Monday, March 17, 2008

March Madness 2008: The Search for 65 - 65 In; Who's Out

March 16 - I took a nap through the selection show and now have to suffer with Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight analyzing the draw.

Of my 64, at least Illinois State, Ohio State, VCU, Houston, New Mexico and Arizona State didn't make it.

Now Dick is Vitale ranting about Arizona getting in over Arizona State.

Oregon, Arizona, Villanova, Kentucky, Baylor and St. Joseph's made it in against my prediction. Philadelphia got three of it's five city teams into the field (Temple as Atlantic 10 champ). The city's most consistent tournament team--Pennsylvania, had a rare bad season and missed as the Ivy League rep.

As predicted by many, UNC, UCLA, Memphis and Kansas are #1 seeds. Coppin State and Mt. Saint Mary's compete in the play-in game on Tuesday. The winner gets North Carolina.

Georgetown got a #2 seed rather than Wisconsin, who are #3 along with Louisville, Xavier and Stanford. I was way off on Louisville, placing them at #6. Davidson got a nice #10 seed, the highest of the so-called minor conference champs. Georgia's run thru the SEC tournament got them a spot, but at #14, in the same rank with Cal State-Fullerton, Cornell and Boise State.

I'll have to print and analyze the draw to comment much further.

March 14 - Bubbles and Seeds

Conference tournament week is well underway and the nature of the 65 team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Field is coming into focus.

As I see it, the following 57 teams (some still unnamed) are in the field no matter what happens from here on out during the conference tournaments. (Tournament winners italicized)

ACCUNC, Duke, Clemson, Miami
America East – tournament winner (University of Maryland—Baltimore)
Atlantic SunBelmont
Atlantic Ten – Xavier, tourney winner Temple, and either St. Joseph's or Charlotte (or neither)
Big East – Georgetown, West Virginia, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette and Pittsburgh, who won the Big East tourney.
Big SkyPortland State
Big SouthWinthrop
Big 10 – Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana
Big 12Kansas, Texas, Kansas St., Oklahoma
Big West – tournament winner (UC Santa Barbara?) - Cal State Fullerton
ColonialGeorge Mason
Conference USAMemphis
Metro AtlanticSiena
Mid AmericanKent St.
MEAC – tournament winner - Coppin St.
Missouri ValleyDrake
Mountain West – BYU, UNLV
NortheastMount St. Mary’s
Ohio ValleyAustin Peay
Pac 10UCLA, Stanford, Washington St, USC
SEC – Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky - Georgia
Southland – tournament winner (SF Austin?) - Texas Arlington
SummitOral Roberts
Sun BeltWestern Kentucky
SWAC – tournament winner (Alabama St?) - Mississippi Valley St.
West CoastSan Diego, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s
WAC – tournament winner (Utah St?) - Boise State

This leaves eight spots open to a list of what by my count is 31 “bubble teams”.

In this group I include

Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State
St. Joseph’s, Charlotte
Syracuse, Villanova
Ohio State, Minnesota
Baylor, Texas A&M
California-Northridge, UCSB
Houston, UAB
Cleveland St.
Western Michigan
Illinois State
New Mexico
Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon
Florida, Mississippi
South Alabama
Utah State
New Mexico State

My eight from this group are:

Charlotte – decent season and good run in A-10 tourney; sure thing if they're the champs. - won't go with Xavier and Temple in the field.
Pitt – a dangerous club with their star Levance Fields back in the lineup (great name, by the way) - now in as conference champ
Ohio State
– late season wins over Purdue and Michigan State resurrected their hopes - Illinois win in Big 10 final would knock them out.
Texas A&M
– outperformed fellow Big 12 bubble team Baylor in conference tourney
VCU – had a great season before being upset by William and Mary
Houston or UAB (need more analysis to determine second Conference USA entry)
Illinois State – strong second to MVC powerhouse Drake
South Alabama – great Sun Belt regular season
Nevada (or other tourney runnerup from WAC)
New Mexico – Mountain West has had a great season
Arizona State - ESPN analyst convinced me that they should be in

Last four out were:

