Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back Iron Bracketometry: Could Kentucky vs. Bucknell Happen?

In the second week of the expanded Back Iron Index, we see that the struggles of teams near the top of the human polls can certainly have some bearing on the computer ranks as well.

While we may not have much use for the SEC as a whole, only myopic jingos can deny that Florida has been playing some strong basketball. That solid ball has earned them five number-one rankings among the 10 BII metrics, good for the new No. 1 overall seed.

Don't expect Duke to go away quietly, though. The Blue Devils are still the only team ranked in the top five all the way across the BII board. Ryan Kelly is still conspicuous by his absence, but freshman Amile Jefferson is getting his legs under him in ACC play. Jefferson has potted averages of 10 points, seven rebounds and almost two blocks per game over his last four. Now, perhaps he can work on learning not to foul everyone he sees (15 fouls in those four games).

At the other end of the Bracketometry projections, Big Blue Nation now needs to go into a Big Red Panic. More explanation after the jump.

First off, allow me to share the links to the relevant BII documents:

Back Iron Index
Fantasy Bracket

Now, on to this week's 10 takeaways from the Index:

1. Big Blue Bubble
Tonight's game against Ole Miss will loom large in Kentucky's bid to secure an at-large spot. Examine the Bracketometry matchups, and you'll see UK locked in a play-in game against Bucknell. If this development actually came to pass, three groups of people would be delirious with joy.
  1. The nation of people who despise John Calipari (aka Anyone Who Doesn't Wear Kentucky Pajamas to Bed).
  2. Fans of good big-man basketball. A Mike Muscala-Nerlens Noel matchup would be one that any height fetishist would surely derive an unsettling amount of pleasure from. Bring Windex and a squeegee, things could get messy.
  3. Anyone affiliated with the First Four and the city of Dayton. Bringing Kentucky to Dayton would have an instant and perceptible impact on the local economy, much more so than last year's visitors like Iona or BYU.
There are only four games left that can really do the Wildcats a big favor. Tonight, February 23 against Missouri and two meetings with Florida. UK would be in serious trouble with anything short of a 2-2 split. An RPI in the 60's won't get most teams in, although the brand name might get Big Blue an inspired lobbying effort.

2. Minnesota's Still a Thing
The Big Ten is a meat grinder. No one's demonstrating that better than the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Losses to Indiana and Michigan are easily forgiven, and dropping one to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is understandable, at least.

A loss at Northwestern, though, merits some 'splainin', as Ricky used to say. A Drew Crawford-less group of Wildcats spring a 1-3-1 zone on both Indiana and Minnesota, and those heavyweight opponents react like fifth-graders trying to decipher differential calculus. Indiana, though, is a legit top-10 team, so they were able to persevere.

Minnesota? Their legitimacy is now under serious fire after four straight losses. The Gophers would have been in last year's Fantasy Bracket but for a losing conference record (a stipulation which will return in March), and this season appears to be more of the same. That No. 11 RPI, though, likely won't take many hits as long as Minny wins the ones it's supposed to. Three of the next four qualify, as Nebraska, Iowa and Ilinois visit the Barn. Ten conference wins should still be doable, but I'd be surprised if the committee rewards a 10-8 mark with a No. 3 seed, as the BII does this week.

3. Lonely at the Top
The four No. 1 seeds are beginning to separate themselves from the field. Michigan's 3.4 BII is just over half of fifth-ranked Arizona's 6.6. It's actually quite a big gap to make up, and the Wildcats will need to hope for more chaos in the Big Ten. Of course, if there's one league bound to cause chaos...

4. Wait. Did He Say Bucknell?
Yes, he did.

Right now, Bucknell would still be on track for an at-large play-in spot, despite last week's loss to Lehigh. The last team into the field is Wyoming, sporting a 53.1 BII. The Bison are ranked one spot higher, but their BII is 5.6 points better. The Cowboys would need to start mowing down kids in the Mountain West, but racking 36 in a loss to league doormat Fresno State doesn't inspire much confidence on that score.

