February 14, 2014
By The SportsBoss
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This is our third installment of bracketology and comes as we head into the final stretch of conference play.
Below we breakdown each conference into four buckets:
1) Automatic bid [discussed in next sentence]
2) Looking good [teams highly likely to play well enough over the final month of the regular season to earn a bid]
3) Need wins [teams that are firmly on the bubble and will need to play well to close their season]
4) Life support [teams that still have an outside shot at earning a bid if they close season strong but are closer to falling off list vs. earning a bid]
For the non-AQ conferences we generally select the team with the highest RPI as the conference winner/automatic bid.
Teams are also listed in the s-curve order I see them now within conference. In addition ratings in team discussion are quoted as RPI/BPI/SBPI (my new Power Ratings for college basketball), and records listed are vs. Top 25/Top 50/Top 100 (aggregated).
Lastly, I always err on the side of including a team versus adding them to a later version, and also lean towards rating a team below where they should be as I look to avoid sliding teams backwards in the buckets.
America East: Vermont
American Athletic: Louisville
Looking Good: Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis
Need Wins: SMU (19-5/8-3) – the Mustangs have been upgraded from Life Support last edition following wins over Memphis & Cincinnati. They are now 8-1 in their L9 overall, have ratings of #39/#25/#85 and a solid conference record. SMU is just 1-2/3-3/4-4 which are improved and turning into a positive; as long as they win the games they should I expect the Mustangs to be invited to the Big Dance for the first time in 20+ years.
Atlantic Ten: St. Louis
Looking Good: VCU, UMass, George Washington
Need Wins: Richmond (16-8/6-3) – ratings of #40/#66/#82 leave a lot to be desired but the Spiders are playing their best ball since conference play began going 6-2 over their L8 with those pair of losses coming at St. Louis & at VCU. For the A10 to get 5+ teams in the big dance these three bubble teams led by Richmond will need to continue picking up as their record splits are a respectable 1-3/2-5/6-8. The Spiders schedule down the stretch is not tough as 4 of 7 will come at home, and 2 of the 3 road games are at George Mason & Rhode Island – who are among 4 teams tied for last place in the conference. Home games versus GW & VCU, along with their last game of the regular season at Dayton will be huge in determining their fate – and they must be targeting 2-1 in those.
St. Joseph’s, PA (16-7/6-3) – the Hawks have ratings of #45/#69/#67 and records of 2-4/2-5/3-6, both in bubble territory. What really keeps the Hawks alive is the pair of Top 25 wins they picked up over the last two weeks, proving they are bubble worthy at this point. Like Richmond they close with a favorable schedule with a home game vs. Dayton and a roadie at GW the only two of seven coming against teams in contention for a bid. They likely need 5-2 or better over those 7 which would leave them at 21-9/11-5; adding in a conference tourney win or two on top of that could be enough.
Life Support: Dayton (17-8/5-5) – ratings of #56/#55/#44 have improved of late and have the Flyers back on the fringe of bubble discussion; but make no mistake they have a lot of work left to do to even come up in discussion on Selection Sunday. Records of 1-2/3-4/6-5 are OK (especially 3 Top 50 wins), but a 5-5 mark in the A10 needs improvement. Dayton easily has the toughest schedule of the three bubble A10 teams with games @STJ, UMASS, @STL, RICH still on the slate. That is good and bad; they will have plenty of chances to improve their resume, but should they lose just two more conference games their best A10 record would be 9-7, which would not be good enough for at-large consideration.
Looking Good: Duke, Virginia, Pittsburgh
Need Wins: North Carolina (16-7/6-4) – UNC has been climbing of late now sitting with ratings of #33/#33/#22, and also sporting impressive record splits of 2-3/4-3/7-5 – all well within at-large range leading the Tar Heels to likely inclusion in the Looking Good category next edition. UNC has won 5 straight and 6 of 7 but still has 8 games remaining in their regular season with 5 of those coming against teams listed here. Even if UNC goes just 4-4 down the stretch leaving them at 20-11/10-8 they would be a lock to earn a bid.
