The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 21, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 22, 2008 (3rd Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 22, 2008 (3rd Update)

Thursday almost brought one major surprise when Duke escaped with a one-point win over Belmont.  Most of the other Thursday games were a little ho-hum.  The PiRate Criteria Rating was 15-1 on the day, losing only on the Texas A&M and BYU game, a game I said was the most competitive of the day.  Additionally, I predicted that UCLA would set a record for fewest points allowed in the modern day NCAA Tournament; they did just that by holding the weakest team in the tournament, Mississippi Valley State, to just 29 points.

Friday was the day that ruined brackets all over America.  The four lower seeds in Tampa all upset the four higher seeds.  While I didn’t do as well Friday (9-7) as I did Thursday, my big teams all advanced and are still alive.  That’s what this criteria looks to accomplish-find the teams that have what it takes to get to San Antonio.

Now, we’re down to 32 and by Sunday night, the Sweet 16 will be all that’s left.  Let’s take a look at the PiRate Criteria as it applied to the second round.  Due to time constraints, I will be using statistics that do not reflect the first round tournament games.

East Region

#1 North Carolina (33-2)

Scoring Margin: 16.9

FG% Margin: 6.2

Rebound Margin: 11.6

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 15.48

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5921

#9 Arkansas (23-11)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 4.9

Rebound Margin: 4.5

TO Margin: -0.3

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 4.0

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5701

North Carolina has too much inside game for Steve Hill to stop and too much outside game for the Razorbacks to sag in the lane.  The Tar Heels will be on cruise control as they waltz to the Sweet 16.  Adding an extra few points for home state (cross town) advantage, you come up with another double digit win for the Tar Heels.

Prediction: North Carolina by 14

#5 Notre Dame (25-7)

Scoring Margin: 10.1

FG% Margin: 4.7

Rebound Margin: 5.8

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 6.4

R + T: 5.19

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5414

#4 Washington State (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.0

FG% Margin: 5.6

Rebound Margin: 0.1

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.64

PiRate: 9

SOS: .5613

The best of the rest in the Big East meets the best of the rest in the Pac-10.  This game is obviously a tossup, as the criteria indicates.  Washington State has a slight edge in the final numbers, and they have extra impetus here to make up for what they thought was a blown chance in the second round last year.

While something in my gut says the Irish are going to win, my criteria forces me to go with Washington State in a close ball game.

Prediction: Washington State by 4

#6 Oklahoma (23-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.0

FG% Margin: 3.6

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 0.4

Steals: 6.6

R + T: 3.63

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5753

#3 Louisville (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.6

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 5.33

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5852

The Big 12 and the Big East have enjoyed early success in the Big Dance this year, and now representatives from both conferences face off in this game.

Oklahoma was quite impressive in their win over St. Joe’s, while Louisville had little more than a workout against Boise State.  Rick Pitino certainly knows how to prepare his team in the NCAA Tournament, and I expect his Cardinals to move on to the Sweet 16.

Prediction: Louisville by 8

#7 Butler (30-3)

Scoring Margin: 10.5

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: -1.1

TO Margin: 3.6

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.34

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5181

# 2 Tennessee (30-4)

Scoring Margin: 12.9

FG% Margin: 2.9

Rebound Margin: 1.2

TO Margin: 5.4

Steals: 9.3

R + T: 13.25

PiRate: 13

SOS: .6063

Butler will not be intimidated by the Vols.  The Bulldogs clobbered Tennessee last year in the semifinals of the Pre-season NIT.

Tennessee has not played its best ball in the last couple of weeks.  It could be the Vols have players hitting the wall as they prepare to play their full-court pressing, fast breaking style of play in game 35.

Butler cannot really take advantage of Tennessee’s lone weakness.  The Bulldogs don’t rebound the ball with enough authority to dominate the glass in this game, and I think second chance points could be a major factor in this game.

Prediction: Tennessee by 7

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas (32-3)

Scoring Margin: 19.9

FG% Margin: 12.3

Rebound Margin: 7.9

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 9.0

R + T: 14.38

PiRate: 21

SOS: .5594

#8 UNLV (27-7)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 1.6

Rebound Margin: -1.6

TO Margin: 4.3

Steals: 7.9

R + T: 6.55

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5496

The Jayhawks are solid at every position and in every phase of the game.  UNLV will not be able to keep the rebounding statistics close to even.  I expect KU to win the battle of the boards by five to 10.  The Runnin’ Rebels will have a hard time scoring consistently without some form of transition game, while Kansas should pick up 10-15 points thanks to their fast break and early offense.  The Big 12 is showing itself to be maybe the best conference so far, and I am selecting the Jayhawks to win with relative ease.

Prediction: Kansas by 15

#12 Villanova (21-12)

Scoring Margin: 3.5

FG% Margin: -0.9

Rebound Margin: 2.7

TO Margin: 2.4

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 7.37

PiRate: -1

SOS: .5586

#13 Siena (23-10)

Scoring Margin: 5.7

FG% Margin: 0.0

Rebound Margin: -4.5

TO Margin: 6.3

Steals: 9.4

R + T: 9.71

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5218

Villanova may have been the final at-large team in the field, but they proved their worth by coming back from an 18-point deficit to beat the team that took North Carolina to the wire last weekend.  Now, the Wildcats find themselves as the sole remaining team from the City of Brotherly Love.  Their win gave the Big East a 7-1 mark in the first round.

Siena did not upset Vanderbilt; they won by 21, and that’s no upset.  It’s plain to see that experts all over the nation, including Seth Davis, called this one correctly.  The Saints went marching all over the Commodores.  Now, they aim for a berth in the Sweet 16, and they match up well with Villanova.  The Wildcats extended themselves in their come-from-behind win, and they should bounce a little on Sunday.

Siena’s quickness just may be enough to advance the Saints into the third round.  I expect an even better scoring performance by Siena’s big three scorers, and I expect Coach Fran McCaffery’s cagers to steal the ball enough times to get some cheap baskets in the stretch.

Prediction: Siena by 4

#11 Kansas State (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 9.8

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: 8.1

TO Margin: 1.3

Steals: 7.7

R + T: 10.5

PiRate: 11

SOS: .5697

#3 Wisconsin (30-4)

Scoring Margin: 13.5

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 5.7

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 12.96

PiRate: 17

SOS: .5518

This should be an interesting game worth watching.  Kansas State didn’t have its best effort and still looked amazing against Southern Cal.  The Wildcats can play even better than that, especially when Michael Beasley doesn’t get in quick foul trouble.  I don’t expect the men from the Little Apple to commit as many fouls in this game.

Wisconsin keeps winning like they are a push-button, mechanical team.  They play at a rather consistent pace and just don’t lose because of their actions; you have to beat them with superior talent and strategy, because this team is as fundamentally sound as a team can be.

I believe Coach Ryan will devise a game plan that slows down Beasley and forces Bill Walker out of his comfort zone.  At the same time, I expect K-State’s defense to shut down Wisconsin for long stretches and make the Badgers look human.  In the end, I’ll go with the Badgers to recover and score just enough points to win.  Look for a score in the neighborhood of 60-55.  If Wisconsin goes into a long drought in the second half, then KSU will take a commanding lead and hold on for the upset.  It wouldn’t be that much of an upset, because the Wildcats should have been seeded in the upper half of the brackets.

Prediction: Wisconsin by an iffy 5

#10 Davidson (27-6)

Scoring Margin: 15.8

FG% Margin: 5.8

Rebound Margin: 4.3

TO Margin: 4.6

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 13.24

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5252

#2 Georgetown (28-5)

Scoring Margin: 11.7

FG% Margin: 11.9

Rebound Margin: 2.6

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 7.1

R + T: 1.92

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5670

The criteria shows that Davidson has a real chance in this game.  The Wildcats came from behind in a hard-fought game to knock off Gonzaga, while Georgetown played a so-so game against a team that is virtually the same as an in-state opponent.

I expect Stephen Curry’s shooting percentage to go south, while Georgetown performs up to standards.  I just don’t see the Wildcats having enough inside to win, but they had stretches this year in their games against North Carolina and UCLA where they handled themselves on the boards against even better inside teams.

I won’t totally discount Davidson, especially since the criteria says they will win.  I’ll stick with the #2-seed to get by on defense and rebounding to pull out a win in a rough game.

Prediction: Georgetown by 8

South Region

#1 Memphis (34-1)

Scoring Margin: 19.1

FG% Margin: 8.3

Rebound Margin: 6.5

TO Margin: 4.4

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 15.69

PiRate: 19

SOS: .5749

#8 Mississippi State (23-10)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 9.3

Rebound Margin: 5.1

TO Margin: -2.6

Steals: 6.0

R + T: 1.36

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5523

This game will be physical and could get ugly.  This is a backyard brawl between two schools that have rivalries in more than one sport.  Mississippi State doesn’t have the ball handlers to break Memphis’s press and score in transition.  That will allow the Tigers to gamble a little on their press and force a few more turnovers.

Mississippi State will intimidate the Tigers in the paint and force Memphis’s big men to alter their shots.  It will give the Bulldogs a fighting chance in this game.

All year, I have wondered if Memphis has been seasoned enough.  However, upon looking at their strength of schedule, those fears have been unfounded.  Look for the top seed to advance.

Prediction: Memphis by 9

#5 Michigan State (26-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.3

FG% Margin: 7.9

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 5.34

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5636

#4 Pittsburgh (27-9)

Scoring Margin: 8.9

FG% Margin: 3.8

Rebound Margin: 4.4

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 7.50

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5723

This will be the equivalent of the Bears and Packers playing football in the 1930’s.  Both of these teams can play muscle basketball with the best of them.  The criteria calls this one a 50-50 proposition, so I have to vote to break the tie.  I’m going with Pittsburgh for two reasons.  First, they are playing their best ball of the season and are riding a nice winning streak.  Second, Michigan State has a habit of occasionally going into a funk on offense. 

The Panthers will make it hard for Drew Neitzel to get many open looks from outside, and it will take an epic performance by Raymar Morgan to counter it.  I expect Pitt’s great depth in the frontcourt will eventually wear down the Spartans inside.

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 7

#6 Marquette (25-9)

Scoring Margin:  11.5

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 9.6

R + T: 11.16

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5753

#3 Stanford (27-7)

Scoring Margin:  10.1

FG% Margin: 5.5

Rebound Margin: 8.0

TO Margin: -0.5

Steals: 4.4

R + T: 7.47

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5547

Marquette has the better criteria here by a healthy margin.  The Golden Eagles looked a little off in their opening round game with Kentucky, but that may have been more Kentucky’s doing.  Stanford’s defense will look ordinary compared to the Wildcats. 

At the other end of the floor, Stanford’s hope is to dominate the boards and get multiple offensive rebounds and second chance points.  I think the Cardinal will lose the turnover battle by at least three or four, so a decided rebounding margin will be a must.  I’m guessing that won’t happen.

Prediction: Marquette by 6

#7 Miami (Fla.) (23-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.0 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 2.1

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 3.86

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5599

#2 Texas (29-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.1 

FG% Margin: 6.3

Rebound Margin: 2.5

TO Margin: 2.9

Steals: 6.2

R + T: 6.82

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5950

The ACC only put four teams into the Dance, and three of them won in the first round.  The Big 12 saw five of its six entrants survive to the second round.  Something has to give Sunday.

