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MIssissippi State: Bulldogs Deliver More Late-Season Heroics

by - Published March 13, 2010 in Conference Notes

When Mississippi State’s season started Nov. 13, Bulldog fans had reason for concern.

The Bulldogs dropped the season opener at home to Rider 88-74. The team’s top recruit, Renardo Sidney, was stuck in eligibility purgatory. With the demise of UCLA, the team lacked any tough non-conference opponents that would give the Bulldogs a signature victory.

Back-to-back losses in early February dropped Mississippi State to 4-4 in the SEC and seemed to knock the Bulldogs off the bubble. Even though the Bulldogs immediately came home to complete a regular-season sweep of in-state rival Mississippi, they lacked any marquee wins. Luckily, an early season win against Old Dominion turns out to be a strong, résumé-building victory.

So as Mississippi State entered the SEC tournament this week, the Bulldogs were in a familiar position.

Last season, the Bulldogs had no chance to receive an at-large bid with a 19-12 record in a relatively weak SEC. But in 2009, Mississippi State caught fire and stormed through four teams in four days, including the only two other SEC teams to make the NCAA Tournament,  to win the conference’s automatic bid.

The SEC is stronger this season, so a 9-7 finish — identical to last season’s conference record — is more respectable. But Mississippi State still came into the SEC tournament needing to make a deep run to reach the NCAA Tournament. And somehow, the Bulldogs have found a way to make an encore appearance in the SEC championship game.

Mississippi State started this year’s run with a big win against bubble mate Florida in the quarterfinals. That win kept Mississippi State relevant in the at-large discussion but did little to propel them past the likes of Virginia Tech, Rhode Island or Dayton. The Hokies and Flyers each had two more wins against the RPI top 25 at the end of Friday, and the Rams have a better strength of schedule and fewer bad losses.

Today’s win against Vanderbilt might be the victory that propels Mississippi State into the NCAA Tournament, though. When comparing the Bulldogs’ profile to rival Mississippi’s, the most noteworthy difference was Mississippi State’s lack of a win against an elite team. The Rebels knocked off Kansas State in November, which remains a fantastic win. The Rebels also have a win against UTEP, which almost certainly will be in the NCAA Tournament. For Mississippi State to surpass their in-state rival and other bubble teams, the Bulldogs needed to notch a marquee win. And beating the Commodores might do it.

Ranked No. 20 in the RPI, Vanderbilt is a great scalp for the Bulldogs to claim. If Mississippi State can remain competitive against Kentucky in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs have a great shot at receiving an at-large bid even with a loss. If they lose badly, they could be in danger of slipping out of the field.

Of course, the easiest path to making the NCAA Tournament for Mississippi State is to complete the encore performance by defending the team’s SEC title.

Mississippi State: Difference-Maker Can’t Make a Difference for Dogs’ Tourney Hopes

by - Published March 8, 2010 in Conference Notes

Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney didn’t know how to help. That’s been the theme the whole year as the NCAA went through an investigation that will result in the talented forward missing his entire freshman season plus the first nine games of next season because he’s suspended for receiving improper benefits in high school.

Unable to make a basketball play, Sidney apparently deemed it necessary to let everyone know he’s still around by getting into a verbal confrontation with No. 13 Tennessee’s big man Wayne Chism after the Volunteers had kicked the Bulldogs’ behinds all around Humphrey Coliseum Saturday night.

“I can go to sleep knowing I can play next year,” Sidney said upon learning of the NCAA ruling, a day before his team’s disheartening 75-59 loss.

Will Sidney’s absence have the Bulldogs (21-10, 9-7 SEC) in next-year mode as well following the defeat? Smack talk or not, Chism’s Volunteers (23-7, 11-5) might have just slammed the door in the face of Mississippi State’s hopes to make the NCAA Tournament.  The Bulldogs finished the regular season with the No. 1 seed in the SEC West, but their conference tournament chances look dim with  No. 3 Kentucky, No. 19 Vanderbilt and Tennessee itself representing the East in the competition.

