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.
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.