"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, January 02, 2012

An early look at NCAA possibilities.

As the message boards are starting to buzz with talk about how many bids the Big East teams may receive, it is interesting to note this observation:

Since expansion in 2006, there have been zero Big East teams with more than four non-conference losses that were subsequently invited to the NCAA tournament.
Bad news for the league is that we have five conference teams that have already tallied five non-con losses: Notre Dame, Villanova, Rutgers, South Florida and St. Johns. If history is any indication, these teams are likely out of the race for an NCAA bid. And with the possible exception of Rutgers' win over Florida--there isn't much evidence to date that one can use to mount a counter-argument.

Strip away the reputation of Villanova and Notre Dame based on prior Big East success and you find that there are only 3 wins over current RPI* top 100 teams: the aforementioned Rutgers upset of Florida, USF's win over #65 Cleveland State and St. Johns win over #99 Lehigh. VU and ND have a combined zero non-conference victories over a current top 100 RPI opponent.

In the past, the league separated itself into a handful of elite teams, and handful of laggards, and bunch of teams in the middle fighting for fan NCAA bid. It appears the same is happening this year as well.

In: UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse

Some have questioned whether UL belongs up here, but they have more top 50 RPI wins than anyone in the league. UConn has not been truly tested yet (and even suffered an upset at the hand of UCF). Some might question MU given the losses to Vanderbilt and LSU. Nonetheless, there seems to be consensus based on non-conference play that these are the top five teams in the conference, and Syracuse stands alone as the team to beat.

This is not to say that these teams can't play their way out of the tournament. However, each of them have the talent and have demonstrated a level of play which separates them from the rest of the league.

Bubble: Pitt, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia

Not all four of these teams will make the tournament. Most likely, two of them, perhaps with a greater chance of three making it (8 total bids) than one (6 total bids). But each of them still has some work to do.
  • Pittsburgh: Ordinarily, one would be writing off the tournament possibilities for a team with the body of work that Pitt has put forth to date. However, as long as Tray Woodall has a chance to return, the Panthers remain alive if they put together some strong wins once he returns.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats haven't distinguished themselves in non-conference play (leading to imponderables like: which is uglier--the brawl against Xavier or the loss to Presbyterian?). UC has a chance to separate themselves from the bottom over the next two weeks. 3 of their next four games are at home against ND, Villanova and St. Johns.
  • Seton Hall is the 2012 version of 2011 Cincinnati. Nice non-conference record, but they will remain suspect until they beat someone of note. The blowout loss to Syracuse doesn't do it, but the blowout win over WVU might be an indication that SHU is at the head of the middle of the pack. However, questions of legitimacy will dog the Pirates unless they pull an upset over Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, UConn or Georgetown.
  • West Virginia gives you just enough good (wins over K-State, Missouri State and Miami) to think they're bordering on the upper-division. But they lost their two best chances for a quality non-con win losing to Mississippi State and Baylor, and the loss to Seton Hall puts them at an early disadvantage in the middle.
Out: Notre Dame, Villanova, Rutgers, USF, St. Johns, Providence, DePaul

Some will argue that ND or Villanova still have a chance to make the tournament despite 5 non-conference losses. However, history suggests that if a team hasn't won in non-conference play, its a pretty good indication that they won't be able to win in Big East play either. If a team can't beat teams like Georgia, Maryland, St. Louis or St. Joseph's, they're going to have a hard time against WVU or Cincinnati (not to mention Marquette, Syracuse, UConn, Georgetown or Louisville).

More importantly, aside from Rutgers, none of these teams have compelling non-conference victories that would cause the committee to fight for them come Selection Sunday. Absent multiple upsets of the top teams in the league, one simply can't make the case for ND, VIllanova, and to a lesser extent PC, DePaul, St. Johns, Rutgers or USF).

*RPI source: Statsheet.com

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