The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 29, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Football Forecast for August 31-September 3, 2017

This Week’s College Football Spreads

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
Alabama (N) Florida St. 6.6 3.8 6.3
Arizona St. New Mexico St. 23.0 25.7 22.8
Auburn Georgia Southern 46.7 42.9 47.2
Boise St. Troy St. 8.3 6.2 8.2
Central Florida Florida Intl. 17.1 19.6 16.6
Clemson Kent 48.3 42.9 46.2
Coastal Carolina Massachusetts -10.5 -7.8 -8.4
Colorado Colorado St. 9.4 8.3 7.0
Eastern Mich. Charlotte 22.1 18.5 21.7
Florida (N) Michigan -1.1 -1.0 -0.8
Florida Atlantic Navy -12.5 -9.8 -11.1
Georgia Appalachian St. 19.6 23.9 19.1
Georgia Tech Tennessee 4.8 3.9 4.8
Illinois Ball St. 14.4 14.0 11.2
Indiana Ohio St. -25.1 -21.6 -23.9
Iowa Wyoming 16.2 18.4 17.1
LSU (N) BYU 20.5 19.8 20.6
Marshall Miami (Ohio) -9.4 -9.8 -11.1
Memphis Louisiana-Monroe 30.8 28.9 33.3
Michigan St. Bowling Green 16.0 20.5 14.9
Middle Tenn. Vanderbilt -17.7 -14.9 -15.8
Minnesota Buffalo 30.6 26.1 28.4
Mississippi South Alabama 26.8 22.4 22.0
NC St. (N) South Carolina 8.8 8.4 9.3
Nebraska Arkansas St. 19.4 19.2 17.0
North Carolina California 16.1 17.1 16.6
Northern Ill. Boston College -13.3 -14.1 -12.6
Northwestern Nevada 34.5 28.0 31.8
Notre Dame Temple 15.7 13.1 15.3
Oklahoma UTEP 52.6 46.1 52.3
Oklahoma St. Tulsa 14.5 14.5 16.1
Penn St. Akron 43.6 36.7 43.9
Purdue (N) Louisville -22.0 -18.5 -21.7
Rutgers Washington -29.9 -25.5 -31.8
Southern Miss. Kentucky -24.5 -21.2 -24.1
Texas Maryland 14.0 12.3 14.3
Texas-San Antonio Houston -10.3 -7.3 -8.0
UCLA Texas A&M 4.0 5.5 4.8
USC Western Mich. 22.4 25.8 21.1
Virginia Tech West Va. 9.0 7.5 9.6
Wisconsin Utah St. 37.6 34.4 36.9

(N) means neutral site game

We’ve had a small appetizer of college football games, and the first main course shall be served over the course of five days, commencing with a couple of choice morsels Thursday night. The PiRates will be focused on these games this weekend.

Ohio State at Indiana–It is rare for Big Ten teams to open with a conference game. This one should be a tad more interesting than it looks on the surface. Indiana released former head coach Kevin Wilson from his contract last year (actually a forced resignation), due to an issue with a player with more than an injured back who was told to keep playing.  Wilson didn’t wait long to have a new job. He is now the offensive coordinator at ….. Ohio State! Add Wilson’s chip on his shoulder to Coach Urban Meyer’s boulder chip on his shoulder from his Buckeyes’ being shut out by Clemson in the Playoff Semifinals, and Ohio State will most likely do everything it can to run the score up on IU. It is not supposed to matter, but if the Buckeyes win this game 63-0, the pollsters will immediately overreact and move them up in the polls, maybe up to number one.

Tulsa at Oklahoma State–Are the Cowboys strong enough to challenge rival Oklahoma and compete for the Big 12 Championship? This might be the best Oklahoma State team since the 2011 team came within an upset loss to Iowa State from playing for all the marbles. Tulsa might be a little better than the 10-3 team of last year, possibly the Golden Hurricane’s best team since maybe 1982 and definitely as good as recent dominant TU teams in this century. A close game doesn’t necessarily mean that Oklahoma State isn’t a playoff contender. This game could be rather close for quite a long time.

Colorado vs. Colorado State (in Denver)–The Rams’ offense looked lethal against Oregon State, and a team usually improves the most in the week between game one and game two. CU does benefit from having 2017 game film on CSU, but this advantage does not offset the one game of experience that the Rams have. If CSU pulls off the mild upset, the Rams could be in line to become the top Group of 5 contender for the New Year’s 6 Bowl tie-in. This just might be the actual best game of the week, but few people will watch this one outside the Centennial State.

Maryland at Texas–Tom Herman makes his debut in Austin, and the Longhorn faithful believe the days of wine and roses will return sooner rather than later. Maryland will not back down and be easy fodder for the Longhorns, and there is an extra factor in this game that could lead to a lower than expected game score. Who better to know the weaknesses of the Urban Meyer-style spread offense than somebody that was a defensive assistant under Meyer? In this game, former offensive coordinator Herman will lead UT against former Meyer defensive assistant D. J. Durkin, the head coach on the opposite sideline. This game becomes a real life chess match worth watching.

Wyoming at Iowa–Okay, you may not be all that excited about this game, but we are. First and foremost, some of the PiRates have a love and affinity for the Western part of this nation’s flyover real estate, Iowa and Wyoming included. Also, we are big time supporters of Cowboy coach Craig Bohl and Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz. These two gentlemen know their stuff, and their teams have an incredible grasp of the fundamentals and the “little things”. These two teams may win games in ways that are not easily seen in the box score. We look for this one to be nip and tuck, and it would not shock us if the visitors from Laramie pulled off the upset.

South Carolina vs. North Carolina State (in Charlotte)–The ACC has the small advantage over the SEC these days. The Wolf Pack appear to be primed to challenge Louisville for third best in the ACC Atlantic and maybe even become a dark horse contender for the division flag, while the Gamecocks are on the cusp but not yet playing like a challenger, even in the parity known as the SEC East. Our opinion on this one is that NCSU should win by more than a touchdown if not more than two. However, this should become a shootout, as South Carolin’a offense should annex a lot of territory in this game.

Florida vs. Michigan (in Arlington, TX)–We have been flip-flopping on this game since June. At first, we believed that Michigan could be in danger of falling back to 6-6 or even 5-7, while we believed that Florida was like a snake in high grass waiting to pounce on all the mice in their division of their league. Then, after looking at returning depth and experience, it appeared to us that Michigan had a lot of experienced backups who, with a year of seasoning, could be rather competent regulars in 2017. We were concerned about the Florida quarterback situation, and then Coach Jim McElwain secured the signature of former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire. It tilted the needle over to the Gator side, but then McElwain was forced to suspend star receiver Antonio Callaway and a half dozen other players for this game. Callaway may have been the one piece in the puzzle that Michigan would have found no real answer in stopping. Now, the needle tilts toward the Maize and Blue. By the way, Michigan will wear maize-colored jerseys in this game, something they have not done in 89 years.

Alabama vs. Florida State (in Atlanta)–Obviously, this is the top game of the week and maybe the top game of the regular season. There are so many layers to peel off in this preview, more than we have space to devote to it. In an abridged version, can Florida State’s offensive line protect quarterback Deondre Francois long enough for him to find a group of raw receivers? Frnacois spent too much time with his back on the turf in 2016, and it will take a major improvement on the Seminoles part to hold off stars like Da’Ron Payne and get past the Crimson Tide trench to linebackers the quality of Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton. On the other side of the ball, Alabama cannot get by predominantly on a power running game. Jalen Hurts has the talent to throw for 200+ yards in this game. This game brings back memories of 50 years ago, when Alabama returned almost their entire two-deep from a defense that gave up 44 points in 11 games the year before and returned Ken Stabler from an offense that scored more than 27 points a game. The Tide were 20+ point favorites in this game and was lucky to escape with a 37-37 tie. Notably, in this game the great Bear Bryant was equipped with a microphone. There were issues with the scoreboard, and late in the game, Bryant was overheard on the mic saying, “What the H is the score any way?”

Texas A&M at UCLA–The losing team’s coach will sit on a seat that is about 10 degrees warmer Monday than it is now. Texas A&M has enough talent to compete for third in the SEC West and challenge for a 10-win season, but the Aggies looked as strong last year as well. After TAMU began the season 6-0, the team collapsed, finishing 2-5. The defense wore down after the overtime win over Tennessee, and the Aggies two wins after that big game came against New Mexico State and UT-San Antonio. UCLA struggled after quarterback Josh Rosen exited with a shoulder injury. However, the Bruins were just 3-2 prior to the injury in the Arizona State game, so Coach Jim Mora, Jr. overhauled the Bruin offense in the off-season and made numerous changes to his offensive coaching assistants. The Bruins also must rebuild a good bit on the defensive side of the ball, so the offense better gel quickly. So, don’t go up to the junior Mora and ask if his team can still make the playoffs this year.

There are a host of additional games on this week’s schedule that hold some bit of unique interest. Those games include:

FIU at Central Florida–Butch Davis returns to the sidelines for FIU and has enough talent to surprise in 2017. UCF believes they can challenge rival USF in the East.

Navy at FAU–Lane Kiffin’s debut with the Owls against the tricky triple option offense of Navy makes this one look like a track meet. It wouldn’t surprise us if more than 75 total points are scored in this one.

Temple at Notre Dame–The Owls begin life without Coach Matt Rhule. New head man Geoff Collins faces a total rebuild in Philly, while Notre Dame looks to recover from a poor 2016 season with a half-dozen new assistants.

Troy at Boise State–We have an eye on Boise at the start of the season. Boise State could be at a crossroads, where their dynasty seasons could be over. Then again, this could also be the low-point of a major rebuild. Troy was down for a few years, but the Trojans returned to Sun Belt fame last year with a 10-3 season and co-championship. It won’t get the headlines that the big games receive, but this game should be an excellent contest.

Kentucky at Southern Mississippi–Last year Southern Miss pulled off an incredible upset at Kentucky to begin the 2016 season, and it looked like Mark Stoops was in a bit of trouble in Lexington. However, the Wildcats turned things around to win seven games that included a trip to the Taxslayer Bowl. Now, there are football experts that believe Kentucky can compete for the 2017 SEC East title. The Blue and White return the bulk of an offense that averaged 30 points and 420 yards per game, while the defense should be a little better than last year. Southern Miss is not as strong as last year, but still good enough to knock off UK in Hattiesburg, especially if the expected rain makes this game sloppy.

Appalachian State at Georgia–Appy State came close to upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville to begin the 2016 season. Can the Mountaineers go down between the hedges and make like miserable for the Bulldogs? Georgia’s defense should control this game, holding ASU to about 200-250 total yards, while the offense may not be flashy, but should produce 200 rushing yards. If Georgia wins by less than 17 points, it will be cause for concern. We will look at all the SEC East teams carefully this week to see if one or two emerge as the true top squads.

Houston at UT-San Antonio–UTSA is a contender in the West Division of CUSA, and in a normal week, the Roadrunners would be expected to make this a close game. Houston must play this one with little practice thanks to Hurricane Harvey, and it is Major Applewhite’s debut with the Cougars. This will be interesting to see how much lost preparation hurts UH.

Georgia Southern at Auburn–We don’t expect this game to be close. It could easily be 21-0 in the first quarter. What we are looking for in this one is how well Tiger quarterback Jarrett Stidham runs Gus Malzahn’s offense. If Stidham replicates the stats from his last three FBS games (2015 against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State), then watch out, because this Auburn team just might be good enough to go to the 2017-18 playoffs. Stidham’s stat line in those three games was 51-81-2 for 934 yards and 6 TDs. If he averages 11.5 yards per pass attempt for Auburn, then even Alabama better beware.

Purdue vs. Louisville (in Indianapolis)–This game features Jeff Brohm making his Boilermaker coaching Purdue against former mentor Bobby Petrino and some QB named Lamar Jackson, who owns some trophy he received from the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan named for former coach John Heisman. It would not be shocking if UL won this one by a score similar to 62-24, but what makes this game interesting is to see how a Big Ten team looks running a spread passing game.

South Alabama at Ole Miss–South Alabama upset Mississippi State and San Diego State last year, two teams that played in bowls. So, it would not be a big shock if the Jaguars won in Oxford. However, if USA wins, the blame will be on Ole Miss and interim coach Matt Luke rather than on the performance. Luke is most likely in a position where he has little chance of keeping the job full time, even though he deserves a head coaching job. It would not surprise us if a big name coach was patrolling the home team sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium next year.

LSU vs. BYU (in New Orleans)–This game was moved from Houston to New Orleans due to the hurricane. It gives the Tigers a tiny bit more advantage, but we didn’t think this game would be all that close in Houston. BYU has a game under its belt, and the Cougars did not show their entire arsenal. What they showed was only adequate at best. This game takes on added interest not because of the weather, but because whether Ed Orgeron can prove that the removing of the interim label was the right move in Baton Rouge. LSU has a considerable amount of talent, just behind Alabama and Auburn and as much as Texas A&M. The Tigers have a chance to win 10 games this year, but there is always that bit of doubt about a new coach. Orgeron has done well as the interim at USC and LSU, but his tenure as head coach at Ole Miss was a major disappointment.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee–Both Nashville-area teams played in bowls last year, and this game has become quite the local rivalry. MTSU has one of the top quarterbacks in the Group of 5, who happens to be the coach’s son. Brent Stockstill will draw NFL scouts to Murfreesboro this year, as the Blue Raiders look to have a potent offense capable of putting up 40 points and 500 yards per game. On the other side of the field, Derek Mason has begun to make Vanderbilt look more like Stanford East. The only ingredient missing in recent years has been the most important spot–at quarterback. Now, Vanderbilt has a competent passer, who while not another Andrew Luck or even Keller Chryst, he is competent enough to lead Vanderbilt to the cusp of division contention. Kyle Shurmur, son of Minnesota Viking OC Pat Shurmur, may have the knowledge of the game that a typical NFL quarterback may have. If he can show a bit more arm strength and a slightly quicker release, Vanderbilt’s offense will begin to look like Stanford’s, as the Commodored already have a strong running game and a stingy defense. If MTSU wins this game, then Syracuse and Minnesota will take notice, as the Blue Raiders will be capable of starting 3-0 against FBS competition. If Vanderbilt wins this game, then Kansas State needs to take note, because the Commodores will be 2-0 when the Wildcats come to the Music City on September 16.

Tennessee at Georgia Tech (in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta)–Volunteer coach Butch Jones knows that he must win and win big in 2017, or else he will have a garage sale in January, where he disposes of a lot of orange-colored clothing and accessories. Tennessee was a disappointing 9-4 team last year and must try to improve with an unproven quarterback, something that usually only works if said raw QB wears crimson-colored clothing. Georgia Tech has an experienced offensive line returning to block for the spread option offense. Usually, if an offensive line is as experienced as the Techsters, the offense automatically improves some from the previous season. However, in this offense, the experience of the quarterback is much more important than the line, because in many cases the key defender at the point of attack is not blocked at all. Hence, the QB reads the defense and options off the reaction of the key defender. Coach Paul Johnson has not officially named his starting quarterback, but we think it will be former slot back TaQuon Marshall. The ultra-quick Marshall has the potential to be a great option quarterback, but getting his Baptism under orange fire is not the ideal way to begin a career. If Johnson goes with last year’s backup Matthew Jordan, then Tennessee’s defense should be good enough to hold the Yellow Jackets under 21 points. This is good, because the Vols may struggle on offense in September.

Note–Ratings and Bowl Projections return next week, as we did not update them after the small sampling of games last week.

Money Line Parlays makes its seasonal debut Thursday morning, August 31, 2017.

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August 19, 2017

2017 Independents Preview

At one point in the 1960’s and 1970’s there were in excess of 30 college football teams not affiliated with a conference. Schools did not need a conference affiliation to succeed. Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, and other big name schools were power teams that frequently competed for national titles. Michigan State was actually an independent that won a national title prior to becoming the final member of the original Big Ten. There was even a five-year period where Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State left the Pacific Coast Conference and played as independents, as the forerunner to today’s Pac-12 almost dissolved.

Today, the independent ranks are close to dissolving, but they are hanging on by a thread, or should we say four threads. Army, BYU, Massachusetts, and Notre Dame are what’s left, althought New Mexico State will join this group next year, more because they are being evicted from the Sun Belt. and the MWC has no vacancies for them at this time.

Notre Dame is only a quasi-independent. They belong to the ACC in many ways–they play a five-game schedule of ACC teams, and they can qualify for any ACC Bowl, as long as they are within one win of the next available team.

BYU is a tough fit as a full member in any conference, because the Cougars will not play any athletic competition on Sunday. In basketball, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee seeds them in brackets that keep them away from a Friday-Sunday schedule. They would be a perfect fit with New Mexico State in the Mountain West or even with New Mexico or Utah State in the Big 12, with New Mexico State replacing whichever school left.

Army is okay as an independent, although the West Pointers could fit right into the American Athletic with rival Navy. Massachusetts could easily fit in this league as well, and the independents would be history.

