WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report – 2/12/07

WeAreDePaul.com's Mike Adam is back with the Monday edition of his Bubble Blog...

I've had a little more time to take stock over the weekend about DePaul's NCAA Tournament situation. Some thoughts on where I stand:

- Cincinnati and the home-and-home with South Florida are all "must-win" games. Duh. One very minor victory here: South Florida is usually in the 200s when it comes to RPI rank, and this year, they've in the 150-170 range, so the two games against them will likely fall in a different RPI bucket. When all is said and done, DePaul will likely end the year with only one game against a team with an RPI of 200 or worse – Eastern Illinois. Seriously, we have to get them off the schedule until they improve their program. My recommendation for a replacement would be Illinois State. Even if they're having a down year, the strength of the Valley will keep their RPI up.

- On Friday, I was a bit ambivalent as to whether the Marquette or Notre Dame game was more important. I think I've hardened a bit on my stance. If I had the choice of only winning one of the games, it would be Notre Dame. Here's why:

a) It's possible Notre Dame and DePaul could end up within five RPI rank spots of one another when all is said and done. A season sweep of the Irish would look really nice when comparing the two teams, especially considering both wins would occur in the last ten games of the season.

b) I keep harping on a magic number of five road/neutral wins. Wins at South Florida and Notre Dame get DePaul to five before the conference tournament.

Obviously, this is not to diminish the importance of the Marquette game, but DePaul has to start getting its ducks in a row. As I mentioned earlier this season, my philosophy when trying to figure out who should be in the NCAA Tournament is to work backwards. Instead of telling me why a team SHOULD be included, tell me why a team SHOULDN'T be included. Let me revisit the criteria I suggested:

1) Inadequate overall record

2) Inadequate conference record

3) Inadequate non-conference schedule power

4) Inadequate distribution of victories relative to RPI ranks

5) Inadequate number of road/neutral wins

6) Inadequate record in last ten games

7) Inadequate conference tournament showing

So where does DePaul stand?

1) 13-11 is no great shakes, obviously. It probably has to turn into at least 17-12 before the Big East Tournament.

2) If the overall record gets to 17-12, DePaul will be at least 9-7 in conference. Will that be good enough? Well, you can't say in isolation whether it is or it isn't. However, if DePaul gets to over .500 in a BCS conference, you've eliminated a reason why DePaul can't be selected. Regardless of your perception of how "down" the Big East is this year, only three BCS-conference schools with winning records in conference were not selected for the NCAA Tournament last year: Stanford, Colorado and Florida State. Stanford finished 15-13 overall and had an RPI rank that settled at 86. As for the other two…

3) Here were the '05-'06 non-conference strength-of-schedules for Colorado and Florida State:

Colorado – 271

Florida State – 316

DePaul's non-conference strength-of-schedule continues to hover in the 70-80 range. Combine that with the Big East schedule, and you have DePaul's overall strength-of-schedule inside the Top 20. That will likely change because three of the remaining five games will give it a hit, but it's nothing to worry about.

4) If only Notre Dame could nose its way back into the Top 50, that would give DePaul three Top 50 wins…and possibly four, if they can complete the sweep. Kansas and Villanova will be safely nestled in the Top 50 for the remainder of the season, so you can count on at least two at resume-evaluation time. While three sounds meager, consider that 13 schools received at-large bids last year with three or fewer Top 50 wins. The problem is that most of these schools suffered barely any losses outside the Top 100, and DePaul has three: Northwestern, UAB and St. John's. It doesn't look like any of those teams will be joining the Top 100 anytime soon.

5) With only three road/neutral wins at the moment, DePaul is lumped in with a group that includes Virginia, Purdue, Michigan State, Georgia and Notre Dame, among others. How many of those folks do you consider "locks"? This criterion is the one that's making me the most nervous. A Big East Tournament win or two would help solve this, of course.

6) This one's pretty simple. DePaul has to get hot to be considered for an at-large bid. If they get hot, the record in the last ten games takes care of itself.

