WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report - 1/2/06

Happy New Year! This week Mike Adam takes a look at College Bowl games, plus a tour around the Big East and world of College Hoops.

To quote Eddie Murphy from "Trading Places" - "Merry New Year!"

For those of you who may have missed some of the bowl action over the past week, let me summarize it for you:

December 30 was a bad day to get a big lead. Minnesota, South Carolina and Northwestern all blew leads of 14 points or more that day.

Speaking of Northwestern, they may want to add on-side kick coverage to what they practice in the off-season. In addition, was that Mike Martz calling the plays for the Wildcats? Despite having one of the top ten leading rushers in the NCAA (Tyrell Sutton) and spotted a 22-point lead, Northwestern threw 70 (!) passes. Remind anyone of a Super Bowl between the Rams and the Patriots?

I believe the head referee in the Michigan-Nebraska game was Hue Hollins. Boy, what a disaster that crew was. They should get taken to task for blowing the last play alone, where people were wandering all over the field while the final play was still going on, but there were numerous botched calls throughout the second half.

You know your bowl game is irrelevant when it starts at 8 am Pacific Time and is before New Year's Day, as the Meineke Car Care Bowl between South Florida and North Carolina State was.

This year, the official name of the BCS Championship is not the "Rose Bowl". It's "The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi". I wish I were making that up. It's this sort of nonsense that is the biggest obstacle to a playoff system in Division I football. Rich corporate guys give lots of money to rich athletic directors to slap their products' names on bowl games, and then they all hide behind the excuse of extending the season too long for the student-athlete for why a playoff is not feasible. Yet there's no issue with adding a 12th regular-season game next year? And what about the other NCAA divisions who seem to be able to make a football playoff work? What a joke.

Commercial of the Week: This commercial has annoyed me for at least two consecutive winters, and maybe more, so the "Commercial of the Week" doesn't have positive connotations this week. Around this time, you'll see a series of Lexus commercials where people are struggling to come up with the perfect Christmas gift for his or her significant other, and then they see a bow the size of a camping tent and it hits them – get a Lexus for Christmas! Although I don't watch much else, I think I've really only seen these commercials during football games.

I'd like to make some points about these commercials:

1) I don't think I've ever watched a football game with anyone who watched that commercial and thought, "Wow, what a good idea! I'm going to get my girlfriend a Lexus!" To my friends and me, it's a good Christmas to get some Bears' clothing and underwear.

2) How do they get the bow on the car? Do they have to drive it home from the dealership like that, because it's too big to fit in the car or in the trunk?

3) In every case, the person who's being surprised by the gift is led to the driveway or garage with his or her eyes closed, then they open them and are shocked to see a Lexus. How does this person not see the Lexus when the gift giver comes home? Was every single one of them unaware that their significant other came home with a different car than they drove when they left that morning? Did the gift givers all call in advance and say, "Honey, I'm on my way home, but stay away from the front window and the garage because I have a present for you with which I want to surprise you"?

This Week in the Big East

Cincinnati: Cincinnati closes out their pre-conference season at 10-2 with two more home wins over Miami (OH) (75-65) and North Carolina A&T (105-69). They start BIG EAST play with the Demons on Wednesday, then go to Marquette on Saturday.

Connecticut: The Huskies move into BIG EAST play undefeated at 11-0 after two more home demolitions of Stony Brook (85-52) and Quinnipiac (111-75). They start at Marquette on Tuesday, then get a quick out-of-conference game against LSU on Saturday in Connecticut.

Georgetown: The Hoyas (8-2) racked up two more wins this week in a holiday classic in El Paso by defeating Colgate (61-45) then the host UTEP (76-64). Again, though, seven of their eight out-of-conference wins have come against teams with RPI ranks of 200 or worse. They start BIG EAST play on Thursday hosting Providence, then go to St. John's on Sunday.

Louisville: The Cardinals moved to 11-1 this week with a home win over Fairleigh Dickinson and then a "semi-away" win in Sunrise, Florida, against Miami (FL). They start the week with the marquee match-up in the conference, hosting Villanova, then visit Providence.

Marquette: The Golden Gold didn't do anything to their Division I record (9-3) this week by crushing Lewis (88-40). They start their inaugural BIG EAST season with Connecticut and Cincinnati, both in Milwaukee. Good luck with that.

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish finish up non-conference season at 9-2, defeating Fordham (85-49) and Wofford (74-71) this week. They start BIG EAST play at Pitt on Wednesday, then come to Rosemont.

Pitt: Pitt (11-0) took some pretty serious steps to establishing legitimacy by roughing up both South Carolina on the road (58-51) and then Wisconsin at home (73-64). They start BIG EAST play with Notre Dame this week as their only game.

