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Selection Sunday morning: One projection of NCAA Tournament field

March 15, 2015 Columns No Comments

With so many years of “bracketology” and the resulting better understandings of the NCAA Tournament selection process that has come from it, there are many years where predicting the teams in the field is not that much of a mystery, sometimes almost easy even.

This year is not one of those years.

It might be because of the curveballs the selection committee has thrown out the last couple years , or maybe it’s just paralysis by analysis. But from this view, there are as many as 7-8 spots in the field that could go to any number of teams.

One thing we do know: if there was ever an advertisement for going back to 64 teams, this year is it. Picking who will grab the last at-large spots is in many cases strictly taking the lesser of two evils. Most likely, chances of almost any of those teams advancing deep in the tourney are somewhere between ‘slim’ and ‘none.’

No daily or weekly bracket projections here-there are plenty of others who have covered that for months. Just one person’s final guess at the field (with some commentary) on this Sunday morning of Selection Sunday:

The obvious (54 teams total)
Automatics (27 after Saturday): Albany (America East), Arizona (Pac-12), Belmont (OVC), Buffalo (MAC), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Eastern Washington (Big Sky), Gonzaga (WCC), Hampton (MEAC), Harvard (Ivy), Iowa State (Big 12), Lafayette (Patriot), Manhattan (MAAC), New Mexico State (WAC), Northeastern (CAA), Northern Iowa (MVC), North Dakota State (Summit), North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Notre Dame (ACC), Robert Morris (NEC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Texas Southern (SWAC), UAB (C-USA), UC Irvine (Big West), Valparaiso (Horizon), Villanova (Big East), Wofford (Southern), Wyoming (MWC)
At-large locks:
ACC: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia
Atlantic 10: Dayton, VCU
Big East: Butler, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Xavier
Big Ten: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Big 12: Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia
MVC: Wichita State
Mountain West: San Diego State
Pac-12: Oregon, Utah
SEC: Kentucky, Arkansas
Four of the remaining five automatic bids are certain to come out of this pot (Atlantic 10, Big Ten, SEC) or one-bid leagues (Sun Belt). The fifth will as well if SMU defeats Connecticut on Sunday. If Connecticut wins, this number increases to 55.

Near-locks. Suppose there’s some chance could be left out, but highly unlikely (6 teams):
Cincinnati: 6-3 vs. the top 50 should do it, only thing that could undo that would be 2-4 vs. 51-100 and two sub-200 losses.
Davidson: Even in this era of unbalanced conference schedules, a regular season title in a league as good as the Atlantic 10 (No. 7 in RPI) should be enough, and if it’s not it is a travesty. 9-6 against top 100 and 10-6 road/neutral record should be plenty, too.
Georgia: 0-5 vs. top 50 is not good, but 9-4 vs. 51-100 plus a 9-7 road/neutral record should be enough.
N.C. State: Overall profile is not as good as many think (4-8 vs. top 50, three sub-100 losses) but wins over Duke (home) and at UNC and Louisville will likely carry the Wolfpack.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys’ entire profile, from 6-9 vs. top 50, 8-11 vs. top 100, two sub-100 losses and 6-9 road/neutral record to its 8-10 tie for sixth in the Big 12, is not overwhelming, but likely enough in the nation’s top conference.
Purdue: No top 25 wins, but six against teams ranked 36 through 57 in RPI. 9-9 vs. top 100 should overcome three sub-100 losses.

On the fence. In contention for the final 7-8 spots:
Boise State, BYU, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Illinois, Indiana, Iona, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Mississippi, Murray State, Old Dominion, Rhode Island, Richmond, Temple, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulsa, UCLA, Wisconsin-Green Bay

Bubble-in (7 or 8 teams): The predictions here
Boise State: Winning the Mountain West title should get the Broncos in, and if it doesn’t it’s a travesty. If the committee really takes into account injuries, then Boise should also get some consideration for a couple of its early-season losses.
Colorado State: The Rams could easily be an odd team out after Mountain West conference rival Wyoming won the league tourney. 5-5 vs. top 100 is middling, but CSU was generally excellent all year and tried to schedule better, only to have a number of its opponents have disappointing years.
Indiana: They can deny it’s a factor all they want, but guessing the Hoosiers’ name brand recognition is going to be too much for the committee to resist.
LSU: The Tigers are 12-5 against the top 100 and 9-6 in road/neutral games, and guessing that will outweigh any concerns over five sub-100 losses.
Temple: Just 2-8 against the top 50, but 6-0 vs. 51-100. Owls’ tough non-conference schedule and 9-8 road/neutral record may be the difference, but this one could go either way.
Texas: See Indiana. If there is too much emphasis on the eye test then the Longhorns are in.
UCLA: See Indiana.
Mississippi: Projecting as last team in, but out if Connecticut wins the AAC Tournament final on Sunday. Rebels are 9-7 in road/neutral games, which would be the difference if they get in, since some other numbers (3-5 vs. top 50, four sub-100 losses) are not very good and others (9-8 vs. top 100, 92 non-conference SOS) are decent but not distinguishing.