Alternatively, Bucknell could go out and hock up what should be a gimme game, the same way Lehigh did against Lafayette. That loss, by the way, cost the Mountain Hawks a full 12 points on their BII. They're now four points out of even the Fantasy Bracket. (BTW PArt II: Lafayette gained 44 points from that win.)

5. Is the Big (B)east Back?
Not sure the terminally ill Big East really went anywhere, but its actual on-court action has been flying a bit under the radar this season while we all sit bedside and wait for the league to lapse into a coma. That, and busily throw hosannas the Big Ten's way, praising it as being the greatest basketball conference since sliced bread (which wasn't actually a conference, just a really great thing).

Both the B1G and the Soon-To-Be-Not-So-Big East are on track for six at-large bids, according to the new Index. Georgetown is fairly safe right now, ranked #34, while Illinois is scuffling along just three positions out of the play-in game. Iowa and Villanova both sit in the tier of teams pressed against the shop window, but both are still a large margin behind Wyoming.

6. Big 12 or Medium Five?
Right behind the Big Ten and Big East with five at-large bids sits the Big 12. Sounds impressive, right?

Kansas is certainly playing some winning ball, even if the offense isn't always pretty. (Sixteen turnovers and 53% foul shooting is no way to go through life, son.) Look at second place, though.

I'll wait. You have to go down a ways.

Yes, Baylor has the league's second-best BII, placing 29th overall. That's good for the top-ranked #8 seed. The five Big 12 at-larges sit between 29 and 42 in our ranks, meaning somebody's going to get cannibalized by the others. Put my money down on Kansas State. The Cats still have to play at OU, KU, Baylor and Okie State, plus a game at a Texas team that regains Myck Kabongo.

Speaking of which: if Texas goes and wins the Big 12 tournament, I may projectile vomit, but I'm not about to discount the possibility. The Horns currently sit 112th in the BII, tucked in snugly between Evansville and Princeton. At the risk of annoying my Purple Ace wife, may I say: That ain't good.

7. Rocked 'Em Like a Hurricane
Miami beating Duke like each one of the Devils stole somethin' finally gave me license to rank the 'Canes in my Bleacher Report Top 25 ballot somewhere compatible with their lofty BII standing. Is eighth an overstatement? Maybe, but considering most of the rest of the top 10 tripped over somebody last week, why not reward Miami for going totally Beast Mode all over Duke AND Florida State?

See, the U didn't get all hung over after beating Duke the way NC State did. They put more nails in FSU's NCAA coffin, a win that may have been just as sweet for the Hurricane faithful. U of M is now up to our top #3 seed, only a point behind Syracuse for No. 6 overall.

The bracketologists are just now starting to put Miami down for twos and threes. Hah! TBI was there a couple of weeks ago, bitches.

8. Memphis Blues?
John Calipari's old employer could join his new one in the NIT. Memphis is only two spots above our play-in games, packing an RPI near 50. Since Conference USA has only one other truly solid team (Southern Miss got the auto-bid on superior BII), the two games between those foes will decide a lot.

For the record, I do expect that Memphis will make the field, but they can only afford losses at Southern Miss and maybe (MAYBE) UTEP. Any other C-USA slip-ups will hurt gravely. UCF has the league's fourth-best BII average, and they're not in the top 100.

9. Could Akron Zip in the Back Door?
In the Bracketometry projections, possibly.

In the real tournament, no.

The Zips (@ZipsMBB if you need them, which apparently the NCAA doesn't think you do) sit 53rd in the BII rankings, just two spots out of the field if they didn't have the MAC auto bid. There's nearly a four-point gap between them and Wyoming, but it should close rapidly if Wyoming continues to sink in the Mountain West.

The problem with the real tournament committee will be the Zips' RPI figures, which all sit near 70. Put those in the top 50, and maybe we can talk. The committee won't bump a Memphis, BYU or even a Kentucky to work in a mid-major team with a 70 RPI, no matter how social media savvy they be.

10. Finally, The Usual Housekeeping
Last Four Byes: North Carolina, Illinois, Memphis, BYU
Last Four In: St. Mary's, Kentucky, Bucknell, Wyoming
First Four Out: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa, St. Louis (Akron and Louisiana Tech would be here without auto bids)

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