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: February 8, 2011 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2011 8:14 pm

Feb. 8 Bracket - Big East Dominates

by Jerry Palm

Kansas has moved up to the top line replacing Connecticut in this week's bracket, but the top of the bracket is just littered with Big East teams.

The Jayhawks picked up just their second win of the season over a likely tournament team when it beat Missouri last night.  That fact makes them vulnerable to falling down from the top line if they slip up again.  Of course, if they keep playing the way they did last night, not too many slip ups are coming.

Duke, by the way, is still looking for its first win over a likely tournament team, which says more about the ACC than it does the Blue Devils.

UConn fell to the 9th spot on my S-Curve, which is the top 3-seed.  The are part of a pileup of Big East teams in that part of the bracket that includes Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova and Syracuse.   Those five all fall between 8th and 13th on the curve, with Purdue as the only interloper.

If that many Big East teams end up in that part of the bracket, it's not going to be fun for the committee to keep them all separated.  If five end up on the 2-3 lines, you would have a region where both the 2-seed and the 3-seed are Big East teams.  Although, the committee does have the right to move a team up or down one seed line for bracketing reasons like conference separation.  Sometimes, they do it just to allow a team to play closer to home.  Of course, moving a team up a line also means moving a team down a line, so it's not just one team that's affected.

If more than eight Big East teams make the field, which looks likely, there will be no way to avoid bracketing so two conference teams could meet before the regional final, which is always the goal.

Michigan State's
spectacular implosion continues, and the Spartans are no longer in the bracket.  You have to wonder if they will even finish .500 and play in the postseason at all.  I've never seen anything like this.  Texas stumbled last year after a 17-0 start, but the Longhorns still finished 7-9 after that and was able to beat most of the bottom feeders on their schedule still.  MSU can't even seem to do that.  They lost at home to Michigan.  They needed OT to beat Indiana.  They lost by 22 points at Iowa.  Iowa !  Then Wisconsin drilled them by 26 in a game that wasn't as close as the score would indicate.  There is too much talent to write them off entirely, but until someone comes in and performs an exorcism, it's hard to see the turnaround coming.

Washington is another team that fell dramatically after getting swept by the Oregon schools last week.  The Huskies already have three bad losses and cannot afford too many more.
See complete Bracketology coverage here.

Posted on: February 6, 2011 3:13 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2011 9:19 pm

The Blind Resume

by Jerry Palm

One of the things we're going to start seeing with increasing frequency on college hoops telecasts is the "Blind Resume."  That's where a graphic appears on the screen with a few, mostly useless and often out-of-context pieces of information for three or four teams, and we're supposed to judge those teams' tournament worthiness without knowing which teams they are. Then, after a bit, they reveal the teams, and we're all supposed to have some sort of reaction. My reaction is always to cringe because the facts we're given are always skewed to support some agenda and are at best woefully incomplete.

So, here's my idea of a blind resume. You'll never see it on a TV screen -- too much data and it's only one team. Also, in this case, I'm projecting, so it's not current data. The question I have for you is this: Is this an at-large quality team?

Record entering the conference tournament: 20-10, 12-4 in conference. Tied for league title.
RPI: 95
Non-conference strength of schedule ranking: 275 out of 345.
Non-conference record: 8-6
Average RPI ranking of conference opponents: 120
Record vs RPI top 50: 3-4 (one win on the road; all 3 wins vs. probable tourney teams)
Record vs. top 100: 4-6
Record vs. top 200: 9-10
Record vs. 201+: 11-0

So, what stands out? To me, the very poor non-conference SOS alone kills this team. The committee hates that. And then to be barely above .500 against those teams? Yikes. Also, it isn't even above .500 against the top 200 teams in the RPI -- which, as I wrote before, is one of the key negative indicator stats. It's obviously in an OK conference, but not a great one (avg. ranking of teams in C-USA right now is 114, for example). This looks like a team that had a few moments of glory in an otherwise mediocre season. This team isn't on the committee's board more than about five minutes, right?

So, when I tell you the team in question is Wright State, you're not even a little surprised.

That's a lie, though. It's not Wright State. It's Alabama.

Alabama fans have been going along feeling certain a 12-4 record in the SEC West is good enough to get them an at-large berth. This is a pretty good idea of what the Tide's profile will look like entering the conference tournament if they finish 12-4. That good feeling should be long gone now.

See complete Bracketology coverage here.

Posted on: February 5, 2011 9:04 am
Edited on: February 5, 2011 1:27 pm

Busted Brackets

by Jerry Palm

Earlier this week, the bracket buster matchups were announced.  The bracket buster is a decent concept in many ways.  Several smaller schools can get some late season TV exposure they would have never received before.  It also helps with scheduling because part of the deal is that each year's games are the front end of a home-and-home for the participants.