Miami’s second half against St. Mary’s showed a Hurricane team that was capable of competing with any team in the tournament.  Texas blew Austin Peay off the floor before the first TV timeout, and the Longhorns will come into this game fresh and ready to give the Big 12 another victory.

Prediction: Texas by 10

West Region

#1 U C L A (32-3)

Scoring Margin: 15.0 

FG% Margin: 4.8

Rebound Margin: 8.4

TO Margin: 2.5

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 12.84

PiRate: 14

SOS: .5771

#9 Texas A&M (25-10)

Scoring Margin: 9.6  

FG% Margin: 7.3

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.5

Steals: 4.5

R + T: 5.48

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5561

UCLA’s defensive effort in the opening round was nothing short of spectacular, even against lowly Mississippi Valley.  Texas A&M played a complete game against BYU.  I expect the Aggies to be pests in this game and keep it close for most of the day.

The match-ups only slightly favor the Bruins, but the venue favors the sky blue and gold even more.  Look for Ben Howland’s squad to move on to the Sweet 16, but it won’t be another repeat of Thursday night.

Prediction: UCLA by 9

#12 Western Kentucky (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.6  

FG% Margin: 5.1

Rebound Margin: 3.3

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 7.8

R + T: 10.41

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5123

#13 San Diego (22-13)

Scoring Margin: 2.2 

FG% Margin: 1.0

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: 0.3

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 2.29

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5283

As former New York Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen used to say, “How about that?”  The number 12 and number 13 seed advanced twice in Tampa.  According to the PiRate criteria, Western Kentucky is a hidden gem.  The Hilltoppers made it to the Final Four in 1971, only to have their appearance forfeited.  Might WKU be on a course to get there again?  I think they will come up short by at least one and possibly two games, but I think they will be one of the final 16 teams with a chance to do just that.

I don’t give San Diego much chance in this game, because I’m not sure they can come back down to Earth after knocking off Connecticut Friday.  Two years ago, George Mason was able to stay up after winning big game after big game, but that team had a double digit criteria number-just like WKU.

Prediction: Western Kentucky by 7

#6 Purdue (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 7.5 

FG% Margin: -1.1

Rebound Margin: -0.1

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 9.69

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5204

#3 Xavier (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 13.0 

FG% Margin: 7.4

Rebound Margin: 6.2

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 5.6

R + T: 5.93

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5720

Xavier fiddled for 32 minutes Thursday before wearing down Georgia.  The Musketeers should play more consistently in this second round game, and it should be enough to send their Big 10 bully back to Indiana.

Xavier should control the boards and shoot a higher percentage from the field than the Boilermakers.  Unless they commit 18 or more turnovers, with a good eight being PU steals or they shoot below 35%, they will get too many additional chances to score to possibly lose.

Prediction: Xavier by 7

#7 West Virginia (25-10)

Scoring Margin: 11.9 

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.0

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 7.2

R + T: 10.29

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5616

#2 Duke (28-5)

Scoring Margin: 14.8 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 0.5

TO Margin: 5.0

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 10.94

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5857

Here is my upset pick for Saturday.  West Virginia has the horses to exploit Duke’s weakness in the paint.  These two teams’ criteria couldn’t be much closer, and Duke’s schedule strength advantage of 2.4 isn’t going to tilt the game in their favor.

West Virginia is improving every week, whereas Duke appears to be hitting a valley.  The win over Belmont was not the result of overlooking their #15-seeded opponents.  The Blue Devils just didn’t look like they were capable of putting Belmont away at any point in the game.

Prediction: West Virginia by 6

Advertisements

March 19, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 19, 2008 (2nd Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 19, 2008 (2nd Update)

There’s a pandemic hitting this country this week.  Millions of Americans are coming down with a 48-hour illness and will have to stay home from work Thursday, March 20 and Friday, March 21.  If this applies to you, then I have some medicine that will make you more comfortable.  Consume this special PiRate juice; I call it bracketcillin.

If you have read my prior two postings, I have explained my criteria for selecting teams to advance.  Without repeating it totally, I look for teams with large scoring margins, large field goal percentage margins, a combination of rebounding and turnover margins, and strength of schedule to separate the pretenders from the contenders.  I assign numbers based on this result to find the teams with the best chances of advancing deep into the tournament.

Here is a preview of the first round games on Thursday and Friday.  Following that, I will then fill out my bracket for you.

East Region

#1 North Carolina (32-2)

Scoring Margin: 16.9

FG% Margin: 6.2

Rebound Margin: 11.6

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 15.48

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5921

#16 Mount St. Mary’s (19-14)

Scoring Margin: 2.8

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -1.4

TO Margin: 0.7

Steals: 7.3

R + T: -0.17

PiRate: Eliminate with -(R+T) rating

SOS: .4924

This one is a no-brainer.  Mount St. Mary’s will have no answer for the Tar Heels inside game, and they won’t be able to stop the transition game either.  UNC will quickly put this game away and be quite rested for Sunday’s second round game.  If MSM didn’t have a negative R+T rating, their PiRate score would be -2.  Carolina’s schedule gives them an extra 10 points for an advantage of 25 to -2.  You can also throw in a three points for home state advantage.  This does not equate to a 30-point spread; it correlates to a 50-point margin.  I look for Roy Williams to empty the bench early enough to prevent the score from getting that lopsided. 

Prediction: North Carolina by 28

#8 Indiana (25-7)

Scoring Margin: 10.4

FG% Margin: 5.4

Rebound Margin: 6.7

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 6.36

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5549

#9 Arkansas (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 4.9

Rebound Margin: 4.5

TO Margin: -0.3

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 4.0

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5701

Before using the criteria to select a winner here, we must penalize Indiana five points for having a late season coaching change, one that greatly affected the Hoosiers’ performance.  IU was clearly not the same team with Dan Dakich as head coach as they were with Kelvin Sampson leading the team.

Arkansas gets 1.5 points benefit from having a stronger schedule.  Combine this with Indiana’s losing five points, and the difference becomes 1.5 points.  I’ll still go with Indiana to win the game, but the game should be close. 

Prediction: Indiana by 4.

#5 Notre Dame (24-7)

Scoring Margin: 10.1

FG% Margin: 4.7

Rebound Margin: 5.8

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 6.4

R + T: 5.19

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5414

#12 George Mason (23-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.6

FG% Margin: 5.0

Rebound Margin: 4.0

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 5.6

R + T: 3.73

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5166

This George Mason team does not have the same gaudy stats that their 2006 Final Four team had.  While the Patriots scoring, shooting, and rebounding margins are quite good, their turnover and R+T margins don’t approach that of two years ago.

Notre Dame possesses similar statistics to GMU, but they are just a little better and played a tougher schedule.  Go with the Irish to win a game that is still in doubt with 10 minutes to play. 

Prediction: Notre Dame by 7

#4 Washington State (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.0

FG% Margin: 5.6

Rebound Margin: 0.1

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.64

PiRate: 9

SOS: .5613

#13 Winthrop (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 7.4

FG% Margin: 5.1

Rebound Margin: 3.7

TO Margin: 2.3

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 8.39

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5072

Watch out here!  Winthrop is good enough to upset the Cougars in the first round Thursday night and compete for a Sweet 16 berth Saturday evening.  Their criteria score is not as strong as some of the other mid-majors, but it’s good enough to win an opening round game.

Washington State has really good numbers as well, and the Cougars are probably the worst possible opponent for Winthrop to face.  WSU will not give away the ball and will not take a ton of ill-advised shots.  Coach Tony Bennett’s squad plays smart, albeit passive, ball on offense with tight defense.  This will work against Winthrop, but the first time the Cougars face an up-tempo team that can force turnovers, they will be going home. 

Prediction: Washington State by 8

#6 Oklahoma (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.0

FG% Margin: 3.6

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 0.4

Steals: 6.6

R + T: 3.63

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5753

#11 St. Joseph’s (21-12)

Scoring Margin: 6.0

FG% Margin: 4.3

Rebound Margin: 0.0

TO Margin: 1.5

Steals: 7.2

R + T: 2.59

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5559

If you are looking for a double-digit seed to advance in the first round, you have to consider this game.  St. Joe’s matches up well with Oklahoma.  The Sooners rely on an inside game and don’t scare many people with their outside shooting.  St. Joe’s defense is excellent in the paint, and I expect the Hawks to neutralize the one-two punch of Blake Griffin and Longar Longar.

This game will come down to which team commits the fewer mistakes/forces more mistakes.  It’s a complete toss-up, so you will have to make a guess as to which team advances.  I’m going with St. Joe’s only because Phil Martelli’s teams have done well in the early rounds.

Prediction: St. Joe’s by 3

#3 Louisville (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.6

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 5.33

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5852

#14 Boise State (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 2.3

TO Margin: -0.9

Steals: 6.4

R + T: 0.92

PiRate: 0

SOS: .4904

This smells like a blowout.  Boise State will be coming off a huge high after winning at New Mexico State in triple overtime for the WAC Tournament Championship.  Louisville will be looking to rebound after being dismissed by Pitt in overtime. 

Other than having one of the best field goal percentages, Boise State is pedestrian at-best elsewhere.  Louisville’s pressure defense may not force many turnovers, but I expect the Cards to take the Broncos out of their offense and force shots BSU wouldn’t normally take.  Also, look for Louisville’s great depth to tire the BSU regulars.  Once fatigued, the BSU shooting prowess will disappear, and so will the Broncos’ chances.

Prediction: Louisville by 14

#7 Butler (29-3)

Scoring Margin: 10.5

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: -1.1

TO Margin: 3.6

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.34

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5181

#10 South Alabama (26-6)

Scoring Margin: 10.6

FG% Margin: 5.9

Rebound Margin: 6.5

TO Margin: 0.3

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 6.94

PiRate: 10

SOS: .5178

If the mid-majors held their own tournament with 32 teams, these two squads would be expected to compete for Final Four berths.  Both of them are good enough to defeat a major conference opponent in a first round match, but one of them will be going home.  I believe both teams were seeded lower than they should have been seeded.

South Alabama actually has a little better criteria score than Butler, even though the Bulldogs have been highly ranked all season.  The strengths of schedule are basically even.  It is rare that I pick against the criteria scores, but Butler has three starters left over from last season’s Sweet 16 team, and they played better down the stretch.  I’m going against the form here, so beware.  The criteria picks USA by about five points, but I’m overriding the results and going with the more seasoned five.

Prediction: Butler by 4

# 2 Tennessee (29-4)

Scoring Margin: 12.9

FG% Margin: 2.9

Rebound Margin: 1.2

TO Margin: 5.4

Steals: 9.3

R + T: 13.25

PiRate: 13

SOS: .6063

# 15 American (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 3.2

FG% Margin: 3.4

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 1.5

Steals: 4.5

R + T: 4.02

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5034

American has had a couple of really good teams and really good players in the past like Kermit Washington and Russell Bowers, but this is the Eagles first time in the Big Dance.  They better start dancing as soon as the music starts because they will only get one song.  This team cannot match up with Tennessee’s exceptional quickness. 

