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NCAA Tournament | Message Board  | Onions Archive

By Adam Glatczak

March 12th, 2006


NCAA Tournament: Bracket Breakdown

Game time has come for the NCAA selection committee.

As has been discussed for the past month-plus, this year’s committee is facing some of its most difficult and most interesting decisions ever, and how they choose in these situations is going to determine how the balance of the field for the NCAA Tournament shapes up.

The committee has a number of guidelines it follows in selecting the teams, and if it follows those guidelines the way it has in the past and, in particular, the last few years, we think this year’s field is going to include a number of surprises. Everybody has their opinions about who will make this field and who won’t, and this year those opinions differ more than in any in recent past.

The selection will be fairly simple, though, if the committee sticks to what it always has said in the past about how conference affiliation doesn’t matter in selecting teams. If the committee is doing this as it says it has in the past, without pre-conceived notions about certain conferences or certain teams, then a lot of teams people are calling locks are not locks, while other teams being discounted for spots are not out of it at all. And that will eliminate a lot of the confusion over who should make the field.

Unlike many, we trust the committee. We believe it is doing its job exactly as it says it does and won’t freestyle to find a way to get certain teams in. We looked at the numbers over and over and did our best to remove thoughts of potential committee biases towards certain conferences or ‘limits’ on some leagues. After it all, we think teams like California and Cincinnati might still be in but are in more trouble than anyone thinks. Michigan and Florida State have little reason to be in, Texas A&M and Alabama are far from sure things but will likely be O.K., and Creighton and George Mason have a better chance of getting in than most think.

There is no set formula for missing the field, but there are setting up to be some characteristics of teams that should get left out. These include:

-Poor non-conference scheduling (non-conference SOS)

-Poor finish to season (last 10 games)

-Poor record vs. RPI top 50

-Poor road/neutral record

-Multiple bad losses or losses to teams ranked below 100 in RPI

There are teams that some think will still be in the tourney despite failing several of these categories, but we wouldn’t suggest being too comfortable about that. Whether it be awful non-league schedules (Florida State, Texas A&M, Colorado), bad finishes to the season (Michigan, Cincinnati), poor top 50 records (FSU, Cincy and many bubble teams), too many bad losses (California, Alabama, Seton Hall) or poor road records (Alabama, Michigan), all of these teams are guilty in some ways. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to keep not just a few of those listed teams out, but all of them, and the fact that several will still get in is a measure more of the weakness of other contenders than unquestioned strength over other bubble teams. Take Seton Hall. The Pirates fail badly in two of those categories, finishing the season just 5-5 in their last 10 and having numerous bad losses. Their road record isn’t very good, either (5-7) but they actually grade out better than some other prominent bubble teams. Scary thought.

If in fact we are wrong about some teams getting in the field that we think should have little chance of doing so (ex. Michigan and Florida State) then it’s disturbingly possible the true main deficiency some teams will possess is their conference affiliation. Because we’ve looked at the numbers, the schedules, and everything else we can find, and while there are definitely some bubble teams out there that can go either way, we cannot come up with good reasons to include LESS than 6 Missouri Valley teams. Several of them are deficient here and there in the above areas listed. None of them are deficient in more than two of those categories.

Most importantly, MVC teams have performed far better against the top 50 than many other fence sitters. Five MVC teams have at least six top 50 wins, more than most bubble teams out there, and the other (Missouri State) has four top 50 wins-more than several bubble teams-and a profile similar to teams like Cincinnati and Michigan but has finished much better than either one. It doesn’t matter if those wins were in conference; check out the non-conference schedules of teams like Michigan, Alabama and Seton Hall as well as non-bubble teams like Boston College, Oklahoma and Marquette and see how many quality wins out of conference they have. It isn’t anything more impressive than the Valley.

Furthermore, no MVC teams have non-conference schedules even close to as bad as teams like Florida State or Texas A&M, and none finished poorly with the exception of Northern Iowa, which still has the best overall profile of any Valley team. Given all of this, a question for everyone that puts a team like Texas A&M in ahead of Creighton is: how do you put in a team with one quality win all season over another team with six quality, NCAA tourney-caliber wins? We see no justification whatsoever.

We mention the MVC scenario one more time because how the committee handles them and the CAA will determine how this bracket is filled out. If the committee puts a ‘cap’ on either one, teams like Seton Hall, Michigan and Florida State are more likely to get in. But here’s an idea we’ve passed on several times this year: think of the MVC now as taking many of the bids from Conference USA in the past, and think of the current CAA as replacing the MVC of the past. Doing that, would four, five or six bids for the MVC (or maybe another similar league in future years) really be that surprising?

The committee has said for years that conference affiliation is not important but that quality wins are. It has also said for the longest time that how a team is playing down the stretch matters, that it will penalize teams for not attempting to schedule people out of conference, and that it will give consideration to teams who go on the road. If the committee follows these rules, then we’ll have no problems and it will show in the selections. If it changes the rules in mid-game, there will be issues. We have confidence they will get it right.

