Who exactly is Shawn Siegel? And, more importantly, why do I have a man crush on him today? No, recruiting junkies, he’s not some OMG Shirtless Recruit with a reputation of busting skulls from the linebacker position who’s about the commit to Michigan (I wish).
Rather, Siegel is the proprietor and editor of the comprehensive website collegehoopsnet.com. It’s a quirky site devoted to college basketball. I say quirky because often I can’t find the exact information I’m looking for when I check into the site, but I never fail to find other nuggets and links that keeps me occupied during my college hoops research.
My adoration from him today stems from the fact that in his latest stab at a mock bracket he still has the Michigan Wolverines in his field, albeit hanging by a string as a 12 seed and one of the last teams to make his final cut. Shawn Siegel, the Michigan community salutes you.
Remarkably, Siegel is not alone in including the Wolverines, losers of five of six games and seemingly hanging on to a bid by a razor thin margin the whole second half of January. Rainmaker (who runs this blog, Pac Man Jones or Reid Baker? Discuss) joins Siegel in placing Michigan along the 12 line. Another mock bracket site still has Michigan as high as an 11 seed, actually moving the Wolverines up in the field despite their 0-2 week. He also has eight Big 10 teams in the field. Clearly, he’s Jim Delaney’s nephew.
Alas, these folks are in the minority. Michigan has fallen out of most everybody’s brackets, including luminaries in the bracketology field such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and the Bracket Junkie. A quick perusal of the obsessive bracket matrix reveals that Michigan is on the outside looking in right now, but remains in striking range as one the final teams cut from most fields.
Here’s the math that I see Michigan up against. There are 19 at large bids out there that I feel are secure right now. Barring a collapse of epic proportions these teams will find themselves seeded come Selection Sunday. That leaves 15 at large bids left to be doled out. Depending on how inclusive you want to be, anywhere from 35 to 40 teams are among the group battling it out for those bids. The good news is Michigan has an excellent out of conference resume to fall back on and has plenty of conference showdowns—mostly at home—that will allow them nail some high end scalps to the wall and impress the Selection Committee. That bad news is, well, have you seen the team play recently? That’s the bad news and there’s doubt the team will have the chops to rebound and close strong.
Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of events away from Ann Arbor that are impacting the current form of the brackets and the tournament bubble:
INVITE PENN SCHTAAAATE
After snaring perhaps its biggest win of the decade, Penn State fans are wondering if their proverbial black shoes are shined up and ready to dance. Their upset of Michigan State in East Lansing as 12.5-point underdogs is arguably the most impressive league win in the entire conference. What’s not arguable is the immediate impact of that victory: the Nittany Lions appearance, in almost across-the-board fashion, in the mock brackets. In many cases, the mocks just subbed one Big 10 team for another as PSU became one of the final four teams into the field, while, sigh, Michigan fell into the final four to eight out category.
Normally watching a conference brethren pass you by is bad news, but Penn St’s surge could not have been timed better for Michigan. Conveniently, guess who’s coming to Ann Arbor on Thursday night? That’s right; the Penn St-Michigan game this week looms as perhaps the biggest bubble matchup of the week.
The Wolverines are trending downward, but they can regain a does of credibility by beating this week’s mock bracket darling. A win will re-establish Michigan as the sixth Big 10 team ahead of PSU and Northwestern. They’ll have earned a split with the Lions. While PSU will still have a better league mark, Michigan’s out of conference resume, with wins over UCLA, Duke and Northeastern of the CAA dwarfs Penn St’s, which is devoid of any legit scalp, but marred by a pair of shaky home losses to Rhode Island and Temple. If Michigan wins Thursday and puts together a decent showing on the road against top ranked Uconn on Saturday, I’d like to hear the arguments for keeping PSU in the field over Michigan.
Elsewhere in the Big 10, Northwestern is also on the uptick. They are appearing in more than a handful of lists as a final team cut from the field.. This too is good news for Michigan. Who would have thought wins over Northwestern and Penn St would be resume builders. For that matter, who would have thought that wins over Michigan would be as well?
On the other end of the spectrum are the reeling Wisconsin Badgers. Already plummeting on a six game losing streak, the Badgers have a pair of tough ones this week with Illinois on Thursday and PSU on Sunday. The Badgers appear no better than 9th right now in the Big 10 pecking order. Despite some strong computer numbers, the Badgers may needto win four of their next five games just to get in range of a bid. If they keep losing this week, they may have passed the point of no return. That could lead to an outcome where the final league bid comes down to UM, PSU and NW. As long as Michigan beats PSU this week and begins to collect more league wins, I’d take my chances with the Wolverine's resume in that scenario.
ACC Déjà Vu
How many bids did the esteemed ACC receive into the field last season? Believe or not, the answer is just four bids. That seems impossibly low for a league that, much like SEC football, is always considered—correctly or not—as the standard bearer of the sport. The league’s problem is that it’s so top heavy. It puts the league in a bind and may lead to the same fate this year on selection day as last year.
The league’s Big Four of UNC, Duke, Wake and Clemson are Final Four threats. After that, however, nothing is certain and anywhere from between 5 teams and none may be making a claim for a bid come March. There’s a quintet of teams—BC, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Miami and FSU—that are all jockeying for position behind the league heavyweights. Some combination of those five are in the mock brackets, with the ones in the field among the last included and those on the outside among the last excluded. These five clubs still play a combined 15 games against the league’s Big 4, not to mention several more head to head games against fellow bubble dwellers.
