Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 16, 2010

Plan B. Plan C. Plan D.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 4:46 pm

The NCAA tournament kicks off tonight in Dayton as Winthrop and Arkansas-Pine Bluff play in the Opening Round game, which is the “play-in” game to the parts of the world not in thrall to the NCAA. As befits the game between the two lowest-seeded teams in the field, two bad offensive teams, the matchup is likely to be a little ugly and low-scoring. I like Winthrop, which is the better team, to advance in a game played in the 40s.

Three other tournaments kick off tonight as well. Let’s take a brief look at each.

National Invitation Tournament

It’s appropriate that teams who don’t win enough quality road games end up the tournament that allows them to play at home, often three times. The NIT does some very blatantly unfair things in its process, but it’s honest about its motivations: to fill arenas and make a few bucks. That’s how North Carolina, which shouldn’t even be in the field on merit, gets a home game in the first round. See also, Connecticut.

Virginia Tech should feel comfortable, playing an Atlantic Sun team in Blacksburg tomorrow night, a game that will fit right in with the rest of their nonconference schedule. They’re the book favorite to advance, but don’t overlook Northeastern, which got screwed by having to play a road game at an inferior team in Connecticut, but may win anyway. Northeastern plays very good defense and has seniors who will be looking to extend their careers. Given UConn’s no-show in the Big East tournament, Northeastern is a good bet to advance to play Tech in the second round. I’ll take them to reach the Garden, winning three road games along the way.

In the “Upper Left” bracket-no, really, that’s how they’re labeled-Ilinois is the #1 seed but has to play its first game at Stony Brook tonight due to a Cirque du Soleil show at Assembly Hall. The Illini have been wildly unpredictable all season, so guessing how they’ll handle a road game in a gym that has never seen an opponent like this is hard to do. Even if they beat Stony Brook, they run a distant second to Cincinnati in this bracket. The young Bearcats, led by Lance Stephenson, are physical and improving, and will head back to New York later this month.

The Lower Left bracket features a great second-round game between underseeded Seton Hall and Arizona State, a contrast of styles that will make for entertaining basketball. The Hall as a #4 is a bit incongruous next to Cincinnati as a #2, but this is the NIT. The winner of the Pirates/Sun Devils game wins this bracket; I’ll go with the Fighting Jeremy Hazells.

The Lower Right bracket is the softest. Mississippi State has a clear path to the semifinals. William and Mary will win at the Dean Dome for their third ACC road win of the season. No one but me will care.

If by some miracle I’m right about all of this, I’ll take Mississippi State over Seton Hall in the final.

College Basketball Invitational

The CBI and tournaments both ask teams to post a fee to participate, causing many good teams, high-visibility teams, to pass on participating. Both nominally aim for “mid-majors,” but they would struggle to get BCS schools even if they didn’t do so. St. Louis, George Washington (?), Oregon State, Colorado State, Duquesne, Marshall, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech are the only teams from top-ten leagues in either tournament. Both of these tournaments’ fields fell off in quality this year, and I’m not sure what the survival rate of either event will be if that trend continues.

The best team in the CBI is Virginia Commonwealth, and it’s not terribly close. They get stuck going on the road to GW in their first game. Saint Louis, Oregon State and Hofstra are the favorites in the other quads. Oregon State won this event last year, and they could well repeat. If the final is St. Louis vs. Oregon Stateā€¦man, that’s going to be some tough basketball to watch, and I say that as someone who likes both Craig Robinson and Rick Majerus. Tournament

The CIT doesn’t bracket teams, instead matching them up after each round’s games are played, presumably to save on travel costs and maximize attendance. The CIT gave an automatic bid to South Dakota, the winner of the Great West Conference, which won’t have an NCAA bid for a few years, and only then if it somehow holds together a group that, geographically, makes the WAC and Atlantic 10 look positively sensible.

This field is competitive with that of the CBI. The best teams are Fairfield, Louisiana Tech, Marshall and Portland. The lack of a bracket makes it impossible to predict a final four or championship matchup, but Marshall and Louisiana Tech open with home games and seem likely to get others, so make them the favorites.

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