Posted on: February 11, 2011 3:17 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2011 3:29 pm

On the Bubble

by Jerry Palm

I hate the term, but The Bubble has become accepted vernacular when it comes to bracket projections.  Those are the teams that can still go either way in or out of the tournament field.  Today, we debut a new page called "Bubble Watch," where I spotlight certain teams on either side of the fence and some others of interest.  It will be updated at least every Friday.  This week, 11 teams are featured.  It does not include every single team on the bubble.  Every team from an 8-seed on down is on the bubble as far as I'm concerned, and of course, there are those not in the bracket for now.

Here are some key games to watch this weekend for our bubbly friends.

The ACC: The league has no fewer than six fencesitters -- Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Miami and Virginia Tech.   Every time they take the floor against each other, or against either Duke or North Carolina, that's a key game.

Saturday, Maryland is at BC and UNC goes to Clemson, where the Tigers do occassionaly come up with a win against the Heels.  On Sunday, Duke is in Miami to face the Canes.

In the A-10 on Sunday, Xavier is at Duquesne with first place in the league on the line.  Xavier is looking pretty good for the tournament, but the Dukes might need the conference regular season title to remain an at-large possibility.

Baylor is still trying to recover from a rough start to its season, but a win at Texas on Saturday would heal a lot of those pains.

Two bubblers face off when Old Dominion visits VCU on Saturday hoping to stay in the Colonial race.

Two more go at it in the Big East on Sunday when St. John's goes to Cincinnati.   The Bearcats won the first meeting in NYC.

New Mexico
and Marquette get chances this weekend to prove they are not just home court heroes.  The Lobos are at Colorado State on Saturday, while the Golden Eagles face Georgetown on Sunday.

See complete Bracketology coverage here.

Posted on: January 22, 2011 9:32 am

Bracket Impact Games

by Jerry Palm

Everyone already has this week's big games on their radar: Texas-Kansas, Tennessee-Connecticut and Villanova-Syracuse.  Here are some other, under-the-radar games today that have potential bracket implications.

Michigan State at Purdue.  It's hard to call a game being played at the site of Gameday "under-the-radar," but this one can't be ignored.  Purdue doesn't have a quality win all year.  The Spartans are in danger of losing any realistic hope of the conference title.  Both teams need this one.  Badly.

Arizona at Washington State.  These two were in my First Four last week, and the Wildcats are coming off a loss at Washington.  They are a team with a gaudy record, but very little accomplishment.

Boston College at Florida State.  Show of hands -- who circled this on their calendars back in November as a battle for first place in the ACC?  Me neither.  Neither is a sure at-large team yet, so a win today will really help.

Cincinnati at St. John's.  The Bearcats have yet to beat a sure tournament team, and winning today wouldn't change that, but it would still be their best win of the season.

Temple at Xavier.  Temple is the A-10 favorite, but the Owls will fall two games back in the league if they don't win today.  Xavier probably needs the win more than Temple does for its tournament resume.

BYU at Colorado State.  The Cougars better not get caught looking ahead to Wednesday's San Diego State game because the Rams are coming off a win at UNLV and pushing for a spot in the field.

St. Mary's at Vanderbilt.  The Gaels have quietly climbed to 17-2.  It's been a quiet climb because their only win of note came at home over St. John's.  They haven't won a road game like this in their recent run of success, so a win today isn't just a statement to the committee, it's a statement for the program.

Oklahoma State at Baylor.  If Baylor is ever going to make a run for the NCAA tournament, and start playing to the leve of its talent, today is the day to start.  The Bears are 0-5 vs the RPI top 100.   They have a lot of catching up to do.  The Cowboys' tournament status is far from solid also, so they cannot afford to let down.

Kansas State at Texas A&M.  The Wildcats were the preseason favorite in the Big 12, but now they are just trying to hang on and get into the NCAA tournament.  They don't have a RPI top 50 win yet.  Getting one on the road today would be big.

VCU at Old Dominion.  ODU is the best at-large candidate in the Colonial, but probably needs to win the league to have a shot.  VCU and Hofstra are a game ahead of the Monarchs at the moment.

Memphis at UAB.  If C-USA is going to be a two-bid league, that second bid is coming from either Memphis or UCF.  The Tigers need to win today or those hopes are in trouble.

