The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 8, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 8 Update

 

The Four Newest Dance Invitees

Did you see those conference championship games last night?  Was this the Monday Night Fights or basketball?  There were more cut men and cut women than in your average boxing card.

 

When it is all or nothing for these smaller conferences, you get what we saw last night—teams playing like their lives were on the line.

 

Colonial Athletic Association

Old Dominion 70

Virginia Commonwealth 65

 

Old Dominion 27-6

 

The Monarchs are capable of making a semi-surprise run in the Big Dance.  They lead the nation in rebounding margin, and they can score points in the paint. 

 

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

St. Peter’s 62

Iona 57

 

St. Peter’s 20-13

 

The Peacocks beat Alabama earlier in the season, and their defense could keep them within striking defense in an opening round game, but we cannot see SPC advancing to the second round.

 

Southern Conference

Wofford 77

College of Charleston 67

 

Wofford 21-12

 

The Terriers finally beat the Cougars (we predicted this yesterday), and they will not roll over and play dead in the first round.  This team returns to the Dance for the second consecutive season, and they will not back down.  They may not advance, but they will not be in awe of their heavily favored first round opponent.

 

West Coast Conference

Gonzaga 75

Saint Mary’s 63

 

Gonzaga 24-9

 

This edition of Zags may not be the most talented in the Coach Mark Few era, but they are playing their best ball at the right time.  It will depend on their bracket, but this team has Sweet 16 potential.

 

Three More Invitations Go Out Tonight

By 11:15 PM Eastern Time tonight, we will know the names of three more NCAA Tournament participants.  Let’s break down these games.

 

Horizon League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN

Butler (22-9)  at  Milwaukee (19-12)

 

Butler defeated Cleveland State in the semifinal round Saturday evening, while Milwaukee topped Valparaiso.  During the regular season, Milwaukee swept the Bulldogs, winning 76-52 at home and 86-80 in overtime on the road.  The top-seeded Panthers host this game.

 

Both teams are red hot coming into this title match.  Milwaukee has gone 10-1 in their last 11 games, and the only loss was in the Bracketbuster to Buffalo.  Their defense is what got them here, as they shoot only 43% from the field and 65% at the foul line.

 

Three Panthers average double figures in scoring, led by Anthony Hill.  Hill averages just under 16 points per game, but he broke out with a 24-point, 11-rebound performance in the semifinal game against Valpo.  Kaylon Williams is the X-factor for Panthers.  He can score when needed, rebound with the big men, and run the offense.  He recorded a triple-double earlier in the season against Butler (10 points-10 rebounds-10 assists), and he added a double-double in the second win over the Bulldogs.

 

Butler missed Gordon Hayward even more than most experts predicted.  The Bulldogs played a tough pre-conference schedule and limped into February.  With their backs against the wall, they reeled off eight consecutive victories to get to the title game tonight.

 

Most basketball fans know Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack from last year’s team that made the surprise run to the National Championship Game.  The duo has teamed for 32 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this year.  However, it has been the emergence of 6-11 sophomore center Andrew Smith that has allowed Butler to turn things around and look like a force to be reckoned with once again.  Smith averaged 11 points per game over the second half of the season.  In the eight game winning streak, he has averaged 32 minutes per game and pulled down close to eight rebounds per game.  His 63% field goal percentage has forced defenses to stop him first, giving Howard and Mack more room to get open.  Smith was a non-factor in the two games against Milwaukee, and he is the key to tonight’s game.  If he plays 32 minutes and gets double figure points and eight rebounds, Butler will be cutting down the nets yet again.

 

Summit League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Oakland (24-9)  vs. Oral Roberts (19-14)

 

If you like high-scoring, fast-paced games, you will definitely clear your schedule to view this one.  Oakland is the second best offensive team in the nation, averaging 86 points per game (92 ppg in their last 10 games).  The Grizzlies connect on close to 50% of their field goal attempts, and they tend to hit spurts where they score 10 points in two minutes.  Oral Roberts averages 81 points per game and has no qualms running with Oakland.

 

Both teams are riding major winning streaks entering tonight’s title game.  Oakland has won 17 of their last 18 games, while the Golden Eagles have won 10 in a row.  In the regular season, Oakland won both high-scoring games, but both were nail-biters that went down to the wire. 

 

Oakland has a tall and short combination that has done a lot of the damage on opponents.  6-11 center Keith Benson is the best player in the league.  Benson averages 17.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.  He showed he can do it against the big schools, as he had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a close loss to Michigan State and 26 points and 10 rebounds in a big win at Tennessee. 

 

5-11 guard Reggie Hamilton is a threat to top 20 points any night.  He is quick and can get open without help from screens.

 

Oral Roberts has a star in its own right.  Dominique Morrison averages just under 20 points per game, and he doesn’t need to heave up 25 shots per game to get those points.  Morrison shoots 51.3% from the field, 40% from behind the three-point line, and 78.4% at the foul line.  He scored 56 points in the two games against Oakland.

 

This should be a great game, and we don’t believe Oakland is that much of a favorite.  ORU has been to the Big Dance four times in the last six years, while Oakland is the defending tournament champion.  We expect the winner to top 90 points in this game, and it is too close to call.  We say Oakland has about a 54% chance and Oral Roberts a 46% chance of winning.

 

Sunbelt Conference Championship @ 7PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Hot Springs, AR

 

North Texas (22-10)  vs. U A L R (18-16)

 

On paper this looks like a mismatch, even though the teams finished one game apart in the regular season.  North Texas finished fourth in the West with an 8-8 league mark, while Little Rock finished fifth at 7-9.

 

North Texas was one of the biggest underachievers this season.  The Mean Green returned four starters from their 2010 conference champion team and were expected to win again this year with the best backcourt and one of the best frontcourts in the league.  Instead, a 3-9 swoon in the middle of the season placed them out of contention for the West crown.  Since that awful slide, UNT has recovered with five consecutive victories.

 

6-5 senior guard Tristan Thompson has led the way for the Mean Green in the tournament, scoring 80 points in the first three games.  He has done a lot of the damage at the foul line, where he is 31-35 in Hot Springs, including an unbelievable 20-20 performance in the win over top-seed Florida Atlantic.  Thompson combines a quick move to the basket with a sweet shot from outside.  Beefy forward George Odufuwa averages 11 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and UALR has a tough matchup problem against him.

 

The Trojans dropped both regular season games to North Texas, mostly because they could not compete under the basket.  Their chance to win this game will come down to limiting possessions and trying to win 55-50.  They have won three games in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting foul shots, while using the clock and taking 30 seconds to shoot on most possessions.  UALR’s big star in this tournament has been senior guard Solomon Bozeman.  Like Thompson, Bozeman has gotten to the free throw line and made the most of his opportunities.  He has connected on 37 of 42 attempts including an eye-popping 19 of 22 against Middle Tennessee last night.

 

We expect a low-possession, low-scoring game.  There may be fewer than 100 field goal attempts tonight.  North Texas has been there before, while UALR has never won the Sunbelt Conference Tournament.  We think that trend will continue, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this game stays relatively close for the entire 40 minutes.  We could see North Texas winning 60-54.

 

The Other Tournaments In Action Today

 

Atlantic 10 Conference

First Round At Higher Seed Home Court

 

#9 Dayton (19-12) at #8 U Mass (15-14)  9PM ET on CBSC

#12 St. Joseph’s (9-21) at #5 George Washington (17-13)  7PM ET on CBSC

#10 LaSalle (14-17) at #7 St. Bonaventure (16-13)  5 PM ET on CBSC

#11 St. Louis (12-18) at #6 Rhode Island (18-12)  7 PM ET no TV

 

Big East Conference

Madison Square Garden in New York City

 

#16 Depaul (7-23) vs. #9 Georgetown (21-9) 12 Noon ET on ESPN2

#13 Rutgers (14-16) vs. #12 Seton Hall (13-17) Approx. 2:15 PM ET on ESPN2

#15 South Florida (9-22) vs. #10 Villanova (21-10) 7PM ET on ESPNU

#14 Providence (15-16) vs. #11 Marquette (18-13) Approx 9:15 ET on ESPNU

 

Big Sky Conference

Semifinal Round At Higher Seed Home Court

#3 Weber State (18-11) at #2 Montana (20-9)

#4 Northern Arizona (19-11) at #1 Northern Colorado (19-10)

 

Mid-American Conference

1st Round At Higher Seed Home Court  All Games At 7PM ET

 

#10 Northern Illinois (9-20) at #7 Bowling Green (13-18)

#11 Eastern Michigan (9-21) at #6 Akron (19-12)

#9 Central Michigan (10-20) at #8 Buffalo (17-12)

#12 Toledo (4-27) at #5 Ohio U (17-14)

 

Mideastern Athletic Conference

Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC

 

#9 South Carolina State (9-21) vs. #8 Delaware State (9-20)  9PM ET

#10 Maryland-Eastern Shore (8-21) vs. #7 Florida A&M (12-19)  6:30 PM ET

 

Note: One more 1st round game Wednesday plus two quarterfinal games

 

 

March 17, 2010

Brackets, Brackets, Brackets & A Preview Of The First Round

Question:  How many of you reading this are beginning to come down with some symptoms that will force you to call in sick for work the next two days?  Big Dance Fever seems to strike hard every year at this time.

Now that you are in your pajamas in bed with your TV set to CBS, your computer set to March Madness on Demand, and your brackets as your bed partner, you can begin your two day miraculous recovery.

Before you send off your bracket picks, take a look at the PiRate method for picking teams to advance.  You should re-read the Sunday, March 14, 2010 blog to better understand this method.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in.

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

ANSWER—Only two teams met this criteria this year, and neither are members of a big six conference.  Murray State not only met all criteria, they met the upper limits.  The Racers outscored opponents by 17 points per game.  They had a field goal percentage margin of 11.7%.  They outrebounded opponents by six per game and forced 2.7 more turnover per game than they committed.  Best of all, Murray averaged 10 steals per game.  Their R+T was an outstanding 12.48.  Alas, Murray’s schedule strength was just 46.02, and that is too low to consider the Racers a threat to make it to the Elite 8.  Sweet 16 is not totally out of the question.

