Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, February 06, 2006

NCAA Women's Outlook I: Slotting the Contenders

By Mel Greenberg

Now that we're into the second week of February, and we've gone once-around the conference regular season races, enough action has occurred to at least look at the long list of candidates who are contending for the Big Dance.

This first contribution is more about numbers counting involving getting into the door. How they fit once through the door will be a topic in the near future, although we'll have some mention of that discussion in this post.

Because one of the RPI simulated sites was updated early Sunday night, it's possible to discuss the scene as it exists today, Feb. 6.

In terms of the formulas, we know that in the field of 64, there will be 31 automatic bids through conference titles, and 33 at-large picks.

At this point in time, it's usually easy to identify a bunch of locks, although enough time remains for some to unlock themselves through losing streaks, key injuries, and other factors.

The rest of the numbers count will usually be larger than slots available, thus that particular group become known as the teams "on the bubble."

That topic is also a future discussion, and that's when we'll get into the "NittyGritty" component of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that will help narrow the field.

For now, let's develop the long list.

The One-Team Conferences

It appears that this group consists of 23 of the 31 available leagues. Basically, we look at the data of all the conferences and, using past discussions with committee members about procedures over the years, the same mindset can be used to identify this crowd.

Team names are not necessary at the moment, with limited exceptions. The conferences that as of now appear able to only send their tournament winners, besides the Ivy regular season champion, are:

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Mid-American, Mid-Continent, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Sun Belt, Southwestern Athletic Conference, Western Athletic Conference, and West Coast.

The eight that appear certain to send multiple representatives are:

Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Ten, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-10, and Southeastern.

Wrong-Winners and Rescue Work.

Nothing goes entirely according to plan and occasionally an upset in conference tournaments that are perceived as "one-team- only" leagues creates a "wrong winner." The perceived team, in some situations, has so much going for it, that it becomes part of the at-large pool and "bumps" someone else out of the field of 64.

Incidentally, won't pre-selection Sunday be fun since we'll have all day and night to talk about this because of the move to Monday night to announce the women's field.

As far as the 24 conferences go, let's just say in the spirit of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, for the most part, St. Bernards won't be out on the sloops with barrels marked Red Cross on their chests ready to rescue victims. Teams that dominated those conferences are not all guaranteed a second shot.

Some might be, so let's examine a few of those.

America East _ Hartford has a good RPI at the moment at 39. So, we'll kick the Hawks on the bubble shelf for future comparison if they falter along the line.

Colonial - Old Dominion would be one of the dicier discussions. The Monarchs are dominating the league and play a strong schedule. However, they don't bring a lot to the table in terms of outside victories. But they are definitely worthy of consideration. Remember, a smaller bubble and a large supply of available NCAA at-large slots will benefit someone in this situation.

Conference USA - For those who look at the glut of Big East possibilities, do this. If you would lump these two conferences together, you would get near the combined total number that went in the past. The realignments change the equation, however, in terms of limiting this conference, but not the total overall number. Tulsa, new to C-USA, has the best RPI at 64 and is in the race for the title. The RPI is not great, but the team can be sent to the bubble for now and let's see what happens. Obviously, a title puts an end to this topic.

Missouri Valley - Indiana State with an RPI of 28 and a solid lead would at least put the team on the bubble. Then it would have to undergo comparisons. Again, a title ends this discussion.

Western Athletic - Louisiana Tech probably goes no matter what. We put the Techsters on the bubble as part of a one-team league, but also acknowledge that they would be an early team off the bubble into the field. The lock list is never that huge, although by the final days of pre-selection week we can usually give locks to more teams on the basis of the data.
Fresno State is right there in the WAC hunt, but an RPI of 94 isn't much of a help.

So that gives us five on the bubble for starters, although three of them, if not all, will have gotten their dance tickets the easy when we re-visit the issue before Selection Monday.

