The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 17, 2012

A PiRate Look At The Big Dance & The Bracket Buster

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , — piratings @ 1:58 pm

It’s Bracket Buster weekend, which means that the first conference tournaments are just a week away.  13 games will be televised on ESPN, or should we rename the network ESP-LIN?


With the expanded 68-team field entering its second year, this weekend becomes more important.  The positions of mid-major and low-major teams on the bubble will move with each game.


The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has instructed the public in how they select the at-large teams.  RPI ratings are important, but they are not the be all and end all.  The committee stresses that they want members watching these games, trying to figure out which teams “look” like they could win tournament games.


With that in mind, let’s look at the Bracket Buster schedule, and then let’s look at every conference, trying to figure out which teams would be in the Big Dance if the season ended today.


Friday, February 17, 2012



Home Team



Visiting Team



7:00 PM





Northern Iowa



9:00 PM


Loyola Marymount














Saturday, February 18, 2012



Home Team



Visiting Team



11:00 AM


Cleveland St.






12:00 PM





Wichita St.



1:00 PM


South Dakota St.






2:00 PM


Oral Roberts






3:00 PM


New Mexico St.






4:00 PM








5:00 PM


Missouri St.



Old Dominion



6:00 PM


Murray St.



Saint Mary’s



7:00 PM








8:00 PM


Weber St.






10:00 PM





Long Beach St.











All Times Eastern Standard

RPI as of February 15, 2012 from



America East

1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Stony Brook (12-2/17-8) and Vermont (12-2/18-10) lead Boston U (10-4/14-14) by two games.  Stony Brook had won 14 of 15 games until losing at Vermont by 19 last Sunday.  The Sea Wolves have no spectacular non-conference wins.


Vermont has won nine in a row and 12 of their last 13.


Atlantic Ten

2 or 3 bids (most likely 2)


Temple (9-2/20-5) and St. Louis (9-3/21-5) are both on the bubble, with the Owls resting near the top of that bubble thanks to wins over Duke and Wichita State.  Xavier (7-4/16-9) has played their way into needing to win the automatic bid.  UMass (7-4/18-7) has the talent to win the conference tournament, as does St. Joe’s (7-5/17-10), LaSalle (6-5/17-9), and Dayton (6-5/16-9).



5-7 bids (probably 6)


North Carolina (9-2/22-4) and Duke (9-2/22-4) are definitely in.  Florida State (9-2/18-7) needs one more win to be a cinch.  Virginia (6-5/19-6 needs two more wins to be a lock.  These four will be called on Selection Sunday.


Three other teams are still in the hunt for at-large bids, and they are in order of preference: North Carolina St. (7-4/18-8), Miami (6-5/15-9), and Maryland (5-6/15-10).


Atlantic Sun

1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Perennial champion Belmont (12-2/20-7) is locked in a tight race with Mercer (12-2/20-7) for the regular season title.  But, the winner will only be guaranteed a bid in the NIT if they cannot win the conference tournament.


Mercer hosts the tournament this year, so the Bears have to be considered the favorite.  Belmont has yet to play at Mercer.  The Bruins close the regular season in Macon.


Big 12

5-7 bids (probably 6)


Losing Nebraska and Colorado did not affect this league’s basketball strength, and the same amount of teams should make the tournament this year than last.


What’s a Big Dance without Kansas (11-2/21-5)?  The Jayhawks are a lock, as are Missouri (11-2/24-2) and Baylor (9-4/22-4).  Any of these three could still be around in the Elite 8.


Two surprise teams come next.  Iowa State (8-5/18-8) is a positive surprise, while Texas (7-6/17-9) have not quite made enough of a case for themselves.  Fred Hoiberg has done a great job in Ames, and the Cyclones need maybe two more wins to be locks.  The Longhorns must win at least three more times to be on the safe side of the bubble.


Kansas State (6-7/17-8) is slowly falling down in the ranks of the elite.  The Wildcats must win three of their final five regular season games and at least once in the Big 12 Tournament to be considered a shoo-in.  Their next two are at Baylor and at Missouri, and the boys from the Little Apple could be 6-9/17-10 on Wednesday morning. 


Big East

6 to 9 bids (probably 7)


Recent trends in this league has made a muddy mess out of the group in the middle.  Five teams (Syracuse 13-1/26-1, Marquette 10-3/21-5, Notre Dame 10-3/18-8, Georgetown 9-4/19-5, and Louisville 8-5/20-6) will be dancing for sure. 