Providence: The Friars dispatched San Diego State (80-65) to move to 6-4. They have a final non-conference game against Loyola (MD) on Tuesday, then go to Georgetown on Thursday, then host Louisville on Saturday. It's a busy week that could hold at least two losses for Providence.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights move into BIG EAST play at 9-3 after taking care of Princeton on Saturday (54-44). Rutgers only has one game in BIG EAST play this week, hosting mirror opponent Seton Hall.

Seton Hall: Speaking of the Hall, they'll start conference play at 8-3 after home wins over Morgan State (93-46) and Iona (73-59). Before they go to Rutgers, they'll host St. John's this week.

St. John's: The Red Storm finish their non-conference season at 7-4 after two wins in a holiday invitational over Columbia (63-39) and Massachusetts (51-49). They start BIG EAST play at Seton Hall on Wednesday, then host Georgetown.

South Florida: Not a good week for the Bulls (6-7), and you just get the feeling this is the beginning of the rest of the season-long slide that's on the way. They took a very bad home loss in overtime to Bethune-Cookman (75-68 ), then another home loss to UAB (59-47). Their first season in the BIG EAST begins by hosting West Virginia, then traveling to Syracuse.

Syracuse: The Orange are now at 11-2 after wins over Towson (big surprise) 86-52 and Kent State (78-66). They have yet another non-conference home game this week against UTEP, then start BIG EAST play by hosting South Florida. And for those of you scoring at home (or even if you're alone), Sunday will be Syracuse's 15th game of the season. Twelve have been at home; three have been at neutral sites. They will play their first road game of the season on January 11.

Villanova: The Wildcats continue to take care of business, moving to 9-0 after a 75-53 victory over Temple last week. They have the most rugged opening week in the BIG EAST, going to Louisville, then hosting West Virginia.

West Virginia: The Pittsnogles cruised to 7-3 with a home win over Canisius on Friday (80-68 ). They start BIG EAST play with two road games – at South Florida on Thursday, then the game at Villanova.

Non-Conference Opponents

Bradley: Bradley was an anchor on DePaul's resume last year, but early results indicate that it might be a different story this year. With a nice home win over Northern Iowa, then a tight overtime loss at Wichita State, it wasn't a bad week for the Braves (7-3, 1-1). Things don't get easier, though – they host Creighton tonight, then go to Drake on Thursday, then go to Southern Illinois on Sunday. It doesn't appear there are any off nights in the Valley this year.

Northwestern: In the only game the Wildcats (6-4) had this week, they handled Northern Colorado 82-47. Now Big Ten play begins first by hosting Purdue, then traveling to Minnesota.

Northern Illinois: Although the Huskies (5-3, 1-0) scored one neutral site win this week, a second was right in their grasp, and they dropped it. In a holiday invitational in Montana, Northern won their first game against San Jose State (80-78 ), but then lost the championship to North Dakota State (who?) 57-56. Now it's off to immerse themselves in MAC play with two home games against Miami (OH) and Buffalo.

Creighton: Have I mentioned how rugged the Missouri Valley is going to be? After the Blue Jays (7-3, 1-1) beat up on Missouri State (78-56), they went to Illinois State and lost on a 40-footer at the buzzer, 53-50. Every team in the conference has played between one and three conference games at this point, and with the exception of Evansville, every single team has at least one conference win at this point. It is going to be an all-out slugfest all year. As mentioned above, Creighton goes to Bradley tonight, then gets a chance to exact revenge on Illinois State, then they host Drake.

Bucknell: Bucknell (8-2) split in a holiday tournament hosted by Santa Clara this week. They won the first game against Boston University (63-57), then lost to the host Broncos (77-68 ). Tonight, they travel to visit the Dukies, then start Patriot League play at Navy on Saturday.

UAB: Looks like the Blazers (8-3) might be on track after decisive wins at home against Oklahoma State (90-71) and at South Florida (59-47). Tonight, they host a dangerous Virginia Commonwealth team, then play non-Division I Valdosta State before starting Conference USA play.

Dayton: The Flyers (7-6) played Vanderbilt tough, but ultimately fell to the Commodores 63-60 for their third loss in a row. They start Atlantic 10 play at Fordham on Wednesday, then host new member Charlotte on Saturday.

Wake Forest: It was a pretty uneventful week for the Demon Deacons (10-2), winning their only game against Charleston Southern (87-47). This week, they host East Carolina, then start ACC play by hosting Duke.

Old Dominion: Nice win for the Monarchs (8-4, 1-1) to close out the year over Virginia Tech (58-55). Now they go back to Colonial Athletic Association play hosting UNC-Wilmington and then traveling to Towson this week.

California: Not a bad week at all for the Bears (8-3, 2-0). They swing down to the southern California Pac-10 schools and beat them both – first USC (62-58 ), then UCLA (68-61). Cal now hosts the Oregon schools at the end of this upcoming week, with a 4-0 conference record squarely within reach.

