The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 1, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races–February 1, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, January 31, 2008

It’s only the first of February, but this first week of the month promises to affect the conference races more than any other week of the season.  Let’s call this “moving week,” because in at least 10 leagues, there will be games between the contenders that should shed strong light on which teams will eventually win said leagues.  In the power conferences, the bubble will begin to burst for some teams, while the improving teams will ascend toward “In good shape” mode.

To explain what you are about to read, the terms used (Locks, In Good Shape, On the Bubble, Can Still Get There) refer to the teams’ receiving at-large invitations to the NCAA Tournament.  Obviously, every team can still get there if they win their conference tournament, or in the case of the Ivy League, win the regular season title.

This week, if you count the number of likely bids, the minimum comes to 65.  We all know that only 65 teams will be chosen on Selection Sunday, so any amount of upsets in the conference tournaments is going to force a deserving team out of the cotillion.  Some of these teams will play themselves out of contention in the coming weeks, and by mid-February, the number of likely bids will drop to 55 to 60 teams.  That will then give you a better look at how many bubble teams are fighting for an approximate number of bids up for grabs.

After the Bracket Buster on February 22 and 23, many of the mid-major teams will be eliminated.  That will make this exercise quite a bit easier.

Enjoy!  Before you know it Selection Sunday will be here.  I’ll bet you can hear the “Road to the Final Four” music in your head as you read this.

America East

Likely Bids:               1

Locks:                        None

In Good Shape:        None

On the Bubble:        None

Can Still Get There:            None

Tournament:                        March 7-9 @ Binghamton, NY

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Maryland-Balt. Co.              6-2/14-7         Sat. @ Vermont

Vermont                                6-2/11-9         Sat. vs. UMBC

Binghamton                         6-2/10-10      Sat. vs. Hartford

Albany                                   4-4/9-11         Sat. vs. Stony Brook

Hartford                                4-4/10-13      Sat. @ Binghamton

New Hampshire                   4-4/7-13         Sat. vs. Boston U.

UMBC’s tough defense stifled Boston U and Albany, and now the Retrievers visit Vermont for a rematch of a game they won by 18 points at home.  If UMBC wins this one, they have a Saturday, February 9 home date with Binghamton and a chance to wrap up the A-East regular season title.  Still, the only thing that matters is the A-East Tournament, and Binghamton hosts it this year.  Until someone proves they can win at Binghamton, they are the favorite for the lone bid.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Likely Bids:               6

Locks:                                    Duke, North Carolina

In Good Shape:        Clemson

On the Bubble:        Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest

Can Still Get There:            Florida State, Miami, N.C. State, Georgia Tech

Tournament:                        March 13-16 @ Charlotte, NC

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Duke                          6-0/18-1                    Sat. vs. Miami

North Carolina         5-1/20-1                     Sun. @ Florida St.

Virginia Tech                        4-3/13-8                    Sat. vs. Virginia

Clemson                    3-3/15-5                     Sat. vs. Boston College

Wake Forest             3-3/13-6                    Sun. @ North Carolina St.

Boston College         3-3/12-7                     Sat. @ Clemson

Maryland                   3-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech                        3-3/10-9                    Sat. vs. Maryland

Only Virginia is not in contention for an at-large bid.  All it takes for any of the number three through 11 teams to become worthy is a two-game ACC winning streak.  Virginia Tech won at Boston College and against Florida St to move to the top side of the bubble.  Boston College lost two in a row to move down to the lower side of the bubble.

Wednesday night, the big Tobacco Road rivalry renews as Duke visits North Carolina.

Atlantic Sun

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-8 @Nashville (Lipscomb)

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Jacksonville              7-1/11-9                      Sat. vs. Gardner-Webb

Belmont                    6-2/14-8                    Sat. vs. Fla-Gulf Coast

East Tennessee        5-2/11-9                     Fri. vs. Mercer, Sun. vs. Kennesaw St.

Stetson                      5-3/10-12                   Sat. @ Lipscomb

Mercer                       4-3/9-11                     Fri. @ ETSU, Sun. @ USC-Upstate

Gardner-Webb         4-4/10-12                  Sat. @ Jacksonville

Fla. Gulf Coast         4-4/8-14                    Sat. @ Belmont

Belmont picked up consecutive road wins against Mercer and Stetson, and the Bruins get to play six of their final eight games at home.  One of those six is a Thursday match against Jacksonville.  If Belmont wins that one, they are in the driver’s seat for the regular season championship.  With the tournament being played a couple miles up the road at Lipscomb, a three-peat is definitely possible.

Atlantic 10

Likely Bids:                           4

Locks:                                                Xavier

In Good Shape:                    Dayton, Rhode Island

On the Bubble:                    U Mass, St. Joe’s

Can Still Get There:                        Charlotte, Temple, Duquesne

Tournament:                        March 12-15 @ Atlantic City, NJ

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Xavier                                    5-1/17-4                     Sat. vs. LaSalle                    

St. Joseph’s               5-1/13-5                     Sat. vs. Fordham, Mon. vs. Villanova

Charlotte                   4-1/13-6                     Sat. vs. Richmond

Rhode Island                        4-2/18-3                    Sat. vs. Dayton

Temple                       3-2/10-9                    Sun. vs. G. Washington

Dayton                       3-3/15-4                     Sat. @ Rhode Island

Massachusetts          3-3/14-6                    Sat. @ St. Louis

Duquesne                  3-3/13-6                    Sat. @ St. Bonaventure

Richmond                 3-3/10-9                    Sat. @ Charlotte

LaSalle                       3-3/8-11                     Sat. @ Xavier

While Xavier is getting all the headlines, and the Musketeers are now a virtual lock for an at-large bid, it’s St. Joe’s that needs some publicity here.  It’s not enough to note that the Hawks have won nine out of 10 games.  What’s really impressive is that eight of those wins have come on the road!  The two co-leaders have yet to meet and still play each other twice.  I think if St. Joe’s wins one of those games, they will end the regular season as an at-large lock.

Charlotte’s status will become clearer in the next two weeks when they face Richmond, Dayton, and Xavier.  The 49ers are the one team that has knocked off St. Joe’s, plus they own wins at Clemson and against Wake Forest and Davidson.  If they can finish 10-6 in the league, they should be a strong at-large candidate.

This is the start of crunch time for Rhode Island, Dayton, U Mass, and Temple.  Two of these teams are going to emerge as the leading candidates for the remaining bids, while two are going to drop out of contention.  More than four teams may be deserving by mid-March, but I cannot see the A-10 getting more than four in the Dance.

Big East

Likely Bids:               7 or 8

Locks:                                    Pittsburgh, Georgetown

In Good Shape:        Connecticut, Marquette, Notre Dame

On the Bubble:        Louisville, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia

Can Still Get There Cincinnati, DePaul, Villanova, Providence

Tournament:                        March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Georgetown              7-1/17-2                     Sat. vs. Seton Hall

Notre Dame              5-2/15-4                     Sat. vs. DePaul

Pittsburgh                 5-3/17-4                     Sat. @ Connecticut

Marquette                 5-3/15-4                     Sat. @ Cincinnati

Connecticut              5-3/15-5                     Sat. vs. Pittsburgh

Seton Hall                 5-3/15-6                     Sat. @ Georgetown

Louisville                  5-3/15-6                     Sat. vs. Rutgers

Syracuse                    5-4/15-7                     Sat. @ Villanova

Cincinnati                 5-4/10-11                   Sat. vs. Marquette

West Virginia           4-4/15-6                     Sat. @ Providence

DePaul                       4-4/9-11                     Sat. @ Notre Dame

This league has quality all the way down to number 14 Rutgers, who won at Pittsburgh.  Speaking of the Panthers, their game at Connecticut is Saturday’s headline contest.

Seton Hall has put together five straight wins to move into bubbleville.  If the Pirates win a sixth consecutive game, it will move them into the top 25 and place them in the “In Good Shape” field.  Of course, they have to play at Georgetown Saturday to pick up that win.

Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia have tough games this weekend, and they need to win them to stay in the at-large race.  Cincinnati and DePaul are hanging around and would have to win 10 or more conference games to get in the discussion.

Notre Dame and Marquette are both moving close to rising up to lock status. 

Big Sky

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8, 11-12 @ Regular Season Champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Weber St.                              6-2/11-9                     Sat. @ Idaho St.

Portland St.                          5-2/12-8                    Sat. vs. Montana St.

Northern Arizona                6-3/14-8                    off until Feb. 7

Montana St.                          5-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Portland St.

Idaho St.                                5-3/8-13                    Sat. vs. Weber St.

By next Friday morning, we will know a lot more about this race.  Montana State is the current hot team, having won four consecutive games (two on the road).  The Bobcats play at Portland State and Montana in the coming week, and if they win them both, they just might keep winning until the own the regular season title.  However, I don’t see them winning at Portland St.

Northern Arizona stubbed its toe after beating Weber State last week; The Lumberjacks dropped back-to-back road games against Idaho State and Northern Colorado.  Seven games remain on NAU’s regular season schedule, and five of them are in Flagstaff.  I look for the Lumberjacks to recover and take the regular season title, which will allow them to host the Big Sky Tournament.

                                   

Big South

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2 (3-5% chance of 2)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        UNC-Asheville, Winthrop

Tournament:                        March 4-6-8   1st round and finals at higher seeds, semi-finals at #1 seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

UNC-Asheville                     6-0/17-4                    Sat. vs. Winthrop

Winthrop                              5-1/14-7                     Sat. @ UNC-Asheville

Liberty                                   4-2/12-9                    Sat. @ Radford

High Point                            3-3/11-9                     Sat. vs. VMI

Saturday is the most important day in the Big South regular season.  Winthrop visits UNC-Asheville with a chance to regain supremacy.  The Bulldogs and the Southern Conference’s Davidson give the State of North Carolina two of the best mid-major teams in the nation.  UNCA is an extremely tough match-up for any team with giant 7-7 Kenny George and go-to guy Bryan Smithson.  Out of the league, UNCA looked like they belong in close losses to Tennessee and North Carolina, and they took out South Carolina in Columbia.

Winthrop is still the perennial dominant team in the Big South, even without Coach Gregg Marshall.  Don’t discount their chances to win the big game Saturday.

If any other team emerges as the automatic qualifier, it will be a surprise.  UNCA could possibly receive at-large consideration if they sported a 27-5 or 26-6 record, but I highly doubt it would happen.

Big 10

Likely Bids:                           4 or 5

Locks:                                                Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

In Good Shape:                    Purdue, Ohio State

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Minnesota

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Indianapolis, IN

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Michigan State                     7-1/19-2                     Sat. @ Penn State               

Wisconsin                             7-1/17-3                     Sun. @ Minnesota

Purdue                                   7-1/16-5                     Sat. @ Illinois

Indiana                                  6-1/17-3                     Sun. vs. Northwestern

Ohio State                             6-2/15-6                     Sat. @ Iowa

Minnesota                             3-4/13-6                    Sun. vs. Wisconsin

I am dating myself here, but what I see when I look at this year’s Big 10 race is the 1967 American League Pennant race.  1967 was a year where none of the junior circuit’s 10 teams were particularly strong.  It led to one of the most fantastic chases that wasn’t decided until the final day of the season.

Michigan State is the 1967 White Sox.  They have excellent pitching (defense and rebounding) and score just enough to win ugly. 

Wisconsin is the Minnesota Twins.  They have to the World Series recently, and they have the talent to do so again, but they just seem to be missing that killer instinct (take last night’s snoozer over Indiana, where they tried to blow a big lead).

Purdue is the Detroit Tigers.  They have a couple of guys who can play with anybody, but they are still weak in a few areas and ultimately will peak next year.

Indiana is the Boston Red Sox.  They have the league’s true superstar Triple Crown winner, and I expect them to take the league crown at the end.

Ohio State is the California Angels.  They have a bunch of young guys winning games, but I expect them to drop enough contests in February to fall out of contention before the final weekend (but, they should still be in good shape for an at-large bid if the league gets five invitations).

Minnesota is the Baltimore Orioles.  Their best days are a couple years down the road.  For now, they will take their lumps when they play the contenders, and they will enjoy their games against the Senators, Indians, and Athletics (Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa).