The second team that met this criteria, but not as well as Murray State, was Brigham Young.  The Cougars outscored opponents by 17.8 points per game.  They shot 7.9% from the field better than their opponents.  They outrebounded the opposition by 5.1.  Their turnover margin was 4.1.  They averaged 8.5 steals per game, and their R+T was an amazing 13.46.  BYU’s schedule strength was 52.52, which is adequate enough to see the Cougars as a serious threat to advance to the second week in this tournament.

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?

ANSWER—Usually upwards of 8-10 teams can be eliminated every season due to poor R+T ratings.  In the Big Dance, this rating, which measures the number of extra scoring opportunities, is vital to winning.  Only two teams can be eliminated right off the bat, and not many people would think of picking them to win any way.  Those two teams are New Mexico State and UC-Santa Barbara.

Several teams just barely qualified with R+T ratings just above zero.  Two of those that just qualified are top 20 teams.  Georgetown and Vanderbilt could be ripe for upset bids in either the first or second round. 

The Hoyas face Ohio U in the first round, and the Bobcats don’t have the merits to pull the upset.  In a second round match, Tennessee definitely meets the criteria to advance to the Sweet 16, so the Volunteers could be a strong pick to knock off Georgetown and advance to St. Louis.

Vanderbilt draws Murray State in the first round, and the Racers could easily pull off the first upset by a double-digit seed.  Murray would then face either Butler or UTEP in a second round game, and the Racers would have a legitimate chance to advance to the second week.

3. Forget all this talk of first round upsets.  Which teams are capable of winning it all?

ANSWER—We thought you’d never ask.  Every year when we compose these ratings, we apply the PiRate formula and look for teams scoring 15 or above to find the real contenders.  Because we have added won-loss record away from home this year, we have elevated that real contender number to 18.  17 teams met that criteria this year.  Before we list them in order, we must clarify something.  After the first two rounds, and after the second two rounds, we recalculate these ratings.  Some teams still alive will cease to meet the minimum score and no longer be considered a serious threat, while one or two teams might move into this elite group.

This year, one team fared much better than all the others.  Thus, that team becomes our favorite to win all the marbles in Indianapolis.

Is that team Kansas or Kentucky?  Guess what?  It is neither.  The one team that scores almost six points better than any other is none other than Duke.  Could Coach K be on his way to title number three in Durham?  We love his seeding, and we definitely see the Blue Devils winning their first four to earn a ticket to Indianapolis.  As a matter of fact, as we see it, the selection committee did several huge favors for the Blue Devils.  First, they get the winner of the play-in game, so they will have a great scouting report.  Of course, this game will be a breather.  On Sunday, Duke will play either Cal or Louisville, and it could actually be the toughest of their four games on the way to the Final Four.  Because Villanova and Purdue are fading as fast as the sun in Barrow, Alaska, in October, there’s a chance that both could be gone before the Sweet 16.

After Duke, six other teams scored 20 or more points in the criteria rating.  They are Kansas, Kansas State, BYU, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Baylor in that order.

Kentucky comes in at number eight, followed closely by New Mexico, Villanova, Michigan State, Maryland, Texas, Tennessee, Old Dominion, Murray State, and Georgetown.  Yes, the Hoyas still qualify as one of the real contenders, but just by a razor’s edge.  Their R+T score is rather low.

The best of the rest (those that just barely missed the 18-point score) are: Siena, Utah State, Washington, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  These 22 teams are the ones that you should consider for your Sweet 16.

Here is a look at the 32 first round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

First-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Kentucky (19.8) vs. #16 East Tennessee (1.6)

This is your typical one vs. 16 mismatch.  Kentucky will not win by 50 like they might have in the days of Rick Pitino; they might outscore the Buccaneers by 20 points in two separate segments in this game and yet win by only 20 points.

The Wildcats will dominate the glass, and ETSU won’t be able to force enough turnovers to make this a game.  We see UK holding the Bucs to about 35% shooting and 60 or fewer points.

Prediction: Kentucky 74  East Tennessee 53

 

#8 Texas (19.0) vs. #9 Wake Forest (4.9)

The Longhorns were a big disappointment after being ranked at the top at 17-0 earlier in the year.  Looking at their stats, it’s definitely hard to see how they lost nine times in their final 16 games.

Texas just barely misses qualifying as superior in every PiRate Bracketnomics’ category.  They outscored opponents by 11.5 points per game, shot 6.7% from the field better than their opponents, finished +6.8 in rebounding and +1.1 in turnover margin, and they averaged 7.8 steals per game.  They compiled these stats playing in one of the two toughest leagues.

Wake Forest lost five of their final six games and fell several places in their seeding.  The Demon Deacons have a negative turnover margin, which is always a tough thing to overcome in the Big Dance.

This game should be interesting due to the fact that neither team is playing as well as they could.  We think Texas will play a little more cohesively in the opening round and survive and advance. 

Prediction: Texas 77  Wake Forest 72

 

#5 Temple (14.5) vs. #12 Cornell (10.2)

A lot of prognosticators are going with Cornell to become yet another 12-seed upset winner and even advance to the Sweet 16, becoming the first Ivy League team to make it that far since Penn lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 in 1980.

The Big Red earned the respect of the nation when they played at Kansas and lost by just five points.

This was Temple’s best team in years—maybe the best since 1988.  The Owls, as they have for decades, play tough defense on the perimeter, denying the ball from being passed inside and getting tight on three-point shooters.  They don’t force many turnovers, but they commit less than 11 per game. 

Cornell coach Steve Donahue was an assistant to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, so these coaches know what to expect in this game.  We’re going with this five-seed to avoid the upset.

Prediction: Temple 68  Cornell 60

 

#4 Wisconsin (16.1) vs. #13 Wofford (5.3)

The Badgers cannot take the Terriers lightly.  Wofford is another 13-seed team capable of pulling off an upset.  Expect 40 minutes of half-court offense with less than 130 total points scored.

Both teams tend to rely on one player to bear the scoring burden.  For Wisconsin, guard Trevon Hughes is the go-to guy.  For Wofford, forward Noah Dahlman is the key offensive threat.

It will be easier for Wisconsin to shut down Dahlman than Wofford to shut down Hughes, and Hughes has a little better quartet of teammates. 

Prediction: Wisconsin 63  Wofford 56

 

#6 Marquette (12.2) vs. #11 Washington (16.9)

This will be one game you will want to tune in if you have March Madness on Demand.  We think it will be very entertaining.

Marquette will move the ball around the perimeter and take a lot of threes.  If they hit 35% or better, they will be tough to beat.  However, the Golden Eagles are weak on the boards, and if those treys don’t fall, they cannot win.

Washington is not getting much respect coming out of the weak Pac-10.  The Huskies won their final seven games including the league tournament to earn an automatic berth here.  They can score points in bunches, and even though they are on the small side, they are the best rebounding team in the Pac-10.  That happens to be Marquette’s weakness.  That happens to be why UW will still be playing Sunday.

Prediction: Washington 82  Marquette 75

 

#3 New Mexico (19.6) vs. #14 Montana (3.2)

At first glance, this looks like another blowout that you see when a number three takes on a number 14.  However, Montana is not to be disregarded without a fight.  The Grizzlies found themselves down by more than 20 points to Weber State in the Big Sky Championship Game and came back to win.

Montana plays tough defense and works patiently for intelligent shots.  This style of play may be a bit boring, but it can be quite effective if the players stay within the frame of the philosophy.

New Mexico wins games through tough hustle.  The Lobos are tough on the boards, and they seldom turn the ball over more than a dozen times per game.  They can pose tough matchup problems for a lot of teams, because they can post up their guards and bring their forwards out high to shoot the three.  We’ll go with the Lobos to win, but it may be a lot more difficult than most people expect.

Prediction: New Mexico 72  Montana 63

 

#7 Clemson (12.3) vs. #10 Missouri (14.7)

This will be a helter-skelter game from start to finish.  These teams are both reliant upon forcing turnovers and converting them into fast break points.  We expect a lot of physical play with the referees letting a lot of contact go.

Missouri relies a little too much on its outside game, while Clemson has some inside presence.  In the Big Dance, the teams that can get offensive putbacks are usually the teams that survive and advance.  We don’t think Missouri will have an answer for Clemson forward Trevor Booker.

Prediction: Clemson 77  Missouri 72

 

#2 West Virginia (23.5) vs. #15 Morgan State (-0.2)

Morgan State has been here before.  The Bears lost to Oklahoma in the first round last year.  Coach Todd Bozeman likes for his team to move the ball up the floor quickly and bang it inside.  That might work in the MEAC, but this is not the MEAC.

West Virginia looks a little sloppy at times, and the Mountaineers don’t shoot the ball all too well, but they play tough defense and dominate on the boards.  WVU enters this tournament with a chip on its shoulder after flopping in the first round against Dayton last year.  Coach Bob Huggins’ squad has played in several nail-biters this year, and they should be ready to play.

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Morgan State 52

 

South Regional

#1 Duke (34.4) vs. #16 Arkansas Pine Bluff (-11.5)

Well, we blew the play-in game, but luckily that’s a Mulligan in bracket picking.

Duke will get a breather game in their opener.  The Blue Devils will apply pressure man-to-man defense and force the Golden Lions to commit numerous turnovers.  Duke’s big guys will repeatedly get offensive rebounds when the Blue Devils miss shots, and those players will clean the defensive glass as well.

UAPB should be fortunate that they won the play-in game.  They will give up more points in the first half of this game than they did in the entire game Tuesday night.

