A note for those using feed readers

It seems that my tables don’t show up in Google Reader, so it’s possible that they don’t work in other readers as well.  I’ll try to include a disclaimer when I include tables in a post, but it’s probably a good idea to click on through to the actual post when it’s something like a game review.

And if you’re actually reading this on Friday night, what are you doing sitting in front of the computer on a Friday night?  At least I have an excuse (my wife is out seeing a movie I have no interest in seeing).

Okay, fine.  We both need to get a life.

Making the GSC Tournament: Possible Scenarios

The Bisons cut down the nets after last night’s game, since it was the first time in the 50-year history of the program that the Harding men finished tied for a conference (or really the division) championship. They still have some work to do, though, if they want to win a GSC Championship and make the NCAA Tournament.

Both Ouachita Baptist and Christian Brothers won last night, leaving them tied at 9-4, one game behind Harding in the GSC West. All three teams have clinched a berth in the GSC Tournament, although their seeds are very much in jeopardy. Arkansas Tech sits alone in fourth place at 8-5, leaving Delta State and UAM currently tied for the final playoff spot in fifth.

It’s actually kind of amazing to me how many possible orders of finish there are, and as you’ll see shortly, the six teams left in contention for playoff spots all have at least a 60% shot at making it.

Here’s how it could all work out, starting with tomorrow night’s schedule:

Harding (10-3) @ Christian Brothers (9-4)
Arkansas Tech (8-5) @ Ouachita Baptist (9-4)
Henderson State (0-13) @ Delta State (7-6)
Arkansas-Monticello (7-6) @ Southern Arkansas (2-11)

The current standings:

The remaining games and their corresponding Pythagorean/Log5 win probabilities:

A list of each possible outcome:

Finally, each team’s probability of making the playoffs, broken down by each possible finish, from first to 8th place:

Now a few observations about each team:

Harding (10-3)

  1. A win and Harding is simply the #1 seed.  However, Christian Brothers should be considered the favorite at home, especially as well as they’re playing right now (leading the GSC in net efficiency).
  2. A loss and an OBU win leaves all 3 teams tied for #1. Head-to-head record, fortunately, would break that tie, since Harding swept OBU and split with CBU, while CBU and OBU split with one another. Harding would be #1, CBU #2, and OBU #3.
  3. A loss and an OBU loss leaves just the Bisons and Bucs tied. Since they split, record vs. the next best team would break the tie. With ATU and OBU now tied at 9-5, I suppose that they would break that tie in the aggregate (with records against both schools combined), just as they do for other ties. Both were 2-2 against those opponents, although Harding was 2-0 against OBU and 0-2 against ATU, while Christian Brothers split with both. But, if they break the tie with each team separately, Arkansas Tech was 3-1 against HU and CBU, vs. OBU’s 1-3 mark against those teams. That would make Christian Brothers the #1 seed and Harding #2, by virtue of CBU’s better record vs. ATU. Complicated enough? I thought so. If they don’t break the HU-CBU tie by breaking the ATU-OBU tie first, they’ll have to go into another level of tiebreakers that I’m not currently aware of.  That’s why you see a 6A and 6B scenario…I just split the difference in that case.

Best case scenario: Win = #1 seed.
Worst case scenario: Loss and OBU loss = #2 seed.

Christian Brothers (9-4)

  • The Bucs’ most likely finish is third, but they’re also the only team other than Harding with a shot at the #1 seed (option 3 above under Harding).  They’re also the only other team guaranteed a first-round bye in the tournament.

Best case: A win and an OBU loss most likely = the #1 seed.
Worst case:  A loss and an OBU win guarantees them third place, but even an ATU win doesn’t necessarily mean a #2 seed.

Ouachita Baptist (9-4)

  • Along with HU and CBU, the Tigers have clinched a playoff spot.
  • Even though they’re just a game back, they can’t win the division because they lost both matchups against Harding.
  • Their most likely finish is fourth.

Best case: A win and a Harding win would make them the #2 seed.
Worst case: In a three-way tie for second place with Christian Brothers and Arkansas Tech, they’re the tiebreak losers, dropping to the fourth seed and an opening round game.