Big 12

Likely Bids:                           5 or 6

Locks:                                                Kansas, Baylor, Texas

In Good Shape:                    Kansas State

On the Bubble:                    Oklahoma, Texas A&M

Can Still Get There:                        Iowa State, Missouri, Texas Tech

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Kansas City

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Kansas State                         5-0/15-4                     Sat. @ Missouri

Kansas                                   5-1/20-1                     Sat. @ Colorado

Baylor                                                4-1/16-3                     Sat. @ Texas

Texas                                      3-2/16-4                    Sat. vs. Baylor

Oklahoma                             3-2/15-5                     Sat. @ Texas A&M

Texas A&M                            3-3/17-4                     Sat. vs. Oklahoma

Iowa State                             3-3/13-8                    Sat. @ Nebraska

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!  Just who is number one in the league today?  Kansas State hasn’t been on top of the league since it was the Big Eight Conference.  Something tells me their sole possession of the top spot could last just one game.  Missouri is waiting in ambush in Columbia, and KSU may not be ready to play this game after knocking off Kansas.  All this hinges on Tiger Coach Mike Anderson reinstating the four healthy players who were suspended for their game against Nebraska.

The more I look at this league, the more I think it might be a little overrated.  If I had to bet on it, I would bet against any Big 12 team (including Kansas) making the Final Four this year, and I wouldn’t want to risk money predicting more than two making the Sweet 16.

Big West

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Cal St. Northridge

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Anaheim, CA

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Cal St. Northridge               7-0/15-4                     Sat. vs. Cal St Fullerton

Cal St. Fullerton                  6-2/13-6                    Sat. @ Cal St Northridge

Pacific                                                5-2/14-6                     Sat. @ UC Davis

UC-Santa Barbara               5-3/16-5                     off until Feb. 7

When you think of Northridge, California, earthquakes come to mind.  This year, the 8.0 on the Richter scale is due to all the jumping up and down in The Matadome.  The Matadors have combine good defense, smart offense, and great depth into the complete package for a Big West team.  Their leading scorer, Deon Tresvant, and leading rebounder, Tremaine Townsend, come off the bench!

Northridge hosts Fullerton Saturday.  A Matador win gives them a three-game lead in the loss column, and that would just about wrap up the regular season title.  However, because they don’t have a great non-conference resume, Northridge will still have to win the Big West Tournament to make it to the Dance.

UCSB has played themselves out of the regular season title race and out of at-large contention. 

Pacific gets Northridge at home Thursday night.  They may be the one team standing in the Matadors’ way of running the table.  For that game to many anything, the Tigers have to take care of business at UC-Davis.

Colonial Athletic

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Richmond Coliseum (VCU)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Virginia Commonwealth   8-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. Towson

George Mason                      7-3/15-6                     Sat. vs. James Madison

UNC-Wilmington                7-3/15-8                     Sat. @ Wm. & Mary

William & Mary                   7-3/11-9                     Sat. vs. UNCW

Delaware                               6-4/9-11                     Sat. @ Hofstra

Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason both hold tiny at-large chances.  If either team wins the regular season championship, that team will continue to stay on the bubble, while the other team will have to earn the automatic bid to have any chance.  GMU beat VCU Tuesday night in their only meeting of the regular season.

UNCW has put together a nice five-game winning streak which includes a victory over George Mason.  They must still play at VCU, so chances are they will come up a bit short.

Conference USA

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Memphis

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Houston, UAB, Central Florida

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Memphis

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Memphis                               6-0/20-0                   Sat. vs. UTEP

Houston                                4-1/15-4                     Sat. @ UCF

UAB                                        4-1/14-6                     Sat. vs. Marshall

Tulane                                   4-2/14-6                    Sat. @ Rice

UTEP                                      4-2/13-6                    Sat. @ Memphis

Central Florida                    4-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Houston

Two down and two to go.  Memphis knocked off Gonzaga and Houston and will face UAB and Tennessee in a couple of weeks.  They should be a number one seed in one of the four regions. 

If the rest of the league beats up on themselves, it’s likely that nobody else will get an at-large bid.  With the C-USA Tournament in Memphis, it’s even more unlikely that someone will upset the Tigers for automatic admittance.  

Horizon

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Butler

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Valparaiso, Wright St., Cleveland St., UW-Milw.

Tournament:                        March 4, 7, 10-11 Quarter & Semifinals at top seed & Finals at higher seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Butler                                                8-2/19-2                    Tue. @ Valpo

Cleveland St.                         7-3/14-8                    Sat. @ Loyola (Chi.)

UW-Milwaukee                    7-4/14-9                     Sat. @ Wright St.

Wright St.                             6-4/13-6                    Sat. vs. UW-Milw.

Valparaiso                             5-4/14-7                     Tue. Vs. Butler

UW-Green Bay                     5-5/11-9                     Sat. @ Detroit

Illinois-Chicago                   5-5/11-10                   Sat. vs. Youngstown

Cleveland State must have read from a past Cleveland Indians script-the one from 1966, where the Tribe shot out of the gate with 10 straight wins en route to a 26-10 start and 4 ½ game lead before struggling to finish the season 81-81.  After starting Horizon play at 7-0, including wins over Butler and Valparaiso, CSU has dropped three in a row on the road to fall behind Butler.

Butler has a big game Tuesday night at Valparaiso.  A win there could end the Horizon race.  Win or lose, the Bulldogs are in good shape for earning a bid to the Field of 65.  I’d bet against any team beating Butler at Hinkle Field house in the Horizon League Tournament.

Independents

Likely Bids:                           0

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    None

Texas Pan American is 14-11 and the only independent above .500. Head coach Tom Schuberth is a pepper pot guy.  As a player at Mississippi State in the 1970’s, he once tried to pick a fight against 6-7 muscle man Charles Davis of Vanderbilt at Vandy’s Memorial Gym.  Before transferring to Miss. St., he played on the 1977 Final Four team at UNLV.  Keep an eye on Schuberth; he could be on his way to bigger and better things, but his team will be left out of the NIT picture this year. 

Ivy

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        All 8 teams

Tournament:                                    None, bid goes to regular season champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Cornell                                   2-0/10-5                    Fri. @ Brown, Sat. @ Yale

Brown                                                1-1/9-7                       Fri. vs. Cornell, Sat. vs. Columbia

Dartmouth                           1-1/8-8                       Fri. @ Princeton, Sat. @ Penn

Yale                                        1-1/7-9                       Fri. vs. Columbia, Sat. vs. Yale

Harvard                                 1-1/6-12                     Fri. @ Penn, Sat. @ Princeton

Penn and Princeton finally begin conference play tonight (Friday).  Neither team appears to be the behemoth they used to be, so this league is wide open.  Cornell leads because they swept Columbia last weekend, but they could easily be 2-2 by Saturday night.  It wouldn’t surprise me if two or three teams finished tied for first with 10-4 records this year.

Metro Atlantic

Likely Bids:                           1 (very slim chance at 2)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Marist, Siena, Rider

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Albany, NY (Siena)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Rider                                      9-2/16-6                    Sat. @ Siena

Siena                                      8-2/13-7                    Sat vs. Rider

Marist                                                8-3/14-8                    Mon. @ Siena

Niagara                                  7-3/13-6                     Fri. vs. Loyola, Sun. Vs. Fairfield

Loyola (Md.)                         7-3/12-10                   Fri. @ Niagara, Sun @ Canisius

With eight consecutive wins including a road victory against Marist, Rider has leapfrogged to the top of the MAAC.  If they make in nine in a row, it could be enough to put them in the driver’s seat.  Saturday’s Rider-Siena game will go a long way in deciding the regular season champ.  If Rider wins, they would more than likely have to repeat the feat in five weeks in the MAAC Tournament.

Niagara defeated Rider at the beginning of conference play, and they still must travel to Rider.  If they could sweep the series, they could end up at the top of the league.  Of course, winning the MAAC regular season crown only guarantees a spot in the NIT.

Mid-American

Likely Bids:                           2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    Kent State

On the Bubble:                    Ohio U

Can Still Get There:                        Akron

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Cleveland

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

East

Kent State                             6-1/17-4                     Sat. @ Toledo

Ohio U                                   5-2/14-6                     Sat. @ Northern Ill.

Akron                                     5-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. E. Michigan

Bowling Green                     5-2/10-9                    Sat. @ Western Mich.

West

Western Michigan               5-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Bowling Green

All of the strength is in the East Division.  The winner of the East should be on the bubble regardless of which team it is.  If it’s Kent State, they could actually be close to a lock since they would probably have 25 wins.

Ohio dominated Kent State when they played in Athens.  The Bobcats must still travel to Kent.

Western Michigan can give the West some respect by taking care of business against Bowling Green.

MEAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 10-15 @ Raleigh, NC

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Morgan St.                            6-1/11-8                     Sat. vs. UMES, Mon. vs. Del St.

Hampton                               5-1/11-7                      Sat. @ Norf., Mon @ NC A&T

Norfolk St.                            5-1/9-9                       Sat. vs. Hamp., Mon. vs. Howard

North Carolina A&T                        4-2/10-9                    Sat. vs. Howard, Mon. vs. Hamp.

Delaware St.                         4-2/7-11                     Sat @ Coppin, Mon. @ Morgan St

Florida A&M                         4-3/8-11                     Sat. vs. W-S, Mon. vs. SCSU

This is becoming an interesting race, but I still think Hampton is the class of the league.  Morgan State came to town and pulled off the big win to vault into first place, so you cannot discount MSU.

Norfolk State may pass Hampton in the standings, as they get Hampton and Howard at home, while Hampton has to play at North Carolina A&T after playing at Norfolk.

History shows that a middle of the pack team will emerge with a hot streak in the MEAC Tournament more often than the average league. 

Missouri Valley

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Drake

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Illinois State

Can Still Get There:                        Southern Illinois, Creighton

Tournament:                                    March 6-9 @ St. Louis

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Drake                                     10-0/19-1                   Sat. @ Indiana St.

Illinois St.                             7-3/15-6                     Sat. @ Missouri St.

Southern Illinois                 6-4/11-10                   Sat. @ N. Iowa

Creighton                              5-5/14-6                     Sat. vs. Wichita St.

Northern Iowa                     5-5/13-8                     Sat. vs. Southern Ill.

Bradley                                  5-5/12-10                   Sat. @ Evansville

Indiana St.                            5-5/10-10                   Sat. vs. Drake

Drake swept Creighton, and that basically ended the conference race for the year.  Well, there is still a little shadow of doubt.  If Illinois State can win on the road tomorrow (Saturday), they host Drake Tuesday Night with a chance to pull within two games.  Should Drake have already fallen at Indiana State, then it could bring Redbirds to within one game of the lead.  The more likely scenario is that Drake will win at Indiana State to move to 11-0 and then edge Illinois State to take a four-game conference lead with six games to go.

Southern Illinois is getting ready for a February sprint.  I expect the Salukis to go on a tear and finish in second place at 12-6 or 13-5 in the league.  They are a headache for any team to play, and I wouldn’t count them out in St. Louis.

Creighton is in trouble; the Blue Jays have just about forced themselves to win the Conference Tournament to go dancing.  They play three consecutive home games, including a tilt against SIU, and they must win them all to get back on the bubble.

Mountain West

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    UNLV, BYU

Can Still Get There:                        San Diego St., New Mexico

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Las Vegas

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

UNLV                                     5-1/15-4                     Sat. vs. New Mexico

Brigham Young                   5-1/16-5                     Sat. @ Wyoming

San Diego St.                                    5-2/14-6                     Off until Feb. 6

New Mexico                          3-3/16-5                     Sat. @ UNLV

T C U                                      3-3/10-8                    Sat. vs. Air Force

Air Force                               3-3/9-8                      Sat. @ TCU

San Diego State fell to the two teams now ahead of them in the standings.  The loss to UNLV was at home, and now the Running Rebels and Cougars are the teams du jour.  UNLV has the easier schedule between now and February 16 when they play at BYU.  I expect them to have at least a one game MWC lead by the time they head to Provo.

New Mexico is capable of getting into the mix.  They still must play UNLV twice and host BYU later in the month.  I think they will come up short this year.

Northeast

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 6-9-12 @ Higher Seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Wagner                                  8-1/15-5                     Sat. @ C. Conn. St.

Sacred Heart                         9-2/12-10                  Sat. @ St. Francis, NY

Robert Morris                      7-2/16-6                     Sat. @ Mt. St. Mary’s

Quinnipiac                            7-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. FDU

Mt. St. Mary’s                       6-4/10-11                   Sat vs. Robert Morris

Since the top three teams play on the road this weekend, this race could really become a logjam if the home teams hold serve.  Five of Wagner’s next seven games are on the road.  Sacred Heart must play at Wagner and Quinnipiac in February.  Quinnipiac and Robert Morris have five road games in the next month.    Robert Morris has the most favorable remaining schedule, but they have to make up 2 ½ games in the standings.  This could become a jumbled finish, and since the higher-seeded team hosts every conference tournament game, I expect the next few weeks to become fierce in this league.