Some slates look too daunting to even consider a bid. Maryland, for example, has five games remaining with the Big 4, and their resume is currently plagued with a 1-3 record against fellow league bubble teams and a bad loss to Morgan State. Miami, a team already struggling and falling out of favor with the mocks, lines up against Wake, Duke and UNC in their next three games. The Canes are feeling the heat already, but their three-game losing streak could double. Virginia Tech, a team that always finds itself in close games, will have to find some wins in a closing stretch that includes two games against FSU and games with UNC, Duke and Clemson. The Seminoles, meanwhile, might have the hardest final month of them all with four games against the Big 4 and four more against their fellow bubble mates.
It’s hard to see more than two more bids coming out of that group. It’s easier to see at least a couple of them embark on protracted losing spells like the one Michigan is going through right now. If you set the number of bids coming from this group at 2.5, I would take the Under. Heck, make it 1.5, I still might throw down on the Under. I like to live dangerously. It’s what I am pulling for as less bids for the ACC could mean more for the Big 10.
In a week where most of the news centered on football recruiting and the in-season firing of two hoop coaches, the SEC actually made positive strides on the court and suddenly finds itself in contention for more bids.
For weeks, the SEC had been labeled the worst of the BCS leagues in terms of hoops and was in danger of getting as few as three bids into the dance. In a week that saw a breath of fresh air from Tennessee, saving the Vols season and South Carolina get a signature win in Lexington, causing a white wine binge, the SEC has raised its profile and suddenly looks like a good bet to nab five bids. Just about every mock has UK, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU all in their fields, with the Gamecocks and Tigers new entrants this week.
The teams are surging now and it might stay that way. The drop off after these five teams in so severe that it’s hard to conjure up a losing spell for any of those teams that would knock them out of people’s brackets. Programs like Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Arkansas are such a mess, games against them look like automatic W’s right now. The SEC might be locked into those five bids. They could end up with the same amount of bids as the ACC when it’s all said and done. If so, who’s going to perform CPR on Vitale?
The big game this week is South Carolina at Florida. Its been fun watching South Carolina this winter, but fans of bubble teams need somebody to throw a bucket of cold water on the Gamecocks and at least begin to cast some doubt on their candidacy for a bid.
Big 12’s New Player
A new candidate emerged last week from the Big 12—the Kansas State Wildcats. Thanks to wins over seemingly certain tournament teams Missouri and Texas last week, folks in the Little Apple are thinking Big Dance. With the departures of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker to the NBA, KSU was supposed to regress this season. They’ve caught fire of late, riding the hot hand of JUCO transfer Dennis Clemente, who dropped 40 points on the Horns over the weekend.
The wins pulled them into a four way tie for fifth place in the league and the Wildcats are neck and neck with fellow Big 12 bubble mates, Baylor, Oklahoma St and Texas A/M. All four of those clubs, though, remain below .500 in league play with 3-4 records. KSU merits mention because with the wins last week, they’re the only club of the bunch on the upswing.
Baylor, who lost at home last night to KU, and Oklahoma St are slumping with the Bears losing four in a row, while the Cowboys have dropped four of five. The Aggies had lost four of five before nabbing a pair of wins last week, but they’re still on the wrong end of .500 in league play and play four of their next six away from College Station.
The dynamic between these teams is similar to the bubble outlook in the ACC. Depending on which bracket referenced, Baylor, OSU and TAMU are either hanging just in the bracket or hanging just outside of it. With none of these teams playing all that well, nor having a very impressive overall resume to hang its hat on, I’m beginning to buy into KSU as the league’s fifth best team as the latest Big 12 projections seem to suggest.
What I can’t buy into right now is more than one of Baylor, OSU and TAMU finishing up with winning league records. And, I am not nearly as optimistic as this Aggie booster, predicting an 8-2 close to the season and an easy tournament bid. I’ll take the Over on losses as the Aggies will be doing well to break even over the course of the rest of the season. I see five Big 12 teams qualifying for the tournament, and unless some programs turn it around in February, that may be the limit. Just don’t be shocked if the Purple from Manhattan are one of those squads.
Bracket Buster Letdown
The Northeastern Huskies continue to win just about every time out and sit alone atop the Colonial Athletic Conference standings. Michigan’s 20-point win over NE—a team that beat bubble team Providence—continues to get better and better with each passing week. Northeastern is edging ever so close to the top 50 RPI and could get there if they keep up their winning ways in the CAA and bag a nice mid major scalp come Bracket Buster Day later this month.
Alas, the ESPN movers and shakers did not help this cause out at all, bypassing NE when selecting the day’s marquee games. Instead of tipping against one of the high RPI mid majors like Siena, Utah St or Northern Iowa, the Huskies drew Wright St, a team sitting at 102 in the RPI. The teams behind NE in the CAA standings, VCU and George Mason, arguably received better looking games. Michigan’s hopes of finding another top-50 win on their resume took a hit as nothing short of running the table will push NE into that range.
There was plenty of other news from the bubble to report, but I’ll save that for the weekend report and let some of the games play out this week. And, don’t worry even if Michigan falls out of NCAA contention, we can always begin to track these mock NIT brackets, where a possible second round game with San Diego St looms. Pay back is a bitch, Fish, a bitch, I tell you!