You've got bracket questions, I've got bracket answers (cont.)
Of course, you can't have a bracket without 65 teams. As they say, you can play your way out of a bad seed, but you can't play your way out of the NIT.
Here are five key selection themes that will bear watching down the stretch:
1) How will the committee evaluate the middle of the ACC?
This week's bracket had no ACC team other than Duke higher than a 7 seed. The new national polls (for entertainment only) concurred, with only the Blue Devils ranked in the Top 25. Still, our bracket had seven ACC teams in it.
Why? The ACC is the No. 3 RPI conference and is ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, with none of the 12 ACC teams ranked higher than 77th overall.
We only have to look at last season's Big Ten, which was No. 1 in conference RPI (although just No. 5 in Pomeroy's ratings) and got every mid-table team but Penn State into the NCAAs. The league got seven bids in a better bubble year, with four of the teams getting a 10 seed or lower.
Expect the same thing this season in the ACC. Anyone who has a .500 league mark or better is more than likely getting in.
2) If the ACC (and Big East) get credit for depth and competitiveness, will the A-10?
To an extent, yes, although the Atlantic 10 is mapping much more closely to this season's Big Ten, with a clear upper crust, a couple of teams trying to fight their way in, and a murky bottom full of low-quality clubs.
The Big Ten is certain to get four, looks pretty likely to get five and, if Minnesota and Illinois can both keep pushing, could end up with six. The A-10 looks certain to get three, is a fairly good bet to get four, and if everything shakes out the right way, could get five.
3) How will the committee evaluate the Pac-10, and specifically Cal?
Cal could end up being one of the most interesting bubble decisions in recent memory should the Golden Bears not win the Pac-10 tournament.
As mentioned in Monday's Bubble Watch, Jerry Palm noted that only eight teams in the past 16 seasons -- and none in the past three, when a number of current committee members have voted -- have received an at-large berth without a top-50 win. Cal doesn't currently have one, and unless Washington (currently No. 60) is in that category on Selection Sunday, the Golden Bears won't.
On the other hand, the Pac-10 currently sits eighth in conference RPI. Here are the last 10 conferences to finish No. 8 and how many NCAA bids they all received:
2009: Missouri Valley (1, and Creighton may have lost bid when Mississippi State won SEC tourney)
While teams earn bids, not conferences, we might be one fluke SEC auto-bid away from every No. 8 conference in the last decade getting at least two teams in.
Also, Cal's RPI currently is 23 and collegerpi.com currently projects a final RPI of 21. Here's the best RPI major-conference team that's been left out of the NCAAs in each of the past 10 seasons:
2009: Florida (54)
If Cal is anywhere in the top 30, it would be utterly unprecedented from an RPI standpoint to see the Golden Bears left out.
Toss in Cal's injury issues from early in the season, when the team played a very rigorous nonleague schedule, the chance that the Golden Bears could win the Pac-10 by multiple games if they beat Arizona State at home this weekend, and the really soft bubble, and the smart money says Cal will be dancing if it mostly takes care of business down the stretch.
If Cal does win the auto-bid? The Pac-10 very likely will make history as the first high-major league not to receive an at-large in the 64/65-team era.
4) Who could be this season's Mississippi State (2009) or Georgia (2008) and come out of nowhere to steal a major-conference auto-bid and knock out an at-large?
Look no further than the SEC (again) and Arkansas. This question actually was Tweeted about several weeks ago and the Hogs were prominently debated at that point. Now they could win the SEC West, get a bye into the quarterfinals and then draw the E4/W5 winner first. Crazier things have happened.
5) What teams are you rooting to win auto-bids if you support an at-large team?
No-doubters: Gonzaga (WCC), Butler (Horizon), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley).
Better to have them win: Siena (MAAC), Utah State (WAC), Cornell (Ivy), UAB (C-USA), Old Dominion (CAA).
Multi-bid league preferences: Temple/Richmond/Xavier (A-10), New Mexico/BYU/UNLV (Mountain West).
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors