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On 01/08/2013 08:11 PM in NCAA Basketball

Weakest early-season schedules

Weakest early-season schedules

By Joe Lunardi

First things first. As weekly Bracketology returns, it's important to review the basics behind our work. As a public service, I suggest committing both of these bullets to memory. If nothing else, it will avoid the frustration of asking for a not-likely-better answer down the line.

• All brackets are as if the season ended that day. In one-bid conferences, the current standings leader (including applicable tiebreakers) is listed. For those yet to begin league play, an RPI forecaster is used to determine the AQ team.

On the at-large side, we pore over the same metrics utilized by the NCAA men's basketball committee. This quantitative work is supplemented by qualitative observation (e.g., I watch a lot of games). Longtime readers know I tend to put more weight on the former, but the reality is that committee members have adopted a practice of emphasizing the latter.

Arguments as to the relative merits of quantitative versus qualitative analysis are best left for another day. Let me just say for the first time this season that the so-called "eye test" is better left for ophthalmology, not bracketology.

• We forecast what the committee will do, not what they should do. There are any number of smart analysts at ESPN (and elsewhere) to give opinions about NCAA selection and seeding. I have my own opinions on such things, of course, but view my primary job as conveying what the selection committee is most likely to do in any given situation.

For instance, I do not personally believe Arizona is one of the country's four best teams, either quantitatively or qualitatively. The Wildcats are very good, obviously, but I'd put them somewhere on the second line of the bracket if it were up to me. Today, however, Arizona is one of three power conference unbeatens and the Wildcats are ranked No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 3 in the coaches' poll.

It's my job to tell you there is no precedent in the history of Bracketology that a team with Arizona's profile does not receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. If this were Selection Sunday, there is no doubt the Wildcats would be on the top line in the West Region. You and I can disagree with that, or point to last week's replay nonsense against Colorado, but what the committee would do in this case is clear to anyone who takes the time to really study such things.

If and when Arizona's profile changes, another team will take that spot on the top line. In the meantime, don't shoot the messenger. Let's save that for a few other turning-of-the-calendar observations:

Vegetarians

There are more than a few teams out there that are not what they seem. I call them vegetarians (as in "not enough meat" on the schedule). If you assume, as I do, that sub-200 and non-Division I victories should mean nothing in terms of NCAA preparation or consideration, then the following records -- adjusted for "win inflation" -- may surprise you.

These 10 teams have yet to prove themselves against good competition (with current win-loss records, "fake" wins and "real" win-loss records, which eliminate wins over sub-200 and non-Division I teams, included for each).


Indiana Hoosiers (13-1; eight "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 5-1)
If you're seeking an explanation for why I have the Hoosiers as a 2-seed, here you go.

Missouri Tigers (11-2; eight "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 3-2)
The Tigers -- and their fans -- may not be happy with what happens next.

Michigan State Spartans (12-3; seven "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 5-3)
We've seen the Spartans play an unusual schedule for a Tom Izzo team in 2012-13.

Georgetown Hoyas (10-2; seven "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 3-2)
It's been like father, like son this season in D.C.

Kentucky Wildcats (9-4; eight "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 1-4)
This might come as a surprise to UK fans, but seriously, the Wildcats only have one real win on the season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (12-3; nine "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 3-3)
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Pitt wasn't ready for Big East play, dropping back-to-back contests against Cincinnati and Rutgers to start 0-2 in conference.

Kansas State Wildcats (12-2; eight "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 4-2)
It's hard to get a read on the Wildcats just yet.

Maryland Terrapins (13-1; nine "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 4-1)
With this early-season schedule, the Terps will need to be well above the bubble.

Wisconsin Badgers (11-4; seven "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 4-4)
If the Badgers miss the NCAA tournament this season, we'll know why.

Ole Miss Rebels (11-2; eight "fake" wins; "Real" W-L: 3-2)
The Rebels might have the worst schedule of any bubble team.

Rand McNally Award

Last but not least, we give this award annually to the Division I team that plays the latest "true road game" of any season. The nominees are:

• Duke (14-0 overall, 1-0 ACC, 8-0 home, 6-0 neutral)
• Notre Dame (13-1 overall, 1-0 Big East, 11-0 home, 2-1 neutral)
• UCLA (12-3 overall, 2-0 Pac-12, 10-1 home, 2-2 neutral)

Turns out that Notre Dame, after winning the award in 2008, got off the road bagel Monday at Cincinnati. The Irish had played neutral contests against Saint Joseph's, BYU and Purdue.

The upcoming Pac-12 schedule has UCLA on the road this Thursday (at Utah) and Saturday (at Colorado). So the Bruins, after not having a permanent home court last season, leave town by necessity. One also could argue the Dec. 8 win over Texas (at Reliant Stadium in Houston) was at least a partial road game.

So the Rand McNally Award is presented, for the first time since 2007, to the Duke Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have played an outrageously difficult schedule, to be sure, but Saturday at North Carolina State will mark their first game on an opponent's home floor (playing Davidson at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte is considered a neutral site).

I'm no expert, but it seems to me the top ingredients for a No. 1 ranking are as follows: great players (Duke, check), smart coaching (Duke, check) and the ability to avoid the kind of games in which visitors lose 70 percent of the time (Duke check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check).