However, despite the name, no bracket is actually harmed, let alone busted, in the playing of these games.

The only team that may -- may -- have made the NCAA tournament in part because of a win in the bracket buster was George Mason in 2006.  Mason won at Wichita State and looked to be one of the last few teams in the field that year.  Of course, that team was the ultimate bracket buster.  The Patriots went all the way to the Final Four.

The reason we can't say for certain that Mason made the tournament because of the bracket buster win is that if the Patrios hadn't played that game, they would have played someone else of unknown quality and with an unknown result.

Nevertheless, if there is a list of teams that benefitted from the bracket buster, Mason is the only team on it.

This year's games don't appear to even have the cache of some other years.  Butler and Gonzaga are sitting it out (Gonzaga hasn't participated in a long time), although, given how those teams are doing, it probably wouldn't matter if they did.

The most intriguing game of the set is Utah State at St. Mary's .  The Aggies have crept into the bottom of the top 25 without a single win over a top 100 RPI team and in only two attempts.  They lost a competitive game at in-state rival BYU and were easily dispatched at Georgetown .  They have 21 wins, but 17 of them have come against teams ranked outside the top 150.  Those other four all came on their home floor, where they rarely lose.  Why this team is getting votes in a poll is beyond me, but this game is a much-needed opportunity for them to show they are worthy of the voters' respect.

Other than that, you have Cleveland State at Old Dominion , Mason at Northern Iowa and Missouri State at Valpo .  Fun games, but other than maybe ODU, there isn't really a decent at-large candidate in the bunch, and those games won't change that.

See complete Bracketology coverage here .

Posted on: February 1, 2011 5:40 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2011 3:33 pm

The Value of Conference Standings

by Jerry Palm

I've been hearing from Duquesne fans especially, and some from Wichita State too, wondering why their teams don't get more respect in the bracket.  After all, they are co-leaders of their leagues, and in the Dukes' case, undefeated.

Conference standings used to be a mostly-reliable gauge of where teams stood amongst each other.  It used to be rare for one team in a conference to get an at-large bid over another team that finished ahead of it in its league.  Now, with bigger conferences and more unbalanced schedules, conference standings aren't as reliable as they used to be.  In fact, there may be nothing less meaningful than the Big East conference standings.  And I'm talking about at the end of the season.  Conference standings are even less useful now.

I use them to determine the conference "automatic qualifier" for my bracket projections.  After that, I hardly ever look at them.

The committee pays no attention to where a team finishes in the conference race either.  They will look at conference records and which teams they played to get to that record, just as they do with non-conference records and schedules.  In fact, non-conference schedules are more important because sometimes, teams get left out primarily for playing a weak one.

For the committee though, it's all about who you played, where you played them, and whether you won, but not so much where you finished in your conference.

So, as for Wichita State, they don't have a single win of any significant quality.  The Shockers are 0-4 vs the RPI top 100.  Until that gets a lot better, they aren't even on my board.

Duquesne is undefeated in the A-10, another league that is too big to have any reasonable balance to its conference schedule.  They have home wins over Temple and Dayton , but didn't do anything good outside the league.  They are on my board, but I think we're a couple weeks away from really finding out about the Dukes.  They play at home vs Xavier , at UMass and at Dayton in a six day stretch.  After that, ask me again about them.

See complete Bracketology coverage here .

Posted on: February 1, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: February 1, 2011 4:46 pm

Feb. 1 Bracket - Where's Kansas?

by Jerry Palm

As I suggested the other day, there has been some shuffling throughout the bracket this week.  After all, 18 ranked teams lost at least once last week.

It starts at the top, where Duke and San Diego State have been replaced as No. 1 seeds by Pittsburgh and Texas .

Kansas , the No. 2 team in the polls this week, is still a No. 2 seed in the bracket mostly because the Jayhawks have a lot of wins, but few of any significant quality.  OK -- none of any significant quality.

They have played one team in this bracket seeded 7 or higher (the top 28 teams in the S-Curve) and lost it.  At home.  To one of the No. 1 seeds, Texas.  Until Kansas starts adding some high quality wins to their resume, it's hard to regard them as a top seed.  Although, that could happen eventually even without that.  If some of the teams ahead of them pick up any more losses, it may be hard to hold Kansas back, even without the high quality wins.

They Jayhawks are 11-0 vs teams ranked 26-100 in the RPI.  Arizona is the only top 25 win.  That's why they are a two-seed and not any lower.  Those are quite respectable numbers.  They just aren't No. 1 seed material yet.