Arkansas Tech (8-5)

  • Even though they’re alone in fourth place right now ahead of two other contenders, they are the least likely of those teams to make the playoffs, at just a hair over 60%.  The reason: if they fall into a three-way tie for fourth with DSU and UAM, they’re going to lose the tiebreaker and miss the tournament altogether because the Weevils swept them in the regular season.
  • On the bright side, a win and a Christian Brothers win will give Tech second place, because of the tiebreaker edge they got by beating Harding twice.
  • If Christian Brothers wins the division on a tiebreaker, they’re the likely #3 seed, still getting a first-round bye.

Best case: Beat OBU and root for Christian Brothers, and Tech could finish second.
Worst case: A loss and two fairly likely wins for DSU and UAM knock them out completely.

Delta State (7-6)

  • There are only two possible outcomes for the Statesmen, and fortunately for them, the #5 spot is about a 3 in 4 proposition.
  • Strangely, there is one possible outcome where they win and fail to make the tournament, as well as one outcome where they lose and still get in.  If Harding and Arkansas Tech win, the Bisons are #1 and we have the three-way tie for second mentioned earlier.  Then if both DSU and UAM win, they tie for fifth.  Since Harding is in first place all alone, and DSU and UAM split the regular season, DSU’s two losses to Harding would cause them to miss out.
  • On the flip side, with a loss and a UAM loss, and CBU and ATU wins, 7-7 is good enough to make the tournament field, this time winning the tiebreaker with UAM because Christian Brothers is the champ.

Best case: Win and root for UAM and ATU losses to maximize the chance of finishing fifth.
Worst case: A loss pretty much does it, except in the one case above.  Of course, they are playing Henderson State at home.

Arkansas-Monticello (7-6)

  • Like Delta State, they’re not guaranteed a spot with a win.  If Christian Brothers, Arkansas Tech, and Delta State all win, I think it will still knock them out.  This is a sticky situation, though, because it involves three two-way ties, none of which are broken by head-to-head record.  You end up having to break the ATU-OBU tie by record against the top two teams, and that effectively would break all the other ties.  I don’t know if that’s actually how it would work, though, so it’s possible that UAM would make it in there anyway.
  • The Weevils’ most likely finish is actually fourth, since they win a three-way tie between them, ATU, and DSU.

Best case: Root for the three-way tie and a #4 seed.
Worst case: If SAU pulls off the upset, they need some major help to stay in.

Southern Arkansas (2-11) and Henderson State (0-13)

The beautiful thing about all of these head-to-head tiebreakers is that neither of these teams has a say in the final order of finish.  Barring an upset, SAU will finish with their only conference wins being over winless Henderson State.

Summary

So, that’s how I see it.  Harding is a pretty good bet to finish first, and the Bisons are the only team in full control of their playoff seed.  That’s a good position to be in, especially in an abnormally weak year for the GSC.  Despite their flaws, I could see the Bisons possibly advancing all the way to the final game against North Alabama.  If they get there by beating Christian Brothers, too, they’re probably going to make the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history.  There’s still a long way to go, but things will get much clearer tomorrow night.

Senior Night win helps HU clinch a share of GSC West title

SAU fought hard, as they typically do, but at the end of the night, they have still only beaten Henderson State (twice) in conference play. Harding emerged with stronger play over the last few minutes of a very close game and won 73-70, clinching at least a tie for first place in the GSC West. I’ll come back to that shortly, but first let’s look at the game itself.

Harding 73, Southern Arkansas 70

Harding kept the offense flowing by minimizing turnovers and crashing the offensive boards, minimizing the effect of their difficulty getting off shots inside the arc. While the Bisons made just 37% of their two-point shots, they had a tremendous amount of success at the free-throw line, making 25 of 36. The Muleriders only attempted 12 free throws, although they made 11 of them.

The Bisons held Brandon Williams, the league’s leader in true shooting percentage, to 15 points, but it definitely wasn’t their best defensive performance. SAU was consistently getting off shots both inside and outside the arc, but they didn’t make enough or get enough second chances to pull off the upset.

As usual, the Bisons were led by Matt Hall, who scored over half of his 27 points in a perfect 14-for-14 night at the free throw line, adding in 5 assists and 5 rebounds as well. Trent Morgan had 13, and Kevin Brown had 10 to round out the double-digit scorers.

Jesse Bynum was really the only Bison who had a rough night offensively, missing all of his shots from the field and making just 2 of 7 free throws, although he made the most important ones after grabbing a big rebound in the final minutes.