Outstanding as it’s been while playing in the daunting SEC, Mississippi State could have been that much better with an in-uniform Sidney, who averaged 26.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a senior at Fairfax High School of Los Angeles. At the very least, the 6-10, 260-pounder could have been a deluxe complement to team leading-scorer and rebounder, senior forward Jarvis Varnado (13.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game).

Mississippi State relied heavily on its home court advantage and burst out to a 12-2 record early in the season. The win total slowed as expected once the Bulldogs hit the conference schedule, but the home wins continued. They were 12-1 at the Hump by the time Kentucky came to visit Feb. 16. The Bulldogs led the Wildcats by five with less than four minutes remaining in regulation but faltered in overtime, losing 81-76.

But the feared edge that had the third best team in the nation on the ropes at one time was nowhere to be found Saturday. Tennessee shot out to a 17-0 lead and never looked back, sending the Bulldogs to their third home loss and deflating their bubble.

Sidney exchanged words with Chism, who averages 12.4 points per game but scored only one on the night, thinking of what it could have been. Chism will graduate after this season, so Sidney won’t get a chance to confront him on the court — not him, nor South Carolina’s Devan Downey or any of the other outstanding SEC seniors. Sidney will wait a year and then some to make his mark. This year, though, his Bulldogs are in — a difficult — position to make the NCAA Tournament. They probably don’t need to repeat as conference tournament champions to get an NCAA Tournament invitation, but they need an upset, which likely means they need to at least make it back to the championship game.

That’s a daunting task — Sidney or no Sidney.

Cal: Bears’ At-Large Prospects Remain Endangered

by - Published March 7, 2010 in Conference Notes

As the major conferences tip off the tournaments this week, most RPI top 20 teams are vying for top seeds. But one of those teams, California, is simply trying to play its way into the NCAA Tournament.

If the Golden Bears fail to win the Pac-10 tournament and the conference’s automatic bid, they will become one of the biggest storylines of Selection Sunday — regardless whether the committee extends them an invitation or relegates them to the NIT. Regular-season champs that don’t win their conference’s automatic bid are guaranteed an invite to the NIT, so the Bears know they’ll be playing in some sort of post-season tournament. But they have their sights set on the Big Dance.

However, their hopes rely on a flimsy résumé. The Bears’ strong RPI, No. 19 as of March 7, is the product of a brutal non-conference schedule that included games against Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico, Kansas and Murray State, with four of those games played away from Berkeley. Cal played only one non-conference opponent ranked lower than No. 170. Although the Bears took on a great non-conference slate, they failed to produce any big wins, losing every game against a top 50 non-conference opponent.

Entering this past weekend, Cal didn’t have a single win against an RPI top 50 team. After the weekend started, Washington crept into the top 50 — ranked No. 50 — so Cal can claim one win right now. But that’s not exactly the impressive marquee win that selection committee members supposedly treasure. On the flip side, Cal has a couple of bad losses at Oregon State and in Berkeley against UCLA. The team’s loss at USC is the third loss to teams outside the RPI top 100.

If you strip away conference affiliation and strength of schedule, Cal’s profile most closely resembles Siena’s. The 26-6 Saints, of the Metro Atlantic Conference, are ranked No. 38 in the RPI, as of March 7, and have no wins against the RPI top 50, five wins against teams ranked No. 51-100 in the RPI, and two losses to teams outside the RPI top 100. Although Siena has five more wins and one fewer bad loss than Cal, no one seriously considers Siena to be a viable candidate to receive an at-large bid if the Saints don’t capture the MAAC automatic bid.

The Bears would enter unprecedented territory if they remain in the RPI top 20 and fail to receive an at-large bid. In 2006, the Missouri State Bears, ranked No. 21, had their hearts broken when they became the first team ranked in the RPI top 25 to not receive an NCAA Tournament invitation. In the past 16 years, eligible teams in the RPI top 30 have made the tournament in all but three seasons.

