Thursday, February 28, 2013

NCAA Basketball: Preview of February 28th Action

Alot of teams took care of themselves last night - removing themselves from the NCAA Tournament convo that is.  And that will continue here over the last 1-2 weeks to close the season.  But let's take a quick look at tonights key action:

UNC @ Clemson : Tar Heels are sporting a Top 20 RPI so appear solid in the field, but another road win cannot hurt, and would potentially improve their seeding.  First meeting between teams this year, UNC has not won @ Clemson by more than 2pts since 2007 (gone 2-1 during that time period with both wins coming by 2pts) - they are laying 3 here.  Heels come off emotional win over in-state rival NC State, and Clemson has played well at home in conference play only losing by 1 to NC State and 2 to Miami.  Should be a tight game, grabbing the hook to +3.5 and backing the Tigers may be the call.

Ohio State @ Northwestern : the Buckeyes are the exact type of team we could easily wind up facing in our opening game of the tourney if we do earn a bid.  OSU won first meeting between teams just two weeks ago in Columbus by 10, crushing the Cats on the glass 37-16.  OSU has won 7 straight in the series, but NW has covered 4 of 5, 6 of 8 & 7 of L10 meetings.  Buckeyes have not covered in Evanston since 2008.  State comes into this game off b2b2b emotional games vs. other top flight B10 teams, and has Indiana on deck this weekend.  Cats do have some injuries but none are really that new.  Seems like too many points here for a team that is coming off emotional wins, faces IU next up, won first meeting by 10 just two weeks ago at home, and typically doesnt cover vs NW esp on road.

Detroit @ Temple : this is a big game for both teams, kinda sneaking up on us because its an OOC game being played last day of February.  Temple enters this one winning 3 straight since dropping a home game to Duquesne somehow - Owls are 6-2 L8 SU with both losses coming by 1pt.  Detroit took part in Bracket Busters weekend and lost by 15 @ Wichita State.  They along with Valparaiso are dominating the Horizon League this season, and it looks like neither would likely earn an at-large bid - but if Detroit has any chance a win here is 100% needed following loss to WSU.  Its just hard to know which Temple team shows up in this rare OOC game this late in the season - so I would reluctantly back TU here if forced to make a choice.

Utah State @ Louisiana Tech : PSU was the last winless team and they got off the scheid last night beating Michigan at home.  LATech remains one of 4 unbeaten teams in conference play (although Memphis just lost to Xavier Tuesday it was OOC) and is laying a TD here over the preseason favorite Aggies of Utah State.  Injuries have derailed State's season, but they have turned it around some recently going 5-2 in their last 7, with both losses coming by a combined 5pts - no coincidence because they have not suffered any "new" injuries since about mid January.  They could be fixing to make a run at the WAC Conference Tourney, and the auto-bid - and there would be no better place to start than beating the current leader on its homecourt.  Tech won first game by 3 in Utah but were badly outrebounded 48-29.  Tech hasnt played since 2/20, and that was not a D1 game - their last "real" game came on 2/16, so 12 days of rust could be prevalent.  Based on all those things I believe Utah State will keep this game well within the 7pts, potentially picking up the SU win away from home.

Duke @ Virginia : talk about a huge one in the ACC, the Cavaliers badly need this win for their resume, mostly because it will boost an RPI that is currently around the upper 60s massively, potentially within range for typical at-large teams.  UVA passes the eye test for certain, but their early season struggles are crushing their chances as of right now - multiple sub 100 losses in Nov/Dec. This is first meeting between teams this year; Duke has won 8 straight dating back to a loss in Charlottesville on 2/1/07.  The games in Virginia have not been close as the last 3 contests have gone to Duke by margins of 15, 18, 16.  The Blue Devils have not faired well ATS wise on road during conference play, while UVA is exactly the opposite.  No injuries of note, the statistics favor the Cavs big time, especially defensively, and the Cavs need this game more so I am backing UVA to beat Duke tonight SU, really enhancing their resume.

Utah @ California : call me crazy but this seems like a spot where the Bears could slip up.  The statistics are extremely close besides the L5 games splits, Cal won narrowly at Utah earlier this season and has a habit of playing alot of close games.  With this # set in the double digits the Utes look attractive to me - but I still need to do more work on it if that would be a selection released to clients.

Missouri @ South Carolina : Mizzou has almost locked up their berth but not quite yet.  The Tigers won the first meeting between these teams at home, but SCAR made more shots and rebounding was even.  Mizzou is coming off games vs. the two biggest name SEC opponents in Florida and Kentucky, so who knows what will be in the tank, especially in a stadium that will likely be dead quiet with not alot of emotion.  SCAR has not been a good team all year, but some of the stats do favor them here.  I definitely worry about the up and down emotional level Mizzou routinely displays, and could easily see this game come down to the wire, and considering this too is just about a double digit road favorite, seems like the Gamecocks are a decent option tonight.

Oregon State @ Oregon : the Civil War hoops style.  I think Oregon is better positioned than some think, but a loss here certainly wouldnt help things.  The Ducks have been terrible to the # during conference play, and I am not sure that changes here with them laying double digits.  But I am probably laying off this one.

Gonzaga @ BYU : another undefeated conference team, this one is heading on the road to play in one of the tougher environments in college basketball.  With the Zags riding this huge winning streak eventually they have to play a subpar game you would think - and I think tonight is the night.  I am not sure the Cougars win this one SU although its certainly possible as they know they need it for any chance at earning an at-large, but I fully expect them to cover the 6 here in what should be a highly entertaining game late night on ESPN.

