The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 12, 2018

2018 Mid-American Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

They call it “Maction.” The Mid-American Conference frequently produces teams capable of beating the lower half of the Big Ten and occasionally a weaker upper echelon team from their Big Brother rival conference. Additionally, the MAC has produced some star players that became NFL stars. It has also successfully placed its champion in the New Year’s 6 bowl that is reserved for a Group of 5 team.

2018 should be no different in these respects. The MAC has some strong teams, two or three of which are talented enough to make a run at the NY6 Bowl bid. On the other hand, these teams are good enough to beat each other and prevent the champion from running the table. Additionally, both divisions have more than one really good team, so it may be difficult to have either division champion go 8-0 in the league.

2018 could be another Year of the Quarterback in this league. Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson led the league in passing last year as a sophomore. Jackson missed four games, but when he was healthy, he was the top quarterback in the league. Against Bowling Green he topped 400 passing yards and three touchdowns versus no interceptions. He threw four TD passes the next week against Ball State, and he finished the year with 294 yards and two scores in a win over Ohio. If he stays healthy, Jackson could pass for 3,000 and run for 1,000 yards this year.

Another junior quarterback, Nathan Rourke makes Ohio’s offense potent. Rourke is also a dual-threat QB; his passing arm isn’t quite up to Jackson’s quality, but he is a little better runner and has a considerably better offensive line in Athens.

The MAC-East is rich with quality quarterbacks. Miami of Ohio’s Gus Ragland is the senior statesman of the division. Ragland became a star in the second half of the 2016 season, when he orchestrated a 6-0 finish after the Red Hawks began the season 0-6. He’s more of a move the pocket passer than Jackson or Rourke and will not beat opponents with his legs. Miami’s much improved offensive line should give Ragland a chance to compete for top passer in the MAC.

The West Division will have the best defensive team this year. Northern Illinois should have the best pass defense in the entire league, as their pass rush and pass coverage both rank as the tops in the MAC. NIU will face competition from Toledo, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and even Eastern Michigan. The Huskies probably have the best chance at going 8-0 in the league, because the West is a little down compared to recent years.

One reason why no MAC team may qualify for the NY6 Bowl this year is a much tougher slate of non-conference schedules. Every team faces a tough Power 5 opponent, and the ratings call for the MAC to lose all of these games.  Northern Illinois could easily lose all four non-conference games having to play at Iowa, Florida State, and BYU and host Utah. Of course, our ratings cannot select upsets out of a hat, and usually there is always an upset or two, which is why we only rely on our ratings for picking the next game on the schedule for each team.

Here is how the MAC media voted in the preseason poll.

Mid-American
Team Votes
East Division 1st Place Total
1. Ohio 21 140
2. Buffalo 1 112
3. Miami (Ohio) 2 95
4. Akron 0 74
5. Bowling Green 0 58
6. Kent State 0 25
West Division 1st Place Total
1. Northern Illinois 15 133
2. Toledo 7 125
3. Western Michigan 1 87
4. Eastern Michigan 0 67
5. Central Michigan 1 58
6. Ball State 0 34

Picked to win 2018 MAC Championship Game
Ohio 13
Toledo 5
Northern Illinois 4
Miami 1
Central Michigan 1

The PiRate Ratings differ minimally from the media’s preseason opinions.

Mid-American Conference
East Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio U 0-0 0-0 95.1 96.5 96.4 96.0
Buffalo 0-0 0-0 94.3 96.7 95.4 95.5
Miami (O) 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.9 93.4 92.9
Akron 0-0 0-0 90.5 92.1 90.7 91.1
Bowling Green 0-0 0-0 85.1 85.4 85.7 85.4
Kent St. 0-0 0-0 80.2 81.6 79.5 80.4
West Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Toledo 0-0 0-0 96.3 98.4 96.4 97.0
Northern Illinois 0-0 0-0 96.3 97.9 96.6 96.9
Western Michigan 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.8 92.9 92.8
Eastern Michigan 0-0 0-0 89.1 90.5 89.8 89.8
Central Michigan 0-0 0-0 84.8 88.5 85.2 86.2
Ball St. 0-0 0-0 77.7 80.4 77.4 78.5
MAC Averages 89.4 91.3 90.0 90.2

 

New Coaches

Kent State: Sean Lewis has some history in the MAC.  He was the offensive coordinator for Dino Babers at Bowling Green, when the Falcons torched MAC defenses for 45.6 points per game in 2015.  Lewis followed Babers to Syracuse, where he helped lead the Orangemen to new passing heights.  He played for Brett Bielema at Wisconsin, so he could incorporate some of his alma mater’s power game with the Baylor-style spread offense.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

East
Team Conference Overall
Ohio 7-1 10-3
Buffalo 6-2 8-4
Akron 4-4 5-7
Miami (O) 4-4 4-8
Bowling Green 1-7 3-9
Kent St. 0-8 1-11
West
Team Conference Overall
Northern Illinois 8-0 9-4 *
Toledo 7-1 9-3
Western Michigan 4-4 6-6
Eastern Michigan 4-4 5-7
Central Michigan 2-6 3-9
Ball St. 1-7 2-10
* Northern Illinois picked to win MAC Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The MAC does not have a set bowl pecking order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall games. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL
Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX
Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, ID

There is a secondary bowl agreement with the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit if it needs an at-large alternate.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mountain West Conference

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March 14, 2011

2011 PiRate NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:01 pm

1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category?  That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.

 

ANSWER—No teams this year meet all the perfect criteria described above.  Six teams come close to meeting the perfect criteria, but all fall short in at least one statistic.  This means there is no clear-cut favorite—only six teams that most closely resemble the great champions of the past.  Of the six, three come from power conferences.  These three are Kansas, Ohio State, and Syracuse.

 

Kansas fails to meet the turnover margin requirement, but the Jayhawks surpass all the other qualifications.  Ohio State comes up a tad bit short in field goal percentage margin, rebounding margin, and steals per game, but just misses in all three.  Syracuse misses in rebounding and turnover margin, but they Orangemen do not miss by much. 

 

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?  Which teams have an incredibly low R+T Rating (<2.0)?

 

ANSWER—Three teams can immediately be eliminated due to negative R+T Ratings.  It comes as no surprise that Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio, two teams facing off in the First Round in Dayton, have negative R+T ratings.  The third team is Michigan.  The Wolverines were outrebounded by 1.9 boards per game, and they only had a +1.4 turnover margin with just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Five other teams finished with R+T ratings less than 2.0.  This usually means one and done for these teams, unless they have outstanding FG% margins or cupcake opponents with worse criteria numbers.  Those five teams are: Penn State, Richmond, St. Peter’s, UCLA, and UCSB.

 

3. Which teams are capable of winning it all?

 

ANSWER—We separate the contenders from the pretenders by looking at the total PiRate Criteria score and then looking to see if the high criteria scoring teams receive merit on every individual statistic.

 

Last year, Duke was head and heels better than the other 64 teams.  The Blue Devils had the highest score overall, and they satisfactorily rated in every PiRate category.

 

No teams appear to be as strong this year as the Blue Devils were last year, but nine teams meet most of the minimum requirements to be considered Final Four contenders this year.

 

It should come as no surprise that the top two teams, Ohio State and Kansas, rank at the top in the Criteria.  Kansas actually has the highest score of the 68 teams, a score of 23.  The Jayhawks outscored their opposition by 17.2 points, shot 11.7% better from the field than their opponents, and outrebounded their opponents by 7.8 boards per game.  These stats are worthy of a powerhouse.  However, KU enjoyed just a 0.9 turnover margin and stole the ball 7.9 times per game, giving the Jayhawks an R+T Rating of 9.5.  We tend to look for teams with an R+T Rating in excess of 10, so KU is not a great favorite to go all the way. 

 

Ohio State’s total Criteria score is 21, good for second best.  However, the Buckeyes enjoy an R+T Rating of 13.2, which is a number we really like in a Final Four contender.  This number correlates to 13 extra scoring opportunities that their opposition does not receive.  OSU outscores their opponents by 17.3 points per game, shot 6.9% better from the field than they allows, outrebounded their opponents by 4.9 per game, had a turnover margin of +4.8, and stole the ball 7.2 times per game. 

 

San Diego State comes in third with 19 total criteria points.  BYU, Pittsburgh, and Texas come in next with 18 points; the Panthers have an R+T rating above 10.  The other three teams with PiRate Criteria scores showing themselves to be strong contenders for a Final Four berth are Syracuse, Purdue, and Duke

 

Florida, North Carolina, and UNLV are actually almost in a statistical tie with Duke, meaning those three are dark horse candidates for the Final Four.

 

Overall, this is the weakest field by far in the six tournaments where we have ranked the teams according to our criteria.  Looking back, this could be the weakest field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. 

 

North Carolina State, Kansas, and Villanova won national titles in the past with less than stellar numbers.  We do not have all the statistics from those years, so we cannot really calculate criteria numbers for those three champions.  Could this be a season in which one team gets hot for six games and comes from out of the pack to win it all?  It could happen, but we are sticking with this mechanical system and going with its results.  Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Texas appear to be the best PiRate Criteria matches to past Final Four teams, and they are the quartet we officially pick to make it to Houston.  Syracuse becomes the wildcard team that could sneak into the mix.

 

Here is a look at the First Four Round One games and the 32 second round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

 

First Four Round

 

#16 Texas-San Antonio 19-13 (Elim) vs. #16 Alabama State 17-17 (Elim)

At first, we thought this was highly ironic, but upon further review, we consider it sort of a compliment.  These two teams both must be eliminated based on negative R+T ratings.  Of course, one of them must win this game so that they can advance to a 25-point or more loss in the next round.

 

Most of you filling out your brackets do not have to worry about these games in Dayton.  You get to turn in your choices after these games have been played.

 

UTSA has better criteria numbers after you factor out both teams’ R+T numbers. 

 

Prediction: Texas-San Antonio 64  Alabama State 55

 

 

#12 U A B 22-8 (2) vs. #12 Clemson 21-11 (1)

If you have been following the “experts” since the pairings were announced Sunday evening, then you know that these two teams do not belong in the tournament in their opinion.  It is not our mission statement to declare which teams should and should not have been included in the Big Dance, but we will tell you that Harvard and Saint Mary’s enjoyed Criteria scores several points better than these two teams, while Colorado and Virginia Tech had equal numbers to these two.

 

This game should be as close as the criteria scores show.  UAB has a one-point advantage in the criteria, but the Blazers just do not excel in any stage of the game.  Clemson’s strong point is forcing turnovers by way of steals, and that leads to a lot of cheap baskets.  Cheap baskets pay off big time in the NCAA Tournament, so we will take the Tigers in this one.

 

Prediction: Clemson 74  UAB 67

 

#11 Southern Cal 19-14 (-1) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 23-11 (-1)

The winner of this game is going home two days later.  Neither team merits inclusion in the Big Dance this year. 

 

Southern Cal has no apparent weakness according to the PiRate Criteria.  In fact, they have a great resume—for an NIT team.

 

The Trojans outscore their opponents by four points per game, and they outshoot them by 3.3%.  They have a small rebounding margin of 1.2, and they have an even smaller turnover margin of 0.6.  They average six steals per game and have a R+T rating of 2.1.  On top of these modest numbers, their schedule was average.

 

VCU is much in the same boat as USC with two exceptions.  They have a negative turnover margin, but they also average 8.5 steals per game.

 

The only other difference in these teams is their records away from home.  USC won only 41% of their games, while VCU won 60%.

 

This one is quite tough to pick, but we will go with the Trojans due to their superior inside talent.  We expect USC to win the rebounding edge by at least five.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal  65  V C U  60

 

#16 UNC-Asheville 19-13 (-5) vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock 19-16 (-13)

Obviously, we have two teams that would not even merit NIT bids had they lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments.  UALR has one of the lowest Criteria Scores in the seven years we have been calculating this data.

 

UNC-Asheville actually has a couple of positive Criteria stats.  Their R+T is 5.5, which had it come against a more difficult schedule, would have made them worthy of becoming a possible team to watch in the Round of 64.

 

We will go with UNCA here, as schedule strength is about the same for both teams.

 

Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69  Arkansas-Little Rock 59

 

 

Second-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Ohio State 32-2 (21) vs. #16 UTSA (Elim)/Alabama State (Elim)

This game will be over quickly.  There will be no scare, not even for two TV timeouts.  The second highest Criteria score versus one of the teams with an R+T Rating of “Eliminate.”

 

The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by more than 17 points per game.  Their strength of schedule was 13 points better than UTSA and 16 points better than Alabama State. 

 

We will go under the theory that UTSA will be the opponent in this game.  Using our Criteria Rating, Ohio State figures to be 30-40 points better than UTSA.  Coach Thad Matta will definitely empty his bench early in this game, so the Buckeyes may “only win” by 25-30. 

 

Prediction: Ohio State 78  Texas-San Antonio 50

 

#8 George Mason 26-6 (8) vs. #9 Villanova 21-11 (5)

George Mason is the higher seed in this game, so if they win, it cannot really be considered an upset.

 

Villanova was on course to be a four-seed when the Wildcats were 16-5 and contending for the Big East Conference regular season title.  The Wildcats could not compete down low against the more physical teams in their league.

 

George Mason has a higher PiRate Criteria Score, but it is not an insurmountable advantage.  The key stat for this game is the R+T Rating.  For GMU, it is 6.8.  For VU, it is 4.9.  Considering that Villanova played a harder schedule, these numbers basically cancel each other out, thus making this a tossup game.

 

There are two variables to consider here.  George Mason performed much better on the road, and Villanova is banged up a bit.

 

Prediction: George Mason 66  Villanova 62

 

#5 West Virginia 20-11 (6) vs. #12 UAB (2)/Clemson (1)

We believe the Mountaineers will be facing Clemson in this game, but the prediction will hold up if they play UAB. 

 

West Virginia is not as good this season as last season, and the Mountaineers will not advance to the Final Four, or even the Elite Eight.  They are liable to be out by the end of the weekend.  However, they are strong enough to get into the Round of 32. 

 

The Mountaineers best attribute is that they put up decent numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the country.  Of the NCAA Tournament teams, only Georgetown played a tougher schedule.  They will have to limit turnovers, or else this game will be close and go down to the wire.  We believe Coach Bob Huggins will be able to keep the pace at a level he likes and not allow Clemson (or UAB) to force the Mountaineers into enough mistakes to turn the tide.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Clemson 62 (Or UAB 58)

 

#4 Kentucky 25-8 (14) vs. #13 Princeton 25-6 (-2)

Princeton has pulled off the big upset in the past, and they came within a missed jumper at the buzzer of becoming the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed.  However, that was two decades ago.  The Tigers have not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and that big win over UCLA was 15 years ago. 

 

Kentucky is not the type of team that will allow Princeton’s style of play to affect their style of play.  The Wildcats should actually play better than their norm with fewer mistakes. 

 

We believe that Princeton will actually crumble under relentless man-to-man pressure and turn the ball over enough times in the opening minutes of the game to allow the Wildcats to open a quick double-digit lead.  This group of Cats tends to fiddle around a little once they get a quick double-digit lead and then play uninspired ball until the opponent makes a run.  Then, they go on the attack at the right time and put the game away.

 

Adolph Rupp had a team just like this in 1958.  They were called “The Fiddlin’ Five.”  They were also called National Champions.  We won’t go so far as to put UK into this category, but we will advance the Wildcats into the next round and then into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 72  Princeton 59

 

#6 Xavier 24-7 (8) vs. #11 Marquette 20-14 (3)

If you are looking for a tough, hard-fought game with two Midwestern teams, then tune into this game Friday evening.

 

If the Musketeers were a little more competent at forcing turnovers, they could be a dark horse candidate to advance to the Elite Eight.  XU shoots the ball well and plays well on defense when it comes to preventing a lot of easy shots.  They do well on the boards, and against a team that cannot exploit their ball-handling and ball-hawking deficiencies, they will hold their own inside.  The only other possible problem for the Musketeers is a lack of depth, but in the NCAA Tournaments, TV timeouts are longer.  It is hard to wear a team down with such long breaks every four or so minutes.

 

Marquette does not have enough depth to take advantage of Xavier’s lack of depth, so this factor will become a non-factor.  The Golden Eagles got to this tournament due to their ability to put the ball into the basket.  Marquette needs to shoot better than 46% to win, while Xavier is adept at holding teams under 45% as a rule.

 

Prediction: Xavier 71  Marquette 65

 

#3 Syracuse 26-7 (17) vs. #14 Indiana State 20-13 (-4)

Syracuse has been getting very little national exposure since their 18-0 start ended with an 8-7 finish.  The Orangemen are a team to watch in this tournament.  If not for a pedestrian 71% winning percentage away from the Carrier Dome, we would have them as one of the top four teams in this tournament.

