2009 NCAA Tournament Projections
by Robert Ferringo - 02/16/2009
Valentine's Day came and went on Saturday and that holiday is a pretty clear marker in the college basketball world. It means that we are just over four weeks away from the day in which hearts all over the country will be breaking, Selection Sunday.
I thought that we are close enough to the Big Dance for some 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament predictions and projections. One of the ways in which gamblers can stay ahead of the "office bettors", "all-of-a-sudden experts", and squares that fill the Vegas coffers during March Madness is by being prepared. So by keeping your eyes on the teams that are going to the NCAA Tournament, as well as those that are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, you can prepare yourself for the day the brackets are announced.
Below I've laid out a road map for predicting the Field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament. This year there are 15 leagues that are 100 percent one-bid conferences. The Horizon, Southern and Metro are traditionally leagues that get only one team but each has a club that could make a strong case for poaching an at-large bid if they don't win their conference tournaments. The Missouri Valley and the WAC have both routinely scrounged more than one bid, but this year I actually have them pegged for just a single tourney team.
As for the BCS conferences and the rest of the leagues I have listed the number of bids that I think that each will receive. The teams that are in are located in the appropriate category and I denoted the bubble teams that I think have done and will do enough to secure their spot in the Big Dance with an asterisk (*). However, when I was finished I realized that my tournament field was made of just 62 schools. That leaves us three spots remaining.
Well, instead of trying to further project - there is still three weeks of conference play plus league tournaments still on the board - I'm going to leave the rest of my field open-ended. I have selected seven teams that I think are vying for the last three spots on the dance card and marked them with a caret (^). Those teams are Virginia Tech, Baylor, Georgetown, USC, Minnesota, UNLV and Utah State. If I had to guess, I would say Va. Tech, USC and Minnesota are in at the moment but all six of those teams have a shot and have a lot of work to do.
Here are my predictions and projections for the 2009 NCAA Tournament field:
Atlantic 10 (2)
Bubble: Dayton*, St. Joseph's
Skinny: Dayton is not a 100 percent sure shot, but they are at about 90 percent so I'm giving them the nod. They will be in as long as they don't have a collapse in the next three weeks. But with trips to St. Louis, Rhode Island and Xavier, as well as home games against Temple and Duquesne, I wouldn't rule out a rocky finish. But they have a win over Marquette and that is going to be tremendous on Selection Sunday.
In: UNC, Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest
Bubble: Boston College*, Florida State*, Virginia Tech^, Miami
Skinny: Boston College's win over Duke doesn't 100 percent put them in The Dance, but they are as close as you can come to that. They have two Top 10 wins (they also beat UNC) but losses to Harvard and St. Louis are anchors right now. As long as they don't go in the tank they are fine. I give FSU the nod right now, but they have two with Va. Tech coming up (they need a split) and I would like to see them get at least one from B.C., Clemson, and Duke. FSU has strong wins over Cal, Florida and Cincinnati. I said it when it happened: Virginia Tech lost to Xavier in Puerto Rico on a buzzer-beater, and I said at the time that single shot would be huge on Selection Sunday. Because of that shot, Tech's best nonconference win was over St. John's. Miami has done little to impress me. They beat did Kentucky and have a win over Wake. But I don't think that's enough.
Big 12 (4)
In: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas
Bubble: Kansas State, Baylor^
Skinny: The four teams that are in are pretty much no-doubters. I don't have much respect for K-State and their No. 298 non-conference strength of schedule and I don't see them making a realistic move. Baylor is not dead yet. But I think they have to win out - at Oklahoma State, at Iowa State, Colorado, at Texas, Nebraska - to make a case. If they can go 4-1 and then win two Big 12 tourney games that would be interesting as well because they have a marquee nonconference win (over Arizona State).
Big East (8)
In: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova
Bubble: Syracuse*, Providence, Cincinnati*, West Virginia*, Georgetown^, Notre Dame
Skinny: The Top 5 are all legit. Syracuse is in and will be fine as long as they take care of business against St. John's, Cincy, and Rutgers, and then get a game in New York. The rest of the conference is a muddled mess. West Virginia has played the third-hardest schedule in the country and has a solid nonconference resume. It will be especially bolstered if Cleveland State and/or Miami, OH find their way in. They also have zero bad losses and haven't been beaten by anyone worse than Syracuse (No. 35) and Davidson (No. 44). I give Cincinnati the nod right now over Georgetown because the Bearcats swept the season series. But they both have opportunities to play themselves in or out. Notre Dame is toast, and Providence didn't do enough in the nonconference.
Big Ten (5)
In: Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue
Bubble: Ohio State*, Minnesota^, Penn State, Wisconsin*, Michigan
Skinny: The Top 3 clubs are secure, and there is a razor-thin margin separates the second tier. I think that Michigan is out, even with their wins over UCLA and Duke, and Minnesota and Penn State played two dreadful nonconference slates. That said, Minnesota has a marquee win over Louisville and I think that could get them over the hump. I think that five is the right number for this conference, but don't rule out a tournament run by one of the bubble clubs.
