While it might be pointless to project a bracket before the New Year, November and December are extremely useful to determine where a team's and conferences ceilings are.
Typical/expected response: "ZOMG! CONFERENCES DON'T EARN BIDS, TEAMS DO! THAT'S JUST BASIC BRACKETOLOGY MAN!"
That is absolutely correct. But let's use a little Logic 101: If the conference you're playing in plays like garbage in the non-conference, then your team won't have much of an opportunity to get quality wins after December. So you better be damn close to perfect before Christmas AND you better not slip up more than once or twice in conference, or else you're destined for a double digit seed or (if you don't win an auto-bid) the NIT come March.
Let's use Boise State and the Mountain West as an example. In case you haven't heard, Derrick Marks is a baller and the Broncos have surprised some people. In a typical year, a huge win at Creighton and an admirable showing at Michigan State would be pretty impressive. Regardless of the conference or future schedule, one could argue that the Broncos would have a shot at an-large in March as long as they played nearly flawless basketball the rest of the way.
Bad news, the Broncos just lost to a bad Utah team. Congrats, you're screwed!
Except the Mountain West is really good this year. Perhaps even one of the top four conferences in the nation. Again, we know Mike Bobinski isn't sitting in an Indianapolis Penthouse saying to himself "The MWC totally rocks this year. They gets five bids!"
I'm quite aware that it doesn't work like that. But San Diego State and New Mexico are the real deal, maybe even top four seeds this year. UNLV has looked solid and will definitely be there in March. Wyoming is undefeated and got two quality non-con wins in the past week. So if you're the Broncos, it looks like you could get eight opportunities for signature wins in 2013 (The Mountain West rocks it old school and plays each team twice).
I know we're dealing with hypotheticals at this point in the season, but let's say that the Broncos go 3-5 in those games and 8-6 in the conference. That probably puts them at 4-6 vs RPI top 50 and around .500 vs RPI top 100 teams. If that happens, they're dancing. I'd bet my parent's Australian Shepperd on it. And he's a really cute ass dog.
"NO WAY! THAT RESUME WOULD NEVER GET A TEAM INTO THE DANCE!!!!"
Here's a team with a worse resume that got in the 2012 field.
And an even worse resume from 2011.
The bottom of the at-large pool is ugly since the field expanded to 68. And Boise State (or any other team from a solid conference) doesn't need to have a great resume come March. It just needs to be good enough.
And with that, here are my conferences and teams with high and low ceilings as of December 5th. My first bracket projection will come after a few more key games have been played:
High Ceilings Good teams with the potential for a high seed in March. These teams can also afford a few blemishes on their resume and still get an-at large:
Low Ceilings: Good teams that are destined for an 8 seed or higher in March. They also can not afford more than one bad loss.
*Note that there are some big name teams with high expectations missing from this list. It's because I don't know what to make of them. They may have the talent, but haven't proven anything on the court yet. I'm looking at you, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and NC State.
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.