The Volunteers are vulnerable if an opponent with an exceptional half-court defense and dominating inside game can additionally hold onto the ball.  They might face that type of team in the second round, but not the first.  Tennessee will take some really dumb shots occasionally, but on the other hand, the orange and white will never feel intense pressure late in games and be afraid to shoot when open.  It’s a wash in the early rounds, and the Vols will breeze with a big win.  The criteria score difference is a whopping 22, which equates to a major blowout.

Prediction: Tennessee by 35

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas (31-3)

Scoring Margin: 19.9

FG% Margin: 12.3

Rebound Margin: 7.9

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 9.0

R + T: 14.38

PiRate: 21

SOS: .5594

#16 Portland State (23-9)

Scoring Margin: 6.8

FG% Margin: 2.7

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 3.74

PiRate: 1

SOS: .4867

Portland State got shafted in this tournament.  The Vikings are better than all four #15 seeds and at least equal to the #14 seeds.  Instead, PSU must face the team with the best criteria in the entire tournament.  Scott Morrison will be in over his head in this game, and Jeremiah Dominguez will find Mario Chalmers too talented to exploit.

Kansas possesses the statistical criteria that resembles the fingerprint of past national champions and Final Four teams.  Not many teams from a power conference have outscored opponents by 20 points per game, shot better than 12% per game from the field, had a +8 rebounding margin, a +3 turnover margin and averaged 9 steals a game all in the same season.  Duke in 1999, UNLV in 1991, UCLA in 1973, 1972, and St. Bonaventure in 1970 all pulled off the trick; all five made it to the Final Four.  Coach Bill Self has slowly molded the Jayhawks into a power team after being more of a finesse team under Roy Williams.  This KU team is better than Self’s Illinois team that made it to the finals in 2005.  I’m sticking with the Jayhawks until they are no longer in the tourney, and I expect them to be playing in April.

Prediction: Kansas by 28

#8 UNLV (26-7)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 1.6

Rebound Margin: -1.6

TO Margin: 4.3

Steals: 7.9

R + T: 6.55

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5496

#9 Kent State (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 7.6

FG% Margin: 5.8

Rebound Margin: 1.4

TO Margin: 1.6

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 4.66

PiRate: 3

SOS: .5267

Kent State may have been given a little too much credit for winning the regular season and MAC Tournament this year.  A Bracket-Buster win at St. Mary’s proved the Golden Flashes were quite good, but they look more like a #11 seed than a #9 seed.

UNLV is one of those teams nobody really wants to play.  They are pesky and don’t back down.  This Runnin’ Rebels team is in no way similar to the teams from the Tarkanian era.  Coach Lon Kruger’s teams play the same way as he played under Jack Hartman at Kansas State in the 1970’s.  Hartman was tutored by his coach, the legendary Hank Iba, so if you know your basketball history, you know what type of team UNLV is this year.

The Rebels won’t advance too far because they don’t have the inside might to compete against the likes of Kansas.  However, they will still be playing Saturday night.

Prediction: UNLV by 8

#5 Clemson (24-9)

Scoring Margin: 9.9

FG% Margin: 2.2

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 9.9

R + T: 9.53

PiRate: 9

SOS: .5740

#12 Villanova (20-12)

Scoring Margin: 3.5

FG% Margin: -0.9

Rebound Margin: 2.7

TO Margin: 2.4

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 7.37

PiRate: -1

SOS: .5586

Here is definitely one game where the #12 seed is not going to upset the #5 seed.  Watch out for Clemson.  In a game where fouls will not be called as much as they are in the regular season (last night’s play-in game had several no-calls that would have been 10-yard penalties in football), Clemson’s foul shooting woes may not come into play.

The Tigers are almost as good as Tennessee; the CU press defense and inside game are better, while their outside game is much weaker. 

Villanova just barely earned their invitation and would have been left out had Illinois beaten Wisconsin Sunday.  The Wildcats will have to hit some three-pointers to win this game, and they just don’t have the accuracy to do so.  While I expect ‘Nova to stay in this game with some scoring runs, Clemson will cause enough confusion to experience one additional spurt.

Prediction: Clemson by 7

#4 Vanderbilt (26-7)

Scoring Margin: 6.2

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 0.5

Steals: 6.0

R + T: -0.08

PiRate: Eliminate with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5613

#13 Siena (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 5.7

FG% Margin: 0.0

Rebound Margin: -4.5

TO Margin: 6.3

Steals: 9.4

R + T: 9.71

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5218

If you watched the NCAA Selection Show Sunday night, you saw CBS’s Seth Davis immediately call for the underdog Saints to upset Vanderbilt.  It came out of his mouth so quickly, you wonder on what information he was basing this quick pick.  At first I thought it was a bias against an elite school, but on closer examination, I found out I owed Mr. Davis an apology.  I’m sorry Seth.

This has the potential to be the biggest opening round upset, although I still think the Commodores have a 55-60% chance of winning.  According to the criteria, we are supposed to eliminate any team with a negative R+T.  Vanderbilt’s R+T of -0.08 is definitely a negative number, but it really can be rounded to zero.  Using zero as their R+T gives them a criteria score of -1.  Siena’s criteria rating of 5 and Vanderbilt’s schedule strength number of 4 make this a two-point criteria advantage for the Saints.  That’s enough to make this a toss-up game.  Now, add to this the fact that Vanderbilt came within a poor no-call of advancing to the Elite 8 last year, and they have three returning starters plus a dominating post player in freshman A.J. Ogilvy, and it adds up to a very slim Commodore win.  However, that’s as far as this team is going this year.

Prediction: Vanderbilt by 2

#6 Southern California (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.9

FG% Margin: 9.0

Rebound Margin: 0.5

TO Margin: -1.4

Steals: 5.7

R + T: -1.42

PiRate: Eliminate with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5835

#11 Kansas State (20-11)

Scoring Margin: 9.8

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: 8.1

TO Margin: 1.3

Steals: 7.7

R + T: 10.5

PiRate: 11

SOS: .5697

Kansas State is a much better team than Kent State, and the committee needed to flip-flop these two teams.  The Wildcats are inconsistent, but even on an off night, they would handle the Golden Flashes.

As for this game, I expect Michael Beasley to outperform O.J. Mayo in this can’t miss game.  You will see the nation’s best player, the 6-10 freshman Beasley, record a double double (about 25 points and 12 rebounds) and the nation’s most exciting freshman, 6-5 guard Mayo (expect 20 points, 5 rebounds, and a couple of steals).

As for the game itself, USC has a negative R+T rating, and this one isn’t close enough to give an exemption, especially when KSU has a dominating inside presence and takes care of the ball.  I’m looking for the purple and white to shock the Trojans, not by winning a toss-up game, but by winning with relative ease.

Prediction: Kansas State by 11

#3 Wisconsin (29-4)

Scoring Margin: 13.5

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 5.7

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 12.96

PiRate: 17

SOS: .5518

#14 Cal State Fullerton (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.9

FG% Margin: 1.1

Rebound Margin: 1.7

TO Margin: 4.0

Steals: 9.0

R + T: 10.34

PiRate: 11

SOS: .4881

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan won four national championships at the Division III level at Wisconsin-Platteville.  While his first two title teams were run and gun squads that put more than two points per minute on the scoreboard, his last two title teams used the playing style the Badgers now employ.  Ryan’s teams are tough defensively and careful offensively.  That will work almost every time when his team is more talented.  UW is talented enough to methodically handle their opponents in the first two rounds, but I cannot see the Badgers getting past the second weekend, especially if that means knocking off both Georgetown and Kansas.

Cal State Fullerton isn’t exactly chopped liver; as a #11 seed, I would have given them a 50-50 chance of upsetting USC.  The Titans are sneaky fast and exceptionally accurate from the field.  Their team resembles the Rupp’s Runts Kentucky team of 1966 and the 1964 national champion UCLA team.  Their front line goes 6-5, 6-5, and 6-4, yet they have a seasonal rebounding advantage of 1.7 per game. 

Wisconsin’s defense will curtail the Titans, holding them to 60 points or less.  The Badgers will be patient and work the ball inside to take advantage of the size difference.  UW will get enough offensive rebounds and put backs to score well more than one point per possession.  It adds up to an eventual double digit victory and a happy night on State Street in Madtown. 

Prediction: Wisconsin by 16

#7 Gonzaga (25-7)

Scoring Margin: 13.3

FG% Margin: 9.1

Rebound Margin: 5.2

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 7.6

R + T: 6.66

PiRate: 12

SOS: .5373

#10 Davidson (26-6)

Scoring Margin: 15.8

FG% Margin: 5.8

Rebound Margin: 4.3

TO Margin: 4.6

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 13.24

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5252

If you are of conspiratorial mind, you might be wondering how two of the top four mid-major teams ended up facing each other in the first round.  If you believe South Alabama and Butler are the other top two mid-major teams (taking into account that Drake and Xavier are not mid-major but major), and half of the mid-major elite will be eliminated in the first round, then you have a real conspiracy.  I choose to look at this as a gift.  At least two of the elite mid-majors will be guaranteed to advance to the second round where they will be formidable opponents for major powers.  In fact, I have proposed in the media in the past to separate the majors and mid-majors until the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 by giving the top major teams byes for one or more rounds (I’ll explain that proposal next week).

As far as this game is concerned, both of these teams earn their keep with their perimeter games.  Davidson’s outside shooting is led by Stephen Curry, a poor man’s Chris Lofton.  Gonzaga is more of a shoot by committee team.  The Bulldogs have better depth but no stars.   On paper, this is a true toss-up, but there is one major intangible.  The game will take place in Raleigh, where Davidson can bus the 150 miles.  Gonzaga’s flight from Spokane to Raleigh across three time zones and 2,500 miles will negatively affect their performance.  Give the Wildcats three more criteria points for excellent home state advantage, and that will tilt the game in their favor.  Then, watch out for them Sunday afternoon, as they are the best double-digit, mid-major seed.

Prediction: Davidson by 3

#2 Georgetown (27-5)

Scoring Margin: 11.7

FG% Margin: 11.9

Rebound Margin: 2.6

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 7.1

R + T: 1.92

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5670

#15 Maryland-Baltimore County (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 2.2

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 3.2

Steals: 6.2

R + T: 3.96

PiRate: 2

SOS: .4738

There isn’t much need to devote too much space to this game, since it is a classic mismatch.  UMBC might open the game with a little run to take a short-lived lead, but after the first TV timeout, Georgetown will take control of the game and be comfortably ahead by the under eight minutes timeout in the first half.

UMBC has no answer for the Hoyas’ inside game.  I expect Georgetown to hold the Retrievers to 35-38% shooting, win the battle of the boards by more than 10, and shoot better than 50% from the field.  It adds up to a big win, but the Hoyas are going to ride into an ambush on Sunday.

South Region

#1 Memphis (33-1)

Scoring Margin: 19.1

FG% Margin: 8.3

Rebound Margin: 6.5

TO Margin: 4.4

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 15.69

PiRate: 19

SOS: .5749

#16 Texas-Arlington (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.4

FG% Margin: 8.0

Rebound Margin: 3.4

TO Margin: -1.6

Steals: 6.7

R + T: 0.83

PiRate: 3

SOS: .4763

Memphis is one of the teams in this tournament with criteria statistics that match those of historical Final Four teams.  The Tigers don’t approach the statistical dominance of Kansas, but they are talented enough to go all the way.  They should advance at least to the Elite 8 once again.

