Thursday, February 02, 2006

The conference midpoint

One unforeseen casualty of the new 12-team ACC is that the Duke men don't play UNC until their 10th conference game (out of 16). There was a time that this game would mark the middle of the conference season for the entire nation. Not this year.

I decided not to wait. Duke played (and won) its 8th ACC game last night against Boston College. More importantly, many Big Ten and Big East teams have reached their conference midpoint. Why is that important? Allow me to explain.

Polls are especially useless this time of year. Is there really any difference among the 25-30 teams with about a 14-6 record? Hard to say, and even harder to quantify. It's much more meaningful to evaluate teams from a NCAA tournament seeding standpoint. And rather than guess the entire slate of 65, which gets tedious, it's easier to focus on a smaller, elite group of teams that will earn the 16 highest seeds.

What you'll find is interesting. Following the college football model, there are six major conferences: Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10. Normally you might find each having two or three teams that are jockeying among the nation's elite. Not so this year. If we list the teams most likely to be 1, 2, 3, or 4 seeds, only the Big Ten and Big East can claim upper conference strength. The other four conferences can each boast only one elite team.

ACC: Duke

SEC: Tennessee

Big 12: Texas
Pac-10: UCLA

The next best teams in each of those conferences may join the elite, but they are not there yet. Yes, even Florida.

Every year there are elite teams not in the six major conferences. This season presents three: Gonzaga, Memphis, and George Washington. Barring a late season collapse -- in the form of 2 or more conference losses -- all should be seeded 4 or higher. (Northern Iowa's loss to Creighton earlier this week would put both teams around a 5 or 6 seed.)

So that's seven of the teams favored to make the Sweet 16. This leaves nine teams to be split between the Big East and Big Ten. Quite remarkably, that's about right. Here are the best candidates from those conferences.

Big East: Connecticut, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown
Big Ten: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin

I don't know if I'll provide updates every week before Selection Sunday, but for now, the following seedings make sense (separated by regional, listed 1 to 4).

Oakland: Villanova, Gonzaga, UCLA, George Washington
Minneapolis: Duke, Ilinois, Tennessee, West Virginia
Washington: Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State
Atlanta: Memphis, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Georgetown


DevilMacDawg said...

I think you're right on the four, but I believe Duke gets the nod for Atlanta over Memphis.

Also - you're going to have to boot one of your top 16 so that UNC will be in there, playing their first round in Greensboro.

What, you think that's not going to happen? Riiiight....

Neel Mehta said...

Memphis is the most likely of the top seeds to win the rest of their pre-NCAA games, and they should be rewarded with a close regional.

More importantly, Duke sells well everywhere, and I don't think Coach K would complain about the friendly confines of Minneapolis. I'd rather see them in Washington, but something tells me that site is earmarked for the Big East winner, so long as it's not Georgetown.

As for UNC, they'd have to leap ahead of N.C. State in the standings to merit a 4 seed or better. Could happen. Of course, with the new inexplicable NCAA rule that conference opponents can face each other as early as the second round, they could both be in the same Greensboro pod (as 3 and 6 seeds, or 4 and 5 seeds). Heck, they could be in Duke's pod as an 8 or 9 seed.

Chick Pea said...

random comment from me.. vegas lawyer? hmm.. my cousin is there and she's a vegas lawyer.. small world.. she hasn't met a lot of brown lawyers out there... hehe..