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 28, 2010 7:51 am
Edited on: December 28, 2010 10:31 am

Butler's Big Move

by Jerry Palm

Butler entered the Diamond Head Classic last weekend desperately hoping to come away with not just a tournament victory, but some quality wins too.

Last year at this time, the Bulldogs were 8-4 and 21st in the RPI as they were about to embark on conference play.  They won their next 20 games to finish out the regular season, but only moved up seven spots in the RPI over that stretch.  That was good enough to earn them a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament.  I think we all remember what happened after that.

This year, going into the Diamond Head Classic, the Bulldogs ranked 52nd in the RPI.  They came out of it with wins over Utah, Florida State and Washington State, and an RPI ranking of 9.  That's a remarkable move, and one that can only happen this early in the season.

The later you get in the season, the less any new opponent will impact your RPI because each new opponent is a smaller portion of your overall schedule.  Butler is now 8-4 (against D-I foes), so those three games represent 25 percent of their schedule so far.  Adding three games in February has much less impact.

Now, Butler gets to start the meat of their Horizon League schedule from the top 10 in the RPI than outside the top 50, and that's a much better place to be.  They are still lacking in the quality win department.  Butler is 0-3 vs the RPI top 50, and has no wins over sure at-large quality teams, so it's not safe to assume an at-large bid is waiting if needed.  There are only two games left on the schedule against the current RPI top 50 -- a home and home vs Cleveland State.  The Bulldogs are rooting for FSU and WSU to look good for them in March.

So, while Butler isn't out of the woods yet, their weekend in paradise gave them a much-needed boost.

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 20, 2010 7:50 am
Edited on: December 21, 2010 12:02 am

RPI Stability

by Jerry Palm

Since the RPI is a rating that has no preseason bias -- everyone starts at zero and builds from there -- early season numbers can be a bit, shall we say, counterintuitive.

For example, teams like Cleveland State, Boston College, Miami and Southern Miss are in the top 25 of the RPI, but are not likely to be getting too many votes in the polls.

Ohio State, which looks like one of the few teams capable of challenging Duke, sits at No. 10 this morning.  The Dukies themselves only rank fourth.

Baylor will almost certainly be the lowest rated RPI team among the top 25 that comes out later today.  The Bears are 92nd after their loss to Gonzaga.

Purdue is barely in the top 50.  Michigan State is 61st.  Both will be in the top 20 of the polls.

That kind of thing is not unusual for big conference teams, which have the bulk of the better teams on their schedule in conference.  Part of that though is that some smaller conference schools that play very tough non-conference schedules don't look as good in the RPI now to the teams that played them as they will later on.

Oakland is a prime example of that.  The Grizzlies are the favorite to win the Summit, but are currently only 6-6 (0-4 in the Big Ten).  However, they are likely on their way to roughly 22 wins if they play as you'd expect, which will be a lot more helpful to their opponents' RPI ratings than their current 6-6 record is.

So, don't get too worked up about team RPI numbers yet.  The further we go along, the better and more stable it will get.

Conference RPI numbers are a little more reliable because they are heavily influenced by non-conference performance, and most of the non-conference schedule is in the books.

Posted on: December 15, 2010 9:27 pm

Quiet Time Interrupted

By Jerry Palm

Usually, this is the quietest week of the season.  Most schools have final exams this week, so the schedule is pretty light, and the games that do get played are usually pretty lightweight.  That quiet time got interrupted on Tuesday night though when Oakland won at Tennesssee (no, that's not a NFL result) and Drexel took down Louisville.

Oakland has played a schedule even Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee would admire.  West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State.  The Grizzlies lost to all of them, but were increasingly competitive, including a one-point loss to the Spartans.  It all came together finally for them against the Vols.

In bracket terms, this is likely a bigger win for Oakland than it is a bad loss for Tennessee.  The Vols can still go on to be a #1 seed, even with this loss, but for Oakland, it could end up being the difference between being a 14 or 15 seed and a 12 or 13.  Who else among the teams they would be competing with in that part of the bracket would have a win like this?  Of course, Oakland still has to go out and win the Summit League.  This probably isn't good enough to put them in as an at-large team.

The Drexel-Louisville result is a little harder to gauge in terms of impact.  The Cards are off to a great start, but have yet to play away from home.  We don't have a good feel for how good they really are.  Until we know that, we don't know how much help this win will be to Drexel's at-large chances or seed.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 14, 2010 4:48 pm

WAC Auto Bid May Be Safe After All

WAC Commissioner Karl Benson, whose league seems to be under attack from all sides, got in touch with me after reading the blog entry below to assure me that one of those sides is not likely to be the loss of the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

At the very end of that blog entry, I mentioned that the WAC might have to get a rule changed to keep that bid.  Benson sent me an e-mail saying that, in fact, some changes are in the works.  He described some proposed legislation that would loosen the requirements for having an automatic bid to the tournament.  He said the new rules would create a definition of a "multisport conference," and that any league that met that definition and had seven basketball playing memebers would receive an automatic bid.  He said the WAC would meet those requirements and that those new standards would be in place, if passed, effective with the 2011-12 season.  The vote on the propsed changes is scheduled to take place in January.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: WAC
Posted on: December 12, 2010 3:52 pm
Edited on: December 12, 2010 4:37 pm

Every Game Matters

That is the slogan of the BCS, but it's probably more true in basketball, at least for teams that want to be in the postseason or are playing for seed.

Saturday, we had Tennessee and Pittsburgh.  Both of those teams are in the top 10 and barring injury, don't figure to have to worry about missing the tournament.  However, they could be in a battle for a top seed.  It's not too hard to imagine the committee sitting there in March debating these two as the fourth #1 seed.  Tennessee's 83-76 win over the Panthers could be the deciding factor.

For teams like Gonzaga and Butler, these early games are where they make their case for selection and seeding.  They just don't get enough quality games in conference play to put all their eggs in that basket.  Unfortunately for these two, not much is going well.

Gonzaga lost at Notre Dame yesterday to fall to 4-5.  Four of those five losses are to likely tournament teams, and the fifth - Washington State - isn't terrible, but the Zags so far are proving beyond a doubt that they cannot beat tournament quality opposition.  They do have more chances though, with Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma St and Memphis still on the schedule, and all of those but Baylor at home.

Butler is in even more trouble.  Like Gonzaga, the Bulldogs are without a quality win, and have already lost to Louisville, Duke and Xavier, as well as home loss to Evansville.  Unlike the Zags, Butler doesn't have many chances left.  They are in a tournament with Florida State and Baylor, but that's it.

The committee is watching as closely now as they will in February, so teams need to be juast careful not to give their tournament chances away now as they do then.

Category: NCAAB
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