Bracketology: March 1st Edition
Joe Lunardi released his Bracketology today, and with only one week to go in the regular season, the NCAA 65 team tournament field is becoming ever more clear. There is much less time and opportunity for teams to enhance their resumes.
Once again, I believe Joe Lunardi did a poor job of predicting the final teams in and out of the tournament. Lets start with the last four in.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have lost 3 consecutive games, including an embarrasing 20 point spanking by Boston College, who is a whopping 14-14 this year. In addition, Tech has a strength of schedule of 152, and has no real quality wins. Their best win was against Wake Forest, at which point the Hokies embarked upon their current 3 game losing streak. The other decent win was against Clemson. With only 2 wins over projected tournament teams, a terrible strength of schedule, a weak in-conference schedule, no wins over ranked teams, and a poor finish to the season (especially including the 20 point embarrassment against BC), there is no way Virginia Tech should be able to smell the NCAA tournament.
Saint Mary’s- The Gales have a 24-5 record, but have no quality wins. Over anybody. Period. The best win Saint Mary’s has is against Cal, a borderline NCAA tournament team. The Gales haven’t sniffed a victory over a ranked team, or even a sure-fire tournament team. With a strength of schedule of 142, the Gales dropped every game against a quality team, including against Vanderbilt and Gonzaga twice. Saint Mary’s also dropped embarrassing games against USC and Portland. This team does not deserve a NCAA tournament bid because they haven’t done anything to make us think they do deserve a bid.
Mississippi State- The Bulldogs are leading the SEC West, but in reality, that means nothing. It would mean something if the team won the SEC tournament and received the auto bid, but contrary to popular belief, winning the SEC West regular season title does not ensure a bid to the tournament because the SEC West is so poor this season. Mississippi State shares the same problem as the other teams in this grouping, and that is the lack of quality wins. The Bulldogs post a 21-8 record, which would be good enough for a bid in most years. However, with a schedule strength of 128, the record looks much better than it actually is. Mississippi State is only 6-5 in its last 11 games, with games remaining against Auburn and Tennessee. The Bulldogs need a win against Tennessee to post a decent win on its resume. To this point Mississippi State’s best win is against Old Dominion, and 2 wins against Ole Miss are the only other factors holding up the resume. This means that Mississippi State has wins over exactly 0 ranked teams, and wins over exactly 0 sure-fire NCAA tournament teams, as Ole Miss is not currently in the projected field, and Old Dominion can likely get in only via an automatic bid out of the CAA.
San Diego State- This team has 1 good win, and that was over New Mexico. The rest of the Aztecs resume is littered with wins over bad teams and losses in every big game of the season, including losses to BYU (twice), New Mexico, UNLV, Arizona State, and Saint Mary’s. The Aztecs also have backbreaking losses to Pacific and Wyoming. These two losses to atrocious teams is what should keep the team from the NCAA tournament. These losses could be overlooked if the team actually had a few good wins, but the Aztecs have no place in the NCAA tournament with the combination of bad losses and only 1 good win.
The main thing Joe Lunardi seems to be missing is that these teams do not have big wins. He says he looks at the entire body of work, and that is great, but when the teams he puts in do not have any big wins, I don’t see how or why they should be rewarded with a bid. Lets take a look at some teams who Lunardi did not include that actually have some big wins over respectable opponents.
Notre Dame- The Irish are the first team in Lunardi’s first four out, but the Irish have significantly better wins than any of the above 4 teams. With wins over Pitt, West Virginia, and Georgetown, all in the top 15 at the time of the wins, Notre Dame has much better claim to one of the last few spots in the tournament than the above teams. The problem with Notre Dame’s resume is that its non-conference schedule was poor, and the Irish has some bad losses. However, 4 of the team’s 10 losses were to projected NCAA tournament teams. This is far and away better than the losses of the teams above, and combined with the impressive wins, the Irish deserve an NCAA tournament bid over the teams that Lunardi has projected will receive bids.
Seton Hall- The Pirates have one of the toughest schedules in the country (16), and have really been negatively affected by their schedule strength when pundits like Lunardi determine the projected tournament field. Lunardi’s job is to find the 65 best teams, and when a team has lost 7 of its 11 games to ranked teams, and 10 of its 11 losses to projected NCAA tournament teams, that team deserves a bid without a doubt. While San Diego State is losing to Pacific and Wyoming, Seton Hall has lost to Syracuse, Villanova, and West Virginia, with the team’s WORST loss coming to South Florida, who was a bubble team until a week ago. Each of its other losses were to projected tournament teams. Quality wins include wins over Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Cornell. This team easily deserves a bid over a team like San Diego State or Virginia Tech.
Minnesota- The Gophers have a 17-11 record, and admittedly have some bad losses. However, what this team has that the teams do not that Lunardi has included in his Bracketology is quality wins over big teams. The Gophers have wins over Butler, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Three wins over top 15 teams is much better than any of the projected last 4 in can claim.
Illinois- The Illini also have big wins to boast that others don’t. Wins against Clemson, Vanderbilt, Michigan State, and Wisconsin highlight the Illini resume. That is 3 wins against teams ranked in the top 15. In addition, the Illini losses are more impressive than those of many of its bubble counterparts. 6 of its losses were against sure-fire tournament teams, and 5 were against ranked teams, with most of them in the top 15. Therefore, the Illini resume trumps that of teams like Mississippi State and Saint Mary’s.
I think it is important to keep in mind that the NCAA tournament is not just looking for teams with the best records, but the BEST teams themselves. The committee needs to consider who would beat one another if they played, and who has done quality work against good teams in the regular season to prove that they can beat good teams. The last 4 teams in for Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology share a characteristic, and that is a lack of quality wins. I have just identified 4 teams that have decent records, but have much more quality wins to justify their bid for the NCAA tournament. In addition, most of these teams have much more impressive losses than those of teams such as Saint Mary’s and San Diego State, and these factors are what should separate the good teams from the mediocre teams. I just am hoping that the NCAA Selection Committee pays more attention to quality wins than Joe Lunardi seems to, and hope that it pays less attention to only records than Lunardi does.