 

Coach Jim Boeheim’s team outscores their opposition by 10.3 points per game; they outshoot them by 7.6%, and they outrebound them by 3.6 boards per game.  Their turnover margin is +1.9, and they averaged almost nine steals per game.  Their R+T Rating is 7.6, and their Strength of Schedule is somewhere between above-average and very good.  This is the Criteria Score of a team that will advance to the Sweet 16 and compete for an Elite Eight and Final Four berth.

 

Indiana State needs the return of Larry Bird to win this game.  They are too perimeter-oriented.  The Sycamores do not have the beef down low to contend in the paint, and even though Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, teams rarely beat the Orangemen by firing up 25 long-range bombs.

 

This one smells like a blowout.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 81  Indiana State 62

 

#7 Washington 23-10 (13) vs. #10 Georgia 21-11 (2)

Washington is one of those teams that can play with anybody in this tournament—when they are playing up to their potential.  The Huskies could also exit in the first round if they play like they did the weekend they went to Oregon and Oregon State.

 

Georgia is much more consistent, but their best effort will not defeat the Huskies’ best effort.

 

Washington lacked the seasoned experience this season, and it showed when they ventured away from Seattle.  The Huskies lost to weaker opponents because they lacked the composure to win on foreign courts.  That changed when they arrived in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament.  Isaiah Thomas took over command of the team and led them to the tournament title.  This makes UW a scary and dangerous team capable of returning to the Sweet 16.

 

Georgia must really dominate the glass in this game, because we believe they will turn the ball over too many times against UW’s pressure man-to-man defense.  It is our opinion that the Bulldogs will play a little timidly at the start of this game and find themselves in a hole.

 

The Bulldogs had trouble against Alabama’s defense, and Washington is similar but with a much better offense.

 

Prediction: Washington 78  Georgia 70

 

#2 North Carolina 26-7 (15) vs. #15 Long Island 27-5 (-1)

 

Long Island is just the type of team that can forget that their opponent is a dynasty program that chews up and spits out little programs like this.

 

Teams from Brooklyn don’t intimidate easily, especially when they are led by a trio of Texans.  So, LIU will not be intimidated, but will they be talented enough to make a game of this contest?

 

That’s the rub.  They lack the defensive ability to slow down the Tar Heels, while Coach Roy Williams’ team will be able to hold the Blackbirds under their scoring average.  The big problem for LIU will be holding onto the ball, and we could see North Carolina forcing 20 turnovers in this game.  When the Tar Heels force more turnovers than they commit, they are almost unbeatable.  This game could be interesting for a short time, but it will eventually get out of hand.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 88  Long Island 70

 

West Regional

 

#1 Duke 30-4 (15) vs. #16 Hampton 24-8 (-8)

Duke has nothing to worry about here.  This will be like one of their November/December home games where they quickly put the cupcake away with a barrage of power and speed.  You know the type: a 37-point win over Princeton; a 34-point win over Miami of Ohio; a 52-point win over Colgate.

 

Hampton got to the Dance using an aggressive defense and three-point shooting barrage on offense.  Duke will not be affected by the defensive pressure, and they will cut off the open shots from the outside.  It will be a mercy killing, and it will be quick.  Look for the Blue Devils to be up by more than 15 points before the halfway point of the first half.  By the time Coach K empties the bench, the Blue Devils should be up by 25-30 points.

 

Prediction: Duke 81  Hampton 61

 

#8 Michigan 20-13 (Elim) vs. #9 Tennessee 19-14 (10)

Michigan is the highest-rated team that fails to meet our R+T Rating requirement, so the Wolverines are automatically tabbed as a first-round loser.

 

Coach Jim Beilein has been in a similar position before.  He guided a West Virginia team with not-so-flashy Criteria numbers to the Elite Eight, where they forced Louisville to come from 20 points down to rally for the victory.  That WVU team had one of the worst negative rebounding numbers of any team in Elite Eight history, but that team made few mistakes and had a nice turnover margin.

 

This Michigan team was only outrebounded by two a game, but they do not create enough extra possessions with their miniscule turnover margin of 1.4 and their average of just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Tennessee has been up and down, and the Volunteers are not going to make a repeat run to the Elite Eight this year.  However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s troops will control the boards in this game and maybe force more turnovers than they commit.  We figure that Tennessee will have 10 more opportunities to score in this game, and that is too many for the Wolverines to make up with their three-point shooting.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 74  Michigan 69

 

#5 Arizona 27-7 (3) vs. #12 Memphis 25-9 (-1)

Memphis was not going to earn an at-large bid this season had they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament.  They received an ideal first round opponent, and the Tigers actually have a fighting chance to pull off yet another classic #12-seed over #5-seed upset.

 

Arizona needs to pound the ball inside and rely on numerous offensive rebounds to win this game.  Other teams might be able to exploit Memphis’s poor ball-handling skills, but the Wildcats do not have the defensive acumen to take advantage here.

 

Memphis will try to make this an up-tempo game where they can neutralize Arizona’s height advantage inside.  It has a chance of working, but Arizona probably has too much power inside and just enough quickness to stop the Tigers’ transition game.

 

Prediction: Arizona 76  Memphis 69

 

#4 Texas 27-7 (18) vs. #13 Oakland 25-9 (3)

This has become a popular upset pick in the media.  Oakland has generated a lot of positive press, and many “experts” are calling for the upset in this game.  We are not one of them.  Not only do we believe the Longhorns will take care of Oakland with relative ease in this game, we believe Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the next two or three rounds. 

 

Let’s look at Texas’ Criteria Rating.  At 18, the ‘Horns rate as our sixth best team in the tournament.  They have a 13.5 point scoring margin, a 7.1% field goal margin, a 6.6 rebounding margin, and a 1.2 turnover margin.  Their only Achilles Heel is a low amount of steals resulting in a R+T Rating of 8.3.  Had that number been above 10, we would be selecting Coach Rick Barnes’ team for the Final Four.

 

Oakland won this year with strong rebounding and an excellent ability to force their opponents into bad shots.  Center Keith Benson is a future NBA player, but he is not enough to propel the Golden Grizzlies into the next round.

 

Prediction: Texas 77  Oakland 65

 

#6 Cincinnati 25-8 (9) vs. #11 Missouri 23-9 (10)

On paper, this looks like the best game of this round between a team with contrasting styles.

 

Cincinnati is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament.  The Bearcats are tough inside, and they have quality depth to continue playing hard in the paint. 

 

Missouri uses the “40 minutes of Hell” approach that Coach Mike Anderson learned under his mentor Nolan Richardson.  The Tigers press full court and run the fast break as often as they get the chance.  They are perimeter-oriented and can score a lot of points in a hurry.

 

When we try to decide tossup games, we look to the all-important defense and rebounding stats, since that is what wins close games in the Big Dance. 

 

Missouri is vulnerable in both of these crucial areas.  They have given up a lot of cheap baskets this year when teams solved their press.  The Tigers were outrebounded by 1.7 boards per game.

 

Cincinnati owns a +2.7 rebounding margin, and the Bearcats held onto the ball quite competently.  We believe Coach Mick Cronin’s crew will advance.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 68  Missouri 65

 

#3 Connecticut 26-9 (9) vs. #14 Bucknell 25-8 (-4)

Ask Kansas Coach Bill Self if it is wise to underestimate Bucknell.  The Bison know how to hold onto the ball and work for intelligent shots.  Give them an opening, and they can bury you with a high field goal percentage.

 

Connecticut did the unthinkable by winning five games in five days.  Their defense does not get the merit it deserves, because Kemba Walker gets more attention for his offensive antics.  The Huskies actually held teams under 40% from the field.

 

Coach Jim Calhoun knows how to prepare a team for tournament action.  He will have UConn ready for this game, and the Huskies will not overlook the Bison.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 73  Bucknell 58

 

#7 Temple 25-7 (5) vs. #10 Penn State 19-14 (-1)

Temple’s score must be tempered by the fact that they are a wounded team coming into this tournament.  Two starters suffered injuries late in the season, and one is out for the remainder of the year, while the other may or may not be ready to play.  We must throw out Temple’s score of “5” in the PiRate Criteria, because 40% of the key players that produced that number will either not play or be greatly less effective.

 

Penn State is a lot like Southern Cal in this tournament.  The Nittany Lions have the look of a strong NIT team.  Aside from a so-so record against a strong schedule, they really have little to offer outside of one star player. 

 

We believe this Keystone State rivalry game will be close, and it could come down to the last shot.  Because the Owls are limping, we will go with the Big Ten representative.

 

Prediction: Penn State 59  Temple 56

 

#2 San Diego State 32-2 (19) vs. #15 Northern Colorado 21-10 (-6)

Most of you reading this probably cannot remember Texas Western University, but you may have scene the movie where the Miners were too quick for Kentucky and pulled off the big upset to win the 1966 National Championship.  Maybe some of you remember the Long Beach State 49ers ascension into the top 10 under Jerry Tarkanian and then Lute Olson.  Still more can remember when Tark the Shark moved to UNLV and turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a national power.

 

San Diego State is the next Western team to fit this bill.  The Aztecs are legitimate contenders to advance deep into this tournament.  They have few exploitable weaknesses, and they are the best team West of the Rockies.  Coach Steve Fisher knows how to get teams ready for tournament play, as he has three Final Fours on his resume and one National Championship.

 

SDSU’s PiRate Criteria numbers are flashy.  Their scoring margin is 13.3 points per game.  Their FG% margin is 7.1%.  They outrebound their opposition by almost seven per game, and they force 1.6 more turnovers than they commit.  Their one weak spot is a pedestrian 6.2 steals average.  If they run up against a more powerful team inside, they could have trouble getting enough extra scoring opportunities.

 

Northern Colorado will not be one of those teams that can cause trouble for the Aztecs.  The Bears are a good rebounding team, but their rebounding prowess came against a schedule that rates 10 points weaker than San Diego State’s schedule.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 73  Northern Colorado 51

 

Southwest Regional

#1 Kansas 32-2 (23) vs. #16 Boston U 21-13 (-11)

Kansas is a team on a mission.  The Jayhawks will not allow a repeat of what happened last year, and that extra incentive should be enough to send KU to Houston.

 

Kansas has the top PiRate Criteria Score this year.  They meet the basic requirements that most prior National Champions have met—scoring margin: 17.2; FG% margin: 11.7; Rebounding margin: 7.8; Turnover Margin: 0.9; Steals per game: 7.9; R+T Ratings: 9.5.

 

How do you beat this year’s KU team?  Kansas State and Texas pulled it off by matching up well inside and going head-to-head with them in the paint.

 

Boston U has the second lowest PiRate Criteria score of the 65 teams that have positive R+T Ratings.  The Terriers are way overmatched in this game, and they will have to be glad they just made it here.

 

Prediction: Kansas 90  Boston U 62

 

#8 U N L V 24-8 (15) vs. #9 Illinois 19-13 (1)

If our ratings are worth their salt, then this game should not be all that close.  UNLV may be just the third best team in the Mountain West, but the MWC was better overall this year than the Pac-10.  Third best in the MWC makes the Runnin’ Rebels one of the dozen or so teams capable of making a two weekend run.

 

Coach Lon Kruger has taken two different teams to the Elite Eight (Kansas State and Florida).  His teams play intelligently without being flashy.

 

UNLV went 24-3 against teams not named Brigham Young or San Diego State.  They are not particularly strong on the boards, and this will eventually be their downfall.  The Rebels shoot the ball brilliantly, and they alter enough opponent shots to force a lower field goal percentage.  They also take care of the ball and do not make a lot of floor mistakes.

 

Illinois is an inconsistent, underachieving team.  This can be dangerous for the prognosticator, because it is difficult if not impossible to predict which schizophrenic state will appear for each game.

 

The Illini are not particularly strong on the glass or at taking care of the ball, and that is a recipe for disaster when the opponent is as good as UNLV.  Even if Illinois comes out playing their best basketball, it may not be enough to beat UNLV playing their typical game.

 

Prediction: U N L V  72  Illinois 64

 

#5 Vanderbilt 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Richmond 26-7 (2)

Here is another game getting a lot of attention due to its upset potential.  Historically, the #12 seed produces the a lot of great upsets.

 

This game could go either way.  Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, and it just so happens that both teams’ have the assets capable of exploiting the other’s weaknesses.

 

Let’s start with Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are not particularly strong on the defensive perimeter.  Worthy opponents have been able to beat them off the drive and get a lot of open inside shots.  This weak perimeter defense has also led to frontcourt players having to help, thus leaving open holes near the basket.

 

Richmond’s offense is a modified version of the Princeton Offense.  The Spiders have the talent to get open shots inside and in the five to ten-foot range.

 

Richmond cannot rebound against more physical teams.  The Spiders make up for their rebounding liabilities by seldom throwing the ball away.

 

Vanderbilt has an excellent physical presence inside with three beefy players that can rebound the ball on offense and defense.

 

So, which team gets the edge in our PiRate Ratings?  We always look to defense in rebounding in tossup games.  Vanderbilt holds the rebounding edge, while Richmond holds the defensive edge.  It is basically a wash, so we have to look elsewhere.  While Richmond has been much better away from home, Vanderbilt’s schedule is seven points more difficult.  We’ll go with the power conference team, but not by much

 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 70  Richmond 67

 

#4 Louisville 25-9 (12) vs. #13 Morehead State 24-9 (3)

This should be an interesting game, but in the end the big brothers are going to defeat their little brothers in this battle of two Bluegrass State teams.

 

40 years ago this week, another little brother upset a big brother on their way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four (later vacated).  In 1971, Western Kentucky did not just upset Kentucky, the Hilltoppers ran the Wildcats off the floor.  Can there be a repeat two score later?  No!

 

Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are vulnerable on the boards, and Morehead State has the nation’s best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried.  However, the Eagles do not have enough talent or depth to keep up with Louisville.  They may emerge with a slight rebounding edge in this game, but it will not be enough to make up for all the open shots the Cardinals will get.

 

Louisville is going to run into trouble when they meet up with a team that can rebound and play credible defense.  That would be Kansas in the Sweet 16.  Until then, they have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Louisville 78  Morehead State 62

 

#6 Georgetown 21-10 (8) vs. #11 Southern Cal (-1)/Va. Commonwealth (-1)

Last year, we discussed Georgetown’s vulnerabilities and the probability that they would fail to make it past the first weekend.  We expected the Hoyas to fall as a favorite in their second game, but they were a one and done team.

 

This year’s team is not much better than last year’s Hoya team, but they received a much more favorable draw.

 

Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas once again have a rather low R+T Rating thanks to a turnover margin of -1.9 and a low amount of steals per game.  They will exit from the tournament in the next round unless there is a monumental upset in their pairing.

 

Neither USC nor VCU has the talent to take advantage of Georgetown’s deficiencies.  The three teams combined have a R+T rating below Purdue’s.

 

One additional note: The Hoyas will be a tad bit better than their Criteria Score in the tournament.  Chris Wright suffered a hand fracture in the middle of the schedule, and he is expected to be near 100% for the tournament.  You have to add maybe one point to their Criteria Score, but that is not enough to put them over the top in their second game.

 

Prediction: Georgetown 69  Southern Cal 61 (or VCU 60)

 

#3 Purdue 25-7 (16) vs. #14 St. Peter’s 20-13 (-7)

If only… Purdue fans will never know just how good their team might have been with Robbie Hummel joining JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore playing together.  This would have been the best Boilermaker team since Rick Mount led Purdue to the Championship Game against UCLA in 1969.

 

The Boilermakers no longer have that one glaring weakness that Gene Keady’s teams had and thus prevented Purdue from getting past the second round.  This team does well on the boards like most of those past Purdue teams, but they are particularly strong when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking advantage by converting steals into points.  It is the way many teams go on runs that put opponents out of commission.

 

St. Peter’s just barely avoided being immediately eliminated with a negative R+T Rating.  They squeaked by at 0.1.  It might as well be a negative number, as the Peacocks were outrebounded by 0.4 per game and had a turnover margin of -0.9 against a schedule that was four points below average and seven points weaker than the schedule Purdue faced.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  St. Peter’s 56

 

#7 Texas A&M 24-8 (8) vs. #10 Florida State 21-10 (2)

The Big 12’s third best team has enough talent to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth.  We’ll leave the next round for another time and talk about this game.

 

The Aggies have no glaring weakness, and they have a few strengths, namely rebounding and defense (which wins games in the NCAA Tournament).  They are much like Kansas Lite.  A&M was not a team of surprises during the regular season.  They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and failed to upset the teams better than they were.  We expect the trend to continue.  They are better than the Seminoles.