At this point, I certainly can’t argue with the way Coach Morgan is giving out playing time. The most minutes in this one were played by Hall, Trent Morgan, Dixon, Barnett, Brown (who fouled out) and Bynum, in that order. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d line them up exactly the same way. That doesn’t make it the right way, but I have to give Morgan high praise for adjusting with his team’s play throughout the year.

The Senior Night postgame festivities were emotional as always, but especially so because last night’s game was the final home game of Matt Hall’s brilliant six-year career at Harding. Dixon, Bynum, and Jacob Thies were among the other seniors honored for their contributions.

Long Live #30

At the conclusion of the night, the team retired Matt Hall’s #30 jersey, making him only the second Bison basketball player to be so honored (along with #20, for 3-time All-American Butch Gardner) and the first in over 30 years. Even though I don’t know Matt personally, I will always remember his contributions to Harding basketball. He has been the face of my alma mater’s athletic program for virtually the entire time I’ve been connected with Harding.

Hall redshirted his (and my) freshman year at Harding in 2002-03 as one of HU’s most prized basketball recruits ever. He gradually settled into a starting role the next year for a team that was still quite good, although they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament like the previous year’s squad. He came into his own in 04-05, winning the GSC West Player of the Year award as a sophomore.

Entering the 2005-06 season, the Bisons were regarded as one of the division’s best teams, but when Matt injured his knee in the season opener, his career and Harding’s season were immediately in jeopardy. The Bisons finished sixth in the GSC West that year, but Hall was granted a medical redshirt for the season, leaving him with two more years of eligibility. He and the team both bounced back the following season, with Matt picking up his second GSC West POY award.

This year, Hall has to be considered the favorite to win that award for the third time, with UAM’s Raymond Wright and CBU’s Kevin Weybright his principal competition (at least in my mind).

What this means for the GSC Tournament

I was planning to incorporate some analysis into this post, but I’m breaking it up.  Another post will follow this afternoon.

Testing 1…2…3…

Posts have been sparse around here lately, aside from the occasional game review, but I have been working on a number of infrastructure improvements for displaying stats.

For the next week or so, I’ll be testing Google Docs as a solution, since that will theoretically allow me to embed published spreadsheets into a post, page, or other section of the site. It won’t change the current display much, aside from formatting, but it will hopefully make things easier on me, so that I can do more frequent analysis. Basically all I will have to do is upload the newest Excel version and take 5 minutes or so to check the formatting. That cuts out a lot of manual updating of tables and HTML formatting that I was having to do before.

As of now, I’ve published the GSC/Harding spreadsheet that I will use to build the other tables around the site. In case you want to look at the whole thing, it’s available for you to see here. Over the next few days, I’ll change the stat pages to build from that spreadsheet.

Consider this an open thread for feedback on the new display as I change it. If you don’t like how everything looks, if the tables don’t display right, or if they are difficult to understand (beyond the usual questions that the Stats Primer and Glossary might answer), please let me know what the problem is, and I’ll do my best to fix it.

[UPDATE 2/28: All the basketball stat pages have been switched over now, and here’s my impression:

Pros: Much easier to update on my part, which will probably result in more frequent updates, easy scrolling within the spreadsheet, ability to view the whole stats file at once.

Cons: Tables are no longer sortable, nor are there alternating row colors (although the latter is certainly fixable to some extent), and the pages seem to take longer to load.

For now, I think I’m sticking with it.  I like letting Google do all the back-end work, coming up with features I might never have considered.  Plus, I can still embed the tables in the context of my own site, rather than sending you over to Google to view them.

As always, feedback is appreciated.]

Overtime loss, televised win make for an exciting weekend

Arkansas Tech 87, Harding 82 (OT)

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It doesn’t get much more simple than this: had Harding taken care of the basketball in the last few minutes of regulation and in overtime, they would be 10-2 and have clinched at least a tie for the division lead.

Despite a solid all-around shooting performance (even with virtually no production from Matt Hall), the Bisons’ alarming 27.3 turnover ratio proved to be the deciding factor in the game. Steven Barnett had 12 turnovers, posting a double-double of sorts alongside his 17 points. He wasn’t the only one having problems, though. Pretty much everyone who handles the ball a lot turned it over a lot, with both Hall and Trent Morgan committing 6 turnovers.

Morgan led the team with 21 points, and he is becoming an increasingly reliable second scoring option. Chris Dixon had been making strides in that area, but he fouled out in just 11 minutes on the floor and was limited to 5 points. Kevin Brown added a double-double, with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Chad Henderson’s 24 led the Wonder Boys in scoring, although Jamar Flowers was the star in overtime. Laithe Massey had 5 steals coming off the bench, and every other ATU player who logged at least 20 minutes had two or more steals.

The loss to Tech was frustrating, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be rectified with a big win over Henderson State…

Harding 72, Henderson State 59

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The turnover problems virtually disappeared in this game, which probably wasn’t expected to be a close one.  CSTV viewers were treated to a great performance by Matt Hall, who had 18 points and 5 assists despite being hounded with pressure the entire game.  That’s par for the course with Hall, though, and those assists showed a strong ability to find the right player for the shot after HSU would rotate another man over to guard him.

Four other Bisons scored in double figures, with Kevin Brown having the next most impressive showing.  While he had some highlight-material offensive plays, he also contributed two blocks and four steals, playing outstanding defense throughout the game.  It was great to see him get 29 minutes of game time, and I’m hoping he’ll only get better.

Chris Dixon, Jesse Bynum, and Trent Morgan had 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively.  Morgan performed admirably on both ends of the floor, running the point quite well while Steven Barnett wasn’t on the floor.  I think he can handle that role on at least a shared-time basis with Barnett, which could be a way to get Brown on the floor more often (since Morgan and Barnett wouldn’t have to be on the floor together most of the time).

Bynum also played extended minutes, and he didn’t disappoint offensively, stepping out for a couple of long threes (though at least one was ill-advised).  Defense is a question mark for him, but with Brown, Dixon, Hall, and Morgan on the floor playing soft around the perimeter and helping inside, I don’t think it was noticeable.  The defense’s performance would have looked even better if HSU didn’t go on a 9-0 run to finish the game against the Bisons’ benchwarmers.

The defense will probably have to use a different approach next weekend against Christian Brothers, which is a strong three-point shooting team, but it worked well against HSU (and probably will against SAU).  The Bisons have the best TS% defense in the division right now.

Elsewhere in the GSC

Harding leads the GSC West now at 9-3, giving them at least a chance to clinch it on Thursday at SAU.  Ouachita and CBU have separated themselves from the rest of the teams, now at 8-4, while Arkansas Tech, Delta State, and UAM are all 7-5.  One of those three will be left out of the tournament, which should make this an exciting week.

I’m going to play around with the stats today with the goal of having all the pages fully updated by tomorrow.

National TV shows Bisons (and Harding) at their best

I’ll have stats for you on Monday, but I wanted to go ahead and share a few thoughts about the TV coverage of this afternoon’s 72-59 home win over Henderson State.

CSTV was incredibly kind to Harding and the fans on-air, making repeated comments about the quality of Harding’s student body, the spirited crowd, and the facilities.  Aside from a technical glitch in the first half, it wasn’t much unlike watching a low D-I game on a network like CSS, which I suppose is to be expected, since CSTV is actually owned by CBS.

The broadcast team was decent, and the camera work was solid enough to give a home viewer like myself a great picture of what was going on during the game.  It was nice, for once, to see replays of some of the great moments, like Trent Morgan’s on-his-back steal and Kevin Brown’s high-rising dunk after blowing past Antoine Vinson.

A halftime interview with GSC Commish Nate Salant gave him the platform to show how proud he is of the league’s success with televised games, particularly in football, where the GSC has had a game of the week on CSS each Thursday.  He claimed to have been pushing for a TV game at the Rhodes Field House for years to show off the league’s best basketball venue, and he finally succeeded.

Like most Division I games, both schools got to run ads during the game, and I thought Harding’s were particularly tasteful.  Good or bad, they both featured Larry Long strolling through campus; the first time with him narrating about how well-prepared the students were going to be, and the second with narration by a student to the same effect.  They were simple and well put-together, especially in comparison to this video.

The game turned out great as well, with the Bisons taking control early in the second half with stifling 2-3 zone and soft man defense.  I thought they had their best possible lineup on the floor for much of the second half, when Morgan, Dixon, Brown, Hall, and Bynum were on the floor together for several minutes.  Bynum hit (and missed) a couple of jump shots, while Morgan worked his way around the floor to find easy open baskets and take some of the pressure off Matt Hall.

