WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report – 2/19/07

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

I have mixed emotions this morning as I write. Don't get me wrong – I'm ecstatic DePaul won. Playing South Florida is usually a two-foot putt. This year, they're more a six-foot putt with a slight break. DePaul negotiated it and won, and now they have three more D-I wins than last year.

Like all of you, though, I was hoping the RPI rank would do something than just stay in place. (It's at 56 as of Monday morning.) While at first glance, it's easy to say, "See, this is what happens when you play South Florida", it's actually more a function of the teams directly around DePaul having days that were more successful than the Demons. We're going to get into all these teams as we progress through the Report, but many teams in DePaul's immediate RPI vicinity had impact wins. Consider these results, into which I'll get more depth as we go along:

Louisville (50) – won at Marquette

Drexel (51) – won at Creighton

Utah State (52) – won at Oral Roberts

Appalachian State (55) – won at Wichita State

So it's not so much that DePaul played a "bad" opponent. It's that the teams just above them all had big wins. That won't happen again, because Utah State, Drexel and Appalachian State all go back to their conferences and start playing inferior opponents again (although Utah State does have a game with Nevada left). In this respect, the whole concept of the "Bracket Buster" worked as whoever came up with it intended.

Further, consider that on Sunday, Notre Dame beat Cincinnati on the road, and the Irish's RPI rank moved up five to seven spots, depending on your favorite site. It wasn't just the win over Cincinnati, though. It was also because Maryland (who ND beat) won on the road on Sunday, too. It was easier to isolate what happened to ND because of so many fewer games across the country on Sunday versus Saturday. The former DePaul non-conference opponents who won over the weekend were:

Bradley

Kansas

Wake Forest

Rhode Island

California

However, the ones who lost were:

Northwestern

Eastern Illinois

Kentucky

Chicago State

UAB

UC-Irvine

Northwestern State

Five winners, seven losers, and Purdue didn't play. You have all these wins and losses factoring into the calculation, and when all was said and done, the calculations landed DePaul in the same place as they started the day.

I did want to say something about the thread bpmcnulty started about Joe Lunardi not being a believer in the Demons. In Lunardi's defense, when he's sitting in a chat, he has no idea what he's going to be asked. So he probably has a thumbnail ready with his thoughts on about 75-100 teams and just spits out his notes. I have the benefit of researching, hitting the delete key, researching some more, and crafting my words before I publish. Even then, I still manage to say some stupid things.

My problem with Lunardi and the other "experts" is that they aren't doing the same amount of research for each team. Quoting bp's post, Lunardi said: "The Blue Deamons [sic] have some nice wins, going back to Kansas. But I think they're too far down the Big East pecking order to be a serious at-large team." No mention of what the pecking order is. If it's RPI ranks, DePaul isn't that far away from West Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville or Syracuse, all of whom have been "in" the Tournament based on various projections. If it's conference standing, I would expect Lunardi to make mention that three of DePaul's last four games are winnable, which would push them to 9-7 in conference. How does any of this not make them a "serious" at-large team?

The contrast was never starker than on Wednesday night. A nation wrung hands and lit votive candles, hoping that Duke would straighten its act out in time to make the NCAA Tournament, even though their RPI rank never dipped below 20. High school children across the nation were given assignments in math classes to calculate Duke's projected RPI if they dropped the remainder of their conference road games. Then they win at Boston College, and now it doesn't matter if Duke even plays the rest of their games. They're "locks". Meanwhile, DePaul beats a better team (yes, I do believe Marquette is better than BC), they get a general nod of approval from the public, yet still get dismissed out of hand by most everyone because they have 11 losses and are in the middle of the Big East.

Some would argue that Duke has "earned" that right because they've been better for 20+ years. From a SportsCenter perspective, sure. If you've got an hour, Duke probably does deserve multiple minutes more coverage than DePaul, no matter what each does on a given night. However, Lunardi is supposedly the network's expert on the topic, which means I would expect more than just a one-sentence dismissal. Tell me why they're too far down in the pecking order, because I could debate almost any criteria he suggested.

I don't necessarily know if it's all Lunardi's fault. Whenever you read curmudgeonly Paul Zimmerman from cnnsi.com about his thoughts on football, he believes that the reason a network's #1 broadcast team isn't as good as the other broadcast teams is because the #1 team has a mandate to push the stars in a telecast. I think a similar effect is going on with Lunardi. As he's gained in prominence, he's probably being told, "Focus on the ACC…focus on Bobby Knight…focus on Jim Boeheim…", etc.

I do have to give kudos to Doug Gottlieb yesterday for a quick discussion he had in the morning/early afternoon about the non-linear effect of the "Bracket Busters". He was the first person, to my knowledge, who pointed out what we've all been pointing out all along – the ramifications of two mid-major teams playing each other are broader than just those teams and those conferences. Why that escapes so many other people on that network, I'll never know.

One more quick note about yesterday's results. The Valley took some bad losses this weekend in the Bracket Buster. As a result, their conference RPI fell behind the Big East in the race for fifth. That could make a difference.

Off to the scores…

Big East Scores of Bubble Relevance

Louisville 61, Marquette 59. Definitely the most intriguing game on the board for the DePaul faithful on Saturday, and it did not disappoint. Let's go one team at a time here. First, much to the chagrin of all of us, Louisville (18-8, 9-4, RPI: 50) is surging, picking up two road wins this week against 20-win teams. With home games against St. John's and Seton Hall remaining, they should cruise to 11 conference wins, which is an iron-clad NCAA Tournament resume. Now for the Golden Gold (20-7, 8-5, RPI: 32). Have you seen how they finish? They host Villanova, then go to Notre Dame, then host Pittsburgh. Which of those would you put in the "win" column without thinking twice about it? Although it's unlikely, what happens if Marquette loses its last three games and DePaul wins the two home games against the bottom feeders? Then DePaul is 9-7, Marquette is 8-8, and DePaul owns a win over them…? Let's add more intrigue – what happens if DePaul wins at ND and Marquette's scenario plays out as I suggested? Then DePaul finishes two games ahead of Marquette in the conference standings. I know, I know…unbalanced conference schedules, blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying…I'm just saying. And I really like to use ellipses for dramatic effect…

Georgetown 58, Villanova 55. It's nearly 48 hours later, and I still can't figure out how I wanted this game to turn out. On the one hand, a win by the Wildcats (17-8, 6-6, RPI: 18) would have shown how difficult it was to win at Villanova, helping DePaul (I know DePaul's game was played in the campus arena, but you get the idea). On the other hand, the loss keeps DePaul ahead of ‘Nova in the conference standings. And ‘Nova's computer numbers are still off the charts. They are going to be one of the most difficult teams to handicap from now until Selection Sunday. By the way, the winning margin in this game was that half-court shot that the Hoyas sunk at the end of the first half. The game obviously would have played out differently in the second half had the margin been five instead of two, but…

Notre Dame 76, Cincinnati 64. Funny, I thought I would be enjoying Cincinnati's tumble into the abyss more. But I really don't have anything against Mick Cronin or any of the current Cincinnati players, so I don't really have any feeling towards it. Anyway, Notre Dame (20-6, 8-5, RPI: 48) is now a 20-win team, and it just amplifies the opportunity DePaul has in front of them.

Syracuse 73, Connecticut 63. Is there a less-impressive 19-win team in the country than Syracuse (19-8, 8-5, RPI: 63)? With the exception of their win at Marquette, every game of consequence this season they've either played at home or lost on the road. If their RPI rank can't climb above 50, I would love for the Selection Committee to tell them, "Nope, sorry, you can't come this year."

Providence 71, St. John's 66. Providence's (16-9, 6-6, RPI: 68) chances will probably be made or broken in their next two games, home ones with West Virginia and Syracuse. If they lose them both, they only have road games with South Florida and St. John's remaining to increase their standing before the Big East Tournament.

West Virginia 81, Seton Hall 71. After their win over UCLA, all the Pittsnogles (19-6, 8-5, RPI: 49) have to do is hold serve the remainder of the way, and they should make it to the NCAA Tournament. Beating a mediocre Seton Hall team qualifies as "holding serve".

ACC Scores of Bubble Relevance

Virginia 73, Florida State 70. Chalk up another one for the Father of Modern Basketball and his Cavaliers (17-7, 9-3, RPI: 35). They're going dancing at this point – there's not much debate on the matter. However, the good news is that Florida State (17-10, 5-8, RPI: 39) got dinged yet again, which makes four consecutive losses. Lose any of their last three, and they'll be guaranteed to finish under .500 in conference. I know the ACC is powerful this year, but powerful enough to carry a 7-9 team? Hmm…I don't know.

Duke 71, Georgia Tech 62. As much as it pains me to root for Duke, they usually do a good job of cleaning up the bubble teams at this time of year. While Georgia Tech (17-9, 5-7, RPI: 47) has a decent RPI, they only have one true road win and three overall road/neutral wins. They only have one chance remaining to gather one before the ACC Tournament, at Virginia. Their remaining home games are Wake Forest, Boston College and North Carolina. High risk, high reward for the last two.

North Carolina State 81, Virginia Tech 56. Odd that the Not Castrated Turkeys (17-8, 8-4, RPI: 24) can sweep North Carolina yet get swept by North Carolina State. It almost feels like they played this game knowing that they had house money to spare. Best not take that attitude too much longer.

