Sunday, March 16, 2014

From 351 to 68: Final. Maybe.

It's a rare easy Sunday. There are five conference finals, and in four of them, both teams will make the tournament -- welcome, St. Joseph's. The other, the Sun Belt, will only see the winner advance, probably to the 13 line. Yesterday saw a lot of teams move off the bubble in one way or another. As mentioned, St. Joseph's locked up a bid by advancing to the Atlantic It Changes a Lot final; Providence and Stephen F. Austin did it the old-fashioned way, by winning their conference tournament. On the other side of the ledger, Georgia needed a win over Kentucky to keep their candidacy alive, and they didn't get it.

The board also filled up, as teams who are in lost to take spots on it. After Saturday's games, 28 at-large bids were spoken for by 24 named teams and the losers in the four conference finals today. That left eight slots for, after all was said and done, 19 remaining bubble teams.

Automatic Bids (27): SUNY-Albany (America East), Louisville (American), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Providence (Big East), Weber State (Big Sky), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Iowa State (Big 12), Cal Poly - SLO (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), Tulsa (Conference USA), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Horizon), Harvard (Ivy), Manhattan (Metro-Atlantic), Western Michigan (Mid-American), North Carolina Central (Mid-Eastern Athletic), Wichita State (Missouri Valley), New Mexico (Mountain West), Mount St. Mary's (Northeast), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Westwood CC (Pac-12), American (Patriot League), Wofford (Southern), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Texas Southern (Southwestern Athletic), North Dakota State (Summit League), New Mexico State (Western Athletic), Gonzaga (West Coast)

The following teams are no longer eligible for automatic bids and are listed as having clinched at-large bids:

On the Board (24): Kansas, Villanova, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Massachusetts, Saint Louis, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Memphis, Kansas State, Iowa, Southern Methodist, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, George Washington, Creighton, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Baylor, San Diego State, Arizona, Tennessee.

There are 36 at-large slots this year. These eight teams are locks to be granted an at-large bid if they don't claim an automatic bid. They will claim four at-large bids, in total.

Locks (8): Duke, Virginia; Virginia Commonwealth, St. Joseph's; Michigan, Michigan State; Florida, Kentucky.

Let's sort out the remaining 19 bubble teams by culling the list. I held out on Oklahoma State, Colorado and BYU, but they're all safely above the line in this group. Similarly, I can't see the committee making its metrics stand on Utah, and road performance is similarly why Arkansas and Minnesota become relatively easy cuts. That leaves five spots for 13 teams. Let's cull Conference USA down to one spot, and say that Louisiana Tech's head-to-head win in the semis puts them ahead of Southern Mississippi. That's 12. I can't see the committee, protestations aside, putting seven Pac-12 teams in. Cal is clearly the seventh, so drop them.

Eleven to make five.

Stanford was just 8-11 against the RPI Top 100. However, they won at Oregon and at Connecticut, and they went 9-8 outside of Palo Alto. They're in good shape. They're clearly ahead of Arizona State, which played poorly away from home (5-10) and whose best wins all came in Tempe.

Let's try this with the Ohio teams. Xavier played a tougher schedule and didn't beat up on as many sub-150 teams as Dayton did. However, they did go 6-10 away from home. Dayton was 10-6 away from home, and the two teams were comparably good against various levels of competition. Both teams have some really good nonconference wins, but Xavier's are a little better. Xavier is a tick ahead of Dayton.

How about the ACC teams? Almost impossible to separate, with similar RPIs and virtually identical schedule strengths. North Carolina State won the only matchup, but it was a home game. Each team won at Pitt. Each has two very strong wins, and deciding which pair is better (N-Syracuse, @Tennessee/N-VCU, N-UMass) is a challenge. I can't separate them, which is bad for both.

This is how I stack the 11 bubble teams that I have remaining:

Arizona State
Wisconsin-Green Bay
Louisiana Tech
North Carolina State
Florida State
St. John's

The two Pac-12 teams go in. That leaves nine for three. I think I can lop off the bottom four as a group, which leaves five for three. This is going to come down to whether the committee takes the smaller-conference champion that didn't get it done in the tournament, or the big-conference team that converted some of its many chances for quality wins, or roughly speaking the Tennessee vs. Southern Mississippi call I got wrong last year.

Actually, I think I'm shorting Nebraska by saying that. This is Dayton vs. Green Bay.

I'm going to reserve the right to change this by 6 p.m., but here's what I have right now.

Last four byes: Oklahoma State, SMU, St. Joseph's, Stanford
Last four in: Arizona State, Xavier, Nebraska, Dayton
First four out: Wisconsin-Green Bay, Louisiana Tech, North Carolina State, Florida State
Next four out: Southern Mississippi, California, Minnesota, St. John's