Enjoy the games everyone, check back over the final days of the regular season as we continue previewing action, and updating our Bracketology information.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

2013 NCAA Tournament – Field of 68 thru February 26th

Here is my second article where I actually project the FIELD OF 68 using my weekly report of each conference that gets posted here.  As the days turn into weeks, the ability to accurately project the field becomes increasingly easier as many teams play themselves right out of the discussion – which we have seen a lot recently.  So, without any further delay, here is how I see the current field shaping up:
Stony Brook
St. Louis [replaces Butler from last version]
Miami, Fla
Florida Gulf Coast
Charleston Southern [replaces UNC-Asheville from last version]
Long Beach State
Savannah State [replaces North Carolina Central from last version]
New Mexico
Stephen F. Austin
South Dakota State
Middle Tennessee State
Louisiana Tech

NEAR LOCKS FOR AT-LARGE BIDS (22) – some are a LOCK to be dancing, and the remaining are close to LOCK status – but its 2/27, meaning there are still 1.5 weeks of regular season action, so teams need to continue winning games – no reason to think they will not hence why they show up in this category.  Number in brackets is change from last version published on 2/11, and also as far as seeding goes – teams are listed within their conference in the order we envision their seeds to be (meaning we currently project Butler to have a higher seed than VCU, etc…).
A10: Butler, VCU [+1]
ACC: Duke, North Carolina, NC State [+1]
B12: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma [+1]
BE: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh [-1]
B10: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota [+1]
MVC: Wichita State [-]
MWC: UNLV, Colorado State [-]
SEC: Missouri [-1]

BUBBLE TEAMS THAT RIGHT NOW ARE IN THE FIELD (15) – most of these teams will wind up in the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday, but none of them have signed, sealed & delivered their spot as of yet.  As the days & weeks continue to pass expect many of these teams to move up to the next category as they continue bolstering their resumes; while others will fall off & miss the dance.
A10: Temple, LaSalle
B12: Iowa State
BE: Cincinnati, Villanova
B10: Illinois
CUSA: Southern Mississippi
MWC: San Diego State, Boise State
P12: UCLA, Oregon, California, Colorado
SEC: Kentucky
WCC: St. Mary’s

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN # OF TEAMS IN THE FIELD (only showing multiple bid conferences)
A10: 5
ACC: 4
B12: 5
BE: 8
B10: 7
MVC: 2
MWC: 5
P12: 5
SEC: 3
WCC: 2

LAST EIGHT IN THE FIELD – my last six bids were tough to decide on so that is why I chose six.  Shown in order below, the last team listed earned the final bid as of today
68. Southern Mississippi
67. Boise State
66. LaSalle
65. St. Mary’s
64. Kentucky
63. Colorado
62. California
61. Temple

FIRST EIGHT OUT OF THE FIELD – all teams are listed in order with #69 being the “next up” should a team above them falter.  #69-#72 is the “First Four Out” & #73-#76 is the “Next Four Out” in regards to many analyses you will read on other sites forecasting the tournament.
#    Team                      Record vs. Top 25/50/100 RPI            Road/Neutral                               Best RPI Win                                                                       BPI
69. Virginia [#69]              3-2/3-2/6-2                   3-7          21 NORTH CAROLINA                     #43
70. Tennessee [#52]       1-2/3-4/8-9                     5-7          FLORIDA                                          #55
71. Maryland [#67]          2-3/2-4/3-7                    3-6          1DUKE                                              #49
72. Baylor [#64]                 0-5/2-7/4-9                   5-7          29 OKLAHOMA STATE                   #46
73. Ole Miss [#58]            0-1/1-4/4-6                6-6           41 MISSOURI                                    #42
74. Indiana State [#59]   1-1/3-5/6-5                  6-9          2 MIAMI                                              #77
75. Alabama [#63]            0-0/1-3/7-5                 6-6          46 KENTUCKY                                     #66
76. Charlotte [#57]          0-1/2-5/6-7                  7-6          31 BUTLER                                           #95

As things currently stand I feel Virginia is the team “next up” to earn a bid if any of the above, namely Southern Mississippi first, should falter.  Even though at the moment these 8 teams are listed as the first ones missing the tournament we will see “bid stealing” situations where teams that were not going to receive an at-large bid win their conference’s postseason tournament, and force the regular season champion into the at-large field – this can happen at both the major and low to mid-major conference levels.  At the major conferences, for example, if Iowa was to win the Big Ten Tournament, they would steal a bid from the at-large pool since they are not under consideration – which would mean, as we currently see things, Southern Mississippi would be left out of the tournament if that was to happen.  We can also see that at the low to mid-major level, although there are fewer teams at that level who have a strong enough resume to earn an at-large should they falter in their conference’s postseason tournament.  But one example of this could be if Santa Clara was to win the WCC Tournament – the Broncos were not under consideration from an at-large perspective, and thus their win would push Gonzaga into the at-large pool, forcing a team out that would have previously earned a bid.  What it all means is the last four teams listed as currently “in”, #65-#68 above, could miss out on receiving a bid because it’s likely we will see somewhere in the range of 3-5 “bid stealers” once Championship Week begins.  All teams listed numerically really need to continue winning games and bolstering their resume for Selection Sunday!
It will be a lot of fun down the stretch as it always is – and hopefully your favorite team can either sneak in the field via the at-large route if they currently are not under consideration, or can hang on to their spot in the dance if they are currently on the proverbial “bubble”.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 NCAA Tournament – Projected Field as of February 25

