the Big Ten (5 teams): It’s becoming close to impossible to separate the teams in the middle of the Big Ten from one another. Penn State finished tied for fourth place, but is only a combined 3-5 against the teams that finished fifth through ninth, lost some rough preseason games to Temple and Rhode Island, and just dropped a big one in double overtime against Big Ten bottom dweller Iowa. They have by far the weakest out-of-conference schedule, but also boast the most impressive in-conference wins, having won on the road against regular season champion Michigan State, sweeping Illinois and beating Purdue. It’s tough to overlook those wins, and all in all, the Nittany Lions are 6-9 against the RPI top 50. Michigan got a big win over the weekend on the road against Minnesota to complete a sweep of the Gophers. They played the teams in the log jam even at 5-5, and have big non-conference wins over Duke (split) and UCLA. They are 6-10 against the RPI top 50 and I think they’ll get a lot of credit for scheduling such difficult competition and going into places like UConn and playing so tough. The only blemishes are a loss against Iowa and a loss to fellow bubble sitter Maryland, but there aren’t many other bubble teams with wins over two top 25 RPI teams.  Minnesota didn’t help itself by losing to Michigan again, but does have a season sweep of Wisconsin, a team that seems to be safe going into the Big Ten tourney. They’re 5-5 against the teams in the log jam, 5-7 against the RPI top 50 and have a big win over Louisville on a neutral court. Ohio State has a win over Butler in non-conference play, and while it doesn’t have the luster of the Duke, Louisville and UCLA wins above, it’s better than anything Penn State has out of conference. The Buckeyes also beat Penn State in their only meeting, are 5-3 against the log jam and 5-8 against the RPI top 50. Northwestern actually boasts the most RPI top 50 wins of any of these, with a 7-9 record that includes a win over Florida State as well as road wins at Purdue and Michigan State. However, they are only 3-6 against the log jam and are the only team to finish below .500 here. Outside of the Florida State win, there isn’t much to the non-conference schedule.

Verdict: While it may seem hard to believe that the Big Ten deserves eight teams in what seemed to be such a down year for the conference overall, there simply aren’t other bubble teams with 5 or 6 wins over RPI top 50 opponents, let alone over top 10 oppenents like many of these teams have. Look for Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State (probably in that order) to be in the dance barring first round losses in the Big Ten tourney (yes, I realize that two of these teams could potentially play one another). Northwestern probably falls a game or two short here, but is closer than it has ever been.

That leaves five spots and 17 teams battling for them. Man, this is a tough call.

LAST FIVE IN:

Arizona (9-9, 19-12, 52 RPI, 5-9 against RPI Top 50) The Wildcats pulled out an important win Saturday night over Stanford to reach the .500 mark in conference. With a strong non-conference profile, including wins over Kansas, Washington, UCLA and Gonzaga, Arizona should be okay as long as they don’t lose their first round game in the Pac-10 tourney.

St. Mary’s (10-4, 24-5, 50 RPI, 2-2 against RPI Top 50) The committee should take into consideration some of the games the Gaels’ lost without star guard Patty Mills, who will return for the West Coast tourney. Outside of losses to Santa Clara, Portland and UTEP in his absence, St. Mary’s has wins over fellow bubble teams Utah State, Providence, and San Diego State. As long as they don’t lose before the championship game, St. Mary’s should squeek in.

South Carolina (10-6, 21-9, 48 RPI, 0-4 against RPI top 50) The Gamecocks don’t have much going for them besides a strong conference record and a split with Florida,  but with ten conference wins and the potential to win a couple more in the SEC tourney, there will probably be room for them in the dance.

Florida (9-7, 22-9, 49 RPI, 2-6 against RPI top 50) It will be interesting if the final spot comes down to a choice between Florida and South Carolina. The two split regular season games. South Carolina finished with a better conference record, but Florida undoubtedly has a better non-conference profile, with a win on the road against Washington. They look about equal to me and would be a tough call for the final spot, and the eventual separation will probably come down to who goes further in the conference tourney. Both would be wise to win at least a couple of games.

Providence (10-8, 18-12, 71 RPI, 3-8 against RPI top 50) The Friars are my last team in for now, and definitely need to win a couple of games in the Big East tourney to solidify their status. They boast two big wins over Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which certainly trumps anything that the bubble teams in the Mountain West can argue. A non-conference win over Rhode Island doesn’t look as good as it did before the weekend, but could still be potentially meaningful. Even with a lighter conference schedule, it is hard to imagine the committee not giving Providence a bid with ten wins in the nation’s toughest conference–that is, if they can take care of business next week.

LAST FIVE OUT:

Creighton (14-4, 26-7, 39 RPI, 1-2 against RPI top 50) The Blue Jays were probably safely in the field if they advanced to the MVC championship game. Instead, they got blown out in the semifinal by Illinois State. It’s hard to imagine the committee being able to see past that performance, but Creighton does have two important non-conference victories over Dayton and New Mexico, so I have them slotted ahead of the Mountain West bubble teams for the time being. The difference is, those teams still have an opportunity to accomplish more.

