FINAL BRACKETOLOGY

A wild championship week continued through the weekend, as teams like Temple, USC and Mississippi State stole at-large bids from teams that thought they had a good chance to be in. As we come down to the wire here, I feel that there are 63 teams that can rest easy that they will be in the tournament, and that there are six teams with legitimate claims to the final two spots. Here are my thoughts on what is a very difficult decision for the comittee.

LAST TWO IN:

1. Saint Mary’s (24-6, 47 RPI, 2-2 against RPI top 50)- This probably comes down to whether or not the committee disregards three unsightly losses by the Gaels while star point guard Patty Mills was injured (UTEP, Santa Clara ands Portland). With Mills, the team is 20-3, and has important wins over fellow bubblers San Diego State and Providence, as well as a blowout win over tourney-bound Utah State. They didn’t put up much of a fight against Gonzaga in the West Coast final, which may linger with the committee, but I think they’ve done enough while healthy, and the win over San Diego State is a huge separator.

2. Penn State (22-11/ 10-8, 70 RPI, 6-9 against RPI top 50)- Something tells me I am going to be wrong about this one, and if that’s true, it is a shame. The main gripe against Penn State is that they didn’t beat anyone out of conference, although did win their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game on the road against Georgia Tech; it’s not Penn State’s fault that the Yellow Jackets ended up having a rough season. It’s tough to overlook the winning conference record, including wins at Michigan State and a sweep if Illinois. It would be tough to put teams like Minnesota and Michigan ahead of Penn State when the Nittany Lions finished a game better in conference and split the season series with both teams. Compared to the other bubble teams, I think the number of wins over the RPI top 50 and the winning conference record will be the separator. Also, the loss that put Penn State in this precarious position to begin with, a double overtime loss at Iowa, renders some sympathy.

LAST FOUR OUT:

1. Maryland (20-13/ 7-9, RPI 55, 4-8 against RPI top 50) – It’s tough to leave Maryland out, but like Penn State, they lost a big game to close the season at Virginia that could have locked up a tourney bid. I had the Terrapins in until Mississippi State gobbled up a bid. In the end, while Maryland has four wins over the RPI top 50 including a victory at North Carolina and Wake Forest and over Big Ten teams Michigan State and Michigan, but thirteen losses (including a couple of ugly ones to Morgan State and Virginia) and a losing conference record are tough to look past, and 55 RPI doesn’t provide much separation between the rest of the hopefuls.

2. Arizona (19-13/ 8-8, 62 RPI, 5-10 against RPI top 50) When USC won the Pac-10 tourney yesterday, something had to give, and Arizona’s spot is the most likely casualty. The inconsistent Wildcats have impressive wins over Kansas and Gonzaga out of the conference as well as UCLA and Washington in conference, but losses to UAB, Stanford, UNLV and a three game-sweep at the hands of rival Arizona State. A win over San Diego State will likely keep that team out of the tournament, but isn’t enough to propel them past the other hopefuls. A 2-9 record in road games combined with a 1-5 finish to the season doesn’t bode well after the three bids were snatched over the weekend. My prediction ushers in sadly, the end of an era, as Arizona’s 24 game streak of NCAA tourney appearances should come to an end in a couple of hours.

3. San Diego State (21-9/11-5, 34 RPI, 2-6 against RPI top 50) It breaks my heart to do it, because I really thought that the Aztecs would be in if they made it to the Mountain West championship game. Alas, too many spots were gobbled up, and SDSU takes a backseat here to teams they lost to, Arizona and St. Mary’s. Their main credit is a three-game sweep of UNLV, which doesn’t look as good anymore in spite of itself (the third win pushed the Rebels out of the RPI top 50). Wins over Utah and BYU in conference are respectable, but don’t hold the same power as the teams above.

4. Creighton (26-7, 14-4, 41 RPI, 1-2 against RPI top 50)- The Blue Jays probably just needed to advance to the Missouri Valley conference championship, but getting blown out in the semifinals won’t sit well with the committee. That loss was its second to Illinois State, and looks worse combined with pretty bad losses to Arkansas Little-Rock, Nebraska, Drake and Witchita State which are in a league of their own compared to the company here. Out of conference wins against Dayton and New Mexico keep Creighton in the conversation, but I think they fall just short here. You just can’t lose in the semifinals by 25 in a mid-major conference and expect to get in.

NEXT 4 OUT:

Auburn (21-11/ 10-6, 64 RPI, 3-6 against RPI top 50)

Providence (19-13, 10-8, 71 RPI, 3-8 against RPI top 50)

New Mexico (21-10, 12-4, 58 RPI, 4-5 against RPI top 50)

South Carolina (21-10, 10-6,  57 RPI, 1-5 against RPI top 50)

PRETTY FAR OUT OF IT:

Florida

UNLV

Virginia Tech

Kansas State

Tulsa

Davidson

Kentucky

Northwestern

UAB

I’ve never picked all 65, and don’t expect to this time either, but I’m confident that these are the teams that deserve to be here. Here’s how my bracket looks:

SEED    WEST    MIDWEST    EAST    SOUTH
1    Memphis    Louisville    Pittsburgh    North Carolina
2    Duke    Michigan State    Oklahoma    UConn
3    Villanova    Kansas    Wake Forest    Missouri
4    UCLA    Syracuse    Purdue    Washington
5    Xavier    Illinois    Florida State    Marquette
6    LSU    Gonzaga    Arizona State    West Virginia
7    Tennessee    Clemson    Utah    California
8    Butler    BYU    Oklahoma State    Ohio State
9    Texas    Michigan    Utah State    Boston College
10    Dayton    Wisconsin    Siena    USC
11    Texas A&M    Minnesota    Penn State    St. Mary’s
12    Mississippi State    Temple    Northern Iowa    VCU
13    Akron    American    Cleveland State    Western Kentucky
14    Morgan State    Stephen F. Austin    North Dakota State    Robert Morris
15    Portland State    ETSU    Cornell    Binghamton
16    Alabama State    Chattanooga    Radford    Morehead State
Cal State Northridge

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