NCAA Tournament Breakdown
Disclaimer: The rankings used in this report are the same as my most recent report on Dayton’s chances in making the NCAA Tournament. In addition, the mid-major rankings highlighted here in the beginning are a more recent update of the same ranking formula I used in last week’s post. If you have any questions at all regarding my analysis or rankings, please feel free to e-mail me back. All statistics, records and rankings are current as of the games played on Sunday, March 1, 2009.
There were a few things left unsaid in my post last week about the relation between the Dayton Flyers and the rest of the mid-major at-large possibilities. Thus, here is an updated and vamped up rendition of an e-mail reply I sent to my father the day after my Dayton report:
As much as Dayton can control their own destiny with their important games coming up, I did not mention how much luck will factor in to this. For example, if UAB pulls off the upset of Memphis in the C-USA tournament, or a team other than Utah, BYU or San Diego State wins the Mountain West tournament, then Dayton could find themselves outside of the at-large field no matter what. Here is a list of the mid-major conferences in order of likelihood for producing a mid-major at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament:
#1 M-West: 3 Brigham Young (21-6 overall, 10-4), 4 Utah (20-7, 11-3), 9 San Diego State (17-8, 9-5), 11 UNLV (20-8, 8-6) and 12 New Mexico (19-10, 10-4)
Mid-major conferences hardly ever run this deep, minus the height of the Missouri Valley dominance a few years back. This single conference has five teams in the top twelve of my mid-major rankings, not a surprise when you consider these five teams are all in the top 50 of the Pomeroy and Entropy rankings. Although this conference might not be getting the love across the country, with BYU #42 in the Associated Press, and Utah at #26, playing each other on a nightly basis has definitely helped build up their strength of schedule credentials. Seven of the nine teams in the conference, simply excluding Air Force and Wyoming, are in the top twenty among mid-majors in strength of schedule, and it looks like they are the clear favorites to get an at-large bid.
#2 Conference-USA: 1 Memphis (26-3 overall, 14-0), 7 UAB (20-9, 10-4), 18 Tulsa (19-9, 10-4), 23 Houston (18-9, 9-5) and 31 UTEP (17-11, 8-6)
Memphis is currently a #2 seed in the latest Bracketology from Joe Lunardi of ESPN, and is as safe of a lock for the dance this season as top teams like Connecticut and Pittsburgh. UAB (tied for second with Tulsa at 10-4 in the conference) is having another solid season after making the tournament three straight years from 2004-2006. Depth is not one of the strongest components of this conference, but with Memphis sitting pretty at the top, they could easily get an at-large bid somehow. Only problem is that Memphis is 68-1 in conference play over the last four years, and is currently riding a 56-game winning streak. If UAB can win out, and just manage one loss to Memphis in the title game, they should be in the NCAA Tournament.
#3 Atlantic 10: 2 Xavier (23-5 overall, 11-3), 13 Temple (17-11, 9-5), 16 Dayton (24-5, 10-4), 17 Rhode Island (22-8, 11-4) and 33 Duquesne (17-10, 8-6)
What a crazy week in the Atlantic-10 conference including but not limited to an overtime thriller in Rhode Island, a big road win for Xavier and the rise and fall of the Dukes of Duquesne. Only one more week left in the regular season, but anything can still happen in the organization of the seeds for the conference tournament. Xavier is the second-best mid-major in my rankings, and is a lock for the tournament, but Temple/Dayton/Rhode Island is a three-headed monster aiming for an at-large bid. Rhode Island is the hottest of the three with their current six winning streak, but Dayton has two huge opportunities to prove their worth at Xavier and at home against Duquesne still. Temple on the other hand, was a virtual lock last week, but lost at home to La Salle and at Dayton to fall back in the rankings.
