Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NCAA Tournament Cheat Sheet - There Will Be A Test

For those of you that read last week's post, the Northern Arizona option was knocked out for Pun City, so this blog will be heading to the Los Angeles area on 3/11 instead of Flagstaff. Shucks.

Getting down to the homestretch in the college basketball season here. The first conference tournaments begin March 4th. Checking the calendar, that's....next Tuesday. Seven days remain until the best part of the year. That's if you aren't including right now within the best time of the year, as the BracketBusters just concluded and regular season conference champions are being determined. Phenomenal time of year.

Speaking of regular season conference champions, arguably the most important regular season title is almost locked up. Cornell leads the Ivy League by 3 games with only 4 to play. Friday night they can seal the conference's automatic NCAA tournament bid if they're able to take out Dartmouth, who currently sits at 2-8 in conference (as opposed to Cornell's 10-0).

Cornell has rattled off 11 straight wins, their last loss coming at Duke by 14 on January 6th. They haven't really beaten anyone, Siena (90th in RPI) is their biggest win this year, but they certainly could surprise in the NCAA tournament, now projected as a 13 seed in ESPN's Bracketology (that's pretty high for an Ivy League school the last few years).

Some other news from mid-major land:

- Xavier is now ranked 6th in the country in RPI. This is very remarkable and they will be a major challenge for any opponent the rest of the way. They really should have beaten eventual national runner-up Ohio State last year in the 2nd round.

-Drake is 11th. They've really come out of nowhere to get there. Predicted to finish 9th out of 10 Missouri Valley Conference teams, they have found a way to win in 22 of their 25 games. Klayton Korver is their standout 3-point shooter and the brother of Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver.

-Butler is sitting 18th. This is a team that garnered a 5 seed last year and wound up in the Sweet 16.

-BYU is 26th. Pun City is going to see them at the Mountain West Conference tournament, so a more thorough report will be coming up then.

-Kent State 29th. The Golden Flashes usually make the tournament, but this year they'll probably make some noise, maybe not as much as their Elite Eight run of 2002, but Sweet 16 is not out of the question.

-Saint Mary's is 30th. This blog is checking them out at the West Coast Conference tourney, so you can expect a report on them thereafter.

-South Alabama is 31st. USA is probably the best team from the Sun Belt since Chris Marcus was at Western Kentucky. The Jaguars most likely will end up getting an at-large bid if they don't win the Sun Belt tournament. See last post as to why the Sun Belt conference might collude to have Western Kentucky or another school win the tournament final over USA given their probable at-large status.

-UNLV 32nd. This blog will report from Las Vegas roughly March 12th on them.

-Gonzaga 33rd. Pun City to report from San Diego roughly March 9th on them.

-Dayton is 35th. Their numbers are great in the computer, but since losing starter Chris Wright, they've been pretty bad in conference. As a result, even with a healthy Wright and potentially even better numbers, they likely stand to be out of the NCAAs without at least a conference tournament championship game appearance.

-Massachusetts is 37th. The Minutemen could step into the void Dayton stands to leave. Another possible collusion recipient if Xavier makes the tournament final. For the holistic view of the Atlantic 10, it would probably help the conference a lot if Xavier lost a few games to the Daytons and huddled UMasses of the world.

-Illinois State is 41st. They probably haven't done enough to garner an at-large bid. Their best win is against #50 Southern Illinois. Collusion conspiracy theorists might be on the lookout if ISU faces Drake in the MVC final.

-Saint Joseph's is 43rd. Their best wins are their 2 against UMass, so there's a good chance they'd leapfrog UMass if they end up with the similar resumes they have now. That said, they're definitely on thin ice.

-Davidson is 45th. They're probably one of the best teams in the country, they have just had some tough losses to very competitive opponents. A combined 10 points separated them from UNC and Duke. Those games were at Duke and on a neutral court vs. North Carolina. Put either of those games on Davidson's home court, and Pun City projects a Davidson victory. The problem is that they didn't win, so they probably need to win the SoCon's automatic bid.

-Stephen F. Austin is 47th. Huh? Stephen F. Austin is out of the Southland Conference, and has a road win at #27 Oklahoma. A 47 RPI from the Southland Conference is pretty remarkable. This is the same conference that produced Northwestern State in 2006, a team that upset 3rd-seeded Iowa in the NCAAs. They aren't realistically an at-large team, but they do seem like the kind of team that could make noise in the NCAAs.

On a final note, the trip to Ohio this past weekend was great. From a basketball standpoint, the teams Pun City saw, from best to worst, were Wisconsin, Ohio State, Virginia Commonwealth, Cleveland State, Akron, and Marist. Wisconsin is really the only team Pun City could see going 2 rounds in the NCAAs, but all are capable of going on a run for the automatic bids in their conferences.

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