 

Florida State does not take good care of the ball, and that costs them in confrontations against good opponents.  The Seminoles do not play particularly well away from Tallahassee, and they should be making a quick exit from the Dance.

 

Prediction: Texas A&M 73  Florida State 65

 

#2 Notre Dame 26-6 (11) vs. #15 Akron 23-12 (-9)

This is the best Irish team since Digger Phelps led Notre Dame in the late 1980’s.  Throw in the fact that this team has a chip on its shoulders following a first round exit last year, and the Irish have to be considered the Sweet 16 favorite in their four-team pairing this weekend.

 

The Irish finished the regular season with a scoring margin of 10.4 points per game.  Down the stretch, they went 7-2 against teams in this tournament.  The Selection Committee placed Notre Dame in a bracket that should provide a very memorable Sweet 16 contest against one of their most bitter arch-rivals.

 

Akron has a big seven-foot center, but the Zips do not rebound the ball all that well.  Zeke Marshall, the aforementioned big man, concentrates his efforts on blocking shots, and he frequently is not in position to rebound the ball.  So, the blocked shot frequently turns into a made basket off an offensive rebound.  The Zips did not fare well on the road this year, and with a considerably weaker schedule than average, this does not bode well.

 

Prediction:  Notre Dame 81  Akron 57

 

Southeast Regional

#1 Pittsburgh 27-5 (18) vs. #16 UNC-Asheville (-5)/U A L R (-13)

One of us here at the PiRate Ratings might be dating himself, but he sees a lot of the 1962 Cincinnati Bearcats in this year’s Pitt team.  The Panthers have a dominating inside power game that will pulverize any finesse team that cannot hit 10 three-pointers.  Neither UNCA nor UALR has a remote chance to make this game a close contest.

 

Pitt outscored their opposition by 13.1 points per game.  This stat looks even better when you factor in that they compiled this gaudy stat playing in a league that produced 11 NCAA Tournament teams.  The Panthers outshot their opponents by 7.6%, and they totally dominated the glass with a 10.4 rebounding advantage.  If you are thinking the way to beat them is to play a packed in zone, think again.  Ashton Gibbs can bury you from outside with his near 50% three-point accuracy, and Brad Wannamaker can still get the ball inside to one of the bruisers waiting to punish you with a thunder dunk.

 

Only a negative turnover margin prevents the Panthers from being there with Kansas as a co-favorite for winning all the marbles.

 

Pitt’s cupcake opponent will have to be happy with winning their First Four game, because they will be humiliated in this game.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78  UNC-Asheville 54 (or UALR 48)

 

#8 Butler 23-9 (7) vs. #9 Old Dominion 27-6 (10)

This is the second best matchup in this round, and the winner will put a scare into Pittsburgh in the next round and even have a decent shot at the upset.

 

Butler is now the hunted rather than the hunter.  The Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody this year.  More importantly, they are not as talented as they were last year.  The Bulldogs fared much better on the road last year than this season.  However, down the stretch, Butler started to look like a team proficient enough to get past the first weekend once again.

 

Old Dominion has the talent to advance past the first weekend as well.  The Monarchs are a miniature version of Pittsburgh, the team they would face in the next round should they win this game.

 

ODU is the nation’s number one rebounding team with a +12.2 margin.  The Monarchs’ schedule was not outstanding, but it was on par with several teams from the so-called power conferences, and they finished 6-4 against teams in this tournament.  This is a better ODU team than the one that upset Notre Dame in the first round last year, and this game should be one you do not want to miss.

 

 

Prediction: Old Dominion 72  Butler 70 in overtime

 

#5 Kansas State 22-10 (9) vs. #12 Utah State 30-3 (14)

This is the one game where a number 12 seed winning would not really be all that much of an upset.  Utah State should have been a top eight seed in this tournament.  If we were conspiracy buffs, we would say that the Selection Committee searched for a team that the Aggies do not match up with all that well and placed them in this spot to verify their actions.

 

Kansas State does not take care of the ball well enough to advance very deep into this tournament, but their first game opponent cannot take advantage of that weakness.

 

Utah State has dominated their opponents by forcing them to play a patient half-court game with very little scoring in transition.  They prefer to work the ball patiently for a good shot and then force opponents to take a low-percentage shot.  Thus, the Aggies outrebound their opponents, but they do so by forcing more bad shots than by out-leaping their opponents.

 

Kansas State has the talent to force Utah State to play at a quicker tempo and force them to defend one-on-one.  Jacob Pullen is a poor man’s (and smaller) Derrick Rose.  He can break down most opponents off the dribble, and he should be able to force USU to resort to some type of combination defense to keep him from going wild.

 

What scares us most about Utah State is that they had two opportunities to show they are deserving of their lofty ranking.  They lost to BYU and to Georgetown, and they never really threatened to pull of the upset in either game.

 

This is one game where we are going to go against our own chalk.  Kansas State’s schedule was seven points tougher, and the Wildcats can exploit the Aggies’ weaknesses.

 

Prediction: Kansas State 70  Utah State 63

 

#4 Wisconsin 23-8 (7) vs. #13 Belmont 30-4 (9)

This game has become the most-picked upset special around the nation.  Belmont is being compared with Butler of last year.  The Bruins are lofty of all this attention-gathering admiration, but Wisconsin is not the Washington Generals.

 

Belmont has the highest scoring margin in the nation at 18.4 points per game.  The Bruins outshot their opposition by 5.7% per game, and they took a lot of three-point attempts.  They outrebounded their opponents by 3.9, and they had an eye-popping 5.3 turnover margin.  They share the top steals per game average in this tournament with Missouri at 9.7, and their R+T Rating is the best in the tournament at 16.2 (three better than number two Ohio State).

 

Of course, these statistics were compiled against inferior competition.  Belmont’s schedule strength is nine points below the national average and a dozen below their first round opponent.  Against the opponents that made it to this tournament, they were 1-3.  They beat Alabama State by 13.  The three losses were on the road to in-state rivals Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt, but they led in the second half of those games.

 

The last time Belmont was in the Big Dance, the Bruins came within a missed last shot of sending Duke home.   

 

Wisconsin was not expected to be this good in 2011.  This was supposed to be a minor rebuilding season for the Badgers.  The Badgers usually run Coach Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense with great efficiency, rarely turning the ball over.  They outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game, and they outshot they outrebounded them by 3.8 boards per game. 

 

The Badgers have been a hot and cold team this year.  When they have been hot, they have been nearly unbeatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  When they have been cold, they have been easily beatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  They finished the season as cold as ice, so the Badgers must be considered a slight underdog in this game.

 

Prediction: Belmont 74  Wisconsin 70

 

#6 St. John’s 21-11 (9) vs. #11 Gonzaga 24-9 (13)

Here is a game where we believe the seedings should be switched.  Gonzaga has been here enough times to be considered a regular in the NCAA Tournament, like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, and Connecticut.  This makes a baker’s dozen consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the Bulldogs. 

 

In past years, Gonzaga had a big scorer that could take over games.  Adam Morrison comes to mind.  This year, the Zags are more difficult to prepare for, because they are more team-oriented.  There is not a big star on the roster, but all five starters are capable of taking the team on his shoulders with a hot night.

 

In their nine-game winning streak to close the season, Gonzaga eliminated Saint Mary’s from the Dance party with two victories.  The Bulldogs scoring margin in those nine games was 76-58.  This is a good team playing its best ball of the year, and we expect Coach Mark Few to win yet another NCAA Tournament game.

 

St. John’s comes into the tournament minus one of its stars.  Starting forward D. J. Kennedy went down for the season with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the Red Storm is now suspect in the paint.  Their Criteria Score of nine should be discounted by two to three points.  It is enough to take this contest from tossup status to near-comfortable status for Gonzaga.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 74  St. John’s 66

 

#3 Brigham Young 30-4 (18) vs. #14 Wofford 21-12 (-1)

So, you didn’t get a chance to see Pete Maravich play at LSU in 1968, 1969, or 1970, eh?  We must admit that nobody will ever be the collegiate equal for Maravich, but Jimmer Fredette may be the closest thing to him.

 

Throw out the floppy socks and floppy Beatles haircut and throw out some of the most unbelievable passes in the history of the game (so unbelievable that Maravich’s teammates frequently could not see them coming), and Fredette is not that far behind Maravich.

 

The sports nation will be turning its eyes to this game just to see if Fredette can make a run at a single game scoring mark.  If we remember correctly, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set the mark back in 1970 with 61 points against Ohio U in a regional qualifier game.

 

BYU may have been a strong Final Four contender had Brandon Davies not loved his girlfriend so much.  The Cougars averaged 8.7 fewer points per game once Davies was suspended. 

 

Wofford will not be able to take much advantage of Davies’ absence.  The Terriers fared well in all PiRate Criteria categories, but they did not meet even the minimum “numbers to look for” in any category, and their schedule strength was five points below the norm. 

 

Prediction: Brigham Young 75  Wofford 63

 

#7 U C L A 22-10 (-3) vs. #10 Michigan State 19-14 (1)

If only this were a few years ago.  Neither of these historically dominating teams is going to make waves in this year’s tournament, and the winner will be around for just one more game.

 

UCLA would be a national title contender if Kevin Love had stuck around for four years.  Imagine Love as a senior on this team.  Can you say Bill Walton-like numbers?  Alas, the Bruins must get by with a couple of well above-average forwards instead of the best three-man tandem in the nation.

 

The Bruins have the worst turnover margin of any team in this tournament.  At -3.4, UCLA would need to dominate on the boards, and while they usually win that battle, it is anything but dominating.

 

Michigan State’s one asset year in and year out under Coach Tom Izzo has been their rebounding acumen.  For most teams, a +4.3 edge on the boards would be considered outstanding, but in East Lansing, this is considered a down year. 

 

Neither team has done all that well away from their home court this season, and there really is only one stat where one team stands out ahead of the other.  MSU’s schedule was four points tougher than UCLA’s schedule.  That’s our spread for this game.  

 

Prediction: Michigan State 64  UCLA 60

 

#2 Florida 26-7 (15) vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara 18-13 (-10)

The Gators looked like a potential Final Four team in the last month, at least when they were not playing Kentucky.  UCSB is not Kentucky. 

 

Florida tends to commit too many floor mistakes to win four games in this year’s tournament.  They have enough talent to get through the first weekend, but we do not see the Gators extending their stay after that.

 

UCSB upset Long Beach State to get here, and the Gauchos are one of the weakest teams in the tournament according to our Criteria Score.  With negative rebounding and turnover margins, they just barely escape automatic elimination with a R+T rating of 0.3. 

 

Prediction: Florida 76  U C S B  54

 

 

 

Our Bracket

 

You have seen the 32 teams that we believe will win the second round games.  Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.

 

Third Round Winners

Ohio State over George Mason

Kentucky over West Virginia

Syracuse over Xavier

North Carolina over Washington

Duke over Tennessee

Texas over Arizona

Connecticut over Cincinnati

San Diego State over Penn State

Kansas over UNLV

Louisville over Vanderbilt

Purdue over Georgetown

Notre Dame over Texas A&M

Pittsburgh over Old Dominion

Kansas State over Belmont

Gonzaga over Brigham Young

Florida over Michigan State

 

Sweet 16 Winners

Ohio State over Kentucky

Syracuse over North Carolina

Texas over Duke

San Diego State over Connecticut

Kansas over Louisville

Purdue over Notre Dame

Pittsburgh over Kansas State

Florida over Gonzaga

 

Elite 8 Winners

Ohio State over Syracuse

Texas over San Diego State

Kansas over Purdue

Pittsburgh over Florida

 

Semifinal Winners

Ohio State over Texas

Kansas over Pittsburgh

 

National Championship

Kansas over Ohio State

August 11, 2010

2010 Mid-American Conference Preview

2010 Mid-American Conference Preview

 

After placing five teams in bowl games a year ago, the MAC is now guaranteed three teams in bowl games this season with a chance for a fourth and fifth team garnering an at-large bid.  It is our opinion that this league will produce five bowl-worthy teams this year, so don’t count out the chance of a repeat. 

The champion this year will face the number eight team from the Big Ten in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit.  The GMAC Bowl in Mobile gets second choice, and the Humanitarian Bowl at the blue field in Boise gets the third selection.  The PapaJohn’s.com Bowl will give precedence to a fourth bowl-eligible MAC team if they have an opening, and the inaugural Dallas Football Classic will look to the MAC after first looking to CUSA to find an at-large team.

This should be an interesting year in the league, as many teams go through a transition.  There are new coaches at Buffalo, Central Michigan, and Akron, and there are six new starting quarterbacks.  In the East, Temple looks to be the clear-cut favorite, but Ohio U has enough talent returning to repeat as division champs.  Kent State has just one bowl bid in its history, and that was in 1972 when Coach Don James led the Golden Flashes prior to earning legendary status at Washington.  That 38 year absence from post-season play could finally come to an end this year.

In the West, a tight race between Northern Illinois and Western Michigan could get even tighter if Central Michigan, Ball State, and Toledo can find answers at certain iffy positions.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Mid-American Conference Predictions

 
East  
Pos Team Conf Overall  
1 Temple 7-1 10-3  
2 Ohio U 6-2 8-4  
3 Kent State 6-2 8-4  
4 Miami (Ohio) 3-5 4-8  
5 Buffalo 2-6 3-9  
6 Akron 2-6 3-9  
7 Bowling Green 2-6 2-10  
         
West  
         
1 Northern Illinois 8-0 9-4  
2 Western Michigan 6-2 8-4  
3 Central Michigan 4-4 5-7  
4 Toledo 3-5 3-9  
5 Ball State 2-6 4-8  
6 Eastern Michigan 1-7 1-11  

 

     
               

MAC Conference Championship Game: Temple over Northern Illinois

 

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: Temple

G M A C Bowl: Northern Illinois

Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio U

 

Western Michigan and Kent State could be at-large bowl teams

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

MAC East

 

Team Akron Zips
               
Head Coach Rob Ianello
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Akron, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 77.9
               
National Rating 113
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: New head coach Rob Ianello comes over from Notre Dame where he was an offensive assistant to Charlie Weis.  He will make numerous changes in the offensive philosophy as the Zips were zipless last year on this side of the ball.

Quarterback Patrick Nicely started seven games as a true freshman last year.  However, even though he has more experience this year, his receiving corps has been decimated to graduation.  Only one contributor from last year returns, and Ianello has moved former defensive back Jalil Carter over to this side of the ball.

None of the running backs on the roster strike fear in the eyes of the opponents.  Only one back topped 200 yards rushing last year, and he graduated. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is a rather experienced offensive line with credible talent at the terminal positions.

We look for Akron’s new offense to go through some growing pains at first, but by October, the Zips should be moving the ball with more zip.  Call it about 18-22 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Defense: The stop side would have held opponents under 25 points per game last year if it hadn’t been for an offense that turned the ball over too often.  The Zips could field a better defense this year, especially in the points allowed department.

Ianello will install a 4-3 defense, and he has three quality defenders returning up front.  Hasan Hazime, James Harvey, and Almondo Sewell combined for 17 tackles for loss, and that number should head north of 20 this year.

The three-man linebacker crew returns starters in Sean Fobbs, Brian Wagner, and Mike Thomas.  Wagner was the leading tackler in the league with 132 stops and 7 behind the line.  Thomas is a better zone pass defender than run-stopper, while Fobbs’ strength is against the run.

The secondary is the vulnerable part of the defense.  The loss of Miguel Graham is too much for the backfield to make up for, and Akron will give up more than 200 yards per game through the air.

Look for the Zips to yield about 25-30 points per game while giving up about 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: Akron has one easy mark on their non-conference schedule in Gardner-Webb.  The Zips open against a Syracuse team eager to show the nation they can compete for a bowl bid.  Back-to-back road games against Kentucky and Indiana close out what should be a rough September.  Look for Akron to go 1-3 outside of league play and then struggle to pick up two more victories.

 

Team Bowling Green Falcons
               
Head Coach Dave Clawson
               
Colors Orange and Brown
               
City Bowling Green, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 78.0
               
National Rating 112
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: Dave Clawson implemented one of the top passing games in the country in his first year with the Falcons, but year two finds him having to rebuild from scratch.  Gone is superb passer Tyler Sheehan who completed 65% of his passes for more than 4,000 yards and a TD/Int ratio of 27/7.

Redshirt freshman Matt Schilz and true sophomore Aaron Pankratz will compete to fill Sheehan’s shoes.  Look for a major drop in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage this year, and a rise in interceptions.

BGU lost its top two receivers, including Freddie Barnes (155-1,770 & 19 TD).  Nobody on this roster is capable of catching a dozen balls per game, and nobody has the blazing speed to turn a five-yard pass into a 40-yard gain.