UT-Arlington at best was the third best team out of the Southland Conference this season, and the best team received a whipping in the NIT last night.  The Mavericks are for sure one and done, and their one won’t be too much fun. 

Prediction: Memphis by 32

#8 Mississippi State (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 9.3

Rebound Margin: 5.1

TO Margin: -2.6

Steals: 6.0

R + T: 1.36

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5523

#9 Oregon (18-13)

Scoring Margin: 4.4

FG% Margin: 4.2

Rebound Margin: 1.9

TO Margin: -1.5

Steals: 4.6

R + T: 0.24

PiRate: -2

SOS: .5647

Both of these teams have fatal flaws that will keep them from advancing too far in the tournament.  Mississippi State does not handle the ball all that well.  The Bulldogs can punish opponents with a muscle game and block 10 shots in 40 minutes.  However, they can be taken out of their offense with pressure, and they can be beaten with the fast break.  Additionally, you have to wonder how big of an emotional hit they took when they fell to a Georgia team that was playing its second game in six hours after going to overtime in the first one.

Oregon can certainly fast break as competently as any team, but the Ducks tend to make too many mental mistakes to exploit Mississippi State’s liabilities.  Oregon must shoot the ball well in order to have any chance in this game, and I don’t think it will happen.  Normally, the green and gold hit 48.5% of their shots.  I think they will get 60 attempts, which means they should hit 29 of them.  However, throw in about five more blocked shots than normal, and figure that three of those shots would have gone in, and it reduces Oregon to 43.3%.  The Ducks won’t win with that poor shooting percentage.

Prediction: Mississippi State by 5

#5 Michigan State (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.3

FG% Margin: 7.9

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 5.34

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5636

#12 Temple (21-12)

Scoring Margin: 4.0

FG% Margin: 4.9

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 0.1

Steals: 6.3

R + T: -0.65

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5593

Michigan State usually makes it to the Sweet 16 and almost always wins their first tournament game.  Of course, they are almost always a top-four seed when they make the Big Dance.

Temple has historically been a team that advances farther than expected in the tournament.  That was under John Chaney; now they are led by Fran Dunphy.  Dunphy had some classics across town at Penn, but he only ever won one NCAA game. 

This game will come down to how well Temple can shoot from outside.  The Owls have won many games with excellent foul shooting, and as I have said all week, foul shooting becomes less important overall in the NCAA Tournament.  Look for the Spartans to force Temple into enough bad shots and to control the boards.

Michigan State by 9

#4 Pittsburgh (26-9)

Scoring Margin: 8.9

FG% Margin: 3.8

Rebound Margin: 4.4

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 7.50

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5723

#13 Oral Roberts (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 7.9

FG% Margin: 4.7

Rebound Margin: 2.5

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 3.71

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5114

Pittsburgh is a hot team coming into this tournament.  The Panthers withstood some injuries that depleted the roster until late in the season, and Coach Jamie Dixon told the press before the Big East Tournament that his squad was playing its best basketball of the year.  Pitt dispensed of Oklahoma State earlier this season, and ORU is a junior version of the Cowboys.

Oral Roberts is a sound team that doesn’t beat itself.  That works against teams in the Summit League, but it won’t feed the bulldog against Big East powers.  The Golden Eagles don’t have a defensive answer for Pitt’s power game.

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 13

#6 Marquette (24-9)

Scoring Margin:  11.5

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 9.6

R + T: 11.16

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5753

#11 Kentucky (18-12)

Scoring Margin: 3.3 

FG% Margin: 7.5

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: -2.6

Steals: 6.7

R + T: -2.38

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5732

While there is no Dwayne Wade on this roster, the 2008 Marquette team compares quite favorably with the 2003 Marquette team that made it to the Final Four.  The 2008 team is better at forcing turnovers via the steal, and that’s what gives the men from Milwaukee an excellent shot at making it to a second week in the tournament.

Kentucky just barely qualified as an at-large team, and they are missing their key cog in center Patrick Patterson.  Without the talented big man, the Cats have no chance to make it past the first weekend, and I think they will be one and done this year.

Look for Marquette to play aggressively, wearing down the depth-poor blue mist.  Kentucky will keep it close for a half, but they will tire in the final 20 minutes, and that will allow the Golden Eagles to cruise to victory.

Prediction: Marquette by 8

#3 Stanford (26-7)

Scoring Margin:  10.1

FG% Margin: 5.5

Rebound Margin: 8.0

TO Margin: -0.5

Steals: 4.4

R + T: 7.47

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5547

#14 Cornell (22-5)

Scoring Margin: 9.0 

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 1.2

TO Margin: 0.7

Steals: 6.0

R + T: 2.21

PiRate: 4

SOS: .4704

Stanford has the talent and criteria statistics to advance to the Elite 8, but as of late, the Cardinal have weaknesses that can be exploited by certain teams.  Stanford can go in long shooting slumps against teams that pack their defense inside to stop Brook Lopez. 

Cornell became only the third Ivy League school to go 14-0 in league play (Penn and Princeton have done it before).  The Big Red enter the Dance waltzing on a 16-game winning streak.  Unfortunately, their stay in the cotillion will last one afternoon.  Cornell is one of those teams that rely on winning by dominating the free throw shooting stat.  As mentioned ad nauseum already, free throw shooting prowess will not carry a team in the Big Dance, unless it is to protect the lead in the final 90 seconds.  I don’t see Cornell leading the game with a minute and half to go, and off they’ll go back to Cayuga’s waters.

Prediction: Stanford by 13

#7 Miami (Fla.) (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.0 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 2.1

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 3.86

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5599

#10 St. Mary’s (25-6)

Scoring Margin: 12.8 

FG% Margin: 5.7

Rebound Margin: 3.7

TO Margin: 1.3

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 6.01

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5130

As most #7-10 matches tend to be, this will be a close game that should go down to the wire.  Miami hasn’t danced in six years.  The Hurricanes have a talented backcourt, led by Jack McClinton. 

St. Mary’s was 23-3 before losing three of their final five games.  The Gaels have the talent to get to the 2nd round, but it will depend on how well they can defend the perimeter.

The criteria clearly shows St. Mary’s to be the superior team, even when the strength of schedule is factored in.  So, I’m going with the mild upset here.

Prediction: St. Mary’s by 3

#2 Texas (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.1 

FG% Margin: 6.3

Rebound Margin: 2.5

TO Margin: 2.9

Steals: 6.2

R + T: 6.82

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5950

#15 Austin Peay (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 3.9  

FG% Margin: -1.5

Rebound Margin: -2.4

TO Margin: 4.1

Steals: 9.7

R + T: 7.14

PiRate: -1

SOS: .4965

Texas has to be included in your Elite 8 bracket.  The Longhorns are loaded with talent and have good criteria representation.  D.J. Augustin runs the offense as well as any play-maker in the nation.  Damion James and Connor Atchley combine to give the burnt orange the best rebounding duo in the Big 12 after Michael Beasley and any Kansas State student.

Austin Peay does one thing quite well-play aggressive defense.  I just don’t see them having much success in taking the ball away from the Longhorns.  It should be a long afternoon for them in Little Rock Friday.  In what will continue to be a bad month for governors in this country, look for the round ball Govs to fall by less than 4,300 dollars points. 

Prediction: Texas by 23

West Region

U C L A (31-3)

Scoring Margin: 15.0 

FG% Margin: 4.8

Rebound Margin: 8.4

TO Margin: 2.5

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 12.84

PiRate: 14

SOS: .5771

#16 Mississippi Valley State (17-15)

Scoring Margin: -3.1  

FG% Margin: -3.6

Rebound Margin: -1.7

TO Margin: 1.1

Steals: 6.2

R + T: -0.06

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .4571

What is the lowest score any team has scored in the NCAA Tournament since the advent of the 3-point shot and 35-second clock?  In 2001, Michigan State defeated Alabama State 69-35 in the first round.  If UCLA comes out with the same intensity they have the previous two seasons when they held their opening round opponents to 44 and 42 points, the Bruins could hold the Delta Devils to less than a point per minute.

Mississippi Valley should have been in the play-in game because they are the weakest team in the NCAA Tournament.  They will be lucky to hit one third of their shots in this game; they won’t get more than three or four offensive rebounds if that much.  They will turn the ball over five or more times than the Bruins, and they will give up more than 1.2 points per possession in this game.

UCLA can name the score in what is a virtual home game in Anaheim.  I expect Ben Howland to give every Bruin on the roster significant playing time in this game, so don’t expect a 60-point win.  The Bruins have their faults, but they won’t be damaging until at least the end of next week.

Prediction: UCLA by 34

#8 B Y U (27-7)

Scoring Margin: 11.0 

FG% Margin: 7.4

Rebound Margin: 4.8

TO Margin: -0.6

Steals: 5.9

R + T: 3.95

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5306

#9 Texas A&M (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 9.6  

FG% Margin: 7.3

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.5

Steals: 4.5

R + T: 5.48

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5561

This is the most competitive of the ultra-competitive #8-9 contests.  It is truly a 50-50 match.  Both teams are talented enough to give UCLA fits Saturday night, but the Thursday winner may have to extend themselves to get to that game.

Both teams are strong on the boards.  BYU is better offensively by a wide margin, while A&M is better defensively.  I think the game will be decided at the guard positions, and the Cougars have the better duo.

Prediction: B Y U by 6

#5 Drake (28-4)

Scoring Margin: 12.3 

FG% Margin: 1.9

Rebound Margin: 3.1

TO Margin: 4.0

Steals: 7.6

R + T: 10.40

PiRate: 14

SOS: .5436

#12 Western Kentucky (27-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.6  

FG% Margin: 5.1

Rebound Margin: 3.3

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 7.8

R + T: 10.41

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5123

If these two teams were playing two Big 10 opponents in the first round, someone like Purdue or Indiana, I might pick both of them to pull off upsets.  These two squads are both strong enough to make it to the Sweet 16.

Drake is not considered a mid-major since the Missouri Valley Conference is among the top eight leagues.  The Bulldogs hit a valley after they had already clinched the MVC regular season championship, but they recovered to whip their three conference tournament opponents by an average of 20 points per game.  Keno Davis is my choice for National Coach of the Year.  His team has been one of the best outside shooting squads in the NCAA this year, as the Bulldogs average more than nine made three-pointers per game.

Western Kentucky has a team similar in playing style to Tennessee.  They press and run the fast break.  For most of the season, it was the outstanding guard play of Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton, and Ty Rogers that carried the load for the Hilltoppers.  However, in the Sunbelt Conference Tournament, the emergence of forward Jeremy Evans gave Coach Darrin Horn a new weapon.

The criteria shows both of these teams to be worthy of going all the way to San Antonio.  Western’s schedule strength is a little suspect, while Drake’s is stronger by only three points.  That will eventually prove to be the Bulldog’s downfall.

Prediction: Drake by 3

#4 Connecticut (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.1 

FG% Margin: 7.9

Rebound Margin: 6.2

TO Margin: -1.4

Steals: 5.8

R + T: 4.25

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5681

#13 San Diego (21-13)

Scoring Margin: 2.2 

FG% Margin: 1.0

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: 0.3

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 2.29

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5283

This Connecticut team is missing one key proponent that will keep the Huskies from advancing to the Elite 8 this year.  Other than A.J. Price, they cannot pick up cheap baskets via the steal.  It leads to a negative turnover margin.  The Huskies will be okay due to exceptional rebounding until they run into a team that can hold their own on the boards.  Then, the three or four fewer possessions they would normally add thanks to having those steals will cause them to lose.  It could happen against Drake in round two, or it could happen against UCLA, Texas A&M, or BYU in the Sweet 16. 

