WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report – 2/26/07

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

In past seasons, I have invoked Tom Petty in Bubble Reports. You know the one: "And I'm freeeeee…I'm free-falllllin!" (These words could apply to Oklahoma State and Clemson right now, by the way.) Today, I prefer to invoke another Petty song lyric: "The wai-ting is the hardest part." DePaul has no control over its own destiny until Saturday. Until then, we have to watch as DePaul's RPI tosses and turns like a ship at sea.

It certainly was a welcome bit of news that Seth Davis predicts that the Demons will get into the NCAA Tournament. I can actually see him advocating that stance, since Davis has written articles in the past that praise those who go out and play. The strength of schedule is still bopping around the Top 20, and the South Florida game won't do much damage to it (it's only one data point of 29).

The RPI rank fell by a smidge, which is the problem. DePaul has no smidges to spare at this point. What's going to happen when DePaul plays South Florida on Saturday? I have no idea. Should they win, they might fall a smidge again. But who's to say that during the week, DePaul doesn't picks up a few spots based on other results across the country?

I wanted to quickly address a question Dan had on Friday (sorry, Dan, that I didn't get to it until now) was about how much the human opinion will go into this process. Well, I think where the Selection Committee is most likely to against the numbers is if a team is streaking one way or the other coming down the stretch. I alluded to Oklahoma State and Clemson above. Despite RPI ranks above DePaul's, no one can convince me that either of these teams is ahead of DePaul at the moment. Clemson's lost nine of 11, and Oklahoma State has lost six of seven. Clemson will finish under .500 in conference, and Oklahoma State can't do any better than .500.

On the other side of the ledger, teams that have made an emphatic charge late often get selected, even if the computers suggest otherwise. For example, the 2005 Iowa State Cyclones had a six-game losing streak in the middle of their season, then ripped off ten of 13 (including the conference tournament). In that stretch, they beat four RPI Top 50 teams, including Kansas and Texas on the road. Then finished 18-11 and an RPI rank in the 60s, yet got into the #8-#9 game in the NCAA Tournament. In 2004, the Nate Robinson-led Washington Huskies started their season at 5-8, then won 14 of their last 17 to finish at 19-11, but an RPI rank in the 70s. They qualified for an #8-#9 game, as well.

Don't get me wrong – those are extreme cases. DePaul's case is nowhere near either of those. However, if I had to make a pitch to the Selection Committee on DePaul's behalf, should the Demons win over South Florida, they will be 16-8 since returning from Maui. In that span, they've won four true road games, including one against a Top 25 RPI opponent.

Big deal, right? Remember the impetus for the whole RPI formula change to begin with? A study was done which determined that the home team won about 67%-70% of the games in college basketball, so the RPI would give some extra weight to teams who could accomplish the feat. While DePaul is 4-10 in road/neutral games this season, they are 4-8 in true road games – which is a 33% winning percentage, which is actually on par with the findings of the study.

http://cbs.sportsline.com/collegebasketball/story/8170522/1

(This article cites 67%, but you can find other articles where Selection Committee Chair Bob Bowlsby said 70%.) These numbers would suggest DePaul is an "average" road team, not a "bad" one. And, of course, since Maui, DePaul is 4-6 on the road. Sure, two of the road wins were at Rutgers and South Florida, but if you're going to do down that slope, then I'll show that you Indiana has two true road wins, Penn State and Connecticut. Or that Michigan State has one true road win, Penn State. Or that Notre Dame's two true road wins are Syracuse and Cincinnati. All of these teams have better overall profiles, but to condemn DePaul solely for its road record is not correct, in my opinion.

Of course, it's not as easy as saying to the Selection Committee, "Yea, you know those first five games? Those were just practice." But for the balance of the season since coming back from Hawaii, DePaul has performed as well as teams under NCAA Tournament consideration. The question becomes just how much the beginning of the season sunk DePaul's chances, and have they/will they do enough to recover. I don't know. Guess we'll all find out together.