After that quintet, one to four more teams could make the dance, and five teams are competing for those one to four bids.  South Florida (9-4/16-10) is actually ahead of the other four in the conference standings, but the Bulls are actually the lowest team in this mini-bubble.  Looking down at USF in the bubble watch are: Cincinnati (8-5/18-8), Seton Hall (7-7/18-8), West Virginia (7-7/17-10), and Connecticut (6-7/17-9).


Pitt (4-10/15-12) could still make some noise at MSG in the conference tournament, but do not expect the Panthers to make a UConn-like run.


Big Sky

1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Weber State (13-1/21-4) has won 15 of 16 games, but the Wildcats are not on the bubble.  Weber State should win the automatic bid, and if they do, keep an eye on Damian Lillard, one of the best players you may not know.


Montana (12-1/19-6) can still win the regular season title, as they host the Wildcats to conclude the regular season on February 28.  The Grizzlies have won 14 or 15 games, losing only at Weber State. 


The regular season champion hosts the semifinal and final rounds, and the top two teams get byes to the semifinals, which makes seeding very important in this league.


Big South

1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Four teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, and it is hard to believe any other team would have a chance to win the conference tournament.


UNC-Asheville (14-2/19-8) and Coastal Carolina (11-5/18-8) are the two top teams in the league, and Campbell (11-5/17-11) and Charleston Southern (10-6/16-10) are the best of the rest.


UNCA can shoot and score, but they are a little soft inside.  CCU has more muscle inside and has shown a penchant for being able to play with major conference teams.  The Chanticleers own wins over LSU and Clemson.


Big Ten

6 to 8 bids (probably 7)


This league’s games have been on the boring side this year, and we have a feeling that more than one tournament team will fall in upsets in the Big Dance.  The league has become too controlled, and underdogs that can score cheap baskets could pull off multiple upsets in the tournament.


Michigan State (10-3/21-5) and Ohio State (10-3/22-4) can lose out and still get in the tournament.  Michigan (9-4/19-7), Wisconsin (8-5/19-7), and Indiana (8-6/20-6) will be in unless they lose out.  So count these five as sure things.


Purdue (7-6/17-9) is on the good side of the bubble.  Minnesota (5-8/17-9), Illinois (5-8/16-10, and Northwestern (5-8/15-10) are on the outside looking in.  If any of this trio can go 4-1 and then win their first conference tournament game, it could be enough to sneak in as one of the four majors that must go to Dayton.


Big West

1 or 2 bids


Long Beach State (12-0/19-6) has done enough to be on the bubble should they not win the conference tournament.  The 49ers played a brutally tough non-conference schedule, and they get one more in this week’s bracket buster game against Creighton.  LBSU has wins over Pitt, Xavier, and Auburn, and they have close losses to North Carolina, San Diego State, Kansas, and Louisville.


In conference play, the 49ers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 75.9 to 62.7.  Cal State Fullerton (9-3/17-7) is the top contender in a possible upset chance.


Colonial Athletic

1 to 3 bids


Here is where the RPI rankings could prove to be either more or less important than most people think.  This league’s RPI rankings are lackluster this year, but there are three teams strong enough to win an NCAA Tournament game, maybe even stronger than last year’s surprise Final Four participant.


Drexel (14-2/22-5) is squarely on the bubble.  Coach Bruiser Flint could be on his way to bigger and better things after bringing the Dragons this far.  They could be better than any of the Big Five in Philly this year.  Drexel has won 20 of their last 21, including wins over VCU and George Mason, the teams fighting them in the standings.  If the Dragons can win at Cleveland State this weekend, they may move close to sure thing status.


George Mason (14-2/22-6) is on par with the GMU team that played in the Final Four in the previous decade.  Ryan Pearson has the moves inside to give the Patriots balance.


Virginia Commonwealth (13-3/22-6) may be better this year than last when they snuck into the Final Four after having to play in the first round in Dayton.  However, the Rams may not even get into the tournament unless they close out with some key wins.


Conference USA

2 or 3 bids


Two teams, Southern Mississippi (9-2/22-4) and Memphis (9-2/19-7) have earned at-large bids if they do not win the conference tournament.  A host of also-rans could be considered contenders if they get hot in the conference tournament, but we cannot really see someone other than the Golden Eagles or Tigers cutting down the nets. 


