RPI Stocking Stuffers for the Holidays

by David Mihm | December 20th, 2007

Well, we’re nearly at the season’s unofficial midpoint, New Year’s Day. Most teams will be winding down their non-conference schedules in the next 10 days, and BracketNation will have a reasonable idea of where teams positioned themselves with their pre-conference play.

Here are a few RPI surprises for you to nibble on that I discovered while compiling the traditional December bracket.

All RPI data from KenPom.com as of 12/20/07.

RPI GOLD – A slew of teams jumping for joy with BracketSanta’s gifts for them this year:

1) Vanderbilt - Yes, the ‘Dores are the #1 RPI team…for now. Looks like a holiday feast coming up, as the BEST of their next four opponents is #247 Rice. Still, a solid schedule put together by Kevin Stallings, featuring several good, but not great teams. And the appetizer prior to SEC play is a nice little home date with UMass. Vandy is looking good for a return to the NCAA Tournament in what is looking like the SEC’s worst season in my lifetime (25 years).

3) St Mary’s – This HAS to be an even bigger surprise than Vandy. The tiny little Bay Area school has already schooled Oregon, Valley upstart Drake, and Seton Hall. After heading to Hawaii for the Rainbow Classic, the Gaels have a date with projected #1 seed Texas. A win in that game would pretty much assure them an NCAA bid. Patrick Mills deserves strong consideration for the All-American team.

6) Miami FL - Ho ho ho, look who the computer thinks is the ACC’s best team! The Canes’ only true quality win came against Providence in the Puerto Rico Jam, but with a few ACC scalps, that might be enough for Frank Haith’s team to make the Dance in March. Looks like the rebuilding job is almost finished…but remember what happened to Clemson after its fabulous start a year ago.

7), 13), 14), 17) The Four Horsemen of the Atlantic 10. Xavier, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Dayton are all having quietly GREAT seasons. Is pink the new black? I don’t know, but the A-10 is the new Missouri Valley. It looks like AT LEAST a trio of these four teams will make the Big Dance, with wins over Indiana, Creighton, UAB, Providence, Boston College, Syracuse, and Syracuse. (Yes, that’s right, Jim Boeheim’s team lost home games to not one but TWO teams from the Atlantic 10. But just when you thought another Boeheim Bash was coming from yours truly…)

20) Syracuse – Well, lo and behold, what do we have here? An 8-3 Syracuse team? Ordinarily three losses would spell doom for the Orangemen this early in the year, but the saving grace for Jim Boeheim was his willingness to schedule a ROAD game AT ACC stalwart Virginia, which his team WON! It’s a win that keeps Syracuse in the early-season bracket, but Big East victories might be harder to come by with Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins on IR.

16) California - Slightly out of order, because it would have ruined the segue, the job that Ben Braun’s team cannot be slighted. Ryan Anderson has been an absolute monster in the earlygoing and should be the prohibitive favorite for Pac-10 POY heading into conference play. Devon Hardin’s recovery from last year’s knee injury seems to be slower than expected, but he’s looked better in December. The Bears will probably still be a bubble team in a couple of months, but their strong showings against Mizzou, Nevada, and San Diego State should help when the time comes.

RPI COAL – And now a few teams who won’t be happy with what BracketSanta has left them this year:

103) BYU – Most fans probably still remember the neutral-court win against Louisville over Thanksgiving break, but the Cougars dropped their other two marquee games of the year against UNC and Michigan State, and the Cardinals are no longer looking like a marquee team. BYU SHOULD still win the Mountain West’s automatic bid, but anything less than 14-2 in conference play leaves the Committee plenty of reason to leave the Cougs home in March…a la Air Force a year ago.

138) Florida – Says here first that the defending National Champions won’t get to defend their title in the Tournament. There is absolutely no meat on the Gators’ non-conference schedule, other than a game they lost to Florida State, and they’re not likely to win at Ohio State next week either. In 2008, Billy Donovan’s club will suffer from the same SEC malaise as Billy Gillispie’s (see below).

141) Maryland - Gary Williams’ team has had its share of troubles in non-conference play, but like Virginia a year ago (which bottomed out somewhere in the 120′s mid-way through the season), methinks the Terps will kick it into gear shortly. They have no bad losses (worst is to #60 Ohio) and a nice win over a hot-at-the-time Illinois squad to bank on.

175) Kentucky - ESPN has tried to play up recent wins by UAB and Houston over the Wildcats as monumental upsets, but at this point UK is FAR closer to an RPI anchor than a quality win! Billy Gillispie’s team trails 1-5 North Carolina A&T by two slots in the latest Ratings Percentage Index. The larger problem is that the SEC will offer so few opportunities for quality wins this year, Kentucky may not be able to make up enough ground in the computer ratings to make it as an at-large team.

299) Oregon State - It’s doubtful that anyone outside of Corvallis entertained any notion of the Beavers as an NCAA Tournament team this year, but OSU’s best win to date is #229 Portland, and a loss to Div II Alaska-Fairbanks doesn’t even count against them in the formula. An 0-18 mark in Pac-10 play would not be a surprise.

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