Cal’s RPI is over-inflated because of the team’s tough schedule. Although the Bears undoubtedly faced some of the best teams in the country, including four teams likely to receive No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds, they failed to prove that they are capable of beating those teams. The selection committee has plenty of factors to consider when picking at-large teams. But it seems that teams should receive more credit for whom they beat rather than to whom they lose. And based on that criteria, Cal smells more like an NIT team than one of the 34 teams most worthy of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.

Bracket Breakdown: You Decide, Power Conferences vs. Everyone Else

by - Published March 6, 2010 in Columns

About half of all conference tournaments will be under way by the end of the weekend. For many heavyweights from non-power conferences, the best and maybe only way to guarantee a trip to the NCAA Tournament is to take care of business in their conference tournaments.

In major conferences such as the Big East and ACC, regular-season champs will almost always receive an invitation to the Big Dance — unless their program is banned from post-season play or a member of the Pac-10 this season. However, the same isn’t true for other conferences. In the WAC, CAA and Missouri Valley conferences, the regular-season champs need to win the automatic bid or else they’ll be sweating it out during the NCAA Tournament selection show.

When favorites from non-power conferences lose, the selection committee members must compare teams with great records but few quality wins with teams that have middle-of-the-road records but a handful of great wins. Take a shot at deciding for yourself whether the power conference teams should receive an at-large bid over some conference leaders that might not score an automatic bid.

In the latest Mock Tournament, all but two of these teams are projected to be in the field, though at least one of them would be in serious trouble if it doesn’t win its conference’s automatic bid.

Team A: (overall: 24-5, conference: 12-2)

RPI: 36
Strength of schedule:  119
Conference rank: 13
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-3
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 9-4
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 18 (neutral court) twice vs. and at 45, at 50, vs. 63 (neutral court) at 73
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at  203, at 181

Team B: (overall: 20-9, conference: 8-7)

RPI: 57
Strength of schedule: 69
Conference rank: 4
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-5
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
Record in neutral/road games: 7-5
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 5 (neutral court), vs. 44
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 136, twice vs. and at 62, vs. 52

Team C: (overall: 23-5, conference: 14-1)

RPI: 44
Strength of schedule: 131
Conference rank: 11
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-1
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
Record in neutral/road games: 9-3
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): at 41, at 50, at 67, at 69
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 146, at 64, vs. 69

Team D: (overall: 18-12, conference: 10-7)

RPI: 73
Strength of schedule: 47
Conference rank: 5
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-7
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 3
Record in neutral/road games: 6-8
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 12, at 18, at 24, vs. 26
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 150 (neutral court), at 108, vs. 107 (neutral court), at 93, vs. 76

Team E: (overall: 23-6, conference: 11-4)

RPI: 41
Strength of schedule: 101
Conference rank: 11
Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-4
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
Record in neutral/road games: 11-3
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 17, vs. 63, at 67
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 123, vs. 67

Team F: (overall: 20-8, conference: 11-7)

RPI: 61
Strength of schedule:  140
Conference rank: 12
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-1
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 4
Record in neutral/road games: 5-7
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 28, vs. 30, vs. 39, vs. 59, vs. 68
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 251, at 156, at 152, at 125, twice vs. and at 72

Team G: (overall: 23-6, conference: 13-2)

RPI: 33
Strength of schedule:  105
Conference rank: 10
Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-1
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 8-4
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 22, vs. 51
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 150, at 120, at 80, at 72, at 69

Team H: (overall: 20-10, conference: 9-8)

RPI: 65
Strength of schedule: 54
Conference rank: 2
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-4
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 3
Record in neutral/road games: 3-7
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 6, vs. 9, at 14, vs. 49, vs. 63, vs. 66
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 181, at 151, vs. 108 (neutral court), vs,. 78, at 63

Team A: Gonzaga
Team B: Mississippi
Team C: UTEP
Team D: Illinois
Team E: UAB
Team F: VCU
Team G: Utah State
Team H: Notre Dame

Bracket Breakdown: Big East Flirts With Greatness

by - Published February 28, 2010 in Columns

When it comes to determining the best conference in the country, almost any measure is subjective. Mathematically objective, the RPI is a blunt tool that doesn’t provide much insight about a conference’s overall strength, especially from top to bottom.

However, the percentage of conference teams invited to the NCAA Tournament is a good indicator of a conference’s strength.  Another barometer of conference strength should be the number of teams with losing records that receive at-large bids.

That metric would go hand-in-hand with the percentage of teams in the tournament. Logically, if a 12-team conference gets seven teams in the tournament, at least one team is likely to have a losing record in conference play. If seven teams in the conference had at least a .500 conference record, it would mean the bottom of the conference is weak, and the top teams simply had beaten up on those cellar dwellers and split games among the rest. This season, the Big Ten exemplifies that profile. Iowa, Indiana and Penn State are abysmal and have combined for 10 conference wins. Meanwhile, six of the 11 teams in the misnamed Big Ten have at least a .500 conference record.

However, a conference like the Big East is a different beast. All but two of the conference’s 16 teams have at least five wins in Big East play entering the final week of the regular season. Eight teams have .500 or better Big East records and eight teams are worse than .500. And one of those teams with a .500 or better record is Notre Dame, which likely sits on the wrong side of the bubble.

Come Selection Sunday, at least two Big East teams could make the NCAA Tournament as at-large teams with a losing conference record. That’s a big deal because it has happened only 29 times since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985. Eight teams in the past decade have reached the tournament with losing conference records, including Arizona and Maryland last season. According to the latest Mock Tournament, there are eight teams flirting with records that generally don’t deliver at-large bids:

  • Connecticut (17-12, 7-9)
  • Louisville (19-10, 10-6)
  • Illinois (18-11, 10-6)
  • Cincinnati (16-12, 7-9)
  • Notre Dame (19-10, 8-8)
  • South Florida (17-11, 7-9)
  • Seton Hall (16-11, 7-9)
  • Minnesota (17-11, 8-8)

Besides the six Big East teams, two Big Ten teams, Illinois and Minnesota, appear on the list because they have a lot of overall losses. Since 1985, only 18 teams have earned an at-large bid with 13 losses or more, and no team has ever reached the tournament as an at-large team with 15 losses. Of those eight teams, the latest Mock Tournament has the top four in the field. Based on averages since 1985, only one of those eight teams should reach the field if they can’t avoid the 13-loss/sub-.500 threshold.

With two games remaining in the regular season, several of these teams figure to enter the danger zone. And that doesn’t count their conference tournaments, in which none of these teams is expected to cut down the nets and earn an automatic bid. So that will add another loss to most of these teams’ overall records.

It’s a logical conclusion that any team that reaches the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record or 13 or more losses overall represents a powerful conference. Their inclusion would signify that the selection committee respects the conference highly. Indeed, those six Big East teams have 12 wins against the RPI top 25, mostly against the Big East elite. They have proven they can beat the best teams in the country, many of which come from their conference.

The ACC is the only conference to field two teams with losing conference records in the NCAA Tournament in the same season. If the Big East can match that feat, which seems likely, the conference will be poised to proclaim that it has had one of the best seasons in history.

Of course, when the dust settles and there are four teams heading to Indianapolis, the Big East’s season will only be considered one of the best ever if the conference has at least one representative in the Final Four.

Bracket Breakdown: You Be the Judge, Big East Style

by - Published February 27, 2010 in Columns

With the addition of Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida in 2005, the Big East evolved into a super-conference. Seven of the 16 members have national championship banners hanging in the rafters, and the conference’s teams have collectively been to 43 Final Fours. South Florida is the only member that has never reached the Final Four.

