Check out the inaugural BracketMarch.com Podcast covering the latest news from the A10 and our projected 1 seeds heading into Selection Sunday.
Wichita St, past analogs, and seed probabilities, Part I
Note: This is a two part weekend write up on Wichita State. Be sure to check the blog on Sunday for the follow up on the Sycamore/Shocker recap and more discussion on where the Shockers might be seeded in March.
By the end of Thanksgiving Weekend, there were a few teams that I could tell meant business. Not the teams that squeezed out a surprising out of conference win; that happens all the time in November and December. Rather, a few teams in "non-power leagues" (whatever that means) make clear that they will be a force from November through March. No one made a better example of this than the Shockers on December 1st when they won at St. Louis. The Billikens are really, really good this year. They're 16-2 as of January 18th and cohesively haven't lost a beat from the team that beat seven top 50 teams last year. So when Ron Baker shot 70 percent, Tekele Cotton grabbed 10 rebounds, and all five starters scored in double figures on the road against one of the best defensive teams in the nation, it was clear that this years iteration of Shocker basketball would do more than just squeeze out an at-large bid.
In a way, 2013-2014 Wichita State is just continuing their run from last year. For most of last season they were not healthy, which is why they lost twice to Evansville and once to Southern Illinois in early 2013. Since March 9th, 2013, however, this team is 24-2 with wins against Pitt, Gonzaga, Ohio State, St. Louis, Tennessee, and BYU (none of which came on their home floor). It should be no surprise then that they're 18-0. Unfortunately for the Shockers, the selection committee doesn't care what you did last season. So now we have to ask two important questions. A) Will the Shockers go undefeated? B) What kind of seed should they expect on Selection Sunday?
Indiana St (61)
@Illinois St (114)
@Indiana St (61)
@Northern Iowa (82)
Southern Illinois (285)
Missouri St (69)
MVC Tourney Quarters (RPI 200+)
MVC Semis (RPI 100+)
MVC Finals (RPI 50-100)
Of their next seven games, three are against RPI top 100 teams and only two are against teams with losing records. Of the five games against teams with winning records, all but one are on the road. Indiana State has already beaten Notre Dame and Belmont and has an outside shot at an at-large bid, while Northern Iowa has already beaten VCU and took Iowa State to overtime. As we saw last week at Missouri State, the Valley sans Creighton is still a very competitive league, and the Shockers are not going to be immune to a loss in league play. However, their final nine games (including the MVC tournament) would feature no true road games against teams ranked in the RPI top 200. The path after early February is a much easier one if the Shockers can stay undefeated through that point.
If I had to throw out a prediction as of today, I think Wichita State ends up 32-1 with one loss at either Indiana State, Illinois State, or Northern Iowa or in the MVC tournament finals. In a way, that could be beneficial for Gregg Marshall's squad going into the tournament. One loss to a top 100 team does little to hurt your profile, and then the pressure of finishing the year undefeated is gone.
On Sunday I'll recap the critical Wichita State/Indiana State game and take a look at where similar teams ended up seeded in March, so be sure to catch the blog tomorrow!
Indirect relationships and GW: conference STRENGTH and at large chances
Mo Creek has been through a lot the past four years. The former Indiana Hoosier started his career as a college freshman with a bang, averaging 16 points a game on a depleted roster before injuring his patella and sitting out the rest of his first season. Creek returned in 2010, leading the Hoosiers to a 6-0 start, only to injure his patella a second time. I don't need to tell you what happened before the start of the 2011 season, except to say that he didn't play a single game. Creek returned healthy last year, but the Hoosiers were so loaded with talent that his role was extremely limited. Taking advantage of an NCAA graduate transfer rule, Creek decided to transfer to George Washington for his final season of eligibility and attend grad school in DC.
