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Insider

Halfway to Selection Sunday

1/15/2009

The countdowns are officially underway ...

• Five days until the presidential inauguration.

• Four weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

• Three days until the Eagles win a berth in the Super Bowl.

• And exactly two months until Selection Sunday.

That's right, we've just reached the symbolic halfway point of the college basketball season. It's been two months since the mid-November tip off and only two months remain until the next NCAA tournament field is revealed.

So here's what inquiring minds want to know ...

OK, I'm trying to wrap my head around Xavier being a No. 4 seed in the latest Bracketology and Butler a No. 7 seed. I know that head-to-head really doesn't mean too much when selecting the field; the committee looks at the entire season, not one game, so just saying Butler beat Xavier at Xavier isn't the best argument. I don't even disagree with Xavier being a No. 4, it's Butler being a No. 7 I have the problem with.

Let's take the name Butler off the following stats for a minute (data as of Jan. 12)

Record: 13-1

RPI: No. 5

SOS: No. 39

Road/Neutral Record: 6-1

Conference RPI: No. 11

Record vs. 1-25: 1-0 (Win @Xavier)

Record vs. 26-50: 2-1 (Wins: H-Evansville, H-UAB; Loss @Ohio St.)

Record vs. 51-100: 4-0 (Wins: H-Northwestern, @Drake, @Cleveland St., @Bradley)

Record vs. 101-343: 6-0

If this team was from one of the big six conferences (say Baylor, who you have as a No. 6 seed with far less impressive wins/numbers), is there any way this team does not get a top four seed? As far as conference strength goes, the Horizon (No. 11) really isn't that different than the Atlantic 10 (No. 9).

I always thought that Bracketology was supposed to be a snapshot of how the tournament would be right now, not a forward projection. But a forward projection, and projecting Butler's numbers to go down, is the only way you can put them at No. 7.

Mike
Dayton, Ohio

We differ, Mike, perhaps because of an overemphasis on your part on these early-season RPI numbers. There are outliers in any ranking system, and they are especially pronounced with no more than half a season (and very few conference games) played in most cases.

Can we agree that Butler is not the fifth-best team in the country? You seem more than reasonable, so I'm going to assume it's not a question between us that the RPI is overrating the Bulldogs at this point.

Can we also agree that Butler's only win to date over a near-certain NCAA team was the extremely impressive performance at Xavier? Even giving you UAB and Bradley as wins over potential bubble teams, I don't think Butler's nonconference résumé stacks up to Xavier.

The Musketeers have beaten teams from the Big 12 (Missouri), Conference USA (Memphis), ACC (Virginia and Virginia Tech), SEC (Auburn) and Big East (Cincinnati). And only the Auburn game was at home. Baylor's non-league profile isn't at Xavier's level, but it still includes victories over Arizona State and Providence on a neutral court and another win at Washington State.

As noted in this space last week, I also pay close attention -- especially for seeding -- to ASM (Adjusted Scoring Margin) data. ASM is more indicative of a team's overall quality, at least until conference standings help us sort out such things.

For the three teams in question -- Xavier (+15.63 ppg), Baylor (+16.74 ppg) and Butler (+9.75 ppg) -- it's pretty clear which two have been more dominant. Another respected rating system, Ken Pomeroy, has Xavier at No. 23, Baylor at No. 28 and Butler at No. 34.

I've learned the hard way that the selection committee looks at a whole lot more than RPI numbers. It's a lesson that bears repeating.

Mr. Lunardi,

First, I always look through your weekly updated bracket projection. My question is: Do you, like the NCAA committee members, look at your bracket at the end and say, wow, look at these first-round matchups?

In this week's newest version you have:

• Minnesota vs. Kentucky (Tubby Smith versus his former team)

• West Virginia vs. Michigan (John Beilein versus his former team)

• Illinois vs. Illinois State

• Davidson vs. St. Mary's (Stephen Curry vs. Patty Mills)

• California vs. San Diego State

• Marquette vs. Bradley (two of the top Midwestern private schools without football)

I believe, like the committee, you don't manipulate the bracket for matchups like these examples. But, say you were right, I just [have to] think CBS would pay you as a committee consultant if they could get matchups like that every year.

Thank you for your time,
Matthew Stevens

First of all, Matthew, I doubt the good folks at ESPN would be real happy with yours truly also collecting a check from CBS. Having said that, you're dead on in noting some of the incredible first-round pairings that found their way into this week's bracket. And you're also one of the few who seems to recognize that such pairings, when they do occur, really are coincidental.

I am 100 percent certain the committee does not manipulate the bracket for television purposes. It's too hard to follow all the bracketing principles and procedures as is -- and it's going to be harder still if and when the Big East gets more bids than there are subregionals -- for the committee to play matchmaker.

The reality is that, when you have an event with 65 games, great story lines take care of themselves. So, thankfully, the NCAA tourney is rarely lacking when it comes to producing compelling television. And you didn't even list my favorite matchup in the current bracket.

How about North Carolina versus supercharged VMI? First team to 125 wins!

Joe,

As a native Philadelphian who now resides here in Durham, N.C., I have to laugh when all of you in the national media start ranking teams and matching them in brackets when never seeing most of them play.

Every year my buddy and I go to Maui for what is still the best preseason tournament in college basketball. We tried to catch up with you during this last tournament, but unfortunately we didn't.

Now please tell me that you have seen, in person, a better team than North Carolina? The reason I ask is that it is amazing to me that anyone in the national media that has watched Duke in person can ever have them in the top five. Even Duke fans here in Durham are surprised.

I have been lucky enough to watch both Duke (six times) and UNC (seven times) in person and, from a pretty knowledgeable college basketball fan, there is no comparison. Yet, Duke is No. 2 in the country, a No. 1 seed in your early-season bracket, and UNC is not?

I guess my point here is see the teams if you can and don't go by just the name alone. Make some of these teams earn the accolades you give them.

By the way, you heard it here first: Duke goes out in the second round or maybe slips into the third. You don't win championships playing a seven-man rotation and that's all Coach K does. Watch the box scores this year. I think you'll be surprised.

Otherwise, keep up the great work. We really enjoy seeing who you pick from week to week.

S.D. King
Durham, NC

Now we're having fun, S.D., so let's also have at it. In no particular order, here are my responses:

• When watching North Carolina in Maui, I thought they were the best college team I'd seen since the Laettner-Hurley-Hill teams at Duke in the early 1990s. These Heels were (and might actually be) that good.

• Arguably the best thing about our sport is that what you or I or any other "expert" thinks doesn't matter. Teams aren't selected or seeded for the NCAA tournament based on opinions as much as outcomes. This is a meritocracy, not the BCS.

• If Carolina regains its Maui form (and I'm guessing the Heels will), UNC will be a No. 1 seed and quite likely the No. 1 overall seed in March. If they stumble around in disinterested fashion, as was the case against Boston College, or fail to get key (any?) stops as we saw against Wake Forest and in last year's Final Four, well, maybe this isn't the latest "best team ever" after all.

• It's fairly common in sports for teams to underachieve relative to their potential (or at least what we might think their potential to be). North Carolina's two losses have put a dent in some of the expectations for this team and, more importantly, have reopened the national championship picture.

• Bottom line: No. 1 seeds are not predetermined, but earned. I didn't drop the Tar Heels off the top line of the bracket; they did it to themselves.

P.S. I seem to remember watching a very, very good North Carolina team in the 1998 Final Four in San Antonio. Basically a team that played six guys. Just saying...

P.S.S. I'll be chatting at 3 p.m. on Friday ... make sure to send those questions in: http://proxy.espn.go.com/chat/chatESPN?event_id=24580