With the Game of Year in the Mountain West Conference going on tonight, its as good a time as any to discuss the league and its tournament bid chances. Tonight, Utah travels to San Diego State and sole possession of first place is on the line. Apparently, you're missing something if you're not watching Mountain West hoops. The league is having a watershed season. At least, I assume it is. What other conclusion can I make considering that for most of the winter, bracketologists everywhere have been landing a boatload of MWC teams into their field. With 32 days until Selection Sunday, the MWC is seeing 4 of its team in plenty of mock brackets and just about everyone has no less than three teams in the field.
Bracketology 101 called out ESPN's Joe Lunardi last week for including four MWC teams (Utah, SDSU, BYU and UNLV) in his field last week. Lunardi still those four in his field, albeit with BYU and UNLV among the final four in his field. However, B101 is finding the league is hard to resist, admitting to caving in with his latest mock field and even he has three MWC on the board.
I concur with B101's original sentiment. Not to disrespect the fine, competitive hoops they play in the Rockies, but are you kidding me with four bids into the NCAA field? That's almost half their league! What is this, some sort extra credit for the impressive football season the league just completed? I guess its the Year of the MWC. Nobody told me that. Do I still have time to get all my Year of the MWC shopping in before its over?
Even with Michigan's loss to MSU last night, it does not take a PHD in argumentative logic to win a debate that Michigan has the better resume and team than most of the MWC clubs being considered at this point. Throwing Michigan out of the equation, however, I conted we can make a better case for several of the bubble teams left out of most fields today over the at large bids given to the MWC teams.
The league is seventh in the conference RPI rankings. Thats an excellent mark for them, but its just one measurable. The MWC deserves an at large based upon that, but I dont think that alone should warrant the inclusion of more than that.
What if we did conference challenges between the MWC and other comparable leagues and matched the top four MWC teams against the top four teams from either the Missouri Valley, Colonial, Atlantic 10 or West Coast leagues? I've watched enough hoops this year, where I would expect the MVC and CAA to come out on top and I'd be more than willing to put my money where my mouth is. None of these other leagues is in much contention to receive an at large bid, let alone multiple ones.
Browsing through the mocks that have loaded up on MWC teams reveals a sentiment that perhaps nobody else is buying this many MWC bids either. But the bulk of the bubble is so weak that its hard to bump any of them out right now. I can only buy part of that thought process. I agree the overall bubble is not that strong. But, I disagree that there aren't teams currently on the outside looking in that have better resumes and achieved as much, if not more, in better leagues than the MWC.
Enough of my hyperbolic opinion. As we get ready for tonight's showdown, lets do what is only natural this time of year: Breakdown and compare resumes.
SDSU 17-5, 7-2
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100:1-2, 3-4
Best 6 Wins:SD, at UNLV, BYU. TCU, Utah, at CSU
Key Losses: Arizona, ASU, St. Mary, at BYU at Wyoming
Our old friend Steve Fisher has a nice team in the Aztecs, and he is trying to coax them into a third tournament appearance since he arrived in town. I wonder how many of his SDSU players have phone numbers of local bookies in the cell phones?
Low blows aside, it's nice to see Fisher have some success this late in his career. I would encourage anyone to check out a few minutes of any televised Aztec game, if only to see the Haray Carey-esque eyeglasses look the Fish is rocking these days. It's unintentional comedy at its finest.
Anway, lets dive into their resume. Following his mentor Bill Freider's lead, Fisher's club loaded up on a lot of cupcakes, gobbling wins against the likes of UC-San Diego, Western Carolina, Hampton, Seattle (not the Sonics), Northern Colorado and Arkansas Pine Bluff. They had three notable OOC games, but lost all three.
The Aztecs only have three wins versus the RPI top 100. Compare to Michigan, which has more than twice as many. Or Cincy, Arizona, USC and Miami which has twice as many. But, its SDSU that's in all but 5 mock brackets that have been updated after last weekend's action, while the other schools are fighting for their spots.
My problem with SDSU's resume is that their best wins of the season are all in league play. Are we saying the MWC is so strong that a team with ziltch on their OOC resume can still net a bid on the back of home court wins in league play? If that's the case, why aren't we also talking about Northeastern of the CAA, Tulsa from CUSA or Creighton from the VC deserving at large bids. We aren't.
I dont think SDSU is a team that can win a game in the tournament, and isn't that a key factor in finally determining who gets into the field. The irony of Michigan and SDSU battling on the same bubble makes for a nice story line. But, if the Aztecs grab an at large bid and Michigan is one the final teams left out in the cold, my bitterness towards Fisher will only grow.