It might be a little while before Kansas can grab some higher quality wins, provided Arizona doesn't keep improving its stock.  The Jayhawks don't play Missouri until next week and don't see Texas A&M until March.  Still, if they can avoid losing, I'm sure it won't be long before they are on the top line.

Syracuse and Michigan State continue to free fall.  The Orange losing streak has reached four straight, including a blowout loss at home to Seton Hall in the last week.  They fell a couple of lines in this week's bracket.

The Spartans have fallen even farther.  Last week, they were, wearing their white unis in a 7-10 game, but this week, they switch to green.  Coach Tom Izzo kicked G Korie Lucious off the team, and the team celebrated by losing at home to Michigan and nearly doing so to Indiana .  Michigan State has to reprove itself to the committee with its new lineup.  That was not a great start.

St. John's picked up a huge win over Duke on Sunday, but the Johnnies are far from out of the woods.  Right now, the Red Storm (also what we're calling the weather in Chicago today) is 12-8, but a look at the rest of the regular season schedule sees very few sure wins.  OK, no wins are sure, but they might only be favored three more times.  Fifteen wins won't get them in the field.  It's much more likely that they will need at least 18.

I hope you like the new format of the bracket page .  Feel free to leave comments on that page about the format (and the bracket too).  You will note that some teams are marked as being on the bubble.  In my own mind, the bubble is a lot larger than the teams I have marked, but I am going to just mark those in the most danger.  Some of those teams I marked are in the bracket as conference leaders at the moment.  I have marked them as bubble teams in the event they need at-large bids.  If a team is a double-digit seed and a conference leader, but I do not have them marked as on the bubble, then I don't think they are at-large candidates.  At least not yet.

More about the Big East, Big Ten and Conference USA below.

Posted on: January 30, 2011 6:06 pm

Slaughterhouse Saturday - Bracket Edition

by Jerry Palm

There was a lot of carnage in the top 25 on Saturday -- and Sunday too.  Nine teams ranked in the AP poll lost to lower ranked or unranked teams this weekend, and there are still two games left to play as I write this.

The list of victims includes two teams that were top seeds in my most recent bracket, Duke and Connecticut .  A third, Ohio State , barely escaped at Northwestern yesterday.  The fourth, San Diego State , lost at BYU on Wednesday.

Syracuse , Vanderbilt , Villanova , Florida , Texas A&M , BYU, and Wisconsin all took the pipe on Saturday.

So what does this mean?  Well, when everybody loses, nobody really wins.  How much change can there be in the top 16 when 11 of them take at least one loss during the week?  Some teams will surely drop out, but this weekend may not cause the massive shakeup you might expect.  Utah State isn't suddenly a No. 1 seed just because everybody ahead of them lost this week.  They almost lost too, by the way.

What a weekend like this does is cause poll voters in particular to almost start from scratch and reevaluate everyone.  That's standard operating procedure for me when I do brackets.  I never look at my previous one.  But most people, voters especially, tend to slot teams in their mind (and on their ballots) and move them week-to-week.  Weeks like this make that task nearly impossible.

So, in the bracket anyway, there will surely be some shuffling, but it may not be as dramatic as you might expect.

Posted on: January 28, 2011 12:13 pm

Stats to Watch and the First Four

by Jerry Palm

In my 17 years of tracking the RPI and the selection process, there are a few things that I follow closely when trying to figure out which teams could get at-large bids, or at least should get consideration.

One of those is RPI top 100 wins.  No team has received an at-large bid with fewer than three.  It has taken at least four, if a team doesn't have a top 50 RPI win.  When I do mid-season brackets, I'm not necessarily looking for three, but a team isn't likely getting on my board without at least two.

So, that eliminates from consideration -- at least for the moment -- Wichita State , which doesn't have any.  Utah State wouldn't be on my board either if they weren't a conference leader.  I shake my head when I see them in the polls.  I also have UTEP off because it only has one top 100 win.

Another thing I look for is at least a .500 record vs teams in the top 200 of the RPI.  Now, I've been through three NCAA mock selection meetings, and that stat has never come up, but only two teams in the last 17 years received at-large bids without meeting that standard.  This is one that we may see slide some with three more NIT-quality teams in the field going forward.

Teams that are below .500 against the top 200 of the RPI as of this morning include Michigan State , UCLA , Cal , Marquette and Gonzaga .  The Spartans are unique in that they have not played a game against teams ranked 101-200, so they are 7-8 vs the top 100 RPI teams, and also against the top 200.

Finally, you may have noticed that Dayton is right on the fence when it comes to the bracket.  It's possible that the Flyers could be one of the last four teams in.  If that happens, the committee has said that they are eligible to play in the First Four, even though those games are played on Dayton's home floor.  I'm almost never skeptical when it comes to the committee, but I'll believe that one when I see it.

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