Life Support: Florida State (14-10/5-7) – arguably no team has hurt themselves since our last edition as much as FSU has considering they have gone just 2-6 in their L8, leaving them very much in danger of missing the dance (especially when considering those two wins came at home against Notre Dame & Virginia Tech). Their closing schedule is manageable while offering chances to pick up the big wins they so badly need: expect their chances to boil down to three games – UNC, @Pitt, Syracuse – win 2 of those 3 along with the other 3 (meaning a 5-1 close) and they would finish 19-11/10-8, earning them a bid most likely with one ACC Tournament win. With a 4-2 close their chances wouldn’t be null, but they would have work to do in the ACC Tournament. Their current rankings are #63/#49/#63, and they own records of 2-5/2-6/4-9 – firmly at best on the bubble.
NC State (16-8/6-5) – the Pack have improved their resume the last 2 weeks as they now sit at #51/#72/#97, which is marginal in RPI but leaving a lot to be desired in BPI & SBPI. Records of 0-3/1-6/5-7 are not up to snuff despite winning 5 of their last 6, many of which have unfortunately come not only at home, but against the bottom teams in the conference. They still have to face the 3 teams of note FSU does, and their other 4 (again like FSU) come against teams not listed here – so there is still a legitimate chance especially considering the way they are currently playing that they remain on fire. However, they need signature wins badly; like FSU NC State hopes to reach 10 conference wins to feel solid about their chances – that means a 4-3 finish with at least one win versus Syracuse, UNC or Pittsburgh. A 9-9 conference record without a win over at least one of the big three they will face down the stretch will leave too much work to be done in the ACC Tournament.
Clemson (15-8/6-5) – very possibly the last team included on life support in any conference this edition, similar to last time. Ratings of #68/#58/#74 show a lot of work remains, and a non-conference SOS of #296 is terrible and often a number the committee likes to expose. Considering those numbers I believe Clemson needs 11-7 in conference play which would be a 5-2 close from where they stand today because they have records of just 1-2/1-4/3-6. Believe it or not a 5-2 close isn’t out of the question considering Clemson will play 5 of their last 7 at home, the two road games are Georgia Tech & Wake Forest, and they will just face 2 of the top 5 teams in the conference (bookending their close hosting UVA and Pitt in the finale). Don’t close them out just yet as the chances will be there, but the question remains – are they good enough to take advantage? I do not believe so.
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big 12: Kansas
Looking Good: Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma
Need Wins: Oklahoma State (16-8/4-7) – the Cowboys have absolutely fallen apart since the calendar turned to 2014 going 4-7 including losing their last 5. Their ratings are down to #36/#21/#28, which are still firmly in bubble category, but falling quickly. Their record breakdown helps sitting at 2-3/3-6/6-7 so far, and they will have plenty of chances in the solid B12 to continue improving those figures. On the bad side is a 2-5 road record, and a 4-7 conference record leaving them tied for 8th. The Boys will be without Marcus Smart in their next two games, and frankly they need to at least win one of those; if they did that, and won their last 5 they would finish the B12 season at 10-8 which may be good enough with a win or two in the B12 Tournament considering their ratings & record splits. But as you can see considering Smart’s suspension, the way the team is currently playing, their current conference record and how strong the B12 is it’s going to be difficult for the Cowboys to make the Big Dance – an amazing feat considering this was a Top 5 team earlier in the season.
Life Support: West Virginia (15-10/7-5) – the Mountaineers have made a move in the last few weeks going 4-1 in their L5 sliding their ratings to #66/#46/#48, which is weak in RPI but within range in BPI & SBPI. Their record splits are 1-4/3-8/4-8 which is solid as far as Top 50 wins go. Even though WVU is now in position to earn an at-large thanks to a fabulous coaching job by Bob Huggins they’re firmly going uphill in a blizzard as their remaining schedule of six includes road trips to Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma along with hosting Kansas to close their regular season. Currently at 7-5 in B12 play, if they can close 4-2 to finish at 11-7 (which would also then add two likely Top 25 wins to their resume) they would get right into the mix; 3-3 they would be alive but need to probably reach the B12 SF round; anything less they are in trouble.