The final result is a temporary 1.5-game lead over the rest of the West, which includes four teams tied at 7-4 in second place.  The Bisons have Southern Arkansas and Christian Brothers left on the schedule, and one more win would clinch a spot in the conference tournament.

Weekly Notes: February 21, 2008

I didn’t do any notes last week, so here’s what’s going on:

  • Let’s start with a quick comment or two on today’s big NYT story about John McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist: I don’t much care about the adultery angle, nor do I think this was a sinister plot by the Times to destroy the GOP.  The most devastating timing of the story would have been in October, and because of McCain’s financing arrangement, it looks like he was going to be fine without receiving the Times’ endorsement.  So, the theory that they endorsed him to weed out the other guys, then dropped him at the first chance, doesn’t seem to hold up.
  • What concerns me about McCain is his inability to avoid ethical conundrums, when he has staked his recent political career on being the Republican campaign finance reform go-to guy, even against his party’s wishes.  To me, the story is substantive enough to be damaging from that perspective, but I already disagreed with him on enough issues that I probably wasn’t voting for him anyway.  Even though the NYT conspiracy theories are still a bit too far-fetched for me to believe, I fear that the spin on this story will be about the timing of the story’s release and subsequent accusations of the mainstream media’s supposed liberal bias, thus uniting Republicans who otherwise weren’t ready to back McCain and/or Huckabee.  I’m sure we’ll find out more about this in the coming days, if not later today.
  • Harding is up to #6 in the latest regional rankings, with four games to play.  I think a 4-0 finish would probably be enough to move into the top 5, which is important because a top-5 ranking in the final poll pretty much guarantees an NCAA Tournament berth (since there are 8 spots and 3 automatic bids for conference champs).  Winning the GSC Tournament is the only sure-fire way to make it, but I thought I’d throw this out there.
  • Right now, based on Log5 predictions of the remaining GSC games, Harding’s most likely finish is 3-1, which should be enough to maintain first place.  The two worst teams remain on their schedule, but Arkansas Tech and Christian Brothers are also left.
  • I try not to link every post from FJM, but here we go: This Is What We’re Up Against.  My favorite line among many good ones: [Referring to A-Rod vs. Jeter] “You would never, ever want a guy scientifically proven to be dramatically better at fielding.”
  • Melissa and I brought home two kittens this past weekend, and we’re having plenty of fun with them.  Glance at some pictures here.
  • Right now I’m reviewing some options for fantasy baseball leagues, since I’ve become dissatisfied with CBS over the last year or two.  I suppose not winning will do that to you, but what bothers me most is the roster setup, which mandates a very short bench.  CBS leagues have a 22-man active roster with just two bench spots, which isn’t enough for someone like me, who wants to hoard as many guys as possible.  More seriously, though, it’s just not as much fun when starting 2-3 injured players is a viable strategy.  If anyone’s had a good experience with a paid league, I’m all ears.  I’d rather not step back down to a free league, since those inevitably have only half the league paying attention by July.

Any other thoughts?  Leave them in the comments.

Bisons beat Tigers, take sole possession of first

Good, disciplined teams have a tendency to pick up fewer fouls than their opponents for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s superior athleticism or speed, as in the ability to alter an offensive approach without making contact with the opponent, or simply smart play around the basket, good teams do this.

Harding was a good team on Saturday, and though the margin was not large, the Bisons made more free throws than OBU attempted. Solid all-around defense was the name of the game, and Harding stifled Ouachita enough to notch a convincing 69-58 road win and take sole possession of first place in the GSC West.

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The difference in the game was shooting efficiency. Ouachita took most of its shots from beyond the arc, which ended up being a losing strategy. 21 of their 33 three-point attempts were in the second half, as the Tigers showed a remarkable inability to adapt to the Bisons’ solid perimeter defense. They kept throwing up the three-point shots, and the Bisons were happy enough to collect the rebounds from their 25 long-range misses.

On the offensive end, the Bisons were more than happy to go inside when their threes weren’t falling, especially with guards Trent Morgan and Steven Barnett.  Both had 17 points, with Morgan’s coming on 10 shots, and Barnett’s on 11.  That’s efficient scoring, while team leader Matt Hall had 20 on 16 shots.  That’s a fairly typical line for Hall, who draws most of the defense’s attention and makes performances like Morgan’s and Barnett’s possible.