Baylor, UAB (or Houston), Nevada and Virginia Tech

Seed Pods

1 – UNC, UCLA, Memphis, Texas/KU winner
2 – Tennessee, Kansas/Texas loser, Wisconsin, Duke
3 – Georgetown, Xavier, Butler, Stanford
4 – Purdue, Vanderbilt, Drake, Washington State
5 – Michigan St, Clemson, Notre Dame, Indiana
6 – BYU, Kansas St, Gonzaga, Louisville
7 – USC, Miami, Kent State, Marquette
8 – Connecticut, St. Mary’s, Mississippi State, Arkansas
9 – West Virginia, Oklahoma, UNLV, San Diego
10 – George Mason, VCU, Kentucky/Georgia, Western Kentucky
11 – Pitt, Temple, Ohio State, South Alabama
12 - Boise St, Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois State
13 - CS-Fullerton, Davidson, Nevada, New Mexico
14 - Winthrop, Tex-Arlington, Portland State, Austin Peay
15 - UMBC, Cornell, American, Oral Roberts
16 – Siena, Belmont, Mississippi Valley St.
Play-in – Coppin St. and Mt. St. Mary’s

March 13 - First-Round Action - No new champs will be crowned tonight, but action begins in six more conference tournaments, including the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC, and continues in nine others, including the Pac 10 and Big East. Early round action last night produced no big upsets - Atlantic 10 sleeper Rhode Island bowed to Charlotte 75-73 to punch their NIT ticket.

March 12 - Northeastern Sky - The Northeast Conference and Big Sky Conference find champions tonite. Upset semifinal winners Mount Saint Mary's and Sacred Heart play for the Northeast championship. Regular season champ Portland State and Northern Arizona battle for the Big Sky championship. Other conferences, highlighted by the Big East, start tournaments.

March 11 - Will Butler Do it? Three tournament berths are at stake tonight. The Summit Conference final matches Oral Roberts and unpronouncable IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis--the abbreviation makes me think of Youppi--the original mascot of the Montreal Expos baseball team). The Horizon Conference final pits #10 Butler and upstart Cleveland State. At the same time, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State decide the Sun Belt championship. Butler gets in no matter what; Western Kentucky has a gaudy 26-6 record, but has been mentioned as a bubble team. Other bubble teams are rooting hard for Butler. Cleveland State and Middle Tennessee definitely need wins tonite to get in.

March 9 - Seek and You Shall Find -- Spoilers - The 65 March Madness Men's teams are slowly being identified. Other March 9/10 updates in this color.

Tournament-eligible teams are shown in basketball-colored orange.

As of 8 p.m. today, five teams are in - Cornell, undefeated winner of the Ivy League season (no conference tournament), Austin Peay (OVC tournament winner), Belmont (Atlantic Sun tournament winner), Winthrop (Big South tournament winner), and Drake (MVC tournament winner). All the tourney winners were regular season leaders. Drake beat Illinois State, who at 24-9 still has a good chance to get in as a second MVC team. Winthrop plays in their fourth straight NCAA tournament (they won a game last year) and could be a dangerous 12th or 13th seed; Belmont is in their third straight, but will still be near the bottom of the field. More conference tournament finals are being played today--the list of tournament eligible teams will grow.

CBS identified five "spoiler" teams--regular season leaders from mid-major conferences who appear to be in the big tournament no matter their conference tournament outcome--Butler, Kent State, South Alabama, Davidson and VCU. If one of these teams gets upset and an unranked team makes the tournament, a team somewhere watches their bubble pop.

VCU lost to William & Mary in the CAA tournament. W&M and George Mason match up in the CAA final. ESPN's "bracketologist" says that the loss burst VCU's bubble. I think they will still get in. George Mason pulled the CAA up with their Final Four run in 2006 to the point where both the regular season and tournament champions can get NCAA bids.

Defending champ Florida hopes they fit in this latter group--they may still be out even if all the spoilers stay fresh. The Gators are taking in on the chin in their regular season finale vs. Kentucky. Without a comeback today, word is that they'll need a win or two in the SEC tournament to get in the field of 65.

March 2 - Today's watchword is "bubble". Yesterday's action answered some questions about "bubble teams" (teams that are neither in nor out--therefore "on the bubble") and raised others. Another good set of games will tip off today. I've inserted updates below in this color.

With March Madness about three weeks away, the search is on for the 65 teams that will appear in the mens' college basketball championship.

