This was the most anticipated regular season in UCF basketball history. After making it to the NIT final four, many predicted the Knights may challenge for the school’s first at-large bid ever. However, the injury bug hit the Knights and derailed their plans a bit.
First there was the injury to junior guard Aubrey Dawkins in the preseason and then in the first game of the season; the team’s best returning player, junior guard B.J. Taylor, went down with a foot injury. Taylor is expected to return soon, but the question now is how will the NCAA selection committee evaluate the Knights?
UCF is currently 9-4 after last night’s 56-51 loss at SMU. It was the fifth RPI top-50 opponent UCF has faced without Taylor. They’re 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming at Alabama. They are projected to have a top-65 non-conference strength of schedule nationally and they get another shot at SMU, plus round-robins with Temple, Cincinnati, and Wichita St with another game with Houston at home.
Will the committee punish them for not doing better in the non-conference without Taylor or will it judge them for what they are with Taylor? They’re certainly a different team as Taylor presents a significant scoring option for one of the best defensive teams in the country.
As long as the Knights do as well in the American as expected, some interesting decisions will be made by the committee leading up to Selection Sunday.
Despite losing its head coach, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Andrew Chrabascz off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, Butler finds itself squarely in the discussion for another at-large bid. That’s because it challenged itself with a top-40 schedule and has solid wins over Ohio St and Utah. The Bulldogs are projected to have a top-20 strength of schedule by the time the season’s over. A 9–9 or 10-8 record in the Big East will probably be enough for them to get in.
Some will overreact to San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming last night. I won’t. That’s an in-conference loss to a RPI top-100 team. It’s not a bad loss and, long term, it’s not a damaging loss to their at-large hopes. They’re not in great shape right now, but they shouldn’t be panicking over bracketology at this point either.
Tonight’s Providence-St. John’s game is huge for both teams, but probably moreso for the Red Storm as Chris Mullin tries to make his first NCAA tournament. Right now, they appear to be the better team than the Friars and with road games with Seton Hall and Creighton to follow, losing this one could very well lead to a 0-3 start for St. John’s.
Today we’re going to examine the resumes of several teams on the bubble. Central Florida, Colorado St, Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, Miami(FL), NC State, Northwestern, Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s, Texas, Washington, Xavier
Record: 19-7 (8-4 Conference-USA)
Key Wins: Connecticut, Memphis
Key Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa
Outlook: UCF is just 2-4 against Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Marshall – the other top teams in Conference USA. Still has a road game at Memphis but will probably need to get to at-least the Conference USA title game to feel good about their chances.
Record: 16-9 (5-5 Mountain West)
Key Wins: Colorado, Denver, Wyoming, San Diego St
Key Losses: TCU, Boise St
Outlook: The Rams still have a road game at San Diego St sandwiched between home games against New Mexico and UNLV so the opportunity to make a jump is there. It’ll be difficult, but if the Rams can go 3-1 in their last four and get to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament then that will probably be enough for a bid.
Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big East)
Key Wins: Florida St, Harvard, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Seton Hall
Key Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee
Outlook: The Huskies will have one of the top two or three strength of schedules in the country. Despite the issue that have plagued them, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. A split in their last four and a visit to the quarters will get them to the Big Dance.
Record: 18-10 (10-4 West Coast)
Key Wins: Saint Louis, BYU, Saint Mary’s
Key Losses: Columbia, North Texas, Morgan St
Outlook: The Lions’ wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Saint Mary’s are better than any wins many of the teams on this list will have. Those losses to Columbia, North Texas and Morgan St give severe pause though. May have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in, if they get to final they’ll be seriously considered.
Record: 16-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Massachusetts, Duke
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Miami has just one quality win, but a win in Cameron carries a lot of weight. The Hurricanes have a pretty solid strength of schedule, but are just 1-6 against the top 50. They go to Maryland followed by a home game against Florida St and a road game at NC State. Their margin of error is extremely slim.
Record: 18-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Texas, Miami (FL)
Key Losses: Stanford, Georgia Tech
Outlook: NC State had the worst week ever last week. The Wolfpack lost a game it had won at Duke and then lost at home to Florida St where two of it’s legends were kicked out of the arena. Win those two games and they’re not even on this list. NC State has North Carolina and Miami at home coming up. The opportunity to solidify a tournament berth is still available.
Outlook: The Wildcats have never gone to the NCAA tournament before, but that all can change this season. They have Michigan and Ohio St at home along with trips to Penn St and Iowa. 4-0 definitely, 3-1 probably, 2-2 and they better get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Record: 18-9 (7-8)
Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
Key Losses: Villanova
Outlook: Solid Strength of schedule, but still has a lot of work to do. The Pirates have Georgetown at home this week and that will go a long way. Remaining games versus Rutgers and Depaul are more can’t lose than must wins. If Seton Hall goes 2-1, one of those two needs to be against Georgetown.
Outlook: The Hawks are benefitting from a weak bubble. They’re currently 0-3 against Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier, which makes their game against Temple on Saturday uber-important. They lose that game and they’re probably looking at winning the Atlantic-10 tournament to get in.