The Falcons averaged just 87 rushing yards per game last year, but that number is a bit misleading.  In college football, sacks are ridiculously counted as rushing yards.  Factoring out sacks, BGU went from averaging 3.1 yards per carry to a more respectable 3.9.  Willie Geter could actually threaten the 1,000 yard rushing mark if he can get any help from his blockers.

BGU could drop by a touchdown or more offensively this year, so we will predict an output of 20-23 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Defense: This side of the ball is in worse shape than the offense.  Gone are the top six tacklers and leading pass defender from last year.  The defensive line appears to be in great shape, but the back seven are in shambles.  End Angelo Magnone and tackle Kevin Alvarado combined for 5 sacks last year.  

The pass defense returns players who combined for just two interceptions.  Cornerback Adrien Spencer and safety Keith Morgan will anchor the back line.  The two teamed up for nine passes deflected.

Bowling Green will give up more than 30 points and 400 yards per game this year, and the Falcons could yield more than 200 rushing and 200 passing yards.

Schedule: This looks like an 0-4 start out of conference.  The Falcons open with road games against Troy and Tulsa.  They then face Marshall at home before going to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.  Without a week off until November, the young squad could be nursing a lot of injuries.  The odd number of teams in the league leads to quirks in the schedule, and the Falcons will not play Akron this year.  They also miss the two easiest teams in the other division, so 2010 will be a long one in Bowling Green.

 

Team Buffalo Bulls
               
Head Coach Jeff Quinn
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Buffalo, NY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 81.6
               
National Rating 106
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Turner Gill has left Upstate New York for Kansas, and new coach Jeff Quinn inherits enough talent to make the Bulls move on offense.  Quinn was the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, and he will implement Brian Kelly’s spread offense here.

Unfortunately, Buffalo unexpectedly lost the services of an inexperienced quarterback when Zach Maynard transferred to California.  Lightly used sophomore Jerry Davis and untested redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will compete for the starting job.  Look for some growing pains and the possibility of one or two more players being tried at QB during the season.  Freshman Rudy Johnson is highly heralded.

Inexperience carries over to the receiving corps.  The top three pass catchers from last year are gone, and the leading returnee had just 25 receptions. 

Gill improved the running game every year he was at Buffalo, and he left the stables stocked with two fine runners.  Ike Nduka and Brandon Thermilius shared the load last year and combined for more than 1,150 yards.  They will benefit from the blocking of an experienced offensive line featuring all-MAC guard Peter Bittner.

There will be some transition in the offense this year, and it could lead to a couple of bad performances.  However, by the second half of the season, the Bulls could be a dangerous opponent for the other MAC defenses.  Look for about the same output as last year—24 points and 400 yards, but look for the Bulls to average more than 28 points per game after their bye week in October.

Defense: Quinn will switch the Bulls from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year, and it should work fine thanks to a great quartet of linebackers.  On the outside, no MAC team can do better than Buffalo with Steven Means and Justin Winters.  Means will be an excellent zone blitzer in the new defense, while Winters forces offenses to run the other way.

Up front, nose tackle Richie Smith has the girth to keep runners from plunging past the line for big gains.  He won’t register many tackles, but he will occupy a lot of space and require double team blocks, which will free up the linebackers to pursue and tackle.

The secondary actually performed better last year than in 2008 when the Bulls won the MAC.  Look for even more improvement with the return of both cornerbacks, including all-conference Domonic Cook, and the league’s best free safety in Davonte Shannon. 

Buffalo has the potential to post better defensive stats this year, and that makes the Bulls a dangerous team in an offensive-dominated league.  We believe the Bulls will surrender about 24 points and 325 yard this season. 

Schedule: An opener at home against Rhode Island should be a breather game.  The rest of the non-league schedule will be the opposite, as Buffalo plays at Baylor, hosts Central Florida, and goes to Connecticut.  At 1-3, the Bulls visit Bowling Green in what will be a tossup game.  If they can win this one, the season could turn around.  If they lose, it could drain the squad.  Buffalo closes with Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Akron.  If they beat Bowling Green and then upset one other team in October, they could be looking at a .500 record.  We’ll say that the offense will take a little longer to gel, and the Bulls will have to wait until next year.

 

Team Kent State Golden Flashes
               
Head Coach Doug Martin
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City Kent, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 84.5
               
National Rating 98
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: It has been nine years since Kent State last enjoyed a winning season (6-5 in 2001).  The Golden Flashes are excited this year, because they have an offense capable of putting up enough points to end that drought.

Coach Doug Martin has all the pieces in place to make a run at the division title, and if the top two falter, it would not be a big surprise to see KSU in the MAC Championship game.

The return of star running back Eugene Jarvis is worth five to seven extra points per game.  Jarvis missed almost all of last season with a lacerated kidney.  When he last played an entire season, he rushed for 1,669 yards.  He is just 5-5 and 170 pounds, so he is very susceptible to injury.  The Flashes have more than adequate depth at his position.

Sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith gave Kent State its best passing game in four years last season, and he should continue to show progress in year two.  He will team up with top receiver Tyshon Goode to form one of the top combinations in the league.  Goode caught 53 passes for 755 yards in 2009.

The offensive line returns some good, young talent and should provide excellent protection for Keith while opening holes for the backs.

Look for Kent State to put up much better offensive numbers this year.  We see something in the order of 24-28 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Defense: Enough talent returns on this side of the ball to believe that the Flashes will perform at a similar or better rate than last year.  In 2009, Kent State gave up just 137 rushing yards per game and held enemy quarterbacks to just 56.7% completions.

The top six tacklers return including the league’s best linebacker.  Former Michigan Wolverine Cobrani Mixon led the Flashes with 108 tackles with 10 ½ behind the line.  He added seven deflected passes from his Mike linebacker spot. 

Hybrid End/Will linebacker Monte Simmons recorded eight sacks and eight other tackles for loss last year, giving Kent State the best linebacker unit in the league.

The defensive backfield is not as strong as the unit in front of them, but it is better than average.  Three starters return, including an outstanding pair of safeties.  Free safety Brian Lainhart led the MAC with seven interceptions.  Strong safety Dan Hartman picked off four passes and broke up nine others, but he is even better in support of the run.

The defensive line is the one weak spot on the entire roster.  If Simmons can have another outstanding year, the inexperience here could be partially hidden.

Kent State could easily lead the MAC in total defense and scoring defense this season.  We believe they will yield less than 20 points and 330 yards per game.

Schedule: The Flashes have one sure win, two sure losses, and one tossup game in their out-of-conference schedule.  An opening tilt with Murray State should be a breather.  Consecutive road games against Boston College and Penn State will not be much fun.  The November 13 home game with Army could be a bowl elimination game for the two teams.  Kent State gets both Temple and Ohio at home, and they have the talent to upset both teams.  Road games against Toledo and Western Michigan could decide in the end if 2010 will be “the year.”

 

Team Miami (Ohio) Redhawks
               
Head Coach Mike Haywood
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Oxford, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 87.8
               
National Rating 93
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: The good news:  Miami returns 10 starters to its offense.  The bad news: Miami returns 10 starters to an offense that scored just 15.6 points per game, rushed for just 70 yards per game, and turned the ball over via interceptions and fumbles almost as often as it did by punting (an exaggeration, but the Redhawks had a horrible -24 turnover margin last year!)

The rushing statistic looks much worse than it really was.  Miami quarterbacks endured 58 sacks due to a porous offensive line.  That line returns intact, and it has to be somewhat better.  Using an entirely new system hurt, and a year of experience should lead to better blocking this year.  Still, don’t expect Miami to lead the league in offense.

Quarterback Zac Dysert took his lumps as a freshman last year.  If he can cut down on his interceptions, he has the potential to be the best passer in the league.  Give him three more years, and he could surpass Ben Roethlisberger as the school’s top passer.

Dysert has some quality receivers to throw to, but there is no deep threat to spread defenses.  Miami will have to rely on converting first downs and sustaining drives to reach paydirt this year.

It won’t be hard to top last year’s poor offensive showing.  We believe Miami can top 20 points and 350 yards per game this season.

Defense: A better offense that can keep drives alive means a defense can stay on the bench for longer stretches.  Throw in the fact that 10 of the top 11 tacklers return, and Miami should make great strides on this side of the ball as well.

The monster on this side of the ball is middle linebacker Jerrell Wedge.  He was a one-man wrecking crew last year, recording 114 tackles with 18 ½ behind the line of scrimmage.

In front of Wedge is a very experienced defensive line that returns almost all of its two-deep from last year.  Still, it is a line that will not cause many problems for offensive linemen. 

The secondary wasn’t all that bad last year, holding half of their opponents to less than 200 passing yards.  Safety Anthony Kokal finished with 105 tackles, but second year coach Mike Haywood would be much happier if Kokal’s tackles fell into double digits this year.

Look for Miami to improve on this side of the ball as well.  The Redhawks surrendered better than 34 points per game last year, but they only gave up about 375 yards.  Just by cutting down on turnovers, the points allowed will improve.  Throw in an actual better defense, and that number should drop by more than a touchdown.  Call it 24-27 points and 350-370 yards allowed this year.

Schedule: This is a major drawback.  Miami has just one winnable non-conference game.  Road tilts with Florida, Missouri, and Cincinnati could see the Redhawks give up more than 120 points.  A home game with Colorado State should give Miami a better than 50% chance of winning.  The Redhawks get Eastern Michigan at home.  Road games against Bowling Green, Akron, Buffalo, and Central Michigan give them a chance for maybe two more wins.  Four wins would be four times more than last year.

 

Team Ohio Bobcats
               
Head Coach Frank Solich
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Athens, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-5
               
PiRate Rating 84.4
               
National Rating 99
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Coach Frank Solich’s Bobcats benefited from a +12 turnover margin last season and won the MAC East.  The offense did not strike fear in their opponents, posting averages of 112 rush yards and 198 pass yards per game.

The Bobcats lose their top rusher, top passer, and top pass catcher this year, but the offense could actually improve some.  Solich uses a smorgasbord approach to his offense, using aspects of the spread, the pistol, and the zone read. 

Former Iowa State starter Phil Bates will battle 2008 starter Boo Jackson at quarterback; Bates is an all-out competitor, and we believe he will win the job.  Bates, or Jackson, will have two fine receivers running routes this year in Athens.  LaVon Brazill and Terrence McCrae both have the ability to turn a short pass into a long gain.  Brazill is the speedier of the two, while McCrae is the better target in a crowd.  Former Vanderbilt wide out Steven Goulet gives the Bobcats an excellent third option.

The running game will take a step backward this year.  Junior college transfer Kenny Ashley should be the lead back this year, as there isn’t much quality on the roster. 

The offensive line should be marginally better this year with three starters returning, as well as four from the second team.

We think Ohio will improve its yardage from 310 to about 350 per game, but the Bobcats may not score any more points than they did last year, when they averaged 24.8 per game.

Defense: The Bobcats could have the best defense in the MAC this year after having the second best stop troops last year.  It all starts up front where Ohio has a stellar line returning all four starters from a year ago.  All four can get in the backfield and stop a runner for a loss.  They need to improve their pass rushing ability, as the Bobcats had just 22 sacks all season.

The star of the defense is Mike linebacker Noah Keller, who recorded 155 tackles (23 more than any other MAC player).  Equally adept against the run or the pass, Keller could be the MAC Defensive Player of the Year this season.

The secondary may not dominate, but they won’t be embarrassed all that often.  Strong safety Gerald Moore picked off six passes last year.

Ohio gave up just 21 points per game in 2009, and the Bobcats should equal or even better that mark this year.  They should contend for the best total defense as well and surrender around 300-325 yards per game.

Schedule: Ohio faces Ohio State on September 18.  They won’t pull off the monumental upset, but the Bobcats put a scare in a really good Buckeye team two years ago.  Home games with Wofford and Louisiana-Lafayette should provide the Bobcats with two wins, while a trip to Marshall should be interesting.  Since that comes the week after Ohio State, we will give the edge to the Thundering Herd.  Ohio must play at Temple and Kent State this year, so we believe the road is too tough for the Bobcats to win the division again.  Six conference wins and eight overall should get Ohio back into a bowl game.

 

Team Temple Owls
               
Head Coach Al Golden
               
Colors Cherry and White
               
City Philadelphia, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 91.0
               
National Rating 85
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: When Al Golden took over this Temple team in 2006, the Owls were coming off an 0-11 season in which they scored less than 10 points per game.  His first squad “improved” to 1-11 and scored 11 points per game while actually falling to just 216 yards per game.  The next three years, Temples scoring output increased by six points per season.  Now, coming off a 9-4 campaign that included a bowl loss to UCLA, the Owls are poised to top 30 points per game for the first time since 1979.

Vaughn Charlton began 2009 as the starting quarterback, but Chester Stewart took over in the second half of the season.  Stewart will be number one from the opening snap this year, while Charlton has moved to tight end.  At 6-4, he will provide Stewart with an excellent target in the middle.

Temple didn’t pass the ball all that well last year, so even though the top three receivers return, the trio only combined for 67 receptions and 1,133 yards.  One of those three receivers, James Nixon, moved to defense and will be the best kick returner in the league.

The running game clicked for the Owls last year, and it should continue to work wonders.  Back Bernard Pierce rushed for a league-leading 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, and he should top 1,500 this year if he stays healthy.

The Owls boast the best offensive line in the MAC.  Four starters return to the fold including three who earned all-conference mention.

We look for Temple to score 30-35 points per game while averaging 350-380 total yards.  The rushing total could top 200, while the passing tops 150.  Temple should lead the league in yards per reception as defenses have to cheat up to the line to slow down the running game.

Defense: Like he has with the offense, Golden’s defenses have improved every year from 45 to 41 to 26 to 23 to 22 points allowed.  There is no reason to believe that trend won’t continue this year, as the Owls are loaded on this side of the ball.

The defensive line shares with its offensive counterpart—it is the best in the league hands down.  Tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and end Adrian Robinson teamed up for 20 QB sacks and seven passes batted down.  Robinson is the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year.  Though both juniors, they could easily be playing in the NFL next year.

The second line of defense is only average, and if the Owls do not win the MAC this year, it could be because opponents gain an extra yard or two at opportune moments.  One player who takes a backseat to nobody in the MAC is middle linebacker Elijah Joseph, but the outside spots are question marks.

The secondary is tough.  Two of the three returning starters are All-MAC performers.  Safeties Kevin Kroboth and Jaiquawn Jarrett both knocked down seven passes last year.

Temple could yield as few as 17 points and 300 yards per game in a league noted for high-flying offenses.  If so, look for a very memorable season in Philadelphia.

Schedule: What appears to be a “gimme” win for the Owls may be anything but this year.  Temple opens with cross-town rival Villanova on Friday, September 3.  The Wildcats defeated the Owls last year on their way to a 14-1 season and FCS National Championship.  VU returns 15 starters, so this game will be a hard-fought struggle.  Temple faces Connecticut, Penn State, and Army out of conference, so it could be anything from 2-2 to 0-4 outside of league play.  The Owls host Ohio U, but they must play at Kent State and Northern Illinois.  We don’t see them running the table in the conference, and if Kent State beats them, the Owls may need help from another team to win their first division title.

 

MAC West

 

Team Ball State Cardinals
               
Head Coach Stan Parrish
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Muncie, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 81.7
               
National Rating 104
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Head coach Stan Parrish has got to be the most unlucky coach in FBS history.  He has been a head coach at the top level for four seasons spread out over a quarter century, and he has a 4-41-1 record to show for it.  Three of those seasons were at Kansas State from 1986 to 1988, when the Wildcats did not emphasize football.  The fourth season came last year here in Muncie, as Ball State faced a serious rebuilding effort.

Parrish could see his career wins double this season thanks to an offense that returns 10 starters.  Quarterback Kelly Page only had to take over for the school’s top career passer last year and he didn’t have the school’s number two and three career pass catchers; he was not ready for the league rigors as a freshman.  Look for much better production from him this year.

The top nine receivers return this season, led by Briggs Orsborn and Torieal Gibson.  They aren’t an exceptional group overall, but the Cardinals can only improve in this area after averaging a paltry 134 yards through the air in 2009.

The BSU running game is in much better shape with the return of star back Miquale Lewis.  Lewis rushed for more than 1,700 yards in 2008 with a veteran offensive line blocking for him.  Last year, with a very young and inexperienced line, that number dropped to 871.  Look for something in between in his final year here, but that should be enough to make him the school’s all-time leading runner (he needs just 669 yards to do so).

The offensive line returns intact from a year ago after three freshmen and a sophomore started for most of the season.  Look for the line to open up more holes and give Page more time to pass.

Ball State scored 15 fewer points per game last year than in 2008.  Look for the Cardinals to top 20 points per game this year, but they will not approach the great numbers from two years ago.  BSU should average about 320-340 total yards per game.