Prediction: Duke 87 Arkansas Pine Bluff 59

 

#8 California (11.4) vs. #9 Louisville (9.5)

Louisville beat Syracuse twice this year, but the Cardinals are not nearly as good this year as they were last year.   This UL team lacks the little something extra to advance very far in this tournament.

Cal won their first outright Pac-10 regular season title since Darrall Imhoff led the Bears to the National Championship Game against Ohio State in the 1959-60 season.  This edition of Bears is the polar opposite to that earlier version.  Cal is strictly a perimeter-oriented team that must shoot the ball well in order to win.

This one is a true tossup game.  It will be a contest of better offense vs. better defense.  Cal has to travel almost 3,200 miles, and the long trip could be their undoing.

Prediction: Louisville 72  California 68

 

#5 Texas A&M (12.7) vs. #12 Utah State (17.3)

This is one of those 5-12 games where the PiRate system shows the underdog to be the better team.  Utah State would be the outright favorite in this game if they played a little better defensively, especially on the perimeter.

Texas A&M played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and the Aggies showed they could go head-to-head with them.  Their defense is tough, and the Aggies from Texas should hold the Aggies from Utah well below their scoring and shooting averages.  A&M doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, and this should be a close game.  We’ll go against the PiRate chalk and take the Big 12 team.

Prediction: Texas A&M 70  Utah State 66

 

#4 Purdue (15.4) vs. #13 Siena (17.8)

This year, we like the 13-seeds better than the 12-seeds as upset possibilities.  Purdue would probably have been a 10-seed or even missed the tournament altogether had Robbie Hummel been injured all season.  Without Hummel, the Boilermakers are not much better than your average NIT team.

Siena defeated Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament and Ohio State in the first round last year.  The Saints may be a little better this year thanks to a balanced team.  Siena has four starters that can score 20 points on any given night.  They have an inside presence with Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter combining for more than 19 rebounds per game.  Throw in a +3 turnover margin, and the Saints get seven more scoring opportunities per game than their opposition. 

We will call the upset in this game, but we give a warning.  Star players have missed NCAA Tournament games in the past, and those starless teams found a way to win.  Loyola Marymount won three games in the Big Dance after Hank Gathers died.  Going back several years to 1965, Wichita State made it to the Final Four after losing their top two players to eligibility.

Prediction: Siena 70  Purdue 65

 

#6 Notre Dame (6.5) vs. #11 Old Dominion (18.8)

This should be an entertaining game with a lot of inside action.  Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody missed multiple games due to injury in February, and the Irish defense stepped up and did the job.  With the big forward back, the Irish are playing their best ball of the season.  While they finished the season winning just eight of their final 13 games, those five losses came by a combined nine points.

Old Dominion is one of those teams like Butler and St. Mary’s that big-six conference teams don’t want to play.  The Monarchs dominate on the boards and seldom give up a high-percentage shot. 

We look for this one to stay close throughout, and the difference could be which team has the better outside shooting day.  If one team has a decent enough outside shooting day to force defenses to stretch, their inside game will become too strong to lose.

While ODU has much better total numbers, we think Notre Dame will get the job done.

Prediction: Notre Dame 71  Old Dominion 66

 

#3 Baylor (21.39) vs. #14 Sam Houston St. (10.33)

Watch out for Baylor!  The Bears rate in that elite group of teams capable of getting to Indianapolis.  In the Bracketnomics Class blog, we mentioned that you needed to be alert for a team that shoots 48% from the field and allows only 38%.  Baylor is one of two teams that meet this criteria.

The Bears also dominate on the glass, and if it weren’t for a negative turnover margin, we would pick them as a Final Four team.  Some future opponent will exploit this liability and defeat them, but it won’t be Sam Houston.

The Bearkats are an interesting and fun team to watch play.  They begin firing threes the moment they enter the gym.  It won’t get the job done in this game.

Prediction: Baylor 81  Sam Houston 67

 

#7 Richmond (10.0) vs. #10 St. Mary’s (10.1)

This game could come down to pace.  If Richmond presses the tempo and makes this a maximum possession game, the Spiders will have a decided advantage.  Richmond needs to speed the game up to force St. Mary’s into unforced errors.

Seldom in the opening round of the tournament do we ever see a team consciously trying to speed up the game.  Nerves and uncertainty usually slow these games down until midway through the second half.

St. Mary’s will win this game if the total number of field goal attempts is 115 or less.  If the pace is average to below average, their seven-man rotation will be able to avoid fatigue.  Center Omar Samhan can control the lane in this game and give the Gaels a strong advantage inside.

Prediction: St. Mary’s 73  Richmond 67

 

#2 Villanova (19.5) vs. #15 Robert Morris(-2.9)

This game should be a mismatch, but it could take some time before the Wildcats pull away.  VU finished the regular season on a 4-6 slide, but the Wildcats lost five of those games to NCAA Tournament teams from their conference.

Once this game begins, we look for the Colonials to keep it within striking distance for a couple of time outs before Villanova slowly pulls away.

Prediction: Villanova 78  Robert Morris 63

 

Midwest Regional

 

#1 Kansas (28.7) vs. #16 Lehigh (0.22)

If there is a chance that one team will top 100 points in the first round without going into multiple overtimes, this game is the one.  Kansas will begin its march to the Final Four with a tune-up game. 

Lehigh will take 25 or more three-pointers in this game, but we believe the Jayhawk defense will force many bad shots from the outside.  KU will then score 1.3-1.5 points per possession.  We’re sorry if you get stuck with this game and cannot get another.

Prediction: Kansas 94  Lehigh 61

 

#8 UNLV (11.7) vs. #9 Northern Iowa (11.7)

How about this for tossup game status?  Not only is this an eight-nine game, their criteria scores are equal.

This game comes down to how well the Panthers can stop the Runnin’ Rebels outside shooting game.  We think UNI will be able to hold the UNLV backcourt of Tre’Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, and reserve Kendall Wallace under their norms.  At the same time, look for UNI brute center Jordan Eglseder and forward Adam Koch to dominate on the inside.  Combine that with a defense that fits the opponents’ offense like a glove, and we see the Missouri Valley team advancing.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 58  UNLV 53

 

#5 Michigan State (19.5) vs. #12 New Mexico St. (3.4)

We cannot see a 12-seed upset in this game.  The Aggies have a negative R+T rating, which means they typically allow more scoring opportunities than they create.  Against a seasoned NCAA Tournament team, one coming off a visit to the national title game, that won’t be the winning recipe.

Michigan State will win the rebounding battle by 10 or more in this game.  If the Spartans don’t turn the ball over 18 or more times, they will be comfortably ahead by the first TV timeout of the second half.

Guard Chris Allen is expected to return to action after serving a one-game suspension for arguing with the coaching staff.

Prediction: Michigan State 75  New Mexico State 62

 

#4 Maryland (19.5) vs. #13 Houston (1.9)

Houston got hot and won the CUSA tournament after being picked to contend for the conference championship and finishing in the middle of the pack.  The Cougars cannot rebound.  While Maryland is only so-so on the boards, the Terps will win this battle by at least five caroms.

Houston relies on putting pressure on the ball and trying to play in the passing lanes to get steals and force turnovers.  Maryland takes care of the ball and can exploit this type of defense.

Throw in the fact that the Terps play tough defense, and this one looks like a huge mismatch.  Maryland comes mighty close to qualifying for the special field goal percentage criteria.  They connect on 47.2% of their shots and hold opponents to 38.8%.

Prediction: Maryland 83  Houston 70

 

#6 Tennessee (18.9) vs. #11 San Diego State (15.6)

This has the makings of a good game between similar styles.  Tennessee likes to force turnovers and run the break for quick baskets.  In the half-court offense, they try to work the ball inside.  The Volunteers aren’t the best outside shooting team.

San Diego State plays like your typical Steve Fisher-coached team.  The Aztecs have a dominating inside game and hold a +6.7 rebounding edge over their opposition.  The Aztecs aren’t great three-point shooters either, but inside the arc, they shoot almost 55%.

Tennessee is mad at being lowered to a number six seed in a year where they knocked off Kansas and Kentucky, but the Vols went only 10-7 away from home.  They are primed to make a run to the Sweet 16 if the team has enough gas in the tank.

Prediction: Tennessee 72  San Diego State 65

 

#3 Georgetown (18.0) vs. #14 Ohio U (0.7)

This game is a mismatch similar to your typical 1-seed vs. 16-seed game.  Ohio should have been a lower seed.  The Bobcats finished below .500 in a weak MAC this year, and they have no chance against the Hoyas.

Georgetown is not as complete this year as in past seasons.  They are a definite upset possibility, but it won’t happen in this round.  The key to the Hoyas advancing to the Sweet 16 will be how much the regulars can rest in this one. 

Prediction: Georgetown 72  Ohio 59

 

#7 Oklahoma State (6.2) vs. #10 Georgia Tech (9.5)

A very strong Big 12 allowed the Cowboys to move up to a seven-seed, when their performance looks more like a 10-seed.  Georgia Tech belongs as a 10-seed, so this game should be close and exciting.

OSU is a hot and cold team that won’t be around next week.  They either hit from behind the arc or get beat. 

Georgia Tech isn’t a world-beater, but the Yellow Jackets play somewhat consistently.  They will control the boards in this game, but they are turnover prone.  OSU’s shot at winning hinges on how many times they can force Tech into floor mistakes.  We think they will come up a bit short, but this game should be 40 minutes of entertaining ball.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 72  Oklahoma State 68

 

#2 Ohio State (16.8) vs. #15 UCSB (-4.5)

The Buckeyes won 16 of their final 18 games including the regular season and tournament championship in the Big Ten.  Evan Turner is a mini-Magic Johnson.  He can do it all, and he deserves serious consideration for national player of the year.  He isn’t a one-man team, but the Buckeyes’ only liability is a lack of depth.  They go only seven deep, and the two key reserves don’t contribute all that much.

UCSB is one of the two teams that must be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating.  Their stay in the Dance will last just one number, and they will feel like their rival cut in on them in the middle of the song.