Ohio Valley

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Austin Peay

Tournament:                        March 4, 7-8 1st rd at higher seeds, semifinals and finals at Nashville

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Austin Peay                          10-3/14-9                  Sat. vs. Tenn. St.

Murray St.                             9-4/13-8                    Sat. vs. Jacksonville St.

Morehead St.                                    8-5/10-10                  Sat. Kentucky Christian

Eastern Kentucky                7-5/10-10                   Sat. @ Tennessee Tech

S.E. Missouri                                    7-6/12-11                   Sat. UT-Martin

Tennessee State                   7-6/10-12                   Sat. @ APSU

Samford                                 7-7/10-12                   Sat. vs. E. Illinois

Tennessee Tech                   7-7/10-14                   Sat vs. EKU

Austin Peay tasted defeat at Samford and SEMO to come back to the pack, but the Governors reclaimed sole possession of first place Thursday night by nipping Murray State in overtime.  APSU finishes the regular season with three tough road games, so they could drop out of first if they don’t separate themselves from their nearest contenders.

Four of Murray State’s next six games will be road contests.  The Racers had won six in a row before losing to Peay.

Morehead has won six of seven, and the Eagles play non-Division 1 Kentucky Christian this weekend.  That will get them over .500 for the season.  They have the most favorable schedule of the contenders to make a late run at the Govs.

As for EKU, SEMO, TSU, Samford, and TTU, these five will be in a mad dash to finish in the upper division and host a first round game in the OVC Tournament.  SEMO is the one I’d look out for as a breakthrough team.

Pac-10

Likely Bids:                           6

Locks:                                                UCLA, Washington St., Arizona, Stanford

In Good Shape:                    Southern Cal, Arizona St.

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Oregon, Washington, California

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Los Angeles Staples Center

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

U C L A                                  7-1/19-2                                 Sat. vs. Arizona

Stanford                                6-2/17-3                                 Sat. @ Wash. St.

Washington St.                    5-3/17-3                                 Sat. vs. Stanford

Arizona                                  5-3/15-6                                 Sat @ UCLA

Arizona St.                            4-4/14-6                                Sat. @ USC

Southern Cal                                    4-4/13-7                                 Sat. vs. Arizona St.

California                              3-5/12-7                                 Sat. @ Washington

Oregon                                   3-5/12-8                                Sat. vs. Oregon St.

Washington                          3-5/12-9                                 Sat. vs. Cal

Oregon, Washington, and California have been moved from the bubble to “Can Still Get There” status.  Even in a tough conference like the Pac-10, I think any team expecting to get an at-large bid will have to finish at least 9-9 in league play.

UCLA is starting to look like the team to beat for the national title.  The Bruins finally have enough offense to defeat the top-rated teams.  What they did to Arizona State Thursday night is reminiscent of the good ole days in Westwood.  They are out-rebounding opponents by 10.4 per game to go along with a better than +2 turnover rating.

Stanford can go a long way toward wrapping up the number two spot by winning at Washington State tomorrow.  The Cardinal have defeated Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, and Washington to move to 6-2.

Washington State is starting to falter somewhat.  The Cougars have to play with the same top intensity for at least 35 minutes to win games in the Pac-10.  They just don’t have enough offensive firepower to dominate in the league.  Most of the top contenders are the type of team that can score 10 points in two minutes or 20 points in five minutes.  WSU cannot do that, and it takes just one opposition run to doom them to defeat.

Arizona is hot on Stanford’s heels for second best in the Pac-10.  Like the Cardinal, the Wildcats have reeled off four consecutive league wins against California, Washington St., Washington, and Southern Cal.  If they should somehow knock off UCLA at Pauley Pavilion tomorrow…

Patriot

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-9-14 at Higher Seed                   

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

Lafayette                               5-1/14-7                                 Sat. vs. American

Lehigh                                   4-2/11-9                                 Sat. @ Holy Cross

Bucknell                                4-2/9-11                                 Sun. vs. Army

American                              3-3/11-10                               Sat. @ Lafayette

Navy                                       3-3/10-11                               Sat. vs. Colgate

American fell twice at home to drop out of contention.  Meanwhile, Lehigh won four in a row, including the big one against rival Lafayette.  Lafayette recovered from the loss and blew away Army.

Bucknell is still tied with Lehigh, but the Bison lost at home to the Hawks.  This looks like a two-horse race between the Pennsylvanian rivals.  Give a slight edge to the Leopards.

Southeastern

Likely Bids:                           6

Locks:                                                Tennessee, Florida

In Good Shape:                    Mississippi St., Ole Miss

On the Bubble:                    Arkansas, Kentucky

Can Still Get There:                        Vanderbilt, Georgia

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Atlanta

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

East

Tennessee                             5-1/18-2                                 Sat. @ Mississippi St.

Florida                                   5-1/18-3                                 Sat. @ Arkansas

Kentucky                               3-2/9-9                                  Sat. @ Georgia

West

Mississippi St.                       5-1/14-6                                 Sat. vs. Tennessee

Arkansas                               4-2/15-5                                 Sat. vs. Florida

Ole Miss                                3-3/16-3                                Sat. vs. South Carolina

Tennessee faces the two big teams back-to-back in the next four days.  They play at Mississippi State Saturday and host Florida Tuesday night.  I expect them to do no worse than split those games.

Florida could win the regular season title with a group of players who will be around for quite awhile.  The Gators could even contend for a third straight Final Four bid.

Mississippi State hit a bump in the road Wednesday night at Arkansas, and now they face a critical game with the Vols.  If the Bulldogs lose tomorrow, Arkansas and Ole Miss are right back in the race.

Ole Miss took care of business at home against Vanderbilt Wednesday night to stay among the contenders, and now they get South Carolina at the Tad Pad.  The Rebels match up well against the Gamecocks and should win by double digits.

Kentucky can prove they belong back in the NCAA Tournament with a win at Georgia tomorrow.  Four of the Wildcats’ next five games are on the road, but they could win all five games!  The schedule is perfect for Billy G and his troops.  After playing at Georgia tomorrow, the Wildcats go to Auburn, come home for Alabama, and then head back on the road to Vanderbilt and LSU.  None of these road games are impossible, and I expect UK to go 3-2 at the worst in this five game stretch.  I’m thinking the Big Blue will finish 10-6 or better in league play, and that will get them back in the Big Dance.

Georgia is 2-3 in the conference and Auburn, South Carolina,  and Vanderbilt are all 2-4 in league play.  I don’t see any of this group finishing with a flurry to get into the mix.  They all have serious weaknesses that the rest of the league can exploit, and I expect the entire quartet to finish under .500 in the SEC.

Southern

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Davidson

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Charleston

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

North

Chattanooga                         9-2/14-7                     Sat. vs. Davidson

Appalachian St.                    8-3/13-7                    Sat. @ W. Carolina

UNC-Greensboro                 6-3/12-6                    Sat. vs. Elon, Mon. @ GSU

South

Davidson                               12-0/14-6                  Sat. @ Chattanooga

Georgia Southern                7-5/14-8                     Mon. vs. UNCG

Could Davidson go 20-0 in SoCon play?  If they win at Chattanooga tomorrow, it’s highly possible that they can.  That would make them 20-6 plus or minus what they do against their Bracket Buster opponent.  Because they couldn’t knock off one of the big teams they played out of conference, they still may be forced to run the table if they are to be considered a lock. 

Chattanooga isn’t as talented as the Wildcats, but they are more than capable of beating them at home.  Two weeks ago, the Mocs lost by 27 at Davidson, so the Wildcats have to be considered an 8 to 10-point favorite tomorrow.

Southland

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin

Tournament:                                    March 12-16 @ Katy, TX (Houston suburb)

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

East

Lamar                                                4-1/10-8                                Sat. vs. McNeese

SE Louisiana                                    4-2/12-7                                 Sat. vs. NW St.

Northwestern St.                 4-3/8-13                                Sat. @ SE La.

West

Sam Houston                       4-2/16-3                                Sat. @ Texas St.

Stephen F. Austin                4-2/16-3                                Sat. @ UT-A

UT-Arlington                                   4-3/13-5                                 Sat. vs. SF Austin

Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin are both getting closer to moving up to bubble status.  If another team wins the automatic bid, at least one of these two deserving squads and possible both will be left out.

Lamar hasn’t gotten much respect this year, and I am not about to give them much.  Their best non-conference win came against lowly Rice.

Southeast Louisiana must still play Lamar twice.  They could overtake the Cardinals.

Texas-Arlington is number three in the West, and they just might be number three in the entire league.  The Mavericks get a chance to move up in the standings when they host SFA Saturday.

SWAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Birmingham, AL

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Alabama St.                          6-1/7-7                       Sat. vs. Tx Sou., Mon. vs. PVAM

Arkansas Pine Bluff                        5-2/7-9                       Sat. vs. Grambling, Mon. Vs. JSU

Southern                               5-3/6-11                     Sat. vs. Alcorn St.

Miss. Valley                          4-3/4-12                    Sat. vs. JSU, Mon. vs. Grambling

Jackson St.                            4-3/6-14                    Sat. @ MVSU. Mon. @ Ark-PB

The top two teams play two home games in the weekend-Monday series.  I expect both to go 2-0 to distance themselves from the pack.  Alabama State is the only team in the SWAC that I believe can win the play-in game in the NCAA Tournament.

Summit

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Oral Roberts

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8-11 @ Tulsa (Oral Roberts)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Oral Roberts                         9-0/14-5                    Sat. vs. Centenary

IUPUI                                     8-2/16-5                    Sat. vs. UMKC

Oakland                                 6-4/11-10                   Sat. vs. S. Dakota St.

N. Dakota St.            (*)                   5-5/11-10                   Sat. @ IUPUFW

Western Ill.                           5-5/10-11                   Sat. vs. S. Utah

(*) Not eligible for Summit League Title

Oral Roberts must still travel to Indianapolis to play IUPUI.  I think ORU will lose that game.  The Golden Eagles have a two-game cushion in the loss column, so they could lose that one and still win the regular season Summit title.

IUPUI has the talent to finish 15-3 in the league.  They could easily have 23 or 24 wins on Selection Sunday.  Could that be enough for an at-large bid if they fall to ORU in the Tournament Championship Game?  Probably not.  If IUPUI beats ORU for the title, the chances are marginally better for getting two bids.

Sunbelt

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    South Alabama

On the Bubble:                    Western Kentucky

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-11 @ Mobile, AL (S. Ala.)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

East

South Alabama                    9-1/17-4                     Sat. @ UL-Monroe

Western Kentucky              9-1/17-5                     Sat. vs. Denver

Middle Tennessee               6-4/9-11                     Mon. @ Ark. St.

West

Arkansas-Little Rock          6-4/14-7                     Thu. @ Middle Tenn.

Denver                                   5-4/9-11                     Sat. @ WKU

Louisiana Lafayette                        5-5/9-12                     Wed. vs. FIU

Of all the mid-major conferences with a possible second bid on the line, this one may be the most deserving.  Both USA and WKU deserve to go to the Big Dance.  I’m guessing unless they both finish 16-2 in league play and advance to the Conference Tournament Championship Game, only one team will get an invitation. 

I think the Hilltoppers can run the table or lose only one more time and take the regular season title.  Since USA hosts the conference tournament, I think they are better than odds-on to win the automatic bid.

UALR leads the West, but they are much weaker than the two monsters in the East.  They lost at home to USA, and they were brutally beaten at Western.

West Coast

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    St. Mary’s, Gonzaga

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ San Diego

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Gonzaga                                 5-0/16-5                     Sat. @ S Clara, Mon. @ St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s                              4-1/17-3                     Sat. vs. Port., Mon. vs. Gonzaga

San Diego                              4-1/11-11                    Sat. @ LMU, Mon. @ Pepperdine

Santa Clara                           3-2/11-9                     Sat. vs. Gonz., Mon. vs. Portland

San Diego sent St. Mary’s back to the San Francisco Bay with their first conference loss.  The win moves the Toreros into the penthouse along with the Gaels and Gonzaga, who still has to play at San Diego.

Santa Clara is the only other team in the mix, as the remaining four teams are as comparatively weak as the bottom four teams in the Big 10.  What this means is that all four upper division teams should fatten up on the bottom four teams.  It should give Gonzaga and St. Mary’s an excellent opportunity to both get bids should one beat the other in the league tournament finals.

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s face off for the first time Monday night in Moraga.

WAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Utah State, Nevada

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico St.)

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Utah State                             5-1/15-6                     Sat. vs. Nevada

Boise State                            6-2/15-5                     Sat. vs. Idaho

Nevada                                   5-2/13-7                     Sat. @ Utah St.