Defense: The Cardinals fielded a credible defense in 2009 that was just on the field too much.  With a little better offense that can keep possession of the ball a minute or two more per game this year, Ball State should see their stop troops improve substantially.  Whether or not that improvement will be enough to guide the team back to a winning record may be asking too much.

The defense switched to a 4-3 alignment last year, and having an extra year of experience should help improve the numbers.  The strength of this unit is at linebacker, where all three starters return.  Davyd Jones and Travis Freeman led the team in tackles with 100 and 93 respectively, but too many of those stops occurred after sizeable gains by the offense.

The secondary was much too generous last year, giving up 65% completions and 234 yards per game.  Three starters return, plus the Cardinals add former Michigan safety Artis Chambers.  Look for BSU to be a little stingier this year.

Ball State will give up about 24-27 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: The Cardinals should start 2-0 with home games against Southeast Missouri and Liberty.  When conference play begins three weeks later, BSU will be 2-2 after losing at Purdue and Iowa.  They get Eastern Michigan and Akron at home, so there is a good chance Ball State will at least double its win total from a year ago.

 

Team Central Michigan Chippewas
               
Head Coach Dan Enos
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Mt. Pleasant, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-2
               
PiRate Rating 88.5
               
National Rating 92
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: New head coach Dan Enos was the running backs coach at Michigan State the last three years.  He helped develop Javon Ringer into an NFL talent.  He better hope that somebody on the CMU roster can resemble Ringer, because the Chippewas have lost the services of the league’s top career passer.  Dan LeFevour is now in training camp with the Chicago Bears.

Ryan Radcliff saw very limited action for CMU last year, and the lightly used sophomore will get first crack at filling the giant shoes of LeFevour.  Radcliff will move under center unlike LeFevour, who operated from a shotgun where he could run and pass.  Look for a severe drop-off in both rushing and passing yards.

CMU lost its top two receivers, who combined for 174 receptions, 1,982 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  Kito Poblah and Cody Wilson give the Chippewas a foundation to rebuild on.  The tandem combined for 78 catches and 907 yards last year.

The running game relied on LeFevour the way Florida relied on Tim Tebow.  There isn’t much to get excited about in this department as Carl Volny and Paris Cotton are decent relief runners but poor feature backs.  Cotton figures to see a few more carries than Volny.  The two could combine for 1,000 plus rushing yards, but they will not match the 4.6 yards per rush recorded by last year’s runners.

An experienced offensive line should give CMU a fighting chance to run the ball and produce some decent results through the air.  Four starters return from last year led by the league’s best center Colin Miller.

CMU averaged 34 points and 423 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will fall to 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game this season.

Defense: While the offense made the headlines, it was the Chippewa defense that got the job done when the title was on the line.  CMU held Ohio to 10 points and 275 yards in the MAC Championship game.

A lot of talent was lost to graduation, but there are still some very good players returning on this side of the ball.  At linebacker, Nick Bellore earned 1st Team All-MAC honors after posting 132 tackles, 13 of those behind the line.  He played well in pass coverage as well.  Will linebacker Mat Berning had 108 tackles and 8 ½ behind the line.  He knocked down seven passes as well.

Up front, half of the stellar defensive line starters return this year.  How well the two new starting ends perform could go a long way in determining the Chippewa’s fate.

The secondary is a concern this year, and we expect opposing quarterbacks to throw early and often against this untested quartet.  As a result, the linebackers may have to cheat back a little, thus weakening their ability to stop the run.

CMU will give up more than 20 points and 350 yards per game this year.  If that number approaches 25 points per game, it could be a long transitional season.

Schedule: A season opener at home with Hampton should give the new players a little confidence.  That should be the Chippewas only non-conference win, as they must face Northwestern, Virginia Tech, and Navy on the road.  Inside the MAC, CMU should split their eight games, which means they will fall under .500 overall.

 

Team Eastern Michigan Eagles
               
Head Coach Ron English
               
Colors Dark Green and White
               
City Ypsilanti, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12
               
PiRate Rating 69.6
               
National Rating 120
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: The Eagles don’t have much going for them on this side of the ball, and yet it is the stronger unit of the two.  There is but one way for an 0-12 team to go, but improvement in 2010 could be negligible.

Second year head coach Ron English will more than likely rely on a two-man platoon at quarterback.  Alex Gillett is a dual-threat player who can score with his feet or his arm.  Redshirt freshman Devontae Payne is a pure pocket passer with a rifle for an arm.  Opposing defenses will have to prepare for both players.

At running back, returning starter Dwayne Priest has exceptional speed, but he lacks the power to escape a single tackler.  He could rush for 800 yards with a little better blocking up front.

The offensive line is stronger the closer you get to the ball, or to put it another way, it gets weaker as it moves away from the ball.  None of the players on this roster will contend for 1st or 2nd team all-conference honors.

EMU should surpass last year’s statistical figures, but the improvement may not be enough to stop the losing streak.  Look for 18-21 points and 300 yards per game this year.

Defense: English inherited a defense that had surrendered 36 points and 400+ yards a game in 2008, and his first team in Ypsilanti actually performed worse, giving up 38 points and 427 yards per game.  Against the run, the numbers were scary bad—277 yards allowed at 6.3 yards per rush!  Three defensive line starters return, but the one lost starter was the best of the four by far. 

The second unit, much like the linemen, returns all but one starter, and that lost starter was the best player on the entire defense. 

The secondary gave up just 151 passing yards per game last year, but opposing teams only passed the ball 19 times per game.  There is some talent in this unit, and if the Eagles actually take a second half lead in a game, this group could come up with a big play to end the long losing streak.

We see EMU improving some on this side of the ball, but that means they might give up 33-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Schedule: Once again, it appears that EMU has little or no chance to win a game outside of league play.  The Eagles face a much improved Army team that should rush for 300 yards against this defense.  They must go on the road to Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Virginia, and while the latter two face major rebuilding projects, the Eagles are not talented enough to beat either team on enemy turf.  EMU will be an underdog in all 12 games, and there is a chance they could go winless again.  We think they will come up with an upset in conference play to finish 1-11.  It’s been 29 years since a FBS school lost every game for two consecutive years (Northwestern) (Kansas State went 0-10-1 and 0-11 in 1987 and 1988).

 

Team Northern Illinois Huskies
               
Head Coach Jerry Kill
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Dekalb, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 90.5
               
National Rating 86
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 9-4

 

Offense: The MAC version of Fresno State, Northern Illinois picked up another Big Ten win last year with a 28-21 upset of Purdue.  They gave Wisconsin all they could handle in a 28-20 loss.  Third year coach Jerry Kill has his best team yet in Dekalb, as the Huskies are primed for a run to the league title thanks to a rushing attack that should top 200 yards per game. 

Chad Spann returns to the fold after earning 1st Team All-MAC honors last year.  Spann topped 1,000 yards on the ground even though he had to split carries with another player.  He should get about 50 more attempts this year.  Top newcomer Jasmin Hopkins led the Juco ranks last year with more than 1,900 yard rushing, so he could provide an ample change of pace to Spann. 

A talented and experienced offensive line is set to open holes for the stable of running backs.  Tackle Trevor Olson could contend for 1st Team All-MAC honors.

There is a heated battle for the starting quarterback position between last year’s starter Chandler Harnish, backup DeMarcus Grady, and Juco newcomer Casey Weston.  Grady is currently number one at the start of preseason drills, but it would not surprise me if Harnish regains his starting spot after a quick recovery from a 2009 knee injury.  No matter who lines up under center in week one, the passing game will be merely a secondary option to the running game. 

Receiver Landon Cox returns after leading NIU with 45 catches a year ago.  The makings of a good unit is here, but the rest of the receiving corps lacks experience.

Northern Illinois will not put up gaudy statistics due to the reliance on the running game, but the Huskies should consistently use ball-possession as a major weapon.  Look for NIU to score about 28-31 points and gain 350-375 yards per game while holding total plays per game for both teams under 125.

Defense: NIU’s defense could be on the field about 10 fewer plays per game than the average MAC defense.  That should equal about one long drive per game not allocated to the opposition.  Last year, with only three starters returning, NIU still finished third in the league in defense.  This year, eight starters return, and the Huskies look like the cream of the MAC crop.

The secondary is the best part of the defense.  All four starters return, including an excellent duo at cornerback in Patrick George and Chris Smith.

The front seven should be as good as last year with the return of two defensive line starters and two linebackers.  Sam linebacker Alex Kube and Will linebacker Pat Schiller should combine for more than 150 tackles and 15 stops for loss.

NIU gave up 21.6 points and 330 yards per game last year, and those numbers should be a little better this season.  If they approach 17 points and 300 yards, the fans in Dekalb could be celebrating a MAC Championship.

Schedule: We think the Huskies have a 50-50 chance of running the table in conference play, at least until the MAC Championship Game.  The non-league schedule presents a wide variation of possibilities.  The Huskies open at Iowa State on Thursday night, September 2.  The Cyclones will be weaker this season and beatable in Ames.  After a home game with North Dakota, NIU travels to Illinois and Minnesota in consecutive weeks.  Again, both of these games are winnable but not sure things.  NIU could enter conference play at 1-3, 2-2, 3-1, or even 4-0.  The potential is there for a repeat of 2003, or even better.

 

Team Toledo Rockets
               
Head Coach Tim Beckman
               
Colors Midnight Blue and Gold
               
City Toledo, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 80.5
               
National Rating 108
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: The Rockets were an exciting team last year with a wide open offense that produced 30 points and almost 440 yards per game.  Expect more of the same in year two of the Coach Tim Beckman era in Toledo.

Quarterback Austin Dantin received three starts as a true freshman last year filling in for the injured Aaron Opelt.  Dantin averaged better than eight yards per attempt, and he could possibly top 3,000 yards through the air this season.

Receiver Eric Page is the league’s leading returning pass catcher after grabbing 82 passes for 1,159 yards.  He was just a freshman!  Could a triple digit reception season be in his future?  It’s possible.

Running back Morgan Williams lost his starting job last year after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2008.  If he returns to form, the Rockets will be impossible to stop this season.

The offensive line is one of the most experienced group of blockers in the nation.  They gave up just 18 sacks to a group of passers that combined for 37 passing attempts per game.

The Rockets should average 33-36 points and 450-475 yards per game this season; they will continue to be one of the most exciting teams in the nation to watch.

Defense: As good as the offense is, the defense is the polar opposite.  Toledo gave up 38 points and 400+ yards per game last season, and it doesn’t appear that 2010 will see enough improvement to win more games.

Two starters return up front, but neither of them will be confused for all-conference players.  Toledo had just 20 sacks last year, and they lose their top sack man.

The Rockets use a 4-2-5 defense, and they return just one of their linebacker tandem.  That lost player was the best player on the entire defense, Barry Church, who made all-conference all four years.

The quintet in the secondary is the strength of this unit.  Toledo started three freshmen last year, and as sophomores, they should be much better.  The Rockets welcome back Desmond Morrow, a 2008 starter who missed most of last year with an ACL injury.

Toledo should surrender fewer points this year.  However, a weaker run defense could keep the stop troops on the field for longer stretches.  Look for the Rockets to give up as much as 200 rushing yards and 375-400 total yards per game while allowing about 28-33 points per game.

Schedule: This is a major problem.  Toledo will not win a non-conference game, and they could be quite banged up by the time they are finished with the last of those games.  Arizona visits the Glass Bowl to kick off the season.  Road games at Purdue and Boise State will be trouble.  A homecoming game with Wyoming comes sandwiched between Purdue and Boise State.  The Rockets will compete in most of their conference games, but they could repeat their 3-5 mark.

 

Team Western Michigan Broncos
               
Head Coach Bill Cubit
               
Colors Brown and Gold
               
City Kalamazoo, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 77.0
               
National Rating 115
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: The Broncos were inconsistent on offense last year.  They topped 30 points four times and scored 17 or less points five times.  With the loss of the school’s career best passer, 2010 could be a trying one for a team that has enough talent to contend for the division flag.

Quarterback Alex Carder saw limited action as a freshman last year, but he begins 2010 as the clear-cut starter.  He won’t be asked to pass the ball over 40 times per game like Tim Hiller, but he has a great set of receivers on hand. 

The top five receivers from last year are back in the fold, giving the Broncos the hands down best receiving unit in the league.  Drew Burdi, an option-style QB was moved to wide receiver to add to those riches.

WMU must replace star running back Brandon West, who rushed for 1,164 yards and 10 TDs.  He leaves a major void, as the new starter, Aaron Winchester, ran for just 148 yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

The lack of a proven runner might force Carder to take the ball to the air a bit too much, and his inexperience could lead to an increase in interceptions.  Still, WMU should average better than 25 points and 375 yards per game.

Defense: There are definite strengths and glaring weaknesses on this side of the ball, but the Broncos are sure to improve on their lousy showing of last year when they gave up 28 points and 419 yards per game.

First the bad news:  the secondary gave up 241 passing yards per game and seldom supplied much pressure on receivers.  Two freshmen could start this year.

The Broncos are a little more settled at linebacker.  Rover Jamail Berry is more of a linebacker than secondary player.  He led WMU with five interceptions (half of the team’s picks).  Newcomer Dex Jones possesses great speed, and the former Wisconsin player should be a vast improvement on the weak side.

The defensive line is not impressive, but there is more experience returning this year than returned in 2009.

If the Broncos can develop an average pass rush, they could make an unexpected run at Northern Illinois.  We believe they will improve some, but not enough.  Call it 24-27 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Broncos are looking at a 2-2 mark outside of conference play.  They host Nicholls State and Idaho and travel to Michigan State and Notre Dame.  League games with Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Central Michigan, and Akron give WMU a good shot at enjoying a winning league mark.  The Broncos get Kent State and Northern Illinois at home, and if they win one of those games, they will be bowling this year. 

 

Coming Tomorrow: A look at the three independents—Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.  Could the entire trio be bowl eligible in 2010?

March 7, 2010

March Madness Update–Sunday, March 7, 2010

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , — piratings @ 1:21 pm

Five teams are now in the Big Dance as of 4:00 PM EST Sunday.  Cornell secured the first bid Friday night, when the Big Red won the Ivy League Title.  Winthrop, East Tennessee, and Murray State won their conference tournaments yesterday, and Northern Iowa just finished off Wichita State to take the MVC tournament title.

The Mid-American Conference Tournament kicks off today with first round games played on the higher seed’s home court.  The tournament moves to Cleveland Thursday for the final three rounds.  Here is the schedule:

#10 Bowling Green at #7 Western Michigan.  The winner faces #2 Central Michigan in the quarterfinals

#11 Northern Illinois at #6 Eastern Michigan.  The winner faces #3 Akron in the quarterfinals.

#9 Ohio U at #8 Ball State.  The winner faces #1 Kent State in the quarterfinals.

#12 Toledo at #5 Buffalo.  The winner faces #4 Miami (O) in the quarterfinals.

Kent State and Akron should make it through their parts of the bracket to end up in the championship game.  If any team from the first round runs the table, it should be Buffalo.  We don’t believe any of the West teams (CMU, EMU, WMU, Ball State, Toledo, NIU) will make it to the finals and at most one will still be around in the semis.

Coming up in our next update, we will have the matchups for the rest of the mid-major tournaments that kick off this week.

On Wednesday, we will preview the Big Six conferences.

August 27, 2009

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

In the second in our series of conference previews, we look at what just may be the most exciting league with the most wide-open styles of play.  Once just a light version of the old Big Ten, the Mid-American Conference has its own unique personality.  There are no three yards and a cloud of dust teams left.  Today, the MAC more closely resembles the old American Football League of the 1960’s.

Last year, Buffalo and Ball State were expected to be middle of the pack teams in their divisions, but the Bulls and Cardinals surprised the so-called experts and met in the conference championship.  Buffalo pulled off the big upset of the then unbeaten Cardinals, and then in an even bigger surprise Bull head coach Turner Gill spurned offers to move into a BCS conference coaching position to stay in Buffalo.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Ohio U was to get really lucky and host Ohio State, it would be expected that the Buckeye fans would find a way to get to Athens and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same Ohio U team hosted Hawaii when the Rainbows played at Idaho the week before, then the Bobcats could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Mid-American Conference Preseason PiRatings

   

 

Prediction *

  Team

PiRate

MAC

Overall

  EAST

 

 

 

  Buffalo

95

6-2

7-5

  Temple

92

6-2

8-5

  Ohio U

90

6-2

8-4

  Akron

89

3-5

4-8

  Bowling Green

87

2-6

2-10

  Kent State

86

2-6

4-8

  Miami (O)

77

2-6

2-10

   

 

 

 

  WEST

 

 

 

  Central Michigan

100

7-1

9-4

  Eastern Michigan

93

4-4

5-7

  Western Michigan

92

5-3

6-6

  Ball State

90

4-4

7-5

  Toledo

90

4-4

4-8

  Northern Illinois

89

1-7

3-9

   

 

 

 

 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 

on expected changes to rating during the year

   

 

 

 

 

CMU expected to defeat Temple in the MAC

 

Championship Game

 

 

MAC East

Buffalo: The Bulls still have some offensive weapons in running back James Starks and receiver Naaman Roosevelt, but they have a glaring hole where quarterback Drew Willy has graduated.  There are holes to fill in the offensive line as well, but the Bulls should still score about 25-28 points per game.  Defensively, the secondary and linebackers return intact from last year, but the defensive line faces major rebuilding.  In a league where almost every team has an explosive offense, just one defensive weakness can be enough to lose a ball game.  Buffalo could actually improve their conference record and fail to repeat as East Champions.

