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March 14, 2009
From 344 to 65
Saturday Update

by Joe Sheehan

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More teams hurt themselves than helped themselves yesterday, in such a number that many of the teams that hurt themselves are probably going to get bids anyway. Let's give particular props to the Big 11, whose three borderline teams lost while playing two good halves among them. Way to make a push, guys.

I got a significant takeaway from John Perrotto's latest bit. Selection committee head Mike Silve makes a particular point about mentioning "good losses," which I've never been sure about. If they come up in the room, though, you have to take it into consideration. I'm interpreting that as "competitive losses to good teams," rather than "losses to good teams." It's more difficult to quantify than the other tools we use, but this year in particular, the subjective factor is going to play perhaps the biggest role ever in choosing the last at-large teams.

Here are the changes from yesterday's list. Ohio State and San Diego State move from the bubble into the "lock" column. Both teams were in good shape heading into yesterday, and their wins made it official. Just putting up wins while everyone else loses is a pretty good approach to advancement. Falling off are Alabama-Birmingham, Kentucky and Virginia Tech. UAB fell behind Tulsa in the Conference USA pecking order with the loss, and with just two top-100 wins, can no longer be considered an at-large candidate. Kentucky lost eight of its last 12, has an RPI of 78, a .500 record in the worst of the BCS leagues and lost its conference quarterfinal. Even in this crowd, that bounces them. Tech has 14 losses, and to have 14 losses and get in you need to do better than 6-12 against the top 100, with just two excellent wins.

I pretty much never change my mind, but after removing Southern California from the discussion earlier this week, they're back in. Wins over California and UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament make them 20-12 (11-9) with an RPI of 45. They, like Arizona, have done nothing out of state: their three wins outside of L.A. were over Oregon, Washington State and Chattanooga in the Virgin Islands. Still, reaching the conference final, having four top-50 wins and just three sub-200 wins might be enough. They have to be considered.

Baylor doesn't, however. This is a nice run, but they have to beat Missouri tonight to make the tournament. A 5-11 mark during the season in the Big 11 is too big a hole to climb out of.

All the RPI data in my pieces come from the fantastic CollegeRPI.com helmed by the talented Jerry Palm.

Here's how my spreadsheet lays out at noon on March 14:

Automatic Bids (15): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Portland State (Big Sky), Radford (Big South), Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), Cleveland State (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (Metro-Atlantic), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Robert Morris (Northeast), Morehead State (Ohio Valley), American (Patriot), Chattanooga (Southern), North Dakota State (Summit), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Gonzaga (West Coast).

One-Bid Conferences (6): The following conferences have no chance at all of getting a team other than their conference champion into the NCAA tournament: America East, Big West, Mid-American, MEAC, SWAC, Southland.

On The Board (17): Butler, Oklahoma, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Marquette, California, Xavier, Clemson (forgot to slide them over yesterday), Wake Forest, Texas, Oklahoma State, Villanova, West Virginia, Washington, UCLA, Brigham Young.

Locks (16): The following teams could lose the rest of their games and still get an at-large bid:

ACC: North Carolina, Duke, Florida State
Big 12: Missouri
Big East: Louisville, Syracuse
Big 11: Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State
Conference USA: Memphis
Mountain West: Utah, San Diego State
Pac-10: Arizona State
SEC: LSU, Tennessee

The above teams will take at least nine and no more than 13 at-large bids, leaving from four to eight bids for:

The Bubble (21)

In rough order:

Utah State: They won their conference and would lose in their tournament final if they need this bid. Had they lost to New Mexico State last night-and it took a game-ending 9-2 run and a last-second bucket to avoid that fate-this would have been a more interesting discussion. Now, they seem likely to advance even with a loss to Nevada tonight.

Maryland: Their numbers remain just so-so, with an RPI of 51 even after wins the last few days. Picking up a fourth top-50 win yesterday was huge for their resume, and with an 8-10 mark against the top 100, they've proven they can play. Beating Duke obviously puts them in, but even a competitive loss should so it. No team helped themselves more yesterday

Dayton: Not only did they lose, but they looked unimpressive in doing so. Making matters worse, Temple beat Xavier, which makes it unclear whether Dayton still has the best resume of Atlantic 14 bubble teams. Dayton has a better record and RPI than Temple, tied them in the regular-season standings and advanced one level short of them in the tournament despite playing a lesser team in the semis. Temple was better on the road and finished stronger; Dayton was better against the top 50 and top 100 and won the sole head-to-head matchup in Dayton.

For my money, Dayton is still slightly ahead, and would look a little better if Temple were to take a loss to Duquesne. With that said, they'd be better off if the committee didn't have to choose.

Texas A&M: Obviously, nothing's changed since they lost to Texas Tech Thursday. With everything falling down around them, they're probably in. It would help if there was a minimum of bid-stealing by Nevada, Tulsa, Baylor, et al.

Auburn: Now they've gone 10-6 in conference, made the semifinals and beaten a bubble team along the way. How do you keep them out?

Boston College: The very definition of a good loss, taking Duke to the last second will probably put them in, even with a low RPI (61) and three sub-100 losses.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota: Wisconsin swept Michigan, which swept Minnesota, which swept Wisconsin. Helpful. Wisconsin finished ahead of the two in the conference standings by a game, but missed Michigan State once. Minnesota has the best RPI and best non-conference win. What I'm saying is, I can't really separate them, and I suspect all three will go in. I have them listed in the order above on my spreadsheet.

Temple: Can they lose tonight and get in? It would have helped had Dayton been their opponent. Losing to Duquesne, a respectable occurrence, won't look as good to the committee. I think a second-place team in the #8 league that beats the #1 seed to get to the final has a strong case.

Creighton: They look better and better as BCS bubble teams fail to even make their conference semifinals.

Southern California: See above. I can't get past the two true road wins, neither a good one. Do two wins on a semi-neutral court against top-50 teams make up for that when you were nowhere near the field a week ago? With a loss tonight USC will be 5-7 in its last 12. I just don't think two good days a mile from campus make up for taking two months off.

Tulsa: Getting waxed by Memphis as I write this, which isn't what they needed. A competitive game would have helped. They're probably done.

New Mexico: They remain ahead of UNLV, and it's hard to say if the committee will weight the co-champ designation or see the low RPI and nothing in the nonconference schedule.

UNLV: Fifth place in the Mountain West and a quarterfinal loss are going to outweigh the Louisville win. This is their last appearance here.

Mississippi State: They can change the conversation by beating LSU today. Without that, I can't see them in the picture.

Penn State: They couldn't have looked less impressive yesterday. Just on the numbers, they have six top-50 wins, and if a closer look reveals them to have warts, well, then we're into subjectivity, and my feelings about this conference are well noted. They're the eighth Big 11 team in my book, and will be one of the last two teams in or first two teams out when all is said and done.

Florida: One top-50 win, so-so conference performance, quarterfinal exit, sub-50 RPI. Subjectively, they should look better than this, but they don't. They're done.

Niagara: I just want to see them considered. They played 16 road games and 21 away from home, going 10-6/15-6. They won their BracketBuster game. They finished second in an underrated league. Are they really better than the middle teams in the Big 11 or SEC? I don't know, but at some point, winning on the road and in your league has to matter.

St. Mary's: After last night's win against Eastern Washington, we have even more proof that the Gaels can beat teams outside of the RPI top 100 (23-2). Not helpful.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Joe by clicking here or click here to see Joe's other articles.

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