Baylor (13-9/3-8) – remember despite Baylor posting a current 15-9 mark two of those wins came against non D1 competition so for all intents and purposes they are currently 13-9, not good. In addition the Bears sit at a woeful 3-8 in conference play, which is almost insurmountable to overcome and earn an at-large (even if they got very hot down the stretch) unless they earned the conference’s automatic bid. At an absolute bare minimum Baylor needs to close the regular season 6-1, meaning they are likely to be left off the very next edition as their chances are slim and none. As an FYI their ratings are #53/#57/#20, not solid besides the SBPI.
Big East: Villanova
Looking Good: Creighton
Need Wins: Xavier (17-7/7-4) – I have dropped X down one level to Need Wins as they have gone just 2-3 over their L5, and a couple other Big East teams have gotten hot and are making a run at a bid. It’s tough to forecast how many bids this new Big East will earn, so outside the top 2 (Villanova & Creighton) the other teams should feel concern along with a sense of urgency. Xavier does have a pair of nice non-conference wins over Tennessee & Cincinnati which will greatly help them and the rest of the conference come Selection Sunday. With records of 1-2/2-4/7-5 and ratings of #44/#38/#39 they are well within range for an at-large; a conference mark of 7-4 is solid but with 7 games remaining that could still change a lot. Right now Xavier is in the field, but they must watch their backs with Georgetown & St John’s especially, two teams they play on the road in back to back outings next week.
Life Support: Georgetown (15-9/6-6) – the Hoyas lost 5 straight to close out January but have rebounded nicely winning 4 straight to open February including a great OOC win over Michigan State on a neutral floor. However, the Hoyas ratings stand at just #57/#61/#56 – which is the weakest amongst the trio of Big East bubble teams. They do however have perhaps the best record splits sitting at 2-3/3-5/5-7, and not only have that MSU win but they also beat likely tourney teams VCU & Kansas State on neutral floors earlier in the season. Georgetown clearly has the toughest closing slate of the bubble Big East teams with 4 of 6 coming on the road (including at SJU & NOVA; and a home game vs. Creighton) – which could be both good and bad. I have put them as tops amongst Big East bubble teams since they have the big OOC wins to hang their hat on – something Providence and St John’s lacks.
Providence (16-9/6-6) – these three bubble Big East schools are all so close to each other in just about every metric (including the fact PC is 2-2 vs. SJU & GTOWN) a lot is still to be determined. After winning 5 straight in January the Friars have now lost 4 of their last 5 and have to turn their free-fall around right now to remain in contention. Of their last 6 games only 2 come against teams in contention for a bid; sadly for PC those two are Villanova and at Creighton, tough matchups. Rankings currently stand at #58/#64/#15 and records are 1-3/2-4/6-8 – they are both needing improvement to make a strong case for inclusion.
St. John’s (16-9/6-6) – the Red Storm have been playing solid basketball for most of 2014, but the results have really just started showing. SJU has won 4 straight and 7 of their L8 games, and although they are 7-3 over their L10 those 3 losses have come by a combined 6 points. Sunday’s win over Creighton gives the Johnnies that signature win they desired – now can they handle business against some of the weaker conference teams over their final 6 games to get firmly in the at-large picture? That Creighton win is their only Top 50 win, and records of 1-4/1-5/4-7 leave a lot to be desired. SJU needs at least a 4-2 close (probably even 5-1) to get in the mix come early March, possible but how probable is the question. For comparative purposes their rankings stand at #60/#48/#53, worse than Providence in 2 of the 3.
