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When Holidays Collide …

March 17, 2019

Dusting off the ol’ blog to continue what has become a yearly tradition. Not only is Selection Sunday upon us – College Basketball’s Christmas Eve, a prelude to “12 Days of Basketball Christmas” a.k.a. March (and April) Madness where at 6:00pm EST on CBS, the field, seeding, and opening matchups for the 2019 NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will be revealed – but it is also St. Patrick’s Day, where many become “Irish For a Day” and celebrate to excess.

Which leaves me with the question of whether I fire up the tamales as we usually do on Christmas Eves of yore, or do I go with my family’s St. Paddy’s tradition of boiled corned beef and cabbage dinner?  Seeing as I already bought a loaf of rye bread, a sixer of Guinness and too much cabbage, I think the tamales will stay in the freezer.  But I digress.

Although this is merely my annual educated guess at the 68 teams in the field, and specifically the 36at-large invites (I leave predictions of seeding and locations to those with the time or the compensation to do so), I’ll say here and now that there should not be three (3) teams from one conference on the #1 seed-line, as many seem to project with Duke, Virginia and North Carolina from the ACC. Were it up to me, Duke (East & #1 Overall Seed), and Virginia (South) would get #1s, as well as Gonzaga (West; their hiccup against a solid St. Mary’s team doesn’t alter my impression of them), and Big 10 Champion Michigan State would grab that last #1 seed (Midwest). At some point, a team has to win either their conference’s regular season or tournament title, and North Carolina, as good as I think they are, won neither.

Last year I had a relatively dismal 64/68 teams correct, whiffing on Arizona State, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Texas, and briefly contemplated giving my dog Mona Lisa a shot this year.  She doesn’t like basketball though, barking at the TV if the ref blows his whistle too loud or if I get too animated cursing out the refs for blowing their whistle in the first place.

The introduction of the official NCAA NET Rankings  (which has replaced the old RPI system) creates even more intrigue and doubt about my own evaluations. Seeing how the NCAA Selection Committee utilizes those rankings, and what they prioritize in making both their selections and seedings, among factors like Quadrant 1 record, overall road record, or non-conference strength of schedule, will be illuminating for next year’s process. Unlike last year’s bubble which was large compared to the prior year, this year’s bubble got smaller by the day during championship week.

Here’s what we know, what I know, what I think I know, what I think I think I know, and my informed conjecture about whose hearts will be glowing with tournament games are near (check once again in the mail to Andy Williams’ estate) and who receives an orange in their stocking from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee. We know that all 32 automatic bids have been decided, as determined by conference tournaments, with nine (9) of which repeating from last season (marked below with a *) while only 13 of the 32 Conference Tournament No. 1 seeds (indicative of the regular season champion or leader) won their conference tournament (marked with a ^):

American Athletic – Cincinnati*
America East – Vermont^
ACC – Duke
Atlantic Sun – Liberty
Atlantic-10 – Saint Louis
Big 12 – Iowa State
Big East – Villanova*^
Big Sky – Montana*^
Big South – Gardner-Webb
Big Ten – Michigan State^
Big West – UC-Irvine^
Colonial – Northeastern
Conference USA – Old Dominion^
Horizon – Northern Kentucky
Ivy – Yale
Metro Atlantic – Iona*^
Mid-American – Buffalo*^
Mid-Eastern – North Carolina Central*
Missouri Valley – Bradley
Mountain West – Utah State
Northeast – Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley – Murray State*
Pac-12 – Oregon
Patriot – Colgate^
SEC – Auburn
Southern – Wofford^
Southland – Abilene Christian
Southwestern Athletic – Prairie View A&M^
Summit League – North Dakota State
Sun Belt – Georgia State*^
West Coast – St. Mary’s
WAC – New Mexico State*^

Simple math leaves 36 at-large bids to be decided.  As usual I also checked out several other metrics besides the NCAA’s, including Ken Pomeroy’s data, CBS Sports’ “Nitty Gritty Report”, The Bracket Matrix and a myriad of amateur and professional bracketology sites, as well as ESPN’s and CBS’s handy “Bubble Watch” running features, in addition to watching hours of college basketball this season. Here are the teams that should be “Locks“, listed by conference (number of teams in parentheses):

American Athletic (2): Houston, Central Florida
ACC (6) – Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Syracuse
Atlantic-10 (1) – Virginia Commonwealth
Big 12 (4) – Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Baylor

Big East (2) – Marquette, Seton Hall

Big Ten (6) – Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota

Mountain West (1) – Nevada
Pac-12 (1) – Washington

SEC (5) – Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss

West Coast (1) – Gonzaga

 

That’s a grand total of 29 teams that should be safe, which would leave seven (7) at-large spots. Here’s who I think are the “Bubble” teams competing for these spots, again listed by conference:

American Athletic (2): Temple, Memphis

ACC (2) – Clemson, North Carolina State

Atlantic Sun (1) – Lipscomb

Big 12 (2) – Oklahoma, TCU

Big East (1) – St. John’s

Big Ten (1) – Ohio State

Ohio Valley (1) – Belmont

Pac-12 (1) – Arizona State

SEC (1) – Florida

Southern (2) – UNC Greensboro, Furman

That’s only 14 teams competing for the last seven (7) spots, including several hopefuls from what are normally considered one-bid conferences, and much less than sites like ESPN are considering. Flipping coins and drawing lots out of a hat, what follows is my best guess as to the The Mediocre Seven, in order from safest to least safe:

Florida

North Carolina State

Clemson

Oklahoma

Ohio State

Temple

Belmont

My “First Four Out”, or the top teams not selected, would be Arizona State, St. John’s, Furman, and TCU. Recent history aside (I’m looking at you Arizona State, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Texas from last year), I refuse to believe that Indiana, Texas, Alabama, Creighton and Georgetown, all teams  under .500 in conference play and with double-digit losses overall, should actually be on the bubble (As I said last year, why have conferences if losing the majority of conference games isn’t an impediment to an NCAA Tournament invite?).

The exceptions I am making here are Clemson and Oklahoma, who have Top 40 NET and KenPom rankings, and Ohio State, for reasons I don’t fully understand myself other than everyone else seems to have them in, and they have fewer bad losses, a higher overall strength of schedule and KenPom ranking than all the other remaining bubble teams. As always, I’m a Champion for the “little guy”, although we learned last season that the NCAA Selection Committee is not, and thus I have Furman, Lipscomb and UNC Greensboro out, and Belmont as the last one in the door.

Mere minutes away, the NCAA Selection Show beckons with what’s sure to be some head-scratchers, poor decisions, enigmas and further questions. As always, Happy March Madness Eve!

From → Basketball, Sports

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