Mike Lonergan has had similar misfortune in the nation's capitol. Despite having solid talent, his squads couldn't quite put it all together, lacking a true go to scorer through last season. To make matters worse, productive three man Lasan Kromah decided to transfer to UConn for this upcoming season. Who would compliment the Colonials best player, talented big man Isaiah Armwood, in his final season? Enter Mo Creek, and the Colonials are a different squad. When GW gets in trouble and needs a bucket, Creek gets the ball.
Again, it's important to emphasize that the Colonials have had talent for the past couple of years. But would they have beaten Maryland without Creek? Probably not. There's no doubt that Armwood was the man of the hour in GW's biggest win, Creighton, holding All-America Doug McDermott to 2-12 shooting and seven points. But the Blue Jays focused their defensive efforts on Creek, which gave the opportunity for every other starter to score in double figures.
As we enter the new year, The Colonials are 10-1, have an RPI of 36, and are 2-0 against teams ranked in the top 50. If they aren't in every bracket expert's first projection, they're at least in the discussion. That's where conference affiliation comes into play. Let's be clear about something. Conference affiliation is not one of the allowed criteria when selecting or seeding at large teams. Seth Davis reinforced this last year when he wrote a column for SI after participating in the NCAA's mock selection process for the media:
I can only tell you that in the four years that I have been through this exercise, conference affiliation has never come up. We evaluated the teams based on who they played, where they played, and whom they beat. And if a bunch of sportswriters aren't talking about it, you know the real committee isn't talking about it, either. Given that the committee doesn't start placing teams into the bracket until Sunday afternoon, they don't have time to keep track of things that don't matter. After we were through putting together our bracket was printed out, David Worlock, the NCAA's media coordinator for Division I men's basketball, asked if if we could say off the top of our heads how many teams were from each of the big six leagues. None of us could, and none of us cared.
But as the title of this article suggests, we aren't looking for direct relationships or causality. We're looking for the indirect role that conference affiliation plays on Selection Sunday. Now that the out of conference season is mostly wrapped up, we can get a good idea of which teams will benefit from big chances in league play. In the case of the Colonials, as a mid-major, if they were playing in the America East or the Horizon League, their opportunities for future signature wins would be non-existent. Would a sole neutral court win against Creighton be enough to get them in as an at-large? Doubtful.
In spite of losing Xavier, Butler, and Charlotte, the A10 is having a pleasantly surprising season as a whole. Not only are UMass, VCU, Dayton, and Saint Louis competing for at-large bids, there are few RPI killers at the bottom of the conference. Playing in the A10 is going to help GW tremendously this year. If we use RPIforecast.com as a predictor for their schedule, the Colonials already have one top 50 win locked up, and will have four more opportunities to get a signature win in conference play (not including the A10 tournament in Brooklyn). Lets assume for a moment that Lonergan's team gets a shot at another top 50 team in Brooklyn, and they win two of their remaining five top 50 games going forward. Let's also predict they keep their bad losses to a minimum (two against sub 100 teams). At 23-9 and 2-3 against the top 50, chances are they'll have their name called on March 17th. Heck, VCU had a similar profile to this scenario last year and got a five seed.
This is not to say that GW is a lock for the tournament, but they're going to have the chance to prove they should be included in a way that, say, Drexel won't.
Quick early update. I've decided on the last four teams in this morning. I feel pretty comfortable that La Salle and Tennessee are safe. La Salle's three wins against the field are all solid, and one was away from home. They had a decent number of top 100 wins, minimal bad losses, and accomplished something in the out of conference slate against Villanova. Tennessee stuggled away from home, but there are too many quality wins to leave them out. I went with Kentucky as my second to last team in based on the number of quality wins, a decent neutral court win against Maryland, and few bad losses. I gave the last spot to UMass over St. Mary's, Middle Tennessee State and Ole Miss because they racked up nine top 100 wins, had two wins against the field, were 12-7 away from home and had several top 100 out of conference wins. I think Ole Miss is out if they lose today. They had three awful losses, a HORRIBLE out of conference showing, and their best wins are against teams barely in the field. If they win today, they'll bump UMass out of the field. I'll give it one more look in the afternoon and release the final bracket around 5pm Eastern.
