Sunday, March 13, 2011

NIT Bracketology

While most eyes will be on the NCAA pairings announced shortly, the Panthers are awaiting the 8 p.m. ESPNU show to find out their NIT plans.

First, it is only in the last few years that the NCAA has taken over the NIT, instituting bracketing, auto bids and this TV show that will unveil the field. By my count, it looks like 10 of the 16 first round will also get coverage on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, so there is also an opportunity for more national TV exposure.

Most interesting, though, is the spawning of various websites attempting to project the NIT bracket. Just in looking more closely at some of these sites, it seems like a hard proposition because you are truly waiting on the NCAA field before you can sort out seeds and bracketing. So, what may seem like obvious geographical matchups – say Long Beach at USC – can get thrown out the window if/when USC is picked for the NCAAs. And, then, Long Beach could wind up on its way to Alabama.

So, what to make of where the Panthers will fall? Well, a crap-shoot in many ways. There are not many truly geographical options, Milwaukee’s RPI is solid not spectacular, and the Panthers “tournament resume” is one that could make your head spin.

Consider the positives – Milwaukee RPI is unofficially 94
1 – Horizon League regular season champions
2 – Won 10 of last 12, with five of those on the road
3 – Two wins over an NCAA team (Butler) and four additional wins over projected postseason teams (Cleveland State, Valpo, Northern Iowa)
4 – 2-2 vs. Top 50 and 5-5 vs. Top 100 in RPI, plus two more wins against teams 100-130

And then the negatives
1 – 13 losses overall
2 – Loss at #233 DePaul
3 – One of two losses in last month was to #167 Buffalo
4 – Last/only impression of anyone on selection committee was loss to Butler

Basically, the Panthers are the classic case of a team with a nice group of good wins but a slightly-extended list of bad losses.

Next, there are the auto-bids. Just as I detailed above for Milwaukee, there are a lot of factors that will determine where all of the auto-bids are placed in the NIT field. But, in using the straight computer factor – the RPI – here are the auto-bid teams in RPI order (including only those that are definitely not in the NCAA Tournament).

Charleston - 73
Kent State -79
Long Beach State - 90
Milwaukee – 94
Vermont - 95
Fairfield - 98
Coastal Carolina - 104
Florida Atlantic - 116
Murray State - 115
McNeese State - 160
Texas Southern - 190
Bethune-Cookman - 198

Thus, if you started from the bottom, the Panthers would be a six-seed, but they are clearly in that six-seven mix. Again, what other factors will truly win out? Hard to say, especially when geography (specifically flight vs. bus) may not be a consideration.

If, indeed, Milwaukee is a six or seven, then eliminate the possibility of playing one of the last two or three out of the NCAA field. From there, the list of possibles still seems pretty long.

UAB - 31
Missouri St - 43
VCU - 49
Colorado State – 52
Marshall - 55
Wichita State - 59
UTEP – 60
Oklahoma State – 64
Miami - 72
California - 77
Washington St - 82
Ole Miss – tie - 83
Minnesota – tie - 83
Northwestern - 87
Nebraska - 89
Maryland - 96

And, again, this list does not include the “bubble” teams who will likely be #1 seeds in the NIT if/when they are not in the NCAA bracket.

So, make your best guess and hope for something interesting on TV!