Sunday, March 17, 2013

2013 Final Bracket Prediction

The Selection Show is just hours away, the tournament picture is mostly decided. Only 4 conference tournaments remain and only one team (Ole Miss) is on the bubble.

Entering Champ Week, I had Duke as the #1 overall seed in the tournament due to their perfect computer numbers (RPI 1, SOS 1, NCSOS 1) but their quarterfinal loss to Maryland in the ACC Tournament not only knocked the Blue Devils out of the #1 overall seed but also off the top line. Not to be outdone, the team I had as the #2 overall seed (Indiana) also lost this week, leaving me a difficult decision for who to put at the top of the bracket. My #1 overall seed is....

Obviously this is a very non-traditional pick, but it's hard to argue with Gonzaga's resume. They are 31-2 overall, with their only 2 losses coming to top 40 teams: Illinois (at home) and Butler (on the road on a last-second shot). The Bulldogs blazed through the West Coast Conference and are deserving of the top spot.

The next two #1 seeds were not very difficult to determine. Louisville and Kansas both won their respective Conference Tournaments and had Top 10 RPIs. Louisville had only one loss outside the Top 50 all season (at Villanova) and Kansas had two (Baylor and TCU). They were 2 of only 3 teams in the nation had double-digit wins against the Top 50 (New Mexico being the other). Kansas' 13 Top 50 wins is the most in the nation with Louisville's 10 a close second. 

The battle for the last #1 seed was close between Indiana, Duke, New Mexico and Miami. Duke had the best computer profile of the group, but has 4 losses outside the Top 30, with 3 of them coming outside the Top 50. New Mexico has the most Top 50 wins of the group (10) and the most Top 100 wins in the nation (19), but they also have 3 losses outside the Top 30 with 2 of them coming outside the Top 50. The Lobos also only have 2 wins against Top 20 teams with their best wins coming over Colorado St (RPI 18). By comparison, Indiana has 7 wins over Top 20 teams, Duke has 5, and Miami has 5. Despite being the ACC Champion, Miami has the worst losses of the group, having dropped two games to teams with 100+ RPIs and 4 games to teams with RPIs over 70.

At the end of the day, Miami's bad losses and New Mexico's lack of top-tier wins were too much to overcome. In a decision between Indiana and Duke, Indiana got the slight edge because while both teams have 9 Top 50 wins, Indiana has more Top 20 wins and no losses outside the Top 50 whereas Duke has 3. 

Here's how the rest of my bracket looks:

West Region

1. Gonzaga vs 16. NC A&T/Liberty
8. Cincinnati vs 9. Iowa St
5. St Louis vs 12. California/Tennessee
4. Wisconsin vs 13. Akron
6. UCLA vs 11. Oklahoma
3. Ohio St vs 14. Iona
7. Creighton vs 10. Temple
2. Georgetown vs 15. Harvard

Midwest Region

1. Louisville vs 16. Southern/James Madison
8. Colorado St vs 9. Illinois
5. Arizona vs 12. Bucknell
4. Kansas St vs 13. New Mexico St
6. Butler vs 11. Villanova
3. Michigan vs 14. Northwestern St
7. San Diego St vs 10. Missouri
2. Duke vs 15. Pacific

South Region

1. Kansas vs 16. LIU-Brooklyn
8. North Carolina vs 9. Minnesota
5. VCU vs 12. Boise St/Kentucky
4. Syracuse vs 13. South Dakota St
6. Notre Dame vs 11. St Mary's
3. Florida vs 14. Montana
7. Oregon vs 10. Wichita St
2. New Mexico vs 15. Florida Gulf Coast

East Region

1. Indiana vs 16. Western Kentucky
8. Memphis vs 9. NC State
5. Marquette vs 12. Belmont
4. UNLVvs 13. Davidson
6. Oklahoma St vs 11. Colorado
3. Michigan St vs 14. Valparaiso
7. Pittsburgh vs 10. Ole Miss
2. Miami (FL) vs 15. Albany

Bids by Conference: Big East (8), Big Ten (7), Big XII (5), Pac 12 (5), Mountain West (5), SEC (5), ACC (4), Atlantic 10 (4), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2)

The Bubble

It was a hard decision for the last team in, but Kentucky's overall computer numbers were clearly better than Virginia's and UMass's. Kentucky had two wins (Florida and Missouri) better than UMass' best win over Temple. Kentucky's best two wins were also better than Middle Tennessee's best win, which was the Blue Raiders only win over a Top 100 squad. Virginia simply had too many bad losses to include in the field. It was a tossup between Kentucky and La Salle, and I picked Kentucky based on their better Non-Conference schedule and the fact that they got their best win of the season (Florida) without Nerlens Noel in the lineup and La Salle's best wins came during a hot streak in January.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conference Tournament Preview Part 2

Regular season play has concluded and we're heading into the thick of Championship Week. The major conferences and a handful of mid-majors hold their Conference Tournaments this week to determine the rest of the 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.


March 14-17
Greensboro, NC

Top Seeds: Miami, Duke

Sleeper: NC State

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: One of the top 3 seeds has won the tournament each of the last 5 years, but the #1 seed has only won twice in that span. Duke has won 3 of the last 4 ACC Tournaments.

