Monday, March 10, 2008

One At-Large Spot Gone?... Two?

William & Mary 56, VCU 54
A stunning upset in the Colonial provides an interesting at-large case. Two things made this loss shocking - the first one being that William & Mary is a school that doesn't have much basketball history. The school has existed since the 17th century, but it's never earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. If you flip to ESPN soon after this gets posted, you'll get a chance to see them try to earn that first spot by upsetting George Mason in the CAA Tournament Finals. What also made this loss shocking was that VCU played pretty well. It wasn't like they went ice-cold from the field. In all, they shot 42% from the field, including 9-for-18 from behind the arc. A couple of missed free throws late in the game were killers, but William & Mary kept this game close with solid defense and overall hustle. Now, I said that VCU could earn an at-large bid by losing a close game in the finals to George Mason, so does that apply to a close loss in the semis to William & Mary? Unfortunately, probably not. Even the George Mason scenario was simply a possibility, and they still might have missed out on the Tournament. One thing that should keep them hopeful is that their resume looks quite similar to the 2005-06 Utah State team that snuck into the Tournament as an at-large (although was widely considered the most surprising selection that season). To compare, the '06 Utah State team leads the RPI battle 46 to 52. VCU went 15-3 in conference to Utah State's 11-5, although Utah State was in a superior conference. Utah State went 7-6 against the RPI Top 100 while VCU went 3-3. Utah State had a more impressive top win (Nevada), while VCU's top wins are more mediocre (Maryland, Houston, Akron). All in all, the resumes are pretty similar. But VCU isn't competing against '06 Utah State - they're competing against a slew of '08 teams. And we'll have to see what happens in other conferences to see if they can sneak in through the back door.

Virginia 91, Maryland 76
The bubble hasn't quite burst for Maryland, but time is definitely running out for the Terps. The loss drops them 8-8 in the ACC, which wouldn't be all that bad if they had a good out-of-conference resume with which to balance it out. The problem is that their out-of-conference RPI is 111th. Their only RPI Top 100 victory outside of the ACC was against Charlotte. In conference they obviously have that win at Chapel Hill, but that's it. Overall the RPI has slipped to 69th due to a 7-10 record against the RPI Top 100. The overall road/neutral record is also bad, at 5-7. If the season ended now they'd almost definitely be out of the Tournament, but their bubble hasn't burst because there are so many opportunities for big wins in the ACC Tournament. They start with a must-win against Boston College, but then draw Clemson in the ACC Quarterfinals. To me, that's a must-win as well. I think Maryland absolutely needs to get to the ACC Semifinals if they're going to have a decent chance on Selection Sunday. If they really want to feel good about their chances, they probably need to make the ACC Finals. That would probably require a win over Duke, which would be a great way to end. But the way Maryland has slumped to a close (four losses in their last five games), do you really see them running off three straight victories against ACC opposition? Me neither.

San Diego 75, Saint Mary's 69

With Gonzaga barely surviving their WCC Semifinal match, we were almost guaranteed to lose an at-large bid here. Saint Mary's will earn an at-large bid, as will Gonzaga if they need it. But San Diego has no chance at an at-large bid, and a win for them tonight would mean that the number of Tournament openings would effectively shrink by one. We are all aware of the fact that Gonzaga has won eight of the last nine WCC Tournament titles. But are you aware of the one blemish in that streak? That's right - San Diego beat the Zags in 2003. Tune in tonight, at 9pm eastern time on ESPN.

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