Potential ticket-punching games, my Cinderella team and much more
If you watched UConn hold off West Virginia on Monday night, and if you saw Florida blitz Tennessee Tuesday night in Gainesville, you probably thought the same thing I did: Those guys just punched their ticket.
That, my fellow Hoopheads, is what the bubble boys need to do these next two weeks. Yes, they have to avoid bad losses (especially at home), but if you really want to differentiate yourself from the pack, you have to pull out a game that no one expected you to win. And the opportunities are there, because for teams like West Virginia and Tennessee, this part of the season is a grind. They know they are going to the NCAA tournament, so they are just trying to slog their way through these last few games. They are ripe to be plucked, and it's up to bubble teams to reap that fruit.
If you scan through the schedules of other bubble boys, you find a large sample of other opportunities for them to pull off bid-clinching wins (barring an ensuing collapse). So before I get to your e-mails, here are several ticket-punching possibilities to watch out for in the coming days:
As for the Mailbag, we'll start with a couple of e-mails I received in response to
I did not have any specific reason to leave off those two teams, but since they are both going to be in the tournament and have the potential to make it to the second weekend, I got on the horn on Tuesday and spoke with an assistant coach from each conference who has scouted them. Here's what they had to say:
And now for the rest of your e-mails.
Believe me. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but over the last 20 years I'd say at least 75 percent of the national championship teams were either a 1 seed or a 2 seed. So having a lot of chalk advance to the Final Four is the rule, not the exception. Will this year's tournament be unpredictable? Of course -- because every tournament is unpredictable. That, however, is usually confined to the earlier rounds.
I am also hearing a lot of people talk about how wide open this thing is, but that is another misconception. It is very unusual that one team enters the tournament as the dominant, unquestioned team to beat. People like to revise history and say North Carolina was that team last year, but let's not forget that the Tar Heels stumbled into the tourney, largely because
Oh, and while we're debunking myths, let's stop talking about how there is more parity this year than ever before. There is no more parity in college hoops right now than there has been over the last 10 years, and there is certainly not a surfeit of high-quality teams trying to get into this thing. If anything, I'm seeing a lot of mediocrity when it comes down to deciding whom to give those last three or four at-large bids. That's par for the course.
Actually, the Big Ten is ranked fifth in the conference RPI, not fourth. I'm no math geek, but my understanding is the conference RPI rankings are mostly a reflection of the middle and bottom teams in the leagues. The Big Ten is strong at the top, but it also has four teams with horrible RPI rankings: Michigan (141), Iowa (190), Penn State (197) and Indiana (214). That will drag a league down far more than good teams like Purdue (7), Wisconsin (19) and Michigan State (28) will prop it up. The SEC, by contrast, has only one team ranked below 140, and that's No. 219 LSU.
Incidentally, the same principle applies to strength of schedule. If a team has played a bunch of teams with really low RPI rankings, that will hurt its SOS more than playing strong teams will help. That's why many conference commissioners are taking a firmer, more broad-based approach to scheduling by demanding that the middle and bottom teams in the league stay away from teams ranked below 200. Former Atlantic 10 commissioner
Like a lot of people, I've got my eye on UTEP.
One of the things I look for in spotting potential Cinderellas is a single player who can put a team on his back and score a ton of points, a la
This is an excellent question to raise, though I would disagree with Joe's explanation of this discrepancy. I have often said that I do not believe a men's team will ever go undefeated again. Things have changed dramatically since Indiana last did it in 1976. There are a lot more quality players who can play for non-elite programs. The wave of underclassman defections to the NBA accelerated in the mid-90's and now prevents programs from retaining their dominance. The reduction of scholarships from 15 to 13 has made it harder for the big boys to hoard talent. Most of all, the media attention on the sport has increased exponentially since '76, which brings much more scrutiny to a team trying to make it through the season with a perfect record.
If we turn our sights to the women's game, we see that in many ways it resembles the men's game in 1976. Women's teams are still able to award 15 scholarships. They do not have to deal with defections to the pros on nearly the same scale. And while there are more good female players than ever, and there is more media attention on the women's game than ever, it is still a far cry (one hopes) from where it will be 10 or 20 years from now. This is not to take anything away from what
It will be interesting to watch how the women's game evolves over the next decade, but my sense is that it will move more towards parity. Someday we may look back on Auriemma's 2009 and 2010 UConn Huskies and wonder whether anyone will be able to repeat their perfection.
Don't shoot the messenger, Adam. The Bears further undermined their cause after this e-mail was written by losing at Oregon State. While I agree the committee should take Robertson's injury into account, it is quite the leap to assume they would have beaten Ohio State and New Mexico if he were healthy in those games.
The reality is, Cal has been hurt by the Pac-10's overall weakness. Normally a team can improve its RPI by winning games inside the conference, but that has not been the case this year for the Golden Bears. Now they will have to go into Selection Sunday without a single victory over a team ranked in the RPI top 50. Keep in mind that there will be several bubble teams who will NOT make the tournament who will have two or three wins against the top 50.
Here's another way to look at it. The final at-large teams are usually seeded 12th. In many mock brackets, including
The one point Adam raises that will really help Cal is their strength of schedule. They are ranked first in the country in nonconference SOS and 10th overall. If they win their last three games, they will end the regular season with a 13-5 record in the league. If they win twice more in the Pac-10 tourney and then lose in the final, they will have a fighting chance to make the field. But I still say they'll be on the outside looking in.
Let's set aside for the moment my belief that Northern Iowa has not quite locked up an at-large bid. (The Panthers' loss to last-place Evansville Tuesday night has to hurt.) And let's also set aside the fact that nobody
My idea is that the teams from BCS conferences who earned the last few at-large bids should play true road games the following season against the top mid-major schools who were left out. Or, if you want to drop the artificial categories, you could have the last few at-larges play the first teams left out regardless of conference affiliation. Let's see how well Butler would do if it had to travel to Berkeley to face Cal. ESPN could call it BubbleBusters or something like that.
I'd like to think coaches from the Big Six leagues would be eager to participate, because the public is savvy enough to understand that if, say, Virginia Tech were to lose at St. Mary's next year, that would not be a bad loss. Alas, I'm sure this idea will never come to pass, because the Virginia Techs of the world don't need the exposure -- or the headaches -- that games like these can bring. But hey, a guy can dream, can't he?