I looked at conference standings and came up with the following estimates of how many teams will likely be chosen from each conference. Almost every conference is guaranteed at least one spot.

American East (1) - Maryland-Baltimore County or tourney winner

Atlantic 10 (1-2) - Xavier and St. Joseph's or tourney winner - Xavier rolls along to a potential #2 seed. St. Joseph's lost to St. Louis at home to hurt their chances. Temple and U Mass have moved ahead of St. Joseph's for the possible second spot from the A-10.

St. Joe's and Temple made it to the A-10 finals; St. Joe's upset Xavier; Temple beat Charlotte in the semis. My guess is that the winner joins Xavier in the NCAA tourne and that Charlotte is out.

Atlantic Coast (7) - UNC, Duke, Va Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Miami, Wake Forest - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Duke and UNC both won despite trailing by double digits in the first half. The Tar Heels survived a 46-point onslaught by Boston College guard Tyrese Rice. Miami scored 60 in the second half to nip Virginia 95-93 and improve their record to 20-8. Clemson and Maryland meet today. UNC, Duke, Clemson and Miami look solid. I've read skeptical reports about Va Tech, Maryland and Wake, but suspect that at least one of these three will get in.

Va Tech bowed to UNC in ACC semi. Clemson upset Duke on the other side. Neither outcome will change which ACC teams make the big tourney.

Atlantic Sun (1) - if this new conference qualifies for an automatic berth - Belmont or tourney winner Belmont is in as A-Sun tourney champ.

Big 12 (6) - Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Bubble team Oklahoma got a big 64-37 win over Texas A&M. Texas Tech upset Texas 83-80, keeping the 'Horns out of short-term consideration for a #1 seed. Baylor whipped 100 on Missouri. Kansas dominated K-State for their 34th win the last 36 games of the series. Texas, Kansas, K-State and Baylor look solid. Kansas might still get a #1 seed by winning the Big 12 tourney and having Tennessee or UCLA lose in their conference tourneys. UNC and Memphis look impenetrable for two of the four #1 seeds.

Kansas and Texas meet in the Big-12 final. Both teams look solid as #2 seeds in the NCAA tourney.

Big East (7) - Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Pitt - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Georgetown nipped Marquette in OT. UConn beat WVU (a bubble team, others say, due to poor Strength of Schedule (SOS)). Pitt kept Syracuse NIT-bound. Notre Dame and Louisville are in action on Sunday vs. DePaul and Villanova respectively. Nova needs a win and then some. Georgetown won second straight regular season title--seem assured of a #2 seed. I've read that Syracuse still has a chance. The first four on the above list look like sure things.

Pitt found its stride and reached the Big East final vs. Georgetown. This is the seventh time in eight years the Panthers have played in this game. Their record for the period is 1-5, including a lopsided loss to Georgetown last year.

Big Sky (1) - Portland State or tourney winner - Portland State rolls on with a 108-56 demolition of Montana. Portland State got a well-deserved berth with an 67-51 win over Northern Arizona in the Big Sky final.

Big South (1) - Winthrop or tourney winner. Winthrop won tourney and will make fourth straight NCAA appearance.

Big 10 (4-6) - Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and maybe Ohio State or Minnesota. Tourney winner other than these knocks out one of last two - Minnesota took the bubble team matchup with Ohio State, 71-57. Last year's national runnerup looks more and more NIT-bound with 17-12 record. The first four are still solid. Ohio State slipped, then rallied with wins over Purdue and Michigan State. A Big 10 tourney win or two would put them back in.

First-place Wisconsin faces ninth-place Illinois in the Big 10 Championship game. A win by Illinois (16-18) definitely knocks out a bubble team.

Big West (1) Cal State Northridge or tourney winner

Cal State Fullerton faces UC Irvine in the final. Winner gets in. Maybe Fullerton does in any event at 23-9.

Colonial Athletic (2-3) - VCU, George Mason and maybe UNC-Wilmington; other tourney winner knocks one out - 2006 Cinderella George Mason couldn't overcome an 18-point first half and lost to Northeastern. UNC-Wilmington (19-12) beat Old Dominion to creep up in the standings. VCU rolls on at the top of the league. Running the table could earn them a #4 seed. CAA tourney final matches George Mason and William and Mary. I think that VCU and the winner will go. George Mason held off William and Mary for their first CAA tourney title since 2001. The Patriots become the sixth team in the big tournament.