The top contenders are Central Florida (7-4/18-7) and Tulsa (8-4/15-11).


Great West

0 bids


This league does not receive an automatic bid.  Utah Valley (7-0/18-10) will earn an automatic bid to the College Insider Tournament if they win the conference title.  They have a 2 ½ game lead.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


This league lost all of its luster once January gave way to February.  At one point, two or even three teams were in competition for an at-large bid, but now, none of the trio has a chance unless they win the automatic bid.


Valparaiso (12-4/19-9) leads fading Cleveland State (10-5/20-7).  Detroit (10-6/16-12) and Butler (10-6/16-12) will compete with those two in the conference tournament.  Butler might still be considered the favorite when the conference tournament begins.  16-2 in the postseason in the last two years is enough to qualify as a tournament-savvy team.


Ivy League

1 or 2 bids


Harvard (7-1/21-3) could still earn an at-large bid if they somehow lost to Yale twice (at home in the regular season and then in a playoff) and won the rest of their games.  This has about as much chance of happening as Ron Paul’s chances to win the Republican nomination.


Yale (6-2/16-6) lost at home to their arch-rival by 30, so the chances of the Bulldogs beating the Crimson twice are virtually nil.



1 or 2 bids


We are giving Iona (13-3/21-6) the benefit of the doubt in the bubble watch, but we really do not think the Gaels are bubble-worthy yet.  A bracket buster win over Nevada might put them on the lower end of the bubble, but it would still be a tough road to an at-large bid should they lose to another MAAC team in the conference tournament.


Loyola (MD) (12-4/19-7) is the chief competitor.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Akron (11-1/19-7), Kent State (9-3/19-6), and Buffalo (9-3/16-7) are the top contenders to win the MAC Tournament, with Ohio U (8-4/20-6) the best of the rest.  One of these four should win the league’s only bid.


Kent State has won seven games in a row by an average margin of better than 13 points.  The Golden Flashes own a win over West Virginia, so they are capable of competing in the Big Dance.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


This league has not fared well in recent years, but things could be a little different this year.  Two teams, Savannah State (9-2/16-10) and Norfolk State (10-3/18-9), have enough talent to get past a first round opponent in Dayton. 


Missouri Valley

2 or 3 bids (probably 2)


Wichita State (14-2/23-4) is already a lock and should be a higher seed than their opening game opponent.  The Shockers could sneak into the top six in seeding.


Creighton (12-4/22-5) has fallen back a step or two in the last 10 days, but the Blue Jays are also already in the Big Dance.  They have the Jeremy Lin of college basketball in coach’s son Doug McDermott.  McDermott averages 23 points and 8 rebounds per game, and he shoots like Larry Bird (61+% FG, 83% FT, and 50% 3-pt).


A host of contenders could get hot and win Arch Madness in St. Louis.  Missouri State (9-7/16-12), Illinois State (8-8/16-11), and Drake (8-8/15-12) are the three top contenders, but keep an eye on Northern Iowa (7-9/17-11).


Mountain West

3 or 4 bids (probably 3)


New Mexico (7-2/21-4), UNLV (6-3/22-5), and San Diego State (6-3/20-5) are in barring a total collapse.


Whether or not a fourth team can surprise in the MWC Tournament is the question.  There are three other teams capable of winning the automatic bid.  TCU (5-4/15-10), Wyoming (4-5/18-7), and Colorado State (4-5/15-9) all have the talent to make a run.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


We follow this league more than most other pundits.  It is our opinion that two teams deserve to be highly considered for the Big Dance, but we know that only the conference tournament champion will get a bid.


Long Island (14-1/20-7) and Wagner (13-2/22-4) are both tournament worthy.  LIU swept Wagner in two close games, and it will be hard to defeat the Blackbirds to beat the Seahawks a third time if they meet in the Championship Game.


Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd give LIU a potent inside attack.  The dynamic duo average 34.6 points and 17 rebounds per game.  Jason Brickman is the best point guard in the league.


Robert Morris (11-4/20-8) is the only team to beat the Blackbirds.  They should earn a post-season bid to one of the lesser tournaments.


Ohio Valley

1 or 2 bids


The OVC has only once before sent more than one team to the Big Dance, and that was more than 20 years ago when two teams (Akron and Middle Tennessee) no longer in the league made the field.


Murray State (13-1/25-1) can virtually wrap up an at-large bid with a win tomorrow over Saint Mary’s.  The Racers probably will not need it, but there are two teams capable of knocking them off in the conference tournament.