BYU: Wouldn’t have a huge problem if they make it, but don’t understand the infatuation with the Cougars. One top 50 win in five tries, 3-6 vs. top 100, but also three sub-100 losses. Other than the Gonzaga win, profile really is not that special at all, and there were enough chances to make it better.
Central Michigan: Most don’t have the Chippewas anywhere near their bubble, but CMU tied for best record in the MAC, the 10th-rated league in the RPI, and is 2-1 against the top 50 and 5-2 against the top 100. No. 349 non-conference schedule and two sub-200 losses almost certainly kill hopes, though.
Illinois: 3-6 vs. top 50, 5-12 vs. top 100, 5-11 road/neutral. The Illini really shouldn’t even be very close.
Iona: Like Murray State, the numbers just aren’t there-zero top 100 wins. Unlike the Racers, the Gaels don’t have an undefeated conference mark or a 25-game winning streak to sell themselves on. Iona had enough slip-ups throughout the season to not be a legitimate candidate, despite their entertaining style of play.
Miami (Fla.): 2-7 vs. the top 50 and four sub-100 losses slightly outweighs win over Duke and 11-6 road/neutral record. Only two wins against teams in the top 70. Could see the Hurricanes making it over a team like Temple.
Murray State: Racers will be done in by their slow start to the season in the few chances they did have to impress way back in November. By the normal standards-top 50 and top 100 wins, strength of schedule-the numbers just are not there, though not by their doing.
Old Dominion: Beat LSU, VCU and fellow bubble team Richmond and had a good non-conference schedule (ranked 46th). Like Central Michigan, good vs. the top 100 (6-2) but too many losses below (five vs. sub-100 teams) and not outstanding in Conference USA.
Rhode Island: Considering the other company, Rams at least deserve a look. 0-6 vs. the top 50 but 6-1 against 51-100 and 9-7 in road/neutral games. Two sub-100 losses. Not quite enough.
Richmond: Spiders made a late charge to get into consideration but early losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest plus James Madison were killers. 3-6 vs. top 50, 7-10 vs. top 100 but just 5-10 in road/neutral games.
Texas A&M: 0-5 vs. top 50 is the dagger for a resume that wasn’t bad until losing 4 of final 5 games.
Tulsa: Similar resume to Texas A&M. 2-6 vs. top 50 and 5-8 vs. top 100, though just one sub-100 loss and 10-5 in road/neutral games. Not been a pretty team to watch and didn’t look good closing against Connecticut on Saturday, and right or wrong, that could have been final dagger.
Wisconsin-Green Bay: If Miami is a candidate, what about the Phoenix, who won convincingly on the Hurricanes’ home floor? GB is 3-5 against the top 100 and has three sub-100 losses, so the chances are slim & none, but wouldn’t dismiss 100%.

Bubble-in, but should be out:
Indiana: 4-9 vs. the top 50, 8-12 vs. the top 100, 5-9 in road/neutral games=a team that is no threat to go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas: Sorry, but 3-12 against the top 50 does not cut it. Great schedule, but at some point teams still must be held accountable for winning against it.
UCLA: 2-8 vs. the top 50, 5-10 vs. top 100, 4-11 in road/neutral games, plus three sub-100 losses. Let’s face it: if this were an Atlantic 10 or Mountain West team, they’re barely even on the board for consideration.

Bubble-out, but should be in:
Mississippi (if UConn loses): The Rebels may not look better in the airport or have the backing of TV heads from being on nationally almost every single game, but they have had a better season than Texas. Far better on the road.
Murray State: Anyone who wants to invoke the eye test, watch the Racers in almost any of their games from December on and try to explain they don’t look like an NCAA Tournament team. With the number of sub-100 losses that almost every single bubble team has, winning 25 straight should count for much more than many seem to think it should.
Old Dominion: If you want to reward non-conference scheduling and performance, then why not reward a team that played five teams in the top 65 out of conference and won against four of them? Don’t we often hear from TV commentators about how “it’s who you beat, not who you lose to?”

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