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Winthrop
Big Ten: Michigan State
Looking Good: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa
Need Wins: Minnesota (15-9/5-7) – the Gophers have dropped recently, just as was my concern because we have seen this tune play out often over the last few seasons (keep in mind their record vs. D1 opponents is 15-9, one less win than what you may see elsewhere on television). They currently have solid ratings of #38/#41/#25 but have lost 4 of their last 5. The Gophers have a decent record split of 2-4/3-5/5-8 as far as wins go by category, but are just a miserable 2-7 on road/neutral courts this season. OOC losses to Arkansas & Nebraska will not do them any favors, nor will closing their season with 3 of 5 on the road. Since the Big Ten is very likely the top conference in the country simply reaching 9-9 should be enough (along with 1 B10 tourney win), which means a 4-2 close – no lock for certain. If they can sweep their 3 home games vs. Illinois, Iowa & Penn State, just needing one win from their three road games (2 of which come against locks to be dancing) will be critical – if they drop any of their home contests the fight to earn that at-large gets a lot tougher.
Big West: UC-Santa Barbara
Conference USA: Southern Mississippi
If SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI does not win their conference tournament they would still BE ALIVE to earn an at-large bid – they would need to reach the CUSA Tournament Final to have any chance.
Horizon: Green Bay
If TOLEDO does not win their conference tournament they would still BE ALIVE to earn an at-large bid – they would need to reach the MAC Tournament Final to have any chance.
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State
If WICHITA STATE does not win their conference tournament they would still RECEIVE a bid, thus taking a spot away from the at-large field.
Mountain West: San Diego State
Need Wins: New Mexico (18-5/9-2) – the Lobos remain close to the Looking Good category but I am not yet ready to slide them up a level following their loss at Boise State. Their ratings are solid for the most part checking in at #35/#43/#72 – they rate much lower in the SBPI because of a bad defense. On the good side is a very solid 9-3 road/neutral record, which by itself is almost enough to earn a bid. Record splits of 1-2/1-2/6-4 is OK but lacks big name wins; beating San Diego State in one of their two upcoming meetings would really set up the Lobos nicely. Expect NM to slide up into the Looking Good category in the near future.
Life Support: Boise State (14-9/6-6) – the Broncos picked up a huge win taking down New Mexico at home by 1pt, good for their first Top 100 win of the season (since then Utah has slipped into the Top 100 giving them two)! Also keep in mind BSU has two non D1 wins so their true record is the 14-9 I list here. Ratings of #59/#50/#31 are mostly outside typical bubble status, as are record splits of 0-4/1-5/2-7. Currently sitting at 6-6 in conference play a close of at least 5-1 is necessary, and frankly unlikely.
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Pac 12: Arizona
Looking Good: UCLA
Need Wins: Colorado (18-7/7-5) – the Buffaloes had struggled immediately following the loss of their star G Spencer Dinwiddie and have struggled on the road in conference playing losing their last four. The Buffaloes currently lead this huge group of bubble contenders in the Pac 12 because they are ahead of fellow bubble teams in most critical categories. Their ratings currently sit at #25/#45/#38, which are solid; their record splits are 1-3/2-5/9-7, also better than average for the typical bubble team. A 3-6 road/neutral record leaves a little to be desired, but as long as CU keeps winning games they will earn their bid – but this will be a tough team to judge come Selection Sunday.
Arizona State (18-6/7-4) – ASU is tied record wise with Colorado as they have won 5 of 6 and burst right into the main mix of at-large teams; but like every other season it seems there is A LOT to be decided in this conference over the final month of regular season play. The magic # as far as conference wins is measured on the recent past seems to be 11 – post an 11-7 or better mark in conference play, win your first P12 tournament game and you will earn a bid. The Sun Devils have the ratings #37/#32/#43 & record splits 1-3/3-4/6-5 to make that ring true again with a 4-3 close to their conference slate. I think they will get that done.
California (16-8/7-4) – the Golden Bears are virtually locked up with Stanford for the 3rd bubble spot in the Pac 12. I gave the edge to Cal this time around based on a better conference record, but these two teams are nearly identical in most metrics (as mentioned above all these P12 teams are so close). Cal is just 2-4 in their L6 but one of those wins was over #1 Arizona; the other was a narrow OT win at Washington State, cause for concern. Obviously beating the Wildcats gives the Bears that signature win; now they must win enough conference games to earn a bid – and like ASU that means a 4-3 close – that is certainly not a lock and will be difficult to achieve examining those final 7 games on the schedule.