San Diego is just happy to be here.  The Toreros enjoyed a big weekend last week with wins over St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.  That made their season.  They won’t compete with UConn for very long.  USD will not be able to take advantage of UConn’s deficiencies.

Prediction: Connecticut by 14

#6 Purdue (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 7.5 

FG% Margin: -1.1

Rebound Margin: -0.1

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 9.69

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5204

#11 Baylor (21-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.0  

FG% Margin: 2.7

Rebound Margin: 0.1

TO Margin: 1.7

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 3.12

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5569

This is a real toss-up game.  The two teams are not mirror images, but there isn’t much difference in them either.  Both teams live by the jump shot and die by the jump shot, but Purdue’s guards are better defensively than Baylor’s guards.  Neither team is particularly proficient inside the paint, and the winner will be going home Sunday because of it.

I’m going with the Boilermakers for two reasons.  First, they have an incredible +4.8 turnover margin, and I expect turnovers to play a huge part in this game.  Second, even though the Boilermakers ended the season on a stale note, the Bears were even worse down the stretch.  They lost to Colorado in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament to finish the season 5-8 in their final 13 games.  Purdue split their last six games after winning 11 in a row, including a sweep of Wisconsin.

Prediction: Purdue by 6

#3 Xavier (27-6)

Scoring Margin: 13.0 

FG% Margin: 7.4

Rebound Margin: 6.2

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 5.6

R + T: 5.93

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5720

#14 Georgia (17-16)

Scoring Margin: 1.1 

FG% Margin: 0.1

Rebound Margin: 4.1

TO Margin: -1.8

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 1.16

PiRate: -1

SOS: .5658

Can Georgia continue to shock the basketball world?  How can a team beat two NCAA-bound teams in the same day, and then turn around 16 hours later and beat a third NCAA-bound team?  Maybe North Carolina might be able to do it, but this is a team that won four conference games all year and then won four in a weekend.

The Bulldogs only have eight players, and their best player isn’t 100% healthy.  Now, they must face a top 10 team that has beaten the likes of Indiana and Kansas State and took Tennessee to the buzzer.  Xavier has the look of a Sweet 16 team; the Musketeers have no weakness.  Their TO margin is basically 0, and they don’t get many steals, but they make up for it with exceptional rebounding and the ability to make opponents miss. 

It would be a great story if the Cinderella Bulldogs could win a game in this tournament, but I don’t see it happening.  Still, 17-17 is a fantastic finish for a team that experienced more obstacles than the Donner Family.

Prediction: Xavier by 11

#7 West Virginia (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 11.9 

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.0

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 7.2

R + T: 10.29

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5616

#10 Arizona (19-14)

Scoring Margin: 5.4  

FG% Margin: 3.9

Rebound Margin: -1.5

TO Margin: 0.6

Steals: 5.6

R + T: -0.69

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .6006

Arizona has the second best strength of schedule in the Big Dance, but that isn’t enough to justify the Wildcats winning a game in the West Regional.  Arizona doesn’t rebound and doesn’t force turnovers, and their half court defense isn’t particularly strong.  It means a quick exit in the tournament and the end of the Kevin O’Neill era in Tucson.

West Virginia is a sleeper team in this tournament.  Unlike when John Beilein coached the Mountaineers and they were a perimeter-oriented team that lived and died by the three-pointer, this team coached by Bob Huggins can hold their own on the boards, prevent power teams from hurting them inside, and play both a power and finesse game.  I think WVU will win this one rather easily and then give Duke a great game on Saturday.

Prediction: West Virginia by 12

#2 Duke (27-5)

Scoring Margin: 14.8 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 0.5

TO Margin: 5.0

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 10.94

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5857

#15 Belmont (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6 

FG% Margin: -0.5

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: 1.8

Steals: 8.6

R + T: 5.52

PiRate: 0

SOS: .4816

In the past, Duke would win an opening round game like this by 30-40 points.  They still may do so Thursday night, but there is a chance they will only win this game by 20-25.  This Duke squad is more of a turnover-forcing fast break team and less of a pound it inside team.  Eventually, and possibly as early as Saturday, this will be their downfall.

Belmont is making their third consecutive trip to the Big Dance.  The first two times, they looked great…at least until the first TV timeout.  In 2006, they led eventual NCAA runner-up UCLA four minutes into the game.  Last year, they led eventual Final Four participant Georgetown almost to the second TV timeout.  Maybe this year, they will keep the game close halfway into the first half.

Prediction: Duke by 26

Filling Out The Bracket

Okay, so you can see from the previews which teams I am picking to advance to the round of 32.  How do the ratings apply from there, and can you use them to fill the bracket out to the end?  Sure you can.  I’ve been doing it for several years, and once or twice I picked the entire Final Four (they got there differently than how I picked, but they did get there).

In the second round, Here’s how I see the games (Look for complete previews of Round 2 Saturday morning).

North Carolina over Indiana

Notre Dame over Washington St. in a fantastic game

Louisville over St. Joe’s

Tennessee over Butler but harder than expected

Kansas over UNLV

Clemson over Vanderbilt

Wisconsin over Kansas State in a great battle

Georgetown over Davidson but it should be close and could be the big upset

Memphis over Mississippi State in a hard-fought game

Pittsburgh over Michigan State in a physical game

Marquette over Stanford in a mild surprise

Texas over St. Mary’s

UCLA over BYU

Connecticut over Drake in a close nail-biter

Xavier over Purdue

Duke over West Virginia in the game of the day

Sweet 16

North Carolina over Notre Dame

Tennessee over Louisville in an exciting game

Kansas over Clemson

Georgetown over Wisconsin in a 55-50-type game

Pittsburgh over Memphis in the surprise of this round

Texas over Marquette

UCLA over Connecticut

Duke over Xavier

Elite 8

North Carolina over Tennessee

Kansas over Georgetown

Texas over Pittsburgh

UCLA over Duke

Final 4

Kansas over North Carolina

UCLA over Texas

Championship

Kansas over UCLA

March 18, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 18, 2008 (1st Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 18, 2008 (1st Update)

Yesterday, I gave you my Bracketnomics 505 crash course, where I relayed what I thought were the most pertinent statistical criteria to look at when filling out your brackets.  If you have read that story and earned your M.S. in Bracketnomics, now is the time to work on your doctorate.  Let’s apply the criteria to this year’s Field of 65, and then use tonight’s play-in game between Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s as an example.

Here’s how I have been taking the criteria listed yesterday and applying numerical grades to it to come up with a list of contenders, dark horses, and pretenders. 

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

3&4. R+T (add to the individual 3 and 4 above)

My formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})]  Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

Completely eliminate from consideration all teams with a negative R+T

5. Schedule Strength

There are no point values assigned here.  Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiple it by 100.  For example, Davidson’s SOS is .5252 and North Carolina’s is .5921.  If they face each other, give the Tar Heels an extra 7 criteria points [(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7

If you want to compile all this information yourself, the best way is to go to all 65 official athletic websites of the teams in the Big Dance.  That’s where I found my statistical information.  Some of these stats are available in other places, but I have already found many to be riddled with mistakes or not up-to-date.  All 65 school sites are accurate and timely.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I will report on the criteria scores for the 64 remaining schools in the NCAA Tournament.  I will review the first round contests by applying the criteria.  There is one game tonight-the play-in match in Dayton between Mount St. Mary’s and Coppin State.  Let’s take a look at the game PiRate style.

Mount St. Mary’s 18-14

Point Differential: 2.6

FG% Differential: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -1.4

TO Margin:  0.7

Stls/G: 7.3

R+T: -0.17

Score: -2 & Eliminate From Consideration due to negative R+T

Schedule: .4924

Coppin State 16-20

Point Differential: -6.0

FG% Differential: -4.3

Rebound Margin: -4.4

TO Margin:  1.9

Stls/G: 7.2

R+T: -1.12

Score: -7 & Eliminate From Consideration due to negative R+T

Schedule: .4796

Schedule Points: Mount St. Mary’s +1.28

Neither of these two teams has any chance of advancing past Friday.  I don’t think either one could beat any of the #15 seeds this year.  Enjoy this game much like you would enjoy watching batting practice prior to a Major League game.  Mount St. Mary’s has a criteria score that is six points better, but both teams come under the guise of elimination based upon their negative R+T scores.  When this happens, we throw out the criteria scores.  So, we must pick our winner based on other variables. 

Coppin State was 4-19 and then went 12-1 to finish 16-20.  That 12-1 finish is eye-popping, even when it came within the MEAC.  Mount St. Mary’s won eight of their final nine, including three decisive wins in the NEC Tourney.  I’ll take The Mount to come through with a win by about nine points with a score around 71-62.

March 17, 2008

Bracketnomics 505–The Advanced Level Class In Bracket Filling

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 8:50 am

Bracketnomics 505–The Advanced Level Class In Bracket Filling

This is a graduate level class that will earn you a Masters in Bracketnomics.  So you want a scientific method to guide you as you fill out your brackets?  You say you want a system that will take out most of the human-bias, and allow you to pick your teams in a mechanical fashion.  Well, I’ve got one for you that has been back-tested just like a stock-picking formula. 

What I’ve done is to discover the vital information that has worked in the past.  I’ve been using this formula since the Internet has made statistics-gathering easy, and it has been back-tested as far back as the days when the NCAA Tournament field consisted of 23, 24, or 25 teams.

 This method will not pick every game correctly and make you an instant millionaire.  It is geared toward finding the tendencies that historically have mattered most in picking the teams with the best chances of advancing.  Not all teams will be a perfect fit in this formula; what this formula does is pick the teams that have the best chance of advancing. 

 How has the formula performed in recent years?  Well, in 2006, it tabbed George Mason as a team to watch.  The Patriots fit the criteria.  While I picked GMU to make it to the Sweet 16, I’m not about to admit I selected them for the Final Four.  It did select Florida and UCLA for the Final Four the last two years.  There have been a couple of seasons where the criteria didn’t apply successfully, but over the course of 40 seasons, it has performed well about 34 times.  Without further adieu, here is the PiRate Bracket-Picking System.

1. Scoring Margin

Look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams outscoring opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.

 This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores their opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics.  Going back 50 seasons, over 80% of the teams making the Final Four outscored their opponents by double digits, while the number outscoring opponents by eight points makes it a slam dunk.  In the days of the 64/65-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row.  This average gives equal weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each teams’ field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage, but in the Big Dance, they aren’t going to win four games much less two.  This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed.  In the current field makeup, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  Nowadays, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.

 3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance deep into the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that outrebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams don’t always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive putbacks are the teams that fire out to the lead in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were outrebounded, but over the course of four rounds, it is rare for one of these teams to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weak rebounding team a chance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margin is eqaul here.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, I count a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds. 

The criteria to look for here is a postive turnover margin if the team outrebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team outrebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not outrebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

Combining 3 & 4:  R+T margin is what I call this stat.  Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (Onbase % + Slugging %).  Here is my R+T stat: R + (.2S * {1.2T}), where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.  When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.

5. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

I’m sure up to this point you have been thinking that it is much easier for Davidson and Gonzaga to exhibit these statistics than Pittsburgh or Kentucky.  Of course that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that the top conferences get extra weight, while the bottom conferences get penalized.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at cbs.sportsline.com.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example if Team A has a SOS of .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points per game tougher than Team B.  Use this in head-to-head matchups for every game in  your bracket.

These are the five basic criteria I have used for the last dozen or so years.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that I don’t include.  Let’s look at some of these stats that I don’t rely upon.

Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

 While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others.  However, it can also mean two other things.  One, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation, or the type that get into the Dance.  Two, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive putbacks.  As I explained earlier, the offensive putback is about as important as any stat can be.  So, I only consider this stat if I have to decide on a toss-up after looking at the big five stats.

Free Throw Shooting 

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages. 

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75.  So, a team with one of the top FT% only scores nine more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That looks like a lot of points to make up, but consider that this is about the maximum possible difference.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that also have the top R+T ratings.  Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently got their by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path.  Consider this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine title in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged 66% during that stretch.

3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five in my opinion.  I consider made three-pointers one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time I give three-point shots any weight in my criteria is when I am looking at a toss-up game, and when I do look at this stat, I am looking for a team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win isn’t going to be around after the first weekend.

One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that got to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons and two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, that will be a harder one to defend and one that will be consistent.  It’s hard for all five players to slump at once.

I hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this week.  I will be previewing the first round games and applying this formula throughout the tournament.  I will preview the Play-in game Tuesday morning, and the rest of the first round some time Wednesday (it may be in the evening before I can get it posted).  

February 29, 2008

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Basketball Conference Races–February 29, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bracket Buster weekend has now come and gone, and it cleared up a little while creating some more questions.  Kent State and Davidson probably earned themselves at-large bids if they fail to garner automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments.  Drake was probably already guaranteed a spot, but they solidified it by winning against Butler.

Now we come down to the final games of regular season play.  Some conferences begin their tournament play as early as this Tuesday, March 4, so starting next week, this blog will begin to cover conference tournament play as well as finishing up the conference races for leagues that begin tournament play the following week.

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 (plus the team.  Obviously, every team, except those already eliminated in the Ivy League race and the Independents, can still get there if they win their conference tournament.

This week, if you count the number of likely bids, the minimum comes to 60 after being 67 just two weeks ago.  We all know that only 65 teams will be chosen on Selection Sunday, and there are always a small to moderate amount of upsets in the conference tournaments.  Therefore, as of now, no bubble teams should be considered safe.

Enjoy!  Before you know it Selection Sunday will be here-it’s just a little more than two weeks away.  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

Conf.

Overall

Maryland-Balt. Co.

13-2

21-7

Hartford

9-6

15-15

Albany

9-6

14-14

Boston U.

9-6

13-15

Vermont

8-7

14-14

Binghamton

8-7

13-15

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY
Binghamton at Stony Brook
SUNDAY
UMBC at Hartford
Boston U at Albany
Maine at Vermont

Maryland-Baltimore County has won the regular season title and will be the top-seed in the America East Tournament.  Hartford plays UMBC in the final game on Sunday.  The Hawks narrowly lost by one at UMBC and have to be considered a co-favorite in the tournament, even after losing at Boston last night.  Host Binghamton has not shown this year that their home floor has much advantage.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Likely Bids: 5, 6, or 7
Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Clemson
In Good Shape: Maryland
On the Bubble: Va. Tech, Wake Forest, Miami
Can Still Get There: Florida State
Tournament: March 13-16 @ Charlotte, NC
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
North Carolina 11-2 26-2
Duke 11-2 24-3
Clemson 8-5 20-7
Maryland 8-6 18-11
Virginia Tech 8-6 17-11
Miami-FL 6-7 19-8
Wake Forest 6-7 16-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
North Carolina at Boston College
Duke at North Carolina State
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
Virginia at Miami
SUNDAY
Clemson at Maryland

North Carolina and Duke both have the talent to make it to the Elite 8 if not the Final Four.  The Tar Heels are the top rebounding team in the nation, and rebounding strength is possibly the number one statistic that shows how well and how deep a team can go in the NCAA Tournament.

There is still a dogfight among four or five teams for the final two at-large spots, although Maryland might have earned one of those spots with a win at Wake Forest last night.  A win at home over Clemson Sunday puts the Terps in the Dance.

Virginia Tech can probably earn their way in with a home win against Wake Forest Tuesday night.  If Miami defeats Virginia Saturday and then takes care of business against Boston College next Wednesday (both at home), the Hurricanes will all but be a shoo-in.  A win at Florida State would be icing on the cake.  Speaking of Florida State, the Seminoles can only work their way into the discussion by winning at North Carolina Tuesday and at home against Miami next Saturday.

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 Conf. Overall
Belmont 13-2 21-8
Jacksonville 12-3 16-11
East Tennessee 10-5 17-12
Stetson 10-5 15-15
Gardner-Webb 9-6 15-14
Lipscomb 8-7 14-15
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Gardner-Webb at Belmont
Jacksonville at Stetson
East Tennessee at South Carolina Upstate
Campbell at Lipscomb

With Belmont’s win over Campbell last night, the Bruins clinched the top seed in the A-Sun Tournament.  Lipscomb hosts the tournament, and the Bisons are finishing the season on a huge upswing.  Unfortunately for the fans, it looks like they will be the #5-seed, so they would possibly face Belmont in the semifinals.  Two years ago, Belmont edged Lipscomb in overtime to earn their first NCAA Tournament, forcing Lipscomb to play in the NIT.  The Bisons would love to get revenge this year, but it wouldn’t be in the final game.

Jacksonville, East Tennessee, Stetson, and Gardner-Webb all have enough talent to win the league tournament.  All it takes is a hot shooting hand and smart play.

This should be an exciting conference tournament, but you have to favor Belmont winning their third consecutive tournament.

Atlantic 10
Likely Bids: 2 or 3
Locks: Xavier
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: St. Joe’s
Can Still Get There: U Mass.
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Atlantic City, NJ
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Xavier 12-1 24-4
St. Joseph’s 8-5 17-9
Richmond 8-5 15-11
Temple 8-5 15-12
LaSalle 8-5 14-13
U Mass. 7-6 18-9
St. Louis 7-7 16-12
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
George Washington at Xavier
U Mass at Richmond
St. Bonaventure at St. Louis
SUNDAY
Temple at St. Joseph’s

This race cleared up in the last week.  Xavier is already in the Big Dance.  If the Musketeers win the A-10 Tournament and St. Joe’s loses before the final round, this league may get just one team in.  However, I expect U Mass to win out to finish the regular season 10-6/21-9.  If the Minutemen then advance to the semifinal round of the tournament, they will be high on the bubble come Selection Sunday.  I would go ahead and count them in if they have 22 or more wins.

All other teams can only punch their dance card by earning the automatic bid.

Big East
Likely Bids: 7 or 8
Locks: G’town, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette
In Good Shape: Pittsburgh
On the Bubble: West Virginia
Can Still Get There Syracuse, Villanova, Seton Hall
Tournament: March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Georgetown 13-3 23-4
Louisville 13-3 23-6
Connecticut 11-4 22-6
Notre Dame 11-4 21-6
Marquette 11-5 21-6
West Virginia 9-6 20-8
Pittsburgh 8-7 20-8
Cincinnati 8-7 13-14
Villanova 7-8 17-10
Syracuse 7-8 17-11
Seton Hall 7-8 17-11
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Georgetown at Marquette
West Virginia at Connecticut
Pittsburgh at Syracuse
Seton Hall at St. John’s
SUNDAY
Villanova at Louisville
Notre Dame at DePaul
Providence at Cincinnati
MONDAY
Pittsburgh at West Virginia

From number one to number 11, the Big East is the best league in the NCAA.  Numbers 12 through 16 are rather weak.  In the Big East, only the top 12 teams qualify for the conference tournament, and it should be a hard-fought, aggressive get-together.  The top five teams are safe and will get invitations to the Field of 65 regardless of what happens from this point on.  At least two and possibly three more teams will get at-large bids.

Pitt has two tough road games this weekend; a win in either game will put them over the top.  West Virginia may need to beat Pitt to have any chance. 

Syracuse and Seton Hall are the two desperate teams.  The two play each other in New Jersey next Wednesday night with the loser being eliminated from the at-large discussion.  The winner will have to win at least one additional regular season game and get to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.  I think Jim Boeheim will get his Orangemen there.

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

Conf.

Overall
Portland St. 12-2 19-9
Northern Arizona 10-5 19-10
Weber St. 9-6 14-13
Montana 8-7 14-14
Idaho St. 8-7 11-17
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Portland State at Montana
Idaho State at Northern Arizona
MONDAY
Weber State at Sacramento State

This is definitely just a one-bid league, so the conference tournament champion will be the only NCAA Tourney team.  Portland State will be hosting the tournament, and the Vikings have not only won all seven conference home games to date, they have done so by an average score of 82-70.   Last night, they won at Montana State 96-68, so you have to consider the Vikings prohibitive favorites to win the automatic bid.

Montana and Weber State gave Portland State fits in Portland.  It will be interesting to see how PSU fares at Montana tomorrow.

You cannot overlook Northern Arizona.  If they can edge Idaho State in Flagstaff Saturday, the Lumberjacks will enter the tournament on a five-game winning streak, and Portland State might have to beat them a third time to win the automatic bid.

Big South
Likely Bids: 1
Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 4-6-8 1st rd. and finals at higher seeds, semi-finals at #1 seed
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Winthrop 10-3 19-10
UNC-Asheville 9-4 20-8
High Point 7-6 15-13
Coastal Carolina 6-7 14-13
VMI 6-7 14-13
Liberty 6-7 14-15
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
UNC-Asheville at Winthrop
High Point at VMI
Charleston Southern at Coastal Carolina
Radford at Liberty

It’s not like a win over Davidson would have moved Winthrop up into at-large consideration, but the loss may have lasting effects on the Eagles.  With UNC-Asheville coming to town Saturday, Winthrop better be ready to play.  This game will decide the conference championship; in the Big South, the champion can stay at home throughout the conference tournament.

VMI is in a three-way tie for fourth place, and a win over High Point could earn them the number three seed.  The Keydets are my dark horse team to get hot and compete for the tournament title.  They lead the nation in scoring and force a lot of turnovers with their full-court pressure.  In tournament situations, players on this type of team rarely come out tight and frequently pull off more than one upset.  Look for VMI to sneak into the Big South Final.

Big 10
Likely Bids: 4 or 5
Locks: Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan St.
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: Ohio State
Can Still Get There: Minnesota
Tournament: March 13-16 @ Indianapolis, IN
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Wisconsin 14-2 24-4
Indiana 13-2 24-4
Purdue 13-2 22-6
Michigan State 10-5 22-6
Ohio State 8-7 17-11
Minnesota 7-8 17-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Northwestern at Purdue
Ohio State at Minnesota
SUNDAY
Indiana at Michigan State

I’ve had to take one definite bid away from the Big 10 this week.  Ohio State has dropped three games in a row and five out of their last seven.  The Buckeyes are now back on the bubble.  If Minnesota beats OSU in Minneapolis tomorrow, the Gophers will move into a fifth place tie.

