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BRACKETOLOGY NOT AS EASY AS IT SEEMS
February 20, 2008

SCS.comBecause Iím an odd and pathetic person, I decided to put together a mock bracket this weekend. What else is there to do during Presidentsí Day Weekend? Ski? Think about our forefathers? I decided the most productive use of my time would be to analyze RPIs and strength of schedule numbers.

I think I made the right decision. But anyway, itís not so easy coming up with the field of 65. I had the usual debates with myself, like where to seed a stumbling Michigan State team, or whether or not I should take Louisvilleís early injuries into account when seeding the Cardinals. But deciding where to put certain teams wasnít the hard part.

The hard part was figuring out which teams should actually participate in the NCAA tournament. Every season, there is endless debate about certain teams and whether they are deserving, or not deserving, of an at-large bid. But as I attempted to create this mock bracket, I realized something - most of these bubble teams donít deserve to play in the NCAA tournament.

So much for expanding the field, like Maryland coach Gary Williams suggested earlier this season. I could barely make a bracket. My first step in the process was to establish my predicted automatic bids, and then I made a list of possible at-large teams. Some fit the description of a ďlock,Ē meaning it would take a miracle for them to fall out of the NCAA tournament field. Other teams, such as Clemson or Vanderbilt for example, I had identified as ďsolidly inĒ as an at-large. These teams are not locks just yet, but have put themselves in great position.

But once I had seeded my automatic bids, locks, and ďsolidly inĒ teams, I had about five spots remaining and my choice of several bubble teams to place in the field. Thatís where the problem was. None of these teamsí resumes are particularly impressive, and if this were any other season, some of these bubble teams would not even be considered.

Take Ohio State for instance. What do you do with the Buckeyes? Their two best wins came against Syracuse and Florida, both teams that sit on the dreaded bubble at this point. With a loss to Iowa and Sundayís loss to Michigan, Ohio State now has lost two games against teams with RPIs below 150. An RPI of 47 is not terrible, but not great either. So basically, this is a team with very few quality wins, a few bad losses and an average RPI. In any other season, Ohio State is clearly an NIT team.

Not this season. ESPN.comís Joe Lunardi has Ohio State as a 10 seed. Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline seeded the Buckeyes the exact same, although his latest bracket was created before the Michigan loss. Somehow, the Buckeyes might be able to sneak into the field with a terribly unimpressive resume. But who else do you put in if you take Ohio State out?

There are plenty of options. None that seem worthy, though. St. Josephís is on the bubble, but their best non-conference win came against a struggling Villanova team. The Hawksí also beat Massachusetts twice, but the Minutemen are currently 9th in the Atlantic Ten. By the way, UMass is another team on the bubble, thanks to their strong RPI. But when you canít even stay above .500 in conference play and have losses to Fordham and Northern Iowa this season, how can you expect to contend for an at-large bid?

Iím saying no to St. Josephís and Massachusetts. How about two premier programs in Syracuse and Florida? The Orange picked up a huge win against Georgetown on Saturday, but with such a tough schedule down the stretch, they could finish below .500 in the Big East. Billy Donovanís young team has promise for the future, but the only thing keeping Florida in the hunt right now is its name value. A loss to LSU, a mediocre RPI, a terrible strength of schedule, and very few quality wins is not a recipe for an NCAA tournament berth.

Letís move on to the mid-majors. Western Kentucky, South Alabama, and UNLV will all be seeking at-large bids. Sure, there are a lot of wins between these three, but there arenít many eye-opening victories. I have a problem sticking a team in the field of 65 if it has not proven it can beat quality competition. This eliminates the Hilltoppers for me, who donít have a single top 100 RPI win, and it makes me really contemplate UNLV and South Alabama, who have just three top 50 RPI wins combined. In the end, I actually included both the Runniní Rebels and the Jaguars in my mock bracket, but I canít say I felt very confident in my decision.

Arizona State is an intriguing team that I did include in my field. A terrible RPI of 74, a strength of schedule of 79, a pedestrian conference record, and perplexing losses to Illinois, Nebraska, and Washington may keep it out of the real tournament. The Sun Devilsí four top 20 RPI wins are the reason I gave them an at-large bid. By proving they can beat the nationís elite teams, Arizona State wonít feel out of place in the NCAA tournament. But again, should a team receive an at-large bid if it canít stay above .500 in its conference (although this is the Pac-10 weíre talking about)? Oregon is in a similar position, with great wins coupled with bad losses. I ultimately included the Ducks as well, because I was impressed by the teams they have beaten. Yet, as I have mentioned over and over in this column, I did not feel that either Arizona State or Oregon necessarily deserved to make the NCAA tournament. I just included them because there was nobody else.

This is what I had to deal with this weekend. A bunch of unworthy teams vying for the final spots in my bracket. Maybe I should have gone skiing after all.

U.S.A.
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