This season, the Big East is once again poised to have a fantastic NCAA Tournament and will likely put more teams in the tournament than any other conference. Entering the final weekend of February, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown and Pittsburgh are locks to make the tournament. In addition to those five powerhouses, eight other Big East teams have a legitimate shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament. But the bubble will invariably burst for some of those teams.

The eight teams competing NCAA Tournament bids are:

  • Cincinnati
  • Connecticut
  • Louisville
  • Marquette
  • Notre Dame
  • Seton Hall
  • South Florida
  • St. John’s

Check out their profiles below, and pick four teams to reach the NCAA Tournament. Then check out the latest Mock Tournament to see which teams we project to reach the field as of Feb. 26. The answer key for the team profiles is below.

Team A (Overall: 17-11, Big East: 7-8)

RPI: 40
Strength of schedule:  2, non-conference SOS: 5, conference SOS: 32
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-6
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 3-8
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 5, at 8, vs. 22, vs. 52, vs. 57
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 148, at 109, twice vs. and at 59, vs. 55

Team B (Overall: 18-9, Big East: 9-6)

RPI: 55
Strength of schedule:  65, non-conference SOS: 203, conference SOS: 44
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-7
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 6-6
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 9, vs. 14 (neutral), at 40, at 59, vs. 66
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 185, vs. 122

Team C (Overall: 18-10, Big East: 7-8)

RPI: 72
Strength of schedule: 61, non-conference SOS: 196, conference SOS: 37
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-4
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 2-7
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 10, vs. 59, twice vs. and at 66
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 127, vs. 93 (neutral) vs. 75, at 59, at 52

Team D (Overall: 16-11, Big East: 6-9)

RPI: 66
Strength of schedule: 43, non-conference SOS: 246, conference SOS: 20
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
Record in neutral/road games: 6-7
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): at 9, vs. 10, vs. 49, vs. 52, vs. 59
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 209, at 75, twice vs. and at 72, at 59

Team E (Overall: 16-11, Big East: 7-8)

RPI: 59
Strength of schedule: 29, non-conference SOS: 53, conference SOS: 72
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-6
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 0
Record in neutral/road games: 4-8
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 15 (neutral), vs. 28 (neutral), twice vs. and at 40,
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 75, at 72, at 66, vs. 55

Team F (Overall: 15-12, Big East: 5-10)

RPI: 75
Strength of schedule: 33, non-conference SOS: 73, conference SOS: 46
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-8
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
Record in neutral/road games: 6-6
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 13 (neutral), vs. 36 (neutral), vs. 41, vs. 59, at 66
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 127, vs. 109, vs. 55, vs. 52

Team G (Overall: 18-10, Big East: 9-6)

RPI: 41
Strength of schedule:  6, non-conference SOS: 21, conference SOS: 34
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-6
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
Record in neutral/road games: 4-6
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): at 4, vs. 40, vs. 59, vs. 66
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 119, at 75, vs. 56, at 52

Team H (Overall: 16-10, Big East: 7-8)

RPI: 52
Strength of schedule: 18, non-conference SOS: 162, conference SOS: 17
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-9
Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 0
Record in neutral/road games: 3-7
Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 10, vs. 41, at 48, vs. 59
Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 66

Team A: Connecticut
Team B: Marquette
Team C: Notre Dame
Team D: South Florida
Team E: Cincinnati
Team F: St. John’s
Team G: Louisville
Team H: Seton Hall

Seton Hall: Injuries Blast Holes in Pirates’ Tourney Hopes

by - Published February 21, 2010 in Conference Notes

Jeremy Hazell’s deep cut suffered during Seton Hall’s win against St. John’s Wednesday might mean the same to his team’s chances to appear in the NCAA Tournament: a cut out of the competition, a burst off the bubble of teams hopeful to be in the Big Dance.