Temple: The Owls were arguably the weakest team in major college football in 2005 and 2006, but Coach Al Golden has the program headed in the right direction.  Temple narrowly missed out on an eight-win season, but finished 5-7 because they lost three different games on the final play.  This should be the year where the Owls finally break through with their first winning season since 1990 and first bowl invitation since 1979.  The defense should improve its yardage allowed by 30 to 50 yards and points allowed by three to five.  In a league where all the contenders can easily score 28 or more points per game, allowing less than 20 should be enough for the Owls to be a serious contender for the division title.  TU needs to come up with more balance on offense, as the Owls have failed to average 100 rushing yards per game in the last four seasons.  This is the one contender that will need to win games 21-17 instead of 38-34.

Ohio U: Coach Frank Solich has another contender in Athens this year, as the Bobcats should top 250 passing yards per game with two competent quarterbacks and three quality receivers.  If the rebuilt offensive line develops, then Ohio could emerge as the East champion.  Their defensive liability against the run could cost them against the better running opponents, and that spells trouble when they play at Ball State and Buffalo in consecutive games.

Akron: The Zips christen a new stadium this year.  Gone are games at the Rubber Bowl, as they move to the on-campus Infocision Stadium.  Coach J.D. Brookhart finds his seat not hot yet, but quite tepid.  If Akron fails to show improvement with a new high percentage passing offense, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that there could be a coaching change.  An experienced offensive line will need to step up and provide excellent protection for quarterback Chris Jacquemain who has a tendency to throw interceptions when under pressure.  The Zip running game will take a step back after losing 1,300+ yard runner Dennis Kennedy.  Defensively, the Zips should be stronger the farther back in the formation.  Akron should be one of those MAC teams to top 30 points per game, but they should give up 35.

Bowling Green: This Falcons have enjoyed winning seasons in six of the past eight years with one breakeven year, but things are about to turn south.  New coach Dave Clawson faces an immediate rebuilding situation.  The defense has been decimated with graduation, and the fairly experienced offense should struggle learning a new system.  Clawson’s offense proved to be too hard for Tennessee to implement last season, and the lack of production cost Phil Fulmer his job.  Quarterback Tyler Sheehan will see defenses begging him to hand the ball off, as the Falcons will struggle to run the ball against the better defensive front sevens.  Defensively, BGU is going to be weak in the all-important cornerback positions, and that could spell big trouble.  The Falcons will be forced to play their secondary deeper than normal, and opponents will average at least a yard more per play.  Look for Bowling Green to average 21-24 points per game but yield 30-35 and struggle to win more than two times.

Kent State: It’s been 37 years since the Golden Flashes made their one and only bowl appearance, and it’s going to be 38 after this season.  Kent State should be one of the top two rushing teams in the MAC, but they probably have the league’s weakest passing attack.  Defensively, Kent State gave up 32 points per game last year, and they will probably repeat that performance.  Their key game is September 19, when Iowa State visits Dix Stadium.  The Flashes handed that game over to the Cyclones last year in Ames, and if they pull off the mild upset, it could domino into a couple of extra wins.  If they lose that game, then KSU will be lucky to escape double digit losses.

Miami of Ohio: This once proud program known as the cradle of coaches for producing numerous big-time coaches (Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Eubank, Paul Dietzel, Jim Tressel, and Randy Walker among others) has become the doormat of the MAC.  After going 2-10 last year, Coach Shane Montgomery was let go.  New coach Mike Haywood inherits a team bereft of talent.  Quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh improved late in the 2008 season, but he’s got to prove that he can be more consistent and put touchdowns on the board.  A weak 2008 defense should regress even more in 2009, as the top four tacklers are gone.  The Redhawks will not compete in their out of conference part of the schedule with games against Kentucky (on a neutral field), at Boise State, at home against Cincinnati, and at Northwestern.  Home games with Bowling Green and Northern Illinois give Miami its best chance to avoid a winless season.

MAC West

Central Michigan: In a very competitive league, the Chippewas appear to be the top banana.  Quarterback Dan LeFevour should be the next big MAC passer to matriculate to the NFL.  To add to their riches, CMU has three excellent receivers in Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, and Kito Poblah.  The offensive line has to be rebuilt, but LeFevour gets rid of the ball quickly and can get out of the pocket and run the ball when needed.  Great running quarterbacks make it easier on a green offensive front.  Green is not a word to apply to the defense.  CMU returns 10 starters and 15 of their top 17 tacklers.  The Chippewas surrendered better than 30 points and 420 yards per game in 2008, and those numbers should improve by seven points and 40-50 yards.  CMU should easily top 30 points per game and maybe approach 40, so the Chippewas should dominate in the league in 2009.  CMU won’t be this year’s Ball State because their non-conference schedule includes games against Arizona, Michigan State, and Boston College all on the road.

Eastern Michigan: Yes, this is not a typo.  The Eagles could be a big surprise this year in the MAC.  New head coach Ron English knows a thing of two about defense, and EMU should improve just enough on the stop side to turn the close losses of last year into wins this year.  EMU’s offense will be considerably better this year, and the Eagles quietly gained almost 420 yards per game in 2008.  Quarterback Andy Schmitt has the talent to pass for 3,000 yards, and wide out Jacory Stone should top 1,000 yards in receptions.  Josh LeDuc could top all MAC tight ends in receptions and yardage, and he provides a nice target in the middle of the field.  We’re not ready to call EMU a contender in the West, but this team beat Central Michigan 56-52 in the regular season finale last year.  It wouldn’t surprise us if the Eagles post their first winning season since 1995, but they more than likely will come up just short due to a depth problem on the defensive side.

Western Michigan: A rebuilding defense that probably surrenders 425 yards and 28-35 points per game will keep WMU from seriously challenging CMU for the West title this year.  Offensively, The Broncos are not that far behind their rivals in Mt. Pleasant.  Quarterback Tim Hiller is just behind LeFevour in talent and should be on an NFL roster in 2010.  Hiller should top 4,000 yards passing if he stays healthy, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he reaches the 40 touchdown pass mark.  WMU has its best chance to upset Michigan when they kick off the season at The Big House.  If they win that one, the fans in Ann Arbor will be ready to reach out to Les Miles.  The Broncos host CMU on October 17, and if they can pull off the upset, then they have a chance to sneak away with the division title.  The trouble game for the Broncos could be the November 14 contest at Eastern Michigan, which follows a week after playing at Michigan State.

Ball State: The Cardinals enter the 2009 on a two-game losing streak and without the head coach who won led BSU from two to four to five to six to 12 wins.  New coach Stan Parrish owns one of the worst career coaching records on the FBS level, having gone 2-31-1 (2-9, 0-10-1, and 0-11) at Kansas State 20-plus years ago.  It won’t be his fault when the Cardinals regress to the lower half of the West standings.  Quarterback Nate Davis is gone after putting up even better numbers than LeFevour, and his replacement will be someone with zero experience.  Kelly Page will be seeing the wrong colored jersey in his face too many times, as the offensive line was shredded by graduation.  Star running back Miquale Lewis returns after rushing for 1,736 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but we expect his yards per carry to drop from 5.4 to 4.5 or less.  Ball State should still post a winning record, but they will do so because they have the easiest non-conference schedule in the league.

Toledo: The Rockets break in a new coach in Tim Beckman.  Beckman inherits an experienced offensive line but the other side of the line needs some rebuilding.  Quarterback Aaron Opelt is the only reason why we don’t have the Rockets rated high enough to compete in the division.  TU should be able to consistently run the ball, but teams may frequently put eight defenders in the box to force the Rockets to beat them through the air.  After losing nine times in 2008, we expect Toledo to improve, but by no more than one game.  Their non-conference schedule does them no favors, as they open with Purdue on the road, host Colorado, face Ohio State in Cincinnati, and venture to Florida International, where they will render in the Florida steam.

Northern Illinois: This is a program that is about to head downhill in the short term.  First year coach Jerry Kill guided the Huskies to six wins and a bowl bid, but NIU lost too much on defense and just enough on offense to prevent improvement this year.  It all adds up to a possible overall last place finish in the MAC.  Cheer up Huskie fans; your team is really young with enough talent to be really good in two years.  For now, hope NIU takes care of business against Western Illinois and Idaho and finds a way to pull off a conference win at home.

Next up: A quick look at the Independents.  Can Charlie Weis keep the fans happy at Notre Dame?  Will Army finally beat Navy?

March 21, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament: 2nd Round Games Played On Sunday, March 22, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Sunday, March 22, 2009

 

Friday’s games were a little more surprising than Thursday’s games, and several of the games that were won by the team expected to win were exciting and tough to the finish.  Siena has now won first round games in consecutive years over teams from a power conference.  The Saints could be on the verge of becoming Gonzaga East.

 

Our picks for day two went 11-5, bringing our total for round one to 24-8.  FWIW, we not only picked Siena to beat Ohio State, we almost hit the score exactly, missing by just two points.  Of course, a broken watch displays the correct time twice a day.

 

Here is a look at the Round of 32 games for Sunday.

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

Pittsburgh (14) vs. Oklahoma State (0) [Schedule strengths are equal]: The Panthers struggled against East Tennessee’s pressure defense, committing numerous turnovers.  They could have easily become the first number one seed to lose to a 16-seed.  Oklahoma State is a quicker, better version of ETSU, but Pittsburgh should be able to hold off the pesky Cowboys.  We expect Pitt to be ready for OSU’s pressure and play less error-prone ball.  Pittsburgh will advance to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 73 Oklahoma State 62

 

Wisconsin (2) vs. Xavier (8) [Wisconsin has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: The Badgers held on tough to eke out an overtime win over Florida State Friday night, while Xavier had an easier workout against Portland State.  The Musketeers could sneak into the Sweet 16.  They are the type of team that can beat Pittsburgh and even Duke if their three big shooters are on their mark.  We believe Wisconsin’s best days are two years down the road, and it is a credit to Coach Bo Ryan to get them to the second round this year.  However, we expect the Badgers to be out of the Dance after this one.

 

Prediction: Xavier 64 Wisconsin 57

 

South Region

Arizona State (4) vs. Syracuse (4) [Syracuse has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: This should be the best game of the day.  Arizona State has two excellent three-point shooters, and it takes a good outside shooting team to beat Syracuse.  The Orangemen will press the tempo and force the Sun Devils to play at a faster pace than they would like.  If Syracuse can keep from hitting the wall, they should advance.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 80 Arizona State 71

 

Midwest Region

Louisville (10) vs. Siena (5) [Louisville has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: Siena had enough talent to top Ohio State, but Louisville will be too much for the Saints to handle.  The Saints will not be able to beat the Cardinals playing the same game against a team with better athletes.

 

Prediction: Louisville 79 Siena 62

 

Arizona (-2) vs. Cleveland State (7) [Arizona has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: This should be a close game.  Arizona’s PiRate criteria score is a negative number, but when you add the four points for strength of schedule advantage, this game becomes a virtual tossup.  CSU plays terrific defense, while Arizona relies more on offense.  This game will be decided on the Cardinal side of the court.  If Jordan Hill can hit his inside shots, Arizona should prevail.  If Hill cannot get open or cannot connect from his normal range, then the Vikings can be this year’s surprise team in the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Arizona 65 Cleveland State 61

 

Dayton (5) vs. Kansas (10) [Kansas has a schedule 5 points per game stronger]: Kansas never expected North Dakota State to keep their round one game close for 35 minutes.  Dayton never really pulled away from West Virginia, but the Flyers led throughout their game.  Round two should be a different bird.  Kansas looked a little rusty after losing early in the Big 12 Tournament and going a week without playing.  They should play much better in round two, and Dayton won’t have enough talent to stop KU.

 

Prediction: Kansas 74 Dayton 64

 

Southern California (2) vs. Michigan State (7) [Michigan State has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: On paper, Michigan State looks to be better than USC by double digit points.  However, USC has put it all together in the past two weeks and must be considered 7-10 points better today than they were in January.  We’ll stick with the Spartans to sneak by in this game, but a Trojan win would be no big surprise.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 71 Southern Cal 64

 

West Region

Missouri (14) vs. Marquette (9) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Missouri will wear Marquette down as the game wears on.  Eventually, the Tigers will go on a run in the second half and put this game out of reach.  A Memphis-Missouri Sweet 16 match would be possibly the most exciting game of the entire tournament.

 

Prediction: Missouri 74 Marquette 65

March 20, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament: 2nd Round Games Played On Saturday, March 21, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Saturday, March 21, 2009

 

Thursdays games basically went according to expectations with a few exceptions.  One number 12 seed won over a five-seed when Western Kentucky controlled Illinois for much of the night.  We told you we thought WKU could pull off the upset, even though the system chose Illinois (but could not adjust for the loss of a key starter).  For what it’s worth, our Thursday picks went 13-3.

 

Here is a look at the Round of 32 games for Saturday.

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

UCLA (14) vs. Villanova (9) [Villanova has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: Both teams had scares in round one and were fortunate to survive to round two.  The Bruins have the criteria advantage here, but Villanova has home town advantage plus a slight strength of schedule advantage.  This game will look similar to the 1971 championship game between these same schools.  UCLA won that won by single digits.  That Villanova team had two stars, whereas the UCLA squad had five really good players.  Usually five really good players can beat two stars, but home town advantage eliminates that advantage.  We’ll go with the Bruins in a very close game.

 

Prediction: UCLA 64 Villanova 62

 

Texas (3) vs. Duke (14) [Duke has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: Duke has all the advantages here.  Watch Duke’s Gerald Henderson and Texas’s Damion James.  This is the key to this game.  If James can dominate better than Henderson, Texas has a chance.  We’ll select the Blue Devils to win, but it should be an interesting game.

 

Prediction: Duke 75 Texas 69

 

South Region

 

North Carolina (17) vs. LSU (14) [North Carolina has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: You usually never see two power conference championship teams facing off in the second round of the tournament, but the SEC is down this year.  So the regular season SEC champion faces the regular season ACC champion.  Add to that the fact that both of these teams have PiRate criteria in the double digit range.  This is almost a home game for the Tar Heels, and they are the dominant team in this region.  Carolina advances to the Sweet 16, and the SEC is done for the season.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 84 LSU 70

 

Western Kentucky (2) vs. Gonzaga (19) [Gonzaga has a schedule  2 points per game stronger]: Gonzaga turned it on in the final minutes of the night on Thursday and put Akron away with a quick spurt.  Western took control quickly in their game against Illinois and then held off the Illini at the end.  While the Hilltoppers advanced to the Sweet 16 last year, while Gonzaga went home early, we feel the Bulldogs are poised to make the trip to the next round this year.

 

Predicition: Gonzaga 77 Western Kentucky 70

 

Michigan (-4) vs. Oklahoma (9) [Michigan has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: We can sum this game up in three words: Blake Griffin’s Health.  If Griffin is close to 100%, this game will be over Sooner than expected.  Michigan knocked Clemson out in the first round because the Tigers couldn’t shoot straight.  Oklahoma won’t miss all those open shots and second-chance shots.  Michigan will have to hit close to 50% of their shots to stay in this one and connect on 8 or more treys.  If Griffin isn’t at full strength, then this game becomes much closer and moves toward being a tossup.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 72 Michigan 63

 

West Region

 

Connecticut (12) vs. Texas A&M (2) [Connecticut has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: We certainly hope UConn head coach Jim Calhoun is feeling much better, but we must begin to wonder if this could be his final year with the Huskies.  Maybe his players are beginning to think the same, and they want to make sure he goes out a champion.  It may or may not be the case, and they may or may not have the horses to go the distance, but the Huskies have enough in the tank to eliminate the Aggies.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 79 Texas A&M 73

 

Purdue (6) vs. Washington (9) [Washington has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]:  Purdue struggled with Northern Iowa, while Washington quickly dismissed Mississippi State.  We believe the Huskies will advance to the Sweet 16 to take on Connecticut in a game that will bring back memories for the fans and coaches of both schools.

