By Ron Jumper
It has been awhile since my season opening Jumpology, but there will start to be much more regular editions as we get closer to the finish line. With so many games to go, how do we distinguish who has done enough and who needs work? The long answer is complicated and subjective, but the short answer is the criteria here:
The debate over these different components always causes quite a stir among hoops fans. What should matter more: a big win over Duke or a bad loss to Loyola Marymount? The committee last season seemed to reward the “signature win” and not punish teams for bad losses, as Maryland and Arizona snuck in.
My thing is that the small schools don’t get as many opportunities to get those kinds of “signature wins” as the big schools do. Within the ACC or Pac-10 (just as an example), every team loses a few games, especially on the road. I think just one win over an elite team shouldn’t trump a great body of work from start to finish by another team. On the flip side, I also feel like the mid-majors get punished because they happened to lose a game or two in their conference. The same principle applies, as most teams just don’t go undefeated in conference play very often. Within any conference, there are rivalries and bad matchups, along with tough stretches on the schedule and whatever injuries come up along the way.
To put it simply, mid-majors play more bad teams so there are more opportunities to have a bad loss while “Big Six” conferences play more games against really good teams so they have more opportunities for these so-called “Signature Wins” that I keep hearing about.
As always, the landscape of college basketball seems to change every year. At this time last season, it appeared the Mountain West was in position to get 4 or 5 teams in the dance. As for this season, that breakout conference is the A10. There are several teams fighting for bids and it is getting harder and harder to leave them out of the tournament. At the top of that list is Temple, as they seem to be a lock for the dance. They have wins over Villanova, Siena, Virginia Tech, St. Johns and Penn State in the non-conference. Next up is Rhode Island, as they already have 7 true road wins to go along with wins over Boston College and Oklahoma State. At 6-1 in the A10 is Xavier, who has played a challenging schedule (SOS 2) and held their own, though they had some near misses against Baylor (lost by 5), Butler (lost by 1), and Wake Forest (lost in OT by 4). Those three seem the safest to me, but there is still Charlotte, Richmond, and Dayton fighting for additional bids as well.
Without Memphis as the premier program at the top of Conference USA, the league has become much more balanced. UAB is currently at the top of the standings, with Tulsa, Memphis, and UTEP not far behind. Vastly improved Marshall is in the mix as well, thanks to 6’11” freshman Hassan Whiteside. The biggest surprise is the Blazers, with wins over Butler and Cincinnati to go along with a perfect 6-0 C-USA record. The problem with C-USA is their conference RPI, which currently has them ranked eleventh. That usually doesn’t translate to many at-large bids. The bottom half of this conference is what drags that ranking down, as Rice, Tulane, and East Carolina are awful. Any of the teams fighting for an at-large bid in this conference had better not stumble to one of those bottom feeders along the way.
Here is a seed-by-seed breakdown:
East Tennessee State*
Sam Houston State*
Morgan State* Play-In
Texas Southern* Play-In
First Four Out:
This is it where it gets tough, as these teams can easily play their way in over the next couple of weeks. Charlotte keep winning and, if that continues, there is no way to snub them from the dance. Mississippi State should finish towards the top of the SEC West and, if this is the case, they should be in. The Bearcats and Fighting Irish are slugging it out in the loaded Big East, which is going to be a crowded bubble race down to the wire.
Next Four Out:
San Diego State
The Pac-10 didn’t get any at-large bids from me, but that should change. Any of Arizona, Arizona State, Washington, or Washington State could work there way into the mix by Selection Sunday. As for Wichita State and San Diego State, these mid-majors just need to stay the course within conference play and that means winning their road games too.