Talk to the Palm: Bracketology mailbag answers questions about the NCAA Tournament bracket projection

Welcome to the first weekly edition of Talk to the Palm, a mailbag for your Bracketology questions. Once the college basketball season really gets rolling, I tend to get a lot of questions about my brackets and the selection process in general. This will give me a chance to answer some common questions, or better yet, some uncommon ones. Submit your questions on Twitter @jppalmCBS and every Wednesday, I'll answer the best ones here in the much beloved Q&A format.

Q: How much does the Big Ten's 20-game schedule exacerbate its cannibalistic potential this season? — from @kerba1123

A: It is always hard to win on the road, but Big Ten teams are finding it to be especially difficult. So far in conference play, Big Ten teams are 6-33 on the road. Wisconsin is the team most bucking the trend, having won at Ohio State and Penn State, but losing at home to Illinois. You would think Nebraska and Northwestern, the only two teams not considered NCAA Tournament contenders would be the easy road marks, but Nebraska only has one home loss.

Part of the reason that is happening is that the depth of quality in the league may be unmatched in its history. If the NCAA Tournament selection committee were meeting now, it would have 12 of the 14 league members to legitimately consider. Those teams will all be tough to beat at home.  

It is too early to say exactly how that trend could affect this season's tournament selections because they are not based on how teams do in their league and what happens in other conferences matters as well. However, expanding the conference schedule is generally a negative when it comes to selections. For major conferences, it takes away two wins from most of the teams and replaces all those games with a 1-1 record for teams in the league. There's no way that is a positive in the rankings collectively or individually, but it may not just be a rankings problem.

For instance, I think Indiana was hurt by the 20-game schedule last season. The Hoosiers finished the season 19-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament because their record simply wasn't good enough. They were one of the last four out however and earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

If Indiana did not have to play 20 conference games and could have traded a win and a loss in Big Ten play for two more non-conference wins – against pretty much anybody – the Hoosiers are likely in the NCAA Tournament.

Q: Excluding Gonzaga, San Diego State and Dayton, who are your top 5 mid-majors when it comes to chances for an at-large berth? — from @mikezor052588

A: Ah, my least favorite word in college basketball -- "Mid-major". I don't use it because it is too vaguely defined. For instance, someone I was talking to this past week referred to Butler as a mid-major. That's a tough sell. Yes, Butler was in the Horizon League not that long ago, but the Bulldogs are in the Big East now. Gonzaga is a major program in a non-major conference. The A-10 is often a multiple-bid league, but does not have the depth of quality like the major conferences.

Anyway, I will try to answer this question, but keep in mind that the margin for error for these teams is relatively small. Also, being an at-large team means taking a loss in the conference tournament, and sometimes those can be pretty bad losses.

byu.jpg
BYU might be the best mid-major team this season. USATSI
  1. BYU: The Cougars have wins over surging Virginia Tech in the Maui Invitational and at Houston. They have been competitive in all of their losses except for one at Kansas. In fact, they have three overtime losses on the road, so they are close to having a much better resume. One advantage BYU has is that it can lose in the conference tournament to a team that does not hurt the Cougars. Also, they will get at least two shots at huge wins against Gonzaga.

  2. VCU: A home win over LSU is the standout for the Rams, but they are only 2-5 against the top two quadrants after the loss at Dayton on Tuesday night. None of those losses are truly bad, but they may regret losing to Rhode Island at home and near misses against Purdue and Tennessee in Destin, Florida, in November. The A-10 is good enough that a relatively gaudy record in the league would help because of the teams they would have to beat to get that record.

  3. Richmond: The Spiders got off to a great start this season, including a win over Wisconsin, but stumbled into the holiday break, losing to Radford and Alabama. A home loss to Saint Louis on Saturday hurts as well. It is not because the Billikens are a bad team, but home losses always look worse on the resume. Like VCU, the relative strength of the A-10 can be an advantage if they do well.

  4. St. Mary's: The Gaels opened the season with a win over Wisconsin in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and beat BYU at home, but the Gaels' home losses to Santa Clara and especially Winthrop may drag them out of contention. Fortunately, like BYU, two or three games against Gonzaga give them chances to pad the resume.

  5. East Tennessee State: A win at LSU highlights the Bucs resume, which also includes a respectable 12-point loss at Kansas. The Southern Conference is not as strong at the top as a season ago, when three teams were legitimate at-large candidates, but Furman is also doing well. Their fates are tied to each other. Ideally, they would lose only to each other, but for ETSU to be an at-large team, that would mean two losses to the Paladins.

That is the top five for now, but it may be worth revisiting in a month or so. As I was building this list, I couldn't help but notice how many of these teams I considered have played either LSU (Liberty, Rhode Island, VCU, ETSU and Utah State) or Wisconsin (Saint Mary's, Richmond and New Mexico).

Q: Would a Big East Championship put SHU (Seton Hall) in the Albany pod and in the East with a shot of going to MSG for the regionals? — @nuccim

A: The regular season championship would be more meaningful because of how many quality wins it will likely take to do that. Regardless, nothing is guaranteed this far out regarding bracket placement. Being the Big East champion, by itself, is not meaningful. Site placement depends on where the team ranks on the committee's overall 1-68 list and who they are competing with for that spot.

So, the answer is yes, that is possible, but not definite.

Q: Are you keeping Illinois from being a No. 1 seed just because you're bitter about the 26-point beatdown they gave your Boilermakers? — @TomFornelli

A: Haven't you heard, Tom? I'm now an Indiana grad.

Editor's note: Palm is not an Indiana graduate, but rather a proud but long-suffering graduate of Purdue University.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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