2008 Bubble Thoughts

There have been some interesting comments made about the Bubble this year that need to be saved for future reference. Plus Alpha/RAWFS has fixed it so I can use tables again….so here goes a little supplemental information about this year’s marginal selections/snubs:

Let’s start with some tables that go pretty well with a commentary from last week:




My tables were updated from last year’s entry so the parsing is slightly different from Jeff’s…but the tables do a good job at highlighting the key points from that commentary. The bottom line is that RPI ranking is an easy first cut at where teams from BCS conferences stand with the NCAAT Selection Committee.

I am not going to repeat stuff from last year or last week…so check out both entries if you are interested in taking a closer look at Clearing the Bubble and landing in the NCAAT.

Andy Katz included some comments from this year’s NCAAT Selection Committee Chairman, Tom O’Connor (AD at George Mason), that deserve a little closer look.

Arizona State being out: “The reality check was that their strength of schedule was extremely way up there. If ASU had been selected it would have been the highest RPI ever put in the NCAA [as an at-large]. They were also 2-7 vs. the top of the Pac-10. We were cognizant that they beat Arizona twice, but in the final analysis we didn’t feel they were one of the 34 best at-large teams.”

There are a number of different things about ASU that bear further discussion. Let’s break down several interesting points from this quote.

1) I have posted the following formula several straight years and it is nice to see that it was validated again this year:

Weak OOC Schedule +
Marginal Conference Performance +
Poor Conference Tournament Performance =

I watched it happen to UVA (2000), VT (2005), and FSU (2006), so I was not at all surprised when it happened this year to ASU. ASU had some nice wins this year…but not enough to overcome some significant negatives. Dick Vitale (like thousands from the MSM to message boards) tries to oversimplify the Selection Process by picking one criteria and deciding that it is the only one that matters. But if you really want simple, here it is: “Don’t schedule an embarassingly easy OOC schedule.”

2) Let’s take a closer look at one sentence from the ASU comments: “They were only 2-7 versus the top of the PAC-10.” If that was really a criterion, then how did State make the NCAAT in 2002 and 2003? You can really only reach one of two possible conclusions:

– The Selection Committee is made up of idiots that make up new rules every year. OR
– This disparity (NCSU vs ASU) demonstrates the importance of the conference tournament games for teams with marginal credentials.

3) One of the things that frequently comes up when dissecting the Committee decisions is that Team X beat Team Y, but Team Y got an at-large bid and Team X didn’t. Just add ASU vs UoA to the long list of examples that demonstrates the fact that the NCAAT Selection Committee doesn’t look at head-to-head results when selecting the at-large bids. It’s simply too complicated to be settled by some simplistic tie-breaking procedure. (Besides, I doubt that ASU was the last team out this year.)

In direct contrast with ASU, Kentucky and Arizona had much harder schedules and received at-large bids. Let’s look at Arizona first. Here are some key stats:


When I combine conference record (8-10), end of year performance (4-8), and conference tourney results….I get NIT. The guys at the Dance Card have a much more rigorous analysis technique and they concluded that Arizona would barely clear the Bubble. Here’s what the Selection Chair had to say:

Arizona in: “The Wildcats were 16-6 with Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless, and their strength of schedule [was high]. When they weren’t in the lineup they were a different team.”

IMO (humble but accurate), the injury excuse is a can of worms that the Selection Committee should not have opened…especially with Arizona’s poor play over the last six weeks of the season. It would be one thing to “forgive” defeats in the middle of a season if the team then finished strong. But when a team struggles all the way through the conference tournament, the SOS and injury arguments seem weak to me.

Now for Kentucky…I would post a quote from the Selection Chair, but the snippets that Katz put in make little/no sense. 12-4 in the SEC, end of year run of 11-3, wins over Tennessee (#2) and Vanderbilt (#12), all make Kentucky an easy pick for me. I am not saying that Kentucky didn’t have some warts…but they had a lot of good stuff in there as well.

The important thing to take away from Arizona St, Arizona, and Kentucky is that OOC SOS clearly matters to the Selection Committee. Arizona also represents an extreme example of how much the Selection Committee is willing to overlook for teams who do play difficult OOC schedules. The Selection Committee has established some fairly clear rules for those teams that insist on playing weak OOC schedules….so ignore these lessons at your own risk.

