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Sunday, January 13, 2008

If today were Selection Sunday

A weekly feature of the The Fan Blog, from here on out, If Today were Selection Sunday...does just that. It looks at the 34 at-large spaces available in the field and and determines who are the best candidates for those spots as of right now. It does not attempt to project or predict what will happen in the future and whether or not these teams will actually appear in March when the real committee makes its selections. But it does base this on the 65 team field and will only include that many teams each week.

First off, let's remember what comprises the NCAA field. There are 31 automatic bids from conferences, while the remaining field consists of 34 at-large selections. We will mainly focus our attention on the 34 at-large selections. Although obviously the automatic bids play a role in that. At the moment we are assuming that the best team in the conference will win the automatic bid. We know that won't happen. We have a belief that if you are in the Top 40 in the country, you are pretty comfortable getting in the field and generally if you are in the Top 45 or so, you will get in. Because usually there are 15-20 automatic bids that come from outside the top teams, and truly that is what ultimately determines how many of the truly best teams get in the tournament.

Right now, we have a collection of 44 teams that we feel should not be ignored and would have to be a part of the field if it were picked today. Lucky for them, they come from 13 different conferences, so assuming the best team in the conference wins the automatic bid, all of worthy teams would get in. We'll assume that happens.

So therefore, we have 31 of the 34 at-large bids taken, and we'll have to look at bubble teams to determine the other three. Remember, we're really looking for a group of 47 (the top 47) because we are assuming that there are 13 autobids within that group.

First off, the teams among my group of 44 that are absolute locks:
North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Memphis, Duke, Marquette, Georgetown, Tennessee, Washington State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, Texas A&M, Xavier, Drake, Butler, Pitt, Dayton, Ole Miss, St. Mary's, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Clemson, Stanford, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Missouri - So that is 31 of the Top 47, and in my mind they are locks today.

Here are the teams, that I wouldn't be able to ignore, but might be in a precarious position with others.

Arizona - The Wildcats have five losses. That is quite a bit right now when you are looking at the top teams in the country. The injury to Jared Bayless has hurt the record. Therefore, I think they get in today.

Illinois State - Many are starting to believe that the Valley will only be a one-bid league this year. With the problems in some of the power conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC), I think its a two-bid league. Right now, I think the 5-0 Redbirds would get that second bid.

Connecticut - At 11-4 with no big win to their credit, the Huskies wouldn't be totally safe today. But they showed yesterday why they deserve to be included.

Niagara - If I drew it up today, I'd include the Purple Aces. Again I think they would benefit from the lack of power from the power conferences.

Miami (FL) - The Hurricanes are 14-1 so how could they be ignored? Probably couldn't but the resume really isn't that packed.

Virginia Commonwealth - Win or lose in the Colonial Tournament, these guys deserve a bid. The loss to Hampton discourages but wins over Maryland and Houston should guarantee inclusion.

Louisville - You're going to start noticing a trend I've got right now. That I think might work itself out by the end of the season. But I generally like the Big East, so maybe I'd keep them all in.

Providence - The Friars are 11-5 but they wins over Arkansas, Boston College and Florida State. Plus 3 of the 5 losses are to tourney teams.

Syracuse - Power conference with a Top 25 RPI, they are in. But basically face a win and in situation in Morgantown today.

St. Joseph's - The Hawks are just 9-4 so there is no guarantee here. But they've won five in a row and I'll take the hot team.

Villanova - This resume isn't really that strong. They are starting to look like they might not be as strong as a lot of teams and falter in the Big East. But we're looking at the present, and the win over Pitt keeps them in. For now.

Kansas State - Getting better and the win over Oklahoma took them off the bubble.

Arkansas - I think the Hogs are going to start getting a little more recognition. The loss to Appalachian the other week makes things a little bit more scary then they need to be.

So that leaves us with 3 spots and a group of a teams on the bubble. Among that group are several ACC teams (Virginia, Boston College, Florida State, NC State), Massachusetts out the Atlantic 10, Oregon, Arizona State and California from the Pac-10, Baylor which started so well, Nebraska which was beaten badly by Kansas at home last night, Houston as a second bid out of the Conference USA, and UNLV who had that great run in the tournament last year.

For now, I'm going to ignore the ACC. The four bubble teams all are on a down note and we'll wait for that to change. I will take Arizona State, I think its win over Arizona on Wednesday carried the weight. I'm also going to take Baylor as a result of the way it started the season and feel they deserve to be included at this point. And for my final team in, I'd take UMASS over California. The Minutemen have just done more at this point of the season and deserve the bid.

That's who I'd pick at this minute. I think it will change and probably somewhat dramatically as the season goes on. I can hear some screeching that I included 10 Big East teams and only 3 ACC teams. But the Big East is clearly the best conference this season.

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