New Mexico St.                    5-3/11-12                   Sat. @ S J State

Hawaii                                   5-3/9-11                     Sat. vs. La. Tech

Utah State should take care of Nevada Saturday, while Boise handles in-state rival Idaho.  That would give the top two teams a little padding.  The Aggies don’t play at Boise until March 6, so this race should continue to be undecided until the very end. 

New Mexico State hosts the league tournament, and the Aggies beat Utah State 100-70 in Las Cruces last week.  They could easily win three home games in three days to gain the automatic and only bid.

January 25, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races–Janury 25, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, January 24, 2008

Starting this week, the look at the conferences takes on the regular format.  To explain what you are about to read, the terms used (Locks, In Good Shape, On the Bubble, Can Still Get There) refer to the teams’ receiving at-large invitations to the NCAA Tournament.  Obviously, every team can still get there if they win their conference tournament, or in the case of the Ivy League, win the regular season title.

This week, if you count the number of likely bids, the minimum comes to 68.  We all know that only 65 teams will be chosen on Selection Sunday, but the term likely is not to taken as definite.  Some of these teams will play themselves out of contention in the coming weeks, and by mid-February, the number or likely bids will drop to 55 to 60 teams.  That will then give you a better look at how many bubble teams are fighting for an approximate number of bids up for grabs.

After the Bracket Buster on February 22 and 23, many of the mid-major teams will be eliminated.  That will make this exercise quite a bit easier.

Enjoy!  Before you know it Selection Sunday will be here.  I’ll bet you can hear the “Road to the Final Four” music in your head as you read this.

Note to all: Many of you reading this live in areas where it is quite cold, especially the last week or so.  Some of you live in areas where there are feral mammals that have no place to go for warmth.  You may be the one person who can save an animal from freezing to death. We have taken some cardboard boxes and insulated them, placing a plastic cup of water inside as well,  and placed them in our woods 200 feet away from our house so as not to give these animals the notion that they should come to the house.   It doesn’t take much to make a difference.  In our case, the foxes living on our property have returned the favor by catching all the field mice before they can set up residence in our house.

America East

Likely Bids:               1

Locks:                        None

In Good Shape:        None

On the Bubble:        None

Can Still Get There:            None

Tournament:                        March 7-9 @ Binghamton, NY

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Maryland-Baltimore Co.    5-2/13-7         Jan. 30 vs. Albany

Binghamton                         5-2/9-10        Jan. 27 at Maine

Vermont                                4-2/9-9          Jan. 25 at Boston U, Jan. 30 at Hartford

Hartford                                4-2/10-11       Jan. 27 at UNH, Jan. 30 vs. Vermont

Albany                                   4-3/9-10        Jan. 30 at UMBC

Vermont’s game tonight (1/25) at Boston U will be nationally televised on ESPN-U

As of today, UMBC is well ahead of its rivals in the latest RPI ratings

Atlantic Coast Conference

Likely Bids:               6

Locks:                                    Duke, North Carolina

In Good Shape:        Clemson

On the Bubble:        Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland

Can Still Get There:            Florida State, Wake Forest, Miami, N.C. State

Tournament:                        March 13-16 @ Charlotte, NC

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Duke                                      4-0/16-1         Sunday: at Maryland

North Carolina                     4-1/19-1         off until Jan. 31

Boston College                     3-1/12-5         Saturday: vs. Virginia Tech

Clemson                                3-2/15-4         Sunday: at Miami

Maryland                               2-2/12-7         Sunday: vs. Duke

Virginia Tech                                    2-3/11-8         Saturday: vs. Boston College

Wake Forest                                     2-3/12-6        off until Tuesday

Florida State                         2-3/13-7         Saturday: vs. N.C. State

Georgia Tech                                    2-3/9-9          Sunday: at Virginia

Miami                                                1-3/14-4         Sunday vs. Clemson

North Carolina State          1-3/12-6         Saturday at Florida State

Virginia                                 1-3/11-6         Sunday: vs. Georgia Tech

All 12 teams could conceivably end up in either the NCAA or NIT this year in what is currently the strongest conference.  Duke and UNC both have Final Four potential, but neither is a lock to win the ACC Tournament.  There should be a logjam between five or six teams fighting it out for probably four more bids.  A seventh bid is possible if the teams at the bottom fall off the pace, fattening the records of the middle of the pack teams.

Atlantic Sun

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-8 @Nashville (Lipscomb)

Current Leaders                                          Next Game(s)

Jacksonville              5-0/9-8                      1/25 vs. E. Tennessee

Belmont                    4-2/12-8                    1/26 at Mercer

Mercer                       4-2/9-10                    1/26 vs. Belmont

Stetson                      4-2/9-11                     1/26 at Campbell

E. Tennessee             3-2/9-9                      1/25 at Jacksonville

Campbell                   3-3/8-10                    1/26 vs. Stetson

This is purely a one-bid league.  Jacksonville has never won the A-Sun, while Belmont has taken home the last two titles.  The two teams meet February 7 at Belmont.

Stetson, Mercer, and East Tennessee all have the talent to win both the regular season and conference tournament titles, so this should continue to be an interesting race.

Friday’s game between Jacksonville and East Tennessee will be televised on CSS.

All six front-runners play against another front-runner this weekend, so there should be some movement in the standings.

Atlantic 10

Likely Bids:                           4

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    Dayton, Xavier, U Mass

On the Bubble:                    Rhode Island, St. Joe’s

Can Still Get There:                        Charlotte, Temple, Duquesne

Tournament:                        March 12-15 @ Atlantic City, NJ

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Xavier                                    4-1/16-4                     Sun. @ U Mass [big game!]

St. Joe’s                     3-1/11-5                      Sat. @ Temple

Charlotte                   3-1/12-6                     Sat. vs. Fordham

Temple                       2-1/9-8                      Sat. vs. St. Joe’s

Dayton                       2-2/14-3                    Sat. @ Richmond

Rhode Island                        2-2/16-3                    Sat. @ St. Bonaventure

U Mass.                      2-2/13-5                     Sun vs. Xavier [big game!]

Duquesne                  2-2/12-5                     Sat. vs. Geo. Washington

Richmond                 2-2/9-8                      Sat. vs. Dayton

Fordham                   2-2/8-8                      Sat. @ Charlotte

LaSalle                       2-2/7-10                    Sat. vs. St. Louis

This conference may be a tad stronger than the Missouri Valley Conference at the moment with four teams among the top 25 in the RPI ratings and four more in the top 100.  Xavier and U Mass especially could be tough match-ups in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier beat Dayton last night to set up a big game Sunday at U. Mass.  I expect Travis Ford to have his squad ready and win the game.  If Temple beats St. Joe’s, as I also expect, this race will become even tighter.

Big East

Likely Bids:               7 or 8

Locks:                                    Pittsburgh, Georgetown

In Good Shape:        West Virginia, Louisville

On the Bubble:        DePaul, Providence, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette, Villanova, Syracuse

Can Still Get There Seton Hall, Cincinnati

Tournament:                        March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City

Current Leaders                                          This Weekend

Georgetown              5-1/15-2                     Sat. @ West Virginia

Pittsburgh                 4-2/16-3                    Sat. vs. Rutgers

West Virginia           4-2/15-4                     Sat. vs. Georgetown

Louisville                  4-2/14-5                     Sat. vs. St. John’s, Mon. at U Conn

DePaul                       4-2/9-9                      Sat. @ Marquette

Notre Dame              3-2/13-4                    off until Jan. 31

Connecticut              4-3/13-5                     Sat. @ Indiana, Mon. vs. Louisville

Cincinnati                 4-3/9-10                    Sun. @ Seton Hall

Seton Hall                 3-3/13-6                    Sun. vs. Cincinnati

Providence                3-3/12-6                    Sun. @ Syracuse

Marquette                 3-3/13-4                    Sat. vs. DePaul

Villanova                   3-3/13-4                    off until Jan. 30

Syracuse                    3-4/13-7                     Sun. vs. Providence

While the Big East is a smidgen weaker than the ACC and Pac-10, it is likely to send the most teams to the Big Dance, due to the fact that there are 16 league members.  Sending eight teams would be the equivalent of six ACC and five Pac-10 bids.  With 13 teams still competing for a probable eight bids, it figures there will be about five teams entering conference tournament play on the bubble with one or two more having a chance to play their way in by getting to the finals.

Marquette, Villanova, and Syracuse need to reverse their slides quickly, or else they will become high seeds in the NIT.  Cincinnati and DePaul have reversed early season misfortunes and are in the process of competing for spots on the bubble.  The Bearcats game against Seton Hall and the Blue Demons game at Marquette are the big ones in this conference tomorrow.  The two losers will have to pull off a lot of February wins to compete for an at-large bid.

Big Sky

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8, 11-12 @ Regular Season Champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Northern Arizona                5-1/13-6                     Fri. @ Weber St., Sun. @ Idaho St          

Weber State                          5-1/10-8                     Fri vs. N. Arizona

Portland St.                          4-2/11-8                     Jan. 31 vs. Montana

Idaho St.                                3-2/6-12                    Fri. vs. Sacramento St.

Montana St.                          3-3/11-8                     Sat. vs. E. Washington

Northern Arizona visits Weber State tonight in a battle for first place in the league.   These two squared off in the conference tournament championship game last year.

Since the regular season champion hosts the conference tournament’s semi-finals and final game, the regular season race has more importance.

                                   

Big South

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2 (3-5% chance of 2)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        UNC-Asheville, Winthrop

Tournament:                        March 4-6-8   1st round and finals at higher seeds, semi-finals at #1 seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

UNC-Asheville                     4-0/15-4                    Sat. @ Ch. Sou. Mon. @ CCU

Winthrop                              3-1/12-7                     Sat. vs. Coastal Car.

High Point                            3-2/10-8                    Sat. @ Liberty, Mon. @ Radford

V M I                                      2-2/10-8                    Mon. vs. Liberty

Coastal Carolina                  2-2/9-8                      Sat. @ Winthrop, Mon. vs. UNCA

Liberty                                   2-2/10-9                    Sat. vs. High Pt., Mon. @ VMI

Winthrop has the edge in a possible at-large berth from this conference as they will be hosting a bracket-buster game in February 22 or 23.  Should Winthrop win the regular season title and UNC-Asheville win the conference tournament over Winthrop could still sneak into the Dance if a bunch of bubble teams fall in their conference tournaments.

Big 10

Likely Bids:                           4 or 5

Locks:                                                Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

In Good Shape:                    Ohio State

On the Bubble:                    Minnesota, Purdue

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Indianapolis, IN

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Indiana                                  6-0/17-1                     Sat. vs. Connecticut

Wisconsin                             6-0/16-2                    Sat. @ Purdue

Michigan St.                         5-1/17-2                     Sun. vs. Michigan

Purdue                                   5-1/14-5                     Sat. vs. Wisconsin

Ohio State                             4-2/13-6                    Sat. vs. Minnesota

Minnesota                             2-3/12-5                     Sat. @ Ohio State

If Ohio State finishes .500 or better in conference play, they will almost assuredly get an invitation to the Dance.  Minnesota could still creep into the picture, but only if the Gophers can pick up a couple of big wins and finish over .500 in the league with at least one conference tournament victory.

Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Northwestern give this league five rather weak teams, but I’ll bet that one of these teams improves enough by March 13 to compete for a spot in the conference tournament semi-final round.  Michigan could be the one to watch out for if they continue to play like they did at Wisconsin.

Big 12

Likely Bids:                           5 or 6

Locks:                                                Kansas, Baylor, Texas

In Good Shape:                    Kansas State

On the Bubble:                    Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M

Can Still Get There:                        Iowa State, Missouri

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Kansas City

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Kansas                                   4-0/19-0                    Sat. vs. Nebraska

Baylor                                                4-0/16-2                    Sat. vs. Oklahoma

Kansas St.                              3-0/13-4                    Sat. vs. Iowa State

Texas                                      2-1/15-3                     Sat. vs. Texas

Iowa St.                                  2-2/12-7                     Sat @ Kansas St.

Texas Tech                            2-2/11-7                     Sat. @ Texas

Oklahoma                             1-2/13-5                     Sat. @ Baylor

Texas A&M                            1-3/15-4                     Sat. @ Oklahoma St.

The top four teams all get home games this weekend, so it gives them a chance to gain some distance from the next wave of contenders.  Of course, a road upset could propel one of the bubble teams several spots higher in the food chain.

Watch out for both Baylor and Texas A&M Saturday.  They played five overtimes in College Station Wednesday night, and they both could be physically and emotionally drained.  They both have games where they could lose.

