The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 26, 2010

A Little February Madness

Who’s In, Who’s On The Bubble, Who’s Out

As we mentioned in the previous article earlier this week, the first conference tournament action begins Tuesday, March 2.  It’s time to take a serious look at which teams are in the Big Dance, which teams are on the bubble, and which teams are on the outside looking in.  As of today, we believe 51 teams have already done enough to earn bids to the NCAA Tournament.  That leaves 14 teams left to gain admission to the dance.  We believe 21 teams are serious bubble teams as of today.

First let us start with the conferences that will receive only one bid.  This means only the conference tournament champion will advance to the dance, or in the case of the Ivy League, the regular season champ.

America East

Stony Brook has clinched the regular season title, and Coach Steve Pikiell may be on the radar screen at schools in more prestigious leagues.  The Seawolves have been a D1 school less than 10 years, and their defense might give someone fits in a first round game.  Of course, they have to win the automatic bid.  Vermont, Maine, and Boston U. are all capable of winning this tournament.  BU has underachieved somewhat this year with all the experienced seniors on their roster.

Atlantic Sun

This isn’t going to be another season where the league representative comes within one shot of beating Duke in the opening round.  None of the teams in this league are capable of winning a first round game.  Jacksonville currently leads Campbell, Belmont, and Lipscomb by a game with one game to go.  East Tennessee and Mercer are good enough to win three games in three days. 

Jacksonville won the regular season title last year, but the Dolphins failed to win the tournament.  It’s been almost a quarter century since they last made it to the Dance.  The days of Artis Gilmore and Rex Morgan led the Dolphins to the Championship Game.

Big Sky

Weber State isn’t as good this year as they were last year, but the Wildcats could make the Dance this year after settling for the NIT last year.  Northern Colorado has overachieved this year, while Montana State has underachieved.  Montana always seems to be in the mix, and the Grizzlies are there again this year.  Weber State should be a considerable favorite, but any of these other three could beat them on a given night.

Big South

Cliff Ellis could be on the cusp of taking his fourth different team to the NCAA Tournament.  His Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won the regular season title and are the favorites to win the conference tournament.  It won’t be easy, because CCU split with second place teams Winthrop and Radford.  Radford won the tournament last year, and the Highlanders have the most dominating player in the league in center Art Parakhouski.

Big West

UC Santa Barbara leads Pacific by a game and a half after Pacific was upset last night by UC Riverside.  This is one conference where we actually expect someone other than the top two teams to win the automatic bid.  Long Beach State and Cal St. Fullerton look like teams to watch out for, but even last place UC-Irvine could win this tournament.

Colonial Athletic

In past years, there were possible at-large teams in this conference, but even current number one team Old Dominion is not even worthy of the back of the bubble.  Besides ODU, Northeastern, George Mason, Va. Commonwealth, William & Mary, Drexel, and Hofstra all have the talent to win this tournament.  Old Dominion won the College Insider Tournament last year, and they are tournament savvy.

Ivy League

Cornell is on the verge of securing the Ivy League championship again, and this year, the Big Red have the talent to shock an opponent in the first round and maybe first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  Cornell hosts Princeton tonight, and a win over the Tigers would mean they would need to win just one of their final three games to win the league title.  If Princeton wins, then these teams could be headed toward a playoff game in a couple weeks.

Metro Atlantic

Siena had a chance to get onto the bubble for an at-large bid, but Butler ended that in the Bracketbuster last week.  Now, the Saints have to win the MAAC Tournament to get back to the Dance.  Iona and Fairfield are not in Siena’s class, but either team could beat Siena in a title game.

Mid-American

This conference has fallen back in the pack in recent years.  Kent State and Akron have won three more conference games than any other MAC team, and they will be heavy co-favorites in the tournament.  

Mid-Eastern Athletic

Morgan State has dominated this league since Todd Bozeman took over as head coach, and this year is more of the same.  MSU leads Delaware State by two and a half games, and it will be a major upset if they don’t four-peat.

Northeast

The four teams picked to contend for the league championship will finish one-two-three-four in the regular season.  Robert Morris, Quinnipiac, Mt. St. Mary’s, and Long Island should be the four teams making it to the conference tournament semifinals.  Any of these four could emerge victorious.

Ohio Valley

Morehead State pinned the first conference loss on Murray State last night, and these two teams should play a rubber game in the conference tournament championship game.

Patriot League

This league is rather balanced, and there is no clear-cut favorite.  There isn’t much difference between first place Lehigh and last place Army.  Bucknell has begun to play like they used to earlier in the decade; the Bison have won seven of their last nine, but they got it handed to them Wednesday night at Lehigh.

Southern

With Davidson down following the graduation of Stephen Curry and Andrew Lovedale, this race is up for grabs.  Wofford, Western Carolina, College of Charleston, and Appalachian State are the four best teams, but none are dominant in this league.