VT (out), Ohio State (out), and Oregon (in) are a few of the other BCS schools that show up on various lists. There’s also a comment that road victories against top teams are important (not exactly late-breaking news). I think that we’ve beaten VT to death and I suspect that there is not much interest in either of the other two….so let’s move on to the Mid-Major Mess.

Last year, I threw up my hands and just refused to look at the mid-majors and gave several glaring examples why I thought that the Selection Committee’s standards were impossible to discover. But let’s just write off the worst case examples as internal politics on that year’s Selection Committee and list a few things that appear to come into play when evaluating Mid-Majors.

– You need more top-50 wins than just a couple from within your own conference (Illinois State, 2008)…especially when they both come against a team ranked #46.

– You need to finish near the top of your conference, nearly regardless of who you might beat in Nov/Dec. (Dayton 2008)

– There is likely a “glass ceiling” that will limit how many teams can get into the NCAAT, almost regardless of records. (MVC, 2006)

– Because of the glass ceiling, you have to perform in your conference tournament when there are too many teams from your conference contending for at-large bids (Missouri St and Creighton 2006)

These mid-major observations are not based on as much research as I typically put into other analyses that I defend to the death. These are just meant as starting points for additional discussion. If I get a little help fleshing these out…we might even try to put up a prediction entry for mid-majors with high RPI rankings next year.


When someone from the Selection Committee says something stupid, we are left with the following choices:

– Wonder if he is really that stupid
– Wonder if he thinks that we are that stupid
– Wonder if he is scrambling for justification for a decision (good or bad)

In all seriousness, I am more interested in what the Selection Committee does than what they say in interviews. It’s not that I disregard what they say, it’s just that they are too close to career politicians for my taste. You know how to tell if a politician is lying…don’t you?

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982

07-08 Basketball NCS Basketball Stat of the Day

26 Responses to 2008 Bubble Thoughts

  1. wolfpacker420 03/23/2008 at 9:06 PM #

    Wonderful article!

    Thanks for the kind words. Let’s keep recruiting talk someplace else.

  2. choppack1 03/23/2008 at 9:58 PM #

    VaWolf – good stuff. It’s funny that this blog prepared us more for selection Sunday than the dolts at ESPN.

    One year, the NCAAs will be caught in their “we don’t look at conference record” lie. It could have been this year. If our very own Wolfpack could have beaten ECU and UNO, we would have probably would have had a kick arse RPI even w/ a 7-9 or 6-10 record. I guess this is where the committee can throw in the last 10 games bit…

    Kudos to the committee though for not drinking the ASU kool-aid. That would have set a dangerous precedent.

    Also, one has to give the folks who created our non-conference schedule some credit. This schedule had us poised for an at-large bid -even w/ the UNO and ECU losses.

  3. wufpup76 03/23/2008 at 11:54 PM #

    Good information … and I agree w/ your assertions in regards to “mid-majors”

    At least you came to some fact-based conclusions about Mids as opposed to Jay Bilas who said the mid-majors are “given a break” … That comment really irked me

    Mid or Low majors are in no way given any breaks … If they were, you would consistently see more than the average of only 5 or 6 of them making up the at large pool of 34 teams per year

    For at-large consideration, Mids MUST have AT LEAST one or two “look at me” wins against top 50 RPI power conference or non-conference teams … Even if they have those, they still need to finish at or near the top of their conference in the regular season and not have a first or second round flameout in their respective conference tourny … And oh by the way, you better win the majority of your road conference games … That’s a lot of pressure for teams that normally don’t get a sniff – I don’t exactly see how that’s giving any of these teams a “break” when it comes to selection time (Bilas, you elitist Doookie a**hole)

    Take VCU from this season … They win a fairly decent CAA conference by 3 games in the regular season and have a few decent non-conference victories including wins over Maryland, Houston, and Bradley … They have a final RPI ranking near 50 … What kills them is their 0 wins over the RPI top 50, due mostly to Maryland bottoming out; and also the low RPI ranking of their conference brethern excluding George Mason … Add to that a semi-final conference tourny loss to William & Mary and VCU is toast

    VCU was legitimately on the bubble this season but would’ve had to get victories over Arkansas, Miami, Fl., and George Mason and only lose in their conference tourny final in order to get an at large … In other words, they had to be nearly perfect to get an at large; of course to people like Bilas, they get all the “breaks” … (what an a**hole)

  4. Ismael 03/24/2008 at 7:00 AM #

    nice post, that’s all…oh yeah, i agree about the Bilas comments too.