Prediction: Ohio State 76  UCSB 54

 

West Regional

 

#1 Syracuse (23.6) vs. #16 Vermont (-3.8)

The ‘Cuse is primed for another run to the Final Four.  Except for a lack of depth, this team would be even with Duke and Kansas.  It won’t bother them in the first two rounds, as the Orange won’t be extended by pressure defense.

This is not the Vermont team of 2005 that actually won an opening round game.  This version of Catamounts is just happy to be here, and they will put up no fuss and wave bye-bye after 40 minutes of tournament action.

We expect Vermont to keep it close for maybe 8-12 minutes before Syracuse goes on a big run and puts this one away before the intermission.

Prediction: Syracuse 90  Vermont 64

 

#8 Gonzaga (13.4) vs. #9 Florida State (14.4)

We don’t believe this will be Gonzaga’s year to advance to the Sweet 16.  The Bulldogs don’t dominate on the glass and pick up nothing in turnover margin. 

This Florida State team reminds us a lot of the Seminole teams of Hugh Durham.  They play aggressive man-to-man defense and work the ball for intelligent shots. 

Gonzaga needs a good shooting effort every time in order to win, and the Seminoles hold opponents to just 37.4% from the field. 

Prediction: Florida State 67  Gonzaga 63

 

#5 Butler (14.2) vs. #12 UTEP (15.8)

This is a game that all five of us here would like to attend.  We think it will be the best of the 5-12 games, and it won’t be an upset if UTEP wins.  These teams are fairly even, and both are talented enough to advance to the second week.

If the question were, “which game has the best chance of going to overtime?” this game would receive strong consideration. 

We will go with the Miners to win a great game and become the favorite in the next round in a possible second classic matchup against another double-digit seed.  This is the 12-seed that has the best chance of pulling off the “upset.”  We don’t call a 50-50 game an upset.

Prediction: UTEP 79  Butler 77 in overtime

 

#4 Vanderbilt (11.2) vs. #13 Murray State (18.0)

Murray State rates as one of four teams not from a big six conference that we believe has the talent to make it to the Sweet 16.  The Racers are actually the most complete team in the tournament and best fit the criteria to go to the Final Four, but their schedule strength lowers their criteria out of that rarified air.

Murray outscores their opponents by 17 points per game.  They shoot better than 50% from the field, and they allow only 38.6% shooting on defense.  They control the boards with a +6.0 margin, and they force more than 17 turnovers per game with 10 steals per game.

Vanderbilt was a fatigued team down the stretch, closing 8-5 after opening 16-3.  In that last 13 games, they outscored their opponents by just two per game.  The Commodores just barely avoid being eliminated from consideration with an R+T of 0.6.  They outrebound their opponents by 0.7 per game and have a slightly negative turnover margin.  They rely too much on free throw shooting, and fouls are not called as frequently in the Big Dance.

We look for this to be a great game, but we’re going with another #13 seed to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Murray State 75  Vanderbilt 69

 

#6 Xavier (15.1) vs. #11 Minnesota (10.4)

Morgan State, Butler, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue are a good list of teams in the Big Dance.  Minnesota owns wins over these seven Samurais.  Xavier doesn’t have a showcase win this year, and the Musketeers are not as tough as they have been in recent seasons.

Tubby Smith’s teams always play well in the Big Dance, while this is the first go around for Xavier coach Chris Mack.  In yet another mild upset, we believe Minnesota will advance to the second round.

Prediction: Minnesota 69  Xavier 66

 

#3 Pittsburgh (8.7) vs. #14 Oakland (4.3)

For those of you who believe the Selection Committee tries to put certain teams together, you might not see the irony in the pairing of these two teams.  First, Oakland is not from California.  The Golden Grizzlies are from Rochester, Michigan.  Pittsburgh is located in the Oakland suburb of the Steel City.  So, when we say the team from Oakland will win the game, we aren’t talking about the Golden State Warriors, and we’re not talking about the team with the word “Oakland” on their jerseys.

This is not the year for the Panthers.  Their numbers aren’t all that good, and they will not advance to the Elite 8 this year.  However, they will cruise in the opening round after maybe facing a struggle through the first couple of TV timeouts.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 67  Oakland 58

 

#7 BYU (24.5) vs. #10 Florida (10.5)

Many prognosticators are calling for the Gators to pull the small upset in the opening round, but we cannot see it happening.

BYU ranks along with Murray State as having the most complete criteria components in the tournament.  The Cougars outscore their opposition by nearly 18 per game.  They do tend to rely on a lot of foul shooting and three-point shots, but BYU also gets a lot of easy baskets via the fast break and secondary offense.  Their R+T rating is a whopping 13.5, as they own a +5.1 rebounding margin, +4.1 turnover margin, and pick off 8.5 passes per game.  Since they have a shooting percentage of 48.6%, they will score a lot of points.

Florida returns to the Big Dance for the first time since they won their second consecutive national title in 2007.  This team is lacking what those two champions had—a dominating inside game.  Center Vernon Macklin is capable of putting up decent numbers, but the Gators rely on perimeter players Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton to get the job done.  Walker is just 5-8, and he will have a tough time against the tall and lanky BYU guards.

Look for Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery to outduel the Florida guards, and the Cougars will prevail in a fast-paced game.

Prediction: BYU 85  Florida 77

 

#2 Kansas State (25.9) vs. #15 North Texas (-3.22)

After Duke, Kansas State may have drawn the best possible bracket.  The Wildcats have the talent to win this regional and possibly set up a fourth game with their in-state rival in the National Semifinal. 

This will be a fun team to watch.  Kansas State coach Frank Martin is a combination of Al McGuire and Bobby Knight with a little Bob Huggins thrown in.  He’s the coach most likely to implode or spontaneous combust during a game.  His antics are working this year, and his players respond by playing like their life is on the line.

North Texas will get killed on the boards in this game, and they don’t have a ball-hawking defense to even it out with a great turnover margin.  Unlike conference rival Western Kentucky, the Mean Green will not carry on the Sunbelt Conference’s recent success in the tourney.

Prediction: Kansas State 82  North Texas 65

 

Our Bracket

 

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

Second Round Winners

 

Kentucky over Texas in a close game

Wisconsin over Temple

New Mexico over Washington

West Virginia over Clemson

Duke over Louisville

Texas A&M over Siena

Baylor over Notre Dame

Villanova over St. Mary’s

Kansas over Northern Iowa

Michigan State over Maryland in a great game

Tennessee over Georgetown

Ohio State over Georgia Tech

Syracuse over Florida State

UTEP over Murray State

Minnesota over Pittsburgh

Kansas State over BYU in a thriller

Sweet 16 Winners

Kentucky over Wisconsin

West Virginia over New Mexico

Duke over Texas A&M

Baylor over Villanova

Kansas over Michigan State but a fantastic upset bid

Ohio State over Tennessee

Syracuse over UTEP

Kansas State over Minnesota

Elite 8 Winners

West Virginia over Kentucky

Duke over Baylor

Kansas over Ohio State

Kansas State over Syracuse

Semifinal Winners

 

Duke over West Virginia

Kansas State over Kansas (The Wildcats finally beat KU in their fourth try)

National Championship

 

Duke over Kansas State

Might Coach K pull a John Wooden and announce his retirement after winning the semifinal game?  Might he be tempted to take a very large pay raise to coach the Nets for a year or two and then enjoy real retirement like his mentor The General is enjoying?

March 21, 2009

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

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Sunday, March 22, 2009

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

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

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 73 Oklahoma State 62

 

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

 

Prediction: Xavier 64 Wisconsin 57

 

South Region

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

 

Prediction: Syracuse 80 Arizona State 71

 

Midwest Region

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

 

Prediction: Louisville 79 Siena 62

 

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

 

Prediction: Arizona 65 Cleveland State 61

 

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

 

Prediction: Kansas 74 Dayton 64

 

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

 

Prediction: Michigan State 71 Southern Cal 64

 

West Region

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

 

Prediction: Missouri 74 Marquette 65

March 20, 2009

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

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Saturday, March 21, 2009

 

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

 

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

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

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

 

Prediction: UCLA 64 Villanova 62

 

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

 

Prediction: Duke 75 Texas 69

 

South Region

 

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

 

Prediction: North Carolina 84 LSU 70

 

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

 

Predicition: Gonzaga 77 Western Kentucky 70

 

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

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 72 Michigan 63

 

West Region

 

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

 

Prediction: Connecticut 79 Texas A&M 73

 

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

 

Prediction: Washington 70 Purdue 60

 

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

 

Prediction Memphis 72 Maryland 71

March 17, 2009

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Predictions For Bracketeers

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Stats On All The Teams

 

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

 

Team

Pts

FG%

Reb

TO

Stl

R+T

SOS

Akron

7.0

1.9

-0.9

4.1

7.7

6.7

48.91

Alabama St.

6.1

7.5

1.2

-0.8

5.6

0.1

40.46

American

6.1

7.2

2.9

0.4

5.4

3.4

46.85

Arizona

3.8

3.9

2.5

-0.7

6.0

1.5

56.79

Arizona St.

9.4

7.3

1.7

0.6

5.9

2.5

56.35

Binghamton

3.4

2.9

-1.6

1.5

7.0

0.9

46.95

Boston College

4.4

2.3

2.9

-0.8

6.2

1.7

55.16

B Y U

12.7

8.5

4.2

2.5

7.2

8.5

54.62

Butler

10.2

5.7

3.3

0.9

6.1

4.6

53.15

Cal St. Northridge

3.8

3.7

3.6

-0.4

9.0

2.7

48.83

California

6.7

4.5

2.3

0.5

4.9

2.9

56.00

Chattanooga

0.8

0.6

3.3

-1.1

6.3

1.6

49.33

Clemson

10.8

3.5

1.6

2.9

9.4

8.1

56.07

Cleveland St.