Preview: Miami cruised through the first half of the ACC schedule, ringing up huge victories over traditional powers Duke and North Carolina. However, the Hurricanes dropped 3 of their last 5, including losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, both of whom finished in the bottom 4 of the league. Duke has been absolutely on fire since the return of Ryan Kelly and are 18-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup. North Carolina should be in the Tournament, barring an upset in the ACC Tournament and could be in line for another shot at Duke in the semi-finals. Virginia is the enigma of the conference and is hovering right on the cut line for the Big Dance. The Cavaliers are 4-2 against the Top 50 and 7-3 against the Top 100, but just 7-6 against teams ranked 100-200 and have an additional loss to Old Dominion (RPI 316). That utterly bizzarre resume puts Virginia right on the bubble and they will need a deep run in the ACC Tournament to prove they belong in the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10

March 14-17
Brooklyn, NY

Top Seeds: 
St Louis, VCU

Sleeper: Xavier

Tournament Format: Top 12 teams qualify, top 4 get byes

Recent History: One of the top 4 seeds has won the tournament each of the last 5 years.

Preview: While newcomers Butler and VCU dominated the conversation in the Atlantic 10 this season, it was St Louis that put together a monster 11-game winning streak that lasted from the last week of January to the first week of March to seal the conference title. The Billikens are a deep team with 4 players averaging in double figures and 9 players averaging over 12 minutes per game.  VCU's havoc defense can be troublesome for any team on this stage. All things told, the A-10 could wind up with 5 or 6 teams in the NCAA Tournament. St Louis, VCU, Butler and Temple all should be in with La Salle hanging right on the bubble. Xavier and UMass have caused the top teams some troubles this season and could make a run for the automatic bid.


March 13-16
Kansas City, MO

Top Seeds: 
Kansas, Kansas St

Sleeper: Iowa St

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: The last 7 tournaments have been won by either Kansas or Missouri. Seven of the last nine tournaments have been won by one of the top 2 seeds.

Preview: The Jayhawks were the best team in the conference when they were on, but a 3-game losing streak in early February forced them to battle down the stretch to secure the league crown once again. Freshman guard Ben McLemore was the second-leading scorer in the conference and had a knack for knocking down clutch shots. Kansas State boasted the best defense in the conference, allowing just 60.5 PAPG. Oklahoma State boasts a trio of electric scorers in Markel Brown (15.6 PPG), Marcus Smart (15.1 PPG) and Le'Bryan Nash (14.2 PPG). The top 3 teams are in the NCAA Tournament for sure, but the next tier of teams are all fighting for their bubble lives. Oklahoma dropped onto the bubble from the "should be in" category after falling to TCU in their season finale. Iowa State was the highest scoring team in the league (and 4th highest in the nation), averaging over 80 points per game. Baylor seemed to be dead in the water before beating Kansas in the regular season finale and resurrecting their bubble hopes.

Big East

March 12-16
New York, NY

Top Seeds: 
Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette

Sleeper: Villanova

Tournament Format: 14 teams, top 4 get bye to Quarter-Finals, 2 play-in games

Recent History: A team getting the "double-bye" to the Quarter-Finals has only won the tournament twice in the last 5 years. Three of the last five champions have been seeded 7th or lower.

Preview: The theme song for this tournament should be REM's "It's The End of the World As We Know It." This will be the last Big East Tournament before the massive breakup of the conference takes place. Georgetown and Louisville put together seasons that are worthy of placing them on the top line on Selection Sunday should they also win the Big East Tournament. Marquette came out of nowhere and shocked everyone to finish in a 3-way tie for first. Pitt won their last 4 and snuck into the #4 seed and got the coveted double-bye thanks to one of the best defenses in the nation (55.2 PAPG). Syracuse started the season hot but stumbled at the end of the year, dropping 4 of their last 5. Big East teams were great at defending their home courts this season, as only 3 of 15 teams finished the season with winning road records. The Big East Tournament will once again be wide open and could easily be won by any of the top 10 teams.

Big Sky

March 14-16
Regular Season Champion (Montana) Hosts Tournament

Top Seeds: 
Montana, Weber St


Tournament Format: Top 7 qualify, #1 seed gets bye

Recent History: The top seed has won the tournament 3 of the last 5 years. The Big Sky Champion has been seeded between 13th and 15th each of the last 4 seasons.

Preview: The Big Sky's decision to only allow 7 of the 11 teams into the conference tournaments made for one of the most exciting final weekends in the nation. Sacramento State lost to Montana State, elevating Montana St to 4th and knocking Sacramento St out. Despite losing 7 of their last 8 games, Southern Utah won the 3-way tiebreaker with Sacramento St and Northern Arizona. Northern Arizona lost 6 of their last 8 but edged Sacramento State for the last spot in the field on two head-to-head wins. But this tournament is really about two teams: Montana and Weber State. The two schools have dominated the conference over the last 11 years, winning 7 of the 11 titles. In the last 8 years they have met in the championship game 3 times with Montana taking the title each time. The Grizzlies are the #1 seed this season, but suffered their only conference loss at Weber State (by an astounding 24 points). After splitting the season series, the two seemed destined for a rubber match in the championship.