Tennessee State (11-4/18-10) penned the one loss on Murray, and they did it on the road.  The Tigers benefit from having the conference tournament in Nashville, less than two miles from campus.


Tennessee Tech (9-6/17-11) is the other team to watch out for.



1 or 2 bids (probably 2)


This is not a typo.  As little as one team could receive an invitation to dance from a conference that is supposed to be one of the Big Six leagues.


California (11-3/21-6) is the only sure thing.  If the Bears win the Pac-12 Tournament, then the boys from Berkeley could be the only league team in the NCAA Tournament.


This league’s lack of star quality should make for a great conference tournament.  Washington (11-3/18-8), Arizona (10-4/19-8), Colorado (9-4/17-8), Oregon (9-5/18-8), Stanford (8-6/18-8), and UCLA (8-6/15-11) all have a shot at winning the automatic bid.  None of these teams are spectacular, but any one of them could get hot and win three or four games in three or four days.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Bucknell (10-1/20-7) is the prohibitive favorite to return to the Big Dance.  Lehigh (8-3/20-7) and American (8-3/17-9) are the top contenders.



3 to 6 bids (probably 4)


Kentucky (11-0/25-1) and Florida (8-3/20-6) are already in the tournament.  Vanderbilt (7-4/18-8) probably needs just two more wins to get in.


After those three, it is a dogfight for fourth through seventh.  Mississippi State (6-5/19-7) is the leading contender for a possible fourth bid, while Tennessee (6-5/14-12), Alabama (5-6/16-9), and Arkansas (5-6/17-9) contending for possible fifth and sixth bids.  If one of these three can win a combination of five more regular season and conference tournament games, they should sneak into the Dance.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Davidson (14-2/20-6) is close to being added to the bubble.  Maybe a Wildcat win over Wichita State would put them on the bubble.  However, we feel like the Wildcats will get there via an automatic bid.  The rest of the league is mediocre or worse.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Texas-Arlington (12-0/20-5) is a little weaker than Davidson, and the Mavericks could get a little more respect with a win at Weber State in the Bracket Buster game.


The rest of the league is marginally better than the rest of the Southern Conference, so we believe UTA has a rather strong shot of winning the automatic bid.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


This league has struggled in recent years, and this year should be no different.  There really aren’t any really good teams in the SWAC this year.  Mississippi Valley is 13-0 in league play and 1-11 outside the league.  Southern (9-4/13-13) has the best out of conference mark at 4-9, and two of those wins came against non-Division 1 teams.



1 or 2 bids


Oral Roberts (16-1/24-5) is on the bubble, and if the Golden Eagles handle Akron with ease, like we think they will, they could move into the middle of the bubble.


South Dakota State (13-3/21-7) is the principle rival to ORU in the conference tournament.  Should SDSU beat ORU in the final round, then ORU would be given strong consideration in the at-large picks.



1 or 2 bids


Middle Tennessee (12-1/23-4) is in the same boat as Oral Roberts, but the Blue Raiders do not play in the Bracket Buster.  With a high RPI, Middle Tennessee should rank just below the second choice in the West Coast on the mid-major bubble.


Denver (9-5/19-8) is the top contender, but we believe the Blue Raiders will not need an at-large bid to get in the Dance.


West Coast

2 or 3 bids (probably 2)


Gonzaga (11-2/21-4) is a lock for the Big Dance based on their out-of-conference slate.  The Bulldogs trail Saint Mary’s (12-2/23-4) by a half game in the standings.  The Gaels can wrap up an at-large bid with a win at Murray State tomorrow.


BYU (10-3/22-6) discovered that the WCC is as tough as the MWC.  The Cougars will probably have to make it to the finals of the WCC Tournament to earn an at-large bid.


Loyola Marymount (10-4/17-10) is out of at-large consideration, but the Lions are talented enough to pull off a couple of upsets and play spoiler at the conference tournament.



1 bid: Conference Tournament Champion


Nevada (10-1/22-4) is in the same boat as Davidson and UT-Arlington.  The Wolf Pack need a big win at Iona to be considered to be at the bottom of the bubble.  They have won 19 of 20 games, and they are flying under the radar due to their intrastate rival down south.  Had the Wolf Pack defeated UNLV by four instead of losing by four, they would be on the bubble and probably ranked in the top 25.


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