7.2

2.6

0.6

3.5

8.7

7.9

52.27

Connecticut

13.3

9.3

8.4

-0.6

5.8

7.6

57.42

Cornell

9.8

6.4

3.1

0.8

6.7

4.4

45.31

Dayton

6.0

3.2

5.3

1.0

6.3

6.8

53.19

Duke

12.2

1.8

3.0

4.4

8.5

12.0

60.86

E T S U

8.6

6.2

1.5

2.5

8.5

6.6

46.28

Florida St.

4.1

4.6

0.7

0.3

8.5

1.3

58.22

Gonzaga

17.6

12.0

3.6

3.9

7.5

10.6

53.21

Illinois

8.0

6.6

0.1

1.3

5.8

1.9

57.56

Kansas

11.3

9.1

7.3

-0.8

6.9

6.0

58.01

Louisville

12.3

5.8

2.5

2.7

9.3

8.5

58.80

L S U

9.4

4.2

5.6

4.2

7.6

13.3

53.66

Marquette

8.5

0.5

1.7

3.6

7.9

8.5

55.87

Maryland

3.0

0.5

-1.6

3.2

7.7

4.3

58.11

Memphis

17.2

8.1

6.2

3.3

8.8

13.2

55.82

Michigan

4.1

-1.1

-3.1

2.4

6.5

0.6

58.74

Michigan St.

9.0

4.1

9.9

-0.2

6.4

9.6

59.48

Minnesota

5.4

4.4

2.4

0.6

8.4

3.6

56.65

Mississippi St.

6.0

4.3

-0.7

-0.8

7.0

-2.0

55.62

Missouri

14.6

5.7

0.4

6.5

10.6

16.9

56.31

Morehead St.

3.1

2.3

8.0

-2.5

6.7

4.0

48.59

Morgan St.

5.3

2.2

3.9

2.0

6.6

7.1

44.96

North Carolina

17.4

6.5

7.3

3.2

8.5

13.8

58.00

North Dakota St.

12.2

4.0

4.5

2.2

7.1

8.2

45.05

Northern Iowa

4.2

3.6

3.1

-0.9

4.2

2.2

53.53

Ohio St.

5.1

7.5

-1.0

0.1

5.9

-0.9

57.80

Oklahoma

11.4

9.1

5.6

-1.1

6.9

3.8

57.78

Oklahoma St.

6.9

1.4

-1.1

2.8

7.7

4.1

59.57

Pittsburgh

13.3

7.3

9.8

1.1

7.1

11.7

59.27

Portland St.

5.5

0.3

0.9

0.7

7.5

2.2

45.45

Purdue

10.3

5.8

-0.3

3.5

7.2

5.7

57.48

Radford

5.1

7.2

6.9

-2.8

6.8

2.3

47.63

Robert Morris

5.7

5.1

1.7

0.7

8.6

3.1

46.18

Siena

7.6

3.7

-0.5

3.8

8.8

7.5

54.68

USC

4.9

6.8

5.5

-1.1

6.3

3.8

58.04

Stephen F Austin

10.3

7.2

1.4

2.8

6.1

5.5

46.99

Syracuse

8.8

7.5

2.2

-0.6

8.0

1.0

59.39

Temple

5.6

4.2

3.1

-0.8

5.6

2.0

56.16

Tennessee

6.1

1.5

4.6

1.8

6.7

7.5

60.50

Texas

6.8

3.6

4.7

1.3

6.2

6.6

56.58

Texas A&M

5.4

1.5

5.3

-0.3

5.0

4.9

55.77

U C L A

12.7

4.9

3.8

3.6

8.4

11.1

55.06

Utah

7.2

7.5

4.9

-3.2

5.0

1.1

57.90

Utah St.

10.8

7.8

7.0

-0.7

4.9

6.2

51.00

Villanova

9.5

5.3

4.1

2.1

8.0

8.1

57.30

Virginia Common.

8.6

6.6

-0.6

1.9

7.6

2.9

51.94

Wake Forest

11.1

9.3

6.0

0.2

8.5

6.4

55.29

Washington

9.3

3.8

8.4

0.1

7.6

8.6

58.08

West Virginia

10.8

1.1

5.9

3.6

6.8

11.8

58.84

Western Kentucky

5.4

1.5

4.8

0.1

5.7

4.9

51.41

Wisconsin

5.4

0.1

3.0

1.4

5.0

4.7

58.28

Xavier

10.0

7.4

8.4

-2.2

5.4

5.5

55.89

 

Round One Games

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

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

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78 East Tennessee 56

 

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

 

Prediction: Tennessee 82 Oklahoma State 77

 

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

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 68 Florida State 66

 

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

 

Prediction: Xavier 79 Portland State 62

 

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

 

Prediction: UCLA 75 VCU 65

 

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

 

Prediction: Villanova 74 American 55

 

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

 

Prediction: Texas 72 Minnesota 66

 

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

 

Prediction: Duke 91 Binghamton 63

 

South Region

 

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

 

Prediction: North Carolina 94 Radford 77

 

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

 

Prediction: LSU 73 Butler 69

 

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

 

Prediction: Illinois 61 Western Kentucky 58

 

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

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 80 Akron 67

 

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

 

Prediction: Temple 64 Arizona State 58

 

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

 

Prediction: Syracuse 69 Stephen F. Austin 59

 

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

 

Prediction: Clemson 77 Michigan 66

 

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

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 79 Morgan State 65

 

Midwest Region

 

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

 

Prediction: Louisville 76 Morehead State 49

 

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

 

Prediction: Siena 74 Ohio State 70

 

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

 

Prediction: Utah 68 Arizona 63

 

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

 

Prediction: Wake Forest 69 Cleveland State 62

 

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

 

Prediction: West Virginia 74 Dayton 65

 

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

 

Prediction: Kansas 81 North Dakota State 59

 

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

 

Prediction: Southern Cal 73 Boston College 70

 

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

 

Prediction: Michigan State 76 Robert Morris 54

 

West Regional

 

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

 

Prediction: Connecticut 98 Chattanooga 63

 

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

 

Prediction: BYU 74 Texas A&M 69

 

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

 

Prediction: Purdue 71 Northern Iowa 60

 

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

 

Prediction: Washington 81 Mississippi State 66

 

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

 

Prediction: Marquette 70 Utah State 65

 

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

 

Prediction: Missouri 82 Cornell 58

 

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

 

Prediction: Maryland 71 California 67

 

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

 

Prediction: Memphis 83 Cal State Northridge 47

 

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

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

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.

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.

February 22, 2008

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Basketball Conference Races–February 22, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, February 21, 2008

It’s Bracket Buster Weekend!  Add to that the fact that we have number one playing number two, and this is a can’t miss weekend for college basketball fans.  If you are snowed in somewhere in the frozen upper Midwest, fret not.  Just keep your TV set on and watch basketball until you can close your eyes and see the ball still bouncing.

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 can still get there if they win their conference tournament, or in the case of the Ivy League, win the regular season title.

This week, if you count the number of likely bids, the minimum comes to XX.  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.

After the Bracket Buster this weekend, some of the mid-major teams will be eliminated.  That will make this exercise quite a bit easier.

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

Note:  A “-bb” after a scheduled game means this is a Bracket Buster game.  A “-bbtv” means this is a televised bracket buster game.

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

Maryland-Balt. Co.              11-2/19-7      

Hartford                                9-5/15-14

Albany                                   8-6/13-13

Vermont                                8-6/13-13     

Binghamton                         8-6/12-14

Boston U.                              8-6/11-15      

           

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

New Hampshire at UMBC

Albany at Canisius-bb

Vermont at UNC-Wilmington-bb

Binghamton at Manhattan-bb

Boston U. at St. Peter’s-bb

Give credit to the UMBC for winning at Albany without their top scorer, Brian Hodges; it clinched at least a tie for the regular season America East title.  The Terriers have moved up to the low 90’s in the RPI, but they don’t play in the Bracket Buster.  So, this is a definite one-bid league.  If UMBC doesn’t win the A-East Tourney, they will be a formidable foe in the NIT. 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Likely Bids:               6 or 7

Locks:                                    Duke, North Carolina, Clemson

In Good Shape:       

On the Bubble:        Maryland, Va. Tech, Wake Forest   

Can Still Get There:            Miami,

Tournament:                        March 13-16 @ Charlotte, NC

Current Leaders

North Carolina         10-2/25-2

Duke                          10-2/22-3                 

Clemson                    7-5/19-7                    

Maryland                   7-5/17-10                  

Wake Forest             6-5/16-8

Virginia Tech                        6-6/15-11                  

Miami-FL                  5-6/18-7                    

                       

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

St. John’s at Duke

Maryland at Miami

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech

SUNDAY

Wake Forest at North Carolina

I put the kiss of death on Duke last week.  Now, two losses later, the Blue Devils need to regroup, and they get lowly St. John’s at home this weekend.

Wake Forest and Miami greatly improved their prospects this week.  If Miami can take out Maryland Saturday, the Hurricanes will move up to the bubble.  Virginia Tech is hanging by a thread and must handle Georgia Tech Saturday to stay in the race.

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

Belmont                    11-2/19-8                  
Jacksonville              10-3/14-11                

East Tennessee        9-5/15-12                  

Gardner-Webb         8-5/14-13                  

Stetson                      8-5/13-15      

Lipscomb                   7-6/13-14

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

Lipscomb at Belmont

SATURDAY

Kennesaw State at Jacksonville

Tennessee Tech at East Tennessee

Florida Gulf Coast at Stetson

S.C. Upstate at Gardner-Webb

MONDAY

East Tennessee at Campbell

No teams will play in the Bracket Buster, but there is a big game in the A-Sun Friday Night when Lipscomb makes the five minute road trip down Belmont Boulevard to take on league-leading Belmont in the “Battle of the Boulevard.”  The Bruins should win and wrap up the regular season title.  Belmont is an odds-on favorite to win the league tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.  The Bruins are becoming the new Winthrop.

