WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report - 1/11/06

Mike Adam give his take on Big East Conference play and the world of College Hoops.

I have some shocking news to start the Bubble Report today. One of my sources at work uncovered to me that Cal State Northridge of the Big West Conference may actually be using a spy to play for them:

Austen Powers

Don't let the slight difference in the spelling of his first name fool you. He's an international man of mystery – he knows how to blend. I think we have grounds for an NCAA investigation here, although I guess if he were actually good at spying, the Matadors wouldn't be 4-6 right now. Stay tuned to the Bubble Report, as we will give you up-to-the-minute updates on the status of this situation. Yeah, baby!

SportsCenter did a nice job on Monday night in its coverage of the Sean Taylor fine. For those of you who missed it, Taylor was fined $17,000 for spitting in Michael Pittman's face during Saturday's game. Although Taylor says he didn't do it, referee Mike Carey was standing right there, and it's hard to believe Carey would have missed it. Anyway, SportsCenter showed Taylor's fine relative to the $25,000 fine Jim Mora, Jr. received for using a cell phone on the sidelines in Tampa Bay on Christmas Eve, and the $50,000 fine Fred Miller and Olin Kreutz each received for fighting on their off day. Anyone else think this fine structure was a little inconsistent?

It's so un-American to not root for the underdog. Why do you think the Bears and the Panthers are busy arguing about who's been more disrespected? Even Tom Brady (yea, the guy with three Super Bowl rings) said that the Patriots have been disrespected. Everyone wants public sentiment on their side. Everyone wants to see David topple Goliath.

And that's what makes the "Bubble Report" so weird. Here, we root for the bully. We don't want "Cinderella stories". We want the status quo. Never was it more evident last night when both Minnesota and Virginia Tech were simultaneously threatening to upset ranked teams. The American in me was cheering for the Gophers and the Hokies to excite the home fans by pulling off thrilling, unexpected victories. The "Bubble Report" writer in me said, "If UNC and Wisconsin can hold these guys off, it's good for DePaul, since it knocks a couple bubble contenders down." I believe this whole discussion somehow symbolizes the inner struggle man has with himself. Who knew we were so deep here at wearedepaul.com?

To summarize my thoughts on all of the bracketology stuff that came out on Monday, I really don't understand Joe Lunardi's issue with DePaul. At least four national websites which try to accurately reflect the RPI calculation (kenpom.com, cbs.sportsline.com, warrennolan.com, and collegerpi.com) have DePaul at an RPI that not only gets them into the NCAA Tournament, but comfortably in (all hovering around 20). So I thought that perhaps Lunardi was trying to project forward and that either DePaul wouldn't perform to NCAA Tournament standards the rest of the year, or that he believed their strength-of-schedule would dip because past opponents wouldn't maintain their gaudy winning percentages.

Imagine my surprise when I read Lunardi's primer on bracketology, and the first paragraph starts this way…

"The first rule of bracketology is both simple and easily forgotten: The basis of these projections isn't necessarily what I think will happen this season but what I believe the NCAA men's basketball committee would do if the season ended today."

What? I'm not an espn.com "insider", so I can't confirm what Lunardi's RPI rank is for DePaul. My assumption, though, would be that he has DePaul at a significantly lower rank than 34, which has historically been the magic number for NCAA Tournament inclusion. If that's true, his calculation is inconsistent with many other websites who are attempting the same exercise he is. If his calculation has DePaul better than 34, then he's not being true to his statement above. Again, no team with an RPI rank better than 34 has ever missed the NCAA Tournament.

Lunardi may be the most nationally known expert on the subject…but that doesn't make him the best. Of course, he'll boast that he gets 63 or 64 out of the 65 teams right every year. Yea, so what? You're given 31 freebies (conference winners), and casual college basketball fans could probably rattle off 20 at-large teams without thinking too hard. I did the exercise of projecting the field two years ago, and I got 64 out of 65 correct, too. To quote Derrick Coleman, "Whoop dee damn doo". It's not hard for anyone with an accurate RPI rank list to get at least 60 correct.

I don't deny that Lunardi is good at what he does, but I think he gives himself too much credit for being good at what he does. For insight on bracket projections, I'll take Ken Pomeroy's blog over Lunardi's articles any day.

As of this morning, DePaul's RPI rank (according to kenpom.com) is 19.


Connecticut 70, Cincinnati 59. Well, Connecticut (13-1, 1-1, RPI: 26) is back on track, but the bigger story here is Cincinnati (12-3, 2-1, RPI: 11). They've built up plenty of goodwill with the Selection Committee over the first half of the season, but now Armein Kirkland is gone for the season. Remember, the Selection Committee considers the team you will be when you enter the NCAA Tournament in its seeding. Should the Bearcats struggle down the stretch, they could be in for a lower seed than their final record and RPI rank may indicate. It would take a meltdown for Cincinnati to end up on the "bubble", but life sure got more difficult.

Louisville 81, UC-Davis 58. Seriously, what was the point of this game? We've already started conference season, and it's not like the Cardinals (13-2, 1-1, RPI: 52) needed another meaningless win.

The Good

Wisconsin 64, Minnesota 62. Okay, Minnesota (9-4, 0-2, RPI: 117) – you're officially out of consideration until that RPI rank gets into a reasonably arguable position.

Missouri 71, Oklahoma 69. Anybody who loses to Missouri (9-4, 2-0, RPI: 92) at home is in serious bubble trouble. Welcome to the report the rest of the year, Oklahoma (9-4, 0-2, RPI: 77). Don't get seduced by the Tigers, by the way. They're still coached by Quin Snyder, which means a bad loss is just around the corner.