  5. Mr.wolfpack90 03/24/2008 at 9:49 AM #

    Nice stats here but all of us wolfpack fans could have guessed that arizona state would have been left out due to their stength of schedule. If you look at herb sendek’s out of conference schedules thoughout his years at state and now asu you will see a pattern. Schedule weak com,have a 500 record in conference,schedule most home games towards end of year,try to do well in conference touney and always be on the bubble.(2003-2005 yrs for state).

    But i still feel v tech was screwed despite finishing 9-7 with 19-13 record and closed losses to unc and clemson(both road games basically).

    But we all know that herb will still schedule the nc a&t’s and nccu”s etc etc and throw in a team that has a downridden program(iowa).
    This is why nc state fans were not big herb fans. He was afraid of losing and losing his job.
    I wonder how v tech,would have done.

    VT got left out for a very good reason (which is the same reason that most mid-major bubble teams get left out)…you have to beat some good teams to get into the NCAAT. Their best win was against Miami and that simply wasn’t enough.

  6. Mr.wolfpack90 03/24/2008 at 9:55 AM #

    i thought 2000 uva was 9-7 and swept unc and played a tougher schedule than thought?
    Wasn’t this more of a unc bias than a true flaw of uva?

    I didn’t look it up, but I’m pretty sure that UVA had an RPI in the 70’s.

  7. GAWolf 03/24/2008 at 9:57 AM #

    Just further evidence of why we were always bubble-bound in the Sendek era. Our OOC schedules were embarrassing we were rarely much over .500 in the conference. The more things change the more the stay the same… in so many ways.

  8. Noah 03/24/2008 at 10:07 AM #

    I don’t know if it’s even possible to calculate this…but what’s the magic number for tough OOC games on a schedule?

    Take a typical Sendek OOC schedule, which had a bunch of cupcakes and maybe only one or two non-laughable opponents and augment it: How many “tough” OOC games do you need?

    During V years, we almost always played five to seven really tough games a year. We’d have a .500 conference record and then get in because we’d played such a tough OOC schedule.

    1983 – Michigan State (with Sam Vincent and Kevin Willis), Louisville (final four), Memphis State (with Keith lee, top 10 in the country), Missouri (Jon Sunvold and Steve Stipanovich), and Notre Dame (David Rivers, Tim Kempton).

    1984 – Houston (#1 in the country, I think, Final Four), Arkansas (top 10, Joe Klein), Louisville, Missouri.

    1985 – Kentucky, Louisville, SMU (one of the greatest OOC games played at Reynolds since the Dixie Classic)

    1986 – Loyola-Chicago, Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky, Oklahoma, UNLV,

    1987 – Navy, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Depaul, Louisville.

    1988 – Kansas, Louisville, Depaul.

    1989 – Temple, Depaul

    1990 – Depaul (twice, actually), Ohio State, Pittsburgh, St. Johns, Temple, UNLV.

  9. Mr.wolfpack90 03/24/2008 at 10:25 AM #

    this is true noah,v did schedule great teams and a regular schedule with kansas.
    Herb scheduled princeton and unc-g and elon and houston real toughies.

  10. Texpack 03/24/2008 at 11:27 AM #

    My one real curiosity would be how much credit mid-majors are given for winning the conference regular season? Obviously VCU didn’t get enough credit for the CAA championship to earn an at-large this year.

    In 1983 we also played WVU on a neutral court. The parade of great OOC teams through Reynolds my last two years at State was really a lot of fun.

    Memphis State coach Dana Kirk had one of my all time favorite NCAA Tournament quotes “Hopefully our future is ahead of us.”

  11. choppack1 03/24/2008 at 12:43 PM #

    Texpack – I think that what VaWolf is saying, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to how a mid-major qualifies for an at-large bid other than totally dominating their competition.