Gardner-Webb is hovering around .500, but remember this is a team that blew out Kentucky in Lexington in November.  The Bulldogs must close out the regular season at Lipscomb and at Belmont, so they should be quite familiar with the two teams they will have to upset in the tournament to win the league title.

Atlantic 10              (FIX)

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                Xavier

In Good Shape:                   

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

Can Still Get There:                        Temple, Duquesne, Dayton, Rich., Mass., St. Louis

Tournament:                        March 12-15 @ Atlantic City, NJ

Current Leaders

Xavier                                    11-1/23-4                                                                  

St. Joseph’s               7-4/16-8                               

Richmond                 7-4/14-10                  

Temple                       7-4/14-11

LaSalle                       6-5/12-13

Rhode Island                        6-6/20-7                   

Duquesne                  6-6/16-9

U Mass.                      6-6/17-9                    

St. Louis                    6-6/15-11

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Richmond at Geo. Washington

Fordham at Temple

St. Louis at Charlotte

SUNDAY

Xavier at Dayton

St. Joe’s at Rhode Island

LaSalle at Duquesne

St. Bonaventure at U Mass

Xavier is a definite lock, but they are the only safe team as of now.  Dayton and U Mass have done nothing to come out of their midseason nosedive, while St. Joe’s, Richmond, and Temple have played quite capably.

Duquesne and St. Louis could get in the mix if the two surprise teams finish with a strong kick.  If the Dukes win out, they will have 20 victories heading into the tournament with two additional road wins.  St. Louis finishes with three road games in their final four, and the Billikens must win all four to be in serious consideration.

I’m looking at just two teams making the Dance from this league unless a surprise team knocks off Xavier prior to the finals and then beats either Rhode Island, Dayton, U Mass, or Temple in the championship game.

Big East                  

Likely Bids:               7 or 8

Locks:                                    G’town, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette

In Good Shape:        Pittsburgh

On the Bubble:        Syracuse, West Virginia

Can Still Get There Cincinnati, Villanova

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

Current Leaders

Georgetown              11-3/21-4                  

Louisville                  11-3/21-6

Connecticut              10-3/21-5

Notre Dame              10-3/20-5                 

Marquette                 9-5/19-6                    

Cincinnati                 8-5/13-12

Pittsburgh                 7-6/19-7                    

West Virginia           7-6/18-8

Syracuse                    7-7/17-10

Villanova                   6-7/16-9                    

                       

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Cincinnati at Georgetown

Connecticut at Villanova

Rutgers at Marquette

Providence at West Virginia

SUNDAY

Louisville at Pittsburgh

Syracuse at Notre Dame

MONDAY

Marquette at Villanova

Go ahead and use a pen to mark Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Marquette into the Field of 65.  You can mark in Pitt with a pencil as long as you have an eraser, as the Panthers still need to take care of business. 

After those six, everything is still up for grabs.  At least one and possibly two more teams will receive invitations.  Cincinnati has won at Louisville and West Virginia, but the Bearcats must win at either Georgetown tomorrow or at Connecticut on March 8 and also win at Pittsburgh next Wednesday night.  11-7 gets the Bearcats to the bubble, where they would need to advance to the semifinals at MSG.

Syracuse is hanging in there, but the Orangemen have a favorable closing schedule.  After playing at Notre Dame Sunday, SU hosts Pittsburgh next Saturday, go to Seton Hall on March 5, and close out at home against Marquette on March 8.  A 2-2 finish with two wins in the Big East Tournament will get them a bid.

Big Sky                    

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

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

Current Leaders

Portland St.                          11-2/18-8                  

Northern Arizona                9-5/17-10                  

Weber St.                              8-5/13-12                  

Montana St.                          7-6/15-11

Idaho St.                                7-6/10-16

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Portland State at Cal State Fullerton-bb

Wichita State at Northern Arizona

Montana State at Weber State

SUNDAY

Montana at Idaho State

Portland State is sitting in the catbird seat.  Having won nine consecutive games, the Vikings need only split on their road trip to the state of Montana to win the Big Sky regular season title and host the conference tournament.

Northern Arizona is probably the one team that can beat PSU in Portland.  The Lumberjacks were swept by the Vikings this year, and it will be hard for PSU to win three out of three if they meet in the conference tournament.

                                   

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 round and finals at higher seeds, semi-finals at #1 seed

Current Leaders

Winthrop                              9-3/18-9                   

UNC-Asheville                     7-4/18-8                   

High Point                            6-6/14-12                  

Coastal Carolina                  6-6/13-12                  

Liberty                                   6-6/14-13

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

Winthrop vs. Davidson-bbtv

Liberty at Longwood

SATURDAY

UNC-Asheville vs. Charleston Southern

High Point at Towson-bb

Look who’s taken over command in the Big South.  It’s Winthrop!  UNC-Asheville has done its best impersonation of the 1969 Cubs.  After starting conference play at 7-0, the Bulldogs have now dropped four straight games.  Meanwhile, Winthrop has won four in a row and nine of 11 games.  The Eagles host Davidson in a great TV match up for the Bracket Buster series, and they should be competitive in this game between schools just 45 minutes apart.

There’s quite a drop after the top two, and I think Winthrop is headed back to the Tournament.

Big 10

Likely Bids:                           5

Locks:                                                Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan St.

In Good Shape:                    Ohio State

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Minnesota

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Indianapolis, IN

Current Leaders

Purdue                                   12-2/21-6

Wisconsin                             12-2/22-4                 

Indiana                                  11-2/22-4                  

Michigan State                     9-4/21-5                                            

Ohio State                             8-5/17-9                    

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Indiana at Northwestern

Iowa at Michigan State

SUNDAY

Wisconsin at Ohio State

The big news in the Big 10 is the apparent firing of Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson.  As of the time of this writing (Late Thursday Night/Early Friday AM), reports coming from Indianapolis television say that Sampson has coached his last game at Indiana, and Dan Dakich has assumed the title of interim head coach.

The second biggest news in the league is that Indiana beat Purdue the other night.  That allowed Wisconsin to pull back in a tie for first, although the Badgers lost both of their games against the Boilermakers.

Ohio State can move to “lock” status with a win at home over Wisconsin.

Having followed the Big 10 at length this year, I can say that I would be surprised if any of these teams advance to the Elite Eight.

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

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Kansas City

Current Leaders

Kansas                                   8-2/24-2                   

Texas                                      8-2/22-4

Kansas St.                              8-3/18-7                   

Texas A&M                            6-5/20-6

Oklahoma                             6-5/18-8

Baylor                                                5-6/17-8

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Kansas at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma at Texas

Kansas State at Baylor

Nebraska at Texas A&M

Iowa State at Texas Tech

MONDAY

Texas at Kansas State

                       

Coach Rick Barnes always gets his Texas Longhorns ready to play their best from mid-February on.  This season is no different.  Texas has won six games in a row including two wins over Baylor, a win against Kansas and blowout wins at Oklahoma and Texas A&M.  The ‘Horns still have road games against Texas Tech and Kansas State, but it wouldn’t shock me to see UT win their final five regular season games.

Kansas has three more conference road games, but the Jayhawks have an equal chance to run the table. 

Kansas State has dropped two of three to fall one half game behind the co-leaders.  The Wildcats next three games are at Baylor, at home against Texas, and at Kansas.  The schedule is not on their side.

Oklahoma needs one more big win and a 9-7 conference record to be safe.  The Sooners have a tough finishing schedule, and they could easily close 2-3 to finish 8-8.

Texas A&M is limping home to the finish.  The Aggies lost at home to Oklahoma State and then got blown out at Texas.  Their next two games are at home against Nebraska and Texas Tech.  Anything short of wins over both will knock them down to 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

Cal St. Northridge               10-2/18-6                 

Cal St. Fullerton                  10-3/17-7                  

UC-Santa Barbara               9-4/20-6                   

Pacific                                                8-5/17-9

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

UCSB at Utah State-bbtv

SATURDAY

Rider at Cal State Northridge-bbtv

Portland State at Cal State Fullerton-bb

San Jose State at Pacific-bb

This league doesn’t get enough respect.  The four top teams could all compete in the WAC, and I expect the Big West to fare rather well in the Bracket Buster games.

The RPI ratings don’t bode well for this league, so don’t expect a second team to earn a bid. 

Colonial Athletic

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason

Can Still Get There:                        None

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

Current Leaders

Virginia Commonwealth   13-3/20-6                 

George Mason                      11-5/19-8                  

UNC-Wilmington                11-5/18-10

William & Mary                   10-6/14-12                

Old Dominion                      10-6/15-13

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

V C U at Akron-bbtv

George Mason at Ohio U-bbtv

Vermont at UNC-Wilmington-bb

Loyola (Chi.) at William & Mary-bb

Bucknell at Old Dominion-bb

Hold the phones here.  We have a late-rushing team coming on hard at the end and threatening to crash the gate.  It’s Old Dominion.  With four consecutive CAA wins including victories over George Mason and at league-leading VCU, the Monarchs have to be considered a serious threat to march into the Richmond Coliseum and take the automatic bid.

Don’t count out VCU.  After all, they will be the number one seed in the CAA Tournament, and they host the thing.  Coach Anthony Grant is sure to get multiple chances to interview for jobs at bigger schools.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him coaching in the Southeastern Conference in 2009.

George Mason needs a big Bracket Buster win at Ohio U to make a serious run at an at-large bid. 

UNC-Wilmington has flown under the radar for most of the season, but the Seahawks have won four straight including a road win at George Mason.

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

Memphis                               12-0/26-0                 

Houston                                8-3/19-6                   

UAB                                        8-3/18-8                   

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

# 2 Tennessee at #1 Memphis

Rice at Houston

UAB at SMU

Forget the Bracket Buster games.  This is the game of the year.  The last time the two top teams faced off in February in a non-conference game was 1991, when UNLV and Arkansas hooked up in a shootout with UNLV winning 112-105.