Big West

Likely Bids:                           1 (2 is a very remote possibility)

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Cal St. Northridge

Can Still Get There:                        UC Santa Barbara

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Anaheim, CA

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Cal St. Northridge               5-0/13-4                    Sat. vs. Long Beach St.

Pacific                                                5-1/14-5                     Mon. vs. Cal-Poly SLO

Cal St. Fullerton                  5-2/12-6                     off until Jan. 31

UC-Santa Barbara               3-3/14-5                     Sat. vs. UC-Davis

Cal. St. Northridge is on the outer edge of the bubble thanks to a road win against Cleveland St.  It won’t be enough to get them in as an at-large team unless they win almost all their remaining regular season games and look mighty impressive in a bracket-buster win.

Pacific’s game with Cal Poly will be on ESPN2 Monday night.

Big West’s top two teams receive byes to the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Colonial Athletic

Likely Bids:                           2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Richmond Coliseum (VCU)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Va. Commonwealth                        7-1/14-4                     Sat. vs. Drexel                      

George Mason                      6-2/14-5                     Sat. @ UNCW

William & Mary                   6-2/10-8                    Sat. vs. Old Dominion

UNC-Wilmington                5-3/12-8                    Sat. vs. George Mason

VCU has the benefit of having the conference tournament on its home floor (actually VCU plays at the municipal Richmond Coliseum). 

GMU still has a little clout among the bubble wannabes due to their Final Four appearance in 2006.  Both VCU and GMU will be road teams in the Bracket Buster. 

Conference USA

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                Memphis

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Houston, UAB, Central Florida

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Memphis

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Memphis                               5-0/18-0                    Sat. vs. Gonzaga

Central Florida                    4-0/11-7                     off until Jan. 30

Houston                                3-0/14-3                    Sat. vs. Marshall

UAB                                        3-1/13-6                     off until Jan. 30

Tulane                                   3-2/13-6                    Sat. @ East Carolina

UTEP                                      2-2/11-6                     Sat. vs. Tulsa

Marshall                                2-2/10-7                    Sat. @ Houston

Memphis has the first of its remaining tough games this weekend when Gonzaga comes to the Fedex Forum.  I expect the Tigers to win by double digits and continue to retain their number one ranking for some time.

If any of the second through fifth place teams can upset Memphis, they will have a chance to move toward the bubble.  Houston could get to the bubble without beating Memphis if they can win 12 or 13 conference games and Kentucky continues to win in the SEC (Houston beat UK).

Horizon

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                Butler

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Cleveland St.

Can Still Get There:                        Valparaiso, Wright St.

Tournament:                        March 4, 7, 10-11 Quarter & Semifinals at top seed & Finals at higher seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Cleveland St.                         7-1/14-6                     Sat. @ UW-Milw.

Butler                                                7-2/18-2                    Sat. vs. Ill.-Chicago

UW-Milwaukee                    6-3/11-8                     Sat. vs. Cleveland St.

Valparaiso                             5-3/14-6                     Sat. vs. Loyola

Illinois-Chicago                   4-4/10-9                    Sat. @ Butler

Wright St.                             4-4/11-6                     Sat. @ Detroit

UW-Green Bay                     4-4/10-8                    Sat. vs. Youngstown St.

Butler has the better RPI and better shot at an at-large bid, but Cleveland St. has already defeated the Bulldogs.  Both teams benefit from hosting Bracket Buster games this year.  I think both teams will receive bids unless someone else wins the conference tournament.  Cleveland St. could be forced into the NIT in this instance unless they win at Butler in early February.

Watch out for perennial contender Valpo.  They won at Butler and took Cleveland St. to the wire on the road.  Both teams must come to Valpo yet.

UWGB’s win over Cleveland State last night moves them up into the top tier.  One of the three 4-4 teams should emerge as the strong fifth choice, while the other two drop out of the picture.

Independents

Likely Bids:                           0

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    None

Texas Pan American is 10-8 and is probably out of the NIT picture. 

Ivy

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        All 8 teams

Tournament:                                    None, bid goes to regular season champion

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Cornell                                   1-0/9-5                       Sat. at Columbia

Yale                                        1-0/7-8                      Sat. at Brown

Dartmouth                           1-1/8-8                       Feb. 1 @ Princeton

Harvard                                 1-1/6-12                     Feb.1 @ Penn

Penn                                       0-0/5-12                    Feb. 1 vs. Harvard

Princeton                              0-0/2-12                    Feb. 1 vs. Princeton

Brown                                                0-1/8-7                      Sat. vs. Brown

Columbia                              0-1/7-9                       Sat. vs. Cornell

It’s going to be a few weeks before the Ivy League reveals anything.  Because of the mid-season breaks at these schools, these teams practically shut down for a couple of weeks.  All the teams that have played one conference game are about to play their second one against the same team they played their first one.  Harvard and Dartmouth have already played two games, and they were against each other.  Penn and Princeton won’t play their first conference game until February 1.

Looking at games played so far, Brown looks like the mild favorite to win the conference ahead of Cornell and Yale, but this league could be very balanced this year.  The winner could easily finish 10-4.

Metro Atlantic

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Marist, Siena, Niagara

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Albany, NY (Siena)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Siena                                      7-2/12-7                     Sun. @ Iona

Rider                                      7-2/14-6                     Sun. @ St. Peter’s

Marist                                                7-2/13-7                     Sun. vs. Canisius

Niagara                                  5-3/11-6                     Fri. @ St. Peter’s, Sun. @Fairfield

Loyola (Md.)                         6-3/10-10                  Sat. @ Manhattan

This league is on the borderline between one and two teams getting bids.  Siena and Marist could move onto the bubble by winning all or all but one of their games heading into the Bracket Buster and then winning on the road in the Bracket Buster.  Niagara also has a road Bracket Buster game.

Siena owns a big win over Stanford, but Loyola ripped them by 29 points last night.  Marist doesn’t have a signature win, but they have won multiple road games against weaker teams.  Niagara is in the same boat as Marist, and they have already split their home-and-home games.

Mid-American

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    Kent State

On the Bubble:                    Ohio U

Can Still Get There:                        Akron

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Cleveland

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

East

Kent St.                                  4-1/15-4                     Sun. vs. Western Michigan

Akron                                     4-1/14-4                     Sat. @ Central Michigan

Ohio U                                   3-2/12-6                    Sat. vs. Ball State

Bowling Green                     3-2/8-9                      Sun. vs. Northern Illinois

West

Western Michigan               4-1/10-8                    Sun. @ Kent State

Eastern Michigan                3-2/7-10                    Sat. @ Miami (O)

The winner of the East is going to receive an at-large bid if they do not win the league tournament.  No team out of the West has a chance at an at-large bid, and it’s going to be difficult for any of the six to finish the season above .500 overall.

Akron and Ohio host Bracket Buster games, while Kent State and Bowling Green will play on the road.  The Flashes and Falcons could benefit by winning their tough road games that weekend.

MEAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Hampton

Tournament:                                    March 10-15 @ Raleigh, NC

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Hampton                               4-0/10-6                    Sat. vs. Coppin St.

Morgan St.                            4-1/9-8                      Sat. @ Howard

Norfolk St.                            4-1/7-9                       Sat. vs. South Carolina St.

Delaware St.                         3-1/6-10                     Sat. @ Bethune Cookman

With wins over Tulsa and Virginia Commonwealth, Hampton gives the MEAC its best chance to avoid a #16 seed this year and a possible chance at pulling off an upset in the NCAA Tournament.

Morgan St. is tough at home, and they still must play Hampton twice.  If any other team wins the MEAC Tournament crown, they will be a #16 seed and be in contention for the play-in round.

No MEAC teams are involved in the Bracket Buster.

Missouri Valley

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                Drake

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Illinois State, Creighton

Can Still Get There:                        Southern Illinois, Indiana St., Missouri St.

Tournament:                                    March 6-9 @ St. Louis

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Drake                                     8-0/17-1                     Sat. vs. N. Iowa

Illinois St.                             6-2/14-5                     Sun. vs. Indiana St.

Creighton                              5-3/14-4                     Sat. @ Southern Ill.

Indiana State                                    5-3/10-8                    Sun. @ Illinois St.

Northern Iowa                     4-4/12-7                     Sat. @ Drake

Missouri St.                          4-4/11-9                     Sat. @ Evansville

Southern Illinois                 4-4/9-10                    Sat. vs. Creighton

The MVC deserves three bids, but they could lose one if there are enough surprise winners of conference tournaments.

Drake hasn’t been this good since they gave John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins their hardest Final Four semi-final game during their great run of consecutive championships.  It’s very hard to win on the road in the Valley, and the Bulldogs already own four of them, including one at Creighton.

Illinois State has lost back-to-back road games against Drake and Bradley to fall two games off the pace, but they are still firmly on the bubble.  They won at Creighton earlier this month.

Speaking of Creighton, an overtime win over St. Joseph’s isn’t going to get them an at-large invitation; they have work yet to do to earn that bid.

There are seven teams capable of getting hot and winning Arch Madness in St. Louis in March, so this race is far from over.

Mountain West

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    UNLV, San Diego St.

Can Still Get There:                        BYU, New Mexico, Utah

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Las Vegas

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

San Diego St.                                    4-1/14-5                     Sat. vs. UNLV                      

U N L V                                  3-1/14-4                     Sat. @ SDSU

B Y U                                      3-1/14-5                     Sat. vs. New Mexico

T C U                                      3-1/11-6                     Sat. @ Utah

New Mexico                          3-2/16-4                    Sat. @ BYU

Air Force                               3-2/11-7                     off until Jan. 30

Utah                                       1-3/11-7                      Sat. vs. TCU

There will be some movement this weekend in the MWC, as #1 plays one of the co-#2’s, another co-#2 plays #5, and the third co-#2 plays #6.  Utah is in a must-win situation when they host TCU.  The Utes must win at least 10 conference games to be on the bottom of the bubble.

Northeast

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 6-9-12 @ Higher Seed

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Wagner                                  6-1/13-5                     Sun. @ FDU

Quinnipiac                            6-1/10-8                    Sat. @ Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart                         6-2/10-10                  Sat. vs. Quinnipiac

Robert Morris                      5-2/14-6                     Sat. vs. St. Francis (NY)

Central Conn.                       5-4/9-11                     Sat. @ St. Francis (Pa.)

This conference does not participate in the Bracket Buster, so there is no chance that a second team will emerge as an at-large candidate.  In addition to these five frontrunners, keep an eye on Long Island, currently 2-5 in league play.  LIU has enough talent to make a run in the NEC Tournament, but they would more than likely have to win three road games to pull it off.

The NEC re-seeds the pairing after each round of its tournament so that the highest remaining seed hosts the lowest remaining seed, and so on.  Wagner would be a tough opponent if they hosted three tournament games.

Ohio Valley

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Austin Peay

Tournament:                        March 4, 7-8 1st rd at higher seeds, semifinals and finals at Nashville

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Austin Peay                          9-1/13-7                     Sat. @ Samford

Murray St.                             7-3/11-7                     Sat. vs. SEMO

Morehead St.                                    7-4/9-9                      Sat. @ E. Illinois

Eastern Kentucky                6-5/9-10                    Tue. @ UT-Martin

Tennessee Tech                   6-5/9-12                     Sat. vs. Tennessee St.

Tennessee St.                       5-5/8-11                     Sat. @ Tennessee Tech

Austin Peay is clearly the class of this league, but Murray State is always tough come tourney time, even though they change coaches more often than the weather changes in the Ohio Valley.  The Racers visit the Governors on January 31; they beat Peay in Murray earlier this month.

If any other team emerges to take the automatic bid, it will be a major upset.  EKU may have the best talent of the middle of the pack teams, and the Colonels have already won on the road three times including at Murray St.

APSU is good enough to keep a first round game close and have a chance to pull off an upset.  The Govs and Murray both get to host Bracket Buster games this year.

Pac-10

Likely Bids:                           7 (9 may deserve bids)

Locks:                                                UCLA, Washington St., Arizona

In Good Shape:                    Stanford, Southern Cal, Arizona St.

On the Bubble:                    Oregon, Washington, California

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Los Angeles Staples Center

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

UCLA                                     5-1/17-2                                 Sat. @ Oregon St.

Washington St.                    4-2/16-2                                Sat. @ Arizona St.

Stanford                                4-2/15-3                                 Sat. @ Cal

Arizona St.                            4-2/14-4                                Sat. vs. Washington St.