As for the Bubble Report, we're going to cut this a little differently from here on out. Not that I think the Cincinnati win tips the scales, but I think it's worth tracking three sets of data from here on out:

1) "The Good", "The Bad", and "The Ambivalent": these are the former non-conference opponents

2) The Bubble Contenders

3) Conference Tournaments. One note here – the teams that fall in this section are the tournaments that start before the next Bubble Report. For example, although the Missouri Valley is done with the regular season, they won't appear in the "Conference Tournament" section until Wednesday, since their conference tournament doesn't start until Thursday night. Got that? Me neither.

As of this morning, DePaul's RPI rank is at 61. It was 59 as of Sunday morning, and one of the main drivers for the fall on Sunday was likely Kentucky's loss at Vanderbilt.

The Good

Kansas 89, Iowa State 52. At least the Demons can count on "Rock, Chalk" (25-4, 12-2, RPI: 15) to continue to win handily. Unfortunately, unless Texas A&M loses one of its last two games, the Aggies win the tiebreaker and get the #1 seed by virtue of their win over the Jayhawks at the beginning of the month. It would be nice to say that DePaul has a win over the Big XII champion.

Northwestern State 71, Southeast Louisiana 65. So what have the other Demons (13-13, 9-5, RPI: 174) been up to since we left them? Well, they do lead the East Division of the Southland Conference by a game, but they have the third-best overall conference record. It's going to be a challenge for them to repeat a trip to the NCAAs, with Sam Houston State (RPI: 97) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (RPI: 108) the two teams through which they'll have to plow to win the conference tournament.

UAB 70, Marshall 57. I can't help but shake my head every time I look at this conference. Why C-USA imploded itself is beyond me. UAB (15-13, 7-7, RPI: 111) continues its descent as a program into irrelevant mediocrity. There's not much credibility in beating the Marshalls of the world.

Chicago State 0, Nobody 0. Chicago State's season is over, thank goodness.

The Bad

Fordham 71, Rhode Island 62. (sigh) Just when you want to think that the Rams (15-12, 10-5, RPI: 113) could really help the Demons, they go and do this. It's not like Fordham is terrible, but to lose the game at home…sheesh.

Samford 71, Eastern Illinois 45. Eastern Illinois' (9-20, 6-14, RPI: 308) season is over now, too. They didn't qualify for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, which only takes the top eight teams in the conference. It was a valiant effort to get above RPI rank 300, but EIU was not up to the challenge…again. Please, someone get them off the schedule.

USC 84, California 66. I'm not sure what sort of magic trick Cal (14-14, 6-10, RPI: 68) is using to stay in the Top 70 of the RPI, but I'm all for it. At least their last two games are at home, so maybe they can grab a couple more wins. USC has 21 wins and 11 in conference, so it's hard for me to project them on the bubble. Should they get swept up in Washington next weekend, though…

The Ambivalent

Purdue 75, Northwestern 68. I suppose this is theoretically "bad" since Purdue (18-10, 7-7, RPI: 47) is going to be battling DePaul for an at-large spot. But either way, DePaul played both teams, so they don't lose anything from a schedule power perspective.

The Bubble Contenders

Big East

Notre Dame 85, Marquette 73. I know the words are flying fast and furious in other threads about tiebreakers and the like, and I'll leave that to those who are more passionate about it to do the research. It would be nice optically to see DePaul and Marquette finish at 9-7 in conference, but then the Committee is going to start digging into the unbalanced scheduling and likely declare Marquette the "winner" from that perspective. Actually, I'm happy about this result for another reason: Notre Dame (22-6, 10-5, RPI: 37) finishes the season undefeated at home, so DePaul's loss there, while ugly, is nothing that anyone else didn't do. Further, I don't see any way the Irish drop out of the Top 50 for the remainder of the season, so the Demons have cemented four Top 50 wins. Every little thing helps.

Syracuse 71, Providence 67. While most seemed to focus on the Syracuse (20-8, 9-5, RPI: 53) side of the equation, I look at the silver lining here that for all intents and purposes, Providence (17-10, 7-7, RPI: 71) is knocked out of the at-large picture. Road wins against South Florida and St. John's will be helpful, assuming they can get them (quite the assumption, given they have one road win all season), but probably don't have enough juice to push past enough teams to get back to serious bubble consideration.