#4 West Coast: 5 Gonzaga (22-5 overall, 14-0), 15 St. Mary’s (22-5, 10-4), 45 Portland (17-11, 9-5), 95 Santa Clara (13-16, 7-7) and 100 San Diego (13-15, 6-8)
The combination of Gonzaga and St. Mary has dominated the West Coast Conference all-season long. Gonzaga, currently riding a ten-year NCAA Tournament appearance streak, is certainly the top team, but Saint Mary’s could be very dangerous with the return of NBA Draft darling Patrick Mills. The sophomore native of Australia has missed the last nine games for the Gaels, but the conference tournament should be quite compelling with him back in the picture. Gonzaga should be in the tournament no matter what, as has been the case in the past, but there is a good reason why this conference has eight at-large bids in the last 14 years.
#5 Missouri Valley: 10 Creighton (25-6 overall, 14-4), 22 Illinois State (22-8, 11-7), 28 Northern Iowa (19-10, 14-4), 44 Evansville (15-12, 8-10), 46 Bradley (16-13, 10-8)
Northern Iowa will be the number one seed in the Missouri Valley conference tournament because of a tiebreaker over Creighton, meaning this could get very interesting. Creighton is building up a very impressive resume however, with their current ten-game winning streak to improve to 25-6 overall with nice non-conference wins over New Mexico, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton, and George Mason. They could very well be a lock for the tournament, and if one of the lower teams can finish off the conference, it will be one of the more interesting late season storylines among all mid-majors.
#6 Horizon: 6 Butler (24-4 overall, 15-3), 24 Wisconsin Green Bay (21-8, 13-5), 26 Cleveland State (18-10, 12-6), 37 Wright State (18-12, 12-6) and 67 Wisconsin Milwaukee (14-13, 11-7)
In a nationally televised game on Saturday, Butler managed to hold off a hot Cleveland State team with a two-point victory in Indianapolis. The loss pushed Cleveland State down to a third seed in the conference tournament, just behind upstart Wisconsin Green Bay. This could be another fun tournament to keep an eye on, as both Wright State and Wisconsin Milwaukee have been in the NCAA Tournament recently. The Horizon League will always be hanging around the at-large picture, and this season will certainly be no different as Butler is yet again one of the top mid-major teams. With their big non-conference wins already, they should be in the tournament no matter what happens in the next two weeks.
#7 WAC: 8 Utah State (25-4 overall, 13-2), 35 Nevada (16-11, 9-5), 58 New Mexico State (15-14, 8-7), 60 Boise State (17-10, 8-6) and 74 Idaho (13-14, 7-7)
Weaker conference than normal this season and Utah State (26-4 overall, 13-2 in conference play) is the clear favorite to win the conference tournament here. The main reason Utah State is in this position, however, is that they have the #80 strength of schedule among mid-majors and with their toughest non-conference victory being a home victory over Weber State. Nevada (17-11 overall, 9-5 in conference play) is still a decent team however, and with their tough schedule thus far in the season, could be a major nuisance to teams like Dayton and Utah down the stretch.
Overall, there will be 25 mid-major champions in the NCAA Tournament, minus these seven conferences here, meaning that we will have to include 18 teams in the make-up of a possible tournament bracket. From this point on, I looked to find the teams that are most guaranteed of a bid in the tournament. I looked to the ESPN Bracketology, BracketVILLE, and the projections from Warren Nolan and Sports Illustrated for help. Here are the 30 teams that were always a #8 seed or higher in every single bracket, along with their rankings in the major rating systems:
While there could be some fluid motion towards the bottom of these 30 teams after current six seeds Arizona State and Syracuse, I expect all of these teams to hold on and make the tournament somehow. That means that we are at 48 teams with no other at-large or possible conference champions under consideration. While every year there are some surprising conference champions from major and mid-major conferences, my guess is that the majority of the 17 spots in the tournament will go to these next forty-five teams:
Random Notes on these 45 possible tournament teams:
I am so surprised that Brigham Young is so low in most tournament projections. They are a #8 seed in Bracketology, BracketVILLE and Sports Illustrated, but only a #10 seed by RPI expert Warren Nolan. The Cougars are 10-6 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, and have currently won eight of their last ten in conference play. Their last two games are at Wyoming and at home against Air Force, meaning that they should have a good spot in the conference tournament and should be able to help their resume.