Arizona                                  3-3/13-6                                Sat. vs. Washington

Southern Cal                                    3-3/12-6                                Sat. @ Oregon

Washington                          3-3/12-7                                 Sat. @ Arizona

Oregon                                   3-4/12-7                                 Sat. vs. Southern Cal

California                              2-4/12-6                                Sat. vs. Stanford

This is the conference to follow this year.  Every single game in conference play is a pressure game with serious implications.  Even Oregon State’s games are crucial, because no team can afford to lose to them.  If the Beavers go 0-18 in the Pac-10, then the other nine teams all have a chance to compete for an at-large bid by beating up on each other. 

UCLA won at Oregon last night to solidify their hold on the top spot.  Washington State fell at Arizona, and that creates a seven-team fight for second.  In my opinion, the nine teams other than OSU are deserving of a bid to the Field of 65.  It won’t happen, because the selection committee won’t do it, even if all nine teams have the resume to qualify.  Expect seven bids with two teams getting the shaft.

Cal is in a must-win situation tomorrow when they host Stanford; it the Bears lose to their cross-town rival, then they drop off the bubble and onto the “Can still get there” list.  They will need to finish at least 9-9 in the league and win an opening round conference tournament game to get an invitation to the Dance.

Patriot

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 5-9-14 at Higher Seed                   

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

Lafayette                               4-0/13-6                                Sat. @ Lehigh

American                              3-1/11-8                                 Sat. vs. Holy Cross              

Bucknell                                3-1/8-10                                Sat. vs. Colgate

Lehigh                                   2-2/9-9                                  Sat. vs. Lafayette

Navy                                       2-2/9-10                                Sun. vs. Army

Who would have thought that recent dominating member Holy Cross would be in last place at 0-4 after beating three top 100 RPI teams including winning at St. Joseph’s?  That just shows that this league is getting much better and is on the cusp of contending for an extra bid.  All eight teams are capable of winning the conference tournament.  With the tournament games being played on the home floors of the higher-seeded teams, regular season positioning will be important but not a killer to the lower-seeded teams.

Lafayette is an incredible 6-0 in overtime games this year?  Are they an unbelievable clutch team, or is this a case where they should have won most of these six games with relative ease in regulation?  Of course, these wins could give the Leopards the confidence to become a really good team and one that isn’t nervous in the closing minutes of close games.

American hasn’t faced Lafayette yet, while Bucknell has lost to the Leopards in Easton.  Lehigh could make waves by upsetting the rival Leopards tomorrow night.  In that part of the Keystone State, this game is as fierce a rivalry as Duke and North Carolina are on tobacco road.

Southeastern

Likely Bids:                           5 or 6

Locks:                                                Tennessee

In Good Shape:                    Florida, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State

On the Bubble:                    Arkansas

Can Still Get There:                        Kentucky, Georgia

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Atlanta

Current Leaders                                                                  This Weekend

East

Florida                                   4-1/17-3                                 Sun. vs. Vanderbilt

Tennessee                             3-1/16-2                                 Sat. vs. Georgia

Georgia                                  2-1/11-5                                  Sat. @ Tennessee

Vanderbilt                             2-2/17-2                                 Sun. @ Florida

Kentucky                               2-2/8-9                                  Sat. vs. South Carolina

South Carolina                     1-3/9-9                                   Sat. @ Kentucky

West

Mississippi St.                       4-0/13-5                                Sat. vs. Ole Miss

Ole Miss                                2-2/15-2                                 Sat. @ Mississippi St.

Arkansas                               2-2/13-5                                 Sat. @ LSU

Auburn                                  2-2/12-5                                 Sat. @ Alabama

This is a very interesting pennant race.  Can it be that Florida, after losing all that great talent, is about to emerge as the new UCLA of the East and reload immediately?  Can the Gators win the East again with a team young enough to be a JV team?  Yah, sure, ya betcha!  The Gators have a terrific group of underclassmen and the best coach in the league, so it’s foreseeable that they could pull it off.

Tennessee has to learn to play intelligently within their helter-skelter system, or the Vols are going to become the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox from 1948 through 1950.  They cannot beat really good teams with the same second half shot selection they showed at Kentucky last Tuesday night.

Georgia is a mystery team.  The Bulldogs will know just how good they are Saturday night when they play at Tennessee.

Vanderbilt is in trouble if they cannot find a way to rebound.  The Commodores play on the road the next two games and will more than likely lose both to drop to 2-4.  They will have to go on a huge winning streak in February or they will drop to the NIT at-large field.

Kentucky is beginning to play like a team that can compete for a bid.  The Wildcats will always get an at-large bid if they go 8-8 or better in the league and finish better than .500 overall.  They almost won at Florida and almost won at Mississippi State-both of the division leaders.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see UK win eight or nine more times in the league and compete for a first round bye in the conference tournament.

In the West, the two Magnolia State teams square off in Starkville tomorrow, and if State wins, they will have a commanding lead.  It’s hard to lose when you block one out of every five shots your opponent attempts.

Arkansas and Auburn are in dire need of road victories to pad their resumes.  Both get the chance to do just that when they take on the two bottom feeders tomorrow.

Southern

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Davidson

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ Charleston

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

North

Appalachian St.                    7-2/12-6                     Sat. @ Chat., Mon. vs. Elon

Chattanooga                         7-2/12-7                     Sat. vs. Appy St.

UNC-Greensboro                 5-3/11-6                     Sat. @ Citadel

South

Davidson                               10-0/12-6                  Sat. @ Charleston

Georgia Southern                5-4/12-7                     Sat. vs. Furman, Mon. @ WCU

Davidson and the 10 dwarfs is the new name for this league.  The Wildcats are capable of pulling off an at-large bid if they run the table in the regular season and get upset in the semifinals or finals of the conference tournament.  There chances will go way up if they additionally win their road Bracket Buster game.

Appalachian State travels to Chattanooga tomorrow with undisputed first place in the North Division going to the winner.  Appy State won the first meeting in Boone.

Charleston hosts the SoCon Tournament this year, but the Cougars don’t appear to have the talent to take advantage of it this year.

Southland

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin

Tournament:                                    March 12-16 @ Katy, TX (Houston suburb)

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

East

Lamar                                    3-1/9-8                                  Sat. @ NW St.

Northwestern St.                 3-2/7-12                                 Sat. vs. Lamar

SE Louisiana                                    2-2/10-7                                Sat. @ Nicholls St.

McNeese St.                          2-2/8-8                                  Sat. @ Central Ark.

West

Sam Houston                       3-2/15-3                                 Jan. 30 vs. UT-Arl.

Stephen F. Austin                3-2/15-3                                 Jan. 30 vs. Texas St.

Texas-Arlington                   3-2/13-4                                Sat. @ TAMCC

Sam Houston and SF Austin both could near the bubble, but the Southland Conference won’t be involved in the crucial Bracket Buster games this year.  That may prevent this league from sending two teams to the Field of 65.

Sam Houston defeated Texas Tech earlier this season, while SFA beat Oklahoma.  Whether or not that will be enough for both to get bids if they continue to win most of their league games and then both advance to the conference tournament championship game is debatable.  They will both deserve to go if this scenario plays out.

SWAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Birmingham, AL

Current Leaders                                                                  Next Game(s)

Alabama State                      4-1/8-7                                   Sat. @ Alcorn St.

Southern                               4-2/6-11                                 Sat. vs. Ala. A&M

Jackson St.                            4-2/6-13                                Sat. vs. Grambling

Ark-Pine Bluff                      3-2/7-9                                  Sat. @ Prairie View

Miss. Valley St.                     3-2/5-11                                 Sat. @ Texas Sou.

Texas Southern                    3-2/4-14                                Sat. vs. Miss. Valley

This conference is actually weaker than the aggregate of independents this year–considerably.  The league members won just 8.5% of their non-conference games against Division 1 competition!  The automatic bid will go to the conference tournament champion, and that team will have to turn around quickly and head to Dayton for the play-in game.  Alabama State has been there before, and they have the best chance of pulling off a play-in win.

Summit

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Oral Roberts

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 8-11 @ Tulsa (Oral Roberts)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

Oral Roberts                         8-0/13-5                    Sat. @ S. Utah                                 

IUPUI                                     6-2/14-5                     Sat. vs. IPFW

Oakland                                 4-4/9-10                    Sat. @ W. Illinois

I.P.F.W.                                  4-4/7-12                     Sat. @ IUPUI

Western Illinois                   4-4/9-10                    Sat. vs. Oakland

Oral Roberts has three non-embarrassing road losses at Texas A&M, Texas, and Arkansas and a win against Oklahoma State.  They host a Bracket Buster game, and if they win that one and finish the regular season with 22 wins, they could be on the bubble if they lost in the Summit League Championship Game.

IUPUI may have an unfair advantage if their coach, Ron Hunter continues to roam the sidelines in his bare feet.  While trying to gain recognition for shoeless children in Africa, he is also creating a minor distraction on the floor.  It may be worth nothing, but it may be worth one opponent defensive lapse if a player looks over at the feet just as a Jaguar offensive player cuts past him for a basket.  Yeah, it’s a stretch, but I wanted to help a great man like Coach Hunter spread his news.

Sunbelt

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    South Alabama

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Western Kentucky

Tournament:                                    March 5-11 @ Mobile, AL (S. Ala.)

Current Leaders                                                      Next Game(s)

East

South Alabama                    8-0/16-3                    Sun. vs. Denver

Western Ky.                          7-1/15-5                      Sun. vs. Arkansas St.

Middle Tennessee               4-4/7-11                     Sun. vs. North Texas

West

UALR                                     5-3/13-6                     Sun. vs. Fla. Atlantic

Denver                                   4-3/8-10                    Sun. @ S. Alabama

New Orleans                         4-4/14-6                    Sun. @ FIU

UL-Lafayette                                    4-4/8-11                     Sun. @ Troy

South Alabama is very close to moving into “Lock” status.  Their win over Mississippi State looks better and better with every Jarvis Varnado block.  Since no Sunbelt team plays in the Bracket Buster, the USA game at Western Kentucky the night before Bracket Buster weekend starts will be just as important as the marquis Bracket Buster games.

Western Kentucky is in position to get into position in the bubble watch.  They must continue to win against the lesser Sunbelt foes and then knock off USA in Bowling Green.

Arkansas Little Rock could be a spoiler in the conference tournament, especially if one of the two biggies suffer an upset.  I don’t think UALR can beat both WKU and USA on consecutive days.

West Coast

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    St. Mary’s, Gonzaga

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ San Diego

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Gonzaga                                 4-0/15-4                    Sat. @ Memphis

St. Mary’s                              3-0/16-2                    Sat. vs. San Francisco

Santa Clara                           2-1/10-8                    Sat. @ San Diego

San Diego                              2-1/9-11                     Sat. vs. Santa Clara

St. Mary’s still owns a fat RPI rating in the teens.  Gonzaga’s RPI is in the 30’s, so there are two legitimate at-large possibilities in the WCC.  Should someone other than the big two win the WCC Tournament (San Diego hosts and was good enough to win at Kentucky), it may be hard for the selection committee to take three teams from this league, but it may be hard for them to explain why they didn’t take three.

If Gonzaga upsets Memphis tomorrow, then you can move them into the “Lock” category, and if that happens and St. Mary’s finishes in first or in a tie for first, there really will be no option but to make them a lock as well.

WAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Utah State, Nevada

Tournament:                                    March 11-15 @ Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico St.)

Current Leaders                                                      This Weekend

Utah State                             5-0/15-5                     Sat. @ New Mexico St.

Boise State                            5-2/14-5                     Mon. @ Fresno St.

New Mexico State                4-2/10-11                   Sat. vs. Utah St.

Nevada                                   3-2/11-7                     Sat. @ La. Tech

Hawaii                                   3-3/7-11                     Sat. @ Idaho

What used to be one of the more formidable mid-major conferences, the WAC has fallen behind the Missouri Valley, MAC, Southern, Sunbelt, Colonial, and even the MAAC as of late.  Only one team is destined to get an invitation to the Dance.

Utah State can take control of this race if they win at New Mexico State tomorrow.  The Aggies best non-conference win came against Oral Roberts, and they will get a chance to host a Bracket Buster game, but that probably wouldn’t be enough to get them serious at-large consideration unless they finished at least 15-1 in WAC games. 

Nevada has a tiny chance to move to the bottom of the bubble if they can win out in league play.  That would require two wins over Utah State.  They would also have to win their Bracket Buster game, which will be on the road.

New Mexico St. hosts the tournament, and they used to be really tough to beat in Las Cruces.  This year, they have already lost three home games.

January 18, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is the first of a weekly look at the NCAA basketball conference races.  Each Friday, I will report on the races in each of the conferences, trying to determine how many NCAA Tournament bids will be given to each conference, and other pertinent information pertaining to the “horse races” leading up to the biped version of the Kentucky Derby-the Road to the Final Four.

So without further adieu, let’s get started.