Houston has a chance to get an at-large berth if the Cougars can win all five of their remaining games and then make it to the finals of the C-USA Tournament.

UAB beat Houston earlier this week, but the Blazers’ RPI is almost two spots lower than Houston.  It may take a season-ending win at Memphis to give UAB an at-large chance.

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

Butler                                                14-2/25-2                 

Wright St.                             12-4/20-6                 

Cleveland St.                         11-6/18-11

UW-Milwaukee                    8-7/13-12                  

Illinois-Chicago                   8-8/14-13

                       

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Drake at Butler-bbtv

Marist at Cleveland State-bbtv

UW-Milw. at Bradley-bbtv

Ill.-Chicago at Northern Iowa-bb

SUNDAY

Wright State at Illinois State-bbtv

MONDAY

Valparaiso at UW-Milw.

Although both teams are already locks, the Butler-Drake Bracket Buster match is a can’t miss game.  This game reminds me of George Mason and Wichita State in 2006.  GMU won that game and parlayed that into a run to the Final Four.

Wright State’s game at Illinois State is more important in the at-large discussion.  Both teams are in must-win positions, and the loser will not get an invitation to the Big Dance without earning an automatic bid. 

Cleveland State has played themselves out of at-large contention, so their bracket buster game against Marist is meaningless.

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

Cornell                                   8-0/16-5                   

Brown                                                6-2/14-8

Columbia                              5-3/12-11

Penn                                       4-3/9-15                    

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

Yale at Cornell

Brown at Columbia

Penn at Dartmouth

SATURDAY

Brown at Cornell

Yale at Columbia

Penn at Harvard

Another sweep by Cornell has the Big Red on the verge of clinching the Ivy title rather early.  It could happen this weekend, if Cornell can sweep at home against Yale and Brown, while Columbia beats Brown and loses to Yale, while Penn loses to Dartmouth and Harvard.  I don’t expect all that to happen, but Cornell is all but in as Ivy champs.  If they should happen to run the table and finish 22-5, the Big Red could move up as high as a number 13 seed.

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

Niagara                                  11-5/17-8

Rider                                      11-5/18-9                  

Siena                                      11-5/16-10                

Loyola (Md.)                         11-5/16-12                 

Fairfield                                 10-6/12-14

Marist                                                9-7/15-12

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Niagara at Appy State-bb

Rider at Cal. State Northridge-bbtv

Siena at Boise State-bbtv

UC Davis at Loyola (Md.)-bb

Fairfield at Drexel-bb

Marist at Cleveland State-bb

Here is an example of the Bracket Buster hurting teams.  Rider and Siena have to travel across the country and will suffer some fatigue for playing tough road games which they will more than likely lose.  This race is by far the most competitive of all the conferences, and the Bracket Buster fatigue could determine the regular season championship.

Loyola has won nine of 11 games and Niagara has taken six of eight.  I expect one of these two teams to win the conference tournament and take the one bid.  One cannot eliminate Siena, since they host the tournament.  However, the Saints have split their last eight games and are not firing on all cylinders.

Mid-American

Likely Bids:                           2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                   

On the Bubble:                    Kent State

Can Still Get There:                        Ohio U, Akron

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Cleveland

Current Leaders

East

Kent State                             11-2/22-5                  

Akron                                     9-4/19-7                    

Ohio U                                   8-5/17-9                    

Miami                                                7-6/13-12                  

West

Western Michigan               9-3/15-10                  

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Kent State at St. Mary’s-bbtv

Virginia Commonwealth at Akron-bbtv

George Mason at Ohio U-bbtv

Miami (O) at Valparaiso-bbtv

Western Michigan at UW Green Bay-bb

Kent State moved up several spots in the RPI ratings this week, and now the Golden Flashes have a decent shot at gaining an at-large bid if they don’t earn the automatic one.  Their game at St. Mary’s is just as big as the Butler-Drake game, but it will take place when most basketball fans are in bed or trying to get there with their date Saturday night.

I don’t think a second MAC team will earn an invitation unless they take the automatic bid.  Ohio U has the next best RPI after Kent State, but that RPI number is in the low 60’s.  A low 60’s RPI is too high for serious at-large consideration.

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

Morgan St.                            10-2/16-9

Norfolk St.                            10-2/14-10               

Hampton                               8-3/15-9

Delaware St.                         8-4/11-13

North Carolina A&T                        7-5/13-12                  

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Howard at Morgan State

Norfolk State at S.C. State

Hampton at Coppin State

Bethune-Cookman at Delaware State

N.C. A&T at Winston-Salem State

MONDAY

Hampton at Morgan State

Norfolk State at Winston-Salem State

Fla. A&M at Delaware State

N.C. A&T at S.C. State

Morgan State and Norfolk State only played once this season with Norfolk State winning.  All Norfolk State can earn by winning the tiebreaker is a guarantee of an NIT berth should they fail to win the conference tournament.

Don’t count out third place Hampton just yet.  The Pirates still have games remaining against the two co-leaders.

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

Drake                                     14-2/23-3                 

Illinois St.                             11-5/19-8      

Southern Illinois                 10-6/15-12

Creighton                              9-7/18-8                   

Bradley                                  9-7/16-12                  

                       

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Drake at Butler-bbtv

Nevada at Southern Illinois-bbtv

Creighton at Oral Roberts-bbtv

UW-Milw. at Bradley-bbtv

SUNDAY

Wright State at Illinois State-bbtv

Drake has lost some of it focus and has now dropped two games in their last three.  I expect the losing ways to continue this weekend because the Bulldogs have a tough Bracket Buster draw at Butler.

The team that I think will be cutting down the nets in St. Louis at the MVC Tournament is Southern Illinois.  The Salukis are beginning to play like a champion team.

Mountain West

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    BYU

On the Bubble:                    UNLV

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

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Las Vegas

Current Leaders

Brigham Young                   10-1/21-5                  

UNLV                                     8-3/19-6                   

New Mexico                          8-4/21-6

San Diego St.                                    7-5/17-9        

Utah                                       6-5/15-9                    

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

BYU at San Diego State

UNLV at Wyoming

New Mexico at Utah

BYU took care of business against UNLV and Utah for their eighth and ninth consecutive victories, and the Cougars are in command in the MWC.  If they split their next two games (at San Diego State and at New Mexico), they will secure an at-large invitation.

UNLV still has work to do, but if the Runnin’ Rebels continue at their current pace, they will be on the good side of the bubble come mid-March.  The schedule gives them a great chance to finish 4-1 for a 12-4/23-7 record entering the conference tournament, which they host.

New Mexico needs to add to its resume to be seriously considered.   The Lobos have won five games in a row, and they need to beat both BYU and UNLV at the pit to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid.

San Diego State and Utah will have to win the conference tournament to get into the Field of 65.

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

Robert Morris                      13-2/22-6

Wagner                                  13-2/20-6

Sacred Heart                         12-3/15-11                 

Quinnipiac                            10-5/14-12                

Mt. St. Mary’s                       9-7/13-14      

Central Conn. St.                 9-7/13-14

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Wagner at Robert Morris

Sacred Heart at Quinnipiac

Mt. St. Mary’s at St. Francis (Pa.)

Even with two teams sporting gaudy records, the RPIs will keep the NEC from landing a second team in the Dance.  Robert Morris and Wagner would make a great NEC Tournament Final if both can avoid the upset bug.  The two co-leaders meet in Coraopolis tomorrow night with the league championship on the line.  The winner will host the league tournament, so this game is really big.

Ohio Valley

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Austin Peay

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

Current Leaders

Austin Peay                          14-4/18-10               

Murray St.                             12-6/16-10                

Morehead St.                                    11-7/14-12                 

Eastern Kentucky                10-8/13-13               

UT-Martin                            11-8/15-14

Samford                                 9-9/12-14

Tennessee State                   9-9/12-15

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Georgia Southern at Austin Peay-bb

Indiana State at Murray State-bb

Morehead State at James Madison-bb

Elon at UT-Martin-bb

Ball State at EKU-bb

Samford at La. Tech-bb

SUNDAY

Tennessee State’s game with Northern Illinois has been cancelled

There is a hot team in this league, and that hot team has the top player in the league as well.  UT-Martin has won five straight games by an average score of 87-75, and star player Lester Hudson has been taking control of each game.  He recently recorded a triple double against SEMO.  UTM has just two games remaining-a bracket buster game at Elon tomorrow and a tough game at Murray State.  Watch out for the Skyhawks in the OVC Tournament.

Austin Peay has a two-game cushion with two conference games remaining, but the Governors are no lock.  They must finish playing at EKU and at Morehead, where teams have run into trouble in the past. 

Murray State closes out conference play at Tennessee Tech and home against UT-Martin.  The Racers could win both and earn a tie for the conference title.

Morehead and Eastern Kentucky certainly have great home court advantages, but the OVC Tourney is in Nashville, so they shouldn’t be cutting down the nets on March 8.

Tennessee State has earned their OVC Tournament bid the hard way-the Tigers dumped the top two teams, Murray State and Austin Peay.  While the conference tournament is not on their home floor, it is only a few miles away.

Pac-10

Likely Bids:                           6 or 7

Locks:                                                UCLA, Stanford, Washington St.

In Good Shape:                    Southern Cal, Arizona

On the Bubble:                    Arizona St.

Can Still Get There:                        Oregon, Cal, Washington

Tournament:                                    March 12-15 @ Los Angeles Staples Center

Current Leaders

U C L A                                  10-2/22-3                             

Stanford                                10-3/21-4                             

Washington St.                    8-5/20-5       

Southern Cal                                    7-5/16-8                    

Arizona St.                            6-6/16-8

Arizona                                  6-6/16-9

California                              6-7/15-9                                

Oregon                                   6-7/15-10

Washington                          6-8/15-12

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Oregon at UCLA

Arizona at Washington State

Arizona State at Washington

Oregon State at Southern Cal

SUNDAY

Cal at Stanford

The Pac-10 is probably the top conference, so there is a good chance a team can get in the NCAA Tournament with an 8-10 conference record and a trip to the conference tournament semifinals.