Lots of critical games this past week, and quite a few teams have played them out of consideration, while others have taken a significant step towards inclusion.  This analysis includes action through Sunday February 24, and for this week’s version & moving forward we will include RPI ranks next to all teams in “Need Wins” or “Life Support” which can be used as a gauge.  Also please remember teams are listed in order of their chances at receiving a bid – meaning for example, my A10 order for seeds and chances of receiving bids is St. Louis, Butler, VCU, Temple, LaSalle, UMass, Charlotte.  Here is the latest breakdown:
America East: Stony Brook
Atlantic Ten: St. Louis (replaced last week’s projected conference winner Butler)
                Looking good: Butler, VCU
                Need wins: Temple [40], LaSalle [37]
                Life support: UMass [55], Charlotte [58]
Summary: this week St. Louis is now our projected A10 winner, replacing Butler following their win @ Butler over the weekend.  The winner of the A10 tourney remains a truly fluid situation with literally half a dozen teams that should be right in the mix to earn the auto-bid.  Temple took care of LaSalle last week further solidifying my thoughts that the Owls will be ahead of the Explorers on the selection committee’s cards – both still have a solid shot, but are clearly behind the group of three listed ahead of them & they need to close strong.  UMass & Charlotte will remain on “Life Support” for one more week although their chances are weakening almost by the day.  The A10 looks like a 4/5 bid conference.
ACC: Miami, Fla
                Looking good: Duke, North Carolina, NC State
Life support: Virginia [69], Maryland [66]
Summary: the Tar Heels have jumped up a level to “Looking Good” following wins over Virginia & NC State recently.  With an RPI in the low 20s & a favorable closing schedule they are well positioned to be dancing come Selection Sunday.  NC State continues its relative free fall but is still comfortably in the field, but could be a very favorable matchup for their opening round opponent.  Virginia & Maryland remain on “Life Support” with UVA having the edge over the Terps head to head as far as resumes go.  But with both still sporting RPI ratings in the high 60s there is still a lot of work to be done, and frankly, reaching the levels that are needed may be tough to accomplish in the ACC.  The Cavaliers certainly pass the eye test, but early season struggles may wind up being too much to overcome.  Maryland is barely hanging on following their loss @ BC last week.  The ACC looks like a 4/5 bid conference.
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast – sticking with FGC another week because of their upside shown in their win over Miami, Fla, along with sporting a 36 spot better RPI than current conference leader Mercer.
Big 12: Kansas
                Looking good: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
                Need wins: Iowa State [51]
                Life Support: Baylor [64]
                Summary: OU has moved up to the “Looking Good” line following a 2-0 week moving them to 18-8/9-5/#22, all strong numbers for inclusion in the dance.  The real issues in the B12 come down to Iowa State and Baylor – ISU has clearly separated from Baylor following their win in Waco last week which gave the Cyclones the season sweep over the Bears.  ISU has nothing worthy of mention from OOC play, so a 12-6 B12 finish should be their target – but that looks extremely difficult with their last four games shaping up as: KU, @OU, OKST, @WVU.  BU is in a lot of trouble having lost 3 straight and 6 of 8 – their best potential B12 record is 11-7, which is historically bubble territory – and considering in their last four are games vs. Kansas State & Kansas, they can get themselves back into the discussion with a 4-0 close to their regular season; seems very unlikely even taking into account both those games will be at home.  In summary, both ISU & BU have a tough road ahead, and at this point barring a run in their conference tourney it seems unlikely either will earn a bid when taking into consideration their closing schedules.  The B12 looks like a 4/5 bid conference.
Big East: Louisville
                Looking good: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
                Need Wins: Cincinnati [48], Villanova [52]
                Life Support: St. Johns [61]
                Summary: the biggest move this week in the Big East comes with Cincy’s fall from “Looking Good” to “Need Wins” as they continued their decline now losing 3 straight and 5 of 6.  Currently at 7-8 in conference play they must, at a minimum, close the regular season 2-1 for a 9-9 finish – going 2-1 with UConn, @ Louisville, USF is certainly not a lock.  Villanova on the other hand has done itself well over the last few weeks, seemingly improving by the game, as they now sit at 9-6 in conference play, have won 3 straight and 5 of 6 including a road win @ UConn and home win over Marquette.  If Villanova has not passed Cincy in the Big East order of consideration it’s very close for sure.  St John’s remains in “Life Support” for this week, but has hurt their chances going 2-4 over the last 3 weeks.  I figure STJ needs at least 2-1 to close their regular season @PC, @ND, Marquette – clearly no guarantee based on that schedule.  When it’s all said and done, barring any unforeseen developments in the BE Tournament, it looks like this conference will get 7/8 bids, with Cincinnati & Villanova both needing to close with a few wins to seal their spots.
Big Sky: Montana
Big South: Charleston Southern
Big Ten: Indiana
                Looking good: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State
                Need wins: Minnesota [17], Illinois [32]
                Summary: the undisputed best conference in the land this season didn’t have much movement last week outside sliding Michigan over Michigan State based on the Spartans loss to Ohio State yesterday.  Speaking of Ohio State that was a big, much needed win for the Buckeyes as they were just 2-3 in their last 5.  Minnesota has struggled for most of calendar year 2013, but with an RPI #17 there is no chance they are left out of the tourney AS LONG AS they reach 9-9 in conference play.  That means a 3-1 finish which is in play but no guarantee; they open vs. Indiana, and then have 3 games versus teams lower in the current standings.  It’s the same story for the Illini; they must close 2-1 but have a tougher slate: NEB, @ Iowa, @ Ohio State – no guarantees there.  The Big Ten Tournament could play a vital role for those two teams as they will likely open versus a bottom feeder, and may need that next game versus one of the top 5 teams currently listed to lock into a bid – anything else would clearly leave them on the bubble with a 9-9 record.  The B10 looks like a 6/7 bid conference.
Big West: Long Beach State
Colonial: Northeastern
Conference USA: Memphis
                Need Wins: Southern Mississippi [36]
                Summary: Memphis further solidified themselves as the best team in CUSA & a likely “seeded” team following their second double digit win over 2nd place Southern Miss.  Speaking of the Golden Eagles, they have performed as expected in almost every game this season, seemingly losing to teams better than them, but not losing any games they should not have.  But when it comes down to searching their season for signature wins, or even wins over projected tournament teams, one has to look hard because there isn’t even one!  That will likely come back to bite them barring a win over Memphis in the CUSA Championship Game, which would obviously earn them the automatic bid anyway.
Horizon: Valparaiso (replaced last week’s projected conference winner Detroit) – I have flip flopped Valpo & Detroit for the 2nd consecutive week based on Bracket Busters performance; those games didn’t have any impact on the Horizon League, but I feel Valpo is the better team at this point.
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Canisius
MAC: Akron
                If AKRON does not win their conference tournament they would still BE ALIVE ON LIFE SUPPORT to receive a bid, thus adding themselves to the pool of at-large teams.
MEAC: Savannah State (replaced last week’s projected conference winner North Carolina Central)
Missouri Valley: Creighton
                Looking good: Wichita State
                Summary: Indiana State has been removed from consideration based on the fact they have lost 7 games in the MVC – that will not cut it, even with some nice OOC wins.  It appears likely but not a lock both Creighton & Wichita State earn bids, however, the Blue Jays lost a big opportunity to almost lock into an at-large selection following their loss to St. Mary’s Saturday in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.  Each team has two conference games remaining, but the last is versus each other – so long as they both win that “other” game, and advance to the MVC Final, I feel both will receive a bid.  If they both do not advance I feel Wichita State has the more solid resume to earn an at-large if they were to get knocked off early.
Mountain West: New Mexico
                Looking good: Colorado State, UNLV
                Need wins: San Diego State [33]
                Life Support: Boise State [47]
                Summary: huge win for New Mexico @ Colorado State this past weekend really solidifies the Lobos as one of the top 2/3 seeds out West.  The Rams and Rebels are also comfortably in the field sporting solid Top 15 RPI marks, while San Diego State still has a little work to do in my opinion to lock in an at-large.  Last week the Aztecs took care of business versus Wyoming & Nevada – but they need to continue winning games to lock up a spot in the dance – which I expect they will.  Air Force & Wyoming have been removed from consideration, so the last team in the MWC under consideration is Boise State – the Broncos have wins over UNLV & Creighton, but not much else on their resume.  A solid RPI of #47 keeps them alive, but being the 5th MWC team probably hurts them some even though the committee claims they do not evaluate teams by conference.  Their remaining schedule is stacked with opportunities for big wins: NEV, CSU, @UNLV, SDST; if they go 3-1 to close and win at least one in the MWC Tourney I think they can earn a spot – anything less would put them in serious danger of missing out.  The MWC looks like a 4/5 bid conference.
Northeast: Bryant
Ohio Valley: Belmont
                If BELMONT does not win their conference tournament but advances to the Championship Game they would still BE ALIVE IN LOOKING GOOD to receive a bid, thus adding themselves to the pool of at-large teams.
Pac 12: Arizona
                Need wins: UCLA [42], Oregon [49], California [44], Colorado [29]
                Summary: we are now down to 5 teams under consideration from the P12 as Arizona State has been removed following their home loss to Washington, along with their RPI taking a dive recently, all the way down to #86 currently – well outside the range for at-large consideration.  But yet another week’s analysis will be posted, and no P12 teams other than Arizona appear to be a “lock” to be dancing come Selection Sunday.  These last four teams are so close in just about every aspect it’s tough at this point to give any of the four an edge over the others – hence why I have moved Cal up from “Life Support” into “Need Wins”.  The one area that definitely does stand out is a positive to Oregon – on top of the Ducks being tied with the Wildcats at the top of the conference, and the fact they have the least amount of losses compared to the other three schools is the injury to G Dominic Artis; the Ducks were 17-2 with him in the lineup, but just 5-4 since he went down.  His status is very much uncertain at this point, but if he did make his way back into the lineup and played significant minutes not only would that make the Ducks a better team, but the committee would take that into consideration as far as the Ducks performance with or without him.  Outside of that development the four teams are listed in the current order I like their chances to dance, including action to date, and breaking down their remaining schedules (remaining schedules favor Cal in a big way as they only have three home games left, nothing on road).  The P12 looks like a 4/5 bid conference.
Patriot: Bucknell
SEC: Florida
                Looking good: Missouri
                Need wins: Kentucky [46]
Life Support: Ole Miss [57], Alabama [62]
                Summary: Mizzou picked up a big win last week taking care of Florida at home, almost certainly locking them into a dance spot.  However, they were not able to follow that up falling to Kentucky on Saturday night – a win the Wildcats needed in the worst way themselves.  For UK it will come down to the four regular season games along with the SEC Tournament as the committee will not weigh heavily their performance when C Nerlins Noel was in the lineup.  Outside the closing game where they host Florida, the other trio of games is winnable, and perhaps need to be won to position themselves favorably.  Ole Miss & Alabama are both barely hanging on, and as discussed last week, neither is well positioned & I expect both to drop off this analysis before conference tourney week.  The SEC looks like a three bid league, which means at the end of the day Kentucky will secure their own spot to defend their title.
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
SWAC: Southern
Summit: South Dakota State
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee State
                If MTSU does not win their conference tournament they would still BE ALIVE IN LIFE SUPPORT to receive a bid, thus adding themselves to the pool of at-large teams.
West Coast: Gonzaga
                If GONZAGA does not win their conference tournament they would still RECEIVE a bid, thus taking a bid away from the current at-large pool.
                Need Wins: St. Mary’s [43]
Summary: the Gaels picked up a very big win in Bracket Busters over Creighton, with relative ease, at home Saturday.  Last week I was not so sure that St. Mary’s was in position to earn an at-large bid outside a win over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Final, but following the weekend win I feel so long as they do not lose any bad games down the stretch, and advance to the WCC Final, they should be dancing.  BYU has been removed from any consideration following their loss to St. Mary’s last week in what was essentially an elimination game.
WAC: Louisiana Tech