Creighton at Missouri State and Indiana State at Wichita State.  MSU and ISU are co-leaders in the Valley after the Sycamores beat the Bears earlier this week.  The Shockers were the preseason favorite though.  For the Valley to put two teams in the field, there probably needs to be a clear champion.  MSU probably has the best chance of getting that doesn.

Posted on: January 11, 2011 4:39 pm

New Bracket

by Jerry Palm

This week's bracket is posted. The No. 1 seeds are the same as last week, and will probably remain the same until someone finally knocks one of them off.

Butler is no longer part of the First Four.  They are in the field as the Horizon league leader.  Cleveland State is part of that instead after a week that saw them fall to both the Bulldogs and Valparaiso.

The A-10 is just a one-bid league, although I suspect that by the time we get to March, that will change.  The Big East checks in with 11 teams (welcome Marquette), but I doubt very seriously that all 11 can qualify.

Cincinnati and UCF suffered their first losses of the season this week, and dropped some in the bracket.  The Bearcats are still not a top 50 RPI team.  Dayton dropping off the bracket hurt Cinci as well.

Memphis went from ranked last week (although they shouldn't have been) to off the bracket this week.

Purdue remains a tough team to seed.  The Boilers rank 8th in the polls, but still have yet to play a top 50 RPI team.  That will change when they play at Minnesota and West Virginia this week.  Minnesota is where Robbie Hummel tore his ACL last year, so Purdue is probably hoping just to get out of there in one piece.

Posted on: January 4, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2011 5:26 pm

First Weekly Bracket

by Jerry Palm

The first weekly bracket is posted .  You will see it here every Tuesday throughout the season, and a little more often as we get closer to selection Sunday.

Since it is still early January, and conference play has barely begun in most places, several teams have yet to really fully prove themselves.  That means there's still a lot of "what we think we know" as opposed to what's actually on tournament resumes.  Also, RPI numbers are still somewhat sketchy at this time of year, but will get better as we get deeper into the season.  It's not even the halfway point yet.

So, I tend to give the top 20 in the polls a little more weight than I usually do later on when trying to predict what the field will look like.  (the teams ranked below 20 are often just filler and afterthoughts on a lot of ballots).  That is a better represnetation of the "eye test" than the RPI and other measureables at this point of the sesaon.

That's partly why, Kansas is still a number one seed despite not having beaten anyone better than Arizona and only two teams in the bracket (UCLA and Memphis).  Despite that, the Jayhawks are second in the RPI because they have avoided playing very bad teams.

The same is not true of Cincinnati, which I detailed in an earlier post .  I have them as a 8-seed, even though the Bearcats crawled into the rankings this week.  Voters are begrudginly getting on board, but we'll find out if Cincinnati is for real soon enough.  After hosting arch-rival Xavier on Thursday, they play six of eight on the road, and five of those six are against current RPI top 20 teams.

Purdue doesn't seem to have the resume or accomplishment befitting a team ranked 11th in the polls.  The Boilers are 13-1, with the one loss coming to Richmond.  Like Kansas, Purdue has successfully avoided the truly horrible opponents, and thus have a lofty RPI of 11.  However, the Boilers have yet to beat an RPI top 50 team and their best win is probably the one at Virginia Tech.

The one team in the rankings that defies explanation though is Memphis.  The Tigers do not have any bad losses (Georgetown, Kansas), but only one win against a team in the RPI top 100 (Miami by 4 at home).  In fact, all of their wins have come at home except the one against LSU in Tupelo, MS.

Memphis is just one of about a dozen teams that really have no business being in this or any bracket, but are in this one anyway because we have to fill a 68-team field.  You might think that your team deserves to be in ahead of one of the those I have in this bracket instead.  If you want to split those ratty hairs, go ahead, but I guarantee you your team does not deserve to be in either.

Posted on: January 1, 2011 10:53 am
Edited on: January 1, 2011 9:54 pm

Undefeated, but are they worthy?

by Jerry Palm

There are still seven undefeated teams in division I-A as we enter 2011, but two of them are considered longshots by most to even make the NCAA tournament.

UCF is intriguing.  They are actually in the top 20 of the RPI and even ahead of Ohio State, but as they enter Conference USA play, that number has likely peaked.  The Knights played an average non-conference schedule that has one sure quality win -- over Florida.  They also beat Miami and South Florida.