Since there are no preseason media polls, we will start by showing you our own PiRate Retrodictive Ratings for the four schools. You might ask how there could be retrodictive ratings, when no games have been played yet. How can we rate them on their results thus far? Obviously, this is not possible, but we begin each season adjusting the previous season’s final retrodictive ratings just like we do our regular PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings. By the fourth week of the season, the retrodictive ratings are 100% based on the current year’s results.

PiRate Retrodictive Ratings (Independents)

Independents
# Team
PiRate Retrodictive
1 Notre Dame
2 BYU
3 Army
4 Massachusetts

 

Here are our regular predictive PiRate, Mean, and Bias preseason ratings.

Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 109.7 107.8 109.6 109.0
B Y U 103.0 101.9 103.6 102.8
Army 94.6 94.2 95.5 94.8
Massachusetts 86.0 84.4 86.0 85.5
         
Independents Averages 98.3 97.1 98.7 98.0

And, here are our not-so-scientific predictions for won-loss and bowl projections.

Independents Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
BYU x 9-4 [Military]
Notre Dame x 8-4 Pinstripe
Army x 8-4 Armed Forces
Massachusetts x 3-9  

BYU’s bowl bid is an at-large bid.

 

Trivia: Nobody could come up with the answer to yesterday’s trivia question. Rather than show all the incorrect replies, since we don’t want to embarrass anybody, we erased them from the responses.
Here it is again: Who are these two legendary coaches? Coach number one was a college head coach who won 70% of his games at his first Division 1 school, a team that played in a now defunct conference. He moved on to be a college head coach at two additional schools, the second of which he was replaced by a second coaching legend who won more than 200 games at the college level and more than 250 when his NFL wins were added. Four decades after winning 70% of his games at the first school, Coach number one was still coaching, now the head coach of an NFL team which he guided to the playoffs multiple times. Coach number two was still coaching four decades later after he replaced coach number one. Coach number two won a national championship during his career.
Name the two coaches. If nobody gets the answer by the time we go to press with tomorrow’s preview, we will give the answer, but we know that our readers tend to be among the most knowledgeable football fans and analytical geniuses, so we expect somebody to come up with the correct answer.

We had several guesses, and some of you actually guessed coach number two as coach number one. Nobody guessed correctly on coach number one. He is Marv Levy, who coached at New Mexico in 1958 and 1959, going 7-3 both years. New Mexico played in the defunct Border Conference, a pre-WAC establishment. Levy moved on to an unsuccessful stint at UC-Berkeley, and then to William & Mary. Levy led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls four decades later.

Coach number two, who succeeded Levy at William & Mary was Lou Holtz. Holtz won 249 games at the collegiate level and another three in the NFL with the Jets.

Coming later today–The American Athletic Conference

March 17, 2017

Red, White, and Blue Ratings for Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Games

Saturday, March 18, 2017 NCAA Tournament Games

Team Team Red White Blue
West Virginia Notre Dame 6 4 1
Villanova Wisconsin 8 6 6
Gonzaga Northwestern 17 10 8
Florida St. Xavier 8 5 4
Butler Middle Tennessee 5 4 7
Arizona Saint Mary’s -2 -1 1
Florida Virginia 1 1 1
Purdue Iowa St. 1 2 1

 

Saturday’s TV Schedule

Time (EDT) Network Team vs. Team
12:10 PM CBS West Virginia vs. Notre Dame
2:40 PM CBS Villanova vs. Wisconsin
5:15 PM CBS Gonzaga vs. Northwestern
6:10 PM TNT Florida St. vs. Xavier
7:10 PM TBS Butler vs. Middle Tennessee
7:45 PM CBS Arizona vs. Saint Mary’s
8:40 PM TNT Florida vs. Virginia
9:40 PM TBS Purdue vs. Iowa St.

 

 

March 15, 2017

Red-White-Blue Ratings For Thursday’s NCAA Tournament Games

 

Team Team Red White Blue
Notre Dame Princeton 6 6 2
Virginia UNC-Wilmington 7 9 9
Butler Winthrop 10 9 10
Gonzaga South Dakota St. 24 21 15
West Virginia Bucknell 13 12 11
Florida East Tennessee St. 10 12 13
Minnesota Middle Tennessee 2 1 3
Northwestern Vanderbilt -1 -1 -5
Maryland Xavier -1 -1 -1
Villanova Mount St. Mary’s 22 23 21
Saint Mary’s VCU 5 6 4
Purdue Vermont 9 9 5
Florida St. Florida Gulf Coast 13 14 11
Wisconsin Virginia Tech 4 4 4
Arizona North Dakota 15 15 14
Iowa St. Nevada 6 6 6

March 14, 2017

PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics 505 Bracket Reveal & First Four Preview

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 9:57 am

For those that just want to see our Red-White-Blue Ratings for the First Four, here they are.

Team Team Red White Blue
New Orleans Mount St. Mary’s 3 -1 1
Wake Forest Kansas St. 1 1 1
UNC-Central UC-Davis 4 3 6
Providence USC 1 1 1

Now, for the rest of you:

Welcome one and all to our annually most viewed edition of the PiRate Ratings.  We have been working diligently for the past 42 hours getting this edition of March Madness Bracketnomics ready for you.

If you are new to this site today, there is something you need to do, and even if you are not, you should take this advice.  Open another window and bring up our primer from yesterday where we explain how we have come up with the numbers that we will show you today.  The link to the primer is:

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/bracketnomics-505-the-advanced-level-course-in-bracket-selection/

Before we begin picking winners in our bracket based on the PiRate Criteria, let us give you another little bit of advice in selecting your own brackets.

  1. Do not select a lot of early upsets.  Realize that nobody ever has picked a perfect bracket.  The chances are so slim that nobody may ever pick one!  The key to winning bracket contests where you must choose all the games at the beginning and do not get to select new winners after every round is to pick the National Champion, the Final Four, and the Elite 8 teams.  Realize that in about 95% of the cases, the Final Four teams come from one, two, three, or four seeds.  There will frequently be a seed lower than 4, but good luck trying to pick one.  What you will most likely do is remove one of the favorites to get there, so select very few upsets early.
  2. In the last 60+ years, only 2 times was the national champion a team from outside a major conference, and it has not happened since 1990.  So, go heavy on the best teams in the power conferences–Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC.  No Pac-12 team has won the title since Arizona beat Kentucky in 1997, so you might discount the Pac-12 a little.  No Big Ten team has won the title since Michigan State in 2000, so you might also want to discount the Big Ten a little.
  3. The most likely spots for upsets early come from 10-11-12 seed lines for good reason.  The top lower and mid-major teams usually end up on one of these seed lines, and in actuality, some of these teams would beat their higher-seed opponent 7 times out of 10.  In other words, these upsets are not really upsets.  They are incorrect seedings by the Committee.

Okay, we will leave the rest of that strategy up to you.  Let’s get to the Bracketnomics Facts for 2017

 

Who Has The Statistical Criteria That Looks Like A Final Four Team

This is an unusual year.  There are no teams closely similar to the Connecticut women’s team.  There is no obvious best team like in some years out of the past.  On the other hand, there are an inordinate amount of teams this year that look like they would have trouble winning the NIT 10 years ago.  There is parity by virtue of mediocrity.  The way the game is played in 2017, and with the 30-second shot clock, the game has become harder to isolate on just two or three teams and call them the heavy favorites to make the Final Four.

Let’s eliminate some teams so that what we have left is a much easier group to compare.

A. First, let’s forget the chance that a low-major or mid-major conference team will make the Final Four this year.  This does not include Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, or Wichita State, who we consider to be above mid-major.

B. Next, let’s take out any team that played a schedule too soft to prepare them for the top echelon of opponents.  From what’s left after (A), that will remove Wichita State and UCLA.

C. Next, let’s dump any team with a single-digit R+T rating after the Sweet 16 round.  Any single digit team in the Elite 8 gets knocked out, unless their opponent also has a single digit rating.  From this list of teams still in contention after (A) and (B), we now dump: South Carolina, Butler, Wake Forest, Arkansas, Minnesota, Michigan State, USC, Northwestern, Michigan, Notre Dame, Maryland, Marquette, Kansas State, Providence, Iowa State, Creighton, Vanderbilt, and Virginia Tech.

D. Let’s remove any teams that are missing key players and might be able to get to the Sweet 16 without these players, but they are most likely to bow out at this point when the competition is too strong.  Say good bye to Xavier and Oregon.  For now, Creighton and Florida stay in because they played a significant number of games without their key players.

Now we have a much more manageable list of Final Four and Elite 8 Contenders, down to just 21 teams.

But, we are not finished eliminating teams.  What about teams that have not played all that well away from home?  We can eliminate the 22-9 team that went 17-0 at home and 5-9 away from home, because these teams are not going to all of a sudden beat the nation’s finest teams away from their home floor, at least not 4 consecutive times.

Let’s now say bye bye to Florida State, Miami (Fla.), and Seton Hall, lowering the number to 19.

And, then there is the essential thing of having enough consistency to win four games in a row against quality competition.  We cannot keep any teams that did not sustain at least one long winning streak or two extended winning streaks.  Only West Virginia fails to meet this criterion from the remaining group, lowering our list to 18.

Now,  let’s look at how the remaining 18 teams rate in the criteria that matter.

Scoring Margin

There is a reason both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are still in this list.  They are serious contenders this year.  Gonzaga has the highest scoring margin and Saint Mary’s has the third highest among the 17 remaining teams.  From the list of 17, there are a couple teams that do not meet the 8 point minimum to be considered as a strong Final Four contender.  There are teams that make the Final Four with less than 8 point scoring margins, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and we are looking for angles that increase our percentage chance of hitting on Final Four teams.  It’s the end of the line here for Oklahoma State.

 

Field Goal Percentage Differential

Eventually, in order to get to the Final Four, a team is going to have to be superior when it comes to shooting and defending the shot, because eventually, being able to dominate the glass or force a lot of turnovers will not work against teams that can also rebound and force turnovers.  We are looking only for a difference of 5% or more to stay in the hunt for Final Four contention.  We must say adieu to three more teams that cannot meet this standard–Florida, Duke, and Wisconsin.  Now we have 14 teams on our list of Final Four contenders.

 

Rebound Margin

Remember that R+T rating is much more important than any of its components (Rebounding, Turnovers, and Steals), but for Final Four consideration, well over 90% of the past Final Four teams had positive rebound margin.  In what may help vindicate our selections to this point, all 14 teams remaining have positive rebounding margin.

 

Okay, Already, Who Is Left?

The following teams have resumes that could get them to the Final Four.  In alphabetical order, they are: Arizona, Baylor, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Purdue, Saint Mary’s, SMU, Villanova, Virginia, and West Virginia.  If our criteria is worth anything these years, we expect the Final Four to come from this list of teams.  But, we need to do better.  You cannot select 14 teams to make the Final Four or even Elite 8.

 

What we need to do now is look at each game as it is played.  It won’t help us to go with the 4 best resumes if these teams cannot all make the Final Four because they will play each other prior to that round.

Here is how we see the First Four games according to PiRate Criteria.  Note that our criteria and our Red-White-Blue Ratings have no real correlation, so the teams we predict to win may not be the same as the teams our criteria says will win.

First Four

New Orleans over Mount St. Mary’s

UNC-Central over UC-Davis

USC over Providence

Kansas St. over Wake Forest

Most brackets allow you to miss here without penalty and start in earnest at 64 teams, but we don’t go for that.

Round of 64

You will not see us picking many upsets in this round.  Remember the important factoid we revealed at the beginning: you win your bracket contests by getting your teams into the Elite 8, Final 4, and National Championship.  If you pick a lot of upsets, you are liable to have very few teams left by the Elite 8.

Villanova over New Orleans (Mount St. Mary’s)

Wisconsin over Virginia Tech

Virginia over UNC-Wilmington (upset possible, but we’ll take the Cavs)

Florida over East Tennessee (like a home game for the Gators)

SMU over USC in a rematch (also over Providence) near tossup vs. USC close to 50-50

Baylor over New Mexico St.

South Carolina over Marquette in close one that will be like home game for Gamecocks.

Duke over Troy

Gonzaga over South Dakota St.

Northwestern over Vanderbilt (close game)

Notre Dame over Princeton

West Virginia over Bucknell (not this year for Bison as Mountaineers are too physical)

Maryland over Xavier (Chris Mack becomes an early candidate for other big openings)

Florida State over Florida Gulf Coast (FGCU not as strong as their Sweet 16 team)

Saint Mary’s over VCU (Will Wade comes free for promotion to power conference team)

Arizona over North Dakota

Kansas over UNC-Central (UC-Davis)

Miami over Michigan State (MSU one and done two years in a row)

Iowa State over Nevada (but this one should be nip and tuck)

Purdue over Vermont (Boilermakers finally have the right type of resume to advance)

Creighton over Rhode Island (freeing up Dan Hurley if a big school wants him)

Oregon over Iona (loss of Chris Boucher does not hurt yet)

Oklahoma State over Michigan (This upset we will pick.  Cowboys have better criteria resume)

Louisville over Jacksonville State (UL almost has a home game in Indy)

North Carolina over Texas Southern

Seton Hall over Arkansas (should be physical and close)

Minnesota over Middle Tennessee (Blue Raiders are the Vegas favorite, but Gophers can exploit interior defense)

Butler over Winthrop (we would not be shocked if Butler has to rally to win this one)

Cincinnati over Kansas State (Wake Forest)

UCLA over Kent State

Wichita St. over Dayton (Will Archie Miller be the next NC State coach?)

Kentucky over Northern Kentucky (Norse would be happy with a lead at under 16 timeout in 1st half)

 

Round of 32

Villanova over Wisconsin

Virginia over Florida (should be very close, maybe overtime)

Baylor over SMU (this one should be a great game–Tim Jankovich in play at Illinois)

Duke over South Carolina (We don’t see Frank Martin leaving the Palmetto State unless he has 4 million reasons)

Gonzaga over Northwestern (Cinderella season ends here–no Cubs repeat in the Windy City)

West Virginia over Notre Dame (Irish wear down in the second half)

Florida State over Maryland

Arizona over Saint Mary’s (expect a hard-fought game but Gaels are outmanned)

Kansas over Miami (closer than expected)

Purdue over Iowa State (Boilermakers look impressive to this point)

Oregon over Creighton (Boucher’s absence felt but not enough for Ducks to lose)

Louisville over Oklahoma St. (Brad Underwood vs. Rick Pitino–Brilliant!)

North Carolina over Seton Hall

Butler over Minnesota (Should be a great game)

Cincinnati over UCLA (Bruins numbers padded by substandard overall schedule–not strong enough inside)

Kentucky over Wichita State (because Wildcat players appear to be on a mission and if so are the class of the field)

 

Sweet 16 to Elite 8

Villanova over Virginia (Cavs do not have enough offense to win at this point)

Baylor over Duke (Our big upset pick in this round, because Duke has holes Bears can exploit)

West Virginia over Gonzaga (Sorry Bulldog fans, WVU style of play is not what you want to face)

Arizona over Florida State (We expect Wildcats to win big in this one)

Kansas over Purdue (KU will have to play lights out to put Boilermakers away)

Louisville over Oregon (Boucher’s absence is too much to overcome in this round

North Carolina over Butler (If Heels are rolling at this point, then next round is actual title game)

Kentucky over Cincinnati (Should be ultra-physical and highly emotional game)

 

Elite 8 to Final Four

Unfortunately, at this point the top two teams in the field will meet

Baylor over Villanova (no repeat for Wildcats but a great game)

Arizona over West Virginia (Mountaineers run out of gas at this point)

Louisville over Kansas (Cards win a sloppy game)

Kentucky over North Carolina (This should have been the National Championship Game)

 

Final Four Semifinals

Baylor over Arizona (tough to go against a team playing in its home state)

Kentucky over Louisville (how much will this ticket cost)

 

National Championship

Kentucky over Baylor

 

The Kentucky criteria best matches that of past national champions.  Add to the fact that they have the most talent and a coach that can use the right psychology to motivate these future millionaires to play like their draft status is to be determined in this tournament, and we believe the Wildcats will cut the nets in Arizona.

 

Here is how the 14 top Pirate Criteria teams rank overall

  1. Kentucky
  2. North Carolina
  3. Baylor
  4. Arizona
  5. West Virginia
  6. Gonzaga
  7. Louisville
  8. Villanova
  9. Kansas
  10. Purdue
  11. Duke
  12. Cincinnati
  13. Saint Mary’s
  14. SMU

 

TV Schedule For First Four in Dayton

Day Time (EDT) Network Team vs. Team
Tuesday, March 14 6:40 PM truTV New Orleans vs. Mount St. Mary’s
Tuesday, March 14 9:10 PM truTV Wake Forest vs. Kansas St.
Wednesday, March 15 6:40 PM truTV UC-Davis vs. UNC-Central
Wednesday, March 15 9:10 PM truTV USC vs. Providence

 

 

 

 

March 11, 2017

Conference Tournament Update–Saturday, March 11, 2017

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:16 am

Joining The Field

You might be thinking, “Wait, there were no conference championship games Friday, so how could there be an addition to the automatic bid list?”