LOOKING GOOD: 21 (+2 from last week)
Currently I project 52 of the 68 bids are earned.  That means there are 16 unsecured/open bids. 
NEED WINS: 15 (-1 to last week)
LIFE SUPPORT: 9 (-6 to last week)
That leaves 24 teams that are in the mix for 16 open bids.
Keep in mind however that DOES NOT include the upsets we will see during Conference Tournament week where teams that are LOCKS from smaller conferences lose a game in their conference tournament and hence use an at-large bid on themselves.
Quick scenario analysis using probability
  • This week we have 16 unsecured/open bids & 15 “Need Wins” teams. 
  • If we say 60% of the “Need Wins” teams do in fact earn themselves a bid (60% of 15 = 9) that would mean we have only 7 unsecured/open bids remaining, and 15 teams (6 “Need Wins” & 9 “Life Support”) fighting for those 7 spots. 
  • If you then assume for arguments sake 3 teams in “Life Support” do in fact get hot & play themselves into the dance, that would leave us with 4 unsecured/open bids & 12 teams fighting for those spots (6 “Need Wins” & 6 “Life Support”). 
  • Lastly, when you toss in say 4 conference tournament upsets where teams “steal” a bid, that would leave us with no other open spots for other teams. 
  • Right now, our best guestimate would suggest there are 6 “Need Wins” & 6 “Life Support” teams that will NOT be dancing come Selection Sunday.  But do keep in mind to use round #’s I took  only 9 of the 15 “Need Wins” teams in Step One – that # is likely to be higher, but the point is to show how small the actual unsecured/open bids # will wind up being once the regular season (teams will lock themselves into bids) & conference tournaments (teams will steal bids) play out.