The Multiple Groups

Atlantic Coast - A No. 1 conference RPI ranking can usually produce an extra team and this crowd could use the extra help. North Carolina, Maryland, and Duke are locks, and one may be the next ACC champion.
This week Maryland goes to North Carolina and then to Duke. Great success elevates the Terrapins to a candidate for an NCAA No. 1 bid. Total failure at worst slips them to three. Then there's the conference tournament.
More will go from here, but as of now, it's a jumble. So when we place these teams on the bubble, some are either-ors on the same line because they all won't go. Virginia Tech, for an example, is an enigma with a weak conference record but a great RPI (16). Same thing for North Carolina State with an RPI of 10. So we'll keep those two on the bubble as of now, along with Florida St., Miami, and Boston College. We'll also keep Virginia involved, for now, because the Cavs have enough time left for improvement.

Atlantic Ten -- Temple and George Washington should go and one might be the champion. Charlotte has had a great debut but the 49ers will have to get to at least the semifinals to breathe better. They're worthy of bubble talk for now. Dayton and St. Joseph's need a run to the title game, if not more.

Big 12 -- Oklahoma and Baylor are locks. Oklahoma also can get all the way to a No. 2 seed by running the table. Baylor looks like either a No. 3 or No. 4 if the Bears slip further. Texas has a great RPI, but not a lot of meat and potatoes. That could change with a win Sunday over Connecticut. Texas A&M, Missouri, and Kansas State stay alive until we see how the Big 12 race concludes.

Big East -- Connecticut, Rutgers, St. John's, and DePaul are locks. Hugh game in Storrs, Tuesday, between the Huskies and the Scarlet Knights. UConn is the outside contender for a No. 1, so a win keeps that alive. Rutgers can join that hunt, but otherwise is looking at a No. 2. A few slips might relegate the Scarlet Knights to a three. But, these two will play once more, for sure, and then mayber again in the conference tournament. More will come out of here, but it is a logjam at the moment so it's up to Marquette, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, and South Florida to build momentum over the last weeks. They will do so at each other's expense, and who knows if Villanova might start causing trouble for this crowd.

Big Ten -- Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan State have tentative dance tickets. Ohio State's best shot is a No. 2 seed by running the table, although the Buckeyes may get one, anyhow. Worst case is a No. 3 unless a slide drops them to No. 4. Someone needs to get something going from the next group to get on the bubble. There's still time.

Mountain West -- Two of three from BYU, Utah, and New Mexico will probably go - but which two? A wrong winner from deep below will ruin it for somebody. TCU is still alive for bubble comparisons but not before the trio above in this conference.

Pacific Ten -- Stanford is a lock as is Arizona State, with both looking at potentially a No. 3 or No. 4 seed if both or either get to the conference championship and depending what every one else contending for a Top 16 seed is doing. Washington and Southern Cal are in the hunt and belong with the bubble list. For now, we'll keep UCLA alive. California has fallen short, barring a run, but what a great turnaround for the Golden Bears.

Southeastern -- LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia are in with LSU and Tennessee running strong for a No. 1 seed as of now. Georgia, depending on the finish, is looking at a No. 3 or No. 4, but a great run puts them in contention for a No. 2. Arkansas' RPI at 106 is terrible and we've never seen that ranking get an at-large bid. But, hey, they're in the race for a good finish. This is another conference where a No. 2 conference RPI might create some extra weight. The other bubbles are Florida, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, any of whom could get picked quickly. We have to wait for them to sort themselves out.

Doing the match roughly, with all the locks we assigned for now, we're around 37 or 38, needing 27 to fill the need. Anything can happen. We could get close to fit where it will be six teams for three spots or it could get worse.

That's what this month's about. In February, the fever develops, and then March arrives and it's all madness.

This particular exercise will continue in as few weeks. Next time out, unless news warrants otherwise, we'll be in Storrs, Tuesday night for the Big East showdown.

-- Mel


Anonymous Scamp (aka Carol Anne) said...

Mel, I just posted your comments on the Big 12 conference to HoopScoop.net, a blog devoted to Big 12 women's basketball.

I'm with you on Oklahoma--isn't Courtney Paris amazing!--and Baylor--Sophia Young is awesome!

As for Texas? I'll bet Jody Conradt is wishing she'd never scheduled a game against UConn!

(Just as Kim Mulkey must be wondering if it will be safe to play LSU in Waco in 2007. What if Lady Bear fans take a poke at Pokey?)

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