Villanova 74, Rutgers 51. Did you know that New Jersey is the only state in the country whose official state university does not have the name of the state in it? Rutgers is the official state university of the Garden State. (This is the kind of knowledge you get when you watch "Jeopardy!" on the weekends.) And that's about all I have to say that's remotely interesting about the Scarlet Knights. As for the enigma that is Villanova (18-9, 7-7, RPI: 22), they finally saw a small slide in the RPI rank that has otherwise stayed in the Top 20 all season. They have the most intriguing week in the conference ahead, playing at Connecticut, then hosting Syracuse.

ACC

Boston College 59, Clemson 54. I can just hear the ACC apologists in full force trying to defend Clemson (19-9, 5-9, RPI: 41). "But, but, but…we're the best conference in the country! Doesn't this prove it? Clemson went 14-0 against everyone else and 5-9 against the greatest basketball programs in the land!" Yea, whatever. As mentioned, Clemson's lost nine of 11. They get an easy one at home against Miami, then have to travel to Virginia Tech to finish the regular season. A 6-10 conference record is a distinct possibility, and that won't be good enough for the NCAA Tournament.

Florida State 78, North Carolina State 52. Too little, too late, or did FSU (18-11, 6-9, RPI: 48) stop the bleeding soon enough? The five-game losing streak the Seminoles had by the boards, and they theoretically should finish off the regular season with a win at Miami (FL). Let's say they win against the Hurricanes but lose in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Is 19-12 with a 7-9 conference record good enough?

Virginia 75, Georgia Tech 69. Ah, yes – time once again to celebrate the genius that is the Father of Modern Basketball and his Cavaliers (18-8, 10-4, RPI: 38). Interesting that the other two teams in the conference who are tied for first in the ACC have RPI ranks that are 3 and 19, respectively, but why get into the details, right? This result was definitely positive for DePaul, as the Ramblin' Wreck (18-10, 6-8, RPI: 51) got dinged. Tech has been a beast at home this year (15-1), but this week poses stiff challenges with visits from North Carolina and Boston College. If they lose both, Georgia Tech will finish 6-10 in conference and will not be going to the NCAA Tournament without a deep ACC Tournament run.

SEC

Georgia 86, Mississippi State 73

South Carolina 76, Mississippi 63

Tennessee 83, Arkansas 72

Auburn 86, Alabama 77

All right, let's go over this SEC West mess in one swoop. And yes, I intentionally left off the LSU-Florida score because LSU has no bubble case, even with the win. All four of the top RPI teams in the division lost. If we stick DePaul in for comparison purposes:

RPI Rank

Alabama – 43

Arkansas – 60

DePaul – 61

Mississippi – 66

Mississippi State - 67

Conference Record

DePaul: 8-7

Mississippi: 7-7

Mississippi State: 7-7

Alabama: 6-8

Arkansas: 5-9

Record vs. RPI Top 50

DePaul: 4-7

Arkansas: 3-5

Alabama: 2-4

Mississippi: 2-4

Mississippi State: 1-5

Road/Neutral Record

Alabama: 6-7

Arkansas: 4-8

Mississippi State: 4-8

Mississippi: 4-9

DePaul: 4-10

True Road Wins

DePaul: 4

Mississippi State: 3

Alabama: 2

Mississippi: 2

Arkansas: 1

So which of these SEC West contenders is ahead of DePaul at the moment? I would probably say Alabama - although they bear watching since they've lost four of their last five, and finish up with Mississippi and Mississippi State. I think DePaul is ahead of all the others.

Now as for Georgia (16-10, 8-6, RPI: 52), if they can steal a win by either winning at Kentucky or at home against Tennessee, their case gets more interesting. They'd finish over .500 in conference, which is something it appears the entire other division is incapable of doing. If they lose both, though – I think they're relegated to NIT-land.