If last week was an example we should expect next week’s projection to be even more accurate and involving fewer teams as we are now down to the final two weeks of regular season action!  And this is always one of the most enjoyable parts of the sports year!

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

2013 NCAA Basketball: Bracket Busters Preview

Previously this month I wrote an article on what changes I would make to the Bracket Busters format to add some value to the concept – it basically involves adding bubble teams from the major conferences to face off with the best small to mid-major conferences that could potentially be in the position to secure multiple bids – this way we can at least have a series of games to judge, for example, if Oregon is better than Indiana State or Baylor is better than Ohio.  My proposed cross-section would certainly add more value because after all, we are trying to determine how these small to mid-major conference best teams stack up with the bubble teams from the major conferences.
But alas, that will not be the Bracket Busters format this year – but the current version does offer up a nice variety of solid matchups, which commence this evening.  Let’s take a game by game look at all 13 we will see tonight & tomorrow (all times Eastern).


ESPN2 – North Dakota State @ Akron [ 7pm]: Akron, current leaders of the MAC conference hosts North Dakota State, currently the 3rd place team in the Summit League.  Neither team has any significant wins over major conference teams during the OOC portion of their schedules, which is where I typically start my handicapping in an attempt to gauge the strengths of these types of teams.  I would give the slight edge to Akron in their performances against major teams based on an OT loss to Oklahoma State, but it’s not significant.  The Zips do enter this game as winners of 17 straight, clearly establishing themselves as the hotter team in the better, stronger conference.  Akron will be without one of their key players, G Brian Walsh – their first game w/o him on the floor.  The statistics favor Akron, but with the line set at Akron -7.5 currently, that’s too hefty a price for me to lay in this game.  I will pass here as there are better opportunities below to cash in on these games, but if forced to make a selection would back Akron.

ESPNU – Stephen F. Austin @ Long Beach State [9pm]: in the second BB game of the weekend the Lumberjacks of SFA travel west to face the 49’ers of LBST.  SFA has a significant edge in RPI checking in @ #80 vs. LBST’s mark of #111.  LBST was clearly tested in OOC play, but unlike last season, it came with limited results: zero wins or close losses to write home about – this is NOT the LBST that many of us came to love over the last few seasons.  On the other hand SFA performed quite well in Nov/Dec picking up a big road win over Oklahoma, another over Tulsa, and a “closer than the score indicated” 8pt loss in College Station vs. Texas A&M.  Both teams enter this game on fire as SFA is 22-3 on the season and has won 17 of their last 19 while State is 12-1 over their last 13 outings.  Statistically speaking the Lumberjacks have the edge, but we must also consider the Southland conference is annually one of the weakest in the country.  All that being said I do not think this LBST team is as good as Vegas gives it credit for, and I will back Stephen F. Austin to cover the +2.5 and win this game outright.


ESPNU – Iona @ Indiana State [11am]: in the opener of Saturday’s card Indiana State, who at best is a bubble team following a couple recent losses, hosts Iona, currently tied for 5th place in the MAAC.  The Sycamores’ RPI is 67 spots better than Iona, which seems to suggest this could be a mismatch, especially considering the game is at ISU.  ISU has certainly been the more national story this season, and has earned it with multiple big wins in conference play over Creighton & Wichita State, along with a pair of nice OOC wins over Miami, FL & Ole Miss.  The Gaels on the other hand played a few major conference teams, mostly bottom feeders, and had mixed results at best.  Iona has struggled on the road, while ISU has been solid at home and heads into this game losing 3 straight – they need a win in the worst way to potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.  I will back Indiana State here to take care of business BIG over Iona, covering the 6pts.