These are teams we think are in the field of 64 as of Sunday morning:

ACC (4): Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Boston College

Atlantic 10 (2): George Washington, Xavier

Big East (7): Connecticut, Villanova, Pitt, West Virginia, Georgetown, Marquette, Syracuse

Big 12 (3): Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas

Big 10 (6): Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana

CAA (1): UNC-Wilmington

Conference USA (2): Memphis, UAB

MVC (6): Wichita State, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State

Mountain West (1): San Diego State

Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Washington, Arizona

SEC (5): Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky

WAC (1): Nevada

Certain one-bid leagues (19, minus one play-in team=18 bids)

=59 bids thus far

This is a judgment based on what should happen if the committee is looking at the evidence correctly. Most doubt the MVC’s chances of getting six bids, but even if it happens there are still five bids available for some of the following teams: Alabama, Hofstra, George Mason, California, Texas A&M, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Michigan, Florida State, Colorado, Air Force and Utah State.

The final at-large teams we have in our ‘field of 59’ are, in order of first to be left out: Missouri State, Creighton, Bradley, UAB, Indiana. The rest are likely comfortable. UAB and Indiana are almost certainly in, while the three MVC schools are somewhat debatable, but again, the numbers say they should be in.

The final five spots. If we were going to guess what the committee will do, we think they’ll put in Alabama for #60, leave out Hofstra in favor of George Mason for #61, and will find space for Texas A&M (62) as well as most likely Cincinnati (63). Throw in California (64) for the final spot. Don’t be misled, though; none of these five are anything close to a lock. Also, wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton got bumped, though it should not happen if the committee is considering the data correctly. It is also possible that Missouri State is left out because the Bears’ record vs. top 50 teams isn’t much different from Cincinnati or Michigan, but we think the Bears will somehow squeeze in because of their high RPI and stronger finish than either of those teams. Our good sense tells us teams like Florida State, Michigan and Air Force are likely out now after their early conference tourney exits, but again, it’s hard to know how the committee will evaluate the MVC or CAA.

The South Carolina Situation: If the Gamecocks win the SEC tourney, they would grab one of these last spots. Two likely scenarios include that spot being taken from California  or from fellow SEC member Alabama. If the committee is looking for reasons to keep certain teams out, it could take it from an MVC team and use this result as a smoke screen to say that they otherwise would’ve been in…again, we’ll trust they won’t do these things


If South Carolina does not win the SEC tourney, the final teams out would include: Seton Hall, Air Force and Hofstra, Michigan, Colorado, Florida State, Utah State and maybe Western Kentucky. Here is what should keep those teams out:

Seton Hall: So many bad losses and general inconsistency (3 losses vs. teams ranked below 100; huge blowouts vs. Duke and UConn, 3 straight losses late in season to Big East bottom half teams) that it should cancel out great wins. Final blow should’ve been a very poor performance in the Big East tourney vs. Rutgers. Just 5-5 in last 10, and only 5-7 road/neutral record, although those numbers would’ve been manageable if not for so many clumsy losses.

Air Force: No top 50 wins, overall SOS of 158, non-conference SOS of 273, first-round Mountain West tourney loss to Wyoming. Lot of wins, not much substance.

Hofstra: Non-conference SOS of 281 is a dagger. Overall SOS of 129, and right or wrong, the signature of their non-conference are wins over St. John’s and La Salle and convincing loss to Big East #12 team Notre Dame. 11 wins vs. teams ranked 200 or lower. SOS just doesn’t quite cancel out the good wins.

Michigan: Bad finish (2-7) should be a killer, not playing anything like an NCAA team now. 5-7 road/neutral record, only 3-8 vs. top 50. 147th ranked non-conference SOS with nothing for impressive wins OOC. Almost nothing on the road-best road win was at Minnesota. Unlike Creighton, injury issue is not a factor because Wolverines will not be getting those players back for the postseason.

Colorado: Horrid performance in Big 12 quarterfinal vs. Texas A&M, 6-8 road/neutral record, 5-5 in last 10, only 2-5 vs. top 50, non-conference SOS of 272, two below 100 losses. No consistency against good teams or on the road, not even on the road against teams worse than them.

Florida State: First round ACC tourney loss to ACC last-place team, non-conference SOS of 316 and no attempts whatsoever to schedule tougher is inexcusable. Also just 2-5 vs. top 50, and so-called strong finish included just a 6-4 record in last 10 and double-digit losses in there to Wake and Virginia Tech. Letting in the Seminoles might just destroy nearly all integrity the selection process has. It would go against everything the committee has stood for in the past and would set an extremely bad precedent, essentially saying that you can build an entire season around one win, and you don’t even need to schedule anyone out of conference to do it.

Utah State: Only one top 50 win, three losses to teams ranked below 100, 18-point loss at home in big late season WAC game against league champ Nevada, just not enough quality wins to get attention.

Western Kentucky: One top 50 win and just three total top 100 wins, as well as an overall RPI of 125 and three below 100 losses. Blowout loss to South Alabama in Sun Belt final certainly didn’t help either. A team likely good enough for an at-large, but Hilltoppers’ conference holds them down.