Big Ten

March 14-17
Chicago, IL

Top Seeds:
 Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State

Sleeper: Iowa

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The #1 seed has won the tournament 4 of the last 5 years.

Preview: In one of the craziest moments of the season, Indiana clinched the regular season title when Michigan failed to convert a put-back attempt in the final seconds of the season finale. If that ball rolls over the rim, Michigan finishes tied for the conference title, but the loss dropped the Wolverines all the way to fifth. The Big Ten was crazy all season, with upsets galore across the board. The Big Ten has 7 teams ranked in the Top 50 of the RPI, including 5 in the Top 25. This has been the best conference all season and will be a wide open tournament. The loser of the Illinois-Minnesota first round game might be sweating on Selection Sunday, but should still make it in. 

Big West

March 14-16
Anaheim, CA

Top Seeds:
 Long Beach St, Pacific

Sleeper: Cal Poly

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The top seed has won the tournament in 3 of the last 4 years. Defending champion Long Beach State received a 12-seed last year, the highest for the Big West Conference Champion since 2007.

Preview: The Big West had one of the most bizarre standings inversions in recent memory. At the beginning of conference play, Cal St Northridge (9-4) and Cal St Fullerton (8-5) led the way with Long Beach St (4-8) in the basement of the league. However, LBSU put together a 14-4 conference campaign to win the regular season title while CS Northridge and CS Fullerton went 5-13 and 6-12 respectively to finish at the bottom of the league. Cal Poly scored the conference's biggest win of the season when they upset UCLA at the Pauley Pavilion in December. Cal Poly and Pacific are the hottest teams entering the tournament, neither having lost since the third week of February. UC Davis sophomore guard Corey Hawkins led the conference in scoring, averaging 20.9 PPG (11th in the nation). Santa Barbara's Alan Williams averaged a double-double (17.6 PPG and 10.7 RPG) and was 5th in the nation in rebounding. 

Conference USA

March 13-16
Tulsa, OK

Top Seeds: 
Memphis, Southern Miss, UTEP

Sleeper: Houston

Tournament Format: 11 teams, 3 play-in games

Recent History: Memphis has won 6 of the last 7 Conference USA Tournaments.

Preview: Memphis has once again rolled through Conference USA, posting a 16-0 record en route to yet another league title. The Tigers won the league by 4 games over Southern Miss. Memphis ranks in the top 50 in the nation in points, rebounds and assists and should be the clear favorites in the Conference USA tournament. Southern Miss is hovering around the fringe of the bubble thanks in large part to good computer numbers, but the Golden Eagles have no wins over teams in the RPI Top 60 and are a long shot for an at-large bid. Memphis is good enough to get an at-large bid if they should be upset in the tournament, but that seems unlikely after the way they dominated the regular season.


March 11, 13-16
Cleveland, OH

Top Seeds: 
Akron, Ohio

Sleeper: Western Michigan

Tournament Format: 11 teams, Top 2 get byes to Semi-Finals, 3 & 4 get byes to Quarter-Finals, 5 gets bye to Second Round

Recent History: Akron has played in the last 6 MAC Championship Games. Akron and Ohio have split the last 4 titles. The #1 seed has not won the tournament since 2008.

Preview: After completing the season sweep of Ohio at the end of February, Akron seemed to be lining themselves up for an at-large bid should they fail to win the MAC Tournament. However, the Zips dropped 2 of their last 3, taking themselves out of the at-large picture. The MAC will be a one-bid league once again but Akron and Ohio are two talented teams that seemed destined to meet again in the MAC Championship. Akron forward Zeke Marshall is a dominant inside player that averages 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. Ohio guard DJ Cooper made a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament last season, carrying the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 and a near upset of #1 seed North Carolina. Cooper is averaging 14 points and 7 assists per game this season, and led Ohio to a 14-2 conference record with their only losses to Akron.


March 11-16
Norfolk, VA

Top Seeds:
 Norfolk St, NC Central, Hampton

Sleeper: Savannah St

Tournament Format: 13 teams, Top 3 get byes

Recent History: The MEAC Champion has received a 15-seed 3 of the last 5 years. While never a highly-rated conference, the MEAC has produced 3 of the 6 #15 seeds that have toppled #2 seeds, including defending champion Norfolk State.

Preview: In one of the strangest scheduling quirks you will see, Norfolk St and North Carolina Central finished at the top of the MEAC but did not play each other this season. Defending champion Norfolk St finished perfect in MEAC play and NC Central's only blemish was a loss to Savannah St. Only 3 teams (Norfolk St, NC Central, Savannah St) enter the MEAC Tournament with winning records on the season, which likely means the champion is heading for a 16-seed. Watch out for Savannah State, whose slow tempo and league-best defense (55.3 PAPG) could cause problems for teams. 

Mountain West

March 12-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: 
New Mexico, Colorado St

Sleeper: Air Force (but really anyone)

Tournament Format: 9 teams, 1 play-in game

Recent History: The top seed has not won the Mountain West Tournament since 2006. Over the last 5 years, the Mountain West has averaged 2 At-Large bids per year.

