Today marks the One Year Anniversary for Basketball Predictions. It's been a good year, and I feel like we're starting to build a good place to discuss college ball. Over the first few months this site existed, visits would often number only a dozen or so per day, and comments were few and far between. Now, we're receiving well over 1000 hits, and around a dozen comments per week. Also, visitors are starting to get the hang of what is offered here, as well over 100 different "returning visitors" show up on the day of each new BP65. We're at about 150 hits per day throughout the month of February, and have a total of 17,780 hits for the year at the moment I'm typing this. The hit counter is constantly going on the bottom of the page if you're curious. I think that a double in the number of hits (around 35,500) will be a good goal for the next twelve months.
On another exciting note, we're only 3 days away from my favorite part of the college basketball season: conference tournament time. There are just more good matchups during conference tournament time than during the real Tournament. You get teams with similar styles, and historical rivalries playing each other. Duke/UNC, Florida/Kentucky, etc. In the Tournament you often end up with teams from different conferences with clashing styles, and the games aren't as smooth or exciting. Not to mention all of the small conference teams playing for their seasons. There is no other sport in the world where one month before the end of the season, well over 300 teams still have a shot at winning the national title. I can't wait.
Finally, if that wasn't enough to chew on, let's go over some of the key bubble matchups from the past couple of days, as well as earlier this afternoon:
Oregon State 73, Washington 65
Probably going to do it for a very disappointing Huskies team. I won't mathematically eliminate them, because you have so many good chances for big wins in the Pac-10. Washington closes at Oregon, then at home vs. USC and UCLA. If they win all three and run through the conference Tourney, they'll be discussed as a red hot bubble team. But I don't see them winning all three. I don't see them even winning two of three. And if they don't win all three they can officially start selling tickets to their first NIT game.
USC 69, Stanford 65
I hope Cardinal fans haven't been fooled into thinking that their team has wrapped up a Tournament spot. They have a decent RPI of 43, and are sitting fourth in a conference that will get atleast five bids. But they still have to head to UCLA, where the Bruins will be ready to deliver payback for a loss earlier this year. And Stanford also has to play a very tough Arizona team at home that might be desperate to keep their conference record over .500. Losses in those two games will drop Stanford to a mere 10-8 in the Pac-10. Stanford still probably will get in on the back of several quality wins over Tournament locks, but they will have to sweat it out through conference tournament week. USC, meanwhile, seems like a team that should be a Tournament lock, but has an inexplicably low RPI of only 50. The reason for the poor RPI is that they played a bunch of really awful teams (300+ RPIs) that crushed their strength of schedule. It's the trick that the Missouri Valley and Mountain West conferences have used to inflate their RPIs in recent years: Never play teams with RPIs worse than 250 if you can avoid them. If you play team #200 they will still be an easy victory, and your RPI will be much healthier for it. However, I think this is where the Selection Committee will look past the computer numbers and recognize that USC has earned a Tournament bid for their play thus far. For the record, Sagarin puts USC 33rd. It's rare for BCS conference teams to have Sagarin ratings that high and get denied.
Texas Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57
In a lot of ways the Cowboys outplayed Tech in this one, but their thin bench was exacerbated by foul trouble and Tech parlayed good home court advantage into an important win. Tech has struggled with their computer numbers all year, but this win pushes them to 36th in the RPI. They're also back up to .500 in the conference. They have two very winnable final two regular season games (vs. Baylor and at Iowa State) that they really need to get that 9-7 record. I'm under the impression that no Big 12 team has ever made the Tournament at 8-8, although someone can correct me if I'm wrong. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State really has their backs against the wall now. The RPI has dropped to 49, and even if they win out they will still only be 8-8 in the Big 12. The fact is that teams like Florida State and Georgia are outplaying Oklahoma State right now. So, if those teams are still on the outside looking in, the Cowboys are really going to have a tough time arguing why they should stay in the bracket.
Florida State 78, North Carolina State 52
Boston College 59, Clemson 54
It is widely assumed that the top six teams in the ACC are moving on to the Tournament (UNC, Va Tech, BC, Virginia, Duke, Maryland). But many people also think that a seventh team is going to get in, and right now FSU and Clemson are dueling for that seventh spot. Clemson seemed like a Tournament lock just a month ago, but right now I think that today's results put FSU in position for that 7th spot. The 6-9 ACC record is pretty bad (obviously it will have to end up at 7-9, because they won't get in at 6-10), but the rest of the numbers are pretty nice. The RPI is up to 38th, and they have wins over Florida, Virginia Tech and Maryland, as well as Duke on the road. I think that if the Seminoles take care of business against Miami and against their first round ACC opponent, followed by an upset in the ACC Quarterfinals, they will probably be able to wrap up an at-large bid. Clemson, meanwhile, has to win at Virginia Tech to avoid a 6-10 record that would essentially eliminate them from at-large consideration. It's been quite a few years since we've seen a team with such a meteoric rise and fall within a season. I can't imagine what it feels like to be a Clemson fan right now.
Georgia 86, Mississippi State 73
An important win for a Georgia team, and an important loss for Mississippi State. It feels like there is at most one at-large bid to be had for the group of Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas. It's essential for these teams to keep winning, to try to put together the 9-7 SEC record that they probably will need. The fact is that the computer numbers are pretty bad for these teams, and there are few good wins to go around. Florida, Kentucky, Vandy, Tennessee and Alabama are all looking pretty safe for a bid. It seems odd that the conference leading the nation in RPI might only get five bids, but it could happen.