Friday, January 10, 2014

The Friday Appraisal

Before I get to a preview of tomorrow's games, I figure Friday would be a good time for a new Q&A feature, the Friday Appraisal. Friday is the slowest day of the college basketball (in the only game worth watching, Mercer beat Kennesaw State 83-46 at home), usually populated by just a few low- to mid-major conference games. So here are some burning college basketball questions. At the end of this post is a preview of Saturday's major match ups.
  1. There are 5 unbeaten teams left: Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Who will be the next to lose?

    First, let's take Wichita State out of the equation. There are only two borderline good teams in the Missouri Valley besides the Shockers: Indiana State and Northern Iowa. WSU plays them on the road, back to back, on Feb. 5 and Feb. 8. Other than those games, we can't assume WSU to be challenged. They probably will, but it will come unexpectedly. A Shockers undefeated season is a real possibility: Wichita State has about a 1/7 chance of going undefeated right now.

    Iowa State is probably the answer. Iowa State has a murderer's row of games coming up. It plays at Oklahoma, then gets Kansas at home, and then goes to play at Texas. That's followed up with a home game against Kansas State, and January wraps up with a trip to Kansas. Yes, ISU's start has been impressive, but I would be amazed if the Cyclones made it through January unscathed, but I think it is possible that ISU saves its first loss for January 29 at KU. Very unlikely it makes it all the way to February.

    Syracuse can probably go a while without losing---it all depends on whether these ACC teams that we thought would be at the top of college basketball pick up their game. As long as the Orange can avoid UNC's roller coaster peak tomorrow, it has winnable (and losable) home games against Pitt on January 18 and Duke on February 1. If it makes it through there, expect a very difficult challenge at Pitt on February 8. Syracuse will probably not make it through the season undefeated though, as it finishes the regular season with four of five games on the road (Duke, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida State).

    Wisconsin has lucked out thanks to the unbalanced Big Ten scheduling. It plays a winnable game at Minnesota on January 22, but its only match ups with Ohio State and Michigan State this year, on February 1 and February 9, respectively, are home games. Games at Michigan on February 16 and at Iowa on February 22 should prove extremely difficult, especially considering how close the game in Madison was.

    After Arizona finishes up this LA road trip at USC, it has three straight home games against ASU, Colorado, and Utah. Colorado has been a thorn in Arizona's side, but expect Arizona to win at home. The next major challenge is February 1 at Cal. If Arizona can make it through that, we're looking at a February 22 road game against Colorado or a March 8 game at Oregon. Arizona does not look unbeatable with some of these close games, but it has the most impressive away wins of any team (San Diego State, Michigan, UCLA, Duke at MSG). Arizona has about a 1/28 chance of going undefeated now, best after Wichita State.

  2. What's wrong with the West Coast Conference?

    The WCC didn't get damaged by the conference realignment bonanza. Like the Pac-12, it only added teams, and it added good teams in BYU and Pacific (who isn't good right now). It reasoned that the WCC would constantly be a multi-team conference, especially since it had been getting multiple bids recently without the additions. It looked going into the season like Saint Mary's and BYU could make the tournament alongside Gonzaga, but they have both suffered a number of losses and will struggle to add to their computer numbers with a weakened WCC schedule.

    Gonzaga still has the chops for an at-large bid, but it has no wins over sure-fire at-large tournament teams (Arkansas, West Virginia, Saint Mary's, New Mexico State), and Portland, even away, counts as a bad loss. Gonzaga should benefit in a way from being in a bad conference because it should pile up the wins, but additional losses like last night may make things a bit dicey for the Zags.

  3. Who is the highest seeded team in the bracket right now that might be out by Selection Sunday?

    I'm worried for Arkansas, which climbed all the way up to a 6 last weekend before being blown out at Texas A&M this week. If Arkansas doesn't win its next two games, home tilts against Florida and Kentucky, Arkansas will be 0-3 in the SEC and 11-6 overall. The SEC is not a good enough conference where you can go 9-9 and be assured entry into the Big Dance.

    SMU might also not be ready for prime time. It moved all the way up to an 8 last week after upsetting UConn and playing the Bearcats tough at Cincinnati. Close good losses at Arkansas and Virginia added to SMU's resume. SMU should stay in the bracket if it beats all of the American's bad teams, teams like USF and Rutgers. At-large level success is new to Larry Brown's Mustangs, though, so we'll have to wait to see what kind of winning attitude comes out of Dallas.

  4. Who is the best team in Indiana?

    Oy. Indiana State? No good out of state wins, two bad losses (Belmont, Tulsa). Notre Dame? One good out of state win (Duke), two bad losses (NC State, ND State). Indiana? Five losses (none bad), zero good wins. Butler? Zero good wins, three-game losing streak, bad loss (DePaul at home). This is one ugly state that might have zero tournament teams right now. I think I'd take Notre Dame over any other team in Indiana, but I wouldn't put them up against the top of most other states.

For as big as Saturday's calendar is, there aren't a ton of great games. The best might be the first three games to tipoff. Saint Louis and Dayton work on A-10 standing, UNC tries to pull off another improbable upset at Syracuse, and Iowa State tries to remain perfect at improving Oklahoma. We'll also see if Arkansas can hold their own against Florida, whether Duke can win a road game against a decent team (Clemson), and whether Oklahoma State can survive a trip to West Virginia. As always, the numbers listed below are from last weekend's Bracket Brief. A new one will be posted on Sunday.

#9 Saint Louis at #11 Dayton
#7 North Carolina at #1 Syracuse
#2 Iowa State at #11 Oklahoma
#11 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
Wake Forest at #5 Pittsburgh
Indiana at Penn State
Saint Bonaventure at #4 Massachusetts
#2 Villanova at St. John's
#3 Florida at #6 Arkansas
Robert Morris at #16 Bryant
Bradley at Indiana State
TCU at #4 Baylor
LSU at South Carolina
#8 Duke at Clemson
(FFO) Kansas State at #2 Kansas
#6 Missouri at Auburn
#16 Charleston Southern at Winthrop
#15 Boston U at Lafayette
#13 North Dakota State at IUPUI
Texas Arlington at #15 Louisiana Lafayette
Seton Hall at #10 Marquette
Oberlin at Cornell - Cornell gets chance for first win against non-D1 team
Dartmouth at #8 Harvard
#10 Minnesota at #2 Michigan State
Rhode Island at #10 George Washington
#5 Memphis at Temple
#7 Kentucky at Vanderbilt
#6 Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Charlotte at UTSA
#14 Delaware at James Madison
Alabama at Georgia
Ole Miss at Mississippi State
#10 Virginia at NC State
#15 Belmont at UT Martin
UCF at (LFI) #11 Connecticut
Rutgers at #5 Cincinnati
Princeton at Pennsylvania
Texas A&M at #12 Tennessee
#15 North Carolina Central at Florida A&M
Central Michigan at #13 Toledo
San Francisco at Saint Mary's
Cal Poly at #13 UC Santa Barbara
(FFO) Georgetown at (NFO) Butler
Richmond at Fordham
The Citadel at #16 Elon
#14 Stephen F. Austin at Texas A&M-CC
#3 Wichita State at Missouri State
Texas Tech at (FFO) Texas
FIU at (NFO) Louisiana Tech
Idaho at #12 New Mexico State
Utah State at Nevada
St. Joseph's at George Mason
(LFI) #11 California at Oregon State
Prairie View A&M at #16 Texas Southern
Wyoming at Boise State
Loyola Marymount at BYU
Idaho State at #16 Northern Colorado
#8 New Mexico at San Jose State

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