Preview: In a year with the news dominated by the depth of the Big Ten, the Mountain West is actually the highest rated conference in the nation. Five teams enter the tournament with 20+ wins and less than 10 losses. New Mexico was the regular season champion and was the only team in the league to post a winning record away from home. That was a factor of all but one team in the league posting winning records on their home courts, with 6 of the 8 teams losing only once or twice at home. On a neutral floor, this is a wide open field and anyone could come away with the automatic bid. Heading into the tournament, 4 teams (New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado St, San Diego St) are solidly in the NCAA Tournament field with Boise State hanging on the bubble. Air Force has too many bad losses for bubble consideration, but the Falcons gave some teams troubles this season and could make noise in the tournament.

Pac 12

March 13-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: 
UCLA, California

Sleeper: USC

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The winner of the 3-6 Quarterfinal matchup has won the last 4 Pac-12 Tournaments. 

Preview: The Pac 12 absolutely collapsed in on itself down the stretch in February and March. UCLA won the regular season title after winning 4 of their last 5 but their loss was to last place Washington State. Arizona was 12-0 in non-conference play but dropped 6 Pac 12 games, including an 0-for trip to Los Angeles at the end of the season where they lost to USC and UCLA, which cost them the regular season title. Oregon started the year 7-0 in conference play, but went just 5-6 in the second half, including closing the season with a 23-point loss to Colorado and a 10-point loss to bottom-feeder Utah. The way everyone is playing right now, this is a tournament ripe for an upset. The USC Trojans could be just that team, with wins over UCLA and Arizona and a 2-point loss to Oregon.


March 13-17
Nashville, TN

Top Seeds: 
Florida, Kentucky

Sleeper: Arkansas

Tournament Format: 14 teams, top 4 get byes to Semi-Finals, 2 play-in games

Recent History: The top seed has only won the SEC Tournament once in the last 5 years.

Preview: It was a crazy season in the SEC. Florida looked to be the runaway conference champion before dropping 4 of their last 10 games. Missouri is the only other team at this point that looks like a lock for an at-large bid, with Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama hovering around the bubble. SEC teams were brutally bad on the road this year with only Florida (7-5) and Ole Miss (6-6) finishing over .500 on the road. In fact, SEC teams were so bad on the road that the next best road record was 4-7 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt). The flip side of that was the utter dominance on their home courts with Florida and Missouri finishing unblemished at home and Arkansas and Ole Miss with just one home loss. Only one team (last place Auburn) finished sub-.500 on their home court. Kentucky has been up-and-down since the loss of Nerlens Noel, but seems to be hitting a stride heading into the SEC Tournament. Arkansas beat everyone on their home court but was awful on the road.


March 13-16
Katy, TX

Top Seeds: 
Stephen F Austin, Northwestern State

Sleeper: Oral Roberts

Tournament Format: 8 teams, top 2 get byes to Semi-Finals, 3 & 4 get byes to Quarterfinals

Recent History: Five different teams have won the Southland tournament in the last 5 years. The top seed has won as many tournaments (2) as the #7 seed during that span.

Preview: Stephen F Austin and Northwestern State battled it out all season atop the Southland, splitting their head-to-head matchups. The two teams represent a contrast in styles between Northwestern State's wide open approach which has them first in the nation in scoring at 82.4 points per game and Stephen F Austin's shut down defense which has held opponents to just 50.2 points per game. With the top two teams getting byes to the semi-finals, it would be surprising to see anyone other than these two teams meet up again in the championship game. 


March 12-16
Garland, TX

Top Seeds: 

Sleeper: Grambling St (just kidding)

Tournament Format: 7 teams, top seed gets bye

Recent History: The last time the SWAC Champion was seeded higher than 16 was 1999.

Preview: The SWAC was decimated by ineligibility this season with 3 teams unable to take part in the conference tournament. Two of those three finished at the top of the standings with Texas Southern finishing with a league-best 16-2 conference record and Arkansas-Pine Bluff just a game behind them. However, due to their ineligibility, Southern (15-3 in SWAC) gets the #1 seed in the tournament and is the only team in the conference tournament with a winning record. Grambling State is one loss away from history after posting an 0-27 regular season.


March 12, 14-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds:
 Louisiana Tech, Denver

Sleeper: New Mexico St

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: New Mexico St and Utah St have split the last 4 titles. One of the two have appeared in the last 7 WAC Championship games.

Preview: Last week, Louisiana Tech looked like they were in position to secure an at-large bid if they failed to win the WAC Tournament, but back-to-back losses to New Mexico St and Denver turned a 16-0 conference record into a 16-2 mark, leaving the Bulldogs tied with Denver for the regular season title. New Mexico St always seems to perform well in the WAC Tournament, but watch out for Denver. The Pioneers carry a 10-game winning streak into the WAC Tournament and have the best defense in the conference, giving up just 55.2 points per game. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bracketology Update: The Bubble Grows Clearer

Heading into the last weekend of the regular season, the bracket is starting to take shape. Teams in the middle are still inexplicably dropping games to bad teams, but those losses aren't enough to knock them out of contention.

At this point in the season, it's safe to say that 30 teams are in the field for sure. The results of this past week have somewhat separated the top 8 from the next 4 in the top 12, which makes seeding distributions a bit easier.

On the #1 line I have Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Indiana. Duke is the #1 overall seed with more Top 50 wins (8) than anyone but Kansas and more Top 100 wins (13) than anyone but New Mexico. Unlike Kansas, Duke has no losses outside the Top 100.  Just below them are Michigan, New Mexico, Louisville, and Michigan State. Any of those four could wind up on the top line on Selection Sunday.

By seed line, here are the teams that are in for sure at this point (though the seed lines are subject to change):

1 seeds: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana
2 seeds: Michigan, New Mexico, Louisville, Michigan State
3 seeds: Georgetown, Marquette, Florida, Miami (FL)
4 seeds: UNLV, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas State
5 seeds: Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, St Louis
6 seeds: VCU, Pitt, Butler, Notre Dame
7 seeds: San Diego State, Colorado, Minnesota, UCLA
8 seeds: Illinois, Missouri

The next group of teams are those that "should be in." This group is made up of 12 teams that likely will be in the tournament, barring any kind of epic collapse. All of these teams have flaws somewhere on their resume, but they have a good enough body of work to overcome those flaws. These teams are much more fluid on their seed lines and tend to move around a lot more as one bad loss or one good win could send them to the top or bottom of the heap.

8 seeds: Colorado State, Cincinnati
9 seeds: Oregon, NC State, Memphis, Creighton
10 seeds: California, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Temple
11 seeds: Villanova, Wichita State

Villanova was squarely on the bubble last week and could fall back there with a bad loss, but their win over Georgetown gives them 3 wins over Top 15 teams (Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown). Not many teams at this point in the season can claim that, which is good enough to get the Wildcats into the field, despite their bad losses. Wichita State has 3 bad losses, but with Evansville creeping into the Top 100, on paper the Shockers only have 1 sub-100 loss. Evansville lost tonight in the MVC Tournament, so the Aces might drop below that magic 100 line, but the Shockers overall resume (including a 3-1 record against the Top 50) is good enough to have them in the field. A trip to the MVC title game and a rematch with Creighton should alleviate any concerns on Selection Sunday.

And now we come to the bubble. No team on the bubble is perfect, but as this analysis stands there are 6 spots remaining in the field. There are 13 or 14 teams that could be considered serious contenders right now for the bubble, though that could change if a team makes a deep run in their conference tournament - Alabama, Boise St, BYU, Iowa St, Kentucky, La Salle, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, St Mary's, Stanford, Tennessee, UMass, and Virginia.  Three of these teams have no wins over the Top 50. Now, despite what Joe Lunardi might be saying (he has two of these teams in his "First Four Out"), it's really hard to make a case for Alabama, Southern Miss, or BYU to be in the Tournament. The Tide have an impressive 7 wins against the Top 100, but their best win is over #52 Villanova and they have 4 losses outside the Top 100, including one to #234 Auburn. Southern Miss has a great RPI (38) but their best win is over #64 Denver. Their only other Top 100 wins were a sweep of #95 East Carolina. What's staggering is that Lunardi has Southern Miss ahead of Kentucky (more on them later) when Kentucky has 3 wins that are better than Southern Miss's best win and a worst loss (#122 Georgia) not nearly as bad as Southern Miss's worst loss (#198 Marshall).

With 10 teams remaining for 6 spots, we can start moving teams into the field. St. Mary's has the best RPI (33) of the group, and has the second-best winning percentage against the Top 100. The Gaels 6-3 mark against the Top 100 is bested only by Virginia's 7-3 record. The Gaels two worst losses (their only two outside the Top 100) were on a neutral floor to Pacific and Georgia Tech (both ranked between 115 and 120) in November. Their only losses in conference play were to Gonzaga, and this should be enough to get them in the field, provided they reach the WCC Championship Game.

Despite their loss at UNLV this week, I think Boise State is still on the right side of the bubble. They have an RPI in the 40s, 3 Top 50 wins and a .500 record against the Top 100 (7-7) with only one of those losses coming outside the Top 50. They have two losses outside the Top 100, but their wins over UNLV and Colorado State (both in the Top 15 of the RPI) are good enough to cancel those out. Similarly, Tennessee's wins over Florida (RPI 6) and Wichita State (RPI 36) should be good enough to cancel out their sweep at the hands of Georgia (RPI 122). The Vols have 8 wins over the Top 100, which is tied for the most of any team remaining in the analysis.

Putting Boise and Tennessee in the field leaves us with 7 teams fighting over the last 3 spots. Of these teams, Iowa State scored a big win this week over Oklahoma State (RPI 23) which made for their 3rd Top 50 win. The Cyclones also have 6 Top 100 wins and just 2 losses outside the Top 100. Of the remaining teams, only UMass and Virginia have more Top 100 wins, but UMass has only 1 Top 50 win and Virginia has 7 losses outside the Top 100. Additionally, while La Salle only has 2 wins over the Top 50, they are the only team other than Virginia that does not have a losing mark against the Top 50. La Salle tops Virignia in both computer numbers and in bad losses, where La Salle has only lost once outside of the Top 85 while Virginia has 8 losses to teams with RPIs over 85.

Of the 5 remaining teams, Kentucky and Stanford have the least amount of bad losses. Kentucky only has 1 outside the Top 100 and Stanford has none. UMass and Ole Miss have 2 each with UMass's coming to teams ranked in the 100s and Ole Miss's coming to teams ranked in the 200s. Virginia (who has the most bizzarre at-large profile of all time) has seven. Strangely enough, against top competition, Virginia has fared the best with a 4-2 record against the Top 50. Stanford has 3 Top 50 wins but 10 losses and their wins were over teams barely in the Top 50 (#49 California and #50 Oregon). Despite having no bad losses, Stanford simply doesn't have the strength of victories to move them to the top of the heap.

Head-to-head, Kentucky and Ole Miss have very similar profiles. Kentucky has better strength of schedule numbers, more Top 100 wins and less bad losses. Additionally, Ole Miss's two worst losses are significantly worse than Kentucky's worst loss. The Wildcats also beat the Rebels in their only head-to-head meeting. Kentucky has the slight advantage over Ole Miss here, so we can eliminate the Rebels.

UMass has an impressive 8 wins against the Top 100, but only one of those came against the Top 50. In addition, their sole Top 50 win is not as good as Kentucky's Top 50 win. Kentucky has a better record outside the Top 100 and played a slightly more difficult out-of-conference schedule.  However, the biggest difference here is that Kentucky has two wins (#56 Tennessee and #57 Ole Miss) that are better than UMass's second-best win (#67 Ohio). Kentucky retains the advantage here as well.


Finally we come to the most difficult side-by-side comparison of all. Kentucky's very bland resume against Virginia's utterly bizzarre resume. Both record categories are essentially a push. Kentucky has a better RPI and significantly better strength of schedule numbers. Virginia has much better wins and Kentucky. The Cavaliers are 4-2 against the Top 50 with wins over Duke, North Carolina and NC State. All three of those are better than Kentucky's best win. However, Virginia has been downright awful against teams with RPIs in the 100s. While Virginia has 3 wins that are better than Kentucky's best win, they also have 6 losses that are worse than Kentucky's loss at Georgia. All things told, I have to give the ever-so-slight edge to Kentucky. Despite Virginia's quality wins, Kentucky has been better in road and neutral games, particularly in conference play where they are 4-5 on the road while Virginia is 2-7. Kentucky played a much more difficult non-conference schedule and didn't even play (let alone lose) any games against the bottom 50 in the nation while Virginia played 4 and lost one.

(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 Conference Tournament Preview Part 1

Conference tournament play begins this week and teams will begin their quest to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Of the leagues that start tournament play, only a few have teams with a chance of an At-Large bid if they fail to win their conference tournament. This means it is do or die time fore pretty much every team. There's nothing more exciting than two desperate teams playing with their season on the line.

America East

March 8-10, 16
Albany, NY

Top Seeds: Stony Brook, Vermont

Sleeper: Albany

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The America East Tournament has been won by the #2 seed each of the last 3 years.

Preview: Stony Brook won the league by 3 games over Vermont and Boston (who is ineligible for postseason play). This is the third time in the last four seasons that Stony Brook has won the America East regular season title, but the program has never reached the NCAA Tournament since moving up to Division 1 in 1999. The Sea Wolves had the best offense and best defense in the America East and are riding a league-best 6-game winning streak into the tournament. Stony Brook's only losses were on the road to Vermont and Hartford and all signs point to them returning to the America East title game for the third straight year.

Atlantic Sun

March 6-9
Macon, GA

Top Seeds: Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast

Sleeper: Stetson

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The #1 seed has won the tournament 3 of the last 5 years. The last 7 tournaments have either been won by Belmont (now in the Ohio Valley Conference) or East Tennessee St. Aside from ETSU's wins in 2009 & 2010, no current member of the conference has won the A-Sun Tournament since 1985.

Preview: The Atlantic Sun scored some early-season victories over major conference opponents this season. Regular Season Champion Mercer beat both Florida State and Alabama while Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami. Mercer had the best defense in the conference, holding teams to just 57.4 points per game while Florida Gulf Coast had the best offense, averaging 72.7 points per game. South Carolina Upstate boasts the leading scorer and second leading rebounder in the conference, but was 0-6 against the top 3 teams in the league. Stetson is my sleeper pick because their nickname is the Hatters and their logo is a hat and that's awesome.

Big South

March 5, 7, 9, 10
Conway, SC

Top Seeds: Charleston Southern, High Point

Sleeper: Gardner-Webb

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 2 in each division receive byes, teams matched up across divisions

Recent History: The Big South Champion has received a #16-seed each of the last 4 years. UNC-Asheville is the two-time defending champion.