Conference USA (2-3) - Memphis, Houston and maybe UAB; other tourney winner knocks out UAB - ECU nipped Houston. Memphis survived an upset bid by Southern Miss. UAB got a nice win over Tulane and could overtake Houston for second C-USA slot. ESPN bracketologist says that UAB needs more wins.

Horizon (1-2) - Butler and Wright State - other tourney winner knocks out Wright State - #14 Butler held Detroit to 31 points. Wright St. lost to Valparaiso, jeopardizing their at-large bid. Butler now #10 in national polls and likely #3 seed if they prevail in Horizon tourney. Butler did it, overwhelming Cleveland State 70-55 to complete a 28-3 season and earn a tournament berth as a likely #3 seed.

Independents (0)

Ivy (1) - Cornell has 3-game lead with four to play; should be first qualifier as Ivy has no tourney - Cornell ripped Harvard to clinch their first NCAA berth since 1988 (Penn and Princeton, Ivy League qualifiers for the last 19 years, are a combined 16-38 so far). Congrats to the Big Red for being the first team to officially qualify for this year's tournament.

Metro Atlantic (1) - Niagara or tourney winner - Niagara got spanked by Siena. Rider (20-9) might also challenge. Siena pounded Rider 74-53 to win the Metro Atlantic tourney and the seventh bid to the NCAA tournament.

Mid-American (1-2) - Kent State and maybe Akron; other tourney winner knocks out Akron - #23 Kent State's time in the top 25 will be brief. They lost to Bowling Green on Saturday. Akron helped their cause with a 20-point win over Buffalo.

Kent State and Akron meet in the MAC final. An Akron win drives out a bubble team.

Mideastern (1) - Morgan State or tourney winner

Morgan State and Coppin State meet in the final.

Missouri Valley (2-3) - Drake and Illinois State; maybe Southern Illinois or Creighton; tourney winner other than these knocks out SIU and Creighton - Drake and Illinois State roll on. Creighton won the game of the day, 111-110 in 2 OTs over Bradley. Creighton's Cavel Witter scored 42 and led his team with 7 assists. Drake clobbered Illinois St 79-49 to complete 28-4 regular season and claim both MVC regular season and tourney titles. This will be their first NCAA appearance since 1971, and likely as #4 or 5 seed. Very impressive! Runnerup Ill. St. also likely to get a bid despite bad last game. SIU and Creighton probably NIT-bound.

Mountain West (2-3) - BYU, UNLV and maybe New Mexico; other tourney winner knocks out New Mexico - BYU and UNLV won easily.

They meet in the MW final.

Northeast (1) - Robert Morris or tourney winner - Morris and Wagner are the class of this league, but only one will be NCAA-bound. It turns out that neither team is NCAA-bound. Both were upset in the Northeast tourney semifinals and Robert Morris conqueror Mount Saint Mary's prevailed over Sacred Heart to capture a tournament berth.

Ohio Valley (1) - Austin Peay or tourney winner - Austin Peay won again, but will still have to win the conference tourney to get in. Like Drake, Austin Peay won both regular season and tourney titles by clear margins. Unlike Drake, they'll get a double digit seed.

Pacific 10 (5-6) - UCLA, Stanford, Wash St, USC, Arizona State and maybe Arizona; other tourney winner knocks out USC or Ariz State - Arizona State won bubble matchup with USC, despite 37 from OJ Mayo. Stanford beat Wash. State, but Cougars are still OK. USC looked great clobbering Stanford. I can't seem them being left out.

UCLA and Stanford meet in the Pac 10 final. Both are entrenched as high NCAA seeds (1 and 3 most likely)

Patriot (1) - American U or tourney winner

Southeastern (6) - Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State; other tourney winner knocks out Arkansas - Mississippi needs more wins like Saturday's blowout of Alabama. Arkansas upset of Vandy helps them more than it hurts Vandy. Miss. State beat Florida at Gainesville. WIth 21-8 record and defending national champ status, you'd think that the Gators would be in easily, but I've read that they're a bubble team and need more wins. Tennessee and Kentucky play at noon in Knoxville today. Florida lost their last regular season game to Kentucky. They are probably the SEC bubble team most at risk of playing in the NIT.