It is a technicality issue.  In the SWAC, Alcorn State is ineligible for postseason play, but they were eligible for the conference tournament.  The Braves have made it to the Championship Game of the SWAC Tournament, but they cannot receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Their opponent tonight is Texas Southern, the regular season SWAC champion.  The rules in the SWAC state that if the conference tournament champion is ineligible for the postseason, the regular season champion gets the automatic bid.  Thus, Texas Southern is in the Dance no matter what happens tonight in the conference championship game.

We rarely issue opinions on matters like this, but this one seems obvious.  The conference championship game is now meaningless, and leagues like the SWAC struggle to fill seats in tournament games if they do not put them on the home courts of the higher seeds.  This league does not include all their members in the conference tournament, yet they included an ineligible team.  It seems obvious that the SWAC should have kept Alcorn State out of the conference tournament and allowed Arkansas-Pine Bluff (one of two teams left out) to participate.  That at least would make the Championship Game mean something.

Today’s Schedule

All times Eastern Standard 

America East Conference Tournament Championship — Vermont Hosts
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Vermont 28-5 vs. 3 Albany 21-12 11:00 AM ESPN2

Vermont has a perfect America East record this year, now at 16-0, as they prepare to host Albany.  The last time these two teams met, Albany took a seven-point first half lead in Burlington, before the Catamounts clawed back into the lead in the second half.  The game was still close with less than four minutes remaining before a big closing run by VU produced a 12-point victory.  David Nichols kept Albany in that game with his three-point shooting, and if the Great Danes are to pull off the upset, they will need to be hot from behind the arc.  Vermont should win its 21st consecutive game and become a feisty lower-seed foe for a second round biggie.

 

American Athletic Conference Tournament Semifinals–Hartford,CT
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 SMU 28-4 vs. 4 Central Florida 21-10 3:00 PM ESPN2
2 Cincinnati 28-4 vs. 6 Connecticut 16-16 5:00 PM ESPN2

One might think that SMU and Cincinnati have this tournament semifinals all wrapped up and will face off tomorrow in a rubber game to decide the conference tournament title winner.  Think again.  Central Florida and Connecticut are worthy competitors, and both teams have the ability to pull off upsets.

Cincinnati destroyed UConn both times they played, but the Huskies have a knack for becoming a different team in conference tournament play.  They looked like they were poised for a repeat performance after smashing a good Houston team and ending the Couagars’ hopes of an at-large bid.

Central Florida presents incredible matchup problems with 7-6 behemoth Tacko Fall able to alter gameplans all by himself.  UCF has won six consecutive games, and Coach Johnny Dawkins knows how to use Fall to suck defenders in so that his prime long-range shooters, Matt Williams, B J Taylor, and Nick Banyard, can get open looks.  UCF hit 14 three-pointers in their decimation of Memphis.

 

Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship–Brooklyn
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
5 Duke 26-8 vs. 3 Notre Dame 25-8 9:00 PM ESPN

Neither team was picked by most of the ACC media experts to make it to the championship game of this tournament.  Duke dropped Louisville and North Carolina to make it here, while Notre Dame took care of business against Virginia and Florida St.  Both teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament, so the two are playing for pride and a chance to move up one seed line in the Dance.  Duke won at Notre Dame in their only meeting this year, and this win occurred during Coach K’s absence with Jeff Capel guiding the team.  The Blue Devils had a hot streak in that game, hitting over 50% from the field and an amazing 23 of 24 at the foul line.

 

Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Semifinals–Pittsburgh (Duquense)
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
9 Davidson 17-14 vs. 4 Rhode Island 22-9 1:00 PM CBSSN
2 VCU 25-7 vs. 3 Richmond 20-11 3:30 PM CBSSN

Nervous fans of teams on the Bubble will be watching this league the next two days.  With top-seed Dayton dismissed by Davidson, there are three teams left in this quartet that can burst some bubbles elsewhere.  Rhode Island may have already played itself in to the NCAA Tournament, but Richmond and Davidson must win the automatic bid.  This tournament should be must watch this afternoon if your team still needs some help.

 

Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship–Kansas City
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
4 Iowa St. 22-10 vs. 2 West Virginia 26-7 6:00 PM ESPN

They hit just 26.7% of their shots, and their press was not very effective yesterday, but West Virginia found a way to beat Kansas State, doing so by dominating on the glass.  Now, the Mountaineers go for the Big 12 Title against an Iowa State team that did not fare well against WVU in two previous tries.

In both games, the Cyclones wore out with fatigue from facing full-court pressure.  WVU went on big runs both times to win by double digits.  ISU might have more fatigue problems tonight, since this is their third game in three days.  The Mountaineers seemed to look a little tired as well last night, but Coach Huggins provided the adrenaline needed to get over the hump.

 

Big East Conference Tournament Championship–New York City
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Villanova 30-3 vs. 6 Creighton 25-8 5:30 PM Fox

Villanova already knows they will be a #1 seed as they attempt to defend their National Championship, but the Wildcats can secure the overall top-seed with a win over the Blue Jays this afternoon.  Both teams were down a key player when they met most recently, but VU has its key player back now in power forward Darryl Reynolds.  Reynolds has been pulling down the tough rebounds in his three games back, and the Wildcats once again have the look of a Final Four team.

 

Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship–Reno, NV
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 North Dakota 21-9 vs. 3 Weber St. 19-12 8:30 PM ESPNU

North Dakota swept the season series with Weber State, including the big win back in February that put the Fighting Hawks in control of the Big Sky race.  UND won with their incredible guard tandem of Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall, and WSU will have to come up with an incredible defensive gameplan to keep UND out of the Big Dance.  The Hawks are hoping a convincing win can help them avoid a layover in Dayton.

 

Big Ten Conference Tournament Semifinals–Washington, DC
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
8 Michigan 22-11 vs. 4 Minnesota 24-8 1:00 PM CBS
2 Wisconsin 24-8 vs. 6 Northwestern 23-10 3:30 PM CBS

The four teams remaining will not hurt anybody else’s Bubble chances, as they will all receive Dance invitations, but there is still drama remaining in this tournament.  Michigan survived a travel nightmare just to get to this tournament.  Northwestern has never been a factor in this tournament and has not won a Big Ten title of any kind.  Meanwhile, it would make for a terrific championship game tomorrow if neighboring rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin played for the trophy.  It also would give the Big Ten a chance to move a team into the 4-seed line.

 

Big West Conference Tournament Championship–Anaheim
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 UC-Irvine 21-13 vs. 2 UC-Davis 21-12 11:30 PM ESPN2

The top two seeds split their two regular season meetings, but UC-Irvine thoroughly embarrassed UC-Davis when they met in Irvine last week with the regular season title on the line.  The Anteaters opened the game with a 22-3 lead, and the Aggies never threatened the rest of the way.  UCI connected on 14 treys in that game.

 

Conference USA Tournament Championship–Birmingham, AL
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Middle Tennessee 29-4 vs. 6 Marshall 20-14 8:30 PM CBSSN

This game might be the most exciting one of the entire day, and the fact that Middle Tennessee might already have done enough to lock up an at-large bid will not take anything away from the excitement this game promises.  Expect the shot clock to play very little factor in this game, as both teams like to push the tempo.

If you like to follow the Houston Rockets with James Harden, Lou Williams, and Eric Gordon playing like thoroughbred race horses, then Marshall is the team for you.  There is a good reason why the Thundering Herd plays like the Rockets, as they are coached by Dan D’Antoni, Mike’s brother.  The Thundering Herd run up and down the floor like UNLV from the 1970’s, but they have one huge Achilles’ Heel.  They cannot rebound very well.  Middle Tennessee is an average rebounding team, but the Blue Raiders swept Marshall in the regular season thanks to spreading the wealth around.  In their most recent game against the Herd, MTSU placed six players in double figures, while a seventh had nine points in a 97-86 win.  Get your popcorn and soda ready for this one, as it will give you two hours of pure viewing pleasure.

 

Ivy League Tournament Semifinals–Philadelphia
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Princeton 21-6 vs. 4 Penn 13-14 1:30 PM ESPNU
2 Harvard 18-9 vs. 3 Yale 17-10 4:00 PM ESPNU

We aren’t going to hide our joy over this tournament finally becoming a reality.  The Ivy League plays quality fundamental basketball.  If you play or coach at a lower level and must use sound principles and intelligence for your team to win, this is the league for you to watch.

Princeton aced the field this year with a perfect 14-0 league mark, and if the Tigers knock off rival Penn tonight and then win tomorrow, they should be a 13-seed in the Tournament with a somewhat decent chance to knock off the right type of 4-seed (not West Virginia or Cincinnati).  Having legendary rivals Harvard and Yale play in the second game just makes this inaugural affair perfect.

Harvard took Princeton to the wire in both games, but the Tigers handled the Bulldogs rather easily.  Few fans are giving Penn much chance in this tournament, but they are getting to host this thing at the Palestra, which should give the Quakers about 5-6 points in home court advantage.

 

Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship–Cleveland
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Akron 26-7 vs. 6 Kent St. 21-13 7:30 PM ESPN2

A February swoon cost Akron any chance of qualifying as an at-large team should they not win the MAC automatic bid.  Included in that fall was a three-point loss at home to Kent State, as the Golden Flashes put an end to the Zips’ 30-game home winning streak.  Akron recovered to win at Kent State last week, so this should be an interesting rematch and close to a 50-50 tossup.

 

Mideast Athletic Conference Tournament Championship–Norfolk, VA (Norfolk St.)
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 UNC-Central 24-8 vs. 2 Norfolk St. 17-15 1:00 PM ESPN2

UNC-Central has remained unnoticed among the nation’s basketball fans outside of the MEAC, but the Eagles have gone 15-2 in their last 17 games and fared rather well in its road games against the power conference teams.  Should UNCC win and then be forced to head to Dayton, the Eagles would most likely emerge victorious and advance, but a win today coupled with an upset somewhere else could be all that it takes to keep Central out of Dayton.  If Norfolk State pulls off the upset, they can send their laundry to Dayton on the next express out of Norfolk.  It does help that the Spartans get to play this game on their home floor.

 

Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship–Las Vegas (UNLV)
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Nevada 27-6 vs. 2 Colorado St. 28-6 6:00 PM CBS

These two teams squared off last Saturday in Reno with the top seed in this tournament on the line.  Nevada won by 13, controlling the tempo and going on a big 20-3 run in the middle of the game.  Nevada is a team without a glaring weakness, albeit not on the same page with Kentucky and Oregon.  The Wolf Pack have a lineup similar to SMU in that all five starters can play in the wing positions and can post up inside.  It reminds us a lot of Louisville during Denny Crum’s time when he had big-time stars like Junior Bridgman, Darrel Griffith, Jim Price, and Ron Thomas.

Colorado State plays a muscle power game and tries to grind opponents down.  The Rams rely on senior guard Gian Clavell to score points, and when his shots are off, CSU can struggle to score.  In the Rams’ favor tonight is the fact that they just played Nevada a week ago and know what they are going to face, as there has not been time to tweak the gameplans all that much.

 

Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship–Las Vegas
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Oregon 29-4 vs. 2 Arizona 29-4 11:00 PM ESPN

Our Red-White-Blue Ratings that we will not publish today actually indicate that this game is a true tossup.  In fact, two of the ratings show the spread at 0!  The top two seeds met just once in the regular season, and Oregon used a 36-9 run in the first half to put the game away quickly.  The Ducks have the top home court advantage in America, so the 27-point margin of victory can be tossed out the window, and you can give the Wildcats a little more incentive to seek revenge tonight.  However, we think the Ducks have the better roster, and that gives Oregon the slight edge.

 

Southeastern Conference Tournament Semifinals–Nashville
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Kentucky 27-5 vs. 5 Alabama 19-13 1:00 PM ESPN
7 Vanderbilt 19-14 vs. 3 Arkansas 24-8 3:20 PM ESPN

Vanderbilt played its way into the NCAA Tournament with its third win over Florida.  The Commodores should be able to avoid a First Four game in Dayton as well.

Alabama has the potential to give Kentucky all it can handle.  Had the Tide hit their free throws in their one contest against the Wildcats, they could have won their regular season game in Tuscaloosa.  This is Nashville, and the last time we checked, Nashville was about halfway between these two schools’ campuses, but it will look more like Rupp Arena this afternoon as the Music City is crawling with Royal Blue clothed tourists up and down Broadway and in Hatty B’s Hot Chicken.

Arkansas and Vanderbilt played two close games this year, with the visiting team winning both times.  Since the Commodores won at Bud Walton, Arkansas has been a different team.  The Razorbacks have won seven of eight games, including a road victory over South Carolina.

 

Southland Conference Tournament Championship–Katy, TX (Greater Houston area)
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 New Orleans 19-11 vs. 2 Texas A&M-CC 20-10 9:30 PM ESPN2

Disclaimer: We cannot preview this game in an impartial manner.  We will not withhold the secret that we are rooting like crazy for Coach Willis Wilson to guide TAMCCU to the Big Dance.  A finer man in the coaching business does not exist, and Wilson has not been given the accolades that should have been afforded to him.  The Rice alum coached at his alma mater for 18 years, taking the Owls to the near edge of NCAA qualification only to come up a tad short, having to make do with the NIT.  Trying to win at Rice is extremely tough, as the high-academic standards and having to be the number two team in the city of Houston did not help the Owls recruit players to Main Street, where on a sunny day, more folks turn out to the zoo across the street than come to the Rice basketball games.

Wilson has built up the TAMCCU program to the point where the Islanders have made consecutive trips to the CIT, as Stephen F. Austin dominated the league under former coach Brad Underwood.  Tonight, the Islanders have their best shot at making the Dance, where they have been just once before, back in 2007.

New Orleans also has a nice story that needs to be told.  The basketball program shut down after the 2009-2010 season and stayed dark for two seasons before re-emerging as one of the final two teams to play as an independent (Cal State Bakersfield is the other).  The Privateers have had a somewhat storied history with a bevy of excellent coaches working in the Crescent City (Ron Greene, Butch van Breda Kolff, Bennie Dees, Tim Floyd, and Buzz Williams).  They have made it to four NCAA Tournaments, albeit none in the last 20 years, and they actually have won Dance win over BYU in 1987.  There will be emotions running wild on both sides tonight, so check this game out if only for a little bit of your time.

 

Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament Championship–Houston
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Texas Southern 22-11 vs. 2 Alcorn St. * 18-13 6:30 PM ESPNU
* Alcorn St. is ineligible for the postseason. Texas Southern earns automatic bid win or lose tonight.

We have already spoken about this game and the fact that it does not matter if TSU wins or loses, since they already own the automatic bid.  However, it will help the Tigers to win this game, because we believe they will definitely avoid Dayton with a win tonight, and they could be punished and sent to Dayton if they lose.

The game should be entertaining and nip and tuck, as TSU had difficulty beating Alcorn twice this year, once by a bucket, and once in overtime.  Unfortunately, the one player that might have made a difference for the Tigers against a power conference team, muscular forward and former SWAC POY Derrick Griffin, decided to leave school to prepare for the pro draft–not the NBA, but the NFL, where he stands a good chance of being drafted as a mighty big receiver target.

 

Sun Belt Conference Tournament Semifinals–New Orleans
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 UT-Arlington 25-7 vs. 4 Texas St. 19-12 12:30 PM ESPN3
2 Georgia St. 20-11 vs. 6 Troy 20-14 3:00 PM ESPN3

There are some Bracketologists that believe UT-Arlington will have done enough to get an at-large bid if they beat Texas State this afternoon and lose tomorrow, but 12 of our 13 Bracketology Gurus beg to differ.  The Mavericks are the team to beat in this tourney, but the other three teams don’t fear UTA.  In fact, Texas State and Troy both know they can beat the top seed, as they did so convincingly during the regular season.  Still, UTA is a team that defeated Saint Mary’s and had a double-digit lead at Arkansas before the Razorbacks nipped them in the final minute.  If the Mavericks win the automatic bid, it would not surprise us at all if they move up to a 12-seed, the one seed that has become the seed of upsets.

 

Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship–Las Vegas
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Cal St. Bakersfield 22-8 vs. 2 New Mexico St. 27-5 11:00 PM ESPNU

When we think of Bakersfield, we think of the “Bakersfield Sound” that produced stars like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Jean Shepard.  Our founder also thinks of some great Bakersfield Dodgers baseball teams in the Class A California League that produced future Dodgers stars like Ron Cey, Steve Yeager, Doug Rau, Eric Karros, Pedro and Ramon Martinez, John Wetteland, and Mike Piazza.

Others might think of all the farmland in and around the area or the giant arch just off Highway 99.  Basketball does not come to mind when one thinks of Bakersfield.  Yet, the Roadrunners, under former Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes, are just one win away from making their second consecutive trip to the Big Dance.

It will be no cakewalk tonight for the top-seeded Roadrunners.  Their opponent is a formidable foe, and New Mexico State might even be considered the favorite in this game.  The teams match up favorably well, and this looks like a championship game where if they played a best of seven series, it would go seven games.

CSUB has one big disadvantage tonight.  The Roadrunners were forced to play an extra half last night, when Utah Valley took them to 4 overtimes.  The Roadrunners shot less than 30% from the field, gave up an astronomical 68 rebounds to Utah Valley, and they still won, because they forced the Wolverines into committing 28 turnovers and stole the ball 11 times.