ESPNU – Eastern Kentucky @ Valparaiso [1pm]: this game features a pair of teams that are playing second fiddle to another team in their conference, but both have a decent resume, close RPI’s, and could provide one of the more entertaining, higher level games of the BB weekend.  Neither team accomplished much during OOC play, but they do have a common opponent @ Murray State: Valparaiso won 66-64, while EKY also won 77-65.  One injury of note is EKY Sr. G Orlando Cruz, who has missed the last ten games and is listed as questionable for this tilt.  The Colonels are 8-1 ATS on the road this season, and have dominated OVC play outside 0-2 vs. Belmont – they have not won a conference game by less than 6 points.  These two teams are extremely close statistically, and both shoot FT’s among the best in the nation – which could wind up being the key stat that drives the winner of this game.  I see these two teams being very similar, and EKY has a lot of metrics discussed here favoring their side – and they are +6.5?  Give me Eastern Kentucky to cover this inflated # against an inconsistent Valpo squad.

ESPN3 – Canisius @ Vermont [1pm]: Canisius is the second MAAC team to take part in BB, and they too will hit the road to face the Catamounts of Vermont out of the America East.  The teams are very similar RPI wise with 23 spots separating them, and both currently are not in first place in their respective conferences – neither team has any shot at earning an at-large berth so again, another game that yields the question: what is the reason for playing this game?  Canisius has the more established resume this season, and motivation should not be a factor here.  Vermont is laying 3; I will support the underdog, grabbing the hook to +3.5 on Canisius.

ESPN3 – Pacific @ Western Michigan [2pm]: heading into the season I was high on Pacific, projecting them to win the Big West, while I also thought W. Michigan could contend in the MAAC.  Neither has really materialized this season, and neither is in position to earn an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.  The Tigers have played the tougher schedule, but to mixed, at best, results.  WMU comes into this one as the hotter team, and has the edge in that this game is tipping at 11am Pacific time.  I figured this # would be about double where it currently sits, WMU -4.  Playing the hotter team, at home, when not laying much more than one possession is usually a solid angle, and it’s one we will back here.  Let’s take the Broncos laying 4.

ESPNU – Montana @ Davidson [3pm]: Davidson has been one of the more dominating low to mid-major teams in recent memory, but they have clearly taken a step back this season.  Meanwhile Montana has put together a nice season of their own out of the Big West – the irony is these teams have virtually the same RPI, expectations make each team’s seasons differ in perception of success.  Neither team has any wins of note in OOC play, although Davidson did beat the likes of Vanderbilt & West Virginia.  Both teams enter this contest red hot as Montana is 14-1 over their last 15, while the Cats are 13-1 over their last 14.  Neither team is in the mix for at-large consideration.  Very surprising that Davidson is laying two touchdowns in this game – seems extremely inflated in a matchup where the teams are identical in terms of RPI.  Does Vegas know something we don’t?  Maybe.  But hard to see Montana not showing up and getting their doors blown off – hence, I will back Montana here +14.

ESPN3 – Northwestern State @ Niagara [3pm]: in a matchup of purple “N” teams the Demons travel to update NY to face the Eagles.  Neither team beat anyone of note in OOC play, nor are they involved in the at-large conversation.  Niagara is the 3rd team from the MAAC in BB – can someone explain to me why three teams from a guaranteed one bid league were invited to this “party”?  Just another aspect of this set-up that makes limited sense in my opinion.  NWST enters this game as winners of 9 straight including beating SFA, the current conference leader.  Currently Niagara is laying 4pts at home, but the Eagles do have one injury of note as G Antoine Mason is questionable.  Of all the games on the card this is one of the toughest for me to get a solid feel on – hence, we will pass here with no opinion either.

ESPN2 – Detroit @ Wichita State [4pm]: in one of the best BB matchups this year Detroit and Wichita State will tangle in Kansas, with both at least in the conversation for earning at-large bids –  this game certainly has A LOT on the line.  The Shockers are leading the MVC by 1 game over Creighton, while Detroit is 1 game behind Valpo for the Horizon League top spot.  These are a pair of legitimate, NCAA Tournament quality good clubs, which should lead to a dandy.  In OOC play, although Detroit didn’t win any big games, they played some good teams and played a few down to the wire, including a 4pt loss @ Syracuse.  WSU didn’t get tested as much, but what they did accomplish was beating some major conference foes such as Depaul, Iowa, Air Force & Southern Miss – nothing wrong with that.  The home court edge for the Shockers could be the difference here as that place is sure to be rocking.  This # is set at WSU -7.5, right about where I estimated it to be – so this will be a pass for me.  I believe these two teams are evenly matched in most spots, but have concern how Detroit will deal with the rowdy crowd the last ten minutes of the game – this could be the king of game the underdog plays well for at least the opening 30 minutes, but struggles late, unravels some as the crowd gets into a frenzy, and the favorite winds up winning & covering.

ESPN2 – Creighton @ St. Mary’s [6pm]: in another heavyweight mid-major matchup the Blue Jays of Creighton head west to face the Gaels of St. Mary’s.  If you have not seen him play yet this game is worth tuning in for to witness the stellar play of Creighton F Doug McDermott, who in my opinion is a lottery pick talent.  STM will have trouble matching up with him, but the Gaels have their own NBA talent in G Matthew Delavadova.  As I have mentioned in some other articles this Mary’s team is not at the same level we have seen from them recently – they have clearly taken a step back this season as they didn’t win any OOC games of note, and were swept by Gonzaga in conference play.  The Blue Jays on the other hand have numerous heavyweight wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, and California.  This Creighton team is legit – and I am backing them to take care of STM tomorrow afternoon, SU, even though we are getting 4.5!  Creighton on the ML is the play.

