BracketBuster’s NCAA Tournament Implications
We’re extending the mid-majors’ moment in the sun this week as we take a look at the five most important Tournament implications that have come about as a result of the annual BracketBuster event. Next Monday, it’s back to the power conferences, as we look at what BCS teams are most desperate for W’s heading into the regular season’s final week.
Without further ado, a quick summary of the BracketBuster’s biggest games:
RPI data from Ken Pomeroy (www.kenpom.com)
1. Salukis’ Bite Stronger than Bulldogs’ Bark
It was Butler who was the higher-profile team heading into the BracketBuster’s marquee matchup, but Southern Illinois who emerged with the event’s biggest win. Jamaal Tatum was sensational for SIU, knocking down clutch shots and just generally leading his team to its best victory of the year.
SIU is now #5 in the RPI, and while they’re nowhere near #5 on the S-Curve, the win does give the Salukis a great chance at a #3 seed on Selection Sunday. They’re 11-5 away from Carbondale and 9-1 in their last 10 games, with a chance to make that 10-0 facing two weaker Valley opponents in Indiana State and Evansville this week.
Butler is still safely in the field of 65, but two consecutive Division I losses have their seed dropping a bit. In the Bulldogs’ defense, star player A.J. Graves was ill with a stomach bug for the Southern Illinois game. Todd Lickliter’s team will need to rebound and win its last three Horizon League games, and perhaps the conference Tournament, to remain a protected top-four seed in three weeks.
Will a great late-season win outweigh a horrendous late-season loss? That’s the question Drexel coaches, fans, and players will be asking themselves right up until Selection Sunday. The Hyde version of the Dragons inexplicably lost by 13 at RPI #185 William and Mary on Wednesday before the Jekyll version emerged from one of the nation’s toughest homecourts, Omaha’s Qwest Center, with a 64-58 win over Creighton in the BracketBuster.
Drexel is now a nation’s-best 12-4 away from home, however, which will surely carry a lot of weight with the Selection Committee. Had the Dragons beaten the Tribe, the Creighton win would have moved them to near-lock status.
But the loss puts early-season defeats to Pennsylvania and Rider in a new perspective. Drexel will be one of the most talked-about teams on Selection Sunday, but my hunch is that a win in the CAA Tournament Semifinals would earn them an at-large bid.
Creighton should still be fine for an at-large bid, assuming they can put away Illinois State away from the Qwest Center this week. A relatively poor 5-7 road record is the only thing between the Bluejays and lock status at this point.
3. Braves Get a Bradley-Needed Win
The Braves were one of two teams (along with Drexel) that significantly enhanced their résumé as a result of the BracketBuster, winning handily at CAA leader VCU. Bradley is still just 1-7 against the RPI’s top 50, but their non-conference RPI improved to 20 after the win. Two home wins against Northern Iowa and Indiana State this week would make it a very tough call for the Selection Committee—Bradley would have an 11-7 league record in the #6 RPI conference, and non-conference W’s against DePaul, Wright State, and the aforementioned VCU.
4. Déjà Vu All Over Again for Missouri State?
Wins in either game last week would have locked up a bid for Barry Hinson’s team, but the Bears fell to Southern Illinois and Winthrop, despite hosting both games. A third straight loss at Wichita State on Tuesday could prove devastating…
Though Missouri State’s RPI is currently 20 points higher (43) than last year’s (23), their overall profile is actually quite a bit better thanks to wins over prospective conference champions Toledo, Santa Clara, and of course Wisconsin, in the non-conference season. But a late-season losing streak is not a good way to impress the Selection Committee, particularly given the Bears’ firsthand bubble experience.
Winthrop did get itself on the bubble with the impressive win, and coupled with an undefeated Big South record and a victory at Old Dominion just before New Year’s, the Eagles just may get an at-large bid.
But Winthrop’s own RPI (73) and a disastrous Big South conference rating (29 out of 31) probably mean the Eagles will have to win their league’s automatic bid to make the NCAA’s. If they do make the Tournament, I predict this will be the year that Gregg Marshall finally breaks through and wins his first game. This is a dangerous team for a four or five seed to face.
5. Lady Luck Slights Nevada
After a shaky first half, the Wolf Pack rebounded to crush Northern Iowa at home on Saturday. Other bracket experts are beginning to pick Nevada as a top-four protected seed thanks to their gaudy 23-2 overall record, but I see their profile as being much closer to George Washington of a year ago than Gonzaga of a year ago.
The Pack has just one Top 50 RPI game on its slate of results, a home defeat to UNLV, and a non-conference RPI of 27, statistics that are eerily similar to the Colonials’ last year. The SOS numbers are 150 points better than GW’s were in 2006, but I think it’s more likely Nevada will end up with a 6 seed than a 3. (Remember, GW was given an 8.)
In the end, Nevada’s seed between 4-6 will likely be based on geographic location, but Mark Fox’s team had a bit of bad luck with the relatively low profile of its BracketBuster opponent.