America East

This is a one-bid league with no chance of sneaking a second team in the Big Dance.  So, the champion of the conference tournament is going to get the only bid regardless of whether they are the regular season champ or the ninth place team.

Maryland-Baltimore County (4-1/12-6) leads the league by one game over Hartford (2-1/8-10).  UMBC defeated Hartford Wednesday Night in a home game, and they must play at Hartford on March 2.  UMBC must play its next two games on the road in the league at Binghamton (3-2/7-10) and Boston U (1-3/4-12). 

Defending regular season champ Vermont (3-2/8-9) and conference tournament champ Albany (3-2/8-9) are weaker teams than last season, but both are just one game our of first place and in a virtual tie for second with Hartford.  This will be an interesting conference tournament this year.

Atlantic Coast Conference

We are back to the days of the Big Two in the ACC.  Number one North Carolina (3-0/18-0) survived a tough game against Georgia Tech to stay unbeaten Wednesday night.  Duke (2-0/14-1) is strong enough to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, but UNC could also beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

There’s quite a drop off to Clemson (2-1/14-3), but the Tigers are in great shape to make it to the Dance.  Three or four teams are fighting it out as bubble teams at the moment.  Miami (1-1/14-2) is on the top of the bubble.  Florida State (1-2/12-6) and North Carolina State (0-2/11-5) need to get to 8-8 in the league, and they will be in good shape.  Boston College (3-0/12-4) is quickly working its way up the ladder.  The Eagles own a road win at Maryland and defeated Miami this week.  BC’s next six games should reveal if they have what it takes to make it to the NCAA Tourney.  If they split the six games (at Virginia, Va. Tech, at North Carolina, at Clemson, Maryland, at Duke), it would propel them well onto the good side of the bubble.

Virginia Tech (2-1/11-6) and Wake Forest (1-2/11-5) are beneath the bubble at the moment.  The Hokies have an excellent shot to play themselves into contention if they fare well over the next seven games.  The schedule sets up to give them a chance to make hay if they can pull off an upset at home.  The Demon Deacons had a rough week getting slaughtered against Boston College and losing to Maryland after knocking off Brigham Young.

As of today, this looks like a five or six-bid league, with UNC, Duke, Clemson, Miami, and one or two other teams emerging.

Atlantic Sun

This is a definite one-bid league going to the conference tournament champion.  With the change in scheduling this year, expect the final outcome to be quite close with four to six teams finishing within two games of first place.

Jacksonville (4-0/8-8) has shot out to an early lead over two-time defending conference champion Belmont (3-1/11-7), Mercer (3-1/8-9), and Stetson (3-1/7-10).  Four more teams are another game back at 2-2 (East Tennessee, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb, and Campbell).  This is a league where home court advantage is weak, so don’t expect typical results when certain teams have more home or more road games left on their schedule.  Jacksonville plays Lipscomb and Belmont one time only and both of these games are in Nashville.  Belmont must play on the road against Mercer and Stetson with no return match at home.  The Bruins already own road wins at Cincinnati and Alabama, and they appear to be the favorite for making a third consecutive trip to the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10

This is a league back on the rise.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the teams in this league took a back seat to nobody.  Expect at least three and possibly more teams to receive a bid to the Dance. 

At the moment, Charlotte (2-0/11-5) leads the league, but the 89ers are not considered to be one of the top teams in the league, even though they won at Clemson.  Dayton (2-1/14-2) owns a road win against Louisville and blew out Pittsburgh by 25 points.  This looks like the strongest Flyer team since Don May led the 1967ers to the Championship Game against UCLA.

Xavier (2-1/14-4), Massachusetts (1-1/12-4), and Rhode Island (1-2/15-3) are all worthy of being in the NCAA Tournament.  The Musketeers own victories over Indiana, Creighton, Cincinnati, Kansas State, Virginia, and Auburn. 

UMass looks like a team that will be tough come conference tournament time.  Their style of play is hard to prepare for in 24 hours under tournament conditions.

URI owns a win at Syracuse, but they stubbed their toe in their most recent loss at St. Louis.  Their schedule sets them up to win their next four games, and they will have to do just that to stay on the good side of the bubble.

St. Joseph’s (2-1/9-5) and Duquesne (1-1/11-4) are in position to put themselves into position if they can pick up some key wins at home over the teams just mentioned and take care of business against the weaker conference foes.  St. Joe’s win at UMass brought them up the ladder and into contention for a bid.  Duquesne hasn’t been a power for almost four decades, but their four losses this year have been to teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament.  They still need a signature win or two and must continue to beat the Fordhams and St. Bonaventures.

Big East

This is a 16-team league that could almost become a stand-alone entity.  15 of the 16 have been in the Final Four, and the 16th team (South Florida) hasn’t been around that long.  The teams in this league comprise a monster media market that includes three teams in the Greater Metropolitan New York area from Connecticut to New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa-St. Pete, Milwaukee, Louisville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Providence.  If the league split into two, eight-team leagues, I’m confident that as many as 12 teams could make the NCAA Tournament.  As it is, eight teams could make it this year.

Four teams are currently tied for first with 3-1 league marks.  Pittsburgh (15-2), Georgetown (13-2), Notre Dame (13-3), and Louisville (13-4) lead a group of four other tough teams by just one half game.  In a logjam at 3-2 in the league are Marquette (13-3), West Virginia (13-4), Syracuse (13-5), and Providence (12-5).  These eight teams are in line for bids.

Villanova (2-2/12-3) is strongly on the bubble, and Connecticut (2-3/11-5) is close behind.  Two more teams are 3-2 in the league, but they have a lot of work to do to make up for lousy non-conference results.  DePaul (7-9) and Cincinnati (8-9) can still play their way onto the bubble.  The Blue Demons beat Villanova and Providence, while the Bearcats defeated Louisville, Syracuse, and Villanova, so both teams have the strength to move up.

Big Sky

This is a one-bid league going to the conference champion.  The usual suspects currently head the top of the conference.  Northern Arizona (4-1/12-6) leads last season’s NCAA participant Weber State (3-1/8-8) and Idaho State (3-1/6-11) by a half game with Portland State (3-2/10-8) close behind in fourth.  The top three have yet to face each other, so they all have four tough games to play. 

Portland State already owns a victory over Northern Arizona and a close road loss to Weber State.  Keep an eye on the Vikings, as they have their next four games at home.  They gave Washington State a good game last month.

Big South

This one-bid league deserves some of your attention because of a couple of its members, who just happened to be heading the league at the moment.

UNC-Asheville (2-0/13-4) has 7-7 Center Kenny George averaging nine rebounds and five blocks per game to go with nearly 75% shooting.  It allows sharpshooter Bryan Smithson to get a lot of open looks for threes.

VMI (2-0/10-6) runs an offense similar to but different from the one Paul Westhead used at Loyola-Marymount and other places.  The Keydets are currently scoring points at a rate of 97.7 points per game.

The dynasty may not be over for Winthrop (1-1/10-7).  It’s too early in the season to tell if the Eagles are going to miss out.  They own out-of-conference wins over Georgia Tech and Miami of Florida and took Ole Miss to the buzzer in Oxford.

Big 10

The overwhelming sentiment in the upper Midwest this year is that this league is down a notch or two.  There are three teams that appear to be ahead of the rest of the league, and the league is quite weak at its bottom.  That might make it difficult for more than four teams getting Dance invitations.

Wisconsin (4-0/14-2), Indiana (4-0/15-1), and Michigan State (3-1/15-2) appear to be near locks for making it to the NCAAs.  Since losing a tough game to Marquette, the Badgers have reeled off eight consecutive wins including a win at Texas.  Their four conference victories have come by an average of 71-55.  Indiana’s 4-0 start is more impressive when you realize that three of those wins were on the road.

Michigan State has a home win over Texas, but the Spartans lose their offensive intensity at times, especially on the road.  Their defense is top-notch as usual for a Tom Izzo-coached team.

Among those vying for the fourth position in the league are Purdue (3-1/12-5), Ohio State (3-2/12-5), and Minnesota (2-2/12-4).  The Buckeyes have the best shot at garnering bid number four, while the Boilermakers and Gophers must win 10 conference games to guarantee a shot. 

The rest of the league is weak this year, and that will keep the conference’s ratings below normal.

Big 12

It’s no surprise to see Kansas (2-0/16-0 & 25.4 ppg margin of victory) at the top of the standings.  The surprise here is that the rest of the league is so balanced that the Jayhawks could go 16-0 and win the league by six or more games, while teams two through nine finish within a couple of games of each other.  While I don’t see that happening, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Baylor (2-0/14-2) has yet to prove they are worthy of being mentioned among the elite, but their showing to date means they must be monitored closely over the next couple of weeks.  The Bears play five of their next seven on the road including at Texas A&M, Texas, and Kansas.  If they own a 5-4 league mark after that, they could be ready to compete for an at-large bid.

Kansas State (1-0/11-4) has won six of seven games averaging close to 90 points per game in that streak.  All-World freshman Michael Beasley may be the best Wildcat since Bob Boozer played for Tex Winter back in the late 1950’s.  Beasley currently averages 25 points and13 rebounds, and he shoots at a better than 57% accuracy rate.

Among the remaining teams, Texas (0-1/13-3) and Texas A&M (1-1/15-2) appear to be the best of the bunch, but that could change quickly.  General Robert Montgomery Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders (1-1/10-6) and Missouri (1-1/11-6) could be ready to make a move north into the upper third of the standings.  Mizzou hosts Kansas in a big game Saturday.   

Big West

Here is a conference with the remotest of chances of getting a second team in the NCAA Tournament.  Cal. State-Northridge (5-0/13-3) could run the table in the league.  If the Matadors were to be upset in the tournament final, there is a slim chance they could pick up an at-large bid, but I wouldn’t expect it.

Pacific (3-1/12-5), Cal St.-Fullerton (3-2/10-6), and UC Santa Barbara (2-2/13-4) are the nearest competitors to Northridge.

Colonial Athletic

In recent years, this conference was near the top of the mid-majors.  This year, the CAA is dropping back a few notches.  In fact, there is a chance just one representative will garner a bid.

Regardless of the post-season, seven teams should vie for the regular season title in a close race that will probably go down to the final weekend.

Virginia Commonwealth (5-1/12-4) and Delaware (5-1/8-8) lead the race (VCU clobbered Delaware 60-39 Wednesday) with five other teams within two games.  In a three-way tie for third at 4-2 in the league are George Mason (12-5), Old Dominion (9-9), and William & Mary (8-8).  James Madison (3-3/10-6) and UNC-Wilmington (3-3/10-8) are one game further back, but both are capable of winning the league.  JMU pegged the loss on VCU.

Conference USA

This league will likely see just two teams go to the NCAA Tournament, but the chances are strong that one team will make it to the Final Four.

Memphis (3-0/16-0) has three teams standing in its way of running the table in the regular season.  If the Tigers can beat Tennessee at home in February and knock off UAB and Houston on the road, they should finish the regular season without a loss and be ranked number one in the nation heading into the conference tournament.  I don’t buy into the theory that it’s better to lose a game.  Sure, UNLV–1990, San Francisco–1977, Rutgers-1976, and Indiana–1975 entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss and all four lost in the Big Dance, but Indiana, UCLA, North Carolina, and San Francisco also entered the NCAA Tournament a combined total of seven times and won the title.  There have been many one-loss teams that lost in the NCAAs.  A loss can create doubt just as much as no losses can create a false sense of security.

Memphis’s challengers are UTEP (2-0/11-4), UAB (2-0/12-5), Central Florida (2-0/9-7), and Houston (1-0/12-3).  There is a chance that if the rest of the league stays balanced and nobody else can win 11 conference games that Memphis will get the lone C-USA bid.

Horizon

This is a league that us a wildcard.  It could receive one, two, or three bids depending on the results.  Butler (5-2/16-2) is not leading the Horizon, but their RPI has them high enough to receive an at-large bid.  The Bulldogs have defeated Michigan, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Ohio State, and Florida State, so they look to be comfortably in control of their own destiny.

Cleveland State (6-0/13-5) just upset Butler; the Vikings are in first place and own road wins against South Florida and Florida State.  They host Valparaiso (4-2/13-5) Saturday, and a win in that game would start to get them noticed in bubbleville.

Independents

Not only will no independent earn a bid to the NCAAs, none will earn an NIT bid this year.  Only Texas-Pan American at 11-10 has a record over .500.

Ivy

This league is just starting conference play, so it’s hard to make any calls here.  In the past, you just penciled in a “P” in the automatic bid slot because either Penn or Princeton won the league.  Now, it’s not so cut and dry.  Brown (0-0/8-6) has played the best ball so far, but the closest thing to signature wins are victories over Northwestern and Hartford.  Penn (0-0/5-10) and Princeton (0-0/2-12) could actually be the weakest two teams in the league. 