 

PiRate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Update for Saturday AM

  1. Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga
  2. Kentucky, Oregon, Duke, Arizona
  3. Baylor, Louisville, West Virginia, Florida St.
  4. UCLA, Notre Dame, Butler, Minnesota
  5. Florida, Cincinnati, Iowa St., SMU
  6. Virginia, Purdue, Wisconsin, Creighton
  7. Maryland, Saint Mary’s, Michigan, Wichita St.
  8. Virginia Tech, Miami, Northwestern, VCU
  9. Arkansas, South Carolina, Dayton, Oklahoma St.
  10. Middle Tennessee, Marquette, Michigan St., Seton Hall
  11. Providence, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Wake Forest, USC
  12. UT-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada, Kansas St., Syracuse
  13. Vermont, Princeton, Akron, Bucknell
  14. East Tennessee St., Florida Gulf Coast, New Mexico St., Winthrop
  15. Iona, Texas Southern, Northern Kentucky, UC-Irvine
  16. South Dakota St., UNC-Central, Jacksonville St., Texas A&M CC, North Dakota, Mount St. Mary’s

Last Four Byes

Seton Hall

Providence

Vanderbilt

Xavier

Last Four In–Headed to Dayton

Wake Forest vs. USC

Kansas St. vs. Syracuse

First Four Out

Rhode Island–can jump into the field with a win Saturday

Illinois State

California

Alabama–we jumped the Tide up here, because they are the only team still playing with a chance to move up.  All others in this spot have no chance to make the field and have no games left to play (Illinois, Iowa, Houston, TCU, Georgia, Indiana)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 24, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Preview For February 25-26, 2017

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 9:23 am

This Week’s PiRate Ratings Red-White-Blue Spreads *

Games Scheduled for: Saturday, February 25, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Clemson Florida St. -3 -1 -3
Pittsburgh North Carolina -10 -9 -6
North Carolina St. Virginia -8 -9 -9
Boston College Virginia Tech -6 -5 -2
Miami Duke -1 -1 -1
Connecticut SMU -6 -6 -4
TCU West Virginia -7 -7 1
Oklahoma St. Texas Tech 10 6 8
Iowa St. Baylor 3 2 -4
Texas Kansas -7 -6 -5
Oklahoma Kansas St. -1 -1 -2
St. John’s Georgetown 1 -1 -4
DePaul Seton Hall -5 -5 -7
Villanova Creighton 8 10 8
Providence Marquette 2 2 9
Minnesota Penn St. 10 9 11
Michigan Purdue -2 -1 -2
Maryland Iowa 7 8 9
Indiana Northwestern 3 6 8
Missouri St. Wichita St. -12 -9 -10
Northern Iowa Illinois St. -5 -3 -5
Stanford Oregon -7 -10 -8
Arizona UCLA 2 2 7
Arizona St. USC -3 -4 -4
Washington St. Washington 2 1 1
South Carolina Tennessee 6 5 4
Kentucky Florida 5 3 3
Ole Miss Missouri 11 10 10
Vanderbilt Mississippi St. 7 7 10
Georgia LSU 14 12 13
Texas A&M Alabama 4 3 6
Auburn Arkansas 1 1 -1
Gonzaga BYU 23 19 19
Saint Mary’s Santa Clara 17 18 19

 

Games Scheduled for: Sunday, February 26, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Louisville Syracuse 14 12 15
Notre Dame Georgia Tech 12 14 10
Central Florida Cincinnati -4 -5 -2
Xavier Butler 1 1 2
Michigan St. Wisconsin -1 -1 6
Nebraska Illinois 2 1 1


* Red, White, and Blue Ratings are 3 different algorithmic formulas using basketball’s Four Factors, Strength of Schedule, and where the game is played as the predominant data to come up with a game spread.  The Red and White Ratings closely mirror each other, while the Blue Rating uses considerably more data and is time-consuming to calculate.  Thus, we are limited with the amount of games we can predict.

This Week’s PiRate Ratings Top 25

  1. Gonzaga
  2. North Carolina
  3. Kansas
  4. Villanova
  5. Florida
  6. Kentucky
  7. Louisville
  8. West Virginia
  9. Wichita St.
  10. Oregon
  11. Duke
  12. Purdue
  13. UCLA
  14. Saint Mary’s
  15. Baylor
  16. Cincinnati
  17. Florida St.
  18. Wisconsin
  19. SMU
  20. Arizona
  21. Notre Dame
  22. Creighton
  23. Virginia
  24. Butler
  25. Oklahoma St.

ACC

  1. North Carolina
  2. Louisville
  3. Duke
  4. Florida St.
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Virginia
  7. Miami
  8. Syracuse
  9. Wake Forest
  10. Virginia Tech
  11. Clemson
  12. Pittsburgh
  13. Georgia Tech
  14. North Carolina St.
  15. Boston College

Big 12

  1. Kansas
  2. West Virginia
  3. Baylor
  4. Oklahoma St.
  5. Iowa St.
  6. Kansas St.
  7. TCU
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Texas
  10. Oklahoma

Big East

  1. Villanova
  2. Creighton
  3. Butler
  4. Xavier
  5. Marquette
  6. Providence
  7. Georgetown
  8. Seton Hall
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Big Ten

  1. Purdue
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan
  4. Minnesota
  5. Maryland
  6. Northwestern
  7. Michigan St.
  8. Indiana
  9. Ohio St.
  10. Iowa
  11. Illinois
  12. Penn St.
  13. Nebraska
  14. Rutgers

Pac-12

  1. Oregon
  2. UCLA
  3. Arizona
  4. California
  5. USC
  6. Utah
  7. Colorado
  8. Stanford
  9. Arizona St.
  10. Washington
  11. Washington St.
  12. Oregon St.

SEC

  1. Florida
  2. Kentucky
  3. Arkansas
  4. South Carolina
  5. Vanderbilt
  6. Georgia
  7. Ole Miss
  8. Tennessee
  9. Alabama
  10. Texas A&M
  11. Auburn
  12. Mississippi St.
  13. Missouri
  14. LSU

Oh, have we got some great games for you this weekend

Every week, we seem to tell you there are some great games to watch for that weekend.  This one is no different.  There are more than enough interesting games this week for you to watch.  Most of the Bubble teams are playing, and we have the crucial ones you can see on TV or online.  Then, you have some big games where both teams will be in the NCAA no matter what, so these games are big just to see who looks the part.  You also have a couple of rival games, and in one case there is a low-major conference rivalry game that ended in a fight the last time the two teams played on the same court where they will play this weekend.  You will see that we have compared this game to the 1965 Giants and Dodgers, but at least no baseball bats will be present (at least we hope).

All Times Eastern      
Time Home Visitor TV Why to Watch
Friday Night
7:00 PM Green Bay Oakland ESPNU 2nd place in Horizon on the line
7:00 PM Monmouth Siena ESPN2 Monmouth G Justin Robinson
8:00 PM Harvard Yale ESPN3 These two rivals will meet in Ivy Semis too
         
Saturday
Time Home Visitor TV Why to Watch
12:00 PM Clemson Florida St. ACC Net. Must win for CU on the Bubble
12:00 PM Connecticut SMU CBS SMU vying for #3 Seed
1:00 PM New Hampshire Md.-Baltimore Co. ESPN3 AmEst #3 Seed to avoid Verm. til finals
2:00 PM Kentucky Florida CBS SEC Reg. Season Championhip on the line
2:00 PM TCU West Virginia ESPN TCU needs win for Bubble Advancement
2:00 PM Oklahoma St. Texas Tech ESPNU TTU needs win for Bubble Advancement
2:00 PM Northern Iowa Illinois St. CBSSN ISU trying to stay on good part of Bubble
2:00 PM Rhode Island VCU ESPN2 URI needs win stay at bottom of Bubble
2:00 PM Vermont Stony Brook ESPN3 Top 2 teams in AmEst–Title preview?
3:00 PM Villanova Creighton Fox Top 20 Matchup
4:00 PM Vanderbilt Mississippi St. ESPNU VU needs win to stay on Bubble
4:00 PM Michigan Purdue ESPN2 Mich. trying to stay on good part of Bubble
4:00 PM Miami (Fla.) Duke CBS Miami can clinch NCAA w/win
4:00 PM Stanford Oregon Pac-12 Net. Ducks competing for #2 Seed
4:00 PM Iowa St. Baylor ESPN Baylor competing for #2 Seed
4:00 PM Providence Marquette CBSSN Both teams on Bubble–Marq in better pos.
6:00 PM Oklahoma Kansas St. ESPNU KSU must win to stay in Bubble
7:00 PM Columbia Penn ESPN3 Last Ivy League Tournament spot on line
8:00 PM Indiana Northwestern Big 10 Net. IU loss could be final straw for Crean
8:15 PM Arizona UCLA ESPN Game of the Day
10:00 PM Gonzaga BYU ESPN2 Zags Last resume builder until WCCT
         
Sunday
Time Home Visitor TV Why to Watch
1:00 PM UAB Middle Tennessee CBSSN MTSU slim chance for at-large if needed
2:00 PM Louisville Syracuse CBS Orange win secures NCAA bid
3:00 PM Central Florida Cincinnati CBSSN Will Tacko make Cinti Fall
3:30 PM Xavier Butler FS1 Game of the Day
4:00 PM Michigan St. Wisconsin CBS MSU win & on the “in” part of the Bubble
4:00 PM Iona Monmouth ESPN3 Mad Rivalry like 1965 Dodgers-Giants
6:30 PM Notre Dame Georgia Tech ESPNU Tech needs more W’s for NCAA bid

Conference Tournaments Begin Monday

One conference tournament commences play Monday night.  The Atlantic Sun Bracket is finalized, and the quarterfinal round begins on the 27th.  The A-Sun does not have one hosting site.  All games will be played on the home floor of the higher seed, and Florida Gulf Coast owns home court advantage throughout.

Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament–Higher Seed at Home
Quarterfinal Round, Monday, February 27
Seed Team W-L vs. Seed Team W-L Time TV
1 Florida Gulf Coast 23-7 vs. 8 Stetson 11-20 7:00 PM WatchESPN
2 Lipscomb 19-12 vs. 7 NJIT 11-19 8:00 PM WatchESPN
3 North Florida 13-18 vs. 6 Jacksonville 17-14 7:00 PM WatchESPN
4 USC-Upstate 17-14 vs. 5 Kennesaw St. 13-17 7:00 PM WatchESPN

 

 

February 15, 2017

The Best of the Best and Where They Might Be Vulnerable–2nd Edition

A month ago, we showed you a couple dozen top college basketball teams’ advanced statistics and then tried to examine through those stats where each team might be vulnerable.  We found vulnerability with every team to some extent, so it is obvious that there is no clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA Championship.  The days of UCLA having a 95% chance of winning the title have come and gone.  The team with the most chance of winning it all this year might have something like a 7-8% chance of winning it all, while up to 20 teams may have 4% chances of cutting down the nets at University of Phoenix Stadium in The Valley of the Sun.

In our second edition of the Best of the Best, we see only minor changes from before.  While we hope all of you regularly read our little project, we know this is not so.  Therefore, we will bring the newcomers up to speed on how we operate here on the PiRate ship.

First, we are math geeks.  We have linear and boolean algebra experts helping us out, and our founder is an amateur mathlete and a professional in baseball analytics.  Fret not; you do not have to know algebra to enjoy this site.  We have done all the calculations.  We will show you some of the formulas that we use to come to our conclusions, but it won’t be on the test.  You get an A+ if you just show up (maybe that’s why we don’t teach at Cal Tech or M.I.T.).

The PiRates are proponents of the Four Factors in basketball.  We have found that with a little different emphasis in each of the factors, this set of data can be applied to the NBA, College, High School, Middle School, and even the kids’ youth leagues (although if somebody is using Four Factors’ data to coach a 5th and 6th grade team, they need to reconsider why they are coaching at all).

The Four Factors can really be considered Eight Factors, because they can be used to rate teams’ offense and defense.  When you subtract the defensive factor from the offensive factor in each of the four stats, you get a Four Factors margin (just like when you subtract points per game allowed from points per game scored, you get scoring margin).

Here are the Four Factors.  If you just want this week’s results, skip down to “BEST OF THE BEST”

  1. Effective Shooting Percentage
  2. Turnover Rate
  3. Offensive Rebounding Rate
  4. Free Throw Rate

1. Effective Shooting Percentage: (FG+(0.5*3pt))/FGA

The difference between regular field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage is that you count all made three-pointers as 1.5 made field goals.  So, if a team hits 25 of 55 shots and makes 6 three-pointers, their EFG% is: (25+(6*.05))/55 which equals 50.9%.

The defensive equivalent uses the same formula, and the difference between the offensive and defensive EFG% is the EFG% margin.

2. Turnover Rate (TOV/100 Possessions not including offensive rebounds)

The TOV Rate is the number of turnovers committed per every 100 possessions (and forced per 100 possessions for the defensive factor).  You can accurately measure possessions in college basketball by using the following formula.

FGA+(.475*FTA)+TO-Off. Rebounds

However for TOV Rate, we remove the offensive rebounds because it skews the rate.  When a team gets an offensive rebound, they almost always get another shot attempt and do not hold the ball long enough to commit additional turnovers at the same rate that they do in a possession not involving an offensive rebound.

If a team commits 14 turnovers in a game in which they had 69 possessions but with 8 offensive rebounds, their TOV Rate for the game is: 14/61, which comes to 23%

3. Offensive Rebound Rate: (Off. Rebounds/(Off. Rebounds + Opponents’ Def. Rebounds)

This is basically the percentage of offensive rebounds a team retrieves off its own missed shots.  If a team has 35 total missed shots in a game where a rebound is then retrieved by one team or the other, and they finish with 8 offensive rebounds, their Offensive Rebound Rate is: 8/35, which comes to 22.9%.

The defensive counterpart to this is Defensive Rebound Rate.  If a team’s opponent has 38 total missed shots in a game where there were rebounds retrieved by one team or the other, and the opponent finished with 6 offensive rebounds, then the team’s defensive rebound rate is: 6/38, which comes to 15.8%.  The rebound rate margin would be: 22.9-15.8 or 7.1%.

If you count the two examples, in standard parlance the better rebounding team won the battle of the boards 40-33.

4. Free Throw Rate 

The basketball math experts disagree on how to calculate this rating.  Some believe that just getting fouled is all that matters, since each foul makes it one foul closer to an opposing player becoming disqualified.  Others believe that this rate should be the percentage of free throw attempts to field goal attempts.  Others say, it should be made free throws per field goal attempts.

We disagree with these beliefs.  These numbers can easily become skewed when a team plays enough close games with the lead in the final minutes.  Said team may not attempt another field goal, while the opponent fouls them on purpose to stop the clock and hope this team misses foul shots.

Let’s say Florida leads South Carolina, Alabama. Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee by a few points in every game as the clock reaches 2 minutes.  These other teams foul the Gators’ players on purpose in hopes that the shots will be missed, and they can come down the floor and hit buckets to win the game or force overtime.

At the same time, Kentucky plays these same five teams and leads by 20 with 2 minutes to play.  These opponents do not need to foul at this point, as the reserves are ready to come in and try to get in the scorebook.  Are we to believe that Florida is a more effective free throw shooting team, simply because their opponents can still win in the final 2 minutes, so they will purposely foul, while there would be no use in fouling Kentucky with the Wildcats up 20.

So, what is the answer?  We must admit that there is no way to fully eliminate the intentional fouling in multiple close games, but at least we reduce it as much as possible.  And, we use made free throws to at least show that it is important to make them, especially in those close games.

We go with: (FT/100 Possessionsand this time we include offensive rebounds, because defenses frequently foul following an offensive rebound.

If a team makes 17 foul shots in a game in which they had 71 possessions, their Free Throw Rate is 17/71, which is 23.9%.

 

Now What

We take the stats (offense and defense) for each team we evaluate.  We have an algorithm (formula) that we use that gives different weight to each of the factors.  The weights differ depending on whether it is NBA, NCAA, High School, Middle School, or Youth.  Turnover margin matters less in the NBA than it does in college, and it matters more the lower you go down, until by the time you reach the 5th and 6th grade, it is the most important factor of all (so if you coach 5th and 6th grade basketball, you should do what you can to force as many turnovers as possible and then create the fastest offense you can have so as not to commit too many turnovers–think about a 10-second offense).

Now, you should have picked up on the apparent weaknesses of the Four Factors for college basketball.  By now, you have probably thought that Gonzaga’s stats might look a lot better than Wisconsin’s stats, because the Bulldogs play a much weaker conference schedule than the Badgers.  We use the strengths of schedule for every team to adjust their factors to a point where we hope we have found a happy midpoint to show what each teams’ stats might be against average competition.

Also, think about a team that plays 18 home games, 4 neutral site games, and 9 road games, versus another team that plays 14  home games, 3 neutral site games, and 14 road games.  We adjust for this as well.