Preview: The Big South is headed for another 16-seed this season as it had one of the worst non-conference performances of any league in the nation. Every team in the conference had a losing record in non-conference play except for Gardner-Webb who went 6-6. Conference play was dominated by the South Division, which ended the season with 4 teams with winning records in conference play where the North Division only had one. Gardner-Webb is the hottest team in the conference, riding a 7-game winning streak into the tournament and has two overtime victories over regular season champion Charleston Southern. VMI is once again the highest-scoring team in the conference and 11th in the nation at 78.2 points per game, but the Keydets have the second-worst defense in the league. VMI forward Stan Okoye is 9th in the nation in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game.


March 9-11
Richmond, VA

Top Seeds: Northeastern, Delaware

Sleeper: George Mason

Tournament Format: 7 teams, top seed gets 1st round bye

Recent History: The CAA tournament has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years.

Preview: This year's CAA Tournament has lost some of its luster from previous seasons. With the departure of VCU and four of the remaining 11 schools being ineligible for postseason play, only 7 schools will compete in the conference tournament. Northeastern was the regular season champ after reeling off a 13-1 start in conference play, but the Huskies went just 2-3 in their last 5 games. Delaware is the hottest team in the league, going 7-1 down the stretch. The Blue Hens also boast the league's leading scorer in guard Devon Saddler (20.2 PPG, 15th in nation) and second-leading rebounder in forward Jamelle Hagins (10.5 RPG, 9th in nation).


March 5, 8, 9, 12
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Valparaiso, Detroit

Sleeper: Illinois-Chicago

Tournament Format: 9 teams, double-bye for top 2 seeds, bye for #3 seed

Recent History: The tournament has been won by a team not receiving the double-bye twice in the last 4 years.

Preview: Wright St led the league for much of the season but lost 3 of their final 5 games and faded to 3rd in the conference. Detroit won the tournament last year behind the scoring prowess of Ray McCallum. McCallum is 22nd in the nation in scoring this season, averaging 19.2 per game while dishing out 4.7 assists per game and leading Detroit's offense to 78.9 PPG, 5th highest in the nation. Valpo has the best defense in the league, giving up just 62.3 points per game. Detroit and Valpo both enter the Horizon Tournament in the RPI Top 70 but neither has the resume to be an At-Large team.


No Tournament

Preview: Harvard and Princeton have been battling for the top spot in the league over the last three seasons. in 2011 the two teams finished the regular season tied for first and played in a one-game playoff to decide who earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Princeton edged Harvard on a last-second shot. In 2012 Harvard clung to a one-game lead over the final weekend to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Last weekend, Harvard had an opportunity to clinch the 2013 league title with a sweep of Princeton and Penn, but the Crimson lost both games and fell a game behind Princeton in the standings. If the Tigers win out this week, they will return to the NCAA Tournament.


March 7-11
Springfield, MA

Top Seeds: Niagara, Rider

Sleeper: Iona

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: Loyola (MD) is the defending champion. The #1 seed has not won the MAAC Tournament since 2010.

Preview: Iona received an At-Large bid last season after being knocked off early in the MAAC Tournament. There will be no such At-Large this year for the MAAC, but Iona remains a dangerous team led by Lamont Jones whose 23.2 points per game is 3rd in the nation. Iona has the 3rd highest scoring offense in the nation but the worst defense in the league, which was the primary cause of the Gaels dropping 6 games between January 31 and February 28. Iona lost those 6 games by a total of 11 points, and remains a dangerous team if they can find a way to stop anyone on defense. Niagara was the regular season champion and boasts a balanced lineup with 3 players averaging in double figures (two of them averaging over 17 PPG). Rider is the hottest team in the league, winning their last 5 games to propel them into the #2 seed in the tournament.

Missouri Valley

March 7-10
St Louis, MO

Top Seeds: Creighton, Wichita St

Sleeper: Anyone

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: Arch Madness has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years. The MVC Champion has received a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament in 3 of the last 5 years.

Preview: The Missouri Valley Tournament, commonly known as Arch Madness, has been just that in recent years. This season promises to be more of the same. Creighton and Wichita State have been the top two teams in the conference all year, but it is entirely possible that someone else steals the show. Every team in the conference except Bradley has scored a win over Creighton or Wichita St this season. Creighton is led by Doug McDermott, the second-leading scorer in the nation (23.4 PPG).


March 6, 9, 12
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Robert Morris, Wagner

Sleeper: Bryant

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: Robert Morris has played in the championship game each of the last 4 years. The NEC Champion has not been seeded higher than 15th in the NCAA Tournament in the last 5 years.

Preview: Bryant dominated the conference in the first half of conference play to the tune of a 9-2 start, but fell apart down the stretch, going just 3-4 and falling to 4th in the bracket. Bryant will meet Mt St Mary's in the first round whose season was the polar opposite: starting 4-7 in conference play then winning their last 7 games entering the tournament. The NEC Tournament is not held at a neutral site, which is a huge advantage for top-seeded Robert Morris who has not lost a home game since January 5.

Ohio Valley

March 6-9
Nashville, TN

Top Seeds: Belmont, Murray St

Sleeper: Morehead St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, top 2 get double-byes, 3 & 4 get byes

Recent History: Murray St and Morehead St have alternated titles each of the last 4 years. The OVC Champion has been seeded 13th or higher in each of the last 3 NCAA Tournaments and have won their first round games each of the last 3 years.

Preview: Belmont joined the OVC this year and ran through the tough East division, winning it by 2 games over Eastern Kentucky. The Ohio Valley is stacked with teams that can score - 6 of the 8 teams average over 70 points pre game, led by Belmont's 77.2 (16th in the nation). Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan is 8th in the nation in scoring with 21.6 PPG while Racers big man Ed Daniel is 13th in the nation in rebounding with 10.2 RPG. However, unlike last year when the Racers ran through the OVC, they have been plagued by poor free-throw shooting just 69% as a team. Belmont is a team of sharpshooters led by Ian Clark (46.2% 3P%) and Trevor Noack (45.7% 3P%). If the Bruins fail to win the OVC tournament, they do have a chance at an At-Large bid.

Patriot League

March 6, 9, 13
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Bucknell, Lafayette

Sleeper: Lehigh

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The top seed has won the Patriot League Tournament in 4 of the last 5 years.

Preview: Defending champion Lehigh took a huge hit when leading scorer CJ McCollum was lost for the season, but the Mountain Hawks battled through conference play to a 3rd place finish and remain a dangerous team that has won their last 3 games at Bucknell (including the Tournament Championship last year). Bucknell was clearly the best team in the league this year, led by senior center Mike Muscala who averages 19.1 PPG (25th in the nation) and 11 RPG (4th in the nation). Lafayette swept Lehigh this season, beat Bucknell, and carries a 5-game winning streak into the conference tournament.


March 8-11
Asheville, NC

Top Seeds: Davidson, Elon

Sleeper: Charleston

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The SoCon Tournament has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years.

Preview: Davidson is the defending champions and returned most of their team that went to the Big Dance last year. The Wildcats stormed through league play with a 17-1 record, their only loss coming on the road to Georgia Southern. Davidson is a deep team with 8 players averaging over 19 minutes per game. Only Davidson, Elon and Charleston enter the tournament with winning records overall. Elon is a scrappy team with 3 players averaging over 11 points per game. It's hard to bet against Davidson as they are a senior-led team with NCAA Tournament experience and haven't lost since mid-January.


March 9-12
Sioux Falls, SD

Top Seeds: South Dakota St, Western Illinois

Sleeper: North Dakota St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The Summit League has been won by one of the top two seeds each of the last five years. The Summit Champion has received a 13 or 14 seed every year during that span.

Preview: The top two teams in the Summit League are a remarkable contrast of styles. South Dakota St, the defending tournament champions, lead the league in scoring (74.2 PPG) behind Nate Wolters (4th highest scorer in the nation at 22.8 PPG). On the other hand, Western Illinois wins with stifling defense, allowing only 52.6 points per game and posted a 13-3 conference record despite having the worst offense in the league. Third-seeded North Dakota State is actually the highest-ranked team in KenPom's efficiency ratings and fourth-seeded Oakland boasts the 5th-leading scorer in the nation, Travis Bader (22 PPG). The Summit League was a 3-team race for most of the season with SDSU and Western Illinois finishing tied atop the league standings and North Dakota State just a game behind. It would be a shock to see someone outside of the top 3 win this tournament.

Sun Belt

March 8-11
Hot Springs, AR

Top Seeds: Middle Tennessee, Arkansas St, South Alabama

Sleeper: Western Kentucky

Tournament Format: 11 teams, 3 play-in games

Recent History: The Sun Belt has been upset central the last two years with the tournament champion coming out of the play-in games both times. The #1 seed has only won the tournament once in the last 5 years.

Preview: Middle Tennessee dominated league play all season to the tune of a 19-1 conference record. The Blue Raiders have won 16 straight games entering the tournament and have not lost since January 3. However, their overall resume might not be good enough to get them in the tournament if they fail to win the Sun Belt title. Middle Tennessee has the best offense (71.4 PPG) and best defense (57.4 PAPG) but if the Sun Belt has taught us anything, it's that upsets can come from anywhere. Western Kentucky is the defending champion and has won more Sun Belt titles than any team in the 36-year history of the league (8, all since 1993). Middle Tennessee has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1989.

West Coast

March 6-11
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: Gonzaga, St Mary's

Sleeper: Santa Clara

Tournament Format: 9 teams, 8-9 play-in game, 3 & 4 seeds get bye to quarterfinals, 1 & 2 seeds get bye to semi-finals

Recent History: Gonzaga and St Mary's have dominated the tournament, winning 12 of the last 14 tournaments. San Diego in 2003 and 2008 was the only other team to win the title, beating Gonzaga both times. Gonzaga and St Mary's have played in the last 4 championship games.

Preview: Gonzaga has been one of the best teams in the nation this season, posting a perfect 16-0 record in conference play and 29-2 mark overall. The Zags are riding a 12-game winning streak and have the best offense (78.4 PPG) and best defense (60.1 PPG) in the WCC. St Mary's has beaten everyone not named Gonzaga in conference play and is fighting on the bubble-for an At-Large bid. The Gaels get a bye to the semi-finals and need just one win to put them in the championship game.