ESPN2 – South Dakota State @ Murray State [8pm]: Murray State is like many of the big name low to mid-major teams we have seen recently make some noise that is more living on their name than their performance this season.  It’s not that MSU has suffered through a poor season – they are 19-7 – but they have been more inconsistent this season, losing 4 conference games to this point.  South Dakota State is the 2nd Summit League team taking part in the festivities, and is probably the better of the two, sporting the higher RPI (#78 vs. #83), and have a win at New Mexico.  SDST has won 10 of their last 12, while five of their eight losses have come by 3pts or less.  This game should come down to the wire, and the difference might by Racers PG Isaiah Canaan, the All American.  I think Murray State will win this game, but will take SDST to cover the 3.5 in a tight & exciting affair.

ESPN3 – Denver @ Northern Iowa [8pm]: starting with that 4pm tilt the backend of the card is very good.  Although this one may not get the attention it deserves, both of these teams are very solid, despite the fact they need to win their conference to earn an NCAA Tourney bid.  Denver is currently the 3rd best team in the WAC, behind Louisiana Tech & New Mexico State, while Northern Iowa is either the 3rd or 4th best team in the MVC behind Creighton & Wichita State, and similar to Indiana State.  The Pioneers pushed themselves in OOC play, and although unable to secure any wins of note, showed well in losses to Cal, Colorado State, Stanford & Southern Miss.  UNI basically has the same story, although they played a tougher slate and had some closer losses – they have really made up some ground of late in conference play, winning 6 straight and 8 of 10 – but truthfully they should not be involved in BB this season as the 4th team from the MVC.  However, I do like the fact UNI is playing their best basketball of the season right now, and will enjoy home court here.  Northern covers the 4.5 beating Denver by double digits in this one.

ESPN2 – Ohio @ Belmont [10pm]: and the nightcap may be the very best matchup of the entire card when Ohio travels south to face BelmontBelmont joined the OVC this season, and although many thought they could potentially struggle with the step up in conference, they have done anything but compiling a 21-6 mark including 12-2 in conference play.  Ohio on the other hand is the 2nd best team in the MAC, but once again finds itself behind rival Akron.  With an RPI of 75 it appears Ohio will need to secure the conference’s auto-bid to be dancing, while Belmont’s current RPI of #29 would have them in the discussion for an at-large with a win here and reaching the OVC Final.  This is a big game for both teams, make no mistake about it.  Ohio is a veteran squad; they have appeared & advanced in the NCAA Tourney with many of these same players, so the atmosphere will not bother them.  This should be a well-played, very solid game.  Vegas set Belmont as 6.5 point favorites – I feel that is too many points and like Ohio to cover and possibly win this game SU.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NCAA Basketball 2012-2013: Power Poll February 18 & PODS Projection for Top Seeds