  12. Ismael 03/24/2008 at 1:58 PM #

    Noah, what year of the mid 80’s was it when Kansas and Danny Manning came to Reynolds when they were ranked like #1 i think…i was at that game. We lost, but i thought it was close.

  13. E-RO 03/24/2008 at 2:26 PM #

    Yet another great article from SFN.

  14. MattN 03/24/2008 at 2:31 PM #

    I’m cleaning up my mom’s house the other weekend and I run across the actual tickets from the game in Reynolds vs. Kansas. What a game! First time I was ever in Reynolds. My ears still hurt….

    Oh, back on topic. I fully support a stronger OOC schedule. We’ve got to get back to playing 2-3 truly legitimate OOC teams each year. Michigan State and Villonova were on our schedule this year, though through no fault of our own…

  15. packgrad93 03/24/2008 at 2:32 PM #

    win whoever is on your schedule & all will take care of itself.

  16. Noah 03/24/2008 at 2:38 PM #

    We played Kansas in 1986 when they were a final four team. That was Shackleford’s first game. We played in Greensboro though. In 1988, we played them in Raleigh (I think), but we were the higher-ranked team.

    That game was the first unveiling of a new uptempo offense and pressure defense for V. Why we didn’t run it when Spud Webb was here, I’ll never know…but V opened up the throttle that year. We ran out to a big lead, but Williams eventually figured it out and beat us.

    We played Kansas twice in 1986 as we met them again to go to the Final Four. We actually had a seven or eight point lead in the Elite Eight game (held in Kansas City) with a few minutes to go. We just collapsed down the stretch. We couldn’t buy a bucket and we had a bunch of turnovers and Kansas outscored by something like 15 in the final five minutes to win easily.

    That team and the 1988 team that lost to Murray State were probably V’s most-talented squads.

  17. Mr O 03/24/2008 at 3:21 PM #

    Tough OOC isn’t so much about the quality of those opponents at the top of the list as it is about the lack of quality of the opponents at the bottom.

    IIRC, didn’t we end one year having the toughest OOC schedule in the ACC? Or did we start the year with the toughest OOC based on the previous year’s final RPIs?

    Point being that whichever year that was, we didn’t have many top notch opponent. We just didn’t have many really, really bad teams on the schedule with most being in the 100-200 range as opposed to 200+.

    Great analysis as usual Vawolf82.

  18. StateFans 03/24/2008 at 3:41 PM #

    MrO, I left you a voice mail today.

  19. choppack1 03/24/2008 at 3:42 PM #

    Noah – I think V recalls that game we played vs. Kansas in the elite 8. He talks about us going to TO and the fans started doing that “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant – and our players got this crazy look on their faces and he just knew we were going to lose.

    I remember that game because Greg Dreiling (kansas’s center) actually dwarfed Chris Washburn. I also remember going into that TO that would determine the game, Billy Packer going “Valvano actually has guys playing under great control, but w/ emotion.”

  20. Noah 03/24/2008 at 3:59 PM #

    Dreiling was about 7-1, 270 and Washburn was about 6-10, 250. I remember Bolton and Nate taking some wild shots, in particular, down the stretch.

  21. choppack1 03/24/2008 at 4:11 PM #

    Was Ernie Myers on that team too?

  22. RickJ 03/24/2008 at 4:34 PM #

    Myers was on that team. He scored on a fast break to put us by 5 and was fouled on the play. I think there was a time out before his foul shot, either a TV one or called by Brown. I’m guessing this happened with about 5 minutes to play. Anyway, he misses the foul shot and 5 seconds later, Manning hits a baseline jumper and is fouled by Bolton. Manning hits the foul shot to cut our lead to 2 and Kansas never looked back.

  23. choppack1 03/24/2008 at 5:31 PM #

    Thanks RickJ. I think the they were the last elite 8 team we had.

  24. Noah 03/24/2008 at 7:20 PM #

    Does anyone remember Kansas’s unofficial mascot that year?

    It’s too horrifying to mention, so just “yes” or “no.”

  25. MrPlywood 03/24/2008 at 8:35 PM #

    ^ Current fact: NC State Wolfpack… STILL the last team to beat Davidson 🙂

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