7) The wildcard in all of this. The first game in New York is essential – so much so that a loss there could ruin points #1 - #6. Ask Cincinnati about last season. Not only does DePaul have to show the Selection Committee they can excel in a "one and done" situation, but they really need the win from an overall and a road/neutral perspective. I've been trying to play with scenarios in my head as to how I want the first- and second-round match-ups to line up for optimal DePaul success, and I can't decide what I would want. Whatever the pairings might be, I think I'd really like to avoid Georgetown in a possible second-round match-up. They seem to be peaking, and DePaul just does not match up well with Hibbert. (Too pre-mature here? A week ago, some were asking about whether DePaul would even qualify for the conference tournament, and now I'm wondering about second-round match-ups?)

As of this morning DePaul's RPI rank is 65. Before we go to the scores, I have one random statistic I encountered as I was doing my research. DePaul currently has two wins against the RPI Top 50. Conference USA as a whole has two wins against the RPI Top 50. So while some wonder about DePaul's "worthiness" of being in the Big East, one of the alternatives is far from palatable.

Big East Scores of Bubble Relevance

West Virginia 70, UCLA 65. So, like I was saying on Friday, I'm completely sold on the Pittsnogles (18-5, 7-4, RPI: 38). They have two remaining home games against Seton Hall and Cincinnati. Win those, they're at 20 wins, and no one's even thinking twice about their Tournament resume.

Louisville 83, South Florida 63. Louisville (16-8, 7-4, RPI: 73) is the hamster of the Big East. They keep winning, yet their RPI goes nowhere. I would feel some personal satisfaction if Pitino, Boeheim and Calhoun were all left out of the NCAA Tournament despite good W-L records because their non-conference scheduling philosophies bit them.

Syracuse 76, St. John's 74. See above. But for completeness sake, here are Syracuse's relevant statistics: 17-8, 6-5, RPI: 62.

Pittsburgh 74, Providence 68. Game effort by the Friars (15-8, 5-5, RPI: 52), but they lost a chance to pick up an impact win. An interesting game is coming up for them for both teams at Notre Dame on Thursday.

Villanova 78, Seton Hall 69. If it weren't for the .500 conference record, we wouldn't even be talking about Villanova (16-7, 5-5, RPI: 13) on the bubble. By the time all is said and done, they'll probably get to nine or ten wins in the conference and render the whole conversation moot.

ACC Scores of Bubble Relevance

Virginia Tech 84, Virginia 57. I know, I'm as shocked as you. I actually called numerous newspapers in Virginia to confirm that this score was right, and it was. The Father of Modern Basketball and his Cavaliers (15-7, 8-3, RPI: 35) not only lost, but did so by 27 points - and to a rival, the Not Castrated Turkeys (16-7, 7-3, RPI: 33). In other news, the sun will be rising in the West for the remainder of the week.

Boston College 68, Florida State 67. A nice win for the Eagles (18-6, 9-2, RPI: 19), who don't seem to be missing Sean Williams in the middle too much. The Seminoles (17-8, 5-6, RPI: 29) are still in pretty good bubble shape despite the loss, although I wouldn't recommend too many more home losses for them.

Maryland 72, Duke 60. I suppose it was about time for the Terrapins (18-7, 4-6, RPI: 34) to make their annual appearance on the Bubble Report – although beating Duke isn't as lustrous as it once was. The Blue Devils have lost four in a row, and they'd better be careful, lest they end up the subject of one of these blurbs. I'm begging someone at ESPN to wrangle up Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis before they start spreading too much ACC love and explaining to America why everyone in the conference with records of 6-10 or better should get into the NCAA Tournament. I'm looking at you, Len Elmore and Jimmy Dykes. You're the voices of reason on there.

Georgia Tech 65, Connecticut 52. I'm sure the Yellow Jackets (16-8, 4-6, RPI: 55) were expecting more juice from this win when they scheduled them. Instead, they got an NIT-bound Husky (15-9, 4-6, RPI: 83) squad. Tech has to start moving up the ACC standings to be considered seriously, as they sit in a tie for 8th right now.