Stanford (15-8/6-5) – the Cardinal will close with the same schedule as Cal (which isn’t an easy one), but with a current 6-5 mark they appear to need a 5-2 finish which will be extremely difficult to achieve. Stanford also doesn’t have that big win over Arizona like California does making their next matchup with the Wildcats critical. Right now it seems the P12 will earn 5 bids with that final 5th bid coming down to Cal, Stanford and possibly Oregon.
Life Support: Oregon (15-8/3-8) – the Ducks started off the season very hot at 13-0 but now sits at 15-8 after losing 8 of 10 since conference play began. Although some of their metrics are within at-large range the biggest issue facing the Ducks is a conference record that sits at just 3-8; if they closed the year winning their last 7 they would be 10-8 in P12 play – meaning more wins would be needed in the P12 Tournament. After such a great start to their season it appears the Ducks will be left off the next edition, and will need to win the P12 automatic bid to be dancing.
Patriot: Boston University
Looking Good: Kentucky
Need Wins: Missouri (17-7/5-6) – the Tigers were close to moving up to Looking Good as their ratings are mostly good at #43/#30/#77. They bounced back from a 3 game losing streak by beating Arkansas at home narrowly, sliding them up to 5-6 in conference play. They have now faced just three Top 50 teams all season (winning just one over UCLA very early in the season) leading to a non-conference SOS of #119; combined that with a sub .500 record in SEC play they are very much behind the 8 ball as far as earning an at-large berth goes. All that being said Mizzou closes with 4 of 7 at home, and their three road games come against Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee – very manageable. Remember I project what I think the tournament will look like come Selection Sunday, not what teams have accomplished to this point in the season – and with that in mind I firmly believe Missouri will earn a spot.
Tennessee (14-9/6-5) – the Vols (who lose one non D1 win leaving them at 14-9 currently) have ratings of #50/#42/#8, leaving them in the bubble range besides the SBPI which shows them as a solid club. UT has very nice OOC wins over Xavier & Virginia, but they have lost to Florida twice and Kentucky once in conference play (they do not play UK again in regular season). For both the Vols and the Tigers listed above their home and home series will be critical – Saturday in Columbia & closing Saturday in Knoxville; if either team is able to pull off the sweep the other team’s chances will be dramatically impacted. When all is said & done I feel the SEC will be a four bid league with an outside shot at a 5th, so the Vols are in the driver’s seat but must keep winning.
Life Support: Ole Miss (16-8/7-4) – the Rebels have the best conference mark of the SEC bubble boys, yet their ratings of #61/#60/#84 leave a lot to be desired as far as their at-large chances go. The Rebels are also just 0-1 vs. Top 25 teams, and have the least amount of wins vs. Top 25/50/100 of all SEC bubble teams – not good. Ole Miss’ schedule is not brutal to close as they do face Kentucky & Florida at home – two solid chances to pick up a signature win, and there isn’t a game they will face a huge spread as an underdog. The Rebels will likely be one of the last four teams in or out of the dance come Selections Sunday, and they may be watching for conference tourney upsets in smaller conferences which will impact their chances. They need a signature win or two down the stretch badly.
LSU (15-8/6-5) – the Tigers ratings have slipped since our last update all the way down to #65/#63/#92, placing their at-large hopes in danger. The Tigers have lost 4 straight on the road in conference play (3 of the 4 against non-tourney teams), and must get their defense figured out before their chances for a special season go right down the tubes. LSU has nice wins over Kentucky, Missouri and St. Joseph’s to hang their hats on, but a home loss to Rhode Island may loom large come Selection Sunday. A very tough closing slate that includes four road games at Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt will likely determine their fate – pick up 2 wins and they are in the mix; anything less and it will be tough.