The Providence Friars are an appropriate stopping point in this list as they are the most recent team included in the ESPN Bracketology as an at-large seed from the Big East. They picked up a huge win over Pittsburgh last week, but are still only 18-11 overall and 5-11 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI. They have played a ridiculously tough strength of schedule, but I do not think the Big East’s #6 team will be in the NCAA Tournament unless they can make some noise in the conference tournament.
Ohio State is in the middle of this pack here, and is in an intriguing situation for a disappointing Big 10 team. They are still very much in control of their own destiny, however, and if they end the season with victories at Iowa and at home against Northwestern, they could be back in the upper half of this list. They could also use a nice conference tournament run, but who knows if that might be too much to ask of a young team that just lost four of five in the conference.
Seven game losing streaks are never good in any sport, and especially in college basketball. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish experienced such a feat this season, but they are still very much in the tournament picture because of the strength of the Big East conference this season. They are currently 15-13 overall and are 4-12 against teams in the top 100 in the RPI. They finish their regular season at home against St. John’s and then will have the opportunity to build up their resume during the loaded Big East tournament. Expect them to make a run, possibly all the way to the semifinals, but still possibly fall a little short of the promised land of the NCAA Tournament.
Here is a listing of the different bracket projections and their 1-8 seeds as of Tuesday, March 3. The teams in red down below are not in my initial list of the 30 teams I expect to be in the tournament no matter what:
ESPN Bracketology: Connecticut, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma
BracketVILLE: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut, Oklahoma
Warren Nolan: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Connecticut
Sports Illustrated: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut, Oklahoma
ESPN Bracketology: Butler, BYU, Texas, Boston College
BracketVILLE: Boston College, Utah, Tennessee, BYU
Warren Nolan: West Virginia, Tennessee, Butler, Ohio State
Sports Illustrated: Utah, California, BYU, Wisconsin
ESPN Bracketology: Michigan State, Memphis, Kansas, Louisville
BracketVILLE: Michigan State, Kansas, Duke, Louisville
Warren Nolan: Louisville, Oklahoma, Kansas, Duke
Sports Illustrated: Duke, Michigan State, Memphis, Louisville
ESPN Bracketology: Tennessee, West Virginia, California, Utah
BracketVILLE: Butler, Texas, West Virginia, California
Warren Nolan: Texas, Arizona State, California, UNLV
Sports Illustrated: West Virginia, Tennessee, Butler, Boston College
ESPN Bracketology: Duke, Washington, Villanova, Wake Forest
BracketVILLE: Wake Forest, Villanova, Memphis, Xavier
Warren Nolan: Xavier, Wake Forest, Villanova, Memphis
Sports Illustrated: Kansas, Clemson, Wake Forest, Missouri
ESPN Bracketology: Syracuse, Gonzaga, Florida State, Arizona State
BracketVILLE: Syracuse, UCLA, Gonzaga, Florida State
Warren Nolan: UCLA, Syracuse, LSU, Purdue
Sports Illustrated: Arizona State, Syracuse, Illinois, Gonzaga
ESPN Bracketology: Missouri, Purdue, Clemson, Illinois
BracketVILLE: Missouri, LSU, Washington, Clemson
Warren Nolan: Missouri, Illinois, Marquette, Clemson
Sports Illustrated: Washington, Marquette, Florida State, Villanova
ESPN Bracketology: UCLA, Marquette, Xavier, LSU
BracketVILLE: Arizona State, Marquette, Illinois, Purdue
Warren Nolan: Gonzaga, Utah, Florida State, Washington
Sports Illustrated: LSU, Purdue, UCLA, Xavier