As a point of fact, we treat schedule strength and ability to win away from home (nobody plays at home in the Big Dance) as importantly as a good horse handicapper treats class in a horse race.  The mid-major and low-major teams are like claiming and allowance horses, while the power leagues are like stakes-racing horses.  North Carolina is the horse that runs in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, while Cal State Bakersfield is still a maiden until it wins its small track maiden claiming race at WAC Downs.  We know which horse is going to finish ahead of the other as long as it does not throw his jockey.  The stakes horse finishes 20 lengths ahead.

R+T

The last component in our best of the best look is something we trademarked at the PiRate Ratings.  R+T is a combination of rebounding, turnovers, and steals.  It reveals how many extra shooting opportunities a team might have against any type of opponent.  To have a really good R+T number, a team must be equally competent in rebounding, forcing turnovers while not committing many, and by getting steals.

The formula is: (Rebound Margin * 2) + (Steals per Game * 0.5) + (6 – Opponents’ Steals per Game) + (Turnover Margin)

If a team has an R+T rating better than 20, then they can overcome a cold shooting night and still win an NCAA Tournament game over a team with an R+T rating below 10.  If a team has an R+T rating in the 28-35 range, they will be very difficult to beat if they also come from a power conference and wins consistently away from home.  If you find a team from one of the top leagues with an R+T over 28 and said team wins 75% of its games away from home, you have a team that frequently wins four games and makes the Final Four.

To the contrary, if you find a team that looks really good on paper, and they have a gaudy won-loss record, but their R+T rating is under 8, watch out.  All it takes is one cold shooting night or one hot shooting night from the opponent. and this team can go home.

And, if you find a power league team with a negative R+T rating, give great consideration toward picking the Cinderella underdog to pull off the upset in the Big Dance.  A majority of the higher seed power conference teams with negative R+T ratings actually lose in their first tournament game.  It does not happen that often, but ask Georgetown fans about Florida Gulf Coast and Virginia Commonwealth.  Ask Vanderbilt fans about Siena, Richmond, and Murray State.  Ask Purdue fans about Arkansas-Little Rock.  In all these cases, the favorite had a lousy R+T rating, while the underdog had decent or even very good R+T ratings.  The low R+T teams can win in the regular season against lesser-quality teams, but in the Big Dance, that stuff doesn’t cut it.  It is vital to get extra scoring opportunities while limiting them to your opponents.

Now it’s time for the reveal.

BEST OF THE BEST

We look at 28 teams this week.  As before, we have selected three mid-major teams as possible upset winners in an opening game if they get the right draw.  We do not include #1 Gonzaga as a mid-major.

We are listing these teams alphabetically.  The first four columns have already been adjusted using our algorithm.

Team FG TO OR FT SOS R+T Road  W-L% Poss/G
Arizona 3.3 0.1 1.1 1.0 57.8 18.3 75.00 66.9
Baylor 4.7 -0.4 1.4 0.3 61.7 17.3 72.73 65.6
Butler 1.8 1.0 0.1 0.2 60.4 9.4 66.67 67.7
Cincinnati 5.0 1.0 0.7 0.0 54.9 18.0 70.00 67.1
Creighton 5.6 0.5 -0.7 0.2 57.3 4.2 90.91 72.9
Duke 4.1 0.4 0.7 0.7 58.5 15.1 63.64 70.7
Florida 3.3 1.1 0.5 0.8 59.4 13.3 77.78 71.5
Florida St. 4.4 0.8 0.3 0.1 58.8 13.4 50.00 73.4
Gonzaga 8.5 0.5 0.6 0.7 54.3 20.1 100.00 70.9
Kansas 4.2 0.2 0.7 0.1 59.9 12.1 83.33 72.6
Kentucky 3.2 1.1 0.9 0.4 60.2 17.7 72.73 76.6
Louisville 3.7 1.0 1.2 0.1 61.0 19.9 66.67 69.6
Middle Tenn. 3.1 1.0 0.9 -0.3 50.9 16.3 84.62 66.3
North Carolina 2.1 0.8 2.6 0.6 59.1 31.6 61.54 74.2
Notre Dame 3.2 0.7 -0.4 0.3 58.1 5.2 54.55 68.7
Oklahoma St. 0.7 0.8 0.9 0.1 59.6 13.4 58.33 73.9
Oregon 5.2 0.6 0.7 0.5 58.4 15.6 63.64 69.6
Purdue 5.5 -0.3 1.3 0.8 56.6 18.0 72.73 71.2
SMU 3.9 0.5 2.2 0.7 54.0 26.7 63.64 63.7
South Carolina 2.4 1.3 0.5 -0.2 56.8 11.4 70.00 71.4
St. Mary’s 5.8 -0.2 2.0 0.3 54.0 20.7 90.00 60.4
UCLA 6.7 0.0 0.0 0.3 52.5 10.3 83.33 75.2
UNC-Wilm. 2.0 1.3 0.6 -0.3 50.2 12.4 73.33 72.7
Villanova 5.2 0.4 0.4 0.9 57.9 13.9 85.71 65.8
Virginia 5.3 1.1 0.9 -0.2 59.8 17.0 66.67 61.8
West Virginia 2.6 2.7 0.7 0.2 55.4 20.9 63.64 73.9
Wichita St. 5.5 1.0 1.5 0.5 49.8 23.6 75.00 70.5
Wisconsin 3.3 0.8 1.8 0.4 54.1 22.4 72.73 65.9

Vulnerabilities

Arizona: The Wildcats do not have the look of a Final Four contender at this point.  They do not have a glaring weakness, but their strengths lack muscle.  Their TO and OR numbers would be adequate if they had a better EFG% margin, but teams with their resume seldom win four games in the NCAA Tournament.  They do have a decent road win-loss record, and it includes a win at Pauley Pavilion.

Baylor: The Bears are very vulnerable to pressure defenses, as their game against West Virginia showed.  BU turns the ball over just a little too much and then does not force many turnovers on their defensive end.  A strong schedule predicts that they should slide through to the Sweet 16, but after that point, any pressure defense from a quality team is going to make the going tough for BU.

Butler: In December and early January, it looked like this Bulldog edition could contend for a deep run in the Dance.  Now, it looks more like Butler could be a team to watch out for an opening game upset.  They might handle pressure defenses better than most other tournament teams, but the Bulldogs lack enough rebounding strength and do not shine in the EFG% department.  It may be a stretch for this team to make the Sweet 16, and it is 50-50 as of now whether they can get to the Round of 32 if they fall to a 5-seed.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats are somewhat of a mystery.  They looked like an Elite 8 team and Final Four contender until they took a trip to Dallas, where SMU stopped the UC offense and won an ugly contest.  It’s a good bet that the Bearcats and Mustangs will meet again in the AAC Championship Game.  If Cinti enters the Big Dance playing at their peak, then the Bearcats should move on to the Sweet 16 with a chance to advance past that if they get a good draw and do not have to face a North Carolina, Villanova, Florida, or Oregon, teams with the right type of offense to hurt the Bearcats.

Creighton: This one is cut and dry.  The Blue Jays look like a team that will lose its first game in the NCAA Tournament.  They do not rebound the ball well enough to advance, and their R+T is the lowest of the 28 teams we have featured today.  We expect Creighton to go home quickly in the Dance, and a team like Monmouth, Wichita State, Middle Tennessee, or Bucknell could possibly dominate them in the Round of 64.

Duke: Coach K is back on the sideline, and there is going to be some silent gossip going around that he might be thinking about retiring.  So, his players might pick up on this and play the best they can play.  It won’t take much for this team to move into the Final Four discussion.  Duke is a better version of Arizona this season.  The Blue Devils’ numbers are just enough better to move from a Sweet 16 to an Elite 8 and better team.  The one thing that bothers us is that Duke has not always been sharp away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Florida: A month ago, we considered Florida a two and out team at best.  The Gators have started to turn things around this year, and their numbers are improving as the season continues.  They are not West Virginia when it comes to pressure defense, but they are better than most of the rest in that regard.  A dominant rebounding team may give the Gators fits.  An exceptional record away from home and a tough schedule indicates that the Gators are a force to be reckoned with and a Final Four contender this year.

Florida St: The Seminoles have begun to swoon a bit, and with every successive road game in the ACC, they look more vulnerable than the previous game.  Winning big at home and then losing on the road does not lead to a lot of success in the NCAA Tournament.  However, a few well-timed ACC road wins and a run in the ACC Tournament could give FSU a resume not that different than that of Duke..

Gonzaga: In case you didn’t know, technically a West Coast Conference team has won the NCAA Championship before.  When San Francisco won back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956, they were a member of the California Basketball Association, which would be renamed the West Coast Athletic Conference in 1957.  This Bulldog team is different from others that did not make the Final Four, namely they are quite strong defending in the paint and then preventing offensive rebounds.  Opponents do not shoot the ball with much success against the GU defense, while the Bulldogs have a strong shooting offense.  However, they have yet to face a really quality pressure defense, and they could be somewhat vulnerable to a West Virginia, Florida, or even a South Carolina.

Kansas: This is not Bill Self’s best Kansas team, but if you watch this Jayhawk team play, you can see a winning attitude, where KU seems to find a way to win games.  A strong schedule and very successful road record tells us that Self definitely has a Final Four contender.  We think that the Jayhawks will meet their match in an Elite 8 matchup, because teams with this resume seldom get lucky more than once, and KU may need a little luck against other power teams.

Kentucky:  Don’t underestimate John Calipari’s ability to get a bunch of 5-star players to play cohesively as a team.  It isn’t easy.  The Wildcats could easily become a group of future first round picks that do not hustle, and even let up so as not to suffer an injury just before the draft.  Then again, this team has had bouts of inconsistency.  When the players are on their game, there are few teams (maybe no other teams) that can match up with them on talent alone.  When they are acting like they have ADHD, they are vulnerable even to mediocre .500 teams.  We won’t dismiss, Cal’s kids, because their resume says they have Final Four numbers.  They also have the fastest pace of any team that will be in the Dance, and they could wear opponents down.

Louisville: A little dissension can become a lot of dissension in a hurry, and recent troubles involving players on this team could come back to hurt the Cardinals.  UL looked like a team headed to Spring Break in their loss to Virginia when not at full strength.  When they are on their game, they are the best team in the Commonwealth, and that says they are a Final Four contender.

Middle Tennessee: The top mid-major team will not be overlooked this year, when they trounced Michigan State in the opening game last year.  The Blue Raiders are a better team in 2017 than they were in 2016, so it is not unthinkable to say they are a sweet 16 contender.  Their pressure man-to-man defense creates a lot of turnovers with easy scoring opportunities thanks to some quick perimeter players.  Their big liability is their schedule strength, as it is too low for a team to think about advancing past the sweet 16.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels looked like the best team by far back before New Year’s.  They still look like one of the best, but their EFG% margin has fallen a bit too much, while their incredible rebounding prowess has weakened a little.  We are not saying that UNC is doomed to lose in a big upset, but we are saying they could fall in a mild upset, but not until the Elite 8 round.  If we had to choose one team with the absolute best resume of a national champion, North Carolina would be surely be one of those teams in the discussion thanks to the Heels owning the best R+T rating; they are the only team with an R+T in excess of 28.  It will take a team that can shoot lights out from outside and put up a good fight inside to beat UNC, but there are a half-dozen or so teams this year that can do it.

Notre Dame: For the same reason as Creighton, we do not see a deep run for the Fighting Irish this year.  They cannot hold their own on the backboards, and they do not dominate teams in the field goal department.  and, they are not a team capable of forcing a lot of turnovers.  Their current R+T is the second worst in this field.  They do not look like a sweet 16 team.

Oklahoma St.: Brad Underwood was not supposed to get the Cowboys to the Dance in year one in Stillwater.  We’re not sure this OSU team could beat Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin team from last year, but the Cowboys have improved their resume the most in the last month.  If they continue to improve, then they will be a dangerous team in mid-March.  When Underwood gets his type of player on campus, watch out!

Oregon: Which Oregon team will show up in March–The team that beat Arizona by a million points, or the team that blew a 19-point lead to UCLA?   If basketball were all about shooting and defending the shot with no rebounding or turnovers, the Ducks would be a national title contender.  Still, this team would not surprise us if they cruise to the sweet 16 and survive to the elite 8 like last year.

Purdue: In past years, Gene Keady coaching tree members have under-performed in the NCAA Tournament, and they all share something in common.  These coaches stress half-court defense and prefer not to pressure the ball and play in the passing lanes.  They train their players to play smart and not take many chances, trying to win a game one possession at a time.  These coaches should have become football coaches.  In the NCAA Tournament, a team needs to have a way to get extra shooting opportunities, when they run up against an opponent that can shoot better than they can.  Purdue has its best chance in a long time to break that bad streak this year, not because the Boilermakers can force a lot of turnovers (which they cannot).  PU is such a dominating rebounding team that they can get those extra chances by taking multiple shots per possession.  We think PU has its best shot to get past the first weekend to the sweet 16 and maybe elite 8.  Still, the Boilermakers are not in the same class with the final four contenders.

SMU: Tim Jankovich served as an assistant under multiple NCAA Tournament coaches including two that have championship rings–Bill Self and Larry Brown.  Jankovich has a sleeper in Dallas this year.  SMU excels in all four phases of the game.  A schedule that is on the lower side of strength when compared to ACC, Big 12, and SEC teams, and a road record that is not indicative of winning 4 NCAA Tournament games probably foretells an exit in the Sweet 16 or round of 32.

South Carolina: Just getting to the NCAA Tournament after a long drought should be enough for Gamecock fans this year.  USC does not possess a Final Four resume, and it is debatable if what they have is strong enough to predict a sweet 16 appearance.  Their R+T is 11.0, which is okay in the first game and better than average for a second game, but the entire range of data puts them in the same boat as Arizona.

St. Mary’s: In a typical year, the Gaels might be considered the darling of the best of the rest conferences.  SMC has advanced to the sweet 16 before, and it would not be a major shock if they do so again this year with an incredible defense, a decent group of rebounders, and a tough road team.  Like Gonzaga, they do not have an overwhelmingly strong schedule.

UCLA: The Bruins can shoot an opponent out of a gym in two minutes, but other than that, they do not shine in the other departments.  They play better on the road than they do at home, and they play at a pace that can cause a lot of problems for teams that do not have a lot of depth or conditioning.  However, in the Big Dance, most teams have ample supplies of both as well as competent defenses.  Because UCLA cannot rebound or force turnovers well enough, this does not look like their year.  A run to the sweet 16 could be bumpy, and if they sons of Westwood make it that far, they should be an underdog in that game.

UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks are starting to fade, and now it is only a 50-50 chance they will win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament and earn a spot in the NCAA field.  A month ago, they were on par with Middle Tennessee as the top mid-Major threat.  This is the one team in this field that is hurt by fouling too much, and it comes because the players are getting hurt when opponents break their pressure defense.  Still, UNCW could recover and be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.  They have the confidence.

Villanova: The last team to repeat as National Champions was Duke in 1992 and 1993.  Before that, you have to go back to UCLA in 1967-68-69-70-71-72-and 73.  The Wildcats could be the next one to do it, because this team is even better than last year’s champion.  VU wins on the road against quality competition, and while they are not exceptionally strong in the R+T department, they are adequate.  The Wildcats will have trouble with a Kentucky, West Virginia, or even against a Middle Tennessee or Wichita St.  However, we expect VU to be in the elite 8 with a chance to make it back to the Final Four.

Virginia: Teams that play like Virginia seldom win the NCAA Tournament.  They always seem to run up against a team that can score on a couple of cheap baskets, and they cannot make up the difference in the remaining amount of time.  UVA has good numbers in all but their free throw rate.  The Cavaliers have played a tough schedule, but we do not believe they can win four games against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.  We expect the Cavs to be put out as early as the second game and most likely in the sweet 16.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are going to embarrass their early round opponents, possibly winning their first two games by a combined 50 points.  Then, they are going to run into trouble in either the sweet 16 or elite 8, when they face a team that does not wilt to their defensive pressure and one that can dominate them on the glass.  WVU’s biggest liability is that they don’t shoot the ball all that well.  They can still beat an average team while having an awful shooting night, because they can get 10 extra good shooting opportunities.  A team like Kentucky or North Carolina will turn the tables and embarrass the Mountaineers.

Wichita St.: The Shockers shocked the world with a Final Four trip and then shocked the world the following year by going undefeated in the regular season with a team that looked like it could contend for the title.  WSU ran up against an underrated Kentucky team that advanced to the national title game.  This year’s team is somewhere in between those two teams from their past.  Coach Greg Marshall has a team with no apparent weakness.  The only fly in the ointment is that this team has played a weak slate, and it is going to come back to haunt them when they face a power conference opponent like Duke or Baylor.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are the Midwest version of Arizona this year.  They have decent numbers in all respects, and they have played well on the road.  However, the Big Ten is definitely down this year.  We do not see a repeat of a couple years ago for the Badgers.  UW is no better than a sweet 16 team for now.

 

 

February 6, 2017

The Pirate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Report For February 6, 2017

In the height of the Vietnam War, a slogan went around the nation that became a bumper sticker and was emblazoned on t-shirts. It went, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” The slogan became so popular that it became a movie starring Tony Curtis and a cast of popular actors and actors from the late 1960’s.