Arkansas (15-9/4-7) – the Razorbacks are a funky team as far as the metrics go, and barely remain included here following their 1pt loss at Missouri. Their ratings offer wide variety as their RPI is just #76, yet their BPI of #44 & SBPI #45 are within at-large range. Their record splits are also in play at 1-2/3-6/5-8, but a road/neutral record of 3-7 is certain cause for concern. With a current 4-7 mark in conference play they will need at least a 6-1 close to their season, which seems highly unlikely even if they had an easy close to conference play – which they do not. I expect Arkansas to drop off my next edition.
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
West Coast: Gonzaga
If GONZAGA does not win their conference tournament they would still RECEIVE a bid, thus taking one away from the current at-large pool.
Life Support: BYU (16-10/9-5) – the Cougars (who lose one non D1 win leaving them at 16-10 currently) are #49/#51/#47, now ahead of the Gaels in the ratings this week. They have faced the 5th toughest non-conference SOS, which will likely help their cause should their resume be compared to someone else’s come Selection Sunday. Records of 1-4/2-5/6-7 is pretty solid, and because of that the Cougars will be battling the Gaels down the stretch for a possible second bid for the WCC. As far as the WCC regular season goes it would appear that either BYU or St. Mary’s would need to reach 14-4 in conference play to make a strong case for at-large – that means St. Mary’s is only chance to accomplish that feat. With that in mind it seems unlikely either of the two can secure or even put themselves in solid position to earn a bid before the WCC Tournament; if either can finish 13-5 in conference play AND reach the WCCT Final they will be in the mix.
St. Mary’s (18-7/9-4) – this isn’t a typical St. Mary’s squad (who like BYU lose one non D1 win leaving them at 18-7 currently) as their ratings are just #52/#53/#46, and they only have 1 win over a Top 50 team. See BYU’s comments as these teams will be battling each other for any chance at earning an at-large bid; if a team other than Gonzaga, BYU or St Mary’s was to win the WCC Tournament neither BYU or St Mary’s would have much of a shot at getting a bid.
WAC: New Mexico State
AUTOMATIC BIDS: 32 (up from 31 due to new American Athletic Conference)
Looking Good: 20
Currently I project 52 of the 68 bids are earned.
NEED WINS: 14
LIFE SUPPORT: 16
That leaves 30 teams that are in the mix for 16 open bids.
Keep in mind however that DOES NOT include the upsets we will see during Conference Tournament week where teams that are LOCKS from smaller conferences lose a game in their conference tournament and hence use an at-large bid on themselves.
For the remaining 16 open bids I see them breaking down into two buckets – the first bucket is teams that are likely to earn a bid (10 teams), and the second bucket is the remaining 20 teams who which 6 will earn a bid – also remembering my point above that this all assumes no conference tournament upsets which is highly unlikely to occur. The most likely scenario is about 3 of these 20 teams wind up earning a bid.
First Bucket (10 teams whose chances of earning a bid are significantly higher than the second bucket teams, but these are not “locks” yet) – alphabetical order:
LAST SIX IN (of the 20 remaining teams I have in my summary the final 6 bids, which is extremely tough to decipher at this point in the season) – alphabetical order:
FIRST FIVE OUT – alphabetical order:
Multiple bid conferences (total of 45 bids in 9 conferences; 23 single bid conferences = 68 bids):
Big 12 (7)
Big 10 (6)
Atlantic 10 (4)
11-5 L16 G-Plays, +2,886 TY
4-0 LN, 62% +2,133 G-Plays TY
6-1 L7 G-Plays, 5-0 Run, 15-5 L20
5-2 L7, 8-3 L11 Guarantees
4-1 Saturday, 10-2 L12 Guarantees
13-5 L18 Guaranteed Plays
14-6 L20 G-Plays, 17-6 L22 Totals
10-4 L14, 25-10 L35 Guarantees
23-11 L34 Totals, +3,262 Totals TY
8-3 L2 Saturdays, 10-4 L14 G-Plays