Vanderbilt 67, Kentucky 65. I would say this one seals the deal for the Commodores (18-9, 9-5, RPI: 29) for the NCAA Tournament. Wait, I might have said that after their Florida win. While this is one of the earlier blurbs in the sequence in which you're reading, this is the last blurb I'm writing on Sunday night, so pretty much everything is running together at this point. Plus, I went to Fogo de Chao for dinner, and the meat high is kicking in. Sorry if I offend any Vanderbilt fans who might be reading this by not giving a more comprehensive analysis (both of you).

Big 10

Michigan 62, Minnesota 51. I think the equation becomes pretty simple for the Wolverines (19-10, 7-7, RPI: 54). Win one of your last two homes games against Michigan State or Ohio State, or make your 17th consecutive trip to the NIT.

Illinois 68, Penn State 50. The best thing Illinois (21-9, 9-6, RPI: 34) has going for it is the third-place standing in the conference. Things could get a little muddled if a multiple-team tie occurs at 9-7, but they seem to be in decent shape for NCAA inclusion.

Big XII

Texas Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57. As of this morning, the Cowboys (18-9, 5-8, RPI: 50) are in eighth place in the Big XII, ½ game behind Missouri and Oklahoma – two non-bubble threats. Again, they might be 11 spots ahead in the RPI rank, but I don't see how Oklahoma State is ahead of DePaul at the moment. Meanwhile, Texas Tech (18-11, 7-7, RPI: 44) will probably be establishing the "cut" line from the conference. Everyone above them will get into the Dance. Everyone below them, probably not. Texas Tech themselves? Well, Mike North says they're in, which is all the reassurance anyone should need…right?

Kansas State 87, Colorado 71. Personally, I think it's telling that the Huggy Bears (20-9, 9-5, RPI: 59) have this great won-loss record, yet they can't get their RPI rank that much over DePaul's. The possibility of a quarterfinal game between Huggy and Bob Knight is brewing. Both teams might be safely in the Dance at that point, but if they aren't…I'd love to have a courtside seat for that one.

Pac-10

UCLA 75, Stanford 61. I cannot decide if Stanford (17-10, 9-7, RPI: 40) has done enough yet. In the final weekend of the season, they host the Arizona schools. Beating the Sun Devils is probably imperative. Beating the Wildcats would likely leave no doubt for their NCAA Tournament chances.

Missouri Valley

Bradley 74, Indiana State 58. It sure seems like the Missouri Valley should keep playing, but they're done. Bradley (19-11, 10-8, RPI: 42) finishes the regular season in fourth place and will be playing Northern Iowa (17-12, 9-9, RPI: 74) in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. So what are we rooting for here? I honestly have no idea, since there are so many dynamics in play here. It's good for Bradley to keep winning to help DePaul's numbers. But is there some combination of Bradley's computer numbers remaining powerful, yet finding a way for DePaul to leapfrog Bradley in the Selection Committee pecking order? I just don't think it's as easy as, "Bradley beat DePaul, so they're going to be ahead of DePaul, no matter what."

Creighton 71, Wichita State 54. So do the Bluejays (19-10, 13-5, RPI: 30) even have to win a game in the conference tournament to make the NCAAs? Although the old-schoolers would probably choke at the thought of a "mid-major" making the NCAA Tournament without at least 20 wins, I don't see how second place in the sixth-best conference doesn't qualify for an at-large. Regardless, their quarterfinal match-up will be against either Illinois State or Indiana State, the winner of which will be on 24 hours rest. I would say Creighton is fine.

Missouri State 92, Drake 74. The Bears (20-9, 12-6, RPI: 36) have to be nervous heading into the Valley Conference Tournament. Just like last year, they're squarely on the bubble. Just like last year, they're the #3-seed in the tournament. Just like last year, they get a very dangerous #6. It was Northern Iowa in 2006; it's Wichita State in 2007. If they lose in the quarterfinals, will it be just like last year, when they got sent to the NIT?