 

Prediction: Washington 70 Purdue 60

 

Maryland (1) vs. Memphis (19) [Maryland has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: Was Memphis playing a weak schedule all year when they ran up such a far record?  Are they the most overrated team since all those consecutive Depaul teams that lost in the first round when they were ranked number one or two in the nation?  We think not.  They ran into a tough team in the first round.  Maryland played a fantastic first game against Cal, and they could easily play another great one against Coach Cal.  In what we believe will be one of the most exciting games of the entire tournament, we’ll stick with the team we are picking to still be playing on April 6.

 

Prediction Memphis 72 Maryland 71

March 17, 2009

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

 

We hope you took time to read Tuesday’s Bracketnomics 505 course.  You need to read that first to understand the criteria used here at PiRate Central.

 

Using said criteria devised by our founder, we have isolated 12 teams capable of winning six games in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Unlike last year when there were four dominant teams, the dominance is diluted somewhat this season.  Last year, more than 10 teams could be immediately eliminated based on a negative R+T rating.  This season, only two teams (Mississippi State and Ohio State) fail to possess a positive R+T rating.  Thus, we will pick the Bulldogs’ and Buckeyes’ opponents to beat them.

 

Here is a look alphabetically at those 12 teams who best meet the criteria showing they are capable of going all the way.

 

Connecticut: The Huskies outscore their opposition by an average of 13.3 points per game.  They shoot 9.3% better than their opponents.  They own a rebounding margin of 8.4.  Their R+T is 7.6.  In most years, this would be good enough for a Sweet 16 berth and possible Elite 8 run.  This year, it is good enough to get them to the title game.  The Huskies will win their first game by as many as they want.  They will win game two rather easily.  In the Sweet 16, they could run into a bump if they face Washington, but they will clobber Purdue if the Boilermakers make it to Glendale, Arizona.  An Elite 8 match against either Missouri or Memphis will be a tough and exciting game.

 

Duke: The Blue Devils outscore their opposition by an average of 12.2 points per game.  They shoot only 1.8% better than the opposition, and that is their one weakness.  They out-rebound their opponents by 3 and have a 4.4 turnover margin, so they usually benefit with more scoring attempts.  Their R+T of 12 is good enough to get them through the first two rounds.  In the Sweet 16, they will face either UCLA, Villanova, or Virginia Commonwealth.  The Blue Devils would be expected to beat any of these three, but it wouldn’t be a cinch.  The Bruins also make this list.

 

Kansas: The defending National Champions are considerably weaker this year, but in a season where the NCAA is weaker, the Jayhawks have a shot at getting to Detroit.  Kansas outscores its opponents by 11.3 points per game.  They outshoot them by 9.1%, which is one of the best in the Dance.  They have a 7.3 rebounding advantage.  Their weakness is in turnover margin.  They don’t commit a bevy of turnovers, but they don’t force many this year.  That could hurt them if they face a team that can steal the ball.  Syracuse and Missouri exploited them in regular season victories.  A trip to the Sweet 16 is expected, but I think they could be in for a big shock in their first round game with North Dakota State.  It may take 36 minutes for KU to put this game away.  If they face Michigan State in a regional semi-final, the Jayhawks should win a tough, physical game.  Louisville might be too much to handle in an Elite 8 regional final.

 

Louisville: Rick Pitino has taken Providence and Kentucky to the Final Four.  Last year, he came close with UL.  This year, it looks like the Cardinals have the horses to make it to Detroit.  UL outscores their opposition by 12.3 points per game.  They shoot 5.8% better than their opponents.  They have a 2.5 rebounding advantage, a 2.7 turnover margin, and they average 9.3 steals per game.  Their R+T is 8.5.  Except for scoring margin, none of the other stats are dominant, but then again all of them are really good.  They have no weaknesses.

 

Memphis: Memphis wouldn’t normally qualify because they are not a member of one of the big six conferences.  However, the Tigers’ schedule was as strong as teams like Wake Forest and UCLA.  Just like last year, Memphis has what it takes to play six games in the tournament.  The Tigers outscore their opponents by 17.2 points per game, which qualifies them for elite dominance.  They shoot 8.1% better than their opposition.  Their rebounding margin is 6.2, and their turnover margin is 3.3.  They average 8.8 steals per game, and their R+T rating is a whopping 13.2.  This is a team that should cruise to the Elite 8, and then we would favor them over Connecticut.  Missouri could be a tough out in the Sweet 16, but the Tigers fit the criteria of a national champion.

 

Missouri: Coach Mike Anderson was an assistant at Arkansas when the Razorbacks made won the national title in 1994 and made it to the finals in 1995.  His Missouri Tigers play the same 40-minute, full-court game that Arkansas played in those days.  These type of teams can make up for so-so rebounding with exceptional turnover margin by way of steals.  The Tigers are a force to be reckoned with this year.  Missouri outscores their opponents by 14.6 points per game.  They outshoot them by 5.7%.  While they barely win the battle of the boards by an average of 0.4 per game, their turnover margin is 6.5, and they average a tournament best 10.6 steals per game.  With an R+T rating of 16.9, Missouri gets many chances to go on scoring runs.  In tight tournament games, as little as an 8-0 run in two minutes is enough to decide the game.  We like MU’s chances of winning their first two and getting to the Sweet 16.  They will have to face Memphis, and they will meet a team that can neutralize the press.  Although we believe Memphis will win and move on to the Final Four, Missouri just may be the toughest competition Memphis faces before Detroit.

 

North Carolina: We see the Tar Heels joining Memphis in Detroit.  UNC has the second best looking criteria after Memphis.  The Tar Heels outscore their opponents by an average of 17.4 points per game.  They shoot 6.5% better than they allow.  Their rebound margin is 7.3, and their turnover margin is 3.2.  The Heels average 8.5 steals per game, and their R+T is 13.8.  Their path to the Final Four is the easiest of any of the 12 teams listed here.  Radford will be little more than a scrimmage against the Tar Heel scrubs.  Neither LSU nor Butler has what it takes to beat them in round two.  Gonzaga could compete for a long time, but the Tar Heels would eventually overpower them.  In the region finals, UNC would handle Oklahoma, Clemson, Syracuse, or Arizona State.  The only thing that could keep the Tar Heels out of the Final Four is the injury to Ty Lawson.  If he can play up to his normal standards, we just cannot see another South Regional team beating them.

 

Pittsburgh: The Panthers defeated Connecticut twice but lost to Louisville.  They should be able to beat almost any team that tries to play physically against them, but they could run into trouble against fast teams that can score in transition.  Pitt outscores their opponents by 13.3 points per game.  They shoot 7.3% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin of 9.8 is awesome, and their turnover margin of 1.1 further allows them extra scoring chances.  They average 7.1 steals per game, and their R+T rating is 11.7.  This is a team very capable of making it to Detroit.  They will handle East Tennessee with ease in round one and give their regulars ample rest.  Their round two game is going to be interesting, as both Tennessee and Oklahoma State have the necessary tools to aggravate the Panthers (much like the way Louisville did).  We still believe Pitt can get by either team and make the Sweet 16.  Their four possible Sweet 16 opponents do not have the skills to beat them, so if Pittsburgh gets to the Sweet 16, they will advance to the Elite 8 as well.  A regional final game against Duke would be a terrific game with both teams having a 50% chance of winning.  Ditto is they face Villanova, but the Panthers have revenge on their side in a match against the Wildcats. 

 

U C L A: This edition of Bruins is nothing like the last three editions in the Big Dance.  This UCLA team looks more like one of the Bruin teams from the Gary Cunningham/Larry Farmer/Walt Hazard years.  UCLA outscores their opponents by 12.7 points per game.  They shoot 4.9% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin is 3.8, and their turnover margin is 3.6.  They steal the ball 8.4 times per game, and their R+T is 11.1.  Much like Louisville, the Bruins don’t really dominate in any phase, but they are really good in all phases.  As a 6-seed, they are not expected to make it past the field of 32, but it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if Ben Howland guides them back to the Elite 8.  Their first round game against VCU should be nip and tuck for a long time.  VCU won’t be able to rebound against them, and the Bruins should get enough offensive boards to win.  In the second round, we believe UCLA can upset Villanova.  They won’t get by Duke if they must play them for a trip to the Final Four, but an Elite 8 appearance would be a great accomplishment in a rebuilding season.

 

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are the third ACC team with a good shot of advancing deep into the tournament.  Wake outscores their opponents by an average of 11.1 points per game.  They shoot the ball 9.3% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin is 6.  Their 0.2 turnover margin is basically nil, but they do average 8.5 steals per game.  Their R+T rating is just 6.4 due to the fact that they tend to become turnover prone occasionally.  The Demon Deacons received a favorable draw for the opening weekend.  We see them moving on to the Sweet 16, but they will face a Louisville team that just may be too much in the third round.  It should be a great game.

 

West Virginia: This team looks much like many of Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati teams.  The Mountaineers are the polar opposite of the team that made a run under former coach John Beilein.  They are a dark horse team to make a deep run.  WVU outscores their opponents by 10.8 points per game.  They only outshoot those opponents by 1.1%, and that will eventually be their downfall.  They own healthy rebounding (5.9) and turnover (3.6) margins.  They average just 6.8 steals per game, but their R+T rating is 11.8.  This team will fly under the radar, but the Mountaineers could upset Kansas in the second round.  If they can upset the Jayhawks, West Virginia has the horses to make it to Detroit.  They lost twice to Louisville, by six and three points, so they can even upset the Cardinals given a third chance.  We give WVU a 45% chance of beating Kansas and a 33% chance of advancing to the Elite 8.

 

Predictions For Bracketeers

 

This is a pressure-filled year for us.  How can we match the success of our founder?  Hopefully, we can do so by carefully following his theories and data.  Plus, we talked to him, and he endorsed our picks.

 

So, here goes.  In the East, three Pittsburgh, Duke, and UCLA all score 14 points in the criteria.  Duke and Pitt have stronger schedules, so we will call for the Blue Devils and Panthers to meet in the Elite 8.  We give a slight edge to Coach K’s troops, but that is almost negligible.  We do not see the East Regional winner winning the national championship.

 

In the South, North Carolina is overpowering.  The Tar Heels have no rival in this bracket.  Second seed Oklahoma and third seed Syracuse do not qualify for a spot in the top 12.  Fourth seed Gonzaga does qualify, and we will pick the Bulldogs to be the only team capable of stopping the Tar Heels.  We give Gonzaga a 15-20% chance of winning in this probable regional semifinal game.  North Carolina should then dispose of the East Regional Champion and advance to the title game.

 

In the Midwest, top-seed Louisville will have to dispose of defending champ Kansas to make the Final Four.  Fourth-seed Wake Forest cannot be ignored here.  Six-seed West Virginia can compete with anybody in this region, making the Midwest the strongest region overall.  We’re going to go with Huggy Bear and his West Virginia Mountaineers to sneak into the Final Four.

 

Memphis should emerge in the West, besting Missouri and then Connecticut in Glendale, Arizona.  The Tigers will then take care of business in the Final Four semifinal round to take on North Carolina.

 

In the National Championship Game, we look for Coach Cal to finally get his championship trophy.  We are picking Memphis to make up for their final minute lapse in the 2008 Championship Game and win the title this year.  It could be the start of a major dynasty, as the Tigers have an awesome group of recruits coming in for 2010.   

 

The Stats On All The Teams

 

When you see a stat in bold, it meets the minimum amount to qualify for an exceptional stat.  When you see it also underlined, it strongly meets the qualifying amount.  When it is also in italics, it is a dominating statistic.  Strength of Schedule (SOS) is used solely when pitting one team against another.

 

Team

Pts

FG%

Reb

TO

Stl

R+T

SOS

Akron

7.0

1.9

-0.9

4.1

7.7

6.7

48.91

Alabama St.

6.1

7.5

1.2

-0.8

5.6

0.1

40.46

American

6.1

7.2

2.9

0.4

5.4

3.4

46.85

Arizona

3.8

3.9

2.5

-0.7

6.0

1.5

56.79

Arizona St.

9.4

7.3

1.7

0.6

5.9

2.5

56.35

Binghamton

3.4

2.9

-1.6

1.5

7.0

0.9

46.95

Boston College

4.4

2.3

2.9

-0.8

6.2

1.7

55.16

B Y U

12.7

8.5

4.2

2.5

7.2

8.5

54.62

Butler

10.2

5.7

3.3

0.9

6.1

4.6

53.15

Cal St. Northridge

3.8

3.7

3.6

-0.4

9.0

2.7

48.83

California

6.7

4.5

2.3

0.5

4.9

2.9

56.00

Chattanooga

0.8

0.6

3.3

-1.1

6.3

1.6

49.33

Clemson

10.8

3.5

1.6

2.9

9.4

8.1

56.07

Cleveland St.

7.2

2.6

0.6

3.5

8.7

7.9

52.27

Connecticut

13.3

9.3

8.4

-0.6

5.8

7.6

57.42

Cornell

9.8

6.4

3.1

0.8

6.7

4.4

45.31

Dayton

6.0

3.2

5.3

1.0

6.3

6.8

53.19

Duke

12.2

1.8

3.0

4.4

8.5

12.0

60.86

E T S U

8.6

6.2

1.5

2.5

8.5

6.6

46.28

Florida St.

4.1

4.6

0.7

0.3

8.5

1.3

58.22

Gonzaga

17.6

12.0

3.6

3.9

7.5

10.6

53.21

Illinois

8.0

6.6

0.1

1.3

5.8

1.9

57.56

Kansas

11.3

9.1

7.3

-0.8

6.9

6.0

58.01

Louisville

12.3

5.8

2.5

2.7

9.3

8.5

58.80

L S U

9.4

4.2

5.6

4.2

7.6

13.3

53.66

Marquette

8.5

0.5

1.7

3.6

7.9

8.5

55.87

Maryland

3.0

0.5

-1.6

3.2

7.7

4.3

58.11

Memphis

17.2

8.1

6.2

3.3

8.8

13.2

55.82

Michigan

4.1

-1.1

-3.1

2.4

6.5

0.6

58.74

Michigan St.

9.0

4.1

9.9

-0.2

6.4

9.6

59.48

Minnesota

5.4

4.4

2.4

0.6

8.4

3.6

56.65

Mississippi St.

6.0

4.3

-0.7

-0.8

7.0

-2.0

55.62

Missouri

14.6

5.7

0.4

6.5

10.6

16.9

56.31

Morehead St.

3.1

2.3

8.0

-2.5

6.7

4.0

48.59

Morgan St.

5.3

2.2

3.9

2.0

6.6

7.1

44.96

North Carolina

17.4

6.5

7.3

3.2

8.5

13.8

58.00

North Dakota St.

12.2

4.0

4.5

2.2

7.1

8.2

45.05

Northern Iowa

4.2

3.6

3.1

-0.9

4.2

2.2

53.53

Ohio St.

5.1

7.5

-1.0

0.1

5.9

-0.9

57.80

Oklahoma

11.4

9.1

5.6

-1.1

6.9

3.8

57.78

Oklahoma St.

6.9

1.4

-1.1

2.8

7.7

4.1

59.57

Pittsburgh

13.3

7.3

9.8

1.1

7.1

11.7

59.27

Portland St.

5.5

0.3

0.9

0.7

7.5

2.2

45.45

Purdue

10.3

5.8

-0.3

3.5

7.2

5.7

57.48

Radford

5.1

7.2

6.9

-2.8

6.8

2.3

47.63

Robert Morris

5.7

5.1

1.7

0.7

8.6

3.1

46.18

Siena

7.6

3.7

-0.5

3.8

8.8

7.5

54.68

USC

4.9

6.8

5.5

-1.1

6.3

3.8

58.04

Stephen F Austin

10.3

7.2

1.4

2.8

6.1

5.5

46.99

Syracuse

8.8

7.5

2.2

-0.6

8.0

1.0

59.39

Temple

5.6

4.2

3.1

-0.8

5.6

2.0

56.16

Tennessee

6.1

1.5

4.6

1.8

6.7

7.5

60.50

Texas

6.8

3.6

4.7

1.3

6.2

6.6

56.58

Texas A&M

5.4

1.5

5.3

-0.3

5.0

4.9

55.77

U C L A

12.7

4.9

3.8

3.6

8.4

11.1

55.06

Utah

7.2

7.5

4.9

-3.2

5.0

1.1

57.90

Utah St.

10.8

7.8

7.0

-0.7

4.9

6.2

51.00

Villanova

9.5

5.3

4.1

2.1

8.0

8.1

57.30

Virginia Common.