Jacob Thies had 4 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes on the floor, along with two steals and just one turnover, so it wasn’t a bad night for him.  I also recall at least one charge that he took, which should be just as good as a steal.  Jesse Bynum only played 6 minutes, presumably because of injuries (though I don’t remember if they said that on the radio broadcast).  Kevin Brown had a typical 7 point/6 rebound/15 minute performance.

Elsewhere in the GSC

Christian Brothers blasted Henderson State, keeping pace with the rest of the pack at 6-4 in third place with Delta State (who beat UAM) and Arkansas Tech (who beat SAU).

That means Harding (8-2) has a one-game lead over OBU (7-3), and then there are the three 6-4 teams currently tied for the last playoff spot.  5-5 UAM is one game behind, while SAU and HSU are basically out of the running.  I’m going to do a little analysis of each team’s chances to reach the GSC tourney, probably for tomorrow.

Coming Up

A visit to Arkansas Tech is on the schedule for Thursday, and then the anticlimactic home “rivalry” game against Henderson State will be Saturday at Noon EST on CSTV.

Obviously not looking ahead to OBU, Harding throttles Delta State

What? A game review the day after the game? Is this 2005 or something? Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. Once you get your head around the idea that I’m actually doing a somewhat timely review, we have some game action to break down.

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The Bisons basically did what they’ve been doing all year, shooting relatively well and preventing the other team from doing so, only they did the best job they’ve done all season.

In some ways, this was a sloppy game. The Bisons turned it over nearly a quarter of the time, helped along by 6 turnovers each from ballhandlers Trent Morgan and Steven Barnett. Luckily, they were able to stay with the Statesmen in rebounding and punish them for their tendency to foul. Over a third of the Bisons’ 90 points were scored at the free throw line, where the team made 32 of 38 shots, including 11 of 12 by Matt Hall.

A quick aside: making free throws is one thing Matt has done exceptionally well, not because he shoots for the best percentage (he doesn’t: 74%), but because even when he’s not shooting well from the field, he can efficiently score points by driving to the basket, drawing a foul, and making some shots. Harding has 4 players in the league’s top 7 in free throw attempts per field goal attempt; Hall is #7, but he has played more than any of the other leaders. Only CBU’s Nick Kohs has even attempted (139) as many FTs as Hall has made (131).

The end result of all of those fouls – 30 by Delta State – was a huge Bison win, and a huge final margin in true shooting percentage.  Hall had 30 points and Chris Dixon topped his career high with 25 (on just 10 field goal attempts).  If Dixon can become a reliable second scorer, with 15 or so points per game, the Bisons should have enough firepower to finish what they started and win this division.

Around the GSC

Four teams are now tied for third in the West at 5-4 after Harding’s win, OBU’s win at UAM, and Christian Brothers’ win over Arkansas Tech.  While the latter two teams face the division’s bottom-dwellers tomorrow night, UAM will visit Delta State, with the loser presumably falling to sixth place.

Next Up for HU

Harding will travel to face OBU in a game that will possibly decide the division.  With the Bisons now leading the conference in net efficiency, I can definitively say that they’re playing like the best team, but their lead is not enough over OBU to suggest this will be anything but a very close game.  I’d call it a dead heat with Ouachita’s home-court advantage.

It's the Tournament, a month early

I mentioned that I might give this a whirl about a month ago, so instead of ranking the D-I basketball teams, I’m doing my own little exercise in “bracketology.” For reference, here’s Joe Lunardi’s latest, the current national rankings and standings, and Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings.

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Ordering the Top Seeds

Some of the early seeds were difficult, but I’m going to stick to my guns on several of the more “out there” choices.

Duke is #2 in the major polls and the RPI, but I still don’t see them beating Memphis, Kansas, or UCLA head-to-head at this point. UNC is another story, and it will be interesting to see how the second Duke-UNC matchup turns out with Ty Lawson back in play. For now, Duke is a #1 and UNC is a #2, and they’re both in the same bracket.

Among other #2 seeds, it’s amazing to me that Wisconsin isn’t ranked higher, and that in some cases (USA Today/ESPN), Louisville isn’t ranked at all. Louisville is vastly improved over the team that lost to BYU and Dayton (which are still good teams), and they’re doing a fine job in Big East play. To me it’s a tough call between them and Georgetown for the best team in the Big East, and they won at Georgetown last week, so I give them the edge.