Many people dismiss them because they figure that Memphis is still the overwhelming team to beat in the league, but I think they have set themselves up for a possbile at-large bid if they can perform well in the league.

Cincinnati, which is 14-0 and has two Big East wins already, is way down at 69th in the RPI this morning.  That's a stunning number.  I've been tracking RPI since 1993-94 and could not find a 14-0 team that far down.  The last undefeated team on New Year's Day that far down in the rankings was Texas A&M in 2006 (95th at 10-0).

You have to play a pretty wretched schedule to be 69th at 14-0.  The Bearcats played the 10th worst non-conference schedule, and they played most of those games at home.  So far, they have played only one RPI top 100 team (No. 62 Dayton) and just six that rank better than 250th.

When you play a schedule like that, you are basically saying that you intend to make your case for the tournament in conference.  That means not just muddling through, but doing very well.  Cincinnati probably needs at least 12 wins, and even that may not do it for them.  They cannot afford to be anywhere near the bottom of the at-large pool with a non-conference schedule that bad.

Posted on: December 24, 2010 9:07 am

Injuries and Suspensions

by Jerry Palm

One of the most common questions I get is what does the committee consider regarding injuries and suspensions.  The committee knows about all in-season roster issues each team has, and does give them some consideration.  They'll know about Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen's suspension and Gonzaga G Stephen Gray's injury, for example, and that gets taken into account.

What the committee does not do is assume that games lost due to roster issues would have been won if the roster was complete.  They will not wipe the Wildcats' loss to UNLV on Tuesday off the books.  To the committee, it's still a loss, however, as long as Pullen is available for the NCAA tournament, they will weigh the games he played in a little more heavily than those he missed.

Things like roster issues have a bigger impact on seeding than selection, and the roster going into the tournament is what matters.  There have been a couple of well-known cases over time that provide good examples.  Cincinnati was the top-rated team in the country in both the RPI and the polls going into the tournament in 2000.  Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the conference tournament though, and the Bearcats lost the game in which he got hurt.  Since Martin wasn't going to be available for the NCAA tournament, the committee knocked Cinci down to a two-seed.  That was a case where the committee had very little information about the team with it's tournament roster, since Cincinnati only played about half a game without Martin.  In a sense, they had to guess what Cincinnati might be like.

That same year, Michigan State struggled during an early part of the season when Mateen Cleaves was injured.  That stretch included a loss to Wright State.  He came back strong though, and at the end of the season, it was pretty clear that the Spartans were one of the top teams in the country, and they were rewarded with a No. 1 seed, despite being 13th in the RPI.  That is the lowest RPI for a top seeded team since I started tracking the numbers in 1994.

However, if an injury or suspension to a key player arguably causes a team to finish 16-15 that might have been 20-11 otherwise, you can safely say that team won't be playing in the NCAA tournament, whether it is back to full strength or not.  Injuries won't help a team get selected if the resume doesn't stand up.
Posted on: December 9, 2010 9:20 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2010 10:22 pm

New blog, New bracket

Welcome to the Bracketology blog, a new blog here at CBSSports.com.  I'll be posting here mostly with regard to how some of the news may impact the tournament selection process, and try to answer as many questions as I can.

To celebrate, a new bracket projection has been posted .  We're barely a quarter of the way through the season, and have yet to get into conference play, so teams haven't really established much in terms of tournament resumes yet.  There is a lot of how good we think they are vs how accomplished they actually are.  Especially for the big schools, accomplishment tends to come much more in league than out.

Certainly though, there have been surprises.  Michigan St, a preseason top five team, is really struggling against better teams.  Connecticut, picked for around 10th in the Big East, is now in the top 10 nationally.

I went ahead and put every undefeated team in the bracket, even Cincinnati and Northwestern, who still have pretty horrible RPIs for teams without losses.  Gonzaga and Butler are in the process of playing their way out of at-large consideration, if they need it.

Anyway, take this bracket for what an early December bracket is worth.  My brackets are always "as if the season ended today."  I can pretty much guarantee the bracket will be very different in March.

At least Ohio St didn't make this first in-season bracket look totally stupid tonight, but they sure gave it a good try.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com