8.6

6.6

-0.6

1.9

7.6

2.9

51.94

Wake Forest

11.1

9.3

6.0

0.2

8.5

6.4

55.29

Washington

9.3

3.8

8.4

0.1

7.6

8.6

58.08

West Virginia

10.8

1.1

5.9

3.6

6.8

11.8

58.84

Western Kentucky

5.4

1.5

4.8

0.1

5.7

4.9

51.41

Wisconsin

5.4

0.1

3.0

1.4

5.0

4.7

58.28

Xavier

10.0

7.4

8.4

-2.2

5.4

5.5

55.89

 

Round One Games

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

#1 Pittsburgh (14) vs. #16 East Tennessee (6) [Pitt has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]:  This game will be over quickly.  Pitt will dominate inside and put this one away in the first 10 minutes.  It could be a 20-point margin before halftime. 

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78 East Tennessee 56

 

#8 Oklahoma State (0) vs. #9 Tennessee (6) [Tennessee has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]:  These teams are similar, but Tennessee has just a little more talent than the Cowboys.  The Volunteers should win the battle of the boards by five or more, and the two or three extra offensive put-backs should decide this game.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 82 Oklahoma State 77

 

#5 Florida State (0) vs. #12 Wisconsin (2) [Schedule strengths are equal]: 12-Seeds are the ones that tend to draw the most attention at first round upsets.  Part of the reason is because 12-seeds are usually the last bubble teams to make the tournament.  Frequently, they are quite a bit better than their seeding.  This doesn’t apply in this game.  Wisconsin is lucky to be an invitee.  The reason the Badgers have a 50-50 chance of winning this one is the fact that Florida State isn’t a dominating ACC team.  They rely on one big scorer, and they win games by one to six points.  The winner of this game will be going home after the next one, and we’ll go with the Badgers to win a close one.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 68 Florida State 66

 

#4 Xavier (8) vs. #13 Portland State (1) [Xavier has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Xavier would have qualified among the big dozen if they had a positive turnover margin.  The Musketeers don’t have the tools to advance to the Elite 8 and will only crack the Sweet 16 due to a weak second round opponent.  This Portland State team is nowhere near as talented as last year’s team.  That team had a chance to compete, while this years Vikings will know they are done by halftime of this game.

 

Prediction: Xavier 79 Portland State 62

 

#6 U C L A (14) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth (3) [UCLA has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: VCU is one of those pesky teams that can throw an opponent off its game.  Coach Anthony Grant may be on his way to a big time job after this game.  UCLA will be able to sneak up on opponents in this tournament.  The Bruins didn’t win the Pac-10 title this year, but they have the talent to still be playing in April.  After a beginning that could be ugly, look for the boys from Westwood to get their balance and cruise to a double digit win.

 

Prediction: UCLA 75 VCU 65

 

#3 Villanova (9) vs. #14 American (2) [Villanova has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Villanova just barely missed out on being included in the top 12.  The Wildcats are not far behind Louisville, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh in the Big East.  VU has no weaknesses, but they are not as strong across the board as Louisville.  American won both the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles.  This is their second consecutive trip to the tournament, and they enter riding a 13-game winning streak.  They are better than average in every important aspect, but the Eagles’ strength of schedule is not strong enough for that to matter.  They played three good teams this year and lost to all by an average of 23 points.

 

Prediction: Villanova 74 American 55

 

#7 Texas (3) vs. #10 Minnesota (1) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Neither of these teams is going to advance past the opening weekend.  Texas is above average but not great in every aspect.  There are a dozen NIT teams that could beat the Longhorns.  Minnesota isn’t much better.  The Gophers pick up more steals, but they don’t capitalize on them with quick scoring bursts.  We’ll take Texas in a close game, but the Longhorns will not advance farther than one round.

 

Prediction: Texas 72 Minnesota 66

 

#2 Duke (14) vs. #15 Binghamton (-1) [Duke has a schedule 14 points per game stronger]: This won’t be like Duke’s first round game in 2008, when they had to sweat out a last second shot attempt by tiny Belmont.  Binghamton has little inside game, and that’s what it will take to beat Duke.  The Blue Devils will wear down the Bearcats and pull away to a lopsided victory.  They could lead by 35 to 40 points before emptying the bench.

 

Prediction: Duke 91 Binghamton 63

 

South Region

 

#1 North Carolina (17) vs. #16 Radford (3) [North Carolina has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Radford can score a lot of points.  They don’t have much depth, and we can see them keeping this game close maybe until midway through the first half.  After that, we look for the Tar Heels to go on a big run and put the game away before halftime.  Don’t be alarmed if UNC doesn’t win by 30 or more points.  Remember, they barely beat James Madison in the opening round one year when they advanced to the title game.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 94 Radford 77

 

#8 L S U (14) vs. #9 Butler (7) [LSU has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: As 8-9 games are supposed to go, this game should be close with numerous lead changes.  Earlier in the year, Butler won at Xavier, while LSU lost at home to Xavier.  The Tigers know they are facing a team that could easily beat them.  They just barely missed qualifying for a spot on the 12 best teams.  Butler was better last year, but the Bulldogs are no pushover.  LSU will be extended to the end, and the Tigers will be fortunate to escape with a victory.

 

Prediction: LSU 73 Butler 69

 

#5 Illinois (4) vs. #12 Western Kentucky (2) [Illinois has a schedule 6 points per game stronger]: This Western Kentucky team is about 10 points weaker than last season’s Sweet 16 team.  However, the Hilltoppers couldn’t have asked for a better #5 seed to face in the first game.  This one has the look of another 12-seed upset, but we will select the Illini to hold off a tough rally.

 

Prediction: Illinois 61 Western Kentucky 58

 

#4 Gonzaga (19) vs. #13 Akron (3) [Gonzaga has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: If Gonzaga were in the Pac-10 and had the identical stats they have this year, we would place them in the Final Four.  This is probably a better team than the Adam Morrison team a few years back.  The ‘Zags finished the season marching through the opposition like Sherman marched through Georgia.  In their final seven games, Gonzaga won all seven by an average score of 84-56!  Akron isn’t a bad team.  The MAC conference tournament champs might be favored in a first round game in other years, but they are going up against the North Carolina of the mid-majors.  Better luck next time Zips.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 80 Akron 67

 

#6 Arizona State (4) vs. #11 Temple (0) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Arizona State lost four of its final seven games, while Temple won 10 of its last 12 including the Atlantic 10 Tournament title.  Even though the Sun Devils own a better criteria score, we believe Temple should be a slight favorite in this game.  Temple should control the boards in this game, and we expect a game with many missed shots.  Offensive rebounding should decide this one.

 

Prediction: Temple 64 Arizona State 58

 

#3 Syracuse (4) vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin (8) [Syracuse has a schedule 12 points per game stronger]: Be warned! This game could be a nail-biter.  Syracuse will not be fully recovered from the Big East Tournament.  They may never fully recover the rest of this season.  SFA is not a pushover, as judged by their criteria score.  Their strength of schedule does not merit making them an upset favorite.  They could keep this one close.  However, being their first tourney appearance, the players will be tight at the beginning of the game.  Syracuse may not bring their A-game, but it will be enough to win.  Don’t expect the Orangemen to score 80 points in this game, but then again, don’t expect the Lumberjacks to get many second-chance scoring opportunities. 

 

Prediction: Syracuse 69 Stephen F. Austin 59

 

#7 Clemson (9) vs. #10 Michigan (-4) [Michigan has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: John Beilein’s West Virginia team is the only Elite 8 team to fall through the PiRate cracks in recent years.  This Michigan team plays much like that one, but the Wolverines are not yet as good.  Michigan tries to limit possessions and win by hitting a lot more three-pointers than they give up.  It is a good gimmick when you don’t have superior talent.  We just don’t see it working in the Big Dance.  Their criteria score is -4, which is the worst of the 63 teams that have a positive R+T rating.  Clemson was a better team in 2008, and that Tiger team fell to Villanova in the first round.  We expect the Tigers to get over the hump and win their opening round game this year.

 

Prediction: Clemson 77 Michigan 66

 

#2 Oklahoma (9) vs. #15 Morgan State (4) [Oklahoma has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: Oklahoma would have qualified for a spot in the top 12 if they had a positive turnover margin.  When they face a team that forced turnovers, the Sooners are going to have a rough time.  Missouri and Oklahoma State beat the Sooners in the last two weeks, and both of those teams are ball-hawking squads.  Morgan State is not capable of forcing Oklahoma into a bevy of turnovers, so OU is safe in the opening round.  Sooner fans should root like crazy for Michigan to beat Clemson, because the Tigers are a lot like Missouri and Oklahoma State.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 79 Morgan State 65

 

Midwest Region

 

#1 Louisville (10) vs. #16 Morehead State (1) [Louisville has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: These two teams met in December with UL winning by 38 points.  The Eagles are much better than they were three months ago, but not 38 points better.  Louisville will get a light workout in this game, and that will keep them fresh for round two.

 

Prediction: Louisville 76 Morehead State 49

 

#8 Ohio State (DNQ) vs. #9 Siena (5) [Ohio State has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: Here is what looks like a mild upset in the making.  Ohio State is one of two teams that fail to qualify due to a negative R+T rating.  What that means is the Buckeyes give up more scoring opportunities than they get.  Think of a major league baseball team that wins 90 games in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs but gives up one more hit per game than themselves while hitting an average amount of home runs.  That team won’t go far in the playoffs.  Siena won an opening round game in last year’s tournament, and this Saints’ team is better this year than last year.  Siena stands a 55-60% chance of winning this game.

 

Prediction: Siena 74 Ohio State 70

 

#5 Utah (3) vs. #12 Arizona (-2) [Utah has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: The winner of this game won’t be advancing much further.  Arizona really shouldn’t be here.  Almost every major conference team and more than half of the mid-major teams in the NIT could beat Arizona.  Utah won 11 of their final 13 games, and the Utes should make it 12 of 14.  However, don’t expect any deep runs like in the Rick Majerus or Jack Gardner days.

 

Prediction: Utah 68 Arizona 63

 

#4 Wake Forest (12) vs. #13 Cleveland State (7) [Wake Forest has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: Cleveland State deserves their seeding.  The Vikings defeated Butler and won at Syracuse during the season and played competitive games at Washington and at West Virginia.  Wake Forest qualifies as one of the super 12 teams, and they will have a tougher time with CSU in the opening round than they will have with either Utah or Arizona in round two.

 

Prediction: Wake Forest 69 Cleveland State 62

 

#6 West Virginia (16) vs. #11 Dayton (5) [West Virginia has a schedule 6 points per game stronger]: West Virginia is the top dark horse in our criteria.  We believe they can advance to Detroit.  Dayton is a solid team and can hold their own on the glass against the Mountaineers.  We believe the game will be decided by turnovers.  WVU will force three to five more and capitalize on that differential with five to eight points.  We will add a little more to the difference by believing Dayton will put West Virginia at the line several times in the closing minutes and fail to score quickly at their end.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 74 Dayton 65

 

#3 Kansas (10) vs. #14 North Dakota State (10) [Kansas has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: North Dakota State is making an appearance in the Big Dance in their first year they are qualified.  Their criteria score is a little misleading, as they have a rather weak strength of schedule.  The Bison may give the Jayhawks a battle through a couple of TV timeouts, but KU will go to the locker at the half up by at least eight and pull away in the second half.

 

Prediction: Kansas 81 North Dakota State 59

 

#7 Boston College (-2) vs. #10 Southern California (2) [Southern Cal has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: This should be an interesting and entertaining game.  The winner should be out of the tournament one round later.  Trying to pick a winner in this game is a pure crap shoot.  Boston College beat North Carolina and lost to Harvard.  USC started 10-3, then lost 9 of 15, and then won five in a row, including three consecutive Pac-10 Tournament victories over NCAA Tournament teams.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal 73 Boston College 70

 

#2 Michigan State (7) vs. #15 Robert Morris (2) [Michigan State has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: The Spartans should make it to the Sweet 16, but we just don’t see any Big 10 team winning an Elite 8 game this year.  Robert Morris must rely on one star in Jeremy Chappell.  The Colonials don’t rebound well, and MSU will play volleyball on the offensive glass. 

 

Prediction: Michigan State 76 Robert Morris 54

 

West Regional

 

#1 Connecticut (12) vs. #16 Chattanooga (-1) [Connecticut has a schedule 8 points per game stronger]: We pity the poor Mocs.  They are going to be the victims of one of the two most lopsided opening round game.  UConn will dominate this game from start to finish.  Chattanooga will be lucky to lead this one 2-0 at the start, because it could easily be a game where the Huskies hold the Mocs scoreless to the first TV timeout and lead by double digits by the time Chattanooga scores.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 98 Chattanooga 63

 

#8 B Y U (13) vs. #9 Texas A&M (2) [Texas A&M has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: This looks like another excellent tossup game, but our criteria show it to be a one-sided affair.  BYU would belong in the top 12 if they had played a stronger schedule.  The Cougars do everything well; they outscore their opposition by 12.7 points per game.  They shoot 8.5% better than their opponents.  They control the boards by more than 4 per game and force 2.5 more turnovers per game than they commit.  The Cougars just haven’t beaten a big time team.  Texas A&M owns victories over four major teams in the Dance.  That makes it the tossup game it is supposed to be.

 

Prediction: BYU 74 Texas A&M 69

 

#5 Purdue (6) vs. #12 Northern Iowa (-1) [Purdue has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: The Boilermakers split their final 10 regular season games before finding their stride in the Big 10 Tournament.  Northern Iowa is in the Dance because they can edge Illinois State every time they face off.  Illinois State won’t be on the schedule until next season, so NIU can begin looking forward to next season after this game.  Don’t expect Purdue to still be around next week.  This is going to prove to be another weak year for the Big 10.

 

Prediction: Purdue 71 Northern Iowa 60

 

#4 Washington (9) vs. #13 Mississippi State (DNQ) [Washington has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: The Pac-10 regular season champions take on the surprise winner of the SEC Tournament.  MSU is one of two teams that do not qualify due to a negative R+T number.  It’s hard to imagine that with Jarvis Varnado in the lineup, the Bulldogs still have a slight negative rebounding margin.  They also have a negative turnover margin and didn’t play that tough of a schedule.  Washington won’t have to travel far from Seattle to Portland, and the Huskies should win this one by more points than most people expect.

 

Prediction: Washington 81 Mississippi State 66

 

#6 Marquette (9) vs. #11 Utah State (10) [Marquette has a schedule 5 points per game stronger]: Marquette would definitely be included in the top 12 if Dominic James were not out for the season.  Prior to his foot fracture, MU was a Top 10 team capable of making a run to the Final Four.  Without him, they really should be a double digit seed.  Utah State is one of the handful of mid-majors capable of making a run to the Sweet 16.  The Aggies will have trouble against an aggressive, pressing team, but Marquette isn’t one of those teams.  This game is actually a tossup.  With no partiality to an in-state team, we’re going with Marquette to survive a toughie.

 

Prediction: Marquette 70 Utah State 65

 

#3 Missouri (14) vs. #14 Cornell (5) [Missouri has a schedule 11 points per game stronger]: Missouri has the talent to make a deep run in this tournament.  Any team that has trouble facing pressure defense is going to find itself in a heap of trouble.  The Tigers are the best pressing team in the Big Dance and the only team averaging double figure steals per game.  If Mizzou gets 12 steals in a game, they are going to score 20 or more points off those steals.  That is a mighty stat for an opponent to overcome.  Cornell is not as good this year as they were last year when they won the Ivy League with ease.  This team has no signature wins, and they lost by double digits to all three NCAA Tournament teams on their schedule.

 

Prediction: Missouri 82 Cornell 58

 

#7 California (1) vs. #10 Maryland (1) [Maryland has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]:  On paper, this game looks like an exciting game.  We consider it the most mediocre game of the opening round.  One of these teams will advance to the Round of 32 and become fodder for Memphis.  Cal will win the battle on the boards, but Maryland will not beat themselves with unforced errors.  The Terps beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in the last month, while Cal has been a sub-.500 team since mid-January.

 

Prediction: Maryland 71 California 67

 

#2 Memphis (19) vs. #15 Cal State Northridge (-1) [Memphis has a schedule 7 points per game stronger]: Not only is Memphis coming into the tournament playing its best ball of the season, the Tigers enter the Dance with a chip on their shoulders.  They deserved a number one seed, and now they will take it out on their next opponent or maybe next six.  The Matadors lost to Cal State Bakersfield as well as some other teams with an RPI well down the list.  Memphis has won 25 games in a row, and the Tigers are the real number one team in our book.  At the point when Coach Cal removes his top eight players from the game, the Tigers may have yielded less than a point per minute in this game.

 

Prediction: Memphis 83 Cal State Northridge 47

 

Coming Friday, a look at Saturday’s games.  Sunday’s game previews will run Saturday.

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