This looks like a year where the Ivy Champion could be forced to the play-in game in Dayton.

Metro Atlantic

This should be an exciting race all season long for the regular season title, but only the conference champ is going dancing from the MAAC this year.  Siena (6-1/11-6) is ½-game ahead of defending conference tournament champ Niagara (5-1/11-4). 

Just behind the Purple Eagles are Marist (5-2/11-7), Rider (4-2/11-6), and Loyola (Md.) (4-3/8-10).  When you look at their record and stats, Fairfield (3-3/5-11) should be picked to finish near the bottom, but the Stags have won at Siena and Loyola.

Mid-American

After placing just one team in the tournament last year, I am figuring a doubling of that amount in 2008.  Kent State (3-0/14-3) and Akron (3-0/13-3) are tied for first in the Eastern Division.  Ohio U (1-2/10-6) has an out-of-conference win at Maryland.  The Bobcats could get into bubble contention with a nice run in league play.  Miami of Ohio may have scheduled too many tough teams in the non-conference season, and the Red Hawks could be running out of gas.  They defeated Xavier and Mississippi State and scared the pants off Southern Cal, Dayton, Louisville, and Cincinnati.  Even their loss to Kansas was by less points than most expected.  If they can recover and finish with 10 conference wins, they could be bubble-worthy.

The Western Division has no worthy teams.  In a three-way tie for first at 2-1 are Toledo (5-10), Western Michigan (8-8), and Eastern Michigan (6-9), while the other three teams are 1-2 (Central Michigan 6-9, Northern Illinois 4-11, and Ball State 2-13).  The winner on this side could still sport a losing record when conference tournament play begins.

MEAC

There’s reason to believe that the MEAC representative will not be forced to begin NCAA Tournament action in the Play-in game.  That won’t happen this year if Hampton (3-0/8-6) wins the lone league bid.  The Pirates have defeated Tulsa and VCU and appear to be safely ahead of the best teams from multiple conferences.

Should Hampton fall, Norfolk State (3-0/6-8) and Delaware State (2-0/5-9) are ready to take command in the regular season race.  Last year’s tournament champ Florida A&M (1-2/5-10) is mired back in the pack.

Missouri Valley

Back in the 1950’s, there was a move afoot to make the Pacific Coast League the third Major League in baseball.  With teams in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Hollywood, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the PCL had teams that were actually a little better than some of the Major League counterparts like the Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Browns. 

The MVC is the PCL of college basketball.  This league is too strong to be considered a regular mid-major.  This year, the league is strong enough to be considered an outright major conference.

A minimum of three teams should make the field of 65 unless the NCAA selection committee allows Diebold to count their votes.  Drake (6-0/15-1), Illinois State (6-0/14-3), and Creighton (4-2/13-3) are all capable of making it to the Sweet 16. 

Indiana State (4-2/9-7) has a win over Creighton, and the Sycamores have the talent to compete for a bid.  Southern Illinois (3-3/8-9) has defeated Mississippi State, St. Mary’s, and Western Kentucky out-of-conference.  The Salukis are due for a major run, as they have been forced to play four tough road games in the league.  The other good teams have to come to Carbondale yet.  SIU could be right there come tournament time.

Mountain West

This is a league of haves and have nots.  If not for the fact that there are two weak teams and two more that have played lousy schedules, the MWC would be in the same position as the MVC.  I look for just two teams to gain bids to the Big Dance.

San Diego State (3-0/13-4) is a sleeping giant.   There is no reason why the Aztecs cannot become the next Gonzaga, but right now, they still need to win the regular season title or automatic bid to get into the NCAA tourney.  They won’t make it as a runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament.

UNLV (2-1/13-4) manhandled BYU (1-1/12-5) Tuesday night to place themselves in the bubble mix.  TCU and Air Force (both 2-1/10-6) don’t have the resumes to earn at-large bids.  Utah (1-1/10-5) cannot be forgotten, but the Utes are not the same team they used to be in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Northeast

This is a one-bid league, and there are four or five teams with the talent to win the automatic bid by taking the conference tournament title.  The winner will most assuredly receive a #16 seed and could be forced into the play-in game.

Wagner (5-1/12-5) won’t have to begin in the play-in game if they win the bid.  The Seahawks have a win against Brown, and that’s enough to keep them away from Dayton on the Tuesday night after Selection Sunday.

Quinnipiac (5-1/9-8) is famous for political polling and not basketball, but the Bobcats are tied for the NEC lead.  They do not play Wagner until mid-February, so by the time the two co-leaders face off, they could be far ahead of the rest of the field.

Ohio Valley

Austin Peay (8-1/12-7) is better than the rest of the league, but they still must win the conference tournament to get a bid this year.  Only one OVC team will be in the Field of 65.

APSU’s chief competitors this year are: SE Missouri (6-3/11-8), Murray State (5-3/9-7), Eastern Kentucky (5-4/8-9), Morehead State (5-4/7-9), Tennessee Tech (5-4/8-11), and Tennessee State (4-4/7-10). 

Pac-10

In my opinion, this is the best conference this season.  Take away Oregon State, and there is no argument that the other nine teams are the strongest 90% of any league.

UCLA (4-0/16-1) is tied with surprising Arizona State (4-0/14-2).  The Bruins and Sun Devils are both headed to the Big Dance.  Ditto Washington State (3-1/15-1); the Cougars are going to be a tough match-up for any NCAA tournament team.

Stanford (3-2/14-03) and Oregon (3-2/12-5) are both in good shape.  Both the Cardinal and Ducks could win the Big 10 this year if they were in that conference.

In the sixth through ninth positions are teams that could all be in the upper half of most of the other conferences.  California (2-3/11-5) has some work to do if they are going dancing.  The Bears don’t have a signature win and blew a golden chance last night against Arizona State.  Arizona (1-3/11-6) is a tired team with an interim coach in Kevin O’Neill who doesn’t know when to lighten his team’s practice intensity.  The Wildcats took Kansas to overtime in Lawrence, but they also are the victim of a home loss to Oregon, and they have already played their “gimme” win over Oregon State at home.

Southern Cal (1-3/10-6) and Washington (1-3/10-7) have some work to do in order to get in the mix.  They could both make it to the Final Four of the NIT if they were forced to play in it.  The Trojans are good enough to move into the upper half of the standings and win the conference tournament.  USC lost back-to-back four-point games against Kansas and Memphis.  They play at UCLA Saturday.

Patriot

This league has recently been a two-team race between Bucknell and Holy Cross.  This year, it is shaping up to be a different affair.  Bucknell (2-0/7-9) is considerably weaker this season, but the Bison find themselves tied for first with Lafayette (2-0/11-6).  While this is a one-bid league, the conference championship is played on the home floor of the regular season champ, so winning the race is very important.

Southeastern

The SEC is a bit down this year, but not at the top.  Tennessee (3-0/15-1) is the class of the league, and the Volunteers have to be considered a strong Final Four candidate.  I took a lot of flak on another forum when Bruce Pearl took the job, and I predicted in print that he would lead the then mediocre Vols immediately into the NCAA tournament and have them competing for a Final Four spot within five years.  This is just year three for Pearl in Knoxville.  With Duke Crews being cleared to play and Chris Lofton eventually breaking out of his slump, the orange and white could give the SEC a chance to bring home its third consecutive national championship.

This is not a one-team league.  There are four or five additional teams worthy of receiving bids to the Field of 65.  Ole Miss (2-1/15-1) took Tennessee to the buzzer in Knoxville.  The Rebels play more like a Big East team, and they are a tough match-up for all the other SEC teams.  Their arch-rival, Mississippi State (3-0/12-5) has run off a seven-game winning streak.  The Bulldogs are the best shot-blocking team I have seen since Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were swatting shots for Georgetown almost two decades past.

Even though they lost the great foursome that brought them back-to-back national titles, Florida (2-1/15-3) has reloaded with new stars.  The Gators gave Ole Miss quite a scare at Tad Smith Coliseum.  By March, they could be back in the top 20.

Arkansas (2-1/13-4) should challenge the two Magnolia State teams for supremacy in the West Division.  The Razorbacks won at Baylor and own a win over Missouri.

Vanderbilt (1-2/16-2) won all 15 of its non-conference games, but the schedule was closer in strength to Air Force and TCU than Arizona and Tennessee.  The Commodores may be in trouble in the East soon, as they have to play at Florida and at Ole Miss next week and could easily be 2-4 in the league after that and looking up at the rest of the division.

Kentucky (1-1/7-8) is the wildcard.  The Wildcats have enough talent to finish above .500 in the league, but this is a program where if someone belches, it’s on the local radio stations and Internet forums before the sound echoes off the gym walls.

I look for four or five SEC teams to get bids, so one of these teams will be left out.

Southern

Davidson (7-0/9-6) breezed through conference play last year, and the Wildcats are almost halfway through the SoCon race this year without a conference loss and leading the South Division by 1 ½ game over Georgia Southern (5-2/12-5).  Unfortunately, this was supposed to be the season where Davidson broke through with some big out-of-conference wins to return them to the glory years they enjoyed under Lefty Driesell four decades ago.  Instead, they lost by four to North Carolina, six to Duke, 12 to UCLA, and one to North Carolina State.  Hence, there will be only one bid awarded to this conference this season.

Davidson’s top competitor is the leader of the North Division, Chattanooga (7-1/12-6).  The Mocs play at Davidson Saturday.  Next in line in the North is Appalachian State (5-2/10-6).

Southland

This is a league where it is possible two teams could be selected on Selection Sunday, but the chances are remote.  Sam Houston (2-1/14-2) began the season 10-0 including a win over Texas Tech.  Stephen F. Austin (2-1/14-2) isn’t far behind the Bearkats.  The Lumberjacks won at Oklahoma last month.  These two teams are tied for first in the West Division.

In the East, Northwestern State (3-0/7-10) leads a weaker division with Southeast Louisiana (2-1/10-6 with win over Sam Houston) close behind. 

SWAC

This league is not only the weakest in Division I basketball, it is weaker than the collection of independents!  Nobody belongs in the NIT much less the NCAA Tournament.  There’s not much difference between 1st and 6th place in this league this year, and the winner of the conference tournament is almost guaranteed to be forced into the play-in game.  The current standings show Texas Southern (3-0/4-12) in the lead.  Prior to starting conference play, the Tigers had lost 12 consecutive games.

In a three-way tie for 2nd at 3-1 are Alabama State (7-7), Southern (5-10), and Jackson St. (5-12). 

Summit

The former Mid-Continent Conference added Indiana-Purdue Ft. Wayne, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, lost Valparaiso, and now calls itself, “The Summit League.”  The remaining three top teams from last year are still the top three teams this season.

Oral Roberts (6-0/11-5) could give the Summit two teams in the NCAAs if they finish strong but lose in the Summit Conference Tournament Championship Game. 

The teams most likely to upset ORU are IUPUI (5-1/13-4) and Oakland (4-2/9-8).  ORU has already defeated both of them, with the win against Oakland coming on the Golden Grizzlies’ home floor.

Sunbelt

This has a good chance to be a two-bid league this year.  South Alabama (6-0/14-3) will get an at-large bid if they don’t earn an automatic bid.  The Jaguars lost at both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt by three points.  They beat second best Sunbelt team Western Kentucky (5-1/13-5).  If these two teams continue to play great ball, both could end up in the Big Dance.

West Coast

No longer is this the Gonzaga League.  St. Mary’s (1-0/14-2) has now made this a great two team race.  The Gaels pegged the only loss on Drake and posted wins over Oregon and Seton Hall in the pre-conference schedule.  They have an exceptional inside-out punch with forward Diamon Simpson and Center Omar Samhan banging in the paint and sharp-shooting guard Patrick Mills shooting the jumper.

Gonzaga (2-0/13-4) will join the Gaels in the Field of 65.  The Bulldogs won consecutive road games against Virginia Tech, St. Joe’s, and Connecticut to show they are capable of getting to the Sweet 16.

The two teams don’t face each other until February 5, and by then the rest of the league could already be four or more games out.

WAC

This former top mid-major conference is going through a rebuilding phase.  It is only going to see one bid awarded this year.  Utah State (3-0/13-5) leads the league, but the closest thing to a big win for the Cowboys is against Oral Roberts. 

New Mexico State (3-1/9-10) and Nevada (2-1/10-6) are next in line. NMSU beat New Mexico, while Nevada hasn’t beaten a team with a double digit RPI rating.

« Newer Posts

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.