Suppose they gave a 68-team tournament and 50 teams not deserving of the honor accepted invitations? While the former slogan led to a funny movie, the latter slogan will lead to a diluted NCAA Tournament this season. Back in the 1960’s, there was no set number of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, or as this writer remembers it, “The UCLA Invitational.” The tournament would invite 22, 23, 24, or 25 teams in those days, depending on how many they felt deserved the invitations. You had automatic qualifiers from the major conferences of the day, which numbered about 17, and then there were about 50 independent teams.

In some years, just five independents had resumes worthy of playing in the tournament. In others, a dozen teams were worthy, but the NCAA maxed out the number at 25, so only eight of the dozen received bids.

The best conferences, by virtue of their won-loss record in the most previous tournaments, received byes in advance of the tournament selection, meaning they began in the Sweet 16. The ACC, Big Ten, Big Eight, SEC, and Pac-8 (AAWU) basically retained byes every year, whereas the Southwest Conference, Missouri Valley, Southern, Middle Atlantic and other strong conferences of the day had to begin in an opening round (play-in) to make the Sweet 16.

There were many years when top 10 teams did not get into the NCAA Tournament, and even a year where the arguably number two team did not get in. Only the conference champions made the NCAA Tournament of that time, and a number two team many times was good enough to be a Final Four contender but had to settle for the NIT or nothing at all.

In 1971, Southern Cal went 24-2 with multiple future NBA stars on their roster. Unfortunately, the two Trojan losses came to number one UCLA. USC stayed home in the postseason as a top 5 team.

The NCAA Tournaments in those days had its share of blowout games, especially when UCLA played their Sweet 16 game. The old PCAA or WCAC (two leagues that no longer exist) provided fodder for the Bruins. Frequently, the opponent would stall in the pre-shot clock days, but it did not matter, as the Bruins would win 50-39 over a lightweight that never had a chance.

What can we take from the current and the past and plan something better for the future? The 1971 USC’s should not have been punished for being the possible second best team in the nation and not having a postseason to continue playing. However, inviting a team that finished in the bottom half of their league standings to the tournament is just as wrong. Why invite a team that goes 7-11 in league play and finishes the regular season at 19-14? This team doesn’t even deserve to be in the NIT.

There are roughly 20 teams every year that really deserve to be on the national stage when the title is on the line. Sure, you have your upsets, but when a #15 upsets a #2, all that has done has removed a really good team from the later part of the tournament. The #15 almost always goes down by a large number in the next game.

And, yes, a George Mason, Butler, and Virginia Commonwealth makes a deep run every five or so years. So, there are some good low-major teams that occasionally deserve to be on display.

How best can the fans and teams be serviced so that the really good teams do not have to go through a gauntlet of low-major opponents, but at the same time, have a system in place that allows the low majors to compete?

We at the PiRate Ratings have been toying with an idea for a couple of years, refining it a little each year. Here is how we believe the tournament could be changed to make it more exciting for the low major teams, while at the same allows the major conference teams to face off without having to go through a low-major opponent first.

Here’s how we would do it, and it would add four additional teams to bring the total to 72:

Divide the NCAA Tournament into two brackets
1. An upper bracket with the 24 best teams from the major conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). The national champion has come from teams in these conferences every year since UNLV won in 1990.

2. A lower bracket that includes the 25 conference champions from the remaining conferences plus the 23 best remaining teams, regardless of their conference.

3. The upper bracket 24 would play one round to reduce to 12 teams, each seeded 1-2-3 in one of the four regionals

4. The lower bracket 48 would be seeded into 4, 12-team sections or subregionals to the upper bracket regionals. The top four teams in each subregion would receive byes to the second round, while the 5-12 teams in the four regions would play in the first round.

5. The four regions would go from 12 to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1.

6. The winners of the four regions would then join the 12 upper bracket winners to make the Sweet 16.

7. Each region would have one “cinderella” and three power conference teams remaining.

8. The power 24 would have to win five times to become the national champion, while the other 48 would have to win seven or eight games depending on seed, but at least four of these teams would now make the Sweet 16 every year and win three or four tournament games.

Let’s use some pretend teams as an example for the 2019-20 season.
Let’s say that Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 and enters the Big Dance at 30-4. They are seeded #1 in the Midwest Regionals in Kansas City. At the same time, Virginia finished in fourth place in the ACC with an overall 26-8. They are seeded #6 in the Midwest. Oklahoma State and Virginia would face off, and the winner would advance to the Sweet 16. The #2 and #5 teams and #3 and #4 teams would play in this same region in a triple header. The other three regions would do the same #1 vs. #6, #2 vs. #5, and #3 vs. #4.

A week earlier, the lower bracket would start play. Let’s say your team is the Summit League champion South Dakota who finished the regular season as probably the best low major team with an overall record of 31-3. They are seeded number one in the lower bracket Midwest Sub-region. They get a bye, while #5 seed Northern Iowa (25-9) plays #12 seed UT-Arlington (an upset winner in the conference tournament and just 14-18 overall). Northern Iowa then trounces UTA and advances to play South Dakota. South Dakota proceeds to beat Northern Iowa. They follow it up with two more victories over mid-majors to win the Midwest Sub-region and advance to the Sweet 16. They face Oklahoma St. in the next round.

We have heard other possibilities like moving the top 8 conferences into a super league with the top 16 teams from this group facing off in playoffs similar to the NBA playoffs. How would you like a best of 7 North Carolina-Kansas finals instead of one game? Might a 7-game series between these two teams or Kentucky vs. Villanova, UCLA vs. Duke, or any other series final between dynasty schools shatter all types of viewer records?

Back to the present–the above is just a pipe dream, but sometimes the dreamers create something incredible for the world. Let’s look at the 2017 NCAA Tournament contenders. Conference Championship Fortnight is fast approaching.
ONE BID LEAGUES

America East
Vermont 10-0/20-5
Stony Brook 8-2/13-10
UMBC 7-3/16-7

The Vermont winning streak has now stretched to a dozen games following two double-digit victories during the week. The Catamounts close with four home games, one road game against a weak conference foe, and one road game against UMBC. If they win out to improve to 29-5 by Selection Sunday, it would not be a push to see the Catamounts seeded as high as 11. They have no major wins, but they competed against teams that will be in the Dance.

Atlantic Sun
Florida Gulf Coast 8-1/19-6
Lipscomb 7-2/15-11
South Carolina St. 5-4/15-11
North Florida 5-4/10-16
Kennesaw St. 5-4/11-14

The top two teams have pulled away from the pack with a couple of really good weeks of actions. FGCU has won five games in a row, while Lipscomb’s winning streak is now four games. FGCU has the best defense in the league, while Lipscomb has the best offense. The Eagles have been here before and even made the Sweet 16 under former coach Andy Enfield. As for the Bisons, they have made the NIT and CIT in the past, but the last time they played for a chance to win the national title was win they were the Duke of the NAIA.

Big Sky
Weber St. 9-1/14-7
Eastern Washington 8-3/16-8
North Dakota 8-3/13-8
Idaho 7-4/12-10

Weber St. has now won 12 of 13 games, and if they keep winning and earn the automatic bid, the Wildcats may be able to avoid having to begin in Dayton. Weber St. leads the nation in 3-point percentage at 43.1%, and they don’t lead by taking a conservative amount of bombs. They make almost 10 per game. Senior guard Jeremy Senglin has hit close to half of his three-pointer, and he leads the Wildcats with a 21-point average. A weak rebounding frontcourt will doom WSU against the big boys, and you can never fully count on three-point shooting to carry you through a conference tournament, so keep an eye on the other contenders in this league.

It counts as just one win, but Eastern Washington comes off an historic record-breaking night. The Eagles met Portland State Saturday and played a triple overtime affair that ended with a 130-124 victory. Teammates Jacob Wiley and Bogdan Bliznyuk did something that may never again be replicated: they both scored 45 points in the game, while combining for 27 rebounds. They also both played 53 of a possible 55 minutes, and EWU could be vulnerable in the second half of their next game at North Dakota on Thursday. Second place will be on the line.

Big South
Winthrop 10-2/18-5
UNC-Asheville 10-2/18-7
Liberty 10-2/15-10

What was once an automatic given that UNC-Asheville would win the conference in both the regular season and the postseason conference tournament has now become anything but that. This is the best three-team race in the low-major conferences, and there is no clear choice as to which team is best. UNCA still has home games with the other two contenders, so the Bulldogs may have a slight advantage for the top seed. In this league, the number one seed gets to play at home throughout the tournament.

Big West
UC-Davis 6-2/14-9
UC-Irvine 6-3/13-12
Cal State Northridge 6-4/10-13
Hawaii 5-4/11-11 is ineligible

No Big West team has played consistently enough to make much noise in the Big Dance this year. UC-Davis lost to a 6-win Cal Poly team last week. Irvine has dropped three games in a row. Northridge fell at home to a Hawaii team that all of a sudden looks like the best team in the league but one that cannot compete for the bid due to ineligibility. Senior guard Noah Allen has been hot as of late, scoring at a better than 23 points per game clip in the most previous seven contests.

Colonial
UNC-Wilmington 10-2/21-4
College of Charleston 10-2/19-6
Elon 7-5/15-10
Towson 7-5/15-10
William & Mary 7-5/13-10

A couple weeks ago, UNCW was close to earning a spot on the bubble if they needed an at-large invitation to the Dance. However, the Seahawks have hit a rough patch, losing by 18 at William and Mary, and then dropping a home game to Charleston due to a late defensive lapse that allowed Charleston to get a basket and foul shot at the end to win the game.

Now, this has become a definite one-bid league. Neither Wilmington nor Charleston can improve their resumes enough to move into contention to become a bubble team. In fact, neither co-leader can be considered a heavy favorite to win the conference tournament, because there is some quality in the next group of teams, as William and Mary’s domination of Wilmington proves.

Conference USA
Middle Tennessee 10-1/20-4
Louisiana Tech 8-3/16-8
Old Dominion 7-4/14-9
UAB 7-4/14-10

Middle Tennessee was in the same, or even better, boat as UNCW. If the Blue Raiders had won out in the regular season, there would have been a fair chance that they could have still gotten into the field of 68 if they had been upset in the CUSA Championship Game. Losing to UTEP has basically popped MTSU’s bubble. If they want another chance to upset a big team like they did last year when they raced past Michigan State, they will have to win the conference tournament.

This year, there is a lot of quality talent all the way down to the 10th place team, so the conference tournament is going to be quite interesting. Keep and eye on two teams well back in the pack that could gel into winning units in March. Marshall tends to wear teams down in the second halves of games, and they could take advantage of their helter-skelter philosophy against an inferior conditioned opponent in the semifinals and finals of the tournament. Western Kentucky has under-performed to date, and the Hilltoppers could decide to put it together when they arrive in Birmingham for the conference tourney.

Horizon
Valparaiso 9-2/19-5
Green Bay 9-3/15-9
Oakland 8-4/18-7

Here is one more league where the leader was positioning for at-large contention, but like the previous two conference leaders, Valpo went down hard at Green Bay on Saturday, losing by 17 points. If the Crusaders win out from here but lose in the Horizon League Championship Game, they would be 28-6 with one win over a team that was in the top 25 (Rhode Island) at the time they played. A case could be made for Valpo, but we believe politics would send a power conference team into the Dance ahead of the Crusaders.

Ivy
Princeton 5-0/12-6
Yale 5-1/13-6
Harvard 4-2/12-7
Columbia 4-2/10-9

Mark it down–the four top teams above have basically already clinched the four spots in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra in Philadelphia. There is still time for the two-loss teams to catch Princeton for the top seed, but it really matters very little how the four teams will be seeded on a neutral floor that will not have the home team Penn Quakers present. The winner of the automatic bid should be a quick out this year, as none of the Ivy League teams have exceptional and experienced talent. Harvard has the most talent, but their top two players are inconsistent freshmen.

Metro Atlantic
Monmouth 11-2/19-5
Iona 9-4/16-8
Saint Peter’s 8-5/12-11
Canisius 7-6/14-10
Siena 7-6/10-14

This year’s Monmouth team is a little less talented overall than the one that deserved to be an at-large team last year. However, the 2017 Hawks may get the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament as the MAAC champion, when last year’s team was capable of winning a game or two or three. This year’s team would have to be hitting on all cylinders to win a game.

The path to the Dance is not a simple one for Coach King Rice and his team. Their old nemesis, Iona, is playing the best basketball of any league team at this time, and Monmouth still has to pay a visit to New Rochelle, where Monmouth ended a long Gael home winning streak last year. Iona then won at Monmouth and beat Monmouth again in the MAAC Tournament finals.

St. Peter’s has given Monmouth fits this year. The Peacocks bested Monmouth by 10 in Jersey City, and they almost completed the sweep before losing in OT at Monmouth Friday night.

Mid-American
Akron 9-1/19-4
Ohio 6-4/14-7
Ball St. 6-4/14-8
Northern Illinois 6-4/14-9
4 others at 5-5

Akron is the favorite to win the conference tournament, but the Zips are only marginal favorites in a league where teams from just off the lead tend to win the conference tournament. The team nobody wants to see in its bracket is Central Michigan, because if the Chippewas are hot, they can shoot teams out of the gym in a matter of a couple minutes. No other Division I team in recent memory has had two 5-9 guards in the starting lineup. Also, no other DI has had a player averaging over 30 points per game and another at more than 20 per game. In CMU’s case, the two 5-9 guards are the two high scorers in question. Marcus Keene tops 30 points per game, while Braylon Rayson tops 20. Keene has the lone 50-point game in NCAA play this year.

Mideastern Athletic
North Carolina Central 7-1/16-6
Morgan St. 7-2/10-12
Norfolk St. 7-2/10-13
Savannah St. 7-3/10-13 is ineligible

UNC-Central and Norfolk St. continued to extend lengthy winning streaks last week, with UNCC’s hitting seven games and NSU’s reaching six. We believe that UNC-Central has the capability of pulling off a major upset in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the conference tournament and move up to a #15 or even #14 seed. The Eagles play tough half-court defense; they hold their own on the boards for a team that is more of a ball-hawking defense. Most of all, they have held their own against power conference teams, winning at Missouri and almost winning at Ohio State and LSU.

Mountain West
Boise St. 8-3/15-7
Nevada 7-3/18-5
Colorado St. 7-4/15-9
New Mexico 7-5/14-10

Leon Rice is a poor man’s Mark Few. The Boise State coach has made the Broncos a consistent big winner in his seven years in The Potato Republic. Had the Broncos been able to hold onto a lead against Oregon earlier in the season, they could be on the bubble, as they did beat SMU in the pre-conference schedule.

Nevada was 16-3 a couple weeks ago, which included a double-digit win at Boise State, but the Wolfpack have cooled off in the last fortnight. Coach Eric Musselman does not look like a former NBA head coach due to his height (5-7) and his weight (150), but he makes up for it with his brain (Einsteinian). When Musselman left assistant positions at Arizona State and LSU, the teams regressed quite a bit from the way they were when he was there. In just a year and a half in the biggest little town in America, the biggest little coach has proven that he is ready for a big contract reward at a big power conference school.

Northeast
Mount St. Mary’s 10-2/12-13
St. Francis PA 8-4/11-12
Fairleigh Dickinson 8-4/10-13
Long Island 7-5/14-11

It will be close to a miracle if the eventual champion of this league avoids an opening round game in Dayton. At the moment, the top of the league is swooning, while the middle of the pack is gaining. It should make for an excellent conference tournament that is up for grabs, but it also should make for a quick exit for the eventual champion when the center jump circle logo changes from NEC to NCAA. Although the tournament is played at the higher seeded home courts, the home court advantanges in this league are not all that advantageous.

Ohio Valley
Belmont 11-0/17-4
Morehead St. 7-3/11-12
UT-Martin 7-4/17-9
Jacksonville St. 7-4/15-11
Murray St. 6-4/12-12

Belmont has run away with the regular season race, as the Bruins have a commanding 3 1/2 game lead in their division. The Bruins have won 13 games in a row, and their four losses are to Vanderbilt, Florida, Rhode Island, and Middle Tennessee. Belmont cannot get in as an at-large team, as they have not beaten a top 50 team. The Bruins have outscored their conference foes by more than 13 points per game, so it will take either a monumental effort by a rival or a total collapse by the Bruins (and maybe both) for another team to get the automatic bid. The Bruins know how to get to the Dance; they have been there seven times in the last 11 years. One of these years, they are going to upset somebody with their hot inside-outside shooting. Belmont has led both Duke and Virginia in the second half of NCAA Tournament games, and they have won at North Carolina, so they will not feel intimidated in the Dance.

Patriot
Bucknell 10-1/18-6
Boston 8-4/13-11
Navy 8-4/13-11
Lehigh 7-5/13-10

Like Belmont, Bucknell has been the dominant team in their league. Additionally, the Bison have two NCAA first round wins (Arkansas and Kansas) in this century. This year, Bucknell has wins at Vanderbilt and at home against Richmond, but that is not enough to merit at-large consideration.