Hazell, who needed eight stitches to close the cut on his shooting hand, was a miserable 2-for-10 from the field and scored only nine points in 33 minutes as the Pirates (15-10) lost a game they had to have on Saturday, 75-63 at West Virginia (21-5).

Numbers like that are almost unheard of from the Big East Conference’s second-leading scorer. Coming into Saturday, Hazell, who averages 21.9 points per game, had been held to less than 10 points in only three occasions.

“It’s a lot different,” center Herb Pope, Hazell’s teammate, said following the loss. “Guys have to come in and play unfamiliar roles. Different players have to step up and take Jeremy’s shots and try to win the game.”

Hazell’s injury couldn’t have been more untimely for a team hoping to get recognition in what’s arguably the toughest conference in college basketball. The Big East features five top 25 teams — tied with the Big 12 for the most in a single conference — and a second win against one of those squads was indispensable for fading Seton Hall.

The Pirates, whose best win of the season was a 64-61 downing of No. 21 Pittsburgh (20-6) Jan. 24, will now have to win their four remaining Big East games and hope inconsistent Louisville (18-9) and the rest of the monster-conference bubble teams, including the Cardinals, Cincinnati, Marquette and Connecticut, don’t strengthen their own cases too emphatically.

But with Hazell ‘s play clearly affected by the hand injury and Seton Hall still missing starting point guard Eugene Harvey with a bruised wrist, it’s questionable that the Pirates can even finish the regular season without anymore setbacks. And even with that, Seton Hall will need a deep run in the Big East Tournament to be offered an at-large bid. It’s either that or the NIT.

Seton Hall better hope it has some fast healers in Hazell and Harvey. They’re essential to make the cut.

Bracket Breakdown: You Be the Judge

by - Published February 20, 2010 in Columns

The selection committee has the unenviable task of parsing razor-thin differences among a dozen or more teams that are competing for the last invitations to the NCAA Tournament. Take a shot at picking which four teams should make the field from the eight profiles. The teams’ identities are below. And check which teams the Bracket Breakdown predicts to make the field as of Feb. 19 in the Mock Tournament 1.0.

Team A (Overall: 18-7, Conference: 7-4)

  • RPI: 34
  • Strength of schedule: 40, Non-conference SOS: 21
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-5
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
  • Record in neutral/road games: 4-7
  • Conference’s RPI: 6
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  vs. 24, vs. 27 (neutral court), vs. 41, vs. 51
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 194, at 85

Team B (Overall: 18-8, Conference: 7-4)

  • RPI: 61
  • Strength of schedule: 77, Non-conference SOS: 168
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-6
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
  • Record in neutral/road games: 6-5
  • Conference’s RPI: 4
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  vs. 22 (neutral court), vs. 39, vs. 63
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI: vs. 218, at 76

Team C (Overall: 17-9, Conference: 7-7)

  • RPI: 62
  • Strength of schedule: 42, Non-conference SOS: 2391
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-3
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
  • Record in neutral/road games: 1-7
  • Conference’s RPI: 8
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI): vs. 16, vs. 26, at 89
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI: vs. 175, at 119

Team D (Overall: 18-8, Conference: 6-5)

  • RPI: 63
  • Strength of schedule: 111, Non-conference SOS: 238
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-3
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 3
  • Record in neutral/road games: 6-6
  • Conference’s RPI: 4
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  vs. 41 (neutral court), twice vs. and at 54
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI: at 165, vs. 141, at 114, at 93

Team E (Overall: 19-7, Conference: 7-5)

  • RPI: 44
  • Strength of schedule: 68, Non-conference SOS: 190
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-4
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
  • Record in neutral/road games: 9-3
  • Conference’s RPI: 7
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  at 9, vs. 19, vs. 30, vs. 37
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): twice vs. and at 147, vs. 72 (neutral court)

Team F (Overall: 17-9, Conference: 9-4)