Utah 16-7, 7-2
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 2-4,6-5
Best 6 Wins: Ole Miss, Oregon, Gonzaga, LSU, BYU, New Mexico
Key Losses:SW Baptist, Idaho St, Utah St, Oklahoma, Cal, at SDSU, at UNLV
Way back in the 1990s, the Utah Utes were guaranteed spots in the NCAA field. Basketball season has not been as kind to Utah in recent years, but this year's Utes squad may finally have recaptured the magic of the peak Majerus years. A win tonight in their showdown with SDSU may officially prove the Utes are back.
Given their RPI, SOS and resume building OOC wins over LSU and Gonzaga, Utah has a much better case for an at large bid, even if they lose and get swept tonight by SDSU. Six wins against the RPI top 100 is not something you usually see from a mid major, so that's a nice feather in their cap.
You know what's not a nice feather in their cap? Those atrocious losses to SW Baptist and Idaho State. Yet, the Utes are 11 in the RPI. Are we sure the RPI formula is working? How can a team have those horrible losses, play in a quasi mid major league and yet still remain among the cream of thr RPI crop? Somebody over there may need a new math consultant.
On one hand, those losses were two months ago. However, I saw plenty of commentary this week regarding Kentucky's suddenly shaky bid, pointing out not only the Cats losing streak at the time, but also their embarrassing loss to VMI way back in the season opener. Utah's losses should be weighed accordingly. At least VMI is in first place of the Southern Conference and will likely end up in the tournament. Idaho State is in the bottom half of the Big Sky. As for SW Baptist, I dont even knoW what division of hoops they play, let alone their conference ranking.
If it comes down to Utah and others for one of the final spots, how do those losses not come back to haunt them? Miami, Michigan, Cincy and Penn St, just to name a few, play in tougher leagues, have marquee OOC wins, but dont have those pair of stinkers on their resume that the Utes do.
BYU 17-5, 5-3
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 2-3, 4-5
Best 6 Wins: Utah St, Tulsa, SDSU, TCU, Wyoming, at CSU
Key Losses: New Mexico, Utah, UNLV, Arizona St, Wake
The Cougars are the only team in the country to beat Utah State. And, they have a win over Tulsa, the second place team in Conference USA. I'm sold. Go ahead and put them in the field. Most folks have chugged the Cougar Koolaid (wait a minute....that sounds interesting.....perhaps the more perverted wing of the WLA can get to work on a recipe.....but, I digress). BYU finds itself in 30 out of 45 mock brackets that have been updated to include recent games.
I dont mean to knock that win over the Aggies. That's an elite mid major program. But, should Bracket Buster Day type wins pave the way for this kind of seemingly automatic inclusion into the field? I say no. There has to be more than that. Adding in a win over Tulsa and nice MWC record just does not scream at large invite.
When you think about it, isn't BYU's 5-3 MWC mark rather pedestrian? We're talking about leaving .500 teams from BCS leagues out of the field, yet we're blindly promoting a BYU club that's only two games above .500 in a lesser league. You know who else is within that same range record wise in comparable leagues? Try Houston, Temple and Illinois State. Those teams are nowhere near the bubble, but BYU has crashed the gates.
The Cougars are in with a 5-3 MC conference mark, but Cincy and Penn State are still fighting to get noticed with a 6-5 mark in the Big East and Big 10 respectively. Does that make sense?
The Cougars might need to worry that a fellow league member's slide may bode ill for them and other conference members on the bubble.
UNLV 18-6, 6-4
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 3-2, 3-2
Best 6 Wins: San Diego, Arizona, at Louisville, at BYU, Utah, TCU
Key Losses:Cal, Cincy, at TCU, at CSU, SDSU, at NM
Wow. Another MWC team that hasn't won more than 60 percent of their league games gets a majority of bracketologists on board with their resume. Typically that winning percentage is NIT material out of this sort of league. Yet, 60 percent of the mocks (27 out of 45) that have been updated since the weekend still place the Rebels in their field.
The Rebels have not been playing all that well of late. Early it looked like they might have been the best team in the league. But, they dropped winnable road games at TCU and CSU and more recently lost consecutive games to SDSU and New Mexico. Fans are expecting a roller coaster, with the strong chance of hell breaking loose, down the stretch.
UNLV has great wins over Arizona and Louisville. But, they also lost to fellow bubble mates Cincy and Cal. Seriously, how can you put UNLV in your field, but not the CU Bearcats. They basically have indentical league marks, but Cincy plays in a much tougher conference and they beat the Rebels head to head, in Vegas no less.
Compare the Rebels resume with Michigan's and tell me which one is better. UM has a better RPI, shatters them in the SOS department, play in a better league, have more marquee OOC wins and have twice as many wins over the RPI top 100. I dont feel that UM should be on too many bracket lines in the wake of last night's loss. Nor do I understand all the love I see UNLV getting in the mock brackets.
Here's where the rubber meets the road for me when it comes to UNLV. They lost to TCU. Now, the Horned Frogs are up and coming, but they still lost this year to Indiana. Anyone who loses to a team that lost to Indiana this year should be eliminated from consideration. That's just the rules.