Maryland 82, Clemson 66. The two teams headed into the game with nearly identical resumes. Maryland (20-7, 6-6, RPI: 19) came out the clear-cut better team, and are safe for NCAA Tournament inclusion. Clemson (19-7, 5-7, RPI: 30) is in big trouble, kids – seven losses in their last nine games, and Duke comes calling on Thursday, followed by a trip to Boston College on Saturday.

SEC Scores of Bubble Relevance

Vanderbilt 83, Florida 70. So who's in second place in the SEC East? Kentucky? Tennessee? Nope, it's the Commodores (17-8, 8-4, RPI: 34) who probably punched a dance ticket Saturday with this win. Theoretically, they could lose five in a row to end the season, but I don't think any of us could foresee that.

Alabama 72, Kentucky 61. Despite the three-game losing streak, Kentucky's RPI rank is still in the Top 10, so DePaul's good there. The problem is, this last loss came at Alabama (19-7, 6-6, RPI: 23), who was pretty desperate for a win like this. I don't think the Tide are totally out of the woods yet, but this win went a long way to getting them out.

Arkansas 83, Mississippi 66. I'm not sure which is more significant here – the win by the Razorbacks (16-10, 5-7, RPI: 41) to keep them afloat in the bubble picture, or the loss by the Rebels (17-9, 6-6, RPI: 65) to knock them down a peg. I can't see anyone from the SEC getting in with less than an 8-8 conference record. For Arkansas to accomplish the feat, they'll have to either beat Tennessee at home or win at Vanderbilt, assuming they hold serve at Auburn and at home against Mississippi State. For Mississippi to do it, they have to win two of these: Georgia, @ South Carolina, @ Alabama, vs. Auburn.

Georgia 86, Auburn 79. This was a no-win situation for the ‘Dawgs (15-9, 7-5, RPI: 53). A win over Auburn doesn't do much for the profile, while a loss would have been devastating for a team teetering on the outskirts of the Top 50. Georgia's day of reckoning will come as they finish the season at Mississippi, at Kentucky and at home to Tennessee (with Mississippi State squeezed in there). Actually, that's more like two weeks of reckoning, isn't it?

Big 10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Michigan 58, Indiana 55. Surprise – the Wolverines (18-9, 6-6, RPI: 58) have a faint pulse left, although it's still hard to take a team seriously when they're ½ game behind Iowa in the conference standings. They have a game at Illinois on Wednesday, which is really shaping up to be huge for both teams. I wonder if they can both lose.

Michigan State 91, Iowa 49. Speaking of Iowa, nice of them to show up for this game. Michigan State's (19-8, 6-6, RPI: 31) computer numbers are good, but they finish with a home-and-home with Wisconsin, a home game with Indiana, and a trip to Michigan. If they just win one of those, would 7-9 in the Big Ten be good enough this year?

Illinois 48, Northwestern 37. The Wildcats continue to redefine the term "taffy pull", as they scores a whopping 15 points in the second half in losing to the Illini (19-9, 7-6, RPI: 44). While I wouldn't classify this as a "big" win for Illinois, I would classify it as a necessary one.

Big XII Scores of Bubble Relevance

Texas 68, Baylor 67. So here's why this bears watching: Texas (19-7, 9-3, RPI: 46) is in third place in the only BCS conference behind the Big East, and their RPI rank is within ten spots of DePaul's. The Longhorns have a gauntlet to run to finish the season: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma, Texas A&M, @ Kansas. If they finish, say, 10-6, their RPI rank is not going to finish much differently than a 9-7 DePaul team's will. So why is Texas a "lock" almost everywhere you look, yet DePaul can't even nose into the picture in some places? May I point out again that Texas has eight wins against teams with RPI ranks 200 or worse. Mack Brown is already blaming it on the BCS, even though this isn't even his sport.

Kansas State 65, Iowa State 47. The Huggy Bears (19-8, 8-4, RPI: 54) are going to get to 20 wins, yet their RPI rank is still pretty bad for a team getting to that threshold. Regardless, I don't see any way they get left out of the Tournament at this point, as they have a couple of winnable games left on their regular season schedule and will probably win a game or two in the Big XII Tournament.

Texas A&M 56, Oklahoma 49. I think this one probably permanently took the steam out of the Sooners' (14-10, 6-6, RPI: 83) NCAA Tournament chances. But they can play spoiler for the rest of us, as they have Texas and Kansas State remaining on the schedule.

Missouri 75, Oklahoma State 64. Six losses in nine games, and the Cowboys (18-7, 5-6, RPI: 36) are fading. It doesn't get any easier, as they host Texas A&M, then travel to Texas Tech, then host Kansas State. I don't see how 8-8 in the seventh-rated RPI conference is good enough for an at-large selection, even if they do have 20 wins. Then again, I've been wrong before – probably a few times in this Report already.