Florida International: On the "MolsonBlue" watch, you would think that if you were hosting your own invitational, you'd bring in at least one team you could beat. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as they lost to St. Bonaventure (69-65), then followed that up by losing to Cal State Fullerton (74-57) to drop to 2-8. Doing quick math, DePaul pushed them to 2-9 on Saturday. Now FIU enters Sun Belt Conference play hosting Arkansas-Little Rock and Arkansas State this week.

Aggregate overall D-I record (excluding games against DePaul): 72-35 (.673).

This winning percentage has been adjusted versus what you guys have been seeing the past few weeks to take out the games against DePaul because the RPI's strength of schedule calculation takes those games out of the equation: kenpom.com/blog/index.php.../rpi_help/ Now bear in mind, I'm NOT trying to recreate the RPI's strength of schedule calculation – I'm just trying to decide if I should include or exclude wins and losses against DePaul in what I'm trying to do, and I've decided to exclude them.

I realize that this number is a bit hard to judge unless it's in some sort of context, so I decided to do the analysis on the other 15 BIG EAST teams. Sorted by winning percentage as of games completed January 1, the aggregate winning percentage of the Division I opponents are as follows:

Cincinnati: 69-42 (.622)

Providence: 60-39 (.606)

Syracuse: 75-53 (.586)

Seton Hall: 56-47 (.544)

Villanova: 43-37 (.538 )

Rutgers: 63-56 (.529)

St. John's: 51-48 (.515)

Pitt: 53-51 (.510)

Notre Dame: 53-54 (.495)

West Virginia: 45-48 (.484)

Georgetown: 46-51 (.474)

Louisville: 53-61 (.465)

Marquette: 55-64 (.462)

Connecticut: 47-58 (.448 )

South Florida: 53-73 (.421)

So while DePaul's opponents are winning two out of every three games, most of the rest of the BIG EAST's opponents are winning around 45%-55% of the time. The one team that jumps out at me is Connecticut. Why are they so low? Well, they had some nice high-profile wins in Maui, but since coming back to the mainland, they've beaten three teams who are winless against Division I (Texas Southern, Morehead State and Stony Brook) and two more who only have two wins (Army and New Hampshire). This explains why, even though the Huskies have the high-profile wins on their resume, and are undefeated, they have the sixth-best RPI rank in the conference as of today.

Other Games of Note This Week

Ed Hochuli "Power Game of the Week"

#4 Memphis 83, #8 Gonzaga 72. This game was a very, very good one to watch until Gonzaga's shots stopped falling in the last four minutes of the game. The simpleton angle on the game was, "Oh, look at how Memphis shut down Adam Morrison over the last nine minutes." Morrison had 34 points, but none in the last 9:31 of the game. That wasn't it at all, and having watched the game, I feel confident in saying that it was more the missing of open shots by J. P. Batista, Derek Raivio and others that was the story during the last nine and a half minutes than Memphis cranking up the defense on Morrison. I felt like Gonzaga was taking good shots – they just weren't falling.

Should Memphis run roughshod over Conference USA as expected, they're going to make for an interesting debate for a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They've scored as many impressive wins as anyone in the country at this point, yet they have a stretch of 11 out of 13 games between January 11 and February 25 where they play teams who have RPI ranks 219 or worse (as of this morning). Given all the wins they've racked up to this point, and that they aren't responsible for the mess that Conference USA currently is, I would think they would be on track for a #1 seed, but I'm interested to see where their RPI goes.

One final point: I hope the powers that be at the headquarters of Conference USA are happy with how the conference has turned out. They had a good thing at initial formation ten years ago focusing on basketball first. Then they tried to turn it into a football conference with some ill-advised expansion. Now they're a football conference that has no spot at the BCS table and likely never will, and three-fourths of their basketball teams are in the bottom third of RPI ranks. Who's running this conference, Isiah Thomas?

Other games this week…

Portland State 54, Oregon 52. So Oregon has lost to both Portland and Portland State. Lucky for the Ducks, I don't think there are any more Division I schools in Portland for them to play.

Air Force 54, Georgia Tech 46. The Ramblin' Wreck have nary an impressive non-conference victory, and come Selection Sunday, remember this game and their loss by 22 to UIC.

Elon 74, Clemson 69. Who would have thought this? Coming into the week, Oliver Purnell's squad was 10-0. They lost a close game at Georgia at the beginning of the week, then were shocked by Elon at home – the same Elon who didn't have a Division I win coming into the game.

St. Mary's (CA) 89, Nevada 80. The Wolf Pack of Nevada have some wiggle room for upsets like this since they own wins over Kansas and Georgia, but just to make sure, I wouldn't suggest they have too many nights like this when they enter WAC play.

Now that we've moved into conference play, the Bubble Report will be updated one more time this week on Thursday, then three times a week next week for those of you who are lacking something to read while in the bathroom at work. Come February 1, I'll crank it back up to daily.

Let's go, Demons.

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