The updated bracketology was released today by ESPN college basketball anlayst Joe Lunardi (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology). After reviewing his NCAA tournament picks, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed with the process by which he chose his teams to make the tournament. At the top he seemed to have things correct: Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, and Syracuse all receiving #1 seeds. The Big East had 7 teams get in, with 6 of these teams earning a 5 seed or lower. The ACC and Big XII also had 7 teams in for a three way tie for the most teams qualified. My problem stems from the conferences lower on the list. The conference with the next highest amount of teams in Lunardi’s bracketology is…the A-10? The A-10 is a great conference, no question (See “What is the Sixth Best College Basketball Conference,” 12/20/09), but is it really warranted to be tied with the SEC for 4th in terms of teams qualifying for the tournament from said conference? Although the highest A-10 ranked team is a 4 seed, the rest of the teams are given anywhere from 8-12 seeds, and the SEC has each of its teams as 8 seeds or lower, it still is a problem in my eyes that these A-10 teams are getting in off the bubble instead of teams from bigger conferences that may have more losses.
I understand what Joe Lunardi is thinking. This year in college basketball, there seem to be so many losses by what appeared to be such great teams from major conferences initially, that many smaller conference teams are moving up in the rankings. One good example is Northern Iowa. After a loss this week to Wichita State, an 8 point loss earlier in the year to 8-11 Depaul, and exactly 0 wins against ranked teams, with the best win against Boston College, the Panthers still remained ranked in the AP Poll. In addition, BYU, who is 20-1 with a loss to Utah State and whose biggest win of the season was against Big XII bottomfeeder Nebraska, is ranked 12th in the AP Poll.
With these small teams from mid-major conferences earning high rankings in the AP Poll, Joe Lunardi appears to be giving these teams from small conferences too much credit. Consider his final four teams in; Cincinnati, Richmond, William and Mary, and Arizona State. His first four out are Florida, Seton Hall, Charlotte, and Louisville. My problem is that Richmond and William and Mary are ahead of Florida, Seton Hall, and Louisville. In addition, I find it insulting to major conference teams that Charlotte is even in the NCAA tournament discussion. Let me start with the resumes of Richmond and William and Mary. Richmond is 15-6, very vanilla, with losses to VCU, Charlotte, and Saint Louis, among others, with only 1 win over a projected NCAA tournament team. William and Mary is 14-5 and has a slightly more impressive resume than Richmond. With wins over Maryland, Wake Forest, and Richmond itself, the Tribe has several impressive wins on which to lean come Selection Sunday. However, with a current 2 game losing streak consisting of unimpressive consecutive losses to VCU and Old Dominion, as well as losses to UNC Wilmington and Harvard, and an overtime win against Delaware, the Tribe does not have a resume suitable for the NCAA tournament.
Consider the resumes of Louisville and Seton Hall, who are currently part of Lunardi’s first four out. Louisville has a 12-7 record. Yes, it is slightly worse than both William and Mary and Richmond, but consider the differences in schedule strength. Louisville has an infinitly more difficult schedule than these teams, including games against Kentucky, Villanova, and Pittsburgh to this point, with many more difficult games to come. William and Mary and Richmond are lucky if they play one team of the caliber of those teams listed above. In addition, Seton Hall has a 12-6 record, but has an even tougher schedule than Louisville. The Pirates have lost to Temple, West Virginia, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, and Georgetown. Wow. Now that is a schedule. 5 of Seton Hall’s 6 losses are to ranked teams, and all losses are to teams currently projected to make the NCAA tournament. In addition, Seton Hall has beaten Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati. With 2 wins over NCAA tournament teams and no bad losses (most of which were very close), the Pirates deserve a NCAA tournament bid much more than teams like William and Mary and Richmond.
Now let me examine Charlotte, which is with Louisville, Florida, and Seton Hall on the first four out list. The 49ers are 14-5 this year, but their big wins, losses, and schedule strength are simply ridiculous. The 49ers have a 42 point loss to Duke, a 33 point loss to Old Dominion, a 9 point loss to Georgia Tech, a 17 point loss to Tennessee, and a 12 point loss to Xavier. If you are counting, that means a mid-major team with 5 losses before January has even ended, and an average point differential of -22.6 in losses. The only noteworthy win for Charlotte was a win over Louisville, which occurred in the midst of a 1-3 stretch for Louisville, before the Cardinals completely turned around their season. Therefore, the 49ers have 5 losses in a non-major conference and only 1 noteworthy win, although at this point Louisville isn’t even projected to be a tournament team.
These are just a few of the problems that I have with Joe Lunardi’s bracketology for this week. However, my complaints stem from Lunardi’s attitude towards mid-major conferences. Although there are some teams from mid-major conferences that deserve to be in the tournament, the fact that the Big 10 does not have as many teams projected in the tournament of the A-10 does is an example of why Lunardi’s bracketology is not acceptable to me as a college basketball analyst.