SEC Scores of Bubble Relevance

LSU 71, Arkansas 67. LSU (14-10, 3-7, RPI: 78) is out of the bubble chase. This blurb is more about Arkansas (15-9, 4-6, RPI: 37) who seem to be in the bubble chase solely because of neutral-site wins in the same pre-conference tournament over Southern Illinois and West Virginia. They're certainly not doing anything in conference to distinguish themselves.

Tennessee 84, Vanderbilt 57. Just like Arizona is an anomaly in the Pac-10, Tennessee (17-8, 5-5, RPI: 14) has an extremely high RPI rank but is in fifth place in the SEC East. On the other hand, Vanderbilt (15-8, 6-4, RPI: 48) leads the Volunteers in the standings, but is yards behind in RPI rank. Luckily for the Commodores, their two toughest games remaining (Florida and Kentucky) are both at home.

Georgia 73, South Carolina 54. Welcome to one of only two teams in America with 13 or fewer wins that has a higher RPI rank than DePaul, the Georgia Bulldogs (13-9, 6-5, RPI: 43). (Ironically, the other is Cal, who is just one spot ahead of DePaul in the RPI ranks.) If they can finish over .500 in the tougher division of the SEC, they become a major player in the bubble chase.

Mississippi 75, Alabama 69. Seriously, does anyone want to win the SEC West? Both of these teams are now 5-5, and they are tied for the lead in the division? While everyone is celebrating the job that Tony Bennett is doing at Washington State (and rightfully so), what about Andy Kennedy in his first year at Mississippi (16-8, 5-5, RPI: 60)? The Rebels already have one more conference win and four more total wins than they did last season. Alabama (18-6, 5-5, RPI: 30) has good computer numbers, but they can't seem to beat anyone in conference except the bottom of the two divisions.

Big 10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Indiana 65, Illinois 61. Hopefully, these two teams won't meet in the conference tournament, so we can put the most analyzed handshakes this side of Mangini-Belichick to bed for the year. I watched the ABC news on Saturday night, and Jeff Blanzy made this loss sound almost fatalistic for ILL-INI (18-9, 6-6, RPI: 41). Well, Jeff, go look at their schedule and explain to me how you don't forecast at least 21 wins for this team. Home games with Northwestern and Michigan? Road game at Penn State? It would be a surprise if Illinois isn't in the Tournament.

Michigan 82, Minnesota 80. The Wolverines (17-8, 5-5, RPI: 58) are the Sydney Carton of the Big 10, slowly making his way to the guillotine (you know it's late when I'm busting out references from "A Tale of Two Cities"). All this result does is delay the inevitable. If Michigan was serious about making an NCAA Tournament run, they would be thumping bad teams at home like Minnesota, not escaping them. With the exception of a trip to complete the home-and-home with the Gophers, no other team on their remaining schedule has fewer than 17 wins.

Ohio State 63, Purdue 56. The Boilermakers (16-9, 5-6, RPI: 40) have some pretty good computer numbers, but they have to pick up road/neutral wins. They have chances - the two remaining road games are at Iowa and at Northwestern. A win or two in the Big Ten Tournament would help that cause, too.

Big XII Scores of Bubble Relevance

Oklahoma State 93, Texas Tech 91 (2 OT). It may have been a gutsy effort from Robert Montgomery Knight's crew, but it doesn't change the fact that the Red Raiders (15-10, 4-6, RPI: 45) have lost five in a row and are now in seventh place in conference. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State (18-5, 5-4, RPI: 20) got a clutch victory and have taken the bubble heat off themselves.

Kansas State 78, Colorado 59. The Huggy Bears (18-7, 7-3, RPI: 49) keep stacking up wins, and there are enough easy ones remaining that they should cruise into the NCAAs. Who's in charge of setting the over/under on Huggins' redemption articles and/or "What an idiot Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher is" articles in the middle of March?

Oklahoma 68, Baylor 64. So Oklahoma (14-8, 6-4, RPI: 61) head coach Jeff Capel and I are the same age. He left Virginia Commonwealth with enough talent that they could qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and he's guiding the Sooners to the outskirts of the bubble in his first year there. Meanwhile, this weekend, I, um…yea. Between this and the guys on the RPI forecast site, I'm going to be in therapy very soon.