Texas Tech 95, Colorado 74. Nothing particularly impressive about beating Colorado at home, but the Red Raiders (17-10, 6-6, RPI: 40) have now won two in a row to steady themselves a bit in the bubble picture. And since I have nothing else to add, I would just like to comment on how I got dumber this week just by listening to Mike North for five minutes. Rarely do I flip him on, but I was hoping he would discuss the DePaul win over Marquette. I happened to catch him talking to Mike DeCourcy, and North was making an argument for Texas Tech's inclusion into the Tournament by saying, "How is it an NCAA Tournament if Bobby Knight's not involved?" This is insight you can't get anywhere else, folks.

Pac-10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Stanford 88, Oregon 69. This was the win that probably put Stanford (17-8, 9-5, RPI: 38) over the hump when it comes to NCAA Tournament inclusion. They're guaranteed a .500 finish in conference (if not better), and the RPI will probably settle in a solid place. I had some brief thoughts about Oregon being in trouble (since their RPI has sunk to the mid-30s), but they don't have a road game left this season. They host the Washington schools, then finish up with the cross-state rival. They'll be fine.

Arizona State 68, USC 58. Wow. Arizona State had lost its last 15 games in a row coming into this one. Although the game was in Tempe, even weak sister Oregon State came to ASU and escaped with a win. USC (19-8, 9-5, RPI: 61) has some goodwill built up, but how much of it did they lose with this loss?

Missouri Valley Scores of Bubble Relevance

Bradley 73, Virginia Commonwealth 64. For the DePaul faithful, this was the shiniest result of the weekend. Not only did Bradley (18-10, 9-7, RPI: 29) go soaring up 8-10 spots in the RPI rank, but they did it at the expense of another bubble contender on its home floor, VCU (22-6, 14-2, RPI: 57). Bradley doesn't have a road game left in the regular season. It's conceivable they could get to 20 wins before the Valley Tournament. Meanwhile, for the Rams, although it's just two losses in three games, their RPI rank has taken a hit, and they've fallen down Lunardi's famous "pecking order" when it comes to at-large bids.

Drexel 64, Creighton 58. When I fell asleep, Creighton (18-9, 12-4, RPI: 27) was nudging its way to a double-digit second-half lead. When I woke up, the two teams were shaking hands, and Drexel (19-7, 11-5, RPI: 51). First thought: I'm old. What time did this game end, 11 pm? I couldn't make it on a Saturday night? Sheesh. Second thought: I'm glad Drexel lost its prior game to William & Mary, because they'd be picking up some serious steam otherwise. Third thought: is Creighton in any sort of trouble? Probably not, although they'd be wise to pick up a split in their last two regular season games and go deep in the Valley Tournament.

Winthrop 77, Missouri State 66. If Missouri State (18-9, 10-6, RPI: 42) gets left out of the NCAA Tournament, this could be the loss at which they look back. The RPI fell about 6-8 spots because of it. Their saving grace might be the conference record, which could finish at 12-6. But it's hard to say which team has the third-best resume in the Valley right now, the Bears or the Braves.

Appalachian State 60, Wichita State 58. So does this result change my opinion of Appalachian State's (18-6, 12-3, RPI: 55) chances for an at-large selection? No. This is clearly not the same Wichita State (16-11, 8-8, RPI: 81) team as past years. Had the Mountaineers played Southern Illinois or Creighton, I doubt the result would have been the same. No worries here – both of these teams are headed to the NIT without winning their conference tournaments.

Other Scores of Bubble Relevance

Hofstra 65, Holy Cross 64. Talk about hanging by a string. The Pride (19-8, 12-4, RPI: 67) would have had the knockout blow delivered by the Crusaders had they lost at home. Even with the win, though, Hofstra was in a much better position last year, and they were left out of the NCAA Tournament. They have no juice left on their schedule, as their last two games are against teams who are a combined 13-40. Enjoy the NIT.

Old Dominion 73, Toledo 70. Now the Monarchs (21-7, 13-3, RPI: 45) have the highest RPI rank in the Colonial Athletic Association, which all of a sudden makes them an at-large threat. They should head into the conference tournament on an 11-game winning streak and every piece of momentum going their way.

Utah State 71, Oral Roberts 65. The Aggies (19-7, 8-4, RPI: 52) have been a frequent visitor on here in years past, but this is their first appearance in 2007. Basically, what warrants their inclusion is the RPI rank, but they still sit in third place in the conference. They're going to have to leapfrog New Mexico State (who would be included except for an RPI rank at 70) to get a serious at-large look.

Memphis 78, Gonzaga 77 (OT). Bubble teams everywhere cheered this result. As much as Gonzaga (18-10, 8-3, RPI: 71) are media darlings, there's no way they get an at-large bid with an RPI rank this low. And they have little to no chance of improvement, as only one other team in the conference sits with a RPI rank better than 100 – Santa Clara, who beat them at home earlier in the week. The West Coast Conference has shrunk to a certain one-bid league.

Let's go, Demons.

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