Lehigh beat Bucknell in Lewisburg, so the home court advantage that goes to the top seed is not that strong. In fact, Bucknell has been the top seed five times in the last six years and only twice won the conference tournament. Overall, the top seed has won just half of the conference tournaments in this century.

Southern
Furman 9-2/16-8
East Tennessee St. 8-2/18-5
Chattanooga 8-3/17-6
UNC-Greensboro 8-4/17-8

This league is undervalued this year. The top four contenders all have enough talent to get past a higher-seed in the Round of 64, and it would not be a major surprise if the SoCon representative sneaks into the Sweet 16.

ETSU has the resume of the team with the most chance of winning in the Big Dance, as the Buccaneers have no real weaknesses. Coach Steve Forbes, a former assistant to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, has his team playing with the same hustle that made the Volunteers an SEC power during his time in Knoxville. ETSU has a nice rebounding advantage over their opponents, but the key to their exceptional defense and fast break comes from the pressure defense that allows the Bucs to steal eight passes a night.

Chattanooga has not yet played up to its potential, as former star Casey Jones has not returned to the form that made him the best player in the league prior to a season-ending injury last year. At the time, Jones had an unbelievable 6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. This year, he has more turnovers than assists.

Southland
Sam Houston St. 8-3/17-7
New Orleans 8-3/13-9
Stephen F. Austin 7-4/12-11
Lamar 6-4/14-9

The co-leader can hear footsteps. With Brad Brownell no longer lurking on the sidelines at SF Austin, it appeared that somebody else would win the SLC for a change. When SFA began the season at 1-2 in league play and 6-9 overall, the Lumberjacks were dismissed as a rebuilding team with a new coach that needed seasoning.

Since then, SFA is 6-2, and all of a sudden the Lumberjacks are just one game behind the top two. The top two must still play the Lumberjacks before the SLC Tournament begins, so the top seed is definitely up for grabs.

Southwestern Athletic
Texas Southern 9-1/13-10
Southern 6-4/10-13
Alcorn St. 7-3/10-11 is ineligible
Under former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, Texas Southern has won either the regular season or SWAC tournament four consecutive years, so it should come as no surprise that the Tigers are the class of the league once again this year. TSU is 0-6 in NCAA Tournament history, and unless they receive a ticket to Dayton to play in the Opening Round, they are likely to fall to 0-7, if they make it back this year.

Summit
North Dakota St. 7-3/15-8
Denver 7-4/15-9
South Dakota 7-4/16-10
Omaha 6-5/13-11
Fort Wayne 5-5/16-8

North Dakota State has come back to the pack with successive losses. The most recent one was at home to South Dakota in a game that was not close following an 18-0 USD run in the first half. This should be an entertaining conference tournament, and current fifth place team Fort Wayne has shown that this league has merit. They are mediocre in league play, but the Mastodons beat Indiana out of conference. This could be the league with the best overall home court advantage in college basketball.

Sun Belt
Arkansas St. 8-2/17-6
Georgia St. 8-2/15-7
Georgia Southern 8-2/15-8
UT-Arlington 7-3/17-6
Texas St. 6-4/13-9
Coastal Carolina 6-4/11-12

Georgia State and Arkansas State have long winning streaks (7 & 6 respectively), but the two teams are only slight favorites to make it to the final round of the SBC Tournament. The SBC Tournament will take place in New Orleans, and it will be a truly neutral site. UTA has the big non-conference win, as the Mavericks’ 14-point win at St. Mary’s might look really good if the Gaels beat Gonzaga in Moraga this weekend.

Western Athletic
New Mexico St. 8-0/22-2
Cal State Bakersfield 6-1/15-7
Grand Canyon 4-3/15-9 is ineligible as a transitioning team to D1.

Just how good is New Mexico State? The Aggies have very little competition in the WAC this year, and NMSU could easily run the table to the Big Dance. At 30-2, their resume would have very little to elevate the Aggies up to a single-digit seed. They did trounce Arizona State in Tempe, but that is not a big deal this year. The Aggies will get a shot in the arm soon when guard Sidy N’Dir returns to action following a ligament tear early this year. If N’Dir can return close to form, NMSU could be a dangerous dark horse against an unsuspecting higher seed.

ONE OR TWO BID LEAGUE
Missouri Valley
The Missouri Valley Conference comes in as a split decision this week among our gurus. Of the 12 participating contributors, six had the MVC as a one-bid league, while six had two teams making the Dance.

Wichita St. 11-1/21-4
Illinois St. 11-1/19-5

If you looked at the scoreboard late Saturday night or Sunday, and you saw the score of the rematch between Wichita State and Illinois State, you might be thinking we are crazy that ISU is still in the discussion. If you didn’t see the result, Wichita embarrassed the Redbirds to the tune of a 86-45 pasting. The Shockers opened an early second half 30-point lead and then extended it to 40 with 2:41 remaining in the game.

So how can Illinois State still be in the discussion? First of all, margin of victory does not count, which is why you will see that Clemson is still a Bubble team after losing by even more to Florida State yesterday. Second, ISU is still tied for first in a league that has had a recent Final Four participant and undefeated number one team entering the NCAA Tournament. And, should the two teams keep winning and meet for a rubber match in the finals of Arch Madness, the loser of that game would definitely be in the mix. Finally, there just are not a lot of great middle of the pack teams in the major conferences this year. It is a lean year, so the MVC has a good chance at sending two teams to the Field of 68.

MULTIPLE BID LEAGUES
American Athletic
In
Cincinnati 10-0/21-2
SMU 10-1/20-4

Contending
Houston 7-4/16-7
Memphis 7-4/17-7

Atlantic 10
In
Dayton 8-2/17-5
VCU 8-2/18-5

Contending
Richmond 8-3/14-9
Rhode Island 7-3/15-7

Atlantic Coast
In
North Carolina 9-2/21-4
Florida St. 8-3/20-4
Louisville 7-3/19-4
Virginia 7-3/17-5
Syracuse 7-4/15-9
Duke 6-4/18-5
Notre Dame 6-5/17-7
Virginia Tech 5-5/16-6
Miami 5-5/15-7
Clemson 3-7/13-9

Contending
Wake Forest 5-6/14-9
Georgia Tech 5-6/13-10
North Carolina St. 3-8/14-10

Big 12
In
Kansas 8-2/20-3
Baylor 7-3/20-3
West Virginia 6-4/18-5
Iowa St. 6-4/14-8
TCU 5-5/16-7
Kansas St. 5-5/16-7
Oklahoma St. 4-6/15-8

Contending
Texas Tech 4-6/16-7

Big East
In
Villanova 9-2/22-2
Xavier 7-3/17-6
Creighton 7-4/20-4
Butler 7-4/18-5
Marquette 6-5/15-8

Contending
Seton Hall 4-6/14-8
Georgetown 4-7/13-11

Big Ten
In
Wisconsin 9-1/20-3
Maryland 8-2/20-3
Purdue 8-3/19-5
Northwestern 7-3/18-5
Michigan St. 6-4/14-9
Minnesota 4-6/16-7
Indiana 5-6/15-9

Contending
Michigan 4-6/14-9
Illinois 3-8/13-11

Pacific 12
In
Oregon 10-1/21-3
Arizona 10-1/21-3
UCLA 8-3/21-3
USC 7-4/20-4
California 8-3/17-6

Contending
Utah 6-5/16-8

Southeastern
In
South Carolina 9-1/19-4
Florida 8-2/18-5
Kentucky 8-2/18-5
Arkansas 6-4/17-6

Contending
Alabama 6-4/13-9
Tennessee 5-5/13-10
Auburn 4-6/15-8
Georgia 4-6/13-10

Here is the consensus field of 68 from our Gurus

Seed Team Conf.
1 Villanova B E
1 Gonzaga WCC
1 Kansas B12
1 Baylor B12
2 Louisville ACC
2 North Carolina ACC
2 Florida St. ACC
2 Oregon P12
3 Arizona P12
3 Kentucky SEC
3 Virginia ACC
3 West Virginia B12
4 UCLA P12
4 Wisconsin BTen
4 Cincinnati AAC
4 Florida SEC
5 Butler B E
5 Creighton B E
5 Duke ACC
5 Purdue BTen
6 Maryland BTen
6 South Carolina SEC
6 St. Mary’s WCC
6 Xavier B E
7 Notre Dame ACC
7 Northwestern BTen
7 SMU AAC
7 USC P12
8 Virginia Tech ACC
8 Iowa St. B12
8 Dayton A10
8 Minnesota BTen
9 VCU A10
9 Michigan St. BTen
9 Oklahoma St. B12
9 Marquette B E
10 Kansas St. B12
10 Middle Tennessee CUSA
10 TCU B12
10 Indiana BTen
11 Clemson ACC
11 Wichita St. MVC
11 Miami ACC
11 UNC-Wilmington CAA
12 Arkansas SEC
12 New Mexico St. WAC
12 California P12
12 Nevada MWC
12 Akron MAC
12 Vermont AEast
13 Monmouth MAAC
13 Valparaiso Horiz
13 Illinois St. MVC
13 Syracuse ACC
14 Belmont OVC
14 Princeton Ivy
14 Florida Gulf Coast ASun
14 Arkansas St. SBC
15 Bucknell Pat
15 East Tennessee St. Sou
15 Winthrop BSth
15 North Dakota St. Summ
16 Texas Southern SWAC
16 Sam Houston St. SLC
16 Weber St. BSky
16 UC-Davis BWst
16 UNC-Central MEAC
16 Mount St. Mary’s NEC

The Last 8 In

TCU

Indiana

Clemson

Miami

Arkansas

California

Illinois St.

Syracuse

 

First Four Out

Seton Hall

Michigan

Wake Forest 

Texas Tech

 

Dayton Bound

Arkansas vs. Miami

California vs. Clemson

Weber St. vs. Mount St. Mary’s

UNC-Central vs. UC-Davis

January 31, 2017

The Pirate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Report For January 31, 2017

The end of January means the NCAA Tournament Bracketology report begins to get serious. Many teams have now played themselves into the Dance short of pulling a 1964 Philadelphia Phillies collapse. Many teams now know that their only hope is to win their conference tournament. They may have actually already thrown in the towel until then.

Then, you have about 30 to 40 teams that are in the hoops Twilight Zone as the Ground Hog prepares for his big day. These three dozen or so teams are the infamous Bubblers. From this group, about a dozen will receive invitations, while the rest will have to make due with the NIT. Of course, with every 11-20 team that gets hot for four days and becomes quick-exit fodder for a high seed, one of those bubbles will pop.

As for our Gurus, we have made some major changes. Because not all of our Gurus from last season returned this year, and because we decided to stop including seven bracketologists due to ridiculous brackets (like including two Ivy League teams in last year’s bracket), we have reduced our numbers to just 11 Gurus this week. However, we are attempting to include five more nationally renowned Gurus,  a quintet of rather accurate Bracketologists, as soon as next week. One new Guru has already agreed to join us, and his bracketology ratings are included in this report.

Once again, the Guru Composite shows 22 conferences that will send just one team to the tournament. That leaves 46 teams from among the remaining 10 leagues, so that means 36 at-large teams will be needed if the one-bid leagues stay consistent. As of this week, there are 54 teams competing for those 36 spots, meaning 18 will be disappointed. This number of disappointments will go up as surprise conference champions emerge from the 10 top leagues.

ONE-BID LEAGUES
American East
At 8-0/18-5, Vermont has lapped the field with road wins over Stony Brook 6-2/11-10, New Hampshire 5-3/14-8, and Albany 4-4/13-10, three of the next four teams. The Catamounts also beat UMBC 5-3/14-7, but it was at home. The Retrievers host Vermont on Sunday, February 12. Vermont has a 14.3 points per game scoring margin in A-East play.

Atlantic Sun
Two teams have pulled away from the pack in the last two weeks. Florida Gulf Coast 7-1/18-6 and Lipscomb 6-2/14-11 have shown they are the class of the league this year. The always competitive FGCU won at Lipscomb in early January, and the two play on Thursday, February 9, in Fort Myers. FGCU has won 11 of their last 12 games.

Big Sky
After a 2-6 start, Weber State has won 10 of 11 games to improve to 7-1/12-7. The Wildcats are heavy favorites to earn what should be a number 16 seed and possible demotion to Dayton in the opening round. Top contenders include North Dakota 7-3/12-8 and Eastern Washington 6-3/14-8.

Big South
The race is wide open with three co-leaders at the moment. Winthrop 8-2/16-5, UNC-Asheville 8-2/16-7, and Liberty 8-2/13-10 are two games clear of the field, but the hot team in the league at the end of Janaury is High Point 6-4/12-10. The Panthers own a five-game winning streak that includes a comeback overtime win at Winthrop.

Big West
An off year in the league makes for excellent parity, as five teams could still win the regular season title. UC-Davis 5-1/13-8 has the lead, but it is precarious. Hot on the Aggies’ heels are UC-Irvine 6-2/13-11, Cal State Northridge 5-3/9-12, Long Beach State 4-3/9-14, and UC Riverside 4-3/6-12. Long Beach State is our choice to become the eventual representative, but the Gurus go with the top team at the time of their reports, so UC Davis will be the team listed in our report.

Colonial Athletic
UNC-Wilmington 9-1/20-3 proved they could be defeated in league play last week, as William & Mary 6-4/12-9 rode the arms of Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon to shoot the Seahawks out of Kaplan Arena. Other top contenders in the CAA include College of Charleston 8-2/17-6, Elon 6-4/14-9, and Northeastern 6-4/13-9. Still, it will be a major surprise if UNCW doesn’t threepeat in the CAA Tournament.

Conference USA
It is now a near metaphysical certitude that Middle Tennessee State 9-0/19-3 is the top mid-major team in the land this year (this statement is true only if you consider the Missouri Valley and West Coast Conferences to be Power Conferences with multiple bids forthcoming from both leagues). The Blue Raiders have double digit wins over three top contenders, UAB 7-2/14-8, Louisiana Tech 6-3/14-8, and Marshall 6-3/13-9. MTSU has yet to play Old Dominion 6-3/13-8. Kermit Davis’s squad faces a three-game road gauntlet in the second half of the month against Western Kentucky, Marshall, and UAB, one of whom is sure to give the Blue Raiders a loss. If Middle runs the table and then wins the CUSA Tournament, at 31-3, they would have to be favored to make it to the Sweet 16 a year after trouncing Michigan State in the Round of 64.

Horizon
Valparaiso won the regular season title a year ago but suffered an upset in the conference tournament and had to make do with the NIT. This year, the Crusaders 8-1/18-4 have a new coach in Matt Lotich, but they still have the top player in the league in Alex Peters, who averages 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. Valpo’s path to the top seed will not be easy, though, as Green Bay 7-3/13-9 and Oakland 6-4/16-7 get to host the Crusaders in February. Oakland previously won at Valpo.

Ivy
With the inaugural Ivy League Tournament just 39 days away, it’s all about finishing in the top four, since the first Ivy League tourney will have just four participants. If you ask us, and since you are reading this, you have in essence asked us, the four teams that will make it to the Palestra on March 11 have already been determined. Princeton 3-0/10-6, Harvard 3-1/11-6, Yale 3-1/11-6, and Columbia 3-1/9-8 were the top four teams last year, and they appear to be so again. None of this quartet appears to be talented enough to get past the Round of 64.

Metro Atlantic
They don’t have the resume they had last year when they felt they were jilted by the Big Guys that look out for the Big Guys, but Monmouth 10-2/18-5 is starting to look like a prohibitive favorite in the MAAC. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 15 points per game in their eight game winning streak. Iona 8-4/15-8 and St. Peter’s 8-4/12-10 are the top two contenders.

Mid-American
With each passing week, Akron 8-0/18-3 distances themselves from the rest of the league. The Zips have opened up a three-game lead over the pack in the MAC, with a pair of 6-10 dominators inside in Kwan Cheatham, Jr. and Isaiah Johnson teaming to average 28 points and 15 rebounds per game. Akron is not an at-large candidate at this point, as the Zips have no Top 100 wins along with a nasty loss to Youngstown State, who rates below #250. Additionally, even though they have run the table in the first half of the conference schedule, the Zips are not blowing opponents away. So, keep an eye on four teams all with 5-3 conference marks (Ohio, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois). The MAC Tournament is usually chock full of upsets, and if we had to pick a team today, we would go with EMU.

Mideastern Athletic
Four teams have moved to the top of the pack, and the quartet is red hot with a combined 20-game winning streak. The second half of the 2017 MEAC race promises to be about as exciting as a low-major conference race can be, and if you have access to this league’s televised games, you will be entertained with some exciting basketball.

Morgan State 7-1/10-11 has a great inside/outside presence teaming for 42 points per game in wing man Tiwian Kendley and post man Philip Carr. The Bears are led by former Cal head coach Todd Bozeman with former Michigan head coach Brian Ellerbe as his top assistant. MSU may not have the talent to compete for a Sweet 16 bid, but the Bears will not be an easy out if they make the round of 64.

