Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The At-Large Chances For St. Mary's

#1 Gonzaga 65, St. Mary's 51
I normally don't do game recap posts for a single game, but since it's unlikely that there will be any more games to recap tonight, I didn't want to leave this game until Wednesday. And just as I broke down Middle Tennessee's issues a few days ago, I wanted to talk about St. Mary's. St. Mary's is in a stronger position than Middle Tennessee, but has a lot of the same problems.

Just as comparison, St. Mary's is 36th in RPI and 37th in the Sagarin ELO_SCORE, with two bad losses (Georgia Tech and Pacific). Middle Tennessee is 32nd in RPI and 57th in the Sagarin ELO_SCORE, with two bad losses (FIU and Arkansas State). On first glance, St. Mary's is in a slightly better spot. The real difference, though, is in quality wins. As I said, Middle Tennessee has a single RPI Top 100 win (Ole Miss), which would make them the first team with fewer than three RPI Top 100 wins to earn an at-large bid (UCF has been vacillating in and out of the RPI Top 100, so Middle Tennessee could end up with a second RPI Top 100 win on Selection Sunday, but they're still going to be short of three). St. Mary's, on the other hand, has six RPI Top 100 wins: Creighton, BYU (twice), Harvard and Santa Clara (twice).

St. Mary's does still have a real problem there. Wins over BYU and Harvard are not really going to impress anybody. The win over Creighton is massive, and could be what gets them into the NCAA Tournament, but one quality win is a problem for a Selection Committee that prefers teams with quality wins and bad losses to teams with neither.

Remember, "the eye test" and looking at how good teams are is utterly irrelevant here, as are the Pomeroy ratings. The Selection Committee claims to care about "the eye test", Pomeroy, and even things like tempo and style of play, and specific facets of teams games. In fact, if you look at their official directions, they care to claim about everything short of the head coach's haircut. But that is all public relations garbage that they say on television but eschew as soon as they enter the holy conclave of the actual Selection room. The bracket they put out every year is based on resumes, with a special focus on big wins and strong finishes.

And by the way, that is another problem for St. Mary's. While the Selection Committee does not ordinarily care about the scores of games, they do take note if a team ends on a particularly bad note. They have historically overreacted to teams that flamed out in their opening conference tournament game, or that made a run to their conference title game. And St. Mary's going to in a romp that was never competitive does not help them. They'd be in a better position if they had lost to Gonzaga in a tight, competitive final minute - that would have given a much more favorable final impression to their judges.

But with that win over Creighton, I do think that St. Mary's is in the Field of 68 right now. Certainly they are in a much stronger place than Middle Tennessee, a team that I'd be shocked to see get a bid. The Gaels need to spend the rest of the week rooting for a softer bubble. They could still miss the NCAA Tournament if things go sour over the next five days, but for now they're in.

No comments: