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Analyzing the Bearcats tournament position

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All I see and hear about following this string of five losses in six games for the Bearcats is how they are NIT bound. I continue to attempt to explain to people they are not even in the bubble conversation yet. Are they trending in a bad direction? Obviously. But to contend they are already on the bubble or not going to the tournament is refusing to look around at the rest of college basketball. 

Most of the respected bracketologists have them in the 8/9 seed range. Here's their rankings from the various metrics used by the committee: 

  • RPI: 50
  • KenPom: 37
  • Sagarin: 31
  • ESPN BPI: 31

UC (19-9, 7-8) still owns a number of quality wins -- Oregon, at Pitt, Marquette, Iowa State, Villanova -- and next to no bad losses. 

The rest of the regular season schedule includes Saturday home vs. UConn (19-7, 9-5), at Louisville (22-5, 10-4) and home against USF (10-16, 1-13) then start by playing one of the bottom four seeds on Wendesday in the Big East tournament. Assuming at the very least they win one of these games, with USF a game the Cats will be heavily favored in, they will win 20 games. 

Take a look at the Big East teams the last five years with 20 wins entering Selection Sunday. 

  • Year: Teams with 20 wins (NCAA tourney status)
  • 2012: 9 (Seton Hall out, 15th SOS in league)
  • 2011: 11 (All in)
  • 2010: 9 (South Florida out, played no teams in KP Top 75 in non-conference) 
  • 2009: 7 (All in)
  • 2008: 8 (All in)
  • TOTAL: 44 (Seton Hall '12, USF '10)

--- If you play any type of schedule in the Big East (Bearcats currently 32nd SOS in RPI and fifth in conference according to KPom) and win 20 games you get in the tournament. Period. Fact. 

Seton Hall didn't get in because they had the second worst strength of schedule in the league. Same was the case for USF, who didn't play anybody in KenPom's top 75 in their non-conference schedule. 

UC challenged themselves, won games and while people will point to their struggles down the stretch they must also point to the close losses that show a team competitively keeping up with anyone. That's all part of the scenario the committee weighs when they rank the S-curve. That's why they only use everyone's favorite RPI as one of many factors in slotting teams, because the RPI doesn't take into account individual performance in games -- only W or L. Which is crazy, losing at the buzzer to Syracuse counts the same as being throttled by 21 at Notre Dame? But I'm not about to go on an RPI rant, if you want one, just check my archives here each of the past two years at this time. 

--- Even further, let's take a look at the team's that are currently on the bubble and compare their situations. Here are the eight teams that were straddling the bubble by Joe Lunardi entering this weekend. 

  • Cal (18-9, 10-5): Oregon 2x, Arizona -- rank 44 in RPI and 52 in BPI
  • Baylor (16-11, 7-7): Oklahoma State, BYU (?)
  • Ole Miss (20-7, 9-5): Missouri
  • Temple (19-8, 8-5): Saint Louis, Syracuse
  • -----------
  • Kentucky (19-8, 10-4): Maryland, Missouri
  • Villanova (18-10, 9-6): Marquette, UConn, Syracuse, Louisville
  • St. John's (16-11, 8-7): UConn, ND, UC
  • Southern Miss (16-10, 7-6): None

--- These are your bubble teams, people. Southern Miss and St. John's are in the middle of the conversation. There is quite a bit of distance between where UC stand and where the likes of Temple, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern Miss and St. John's stand. (Villanova will certainly move to the correct side of the bubble with their win over Marquette)

This chart doesn't include bad losses, where it's hard to find many, if any on the Bearcats run. You could possibly count St. John's and Providence as bad losses, but both are middle of the pack in the second-toughest conference in the country. 

These SEC teams need much better records to make up for the fact they only have two/three tourney teams in the conference. The Big East will have about 8 or 9. You can make a similar statement about CUSA and to a lesser degree the A-10. 

Point being, look relatively at the competition before placing UC on the bubble with them. 

--- The grander point is that this team needs to start playing better. Nobody can deny that. Sean Kilpatrick said as much himself to Bill Koch after Sunday's ugly loss at Notre Dame. 

"There's a lot of things that have got to be changed quick because this season is going down the drain and we're letting it," Kilpatrick said.

He's right, the high hopes talked about through the preseason and into non-conference about Big East championship games and Final 4s look far off. But those that are dismissing the season as over haven't paid attention the last two years inside this conference. 

Each of the last two years a team has played poorly in Big East play, particularly down the stretch, and gone on to the most successful postseason in their program's recent history. 

In 2012, Louisville lost four of six to close the regular season and finished at 10-8 in the conference. They went on to win four games in NYC, take the BET title and advance to the Final 4 before succumbing to Kentucky. 

In 2011, UConn went 8-10 in Big East conference play, including losing five of their final 8 before heading to NYC where Kemba Walker helped them win five games in five days and then they went on to win the national championship. 

These are literally the last two examples in this conference following the exact same path as the Bearcats. Am I saying this will happen? No, and we can discuss a number of reasons why it can or can't, but for anybody to be giving up hope or considering all lost hasn't been paying attention to their surroundings. 

I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. 

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