If I had to pick a team to get hot in Los Angeles and pull off the upset in the conference tournament, I’d go with Southern Cal.  When they play smart ball, they can beat anybody in this league. 

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

American                              9-3/17-10

Navy                                       7-4/14-12                  

Bucknell                                6-6/11-15

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Navy at Army

Bucknell at Old Dominion-bb

                       

American and Navy face off Wednesday night in Annapolis.  If the Middies win can beat the Eagles, then American will be forced to win their finale against Lafayette to secure the top seed and hosting duties of the conference tournament.

American has the best backcourt in the league in guards Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer (combining for 31 points and six assists per game).  However, both players are under six feet tall, and that will hurt the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament.

Southeastern

Likely Bids:                           5 or 6

Locks:                                                Tennessee,

In Good Shape:                    Florida, Mississippi St., Vanderbilt

On the Bubble:                    Kentucky, Arkansas

Can Still Get There:                        Ole Miss

Tournament:                                    March 13-16 @ Atlanta

Current Leaders

East

Tennessee                             11-1/24-2

Kentucky                               8-3/14-10

Vanderbilt                             7-4/22-4

Florida                                   7-5/20-7

                                   

West

Mississippi St.                       8-3/17-8                               

Arkansas                               7-4/18-7

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Tennessee at Memphis

Arkansas at Kentucky

Georgia at Vanderbilt

Mississippi State at South Carolina

The SEC may be down this year, but top team Tennessee could be looking at the top ranking in the land if they can handle Memphis at the Pyramid tomorrow night. 

Kentucky faces a must-win situation at Rupp Arena against Arkansas tomorrow.  A win against the Hogs will secure a winning conference record, as well as another quality win.  The Wildcats’ schedule gives them an excellent shot at a 12-4 conference record if they take care of business in Lexington.

Vanderbilt hasn’t been 22-4 since 1993.  The Commodores have an excellent shot to pick up consecutive win number six against Georgia tomorrow.  If they can knock off Tennessee at home Tuesday night, the Commodores will move to “lock” status.

Florida has probably secured an at-large bid due to the fact that they are the two-time defending national champions.  The Gators have a shot at finishing 10-6, which always gets an SEC team in the Big Dance.

In the West Division, Mississippi State and Arkansas still have unfinished business.  Neither team has a bid wrapped up as of today.  Miss State has three tough road games against East Division teams.  If they lose at South Carolina, the Bulldogs could be headed to a 10-6 finish.  If they should stub their toe at home to Auburn or LSU, the Maroons could be in big trouble.

Arkansas has three tough road games plus a home game with Vanderbilt.  The Razorbacks need to win at least one of those road games and defeat the Commodores to have a shot at an at-large bid.

As for Ole Miss, the 4-7 Rebels must win at LSU and at Kentucky to even get into the discussion.  Then, they will have to beat Alabama and Arkansas at home and probably close out the season with a win at Georgia to be in the mix.

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

North

Appalachian St.                    12-6/17-10

Chattanooga                         11-6/16-11                 

           

South

Davidson                               18-0/20-6                

Georgia Southern                13-5/20-8                 

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

Davidson at Winthrop-bbtv

SATURDAY

Niagara at Appy State-bb

Wofford at Chattanooga

Georgia Southern at Austin Peay-bb

Davidson long ago clinched the conference’s top seed.  The Wildcats still haven’t secured an at-large bid due to an RPI in the low 60’s.  A win at Winthrop tonight may be more important than any of their conference games.  Of course, since no Southern Conference team has been able to beat them for two years, they are a very heavy favorite to win the conference tournament and earn the automatic bid.

Georgia Southern won’t be in the mix for an at-large berth, but the Eagles are the one team that can beat Davidson.  GSU closes out the regular season by hosting the Wildcats, and their tenacious defense can get the job done.  The problem is if they beat Davidson on March 1, they will still have to beat them a second time on March 10 to get into the Dance.  I don’t think they can beat Davidson twice in 10 days.

Southland

Likely Bids:                           1  

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

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

Current Leaders

East

Lamar                                                10-1/16-8                              

Northwestern St.                 8-4/12-14                             

West

Stephen F. Austin                10-2/22-3

Sam Houston                       7-5/19-6        

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Northwestern State at Lamar

Stephen F. Austin annihilated Sam Houston last night, and the Lumberjacks can make a strong case for an at-large bid if they win their final four games to enter the conference tournament at 26-3.  SFA has two big road wins in non-conference play-against Oklahoma and San Diego, so they deserve an at-large bid if they enter the conference tournament at 26-3 and lose in the semis or finals.

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

Alabama St.                          10-2/14-8     

Jackson State                       8-5/10-16

Arkansas Pine Bluff                        7-6/11-13

Miss. Valley St.                     7-6/9-15

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Alcorn State at Alabama State

Jackson State at Grambling

Prairie View at Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Texas Southern at Mississippi Valley

Alabama State is the only SWAC team with the talent to win a play-in game, but they aren’t so good that they can go through the motions and win the SWAC Tournament.  There’s a 50-50 chance someone else will win the SWAC Tournament and head to Dayton with a losing record.  Even somebody like Texas Southern could win the league tourney and head to the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament with 22-24 losses.  This would be ridiculous, especially when you take into consideration that Independent Texas-Pan American will be home in March with a winning record and just enough talent to win a play-in game.

Summit

Likely Bids:                           1 or 2

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    Oral Roberts

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

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

Current Leaders

Oral Roberts                         15-1/20-6                  

IUPUI                                     13-3/21-6                  

Oakland                                 9-6/14-12                  

IUPU Ft. Wayne                   9-6/12-14                  

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Creighton at Oral Roberts-bbtv

IUPUI at IPFW

Western Illinois at Oakland

IUPUI beat Oral Roberts last Saturday to make a race in the conference, but then the Jaguars failed to show up last night at Oakland and got their hat handed to them in a 15-point loss.  That loss ended all their at-large hopes.

ORU is now closing in on “lock” status for an at-large bid.  A Bracket Buster win over Creighton could do the trick. 

Oakland gave ORU two close games this year, and the Golden Grizzlies have both the talent and the confidence to knock off the league giant in the conference tournament.

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

East

Western Kentucky              13-2/21-6                  

South Alabama                    14-2/22-5                 

Middle Tennessee               10-6/13-13                

West

Louisiana Lafayette                        9-6/13-13                  

North Texas                          8-7/17-9

Arkansas-Little Rock          7-7/15-10

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

UL-Monroe at Western Kentucky

Middle Tennessee at Fla. Atlantic

UALR at Louisiana-Lafayette

Arkansas State at North Texas

After falling at Middle Tennessee earlier, South Alabama was on the verge of falling out of at-large range.  Then, the Jaguars went to Bowling Green and knocked off Western Kentucky last night to sweep the season’s series.  The win all but clinches the top seed for USA, and they host the SBC Tournament.  Things look good for Coach Ronnie Arrow and his troops.

Western Kentucky may be on the outside looking in even if they win out and lose to USA for a third time in the SBC Tournament Finals.  That would give the Hilltoppers a 26-7 record, and their non-conference resume includes no quality wins.  They has three close losses at Tennessee, at Gonzaga, and at Southern Illinois.

Middle Tennessee has just enough talent to make it to the finals of the conference tournament.  However, I don’t think they can get over the final obstacle.

West Coast

Likely Bids:                           2 or 3

Locks:                                                St. Mary’s

In Good Shape:                    Gonzaga

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        None

Tournament:                                    March 7-10 @ San Diego

Current Leaders

St. Mary’s                              10-1/23-3                 

Gonzaga                                 10-1/21-6                  

San Diego                              8-2/15-12                  

Key Games This Weekend

SATURDAY

Kent State at St. Mary’s-bbtv

San Diego at Santa Clara

MONDAY

San Diego at St. Mary’s

Gonzaga at Portland

St. Mary’s has already guaranteed themselves a spot in the Field of 65, so they may be ripe for an upset either tomorrow against Kent State or Monday night against San Diego.  If they win both, the Gaels deserve to be in the mix for a #4 seed.

Gonzaga gets St. Mary’s at home, so the Bulldogs are actually favored to win the regular season title.  They are one or two wins away from moving into “lock” status.

San Diego must now win the conference tournament to get into the Dance.  The Toreros host the tournament, so it is possible.  They will have to beat both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s to do it.

WAC

Likely Bids:                           1

Locks:                                                None

In Good Shape:                    None

On the Bubble:                    None

Can Still Get There:                        Utah State, Nevada

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

Current Leaders

Boise State                            10-3/20-6                 

New Mexico St.                    9-3/15-12                  

Nevada                                   9-4/17-9                    

Utah State                             8-4/18-9                   

Hawaii                                   7-5/11-13                   

Key Games This Weekend

FRIDAY

UC Santa Barbara at Utah State-bbtv

SATURDAY

Siena at Boise State-bbtv

Long Beach State at New Mexico State-bb

Nevada at Southern Illinois-bbtv

Hawaii at UC-Riverside-bb

The rough three game road trip did in Utah State, as they lost all three games and fell from first to fourth.  The new leader is Boise State, and the Broncos have won eight of nine games, in which they have averaged 84 points per game.   

New Mexico State has won four in a row, outscoring opponents 89-68.  The Aggies host the league tourney, and they have to be considered a strong favorite to win it.  NMSU swept Boise State and blew Utah State away by 30 points.

Nevada has probably the toughest Bracket Buster game of all.  I can see no possibility where they will win at Southern Illinois.  The long road trip this late in the year is bound to have a negative effect in the final days of the conference race.  The Wolf pack host New Mexico State Thursday, but they may not be ready to play that game.

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