The remaining hot teams in the MEAC include UNC-Central 6-1/15-6, Savannah State 7-2/10-12, and Norfolk State 6-2/9-13. Savannah State games are some of the most exciting on the hardwoods in America. There is a good chance that one team will top 100 points when the Tigers play, but it could be SSU or the opposition.

Mountain West
Any chance for mulitple bids from the MWC crashed and burned in the last week as the top contenders suffered losses. It makes for a wide open regular season race as well as a wide open conference tournament with all the marbles up for grabs. Nevada 7-2/18-4 has led all the way, but the Wolf Pack have no signature wins that can get them into the Dance, as their lone game against a top 50 opponent was an 18-point loss to Saint Mary’s. Boise State 6-3/13-7 has a win over SMU, but the Broncos are not close to the Bubble. Five other teams have the talent to eeke through a three-day marathon and earn the automatic bid.

Northeast
In the last three weeks, Mount St. Mary’s 9-1/11-12 has emerged as the clear choice to win the regular season title and the favorite to earn the lone bid. Bryant 5-5/8-15 is well back in the pack, but the Bulldogs already have a win over MSM and plays the Mountaineers a second time Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.

Ohio Valley
Like their CUSA Counterpart in the same Metropolitan Area (MTSU), Belmont 10-0/16-4 is pulling away from the field like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. The Bruins own a 12-game winning streak. They put that streak on the line Thursday night, when the Bruins venture to Murrary, Kentucky, to take on West Division co-leader Murray State 6-3/12-11. Belmont beat the other co-leader Southeast Missouri 6-3/11-13 by double digits and own a 13.4 ppg scoring margin in OVC play.

Patriot
Bucknell 9-1/17-6 is the favorite but not overwhelming favorite to win the Patriot League’s lone bid this year. Even though the top seed gets to host every game in the postseason tournament, Bucknell’s long league loss came at home to Lehigh 6-4/12-9. Besides these two teams, five other teams have the talent to win the tournament. Navy and Boston U are tied for second at 7-3/12-10, with Loyola (MD), Holy Cross, and Colgate tied at 5-5 in league play. If a team other than Bucknell wins the conference tournament, they better be prepared for a trip to Dayton.

Southern
This league is on a mini-upswing, but no team has an at-large shot this year. East Tennessee 7-2/17-5, Furman 7-2/14-8, UNC-Greensboro 7-3/16-7, and Chattanooga 6-3/15-6 could all be formidbale underdogs in the Round of 64.

Southland
For Sam Houston 7-2/16-6, the sum of their whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Bearkats have raced to the top of the league with a seven-game winning streak even though the team lacks a go-to star. Instead, they play a stifling tough defense and rarely give up a second shot to the opponents on a possession. SHSU has pulled even with New Orleans 7-2/12-8 in the standings, which includes a win at Lakefront Arena in NO over the Privateers.

Southwestern Athletic
Five lopsided losses to top 50 teams means that Texas Southern 8-1/12-10 is not likely to challenge a #1 or 2 seed in the Round of 64, but if the Tigers can earn the automatic bid, they should be able to avoid an opening round game in Dayton. Alcorn State 6-3/9-11 has won four games in a row. The Braves lost to TSU at home on a buzzer-beater, and that is all that has kept ASU out of a first place tie in the SWAC.

Summit
They may be the third place team in the league at the present time, but Fort Wayne 5-4/16-7 has the big out of conference win over Indiana. The Mastodons get the teams ahead of them in the standings in Forth Wayne in February, and it would not surprise us if FW moved to the top in time to secure the number one seed. Don’t expect North Dakota State 7-1/15-6, and South Dakota 6-3/15-9 to lay down and cede first place to the Mastodons. The Bison and Coyotes are tough teams, and they won’t wither when they go to Hilliard Gates Sports Center in February.

Sun Belt
How about a six-team race where the best resume belongs to the fourth place team. Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State lead the way with 7-2 SBC records. UT-Arlington 6-3/16-6 is tied for fourth with Texas State 6-3/13-8. UTA has that nice resume with a 14-point win over Saint Mary’s. It is not enought to propel the Mavericks into the Bubble picture.

Western Athletic
A 19-game winning streak and a perfect 7-0 record in league play is not enough to push New Mexico State 7-0/21-2 into the Bubble talk. Our own opinion is that the Aggies deserve equal billing with Wichita State at this juncture. Neither team has a bad loss, and neither team has a top 50 win.

The Aggies are 1-1 against the next 50 teams (a win and loss against rival New Mexico), while Wichita State is still winless to team number 100. NMSU presents some matchup issues for opponents, so if the Agiiges get into the Dance, they could be a hot underdog in the Round of 64.
Cal State Bakersfield 5-1/14-7 is the principal contender to NMSU, but in this league the Roadrunners are almost like the Washington Generals and not a true contender. The lack of competition is what will hurt NMSU’s seeding if they run the table and enter the Dance at 30-2.

MULTIPLE BID LEAGUES
American Athletic
Cincinnati 8-0/19-2 is a sure thing now after beating Xavier and padding its resume. Can the Bearcats contend for the Final Four? Cinti dominates in everything but foul shooting, but in the NCAA Tournament, referees tend to call fewer fouls, and this will help UC in two ways–they won’t take as many foul shots, and they will be able to get away with increased physical play, where they can exploit finesse teams.

SMU 8-1/18-4 should receive an at-large bid if the Mustangs do not win the AAC Tournament. SMU has six top 100 wins and no losses outside of the top 100.

Memphis 6-3/16-6 and Houston 6-4/15-7 are squarely on the Bubble, while Tulsa 6-2/12-8 has moved into position to earn a Bubble spot if the Golden Hurricane can go 2-2 in their four future games against the top two teams.

Atlantic 10
Dayton 6-2/15-5 and VCU 6-2/16-5 would be in the Dance if the season ended today, but the two teams are not locks for the Tournament yet. In fact, neither is in first place in the A-10, as Richmond 7-2/13-8 has stormed to the top by a half-game. The Spiders were never in their game at Dayton earlier this year, losing by 16, and they have yet to face VCU, so it is likely that VCU or Dayton will eventually take the top two seeds.

A three-way tie at 5-3 for fourth place exists between LaSalle, Rhode Island, and St. Bonaventure. Rhode Island has a win against Cincinnati, and the Rams have been in the top 25 this year. They could still work their way back into at-large status.

Atlantic Coast
Figuring out the possible number of ACC teams headed Dancing this year has almost become a cottage industry. At one time, many pundits believed 11 teams would earn invitations to the Tournament. We never agreed with that number, and now the so-called experts are coming around to our belief that the ACC will send eight or nine to the tourney.

Seven teams are basically sure things at this point. North Carolina 7-2/19-4, Virginia 6-2/16-4, Florida St. 6-3/18-4, Louisville 6-3/18-4, Notre Dame 6-4/17-6, and Duke 5-4/17-5 are locks at this point. Virginia Tech 5-4/16-5 is in short of a major collapse. Six other ACC teams are still alive, but we believe that at most, three of the six will be happy in Mid-March. Those six teams are: Georgia Tech 5-4/13-8, Syracuse 5-4/13-9, Miami 4-4/14-6, North Carolina St. 3-6/14-8, Wake Forest 3-6/12-9, and Clemson 2-6/12-8. We do not see an ACC team getting an at-large bid with a conference record weaker than 8-10 or with more than 13 overall losses by Selection Sunday.

Big 12
The Big 12 was supposed to blitz the SEC Saturday in the 10-game challenge. Forecasters called for eight and even nine wins out of the 10 games, but when the dust cleared Saturday night, the leagues finished in a 5-5 standoff. Surprisingly, those five winning SEC teams did not include Kentucky.

How does this affect the Big 12’s NCAA Tournament outlook? We have reduced the number of expected representatives by one this week, reducing the number from eight to seven. Kansas 7-1/19-2 moved into a comfortable top-seed position with its win at Kentucky. Baylor 7-1/20-1 stayed on the top line with their big comeback win at Ole Miss. West Virginia 5-3/17-4 held on to edge Texas A&M at home and stay in contention for a number two or three seed. Five teams will compete for the other four likely at-large bids, with one probably facing some disappointment. Iowa St. 5-3/13-7 and Kansas St. 4-4/15-6 are the top contenders, so it is more than likely going to come down to two teams from among Texas Tech 3-5/15-6, TCU 3-5/14-7, and Oklahoma St. 3-6/14-8, and one of these teams could be facing an opening round game in Dayton.

Big East
We added a sixth team to the Big East riches as the ACC and Big 12 lost teams. The league that produced the 2016 champion might have three teams with Final Four potential and five teams with Sweet 16 talent. Start with the reigning national champs, Villanova 7-2/20-2. Also close to sure things are Butler 7-3/18-4 and Creighton 6-3/19-3. Xavier 5-3/15-6 and Marquette 5-4/14-7 are in good shape but still have work to do to become locks.

Three more teams, Providence 4-6/14-9, St. John’s 4-6/10-13, and Seton Hall 3-5/13-7, still have NCAA Tourney aspirations, while Georgetown 3-6/12-10 has not been completely eliminated.

Big Ten
The Big Ten took a big hit in the football season with the league losing out in the Playoff race and performing poorly in the bowls. The great fans in the Upper Midwest hoped that basketball season would give the league a chance to redeem itself for the poor results on the gridiron, but there are few teams in this league that look like they are headed to the Sweet 16.

One of those teams that does look Sweet 16 secure is Wisconsin 7-1/18-3, currently tied for first in the league with Maryland 7-1/19-2. The Terps’ nasty losses to Pittsburgh and Nebraska leave a little doubt in the mind of our Gurus and thus cannot be considered a Sweet 16 lock. They will be dancing for sure though.

We are moving Northwestern 7-2/18-4 into the safely in the Tournament status. Maybe it is a year for long Chicago curses to be broken, as the Wildcats look certain to break through with their first ever NCAA Tournament bid, leaving no room for doubt. Joining NU in near lock status is Purdue 6-3/17-5.

Six more teams are competing for what we believe to be four more bids. If the season ended today, Michigan St. 5-4/13-9, Indiana 4-5/14-8, Michigan 4-5/14-8, and Minnesota 3-6/15-7 would get the four at-large bids, while Illinois 3-6/13-9 and Ohio St. 3-6/13-9 would be on the outside looking in. Iowa, Penn St., and Nebraska are actually ahead of Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State in the conference standings at 4-5, but their resumes are not tourney-worthy at this time.

Missouri Valley
There is not a consensus among all the Gurus here, but a majority of six Gurus say two MVC teams will get bids.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written before we had all 11 Guru results submitted. At the time there were 7 Guru reports available, it looked like the Shockers would be in their Field, but the final four Gurus omitted WSU in their brackets.

Illinois State 10-0/18-4 has a one-game edge on Wichita St. 9-1/19-4, but the Redbirds win over the Shockers came in Bloomington-Normal. The two teams meet again in Wichita this Saturday in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 8PM EST. If you are a rabid basketball fan, be sure to tune into this game to see two aggressive defenses battle it out. We believe there will be a third match between these two Valley behemoths at Arch Madness in early March. The loser should still get into the Field of 68 if they have no other conference losses or maybe one additional loss.

Keep an eye on Loyola of Chicago 6-4/16-7. Maybe, it is a year meant to be for Chicagoans. The Ramblers have been to just one NCAA Tournament since legendary coach George Ireland had a dynasty in the 1960s. We’re not saying this current cache of Ramblers is to be compared to the Leslie Hunter and Vic Rouse teams, but this is Loyola’s best team since the Alfredrick Hughes and Andre Moore team scared the Pat Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas for 30 minutes plus in the 1985 Sweet 16.

Pac-12
Arizona 9-0/20-2 marched through Los Angeles, sweeping USC and UCLA like General Sherman marched through Georgia. The Wildcats are clearly the second best team in the West, and they can solidify a hold on a two-seed if they go to Oregon 8-1/19-3 this Saturday night and take care of the Ducks. The game will be televised on ESPN at 4 PM EST, and it should be as exciting as the Kansas-Kentucky game was this past Saturday.

UCLA 6-3/19-3 has dropped back-to-back games to Arizona and USC 5-4/18-4, as the Wildcats and Trojans exploited the Bruins’ defensive liabilities and softness in the paint. As for the Trojans, Andy Enfield’s team has a slight bubble advantage over Utah and California, both 6-3/15-6. The league should get four teams minimum, but we do not see all six of these squads going Dancing. The bottom half of this league is really week this year, and it is going to hurt strengths of schedule if any contender loses to one of the bottom six.

Southeastern
At the start of the season, the SEC was considered just a two-bid league this year. Then, eventually, it became a three-bid league, and now it is most likely a four-bid league. Could a fifth bid be forthcoming before the bids go live? It is highly possible as seven or eight teams are still in contention for the fourth bid, and a fifth bid would not be out of the ordinary.

Start with Kentucky and South Carolina, both 7-1/17-4. The Wildcats have the better overall resume, but the Gamecocks are not that far behind. Add sure thing Florida 6-2/16-5 as team number three.

After that, there is a logjam vying for the fourth bid, but first among equals goes to Arkansas 5-3/16-5. The Razorbacks left the Big 12-SEC Challenge with their tails between their legs, and the 28-point loss to Oklahoma State certainly dimmed their rising star. It has allowed teams like Alabama 6-2/13-7, Georgia, 4-4/13-8, Mississippi State 4-4/13-7, and Tennessee 4-4/12-9 to move into contention to be in contention. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the league by many publications, so kudos go to Coach Rick Barnes, who should compete with USC coach Frank Martin for Coach of the Year honors. If Tennessee had held onto leads in the final 30 seconds against Oregon in Hawaii and North Carolina at the Dean Dome, the Vols would be at the top of the Bubble and looking like a seed high enough to avoid playing in Dayton.

West Coast
Gonzaga 10-0/22-0 deserves its number one ranking. The Bulldogs have not fatten up just on cream puffs. Included in their 22 wins are neutral site victories over Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Iowa State, as well as wins at home over St. Mary’s and Akron, all current top 50 teams. They have gone 15-0 against teams rated under 100, but their average margin of victory in those wins has been 30 points per game. You would expect a number one team to beat a lower-ranked team by 30 points.

St. Mary’s 9-1/19-2 belongs in the field on its own merits. The Gaels have defeated Dayton at Dayton and have a 6-2 record against top 100 teams. One of those two losses is a defeat at Gonzaga, and SMC still has a home date with the Bulldogs to try to even the score.

Brigham Young 7-3/16-7 is not in contention for an at-large bid at this time, but the Cougars still have a chance to make some noise, as they have home dates against the top two teams in the month of February (as well as a return trip to Gonzaga in the regular season finale.) BYU hosts Gonzaga Thursday night at 11 PM EST in a game that will air on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK’s BRACKETOLOGY GURU REPORT

Seed Team Conf.
1 Baylor B12
1 Kansas B12
1 Villanova B E
1 Gonzaga WCC
2 Louisville ACC
2 Arizona P12
2 North Carolina ACC
2 Kentucky SEC
3 Virginia ACC
3 Florida State ACC
3 Butler B E
3 Oregon P12
4 West Virginia B12
4 UCLA P12
4 Wisconsin BTen
4 Cincinnati AAC
5 Maryland BTen
5 Duke ACC
5 Creighton B E
5 Florida SEC
6 Notre Dame ACC
6 Purdue BTen
6 South Carolina SEC
6 St. Mary’s (CA) WCC
7 Southern Methodist AAC
7 Xavier B E
7 Northwestern BTen
7 USC P12
8 Virginia Tech ACC
8 Minnesota BTen
8 Dayton A10
8 Marquette B E
9 Michigan State BTen
9 Iowa State B12
9 Arkansas SEC
9 Virginia Commonwealth A10
10 Middle Tennessee CUSA
10 Kansas State B12
10 NC-Wilmington CAA
10 Illinois State MVC
11 Clemson ACC
11 Miami (FLA.) ACC
11 Oklahoma State B12
11 Georgia Tech ACC
12 Indiana BTen
12 TCU B12
12 Michigan BTen
12 Texas Tech B12
12 Nevada MWC
12 Valparaiso Hor
13 Akron MAC
13 New Mexico State WAC
13 Vermont AEast
13 Monmouth MAAC
14 Belmont OVC
14 Florida Gulf Coast ASun
14 E. Tennessee State Sou
14 Georgia Southern SBC
15 Winthrop BSth
15 Bucknell Pat
15 Princeton Ivy
15 North Dakota State Summ
16 Sam Houston State SLC
16 Texas Southern SWAC
16 Weber State BSky
16 North Carolina Central MEAC
16 Mount St. Mary’s NEC
16 UC Irvine BWest

First Four Participants

12-Seeds: Texas Tech, Michigan, TCU, Indiana (last 4 in)

16-Seeds: UC-Irvine, Mount St. Mary’s, UNC-Central, and Weber St.

First Four Out

69 Seton Hall

70 Wichita St.

71 Tennessee

72 Richmond

Next Four Out

73 California

74 Georgetown

75 Wake Forest

76 Utah

The Bubble Contenders

North Carolina St.

Houston

Memphis

Rhode Island

Providence

Illinois

Ohio St.

Georgia

Alabama

 

 

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