Last night was insane. A lot of the teams on the bubble shifted around after some shocking wins and confounding losses. I feel pretty strongly that 34 of the 37 at-large bids are locked up, with three left spots up for grabs. Kentucky, La Salle, St. Mary's, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss, Maryland, UMass and Baylor are the teams vying for those last spots as long as there are no bid thieves. Lets quickly run through them all.
Sticking with Thursday afternoon's theme, we'll quickly roll through the results from last night and how they impacted the bracket. There were several seeding changes, but we'll stick to the top story lines. Things are moving really fast, so try to keep up!
Cal will still make the tournament
Iowa could snag the last at-large
Hoyas and Cardinals in a dead heat for the final 1 seed
We're really rolling now. The Big East Tournament is halfway complete and the Pac 12, Mountain West, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC are well underway. Lets go through some rather quick bullet points to summarize the Thursday matinees and how they effect the teams that are in or can still make the tournament. A similar update will come in a few hours after most of the night games are done.
Cuse stops their slide, but is depth an issue?
Cyclones are a lock
The Vols hold serve
Let's assume for a moment that we have 36 of the 37 at-large teams chosen for the tournament field and there is just one team left to select. Below there will be four resumes, but no team names attached to them. You decide which of these four teams should get a bid, and at the bottom click the "read more" link to reveal the teams.
Record vs RPI top 50: 0-2
Record vs RPI top 100: 2-3
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #48
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 1-2
Losses to RPI 100+: 2
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 12
Road/Neutral Record: 13-5
Record vs RPI top 50: 1-3
Record vs RPI top 100: 6-4
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #34
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 1-3
Losses to RPI 100+: 2
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 122
Road/Neutral Record: 11-5
Record vs RPI top 50: 4-2
Record vs RPI top 100: 8-3
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #1, vs #36, vs #42, @ #14, vs 50
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 5-3
Losses to RPI 100+: 7
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 303
Road/Neutral Record: 3-9
Record vs RPI top 50: 2-10
Record vs RPI top 100: 5-10
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #5, vs #15, @ #44
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 3-10
Losses to RPI 100+: 3
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 43
Road/Neutral Record: 6-8
As Selection Sunday draws closer, we're starting to get a better idea of which the top teams will "host" the Second and Third rounds of the NCAA Tournament (although, keep in mind that teams can not play on their home court). For those who are unfamiliar with the process, the Selection Committee will give priority for the top four seeds in each region (or top sixteen teams) to play closest to their campus. For example, it's pretty well known at this point that Duke and Georgetown will likely get placed at the sub-regional site closest to their campus and/or largest alumni base, which is Philadelphia. So if you're a team like, say, Syracuse, hoping to get a top 4 seed and a quick trip to the City of Brotherly Love, you can pretty much forget about it. Let's list the sites that are locked up as of Monday, March 11th:
Salt Lake City
After Sunday's stumble against FIU in the Sun Belt semifinals, questions immediately arose as to whether Middle Tennessee State has a legitimate shot at an at-large bid to the tournament. The best comparison is last year's Iona team, who made the field in spite of not having any wins against the at-large field in 2012. But the Gaels did have five wins against the RPI top 100, while the Blue Raiders have just two. They did have a pretty solid win against Ole Miss in December, but that's pretty much all they've done this year aside from having a stellar 12-4 record away from home. At the end of the day, however, it doesn't seem like it will be enough. There are just one or two at-large bids up for grabs at this point, and I would think the selection committee would be more inclined to award the last bid or two to teams like Tennessee or Baylor who have very impressive wins. It's a shame, because MTSU could have done some major damage in the tournament.
Growing up outside of Richmond, Virginia in the heart of ACC Country, college hoops was set into the fabric of Rusty Tutton at an early age. A 2008 graduate of VCU, he lives in the Fan District of Richmond and works full-time in higher education.