Saturday, February 9, 2013

Back Iron Bracketometry Feb. 9: Signs of Life for Kentucky, Illinois

I was once a Professor of Sports Philosophy on 4 Quarters Radio (still in occasional podcast form) before I got a doctorate in Bracketometry. As a fully accredited doctor, I'm qualified to pronounce college basketball teams' tournament hopes alive and dead.

There are a few schools who looked to be on life support a couple of weeks ago that are recovering nicely. Conversely, we've got some patients who are deteriorating before our eyes.

Read on to see if any of your loved ones are approaching terminal status.

First, let's share the links to the patients' medical charts:

Back Iron Index (all ratings through Thursday's games)
Fantasy Bracket

Some of our patients appear to be in perfect health, like our potential number-one seeds. Right now, it appears that Duke, Michigan and Florida are in great shape for three of those spots, but the fourth could shape up as a dogfight.

Indiana's still in the mix, despite an embarrassing layup loss to Illinois. Miami should have a cause to complain if it wins the ACC regular-season and still ends up on a lower seed line than Duke. Arizona's back in the Pac-12 driver's seat, and a #1 shouldn't be out of the question if the Wildcats can run the table.

Then, there's Louisville and Syracuse. They're staging a major throwdown for the Big East lead, and the winner should be well qualified for a top seed. Syracuse has the head-to-head win and both have an iffy loss to Villanova, but the Orange's loss to Temple is looking worse by the week. U of L's loss to Duke, however, is still aging well.

(Change to somber tone.)

However, we must share some sad news. The Kansas Jayhawks' chances at a top seed passed away Thursday night in Fort Worth, Texas. Compounding the sadness for Rock Chalk Nation, coach Bill Self spoke some serious ill of the dead.

Even after knocking off a top-five team, TCU's RPI numbers still sit just outside the top 200, making this a loss that will stand out like a volleyball-sized zit on prom night. Not only has Kansas lost a chance at the overall #1, they're no longer in the running for any #1. KU's clinging to the top 10, well ahead of the inexplicably-still-rated Minnesota Golden Gophers, but the Jayhawks are now closer to Minnesota than Michigan.

Now, while we leave the Jayhawks' family and friends to make arrangements, let's examine some patients who are making great strides in their recoveries.

Kentucky: A couple of weeks ago, the Wildkittens were being relegated to a play-in game against Bucknell. UK is still sporting a 40-ish RPI, but the win over Ole Miss was a great tonic. The next round of treatment will come on Tuesday when the 'Cats make an appointment to visit Billy "Dr. Death" Donovan's office in Gainesville, Florida.

Provided, that is, that they're not stricken by the same mysterious ailment that claimed Alabama last week. The Auburn Tigers appear to be carriers of this odd disease. Symptoms include an inability to break 11 percent from three-point range and fear for one's coach's job.

Memphis: Rumors of the Tigers' demise have been greatly exaggerated. UM's RPI figures still aren't hot, but they're pulling into the top 40, thanks to a 13-game winning streak. Sadly, in terms of the Back Iron Index, the best of those 13 wins has come against #99 Harvard. Today's game at Southern Miss is not only for the Conference USA lead, it's also for a measure of respect.

Even with the C-USA auto bid, the Tigers are still only a #9 seed in the Bracketometry projections.

Saint Louis: A five-game Atlantic 10 winning streak that includes a win over Butler will bring the numbers up fast. The Billikens would be stuck in a play-in game if the head-to-head win didn't break their tie with Butler for the auto bid. (VCU's also in the tie, but has yet to play either the Billikens or Bulldogs.)

Still, SLU is a legit tournament team at this point, not just one of those low-down dirty bid thieves.

Illinois: The Illini are still in critical condition, to be sure. Adherence to selection committee rules shunted them down to the very last spot in a #13 play-in game. Even if Illinois can win at Northwestern (avenging a bad home loss) and at home against Penn State and Nebraska, that still only gives them six Big Ten wins. A 6-12 league record is no way to go into March, son.

The Illini will have to steal wins somewhere else, and when games at Minnesota and Iowa look like your most likely spots, that's a difficult position to be in.


For the mid-majors, it's all about "Can we hope for an at-large bid?" Two Tennessee schools have compelling cases, but both may have run out of advancement opportunities.

Belmont: Thursday night's game against Murray State wouldn't have made a huge difference in RPI, since the Racers were outside the top 100 going in. Only the win over Belmont pushed MSU out of triple figures.

The Bruins have swept Eastern Kentucky, which are two solid wins, but they don't quite offset non-league losses to Northeastern and Central Florida. The good news is that UCF has stepped up in Conference USA play and pushed into the top 100 of both the RPI and BII.

The bad news is that outside of the Racers and Colonels, the rest of the OVC is pretty fail-ridden. There's one left against Tennessee State next week, but then the Bruins have to root for the Tigers to go streaking (not like that, you perverts) and push into the top 100 themselves. The BracketBusters matchup against #71 Ohio qualifies under the "we should win this" heading, meaning there's more to lose than to gain.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders don't have a bad loss except for their lone Sun Belt defeat against Arkansas State. They avenged that with extreme prejudice on Thursday night. Middle's up to #32 in the BII, pushing them closer and closer to a coveted spot on my top 25 ballot for Bleacher Report.

Unfortunately, MTSU doesn't even rate a BracketBusters game, meaning their best remaining opponent is #173 Arkansas-Little Rock. Lose any of the remaining six games, and that's the damning defeat that lets the committee ignore the other positives on the Raiders' resume.

No pressure.


In honor of those who may not make it to March, a little Genesis:

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