Colonial

Old Dominion 62, William & Mary 57. So ODU (23-7, 15-3, RPI: 33) heads into the conference tournament on an 11-game winning streak. They should cruise into the semi-finals of the conference tournament, and I think with the buoyant RPI, 24 wins, 15 conference wins, and a "Last 10" record finishing no worse than 9-1, they should be sizing up for a seed somewhere between #8 and #11 in the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia Commonwealth 72, Georgia State 70. Disaster was averted by the Rams (24-6, 15-3, RPI: 57), who win the regular season by sneaking past Georgia State on the road. Now they get a bye in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament, awaiting the winner of William & Mary and this same Georgia State squad.

Hofstra 98, James Madison 78. See, here's the problem for the Pride (21-8, 14-4, RPI: 69) – they have the fourth-best RPI rank in a conference that got shafted last year and is actually worse this year, according to the computers. Theoretically, they're on track to collide with Old Dominion in the semi-finals, which will probably mean more to ODU than Hofstra. I can't see the Pride getting into the Dance unless they win the conference tournament.

Drexel 77, Towson 68. See, here's the problem for the Dragons (21-7, 13-5, RPI: 45). Their RPI is solid, but they finished in fourth place in the conference standings. That means a semi-final match with Virginia Commonwealth, which will likely be an elimination game. So while both of these teams are currently ahead of DePaul in the RPI ranks, I do think at least one of them drops behind before all is said and done.

Atlantic 10/14

Massachusetts 53, Saint Louis 50. I have to admit, the Minutemen (21-7, 11-3, RPI: 56) have caught me a bit by surprise, mainly because I was hoping Rhode Island would do what UMass has been doing. They've been laying in the weeds with RPIs in the 60s and 70s for the better part of six weeks, and now have been propelled closer to the Top 50 with seven wins in their last eight games. Here's their trouble spot, though: 21 wins, 17 of which have come outside the Top 100, including nine sub-200 wins. I would love to see them taken out early in the A-10/14 Tournament and send them to the NIT.

Xavier 75, Dayton 67. While Massachusetts is sneaking up as a possible at-large contender from the A-10/14, Xavier (21-7, 11-3, RPI: 31) already is a contender. I'm already buying candy bars in support of the Musketeers' possible charge through the conference tournament. It would be a great help for DePaul if they won it.

Others

Appalachian State 72, Elon 63. I really, really don't want to take these guys seriously, but ASU's (21-6, 15-3, RPI: 55) RPI rank keeps pushing the Top 50. It's worth noting, though, that they finished second in the Southern Conference, to Davidson. It's also worth noting that ASU beat Davidson in their only meeting of the season. And it's worth noting that my head is going to explode if I have to start tracking multiple schools in the Southern Conference for bubble relevance.

Louisiana Tech 84, Utah State 71. This game got a bit lost in the shuffle, but the Aggies (19-9, 8-6, RPI: 64) took a sub-200 RPI loss at a very inopportune time. Now, if they win against Nevada on Thursday night, it just neutralizes this loss, rather than building momentum. The WAC is a one-bid conference if Nevada takes care of business during the conference tournament.

San Diego State 86, BYU 74. The Mountain West is probably pretty excited to have four teams in the RPI Top 50 as of this morning, and I guarantee no other conference is sharing in the ecstasy. San Diego State (18-8, 9-5, RPI: 46) is joining the party a little late, but with winnable games against Utah and TCU left on the schedule, they could get to 11 conference wins. The top four seeds in the conference tournament are shaping up to be Air Force, UNLV, BYU and San Diego State. If they all hold serve in the quarterfinals and advance to the semi-finals, could the Selection Committee leave one of the teams out…especially if SDSU keeps moving up while the other three stay in the RPI Top 25?

Conference Tournaments

Big South

Synopsis: Winthrop (21-4, 14-0, RPI: 63) is the class of the league, and their four losses are North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas A&M. If you hadn't noticed, all four of these teams are in the RPI Top 15. The Eagles have everything going their way; most notably, a 15-game winning streak and every conference tournament game they play at home. They should win this conference tournament without a problem, but if they don't…they're going to provide an interesting dilemma, since their RPI rank has likely topped out. Let's just hope they win the thing and keep a potential headache out of the mix.

Let's go, Demons.

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