Sunday, March 15, 2009

NCAA Tournament: Questionable bubble teams, and a notable tournament snub

The annual bubble complaints get stemmed by the rash of weekend tournament upsets that got some otherwise disposable teams in: USC, Cleveland State, Mississippi State.

Usually, the bubble teams land in the 12 seed, but with the rash of tourney upsets, it appears the bubble starts at 11, fairly high. That said, these teams got in despite questionable track records:

Boston College: Sagarin ranks their schedule 53rd (40ish is bubble worthy) while ranking them 48th overall, behind six teams that didn't get in. Pomeroy also has their schedule strength 53rd, but ranks them even lower in 59th, way below the 40ish bubble territory. They're obviously getting Big East brownie points from the committee, but they built up a 22-10 record against cupcake garbage like Loyola-MD, Bryant, South Carolina Upstate (?!), Maine and Sacred Heart. That ain't exactly Gonzaga's non-conference schedule: Pomeroy rated their non-conference state a dismal 244th.

They did go 9-7 in a tough ACC, though an ACC that features five good teams and six meh ones, and even a couple of the good ones (Wake Forest, Florida State) may be a touch overrated. And those 9 wins came mostly against the meh teams: Before sneaking in upset wins over Duke and Florida State this past month, they were 1-4 against the top 25. Sagarin had them 4-7 against his top 50. The ACC already had five bids and probably didn't need a 6th or 7th. This probably wouldn't have happened had Miami-Fla, a better ACC team, not melted down the stretch.

Texas A&M: They finished in a clowncar tie for 4th in a weaker Big 12 with a 9-7 conference record. Oklahoma and Texas got in worse overall records, so it appears that's the committee's justification. But they built that 23-9 record on a cupcake non-conference schedule that Pomeroy has rated 261st.

The Aggies loaded up on wins off Arkansas Pine Bluff, curent 14 seed Stephen F Austin, Jackson State, UNC Wilmington, SMU, Sam Houston State, Rice, McNeese State and North Dakota. They also suffered an early season 11 point loss to Tulsa. They faced a stretch through January with four top 25 teams, beat the one pretender among them in Baylor, and dropped games to the other three. They closed the season with their only big win, against eventual Big 12 champ Missouri, before jobbing to lowly Texas Tech in the 1st round of the Big 12 Tournament. They finished the regular season hot with six straight wins, but aside from Missouri and Texas, their opponents in that slate featured Big 12 bottom feeders. Their resume is a fake, albeit one that the committee bought into.

Sagarin ranks their overall schedule 67th. They did finish a respectable 6-7 against Sagarin's Top 50, to their credit (his ratings have eight Big 12 teams in his top 50, though five of the teams are in the bottom half). They only played four games against his top 25 and won one of them. Pomeroy has them off the bubble at 52nd and Sagarin has them on the dim end of the bubble at 46th. The power ratings tell the story, while it appears the committee bought into the surface numbers. If they went 20-12 against a real non-con schedule, they probably deserve to get in more than they do with this schedule and a 23-9 record.

Maryland: Like BC, they're getting an ACC bonus that they arguably don't deserve, though they did play a much tougher schedule. However, their ACC record is worse at 7-9, and BC's inclusion reeks of a logistical committee excuse to include Maryland. Pomeroy had their strength of schedule 124th, while ranking them 54th, well below bubble territory.

Sagarin did have Maryland's SoS 23rd, but they went 5-11 vs his top 50 and 3-7 vs his top 25, leaving them 44th in his ratings. That's bubble territory, but also behind several teams that didn't get in, including one I'll mention below.

Maryland also went 2-7 against the official Top 25, their only wins being an early season rout of Michigan State and a late season upset against UNC. They also lost to unranked Virginia, Boston College, Florida State, Miami-Fla and current 15 seed Morgan State. The Terps lost 4 of their last 6 in the regular season and scored an uncomfortably tight ACC tournament win over lowly NC State before their upset win over Wake Forest preceded their eventual elimination to ACC Champion Duke. They had some big wins, but the resume just has too many holes.

At the same time, there weren't a ton of other alternatives. Georgetown and Note Dame had stronger schedules, but also had 14 losses and near-.500 records, which would have sent everyone howling had they gotten in. Plus, Notre Dame finished 8-10 in the Big East, below undeserving Providence, who was rightfully left out at 10-8. And we can argue that the Big East got more than enough from the selection committee. However, there was ONE team that deserved to get in yet got the snub:

San Diego State: The Mountain West probably deserves more credit than it gets as a mid-major, and Sagarin agrees, rating SDSU 39th and probably in over some of the teams. While the MWC has a weak bottom end, UNLV and New Mexico are NIT-level teams, and of course BYU and Utah are top 30 squads. SDSU was not far behind tourney entries BYU and Utah in terms of performance level, though their schedule was understandably light, going 2-7 against Sagarin's top 50.

Their three home losses came against tourney teams Arizona State and BYU, plus a hot St. Mary's team with their star Patty Mills at full strength. They held serve with an 11-5 MWC record, about what you'd expect from the conference's 3rd best team with two competitive squads beneath them. They knocked off tourney host UNLV and top seed BYU in the MWC Tournament before falling in a close final to Utah. The high altitude of the Rocky Mountains makes most MWC venues a difficult place to play no matter who you are, so road losses to Wyoming and New Mexico aren't as embarrassing as they seem.

Perhaps those conference road losses and their lack of big wins on the schedule did them in according to the committee. But SDSU didn't have the glaring holes in their track record that the above teams had.

Actually, now that I look at the bubble teams... maybe it's a good thing a lot of upsets happened, because chances are if that hadn't happened, a lot of undeserving teams, such as the hollow St. Mary's or a weaker Providence squad, might have gotten in... though without the upsets, they probably could have snuck Notre Dame in, record and all, as long as they got San Diego State in as well.

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