Tennessee is in the top 5 of every poll and is #1 in the RPI, and Lunardi has them as a one-seed. I still see them as just another top 10 team, since the SEC is relatively weak compared to most years. Pomeroy has them at 13, but I’m giving them a 3-seed for now in a tough bracket.

I’m all for giving the mid-majors some love, but I think the won-loss records of Butler and Drake are a tad misleading. I don’t see how Drake makes the top 15 in the polls without beating a top 50 team all year. Butler is possibly deserving of a ranking, since they beat Ohio State, but you just can’t slip up when you play such a light schedule.

I’m a little iffy on some of the Big 10 team placements, since I’m not sold on Michigan State (turnover issues), and Purdue still has some non-conference losses to bad teams bringing them down. Indiana plays them both between now and Tuesday, but their program issues make me somewhat skeptical about the Hoosiers’ future.

Picking Conference Champs

I did the best I could on conference champions. While I didn’t pick every current conference leader, I was looking for some fairly convincing evidence if I decided to pick someone else to represent a one-bid conference. It’s easy to pick a team like Davidson, but Cal State Northridge and Winthrop were somewhat shakier choices.

Breakdown by Conference

If you’re interested, I picked 8 from the Pac-10, 7 each from the Big 12 and Big East, 6 from the SEC, 5 from the Big 10, 4 from the ACC (that was tough), 2 each from the Missouri Valley, West Coast, and Mountain West, and one from every other conference. I looked hard at picking second or third teams in conferences like the MWC, A-10, and Sun Belt, but eventually I decided against it. This probably isn’t a totally realistic breakdown of teams, but I was doing my best to get the top teams in the tournament.

What Could Mess Things Up

Obviously, a win by some other team than the one I picked from any of the one-bid conference tournaments. That’s not a problem in the worst one-bid conferences, where only one team would make it regardless, but here are a few teams that could cost a deserving at-large team a spot if they choke in their conference tournaments:

  1. Xavier (A-10) is #17 in Pomeroy’s ratings, and I have them as a six-seed. They would make the tournament even if they don’t win the A-10, so there are some possible at-large teams really rooting for them right now.
  2. Drake (MVC) basically came out of nowhere this year in the Missouri Valley. Creighton is a good team, but they probably won’t make it without a tournament win, while Drake would at this point.
  3. Butler (Horizon) is head-and-shoulders above Wright State and everyone else in the Horizon League, so they would be doing some teams a favor by winning that tournament.
  4. Davidson (SoCon) played well enough against some top teams in non-conference play that they might get some consideration for an at-large spot. They haven’t locked that up yet, but a perfect SoCon regular season might do the trick. They’ll need to hold off UTC, Appy State, and Georgia Southern.

And who’s rooting for those current conference leaders?

  1. UNLV/BYU/New Mexico/Utah (MWC) – These are four solid teams in a conference that doesn’t get a lot of respect. Pomeroy rates the Mountain West 8th among 31 conferences, solidly in the top third. Lunardi has both UNLV and BYU in the tournament, as do I, but New Mexico and Utah could make a case between now and then. It’s also possible that a Drake/Butler loss knocks one or more of them out.
  2. Cal/Oregon/Arizona/Arizona State (Pac-10) – Any of these teams could theoretically be left out of the dance if the committee sees two deserving teams in a lesser conference. The Pac-10 is extremely strong this year, and all of these teams would deserve a bid at this point.
  3. Ole Miss (SEC) – That undefeated non-conference record is getting more distant in the rear-view mirror. They’re 3-6 in the SEC with a particularly bad loss to Auburn.
  4. Florida (SEC) – They’re not doing as poorly as Ole Miss, but a home loss to LSU is not going to help their chances at impressing the committee.
  5. Syracuse/West Virginia (Big East) – Both are around .500 in a conference that already stands to get a lot of bids, which is probably not good news for their chances (even though there are 16 teams in the Big East, so that should count for something).

Other Thoughts

My #1 seed rankings are: Memphis, Kansas, UCLA, Duke

I tried to make the regional and sub-regional matchups as geographically relevant as possible.

There aren’t a lot of other teams out there that could mess things up for some of the deserving teams, but UMass is one of them, ranked #22 in the RPI.

I’ll try to do this again between now and tournament time.

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