Wisconsin’s win over Michigan State last night in Madison puts the Badgers in the driver’s seat for the regular season title.  UW finishes with Penn State and Northwestern and should beat them both.  Indiana must play at Michigan State, where the Spartans are just 16-0 this year.  Purdue still has to play at Ohio State in what will more than likely be a must-win game for the Buckeyes.

I cannot see any of the bottom five teams posing a serious threat at the Big 10 Tournament.  On the other hand, the top four teams all have serious liabilities, so a Michigan, Illinois, or Penn State could pull off a quarterfinal upset.

Big 12
Likely Bids: 5 or 6
Locks: Kansas, Texas
In Good Shape: Texas A&M, Kansas State
On the Bubble: Oklahoma
Can Still Get There: Baylor, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma State
Tournament: March 13-16 @ Kansas City
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Texas 11-2 24-4
Kansas 10-3 25-3
Kansas St. 8-5 18-9
Texas A&M 7-6 21-7
Baylor 7-6 19-8
Nebraska 6-7 17-9
Oklahoma 6-7 18-10
Oklahoma State 6-7 15-12
Texas Tech 6-7 15-12
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Texas at Texas Tech
Kansas State at Kansas
Oklahoma at Texas A&M
Missouri at Baylor
Nebraska at Oklahoma State
MONDAY
Texas Tech at Kansas

                       

Texas ran the table in February with an 8-0 record.  If the Longhorns can ease past Texas Tech in Lubbock tomorrow, with remaining home games against Nebraska and Oklahoma State, the ‘Horns should enter Big 12 Tournament play with an 11-game winning streak.

There’s a big fight going on for the fifth spot.  While there could still be a sixth team invited, only five are definite.  Baylor has home games with Missouri and Texas A&M and a road game at Texas Tech left on their schedule.  A 2-1 finish would give them the fifth spot, but the Bears have lost six of nine games.  There’s no guarantee they will win two more games.

Nebraska and Oklahoma State are the two hot teams from among the middle of the pack.  They face off in Stillwater tomorrow, and the winner will have an excellent shot of replacing Baylor for the fifth spot should the Bears continue to slide.

Oklahoma is very much still in the race.  The Sooners must play at Oklahoma State Wednesday night.  If OU beats Texas A&M tomorrow and then adds a win over the Cowboys, then they could move to the upper third of the bubble. 

Big West
Likely Bids:

1

Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Anaheim, CA
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Cal St. Northridge 11-2 19-7
Cal St. Fullerton 10-4 18-8
UC-Santa Barbara 9-4 20-7
Pacific 9-5 19-9
UC-Irvine 7-6 13-14
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Cal State Northridge at UC-Irvine
Long Beach State at Cal State Fullerton
UC-Riverside at UC-Santa Barbara
Cal Poly at Pacific

I expect this to be one remarkable conference tournament.  Only one team will make it to the Dance, and there are four fairly good teams in the Big West.  If the top four make it to the semifinal round, the final three games will be well worth the price of admission.

Cal State Northridge probably wrapped up the first seed last night when they won at Fullerton.  The Matadors have excellent balance with five players averaging double figure points per game, and unlike many mid-major teams, they can hold their own on the boards against the big conference teams.

Colonial Athletic
Likely Bids: 1 or 2
Locks: None
In Good Shape: Virginia Commonwealth
On the Bubble: George Mason
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 7-10 @ Richmond Coliseum (VCU)
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Virginia Commonwealth 14-3 22-6
George Mason 12-5 20-9
UNC-Wilmington 11-6 18-12
William & Mary 10-7 14-14
Old Dominion 11-6 17-13
Delaware 9-8 13-15
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
V C U at William & Mary
George Mason at Northeastern
Old Dominion at UNC-Wilmington
Delaware at Towson State

In the past week, one team played their way into an at-large bid, one team played themselves into the NIT if they don’t win the conference tournament, and another team may have established themselves as the team to beat for the automatic bid.

Virginia Commonwealth won at Akron in the Bracket Buster, and the Rams have now won 19 of their last 22 games.  With an RPI rating in the mid-40’s, they stand an excellent shot of getting an at-large bid.

George Mason fell to Ohio in the Bracket Buster, and the Patriots needed a crucial road win.  Now, GMU must win the CAA Tournament to get in.

Old Dominion has won six consecutive games including a win at VCU.  The Monarchs close out the regular season tomorrow at UNC-Wilmington.  If they beat the Seahawks, ODU has to be considered the tournament co-favorite with VCU.  VCU hosts the tournament.

Conference USA
Likely Bids: 1 or 2
Locks: Memphis
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: Houston
Can Still Get There: UAB
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Memphis
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Memphis 13-0 27-1
Houston 10-3 21-6
UAB 10-3 20-8
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Memphis at Southern Miss.
Houston at East Carolina
Tulane at UAB

Memphis has been a lock for some time.  Houston and UAB have been slowly moving up in the RPI ratings and both are in the mix as March approaches.  Both teams are looking at 12-4 conference records, but it might take a 13-3 mark plus one or two wins to secure an at-large spot.

Should Memphis fall in the C-USA Tourney, it will hurt someone like Syracuse or Oklahoma.

Horizon
Likely Bids: 1 or 2
Locks: Butler
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: Wright St.
Tournament: March 4, 7, 10-11 Quarter & Semifinals at top seed & Finals at higher seed
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Butler 15-2 26-3
Wright St. 12-5 20-8
Cleveland St. 11-6 19-11
UW-Milwaukee 8-8 13-14

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY
Detroit at Butler
Wright St. at Valparaiso
Cleveland St. at Youngstown St.
Illinois-Chicago at UW-Milw.

Butler lost in the Bracket Buster, but the Bulldogs are still locks for the NCAA Tournament.  Wright State’s slim at-large hopes were dashed in Normal Sunday in a loss to Illinois State and stamped void when Butler beat them last night.

Cleveland State has pulled out of a nosedive that saw the Vikings drop five consecutive games.  CSU has now won five of six with the one loss coming at Butler by five points.  The Vikings are probably the only team capable of knocking off Butler in Indianapolis.

Ivy
Likely Bids:

1

Locks: None
In Good Shape: Cornell
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: None, bid goes to regular season champion
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Cornell 10-0 18-5
Brown 7-3 15-9
Columbia 6-4 13-12
Penn 5-4 10-16
Key Games This Weekend
FRIDAY
Dartmouth at Cornell
Princeton at Brown
Harvard at Columbia
Penn at Yale
SATURDAY
Harvard at Cornell
Penn at Brown
Dartmouth at Columbia

Cornell hasn’t won an Ivy League Championship in 20 years, but the Big Red will do so this weekend when they sweep Dartmouth and Harvard.  Cornell will be a tough first-round match as a #13 or #14 seed.  They can shoot the three, and they can punish an opponent if they get to the foul line, where they connect on almost 80%.

Metro Atlantic
Likely Bids:

1

Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 7-10 @ Albany, NY (Siena)
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Loyola (Md.) 12-5 18-12
Niagara 11-5 18-8
Rider 11-5 19-9
Siena 11-5 17-10
Fairfield 10-6 13-14
Marist 9-7 15-13
Key Games This Weekend
FRIDAY
Niagara at Siena
St. Peter’s at Rider
Manhattan at Fairfield
Iona at Marist
SUNDAY
Canisius at Niagara
Fairfield at Rider
Siena at St. Peter’s
Loyola at Marist

It won’t earn the league a second invitation, but you have to give the MAAC the award for best showing in the Bracket Buster.  Niagara won at Appy State, Rider won at Cal State Northridge, Siena won at Boise State, Loyola beat UC-Davis, and Fairfield won at Drexel.  There are no MAAC teams with RPIs in the top 80, so it’s a moot point.

The final weekend of the schedule favors Rider and Siena finishing in a first place tie with Niagara and Loyola finishing one game back.  Siena hosts the conference tournament, but the Saints have performed better on the road in the MAAC this year; they are only 4-3 in league play heading into their big game with Niagara tonight.

Mid-American
Likely Bids: 1 or 2
Locks: None
In Good Shape: Kent State
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: Ohio
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Cleveland
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
East
Kent State 11-2 23-5
Akron 9-4 19-8
Ohio U 8-5 18-9
Miami 7-6 13-13
West
Western Michigan 10-3 17-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Kent State at Bowling Green
Buffalo at Akron
Ohio U at Miami (O)
Western Michigan at Toledo

Kent State pulled off the Bracket Buster coup by knocking off St. Mary’s.  Now, the Golden Flashes are in excellent shape of garnering an at-large bid if they don’t win the conference tournament.

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 Conf. Overall
Morgan St. 12-2 18-9
Norfolk St. 10-3 14-12
Delaware St. 9-5 12-14
Hampton 8-5 15-11
North Carolina A&T 8-5 14-13
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Morgan State at Delaware St.
Norfolk State at Hampton
N.C. A&T at Howard
MONDAY
Norfolk State at Howard
N.C. A&T at Hampton

The schedule wasn’t kind to Norfolk State.  The Spartans finish the season with five straight road games, for which they have already lost the first two of those games.

That’s good news for Morgan State, as the Golden Bears are closing in on the conference championship.  Of course, that will only guarantee MSU an NIT bid if they fail to win the conference tournament, but that’s better than nothing.

When the league tournament tips off in Raleigh, I think there are at least eight teams with some shot at winning the thing.

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 Conf. Overall
Drake 14-3 24-4
Illinois St. 12-5 21-8
Southern Illinois 11-6 17-12
Creighton 9-8 19-9
Bradley 9-8 17-13
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Wichita State at Drake
Illinois State at Southern Illinois
Bradley at Creighton

Drake is the conference champion and is already assured of an NCAA Tournament bid, but I don’t believe the Bulldogs are the favorite to win the MVC Tournament.  I believe Southern Illinois will win the automatic bid and give the Valley two teams in the Dance.

SIU has won five games in a row by an average margin of victory of 13.2 points.  They thoroughly dismantled Nevada in the Bracket Buster, and they are the best team in the league right now.

Illinois State is on the edge of becoming at-large worthy.  Should the Redbirds pull off the upset of SIU in Carbondale, their RPI could very well move up enough to give them a 50-50 shot of getting an at-large bid.

Mountain West
Likely Bids: 2 or 3
Locks: BYU
In Good Shape: UNLV
On the Bubble: New Mexico
Can Still Get There: San Diego St.
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Las Vegas
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Brigham Young 11-2 22-6
UNLV 10-3 21-6
New Mexico 9-5 22-7
San Diego St. 8-6 18-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Air Force at BYU
TCU at UNLV
Colorado State at San Diego State

BYU finally had their winning streak snapped at San Diego State, but the Cougars bounced back and pulled off a big road win at New Mexico.  That was enough to move them up to “lock” status.

UNLV will secure a top spot on the bubble just by winning their two remaining home games.

New Mexico needed to defeat BYU to have even a remote at-large chance.  The Lobos can only get into the Field of 65 by earning an automatic bid.