The Bad

I'm having a tough time identifying a score over the past two days that does serious damage to DePaul. Good.

The Ambivalent

Vanderbilt 57, Kentucky 52. This score is no accident. Vanderbilt (11-2, 2-0, RPI: 24) is really positioning themselves well for an NCAA Tournament run. Kentucky? Well, the Wildcats (10-5, 0-2, RPI: 34) have managed 18 and 20 points in the first halves of their last two games. They'd better be careful – they're in the much tougher division in the SEC, and the losses could start coming fast and furious with home-and-homes left with Florida and Tennessee, plus a trip to Vanderbilt.

North Carolina State 78, Boston College 60. Although the Wolfpack (13-2, 2-1, RPI: 30) have a much worse strength of schedule, the Eagles (10-4, 0-3, RPI: 49) are in dangerous territory starting the conference season with three straight losses. It doesn't look like the ACC's coat tails will be strong enough this year to carry a team into the NCAAs if they don't play .500 in conference.

Games to Watch over the Next 48 Hours

Georgetown at West Virginia. There was some talk on the board about "signature wins". DePaul's not the only team who could use another one. Despite two conference wins to start the season, the Hoyas (10-2, 2-0, RPI: 69) have one win against the RPI Top 100 as of this morning. Meanwhile, the Pittsnogles (9-3, 2-0, RPI: 88 ) hope to do some positive work on their RPI rank with the start of a three-game homestand.

Villanova at Rutgers. And here's another team that could use a "signature win". The Scarlet Knights (10-3, 1-0, RPI: 75), despite a good record, aren't really being taken seriously by anyone. That will change if they beat the Wildcats (10-1, 1-1, RPI: 10).

Syracuse at Notre Dame. This game might be the most important one in the entire conference all week. A loss would drop the Irish (9-4, 0-2, RPI: 84) to 0-3 in the conference and might railroad their chances for an NCAA bid before they even get started. Meanwhile, this is Syracuse's (13-2, 1-0, RPI: 32) first road game of the season and could set the tone one way or the other for the brutal stretch they're entering.

Marquette at Seton Hall. If the Golden Gold (10-4, 1-1, RPI: 65) are going to be serious about making a charge at the NCAA Tournament, these are wins they have to get. However, should the Pirates (9-4, 1-1, RPI: 67) win, it could propel them to get into the bubble chase.

Wichita State at Bradley. Despite both teams having RPI ranks in the Top 50 (Wichita State: 11-4, 3-2, RPI: 48; Bradley: 8-5, 2-3, RPI: 50), they both trail Southern Illinois, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Missouri State in that statistic. Bradley has more to lose here than the Shockers, since this game is in Peoria.

Creighton at Northern Iowa. Man, this conference is tough. It would be a huge win for the Blue Jays (9-4, 3-2, RPI: 45) to beat Northern Iowa (12-2, 4-1, RPI: 12) in Cedar Falls.

Northern Illinois at Bowling Green. Bowling Green has started out this year at 3-7, and if there was ever a chance for the Huskies (6-4, 2-1, RPI: 53) to steal a road win from the Falcons, this could be it.

Bucknell at American. Ah, yes – the Bison (9-3, 1-0, RPI: 21). Some look at that RPI rank and think it's going to sink. I don't think so. Bucknell has five true road wins already, which puts them among the nation's leaders. Road wins are so big when it comes to keeping RPI ranks buoyant.

Wake Forest at Clemson. The Demon Deacons (11-3, 0-1, RPI: 60) are trying to hand the Tigers (11-3, 1-1, RPI: 68 ) their fourth loss in five games.

Penn State at Northwestern. Until Wisconsin won last night, Northwestern (8-4, 2-0, RPI: 76) was the only Big Ten team to pull off a road victory. Life's going to get pretty tough for Northwestern after this game, so I would advise them to pick up this win.

Tulsa at UAB. The Blazers (9-3, 0-0, RPI: 38 ) should cruise over a Golden Hurricane team who boasts wins over only Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Northern Arizona, Southern, and Texas-Pan American.

Old Dominion at Georgia State. The Monarchs (11-4, 4-1, RPI: 25) get to welcome Georgia State to the Colonial Conference. Here's hoping it's a rude one.

Florida International at North Texas. You know, occasionally I'll be watching a sports score ticker, and I'll see that Florida Atlantic won and get excited. Then I remember, "Wait, that's not the one DePaul played, is it?" Arrgh.

SE Louisiana at Northwestern State. Okay, I kind of feel like "The Grinch" earlier when I said that I was rooting against the underdog, so I decided to identify an underdog we can get behind. Northwestern State plays in the Southland Conference, and while they likely have no hope of securing an at-large bid, check out their resume so far. They've beaten Mississippi State and Oklahoma State on the road, and Oregon State on a neutral court. Here are their five losses:

@ Missouri, 81-72

@ Wichita State, 57-55

vs. Iowa State, 81-77 (2 OT) (neutral site)

@ Hawaii, 80-76

@ Texas A&M, 73-61

In fact, they are the anti-Syracuse. They have yet to play a HOME game against a Division I opponent until tonight, and still stand with a 6-5 record. Should they take the automatic bid from the conference, and you see them pop up with a #14-seed in the NCAA Tournament, think hard about taking them in an upset when you fill out your brackets.

Let's go, Demons.

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