New Mexico (12-4, 21-10, 57 RPI, 4-5 against RPI top 50) All of the Lobos’ signature wins come in conference, and the loss to Creighton could loom large here. They seem to be the best positioned among the conference’s bubble teams at the moment, finishing tied for first place and splitting games against each of the other four teams with tournament aspirations. Still, out of conference losses to UCF, Drake, VCU and Texas Tech will pile up on their resume, and they probably need to advance to the championship game to have a solid argument to be in the field.

San Diego State (11-5, 21-8, 44 RPI, 3-6 against RPI top 50) The story with the Aztecs is similar to that of New Mexico, except they have a sweep of UNLV to their credit and one extra conference loss. Losses to St. Mary’s and Arizona keep them behind those teams in the pecking order, and they don’t have any non-conference victories of note. They’ll need to make the championship game to get in.

UNLV (9-7, 21-9, 50 RPI, 5-4 against RPI top 50) This is easily the strangest case of all the bubble teams this season. UNLV has one of the strongest non-conference profiles of all, with a massive win at Louisville and a win over Arizona. They even have a sweep of BYU which should have been enough to clinch a spot in the field. But finishing fifth in the conference a full two games behind SDSU and suffering a sweep to that team makes it tough to justify putting them any higher than fifth in the pecking order despite their non-conference success. Puzzling losses to TCU and Colorado State will likely seal the Rebel’s NIT fate, barring a long run in the conference tournament and first round losses by SDSU and New Mexico.

Maryland (7-9, 18-12, 56 RPI, 3-8 against RPI top 50) For the second straight year, a loss to Virginia likely ended the tournament hopes for the Terrapins. Getting back to .500 in conference was crucial when comparing the resume to teams like Florida, Providence and UNLV. Maryland has big wins over Michigan State and at North Carolina, but bad losses against Morgan State and Virginia nearly nullify these. They’ll need at least two wins in the ACC tournament to get back into the picture.

BEHIND THE BUBBLE:

Kansas State (9-7, 21-10, 77 RPI, 3-7 against RPI Top 50, Best Win at home against Missouri)

Virginia Tech (7-9, 17-13, 62 RPI, 2-7 against RPI Top 50, Best Win on the road against Wake Forest)

Auburn (10-6, 21-10, 2-5 against RPI Top 50, Best Win at home against LSU)

Rhode Island (11-5, 22-9, 47 RPI, 2-5 against RPI Top 50, Best Win at home against Dayton)

TEAMS THAT HOPEFULLY WILL WIN THEIR CONFERENCE TITLE, BECAUSE I DON’T THINK THEY’VE DONE ENOUGH TO MAKE IT AS AT-LARGE TEAMS:

Siena (16-2, 24-7, 27 RPI, 0-4 against RPI top 50): Only twice has a team in the RPI top 30 not made the tournament, but if Siena doesn’t win the MAAC title, it’s going to have a tough time making a case for an at-large bid without having beaten a top 50 team and suffering losses to Rider, Witchita State and Niagara.

Utah State (14-2, 27-4, 30 RPI, 1-1 against RPI top 50): 27 wins is nice, but it doesn’t mean much when you’ve only played two teams in the top 50. The Aggies do have a win over Utah, but not much else to hang their hat on. Losses to Boise State and Nevada, as well as bubble comrade St. Mary’s, could prove costly if Utah State doesn’t take care of business in the WAC tourney.

TEAMS THAT ARE PROBABLY OUT OF CONSIDERATION, NEED TO WIN THEIR CONFERENCE TOURNEY (OR AT LEAST MAKE THE FINAL GAME AND HAVE SOME THINGS FALL INTO PLACE):

Miami, Fl (7-9, 18-11, RPI 51)

Kentucky (8-8, 19-12, 79 RPI)

Cincinnati (8-10, 18-13, 63 RPI)

Notre Dame (8-10, 17-13, 71 RPI)

UAB (11-5, 21-10, 42 RPI)

Temple (11-5, 19-11, 41 RPI)

Georgetown (7-11, 17-13, 43 RPI)

Virginia Tech (7-9, 17-13, 62 RPI)

Davidson (18-2, 26-7, 67 RPI)

Now, for the seedings:

SEED    WEST    MIDWEST    EAST    SOUTH
1    Oklahoma    UConn    Pittsburgh    North Carolina
2    Duke    Michigan State    Memphis    Louisville
3    Villanova    Kansas    Wake Forest    Washington
4    UCLA    Xavier    Marquette    Missouri
5    Syracuse    Illinois    Florida State    Purdue
6    Butler    Gonzaga    Arizona State    Clemson
7    LSU    West Virginia    Utah    California
8    Tennessee    BYU    Texas A & M    Dayton
9    Texas    Michigan    Wisconsin    Boston College
10    Minnesota    Oklahoma State    Penn State    Ohio State
11    South Carolina    Florida    Arizona    St. Mary’s
12    Utah State/ WAC    Siena/ MAAC    Davidson/ Southern    Providence
13    Northern Iowa    American/ Patriot    VCU/ Colonial    Western Kentucky/ Sun Belt
14    Morgan St/ MEAC    Stephen F Austin/ Southland    North Dakota St/ Summit    Weber St/ Big Sky
15    Buffalo/ MAC    Robert Morris/ NE     Cornell    Binghamton/ America East
16    Alabama St/ SWAC    ETSU    Radford    Morehead State
Cal St Northridge/ Big Sky

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