Record: 17-10 (7-7 Big 12)
Key Wins: Temple, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Kansas St
Key Losses: Oregon St
Outlook: The Longhorns host Baylor tonight and close the season at Kansas. They have four games remaining and I thing going 3-1 in those games will get them in. Under no circumstances can they lose to Texas Tech or Oklahoma.
Record: 19-8 (12-3 Pac-12)
Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona (2)
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Washington is going to have to finish at least tied for the Pac-12 regular season title and make it to the championship game to get an at-large berth. Whether the committee wants to admit it or not; winning the regular season title of a power six conference carries weight.
Record: 17-9 (8-4 Atlantic-10)
Key Wins: Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duquesne, St. Josephs, Dayton
Key Losses: Hawaii
Outlook: While the Musketeers haven’t been playing as well as they had been before the brawl, they still have the same roster. That means this team is still capable of winning big games. One of the best resumes on this list and may have a larger margin for error than other team seen here. Still, I’d go 3-1 down the stretch if I were Xavier.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: St. Josephs, Connecticut, Miami (FL), Seton Hall
Last Four Out: UCF, NC State, Colorado St, Illinois
Good for games through of 2/19
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
6.UNLV11.Mississippi St Columbus
1.Duke16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro
While Kentucky gets pub for being a hotbed of college hoops; it’s neighbor to the east isn’t doing too shabby itself. The commonwealth of Virginia is having a great this season with mid-majors and Virginia Tech.
In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and George Mason all harbor at-large hopes after performing well in the non-conference. All have sub-60 RPIs and sit atop of the conference.
George Mason has the highest RPI with 29 with a resume, which on the surface, seems to be a bit inflated. However, the OPatriots’ wins against Harvard and Duquesne may become key parts of their profile.
Old Dominion is the second of the three with a RPI of 32, but it has stumbled a bit out of the gate in league play. That still does not fully diminish an extremely impressive non-conference resume which includes wins over Xavier, Dayton, Clemson and Richmond.
Virginia Commonwealth has a rather low RPI for a mid-major trying to get into the tournament as an at-large at 58, but don’t be fooled. This team beat UCLA on a neutral floor and won at Old Dominion. The Rams uptempo style is tough to prepare for and will put them in consideration Selection Weekend.
Virginia Tech checks in with a RPI at 63, but it’s set up so well for the home stretch. This extremely talented squad has a great opportunity to stack up a lot of wins in a power conference. The ACC is indeed down this year, but not to the point where five league losses won’t get you the tournament. That’s realistic for the Hokies in a year they may get them off the snide.
Now we come to Richmond. The Spiders have an RPI of 66, but has one of the best non-conference wins of anybody when the shocked Purdue in Chicago. They also lay claim to a win over Virginia Commonwealth and are sitting pretty in second in 3rd place in the Atlantic 10. This team hasn’t fully lived up to expectations so far, but it is capable of taking home the A-10 regular season championship.
Stock Up: Ohio St. I didn’t believe in the Buckeyes before the season started, but Jared Sullinger has made a believer out of everybody. He may be the toughest cover in college basketball and gives them so many options offensively. Last year was the Evan Turner show in Columbus, but Sullinger and company maybe in for an even better year.
Stock Down: Wake Forest. My apologies to the Auburn Tigers who I incorrectly called the worst BCS conference basketball team in the country last week. It’s clearly Wake Forest. I hope there’s a plan in place, but I didn’t think Jeff Bzdelik was a good hire and so far I’m being proven right. I know he has to get his players to fit his system but the Demon Deacons lost by 35 to Georgia Tech. That’s downright pathetic.
Stock Up: The Showdown in Provo. It might be the biggest game in the history of the Mountain West Conference on Jan. 26 when San Diego St travels to face BYU. Two top-ten teams and one of the best players in the country in Jimmer Fredette will take the national stage in the clear game of the night. So sad that it won’t happen next year with BYU moving on the West Coast Conference.
Stock Down: UCF. It was all good just two weeks ago. It’s not now. UCF has lost four of its five conference games and, in the process, ruined any at-large hopes it was harboring. The Knights have a chance to salvage their season, but they probably need an automatic bid to go dancing.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: UCLA, Colorado, Richmond, Gonzaga
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Kansas St, Butler, Dayton
Good for games through 1/24/2011
1.Ohio St16.Tennessee St/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Utah St9.Boston College
7.Tennessee10.UNLV Washington, DC
2.Villanova15.Coastal Carolina WEST
1.Kansas16.Florida Atlantic Tulsa
5.Florida12.Virginia Commonwealth Tampa
6.Florida St11.Wichita St Charlotte
7.Michigan St10.St. John’s Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado SOUTHWEST
1.Duke16.Long Island Charlotte
5.Minnesota12.Old Dominion Chicago
6.Vanderbilt11.Virginia Tech Chicago
7.Xavier10.Oklahoma St Washington, DC
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St/Lamar Cleveland
6.West Virginia11.Memphis Denver
7.Louisville10.St. Mary’s Tulsa