Two weeks since my last Power Poll was posted and wow, have we seen a lot of excitement and movement amongst the Poll entrants!  This time of year is so exciting as the college basketball season winds down, Spring Training commences, March Madness is around the corner, and The Masters is almost upon us.  But for now, let’s focus on the latest Power Poll – keep in mind you should use this information along with my Projected Field articles to get a solid foundation of how I see these teams, and the potential seeds we will see come Selection Sunday.
Here is the latest PP which includes all action through Sunday February 17 – once again it worked out to a dozen teams as there is a noticeable fall-off in my opinion after these 12:
Current Rank, Team, Record, Last edition’s Rank
#1 Indiana (23-3) [3]: hard to vote against the Hoosier’s at this point in time considering they are leading the country’s toughest conference at the moment.  I have no issues giving them the top spot in the poll as of now, but come early April I would be surprised if they hung onto it and won their first national title since that late 80s Bobby Knight squad led by Keith Smart.
#2 Florida (21-3) [2]: game after game, week after week, the Gators continue stacking up BIG wins.  Nobody in the SEC is even capable of giving them a game besides that one slip up in Fayetteville versus Arkansas.  I look for that to continue, UF locking down a #1 seed, and residing amongst the short list of favorites to cut down the nets.
#3 Michigan State (22-4) [9]: Tom Izzo continues to get more out of a mediocre roster than any coach in the game – and frankly it’s not close.  These Spartans beat you the same way some of Izzo’s best teams did – beat you up physically and mentally – which is why they enjoy so much success in the NCAA Tournament.  This may not be Izzo’s best team – but relatively speaking versus the landscape of college basketball in 2013, watch out as Izzo looks for his 2nd national title this season.
#4 Syracuse (21-4) [6]: the Orange suffered some recently with the loss of 6th man James Southerland, but he is back making this Orange team as dangerous as any in the country.  What they lack in experience they make up for with dynamic athletes, great size, and possibly the best PG in the country Michael Carter-Williams.  All of those attributes, combined with Boeheim’s zone make the Orange an extremely tough out come March.
#5 Michigan (22-4) [1]: UM has fallen 4 spots this week but this Poll is about talent, and how good I believe teams to truly be, along with taking into account performance to date (but to a lesser extent).  These Wolverines can win it all come April and it starts and ends with the best backcourt in the nation featuring PG Trey Burke & SG Tim Hardaway Jr.  With those two leading the way anything is possible because as the old adage goes, guard play wins titles – and nobody is better stacked there than Michigan.
#6 Miami, FL (21-3) [12]: the Canes only at #6, are you kidding me?  Like I mentioned above this Poll weights how talented and good a team I perceive you to be (~75%) with what you have accomplished to date (25%), and based on those factors Miami, FL sits at #6.  Their backcourt rivals Michigan for best in the country, but I have concerns about their coaching, and frontline play.  They can also struggle to score for long periods of time, see last game @ Clemson for an example.  I do not feel that Miami, FL will reach the Final Four although they are talented and have potential to do just that – hey, prove me wrong fellas!
#7 Louisville (21-5) [5]: the Cardinals went through their top spot of the season, losing 4 of 7 conference games – and granted they may not be out of that funk just yet as wins over St John’s and USF hardly bring cries of a national powerhouse back to Ville – but this is probably the best defensive team in the country, with a solid PG who seems to play better as the lights get brighter, and they have the experience of last year to draw upon.  Oh, and they also have Slick Rick Pitino on their sidelines.  The Cardinals will be heard from – and a nightmare matchup for many of the teams rated above them who do not play strong defense in the half court.
#8 Duke (22-3) [10]: Coach K’s boys are back in the top ten, but are a full 3.5 games behind ACC leader Miami in the conference standings.  Wow, soak that one in for a minute – Miami has a three and a half game lead on solo 2nd place Duke!  That is impressive – but a reason I have discounted that some for Miami is the weakness that is the bottom half of the ACC – and even the top teams are not as strong in my opinion as their rankings or name suggest.  The status of F Ryan Kelly will play a big role in how far Duke can advance this season – keep in mind the Blue Devils lost in their NCAAT opener last season to Lehigh.
#9 Georgetown (19-4) [NR]: there probably isn’t a team in the country that gets less press and fanfare that has a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets than GTown.  The Hoyas have been creeping along mostly under the radar for much of the season – they currently sit in 2nd place in the Big East – and they also have that OT loss to #1 Indiana on Nov. 20 in their memory bank.  With JT3’s disciplined style of play, star F Otto Porter, and an aggressive defense, I look for the Hoyas to at least return to the Sweet 16.
#10 Kansas (21-4) [4]: the Jayhawks drop 6 spots to #10 in 2 weeks following 3 straight losses in conference play – the first time they have done that in quite some time.  There is a lot to like about these Jayhawks, but there are also many red flags, especially the youth of their rotation.  G Ben McLemore is one of the best players in college basketball, some say a potential #1 pick in the NBA Draft, while C Jeff Withey is a dominant presence in the paint – a very solid duo, one that isn’t matched in college basketball.  With the right draw, and KU peaking at the right time, I see this edition of the Jayhawks as potential Elite 8 material, but no more.
#11 Arizona (21-4) [7]: UA may be the best team on the West Coast, but how good are they really?  Are they as good as they showed when they beat the Gators in Tucson earlier this year?  Or are they the team that routinely struggles in P12 play, especially on the road?  I feel they are somewhere in between – and are more likely to lose in Sweet 16 or earlier than reach the Final Four – even if they pulled the #1 seed out West.  But make no mistake about it, HC Sean Miller is building quite a program out there, reminiscent of Lute Olsen’s squads – and these Cats are not going away anytime soon.
#12 Gonzaga (25-2) [11]: if Arizona isn’t the best team out West the Zags certainly are.  Gonzaga has blown through WCC play undefeated to this point, but keep in mind both St. Mary’s & BYU are down a notch from where they were last season.  What really bolsters the Zaga profile is their success in OOC play vs. the Big 12 where they beat like half the conference (WVU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor & Oklahoma State) – and the last four are at worst bubble teams, at best dancing.  Their only losses on the year were at home to Illinois (how did that happen?), and @ Butler on a buzzer beater.  For some reason these Zags don’t seem to have the same national recognition as past editions, but those prior teams never reached this high in the polls.
Next Eight (in alphabetical order): Colorado State (21-4) [NR], Kansas State (16-4) [N8], Marquette (18-6) [NR], Memphis (22-3) [NR], New Mexico (22-4) [N8], Oklahoma State (19-5) [NR], Pittsburgh (20-6) [NR], UNLV (18-7) [N8]
Dropped out of Power Poll
#8 Ohio State

Adding to my Power Poll this week let’s examine the sites for this season’s NCAA Tournament games, and breakdown which teams are targeting certain cities for their first & second round games (I know it’s technically second & third round games but calling those four play-in games the first round is silly).  Remember, the first four seeds in each region are eligible to be placed in a “pod” that is closest to their campus, but no teams can play on their true home-court.
Auburn Hills, MI: Indiana & Michigan State
Lexington, KY: Louisville & Florida
Salt Lake City, UT: Gonzaga & New Mexico
San Jose, CA: Arizona & UNLV
Dayton, OH: Pittsburgh & Georgetown
Austin, TX: Oklahoma State & Miami, FL
Kansas City, MO: Kansas & Kansas State
Philadelphia, PA: Duke & Syracuse

Those are just estimates at this point in time, but that can certainly give you a good feel for which teams are in line to be seeded close to home, and which cities some of the higher rated teams may play in come March 21-24.  There are still 3 weeks of regular season plus conference tournament week to play out before any seeds are set in stone – hence, these can & will change – but can be used as a guide for now.  There are some situations where mileage wise teams are closer to one site but were moved because the difference wasn’t huge, and it enabled another team to play closer to home (such as moving Indiana to Auburn Hills instead of the closer city Lexington, which in turn enables Louisville & Florida to play closer to home).  Another issue arises with Miami, FL because there is no site close to their campus – the closest is Lexington but I feel Florida for certain, and either Louisville or Indiana will take those two spots before Miami, FL does – which means Miami, FL will likely play in Austin or possibly Philadelphia.  Lastly, there are a few teams such as UNLV & Kansas State that may not get consideration to play in a pod close to their campus, but to fill spots at this point in time I have them in as a place-holder.  In the KC pod its likely a second Big 12 team would fill that spot, while the San Jose & Salt Lake City pods are very much undecided although Arizona & Gonzaga will wind up in either city, with the other two spots likely filled by the MWC champion and possibly a team travelling from the East such as Miami, FL or potentially even a Big East team.

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