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 Conf. Overall
Robert Morris 15-2 24-6
Wagner 14-3 21-7
Sacred Heart 13-4 16-12
Quinnipiac 11-6 15-13
Mt. St. Mary’s 10-7 14-14
Central Conn. St. 9-8 13-15
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Robert Morris at Long Island
Quinnipiac at Wagner
Monmouth at Mt. St. Mary’s
SUNDAY
Central Conn. St. at Sacred Heart

Robert Morris has now won 12 games in a row after knocking off Sacred Heart in Fairfield last night, getting some revenge.  As NEC Champions, the Colonials get to host the conference tournament, but they fell in Coraopolis to Sacred Heart.  Don’t expect a repeat performance if they meet again this year.

Wagner should get a call from the NIT if the Seahawks don’t win the league tourney.

Ohio Valley
Likely Bids:

1

Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 4, 7-8 1st rd at higher seeds, semifinals and finals at Nashville
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Austin Peay 15-4 20-10
Murray St. 12-7 16-12
Morehead St. 12-7 15-13
UT-Martin 11-8 16-14
Eastern Kentucky 10-9 14-14
Samford 10-9 14-14
Tennessee Tech 10-10 13-18
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Austin Peay at Morehead State
UT-Martin at Murray State
Tennessee State at Eastern Kentucky
Samford at E. Illinois

Austin Peay clinched the OVC regular season title last night by winning at Eastern Kentucky.  The Governors will now host an opening round OVC Tournament game against the number eight seed Tuesday night, as only eight of the 11 teams  make the OVC Tournament.  It looks like Tennessee State will be that number eight seed and make the 50-mile trip from Nashville to Clarksville.

  

Pac-10
Likely Bids: 6 or 7
Locks: UCLA, Stanford, Washington St.
In Good Shape: Southern Cal
On the Bubble: Arizona St., Arizona
Can Still Get There: Oregon, Cal, Washington
Tournament: March 12-15 @ Los Angeles Staples Center
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
U C L A 13-2 25-3
Stanford 12-3 23-4
Washington St. 10-6 22-6
Southern Cal 9-6 18-9
Arizona St. 7-8 17-10
Arizona 7-8 17-11
Oregon 6-9 15-12
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Washington State at Stanford
Southern Cal at Arizona State
Washington at Cal
SUNDAY
UCLA at Arizona
Oregon at Oregon State

UCLA and USC began their weekend trip through the Grand Canyon State last night with the Bruins destroying Arizona State and the Trojans surprising Arizona.  With Stanford taking care of business at home against Washington, the Cardinal stay just one game behind UCLA, while the Huskies are now just fighting for an NIT berth.

Oregon must win at Oregon State and then probably beat both of the Arizona schools in Eugene next weekend to get on the bubble.

Cal’s loss to Washington State last night ended any chance for the Bears to get an at-large bid. 

This is one league where the leaders have a great chance to advance to the championship game of the conference tournament.  Look for a UCLA-Stanford final at the Staples Center, unless USC gets hot.  The Trojans have the talent to win three games in three days.

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 Conf. Overall
American 9-4 17-11
Navy 9-4 16-12
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Lafayette at American
Navy at Colgate

                       

A Navy win at Colgate tomorrow gives the Midshipmen the top seed in the Patriot League Tournament.  With the top seed comes the privilege of having home court advantage throughout the tourney.  Navy finished the regular season with just a 4-3 home conference record, and one of those losses was at the hands of Colgate.

Waiting in the wings is American.  The Eagles fell twice to Navy, so they would be the second seed if they finish tied with the Middies.

There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between third and eighth place in this league, and it’s possible that all six could finish tied at 6-8.  In a league where all conference tournament games are played on the home court of the higher seed, the officials at Patriot League headquarters could be burning the midnight oil trying to determine the seedings.

Southeastern
Likely Bids: 5 or 6
Locks: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi St.
In Good Shape: Florida, Kentucky
On the Bubble: Arkansas
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 13-16 @ Atlanta
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
East
Tennessee 11-2 24-3
Kentucky 10-3 16-10
Vanderbilt 9-4 24-4
Florida 8-5 21-7
West
Mississippi St. 10-3 19-8
Arkansas 7-6 18-9
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Vanderbilt at Arkansas
Mississippi State at Florida
SUNDAY
Kentucky at Tennessee

The big news here is the story of the Volunteer State.  Tennessee handed Memphis their first loss and moved to number one in the nation only to lose three days later at Vanderbilt.  That win was the black and gold’s seventh in a row, and it moved the Commodores up to “Lock” status.

Mississippi State joined the Volunteers and Commodores as locks when the Bulldogs picked up their 10th conference win Wednesday night.  The Bulldogs have two tough road games at Florida and at Vandy before closing out at home against LSU.  Even at 11-5, the maroon and white should be safe as West Division Champions.

Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas still have some work to do.  The Wildcats have 10 conference wins, and that will probably get them into the Big Dance, as no SEC team has ever been left out with 10 conference wins.  If UK can upset the big orange in Knoxville Sunday, the blue mist will be atop the league standings once again.  If the Wildcats lose to UT, they still can get into the Dance with a win at South Carolina and a home finale victory over Florida.

The Gators are probably one win away from being safely in the Field of 65.  A win over Mississippi State tomorrow will do the trick, but if they lose that game, the defending national champs could be in a bit of trouble with closing road games at Tennessee and Kentucky.  At 8-8, Florida would have to win at least two games in the conference tournament to be in good shape.

Arkansas is the team of desperation.  At 7-6, they must win at least two of their final three regular season games and then win at least once in the conference tournament.  The Razorbacks host Vanderbilt tomorrow and couldn’t ask for a better time to play this game, just after the Commodores beat Tennessee.

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 Conf. Overall
North
Chattanooga 12-7 17-12
Appalachian St. 12-7 17-12
UNC-Greensboro 11-8 17-11
South
Davidson 19-0 22-6
Georgia Southern 13-6 20-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Chattanooga at Elon
Western Carolina at Appy State
Davidson at Georgia Southern
MONDAY
Western Carolina at UNCG

I’ve been waiting in anticipation the past few weeks for the Davidson-Georgia Southern match in Statesboro.  So has GSU, and they overlooked Charleston in a five-point loss last night.  If Davidson can beat the Eagles, then they will have earned an at-large bid to the Dance.  Of course, if the Wildcats can win this game, there really isn’t much hope that anybody can beat them in the conference tournament.

Southland
Likely Bids: 1 or 2
Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: Stephen F Austin
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 12-16 @ Katy, TX (Houston suburb)
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
East
Lamar 12-1 18-8
Northwestern St. 8-6 12-16
West
Stephen F. Austin 11-2 23-3
Sam Houston 8-5 20-6
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Lamar at McNeese State
Southeast La. At Northwestern State
UT-Arlington at SFA
Texas State at S. Houston

I’ve moved Stephen F. Austin up to the bubble and added a possibility of the Southland getting two teams.  The Lumberjacks have an RPI rating in the upper 40’s, and that’s good enough to be considered.  Of course, in order to keep the RPI that high, SFA needs to win out in the regular season.  One loss could burst the bubble.  Their final three games are very winnable.  Of note, SFA leads the nation in fewest points allowed.

Lamar is actually the Southland leader.  Their lone conference loss came by six points at SFA.  The Cardinals have won 11 games in a row, but their resume fails to include any decent out of conference victories.

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 Conf. Overall
Alabama St. 11-3 15-9
Jackson State 9-5 11-16
Miss. Valley St. 9-6 11-15
Arkansas Pine Bluff 8-7 12-14
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Alabama State at Texas Southern
Mississippi Valley St. at Jackson State
Ark.-Pine Bluff at Grambling
MONDAY
Alabama State at Prairie View
Ark.-Pine Bluff ay Jackson St.
Mississippi Valley at Grambling

Alabama State lost at home to 22-loss Alcorn State!  It’s ashamed that a team from this league is going to be one of the 65, when there is a much better Independent that will be staying home.  The NCAA should add a rule allowing the top Independent to replace a conference champion if the conference in question has a lower overall RPI rating than the Independents.  The SWAC is most definitely weaker than the Independents this year. 

And if a 20-loss team comes out of this league as the automatic qualifier, even the play-in game will be a joke, unless a second weak team sneaks in as well.  Imagine someone like UT-Martin playing Alcorn State or Prairie View in the play-in; it would be over by the first TV timeout.

Alabama State could do everybody a favor by winning out and dominating in the tournament in Birmingham.

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 Conf. Overall
Oral Roberts 16-1 21-7
IUPUI 14-3 23-6
Oakland 10-7 15-13
IP Ft. Wayne 9-8 12-16
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Oral Roberts at North Dakota State
Western Illinois at IUPUI
Oakland at Mo.-KC
IPFW at Southern Utah

ORU couldn’t finish off Creighton in the Bracket Buster, so now they are on the lower half of the bubble.  Chances are this league will receive just one bid even if someone beats the Golden Eagles in the conference tournament.

After stinking up the gym at Oakland, IUPUI recovered to handle IPFW and Chicago State on the road.  That gives the Jaguars 10 wins in their last 11 games.

Oakland is an improving team with an improving offense as the season comes down the stretch.  Until losing at Southern Utah last night, the Golden Grizzlies had won six of eight games. 

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 Conf. Overall
East
South Alabama 15-2 24-5
Western Kentucky 15-2 23-6
Middle Tennessee 10-7 13-14
West
Arkansas-Little Rock 10-7 18-10
Louisiana Lafayette 10-7 14-14
North Texas 9-8 18-10
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Western Kentucky at Fla. Atlantic
South Alabama at Fla. Int’l.
Troy at Middle Tennessee
North Texas at New Orleans
UALR at UL-Monroe
Denver at UL-Lafayette

South Alabama has an at-large bid in their grasp if they need it, but since the Jags host the Sunbelt Tournament, I don’t think they will need it.  As for Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers could win at FAU and then advance to the Sunbelt finals, losing to USA, and they would be left out of the Big Dance at 26-7. 

West Coast
Likely Bids: 2 or 3
Locks: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 7-10 @ San Diego
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
St. Mary’s 11-1 24-4
Gonzaga 11-1 22-6
San Diego 9-3 16-13
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
St. Mary’s at Gonzaga
Pepperdine at San Diego
MONDAY
St. Mary’s at Portland
Santa Clara at Gonzaga
Loyola Marymount at San Diego

The top two teams are already in the Big Dance, but even so, the Gonzaga-St. Mary’s game Saturday is the Game of the Week.  I expect Gonzaga to win at home, and that will give them the regular season WCC Title unless they lose at home to Santa Clara Monday.

If neither St. Mary’s nor Gonzaga win the WCC Tournament, this league will send three teams to the NCAA Tourney.

WAC
Likely Bids:

1

Locks: None
In Good Shape: None
On the Bubble: None
Can Still Get There: None
Tournament: March 11-15 @ Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico St.)
Current Leaders Conf. Overall
Boise State 11-3 21-7
Nevada 10-4 18-10
Utah State 9-4 20-9
New Mexico St. 9-4 16-13
Hawaii 7-6 11-15
Key Games This Weekend
SATURDAY
Boise State at Hawaii
New Mexico State at Fresno State
La. Tech at Nevada
MONDAY
Fresno State at Utah State

This has been a rather weak year in the WAC, and the league will only send the conference tournament champion to the Field of 65.  No team currently has an RPI rating higher than 80.

Until last night, New Mexico State was the hot team.  The Aggies had won five consecutive games until falling to Nevada in Reno.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.