Conference USA (2)
Bubble: UAB*, Houston, UTEP
Skinny: This league is ranked above the A-10, Missouri Valley, WAC and Horizon and is currently No. 8 in terms of conference strength. Therefore, I think they deserve multiple bids. Also, I am willing to wager that Memphis doesn't win the conference tournament. UAB has a solid win over Arizona and gets another crack at Memphis. I still say that if they don't take any bad losses and if they can make the CUSA Finals then they should be in. I put Houston and UTEP on the list not because I think they have the resume, but because I think either could win the league tourney.
Bubble: Butler*, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Cleveland State*
Skinny: I am projecting two bids for this conference because I just do not think that Butler will win the conference tournament. There are too many quality teams in the Horizon that could knock them off (I didn't even mention Wright State or UW-Milwaukee) and Butler is too dependent on the three-point shot. I think Cleveland State gets the job done and that this league steals a bid from the BCS.
Bubble: Siena*, Niagara
Skinny: Siena played an incredibly ambitious nonconference schedule this year. But the problem is that they didn't win any of the games. As a result, it's probably all or nothing for this team in the league tournament. Niagara has put together a very strong season and are the primary roadblock in front of the Saints.
Missouri Valley (1)
Bubble: Northern Iowa, Creighton*
Skinny: After a solid heyday as a multi-bid league, The Valley is back to being one-and-out. Northern Iowa leapt forward with an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the year but I still think that the Blue Jays will be too much for them in St. Louis. This conference is trash. And why has it fallen off so much? Because all of the great coaches that made the league a force in the late 90s and early 00s have been poached.
Mountain West (2)
Bubble: San Diego State*, New Mexico, BYU, UNLV^
Skinny: I have said it before and I'll say it again: the Mountain West is a three-bid league. The problem is that the collective resume of this conference outweighs the individual accounts. I think that SDSU is a clear-cut tournament team, but they don't really have the resume. They need to close the year with four of five wins and then make the conference semis, at least, and they will be in. UNLV has solid wins over Louisville and Arizona, and a recent run of success in the last two NCAA tourneys. This league 100 percent gets two bids (Utah isn't going to win the conference tournament). I think they deserve three.
In: Washington Arizona State, California, UCLA, Arizona
Skinny: Right now the Pac-10 is ranked as the No. 2 conference in the country, behind the ACC. That rating is ridiculous, but that's what the numbers say. Regardless, I don't see them getting more than five bids. If they do it will be because USC steals one from the SEC. Arizona is in. They have wins over SDSU, Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA. USC is good enough to make a move, but their best nonleague win was over North Dakota State. Not good.
In: Kentucky, Tennessee
Bubble: South Carolina*, Florida*, LSU*, Mississippi State, Auburn
Skinny: I know, I know; I don't believe it either. But for all of the smack that has been talked about the SEC this season I still think they get five bids. Remember: as much as the selection committee talks, it is still a Good Ol' Boys Network. And the SEC is "in the club". LSU played a pathetic nonconference schedule. But if they go just 4-2 down the stretch, win the SEC West, and go 1-1 in the league tourney, they will be 26-7 and I don't see them being left out. Florida has a great reputation, a win over Washington, and cracks at Tennessee and Kentucky in The Swamp in the first week of March. If they get one - and both games will be highly scrutinized, they are in. South Carolina has the most work to do. But they also have games at home against Florida and Tennessee and will likely end up around 22-8. Maybe this league only gets four, but I see them screwing someone out of a bid with the last team in.
Bubble: Davidson*, Chattanooga, Charleston
Skinny: If the Wildcats beat Butler this Saturday then I would say that their nonconference resume, coupled with their Cinderella run last year (the selection committee would swear that wasn't a factor, but give me a break), to pick up an at-large bid. And the idea of them losing in the conference tournament isn't ridiculous. Chattanooga only lost by five at Davidson and Charleston has a win and a close loss (four points) against the Wildcats.
Bubble: St. Mary's*
Skinny: In some ways I actually think Patty Mills' injury helps the Gaels, because they can always fall back on that to the selection committee. But St. Mary's is likely in, regardless. They played a very solid nonconference schedule (No. 95) and logged some quality wins in that stretch, including games over Providence, SDSU, and Oregon. A Bracket Buster win over Utah State (the game is at SMC) would move them into the "In" category.
Bubble: Utah State^, Boise State, New Mexico State*
Skinny: The Aggies better win their conference tournament, because there is no way that they have the resume to take a spot from one of the Big East or ACC teams. Yeah, they had a cup of coffee in the Top 25. But the bottom line is that they have only played two games against teams inside the Top 110 and they have just one win in those games. I say that NMSU pulls the upset in Reno and takes the league's one bid.
America East (1) - Vermont
Atlantic Sun (1) - East Tennessee State
Big Sky (1) - Weber State
Big South (1) - VMI
Big West (1) - Long Beach State
Colonial (1) - VCU
Ivy League (1) - Cornell
MAC (1) - Miami, OH
MEAC (1) - Morgan State
NEC (1) - Robert Morris
OVC (1) - UT-Martin
Patriot (1) - American
Southland (1) - Stephen F. Austin
Summit (1) - North Dakota State
Sun Belt (1) - Arkansas-Little Rock