Southland

Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin have been the cream of this crop for a couple of years, and one of these two should win the automatic bid.

Southwestern Athletic

Jackson State is the only team capable of escaping a play-in round game.  If any other SWAC team wins the conference tournament, that team will be in Dayton on Tuesday, March 16.

Summit League

Oakland and IUPUI are the co-favorites heading into the conference tournament.  Both teams could be an interesting first round matchup as a 13 or 14-seed.

Sunbelt

Eight teams are strong enough to win this conference’s automatic bid.  None of them are dominant enough to be a true favorite.  Troy, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Denver will make this tournament very interesting.

Western Athletic

Utah State has emerged yet again as the class of the league, but the Aggies have not done enough to make the bubble.  New Mexico State, Nevada, and Louisiana Tech have the talent to knock USU out of the Dance, but the Aggies are a strong favorite.

Here is a look at the conferences where an upset in the conference tournament will merit an extra team getting a bid.

Conference USA

No longer is Memphis a sure thing.  In fact, the Tigers probably must win the conference tourney to get in.  UTEP is the team that has done enough to earn an at-large bid this year.  Memphis and UAB are on the Bubble, but they are far down on the list.  Marshall and Tulsa are capable of running the table in the tournament and sneaking in with the automatic bid.

Horizon

Butler is in the field of 65 regardless of how the Bulldogs perform in the Horizona League Tournament.  There really isn’t a team that can be considered a serious upset threat to Butler.  While Green Bay and Wright State are the best of the rest, lowly Detroit has been the only league team to play Butler close, losing by two in overtime and by five in the two meetings.

Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa will earn an at-large bid even though the Panthers have lost two of their last four games.  Wichita State, Illinois State, Bradley, and Creighton have the talent to run the table in St. Louis.

Pacific-10

Could it be that this once top conference will earn just one bid?  If California wins the conference tournament, it could happen.  It could even happen if Cal loses prior to the Pac-10 tournament championship game.

West Coast

Gonzaga is in the NCAA Tournament.  St. Mary’s is close to being in, but they are just a bubble team.  Portland is strong enough to upset St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. 

Here is a list of the conferences that will receive more than one bid.

Atlantic Coast

Duke, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest are in, even though Va. Tech has a poor non-conference schedule.

Clemson and Georgia Tech are on the Bubble.  Neither will get in with a 7-9 conference record in this year’s ACC.

Atlantic 10

This is the sexy conference this year.  Seven teams still have a legitimate shot at earning bids, and a minimum of three will get in.

Temple, Richmond, and Xavier are virtual shoo-ins.  Rhode Island is on the top of the Bubble, while Charlotte and Dayton are on the regular Bubble.  St. Louis has work to do, but the red-hot Billikens can place themselves squarely on the Bubble by winning their final three regular season games.

Big East

This is clearly the top conference in the land this year.  No fewer than six teams will earn bids, and as many as nine could get invitations.

Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown are in.  Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Cincinnati are on the Bubble.  At least two of these teams should play themselves into the high end of the Bubble, while a third could sneak into the act if there aren’t many upsets in the other leagues. 

Seton Hall has a very favorable schedule, and if the Pirates edge Marquette this weekend, they could finish 10-8 in the league.  They are the longest shot, and they could put themselves in position to be in position on Selection Sunday.  You have to believe that any team that finishes above .500 in this league this year will receive serious consideration.

Big Ten

Purdue took a big blow with the loss of Robbie Hummel, but all that means is they may have to settle for a 2-seed.  Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are also in.  Illinois is on the firm part of the Bubble, while Minnesota and Northwestern are on the bottom of the Bubble.  Both teams have to play two more on the road, and it looks like the NIT for both.

Big 12

Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, and Baylor are in the Dance.  Texas A&M as at the top of the Bubble.  The Aggies close at home with Texas and Oklahoma State and at Oklahoma.  Two wins gets them in for sure, while one win keeps them on the Bubble.

Oklahoma State is on the Bubble.  They close with Kansas at home, Texas A&M on the road, and Nebraska at home.  If they only win against the Cornhuskers, they have to win twice in the Big 12 Tournament to be under consideration and thrice to be sure things.

Mountain West

New Mexico and BYU are both in the Dance.  Both could move up as high as 5-seeds in the field of 65.

UNLV and San Diego State are on the Bubble.  The Runnin’ Rebels benefit from hosting the tournament much to Lobo Coach Steve Alford’s and Aztec Coach Steve Fisher’s chagrin.

Southeastern

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee are in.  Florida is on the top part of the Bubble and needs just one more signature win or two more wins of any kind.  Mississippi State is on the regular Bubble and appears to be headed to the West Division title.  Ole Miss must win out and then get to Saturday in the conference tournament.

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