The SEC tourney was delayed by a tornado that struck the Georgia Dome. Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi St and Georgia are still alive.

Southern (1) - Davidson or tourney winner Davidson faces Elon (14-18) in tourney final. Win by Elon will test NCAA committee's respect for Southern Conference.

Davidson takes care of business, 65-49 to take the eighth spot in the NCAA tournament and stretching their record to a gaudy 26-6.

Southland (1) - SF Austin or tourney winner

Southwestern Athletic (1) - Alabama State or tourney winner

Final matches Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State.

Summit (1) - also a new conference - Oral Roberts or tourney winner if they have auto bid. 3/11 update - This isn't a new conference; it's the renamed Midwest Cities Conference. Oral Roberts punched its ticket with a 71-64 win over IUPUI in the tournament final.

Sun Belt (1-2) - South Alabama and Western Kentucky; other tourney winner may knock out one of these - USA and WKU roll on, trying to become upset-proof. USA put themselves on the bubble with a 82-73 tourney loss to Middle Tennessee State. They have to hope that a 26-6 record with wins over San Diego, Mississippi State and Western Kentucky (2) will be enough. The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky got Tuesday's last tourney berth with a 67-57 win over Middle Tennessee.

West Coast (2) - St. Mary's and Gonzaga; other tourney winner jeopardizes bubble teams from other conferences - Gonzaga won Saturday's matchup of top 25 teams. Gonzaga is in the WCC final vs. San Diego. With a win, the Zags and St. Mary's will go to NCAA. A San Diego win would put them in too and put a non-WCC bubble team out, at least according to ESPN. I wonder if the WCC can be a three-team conference.

San Diego puts the decision in the hands of the committee with a 69-62 win over Gonzaga in the WCC final to take the ninth NCAA tournament berth. San Diego's coach served as an assistant at Gonzaga for 16 years prior ot this season.

Western Athletic (1) - Boise State or tourney winner

Adding the lower figures for each conference totals 65, meaning that most teams "on the bubble" will feel their bubble burst.

Boise State meets New Mexico State in the final.

Sure Things - Current No. 1 seeds would be UNC, Memphis, UCLA and Tennesee; next four are Duke, Kansas, Texas and Georgetown; 3-seeds are Indiana, Wisconsin, Stanford and Vandy; potential 4's are Butler, Xavier, Louisville, Notre Dame, Purdue, Michigan State, Wash State, St. Mary's, Gonzaga and Kent State. All of these teams are "sure things" for the field of 65. - Duke and Kansas stand ready to advance if one of the top 4 falters. Butler and Xavier push for Vandy's #3-seed. Gonzaga advances toward a #4 with their win over St. Mary's.

1's and 2's haven't changed much if at all. Georgetown and Wisconsin are possible 2's. Butler or Xavier could move up to 3. Kent State and St. Mary's have probably dropped out of contention for a 4 seed.

Bubble Teams - These teams need to win their own conference tournament or do well and root for other conference tourney favorites to hold form - St. Joseph's, Ohio State, Minnesota, UAB, Wright State, Akron, Arizona, Arkansas, Western Michigan, New Mexico, Southern Illinois, Creighton, Wagner, Western Kentucky - St. Joseph's, Ohio State and Wright St. took hits. Minnesota, UAB, Arkansas, Creighton, Wagner, and WKU helped their causes. Houston might have slipped to bubble status. Oklahoma and Arizona State, listed as bubble teams by others, got big wins to progress toward "sure thing" status. USC slipped to bubble status.

Villanova advanced to near-bubble status with a first round win over Syracuse in the Big East tourney. Syracuse is definitely NIT-bound.

Ripe for Upsets - These are mostly regular season leaders of minor conferences - UMBC, Belmont, Portland State, Winthrop, Cal State-Northridge, Niagara, Morgan State, Robert Morris, Austin Peay, American, Davidson, SF Austin, Alabama State, Oral Roberts, Boise State. As mentioned above, Belmont, Winthrop, Austin Peay, Davidson, Oral Roberts, and Portland State are clear of this risk. Robert Morris got bit. Others will decide their own fate this week.

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