Now, here are why the last teams in would be in, as well as why they maybe shouldn’t be:

California: 12 Pac-10 wins, 8-7 road/neutral, 7-3 in last 10, wins over UCLA, Arizona and Washington. Negatives above. Pretty solid compared to some, if for no other reason than the smaller sample size against top 50 teams. Still a team that could easily be kept out with a middling non-conference performance and just three top 50 wins and three below 100 losses, including a terrible one to #306 Eastern Michigan. About as up and down as Seton Hall.

Cincinnati: Overall SOS of 6, non-conference SOS of 23, big wins over West Virginia, LSU and Syracuse. Perception also helps the Bearcats, because this team has been praised all year for its toughness. Frankly, though, a team that probably deserves to be left out. Even easier to leave out than California because of their 6-10 finish, their struggles without Armein Kirkland, their 4-8 record vs. the top 50 and their 5-8 road/neutral record. Profile not nearly as good as the impression given by TV, but it is better than Michigan or FSU.

Texas A&M: Hot finish (won 8 of last 9), 10-6 Big 12 record, and they looked great in blowing out Colorado in Big 12 quarterfinal. Honestly thinking that will get them in. However, just one top 50 win (1-5 vs. top 50 teams), hot finish included a lot of wins over nobody, and there’s still that bad non-conference schedule (rank: 240) that included just one road game and next to zero attempts to schedule up (we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for traveling to Pacific). Those things could very, very easily cost the Aggies and they’d have no reason to argue.

George Mason: Tied for CAA regular season title, non-conference win at MVC regular season champ, non-conference SOS of 33, 8-2 in last 10, 11-6 road/neutral. We’re thinking the CAA somehow gets a second, and if the committee docks poor non-conference schedules, then Hofstra is a likely casualty. Patriots’ negatives include just 2-4 mark vs. top 50, non-conference losses to BCS also-rans Wake Forest and Mississippi State, and two losses to Hofstra in the past two weeks. And how will committee take into account suspension of point guard Tony Shinn for one game?

Alabama: 5-6 vs. top 50, 18th toughest non-league schedule, overall SOS of 11 probably gets them in. However, the Crimson Tide’s picture isn’t nearly as pretty as many think because of 3 below 100 losses, a 3-8 road/neutral record and a very middling non-conference performance.

Missouri State: Four top 50 wins, non-conference SOS of 41, 8-2 in last 10 games, 8-6 road/neutral record and no losses to teams outside of top 50. Also the only team where we will mention RPI (20), which would be by far the highest ever of a team left out of tourney. Guessing the committee doesn’t have the guts to do it. Negatives are just 4-8 vs. top 50 and a non-conference schedule that doesn’t really pass the eye test.

Creighton: 6-6 vs. top 50, 20-point win at George Mason, decent non-conference SOS of 83, and at least made attempt to schedule up and play on the road out of conference, unlike many other bubble teams. Also had four of their nine losses over final 6 games when starting point guard Josh Dotzler was injured. When healthy, there’s no question they should be in. Negatives are a 5-8 road/neutral record and two below-100 losses, some other parts of their profile are fairly avg. (6-4 in last 10) but not enough to take call them minuses.

Bradley: 7-6 vs. top 50, finished red-hot winning 7 of last 8, overall SOS of 50. Only definite minus is three sub-100 losses, otherwise Braves are mediocre in most areas but not bad enough to hurt them. Strong finish should’ve done it for BU. 

Seed Projection:

1: Duke, Connecticut, Villanova, Ohio State
2: Memphis, Texas, Illinois, Gonzaga
3: North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Pittsburgh
4: Iowa, George Washington, LSU, Boston College
5: Tennessee, Syracuse, Kansas, Michigan State
6: Georgetown, West Virginia, Wichita State, Nevada
7: Washington, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Marquette
8: Arizona, Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Bucknell
9: N.C. State, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, UAB
10: Indiana, UNC-Wilmington, Bradley, Cincinnati
11: Creighton, Missouri State, San Diego State, Alabama
12: California, George Mason, Texas A&M, UW-Milwaukee
13: Xavier, Murray State, Kent State, South Alabama
14: Pacific, Iona, Northwestern State, Winthrop
15: Davidson, Penn, Belmont, Montana
16: Albany, Southern, Oral Roberts, Monmouth/Hampton

Up next:

-SEC Final is the biggest, with South Carolina trying to steal a bid with a win over Florida. Sorry, it’s hard to cheer for a team like the Gamecocks that has had more than enough chances to be in the tourney before this.

-ACC, Big 10 and Big 12 finals include all teams already in the tourney. Little drama other than whether or not Ohio State can get a #1 seed, but we have a feeling that may be decided already…

-Southland final features Northwestern State and Sam Houston State in what should be an excellent matchup. Who would’ve thought the Bearkats would be a bookend to this season, appearing in one of the earliest national TV games (preseason NIT vs. Drexel) and one of the latest?

Previous Editions of the Onions: Championship Week Journal: March 11, March 10, March 8, March 6, March 4




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