  • RPI: 71
  • Strength of schedule: 80, Non-conference SOS: 135
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-5
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 2
  • Record in neutral/road games: 5-6
  • Conference’s RPI: 5
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  vs. 12, at 20, vs. 22, at 36
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): vs. 147 (neutral court), vs. 116 (neutral court), at 92, at 91

Team G (Overall: 21-4, Conference: 8-3)

  • RPI: 45
  • Strength of schedule: 186, Non-conference SOS: 342
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-2
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 0
  • Record in neutral/road games: 7-4
  • Conference’s RPI: 3
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):  vs. 15, vs. 36, vs. 52 (neutral court)
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI): at 83, at 81

Team H (Overall: 17-8, Conference: 5-6)

  • RPI: 54
  • Strength of schedule: 59, Non-conference SOS: 133
  • Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-5
  • Losses to teams outside RPI top 100: 1
  • Record in neutral/road games: 6-5
  • Conference’s RPI: 4
  • Best wins (teams listed by RPI):
  • Worst losses (teams listed by RPI: vs. 114, twice vs. and at 63

The results are:

Team A: Dayton
Team B: Florida
Team C: Washington
Team D: Mississippi State
Team E: UNLV
Team F: Illinois
Team G: Virginia Tech
Team H: Mississippi

Maryland: Bubble Boys Could Turn Into Cinderella

by - Published February 15, 2010 in Columns

For the fifth time in six years, Maryland prepares for the stretch run as a bubble team. Although the Terrapins sit precariously close to the bubble, they also have the profile of a team that could cause trouble in the NCAA Tournament, and the emergence of a senior guard not named Greivis Vasquez might be the ticket to glory in the Big Dance.

After an impressive 6-2 start to conference play, everyone seemed to assume that the second-place ACC team would earn a bid to the tournament. But the Terrapins’ profile doesn’t back up that assumption. Of those six wins, four were against the bottom third of the conference: North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami and Boston College. It’s not Maryland’s fault that the Tar Heels are in a funk this season, but the team doesn’t deserve any more or less credit for slamming North Carolina, ranked No. 80 in the RPI, than Gonzaga should get for beating Portland, ranked No. 78.

As the middle of February passes, Maryland has only two wins against the RPI top 50 thanks to the Terrapins’ regular-season sweep of Florida State. Besides those two wins, Maryland has whiffed on each opportunity to pick up a marquee win, with losses to Wisconsin, Villanova, Wake Forest and Duke. This past weekend’s embarrassing 21-point defeat to the Blue Devils, Maryland’s biggest rival, is especially stinging.

If the selection committee had to decide the field on the afternoon of Feb. 15, Maryland would probably be in the NCAA Tournament. But the Terps could easily be among the final four teams even though few experts are discussing the team as in danger of missing the tournament. Somewhat paradoxically, Maryland has the look of a team that could make a fairly deep March run — if they make the tournament at all — and the Terrapins only need to make subtle tweaks to become a truly potent squad.

Maryland is one of only nine teams to rank in the top 25 for offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency statistics. On offense, the team shoots 38.6 percent from three-point territory, good for No. 27 in the country. And they don’t let teams beat them from behind the arc, as opponents shoot only 32.1 percent from three-point range. That improvement might be the biggest defensive change from last season, when Maryland let opponents shoot 34.7 percent from three-point territory. That liability led to an 89-70 blowout to Memphis in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when the Tigers hit 10-of-19 three-pointers to build an early insurmountable lead.

Although the team’s efficiency statistics are strong, they might be even better if senior guard Eric Hayes gets more involved on offense. A Terp fan might wonder how a senior who already plays 30.4 minutes, which is No. 2 on the team to Vasquez, needs to have an even bigger role. However, despite his playing time, Hayes is only involved in about 15.5 percent of Maryland’s offensive possessions, according to Pomeroy’s team-by-team breakdowns. And that’s not enough involvement for a player who shoots 45.2 percent from three-point range, 53.5 percent from inside the arc and 92.3 percent from the free throw line.

