Well, we’ve reached Selection Sunday, and thanks to developments on Saturday, we know the lot of the handful of teams still to play today. There is a predetermined “bubble thief” to emerge from the A-10, whether it be Saint Louis or St. Bonaventure. It’s a winner-take-all in the Sun Belt between Georgia State and UT-Arlington. Otherwise, Sunday is about seeding implications…and, come around 6:00 p.m. Eastern time, how the Selection Committee sorts it out. After all, the final word on the much-discussed bubble is delivered by the Committee, and only the Committee.
Whatever, entering Sunday, here is how we have the seeds lined up.
1-Virginia, Duke*, North Carolina, Gonzaga
2-Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan State, Michigan
3-Houston, Texas Tech, LSU, Florida State
4-Kansas, Kansas State, Purdue, Villanova*
5-Wisconsin, Iowa State*, Virginia Tech, Auburn
6-Buffalo*, Marquette, Nevada, Mississippi State
7-Cincinnati, Maryland, Wofford*, VCU
8-Iowa, UCF, Minnesota, Seton Hall
9-Oregon*, Washington, Syracuse, Louisville
10-Utah State* Ole Miss, Baylor, Oklahoma
11-Arizona State, St. Mary’s*, Murray State*, Florida
12-New Mexico State*, UC Irvine*, Belmont, Temple, NC State, TCU
13-Yale, Liberty*, Northeastern*, St. Bonaventure
14-Colgate*, Vermont*, Northern Kentucky*, Old Dominion*
15-Bradley*, Gardner Webb*, Georgia State, Montana*
16-Abilene Christian*, North Dakota State*, Iona*, Fairleigh Dickinson*, NC Central*, Prairie View*
Last four byes…Arizona State, Florida, Ole Miss, Oklahoma
Last four in…Belmont, Temple, NC State, TCU
First Four Out…St. John’s, Ohio State, Indiana, Xavier
Next Four Out…UNC-Greensboro, Clemson, Memphis, Texas
For the moment, we have succumbed to ACC-itis and put three of its members on the top line, which should give us a free subscription to ESPN The Magazine, as the “sports leader” has emerged as the national mouthpiece for the league (Duke especially). We suggest, however, that Tennessee could move back to the top line with a win over Auburn in the SEC finale, in which case we believe North Carolina would drop to the 2-line.
We think Tennessee ascending is more likely than either Michigan or Michigan State ending up on the top line; if our read on the brackets is correct, their Big Ten finale on Sunday in Chicago is almost meaningless save for the potential of a blowout win that might risk one of the teams falling to the 3-line. But we doubt it, as we think it’s more likely they both stay on the 2-line. As for Gonzaga, we’re still thinking the Zags stay on the top line, as the Maui win over Duke during Thanksgiving week proves the gift that kept on giving through Selection Sunday for Mark Few and his troops.
Meanwhile, Iowa State winning the Big 12 conference title in Kansas City has pushed the Cyclones to our 5-line entering Sunday. By us, taking a drop is Marquette, which closed slowly and only won once in the Big East Tourney before getting KO’d in the semis by Seton Hall in a testy battle. We’ve now dropped the Golden Eagles to the 6-line.
We suppose there could be a question if Oregon really was a “bubble thief” as it mowed down Washington to win the Pac-12 tourney crown on Saturday at Las Vegas T-Mobile. The answer is “yes” as long as the Selection Committee keeps Arizona State, widely considered the second Pac-12 rep behind the regular-season champ Huskies, in the field. If the Sun Devils, in some projections listed among the “last four in” teams, get bumped, we might be able to assume that the Ducks simply took ASU’s spot in the field, though the Committee would a) never disclose if that were the scenario, and b) has long stated that conference affiliations mean little at nitty-gritty time.
Assuming Oregon to be a legit bubble thief, it was the only one to emerge on Saturday, as upsets did not occur in the MAC, where Bowling Green could have slipped into the field as an auto-qualifier with a win over Buffalo, giving the MAC two reps, or Mountain West, where San Diego State was looking to become a bubble thief in back-to-back years. Thus, the door is closed on bubble thieves for this March, with a final tally at 2 (St. Mary’s and the A-10 winner) or 3 (depending if Arizona State stays in the field, suggesting Oregon really was a bubble thief in the Pac-12).
Lastly, our concern is how the Selection Committee utilizes the new “NET” rating calculation, which took the place of the old “RPI” that has been referred to for decades. Our fear with the NET is that has weighted things even further toward the power conferences, which have more chances for the “Quad 1″ wins and apparently little or no commensurate penalties for losing such games. Moreover, hoop analytics have been introduced into the NET, specially the “points per possession” calculation, which by us is a shaky barometer. Like all analytics, PPP must be viewed in context, as pace of game, strength of opponent (especially on the defensive end), and how things might or might not get distorted at garbage time, all impact the calculation. Which, used in comparative terms, dilutes the PPP, shaped as it is by various factors. The best calculation, as always, remains good old wins and losses, with strength of schedule factored as well.
Whether the new NET makes for a better Selection Sunday and a truer measure of the teams that make the final cut remains to be seen. For us, we’re not holding our breath that the process changes all that much from previous years. Besides, when it comes to the Selection Committee and its various whims, we’ve learned to never bet on anything.