Texas 77, Iowa State 68. In the grand scheme of things, this win doesn't do much for the Longhorns (17-7, 7-3, RPI: 54) other than give them a win. Then again, they still need a little help in most departments when it comes to their Tournament resume.

Pac-10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Washington 64, Stanford 52. No, no, no, Washington (16-8, 6-7, RPI: 74) – you don't get consideration until you move your road/neutral win total off the number one. This is more about Stanford (15-8, 7-5, RPI: 39), who doesn't really move me to project them one way or the other at the moment. Maybe in a couple of weeks, I can make a call.

Missouri Valley Scores of Bubble Relevance

Southern Illinois 72, Creighton 68. This was like one of those boxing movies where the two fighters pound the crap out of each other. One wins, but respects the other so much that he lifts the glove of the other as well. (I don't remember if or when it occurred in any of the "Rocky" movies, or else I would cite it here.) Anyway, neither of these teams has bubble trouble after this result. The Salukis (20-5, 12-3, RPI: 9) are fine. The Bluejays (17-8, 11-4, RPI: 25) are clearly a step behind Southern, but a step ahead of most of the bubble field.

Bradley 100, Drake 85. It's a manageable schedule for the Braves (16-10, 8-7, RPI: 46) down the stretch, with their most challenging game the Bracket Buster at Virginia Commonwealth. Even if they lose that game and win out in conference, would you bet against an 11-7 MVC team having a worthwhile case for the NCAAs? I wouldn't.

Missouri State 62, Northern Iowa 58. The Bears (18-7, 10-5, RPI: 32) continue to do everything in their power to convince the Selection Committee not to snub them again this year. It seems pretty clear that Missouri State is the third-best team in the Valley, and that should be good enough to go to the NCAA Tournament.

Wichita State 69, Illinois State 64. I made "A Tale of Two Cities" reference earlier. The Shockers (16-9, 8-7, RPI: 69) have been a tale of three seasons. First they won eight in a row. Then they lost eight of 11. Now they've won five of six. And I'm done predicting whether they're in or out.

Other Scores of Bubble Relevance

Xavier 87, George Washington 58. While some early-season press went to Massachusetts, as we head down the home stretch, it's the Musketeers (18-7, 8-3, RPI: 36) who have the best case for NCAA at-large inclusion. There's a showdown looming on February 21 with their co-conference leader at the moment…Rhode Island. That's right, we forgot all about the Rams since the Bubble Report is just focusing on at-large worthy teams, but Rhode Island is a big win away from cracking the RPI Top 100 and giving DePaul another win in that bracket. (They sit at 105 this morning.)

Appalachian State 72, Wofford 52. I'm doing this more as a public service announcement than anything, because the Mountaineers (16-6, 5-3, RPI: 59) might get some play from the more creative bracketologists. But we need to squash that right now. Appalachian State is actually 4-2 against the RPI Top 100, and all four of the wins were either at neutral sites or on the road. And they get a fifth crack at one this Saturday, as they head to Wichita State. But that's about where the argument ends. Anyone who loses to Elon (that would be 3-18 Elon) is not in consideration for a NCAA at-large, in my opinion.

Old Dominion 79, Virginia Commonwealth 63. I can't penalize the Rams (21-5, 13-2, RPI: 44) too much for this loss. The Monarchs (19-7, 12-3, RPI: 57) are laying in the weeds in second place in the conference, and with a late push could probably make themselves a strong bubble case.

BYU 85, TCU 72. It's impossible to deny the Cougars (18-6, 9-2, RPI: 23) entry to the NCAA Tournament if they stay ahead of two teams in conference who have RPI ranks in the Top 20. That's currently the case, as BYU leads both Air Force and UNLV, the more-heralded conference members.

Gonzaga 60, St. Mary's 49. The Bulldogs (18-8, 8-2, RPI: 56) took care of the first leg of their three-team challenge, although this was likely the easiest of the three teams. Next up: Monday hosting co-conference leader Santa Clara. If they were smart, the two schools would have scheduled a one-on-one halftime game between alums John Stockton and Steve Nash. With Nash's sore shoulder, I think it'd be even.

Let's go, Demons.

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