In comparison to his teammates, Hayes is the No. 6 offensive weapon, behind Vasquez, Landon Milbourne, Sean Mosley, Jordan Williams and Adrian Bowie. Cliff Tucker and James Padgett play fewer than 16 minutes per game, but when they’re in the game, they also have a higher percentage of involvement on offense than Hayes does. Coach Gary Williams needs to make sure that Hayes becomes more than just a decoy down the stretch. For his part, Hayes must be more active on offense and work to get open. With a great guard like Vasquez, opponents must constantly follow him around the court, which should give Hayes more room to operate.

If Williams can devise a few extra plays to go Hayes’ way each game, he could easily become involved in about 20 percent of the team’s possessions. That doesn’t mean he has to force a shot every time he touches the ball. But based on his shooting percentages, Hayes already knows what a good shot is. So if Maryland feeds him more, at least to match the offensive importance of Milbourne, the Terrapins’ offensive efficiency could soar closer to the top 10 by the beginning of March Madness.

For the record, in the past four NCAA Tournaments, 21 of the 25 teams that had offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the top 20 reached at least the Sweet 16. And right now, that means the Terrapins would probably be one of the most dangerous No. 7-12 seeds in recent memory.

Bracket Breakdown: Three Conference Tournaments That Bubble Teams Should Fear

by - Published February 13, 2010 in Columns

Conference tournaments will start in about two weeks, and bubble teams from San Diego State to Connecticut will cross their fingers that the NCAA Tournament-worthy favorites from one-bid conferences take care of business.

Three conference tournaments in particular figure to stress out the fringe tournament teams. The Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference and Western Athletic Conference have the looks of one-bid conferences. But if those conferences’ leaders fail to receive the automatic bid by winning their conference tournament, they have a good shot of making the tournament with an at-large bid.

Butler is the most comfortable conference leader of the three, as the Bulldogs remain undefeated in the Horizon League. Despite posting only two wins against the RPI top 50, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 17 in the RPI, thanks largely to a non-conference slate ranked No. 14 in difficulty. The good news for bubble teams is that the Horizon League tournament will be in Butler’s backyard in Indianapolis. And Butler has dominated the Horizon League’s most likely threats, beating Cleveland State, Wright State and Green Bay six times by an average of 14 points.

In the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa has four more conference wins than second-place Wichita State. The Panthers sport a higher RPI than Butler at 15, though that will likely change tomorrow because Northern Iowa dropped a road game to Bradley, only the team’s second loss in conference play. Despite two losses to teams outside the RPI top 100, Northern Iowa still figures to receive an at-large bid if necessary because the team is 22-3 and has two wins against the RPI top 50. However, Northern Iowa’s road to the conference’s automatic bid is tougher than Butler’s. The tournament will be in St. Louis, and the Panthers have not exactly blown out most MIssouri Valley opponents — winning by less than 10 points in six of 13 victories.

Utah State would likely join the bubble if the Aggies lose in the WAC tournament in Reno, Nev. Although the Aggies have the best marquis win of Butler, Northern Iowa and Utah State — against BYU — they also have the most losses, six, including two against teams outside the RPI top 100. Utah State has a respectable strength of schedule hovering around 100, and the Aggies might continue to rise if they finish strongly in the 10th toughest conference. With four home games remaining, the Aggies could easily enter the WAC tournament with 24 wins. However, playing in Reno means the Nevada Wolf Pack will have home-court advantage knowing they must earn the conference’s automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament. If Utah State loses to the Wolf Pack in the WAC championship game, the conference could end up with two bids in the NCAA Tournament.

With nearly half the Big East on the bubble, several prominent teams, such as Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette, will need to hope that Butler, Northern Iowa and Utah State ensure that seemingly one-bid conferences don’t unexpectedly become two-bid conferences. All three conference favorites will face upset-minded opponents in their tournaments, especially when their opponents know they can only earn an NCAA Tournament bid by receiving an automatic bid.

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