Sunday, September 30, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 13

No. 13: These Guys Will Be Dancing By Themselves
We’ve already broken down all of the multiple bid leagues, so it’s about time we give a little love to the little guys – the leagues who will only be sending one team to the dance. Some of these leagues are perennial one-bid leagues; others are mid-majors who won’t have two bid-worthy teams this season.

Our Bold Prediction No. 13 is that the following 21 conferences earn one NCAA tournament bid this season. We’ve broken down these one-bid leagues into the best and the rest.

The Best of the One-Bid Leagues
Big South

It was incredible to see how many people picked Winthrop over Notre Dame when last year’s brackets were announced, and the Eagles rewarded everyone with a thrilling upset of the Irish. The 2007-2008 version of Winthrop isn’t as strong as last year’s team (they’ll actually lose a conference game or two this season), but the Eagles are still head and shoulders above the rest of the league and should be no lower than a 13 seed when the final brackets are announced.

Conference USA
The Tigers have lost a grand total of one (yes, one) conference game over the last three years, and it’s fairly safe to say that number will stay at one through this season. Houston is probably the league’s second best team, and has the OOC schedule (Arizona, Kentucky) to build a potentially good resume. But the Cougars aren’t that much better than UAB, which underperformed in Mike Davis’ rookie season, or Southern Miss, which even coach Larry Eustachy admits is a year away from contending. Maybe C-USA can crack the two-bid league list next season. For now, they are left to root for Memphis to bring home a national title.

After a phenomenal start to the year, Butler struggled late in the season and had us scratching our heads when they were still rewarded with a five seed in the NCAA tournament. The committee must have known something – the Bulldogs made the Sweet 16 and busted up more than a few brackets along the way. Coach Todd Lickliter left in the off-season for Iowa, but stud guards A.J. Graves and Mike Green are back and are primed to return Butler to the dance. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have as tough a time as they did at the end of last season – bid-stealing Wright State is down and no one else is close to Butler in terms of talent – and they should be able to earn themselves another single-digit seed on Selection Sunday.

Mountain West
The MWC is a mediocre mess that’s nearly impossible to predict at this point in the pre-season, but at least one thing is clear – the league is only getting one bid this season. UNLV still has Lon Kruger, but they don’t have Kevin Kruger, which means they’ll take a step back, and San Diego State, the MWC’s third best team last season, lost everyone and will fall back to the middle of the pack. BYU and New Mexico are the two best teams on paper heading into the year, and although it’s tempting to pick the now-Steve Alford-led Lobos to win the conference title, it’s hard to ignore New Mexico’s 4-12 conference mark a year ago. BYU lost MWC MVP Keena Young, but are still very strong up front and should be the league’s top rebounding team. The MWC race will be tight all year, but expect the Cougars to be dancing in the end.

All aboard the Davidson bandwagon, folks. Seats are filling up fast. The Wildcats have more pre-season pub than any other small conference team, and that’s thanks in large part to their 29-win season a year ago and the fact that they managed to put together one of the best OOC schedules in the country. The Wildcats play at North Carolina, at Duke, at UCLA, and at North Carolina State. Remember Butler last season? That’s what Davidson’s shooting for this season – win a couple of huge road games early and then ride those wins to a single-digit seed in the NCAA tourney. The Wildcats’ schedule may be brutal, but it’s too full of opportunities, and this team is too good talent-wise (it’s top 10 scorers, led by Stephen Curry, are back) to bet against them. We’re on board with Davidson. Who’s with us? Or better yet, who’s not?

West Coast
With Josh Heytvelt back (insert mushroom joke here), Gonzaga should have no problems running away with the WCC and returning to national prominence this season. Matt Bouldin showed to have a little Adam Morrison in him last season (not just hair-wise) and guard Jeremy Pargo got better as the year went on. Mark Few also welcomes the best recruiting class in school history, led by juco transfer Ira Brown. The Zags will be a top-15 team to start the year, and won’t move much from that spot all season. Expect a top-5 seed in the NCAA tourney.

The Rest of the One-Bid Leagues
America East – Vermont
Atlantic Sun – East Tennessee State
Big Sky – Montana
Big West – UC-Santa Barbara
Ivy – Cornell
MAAC – Siena
MAC – Akron
MEAC – Delaware State
Northeast – Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley – Austin Peay
Patriot – Holy Cross
Southland – Texas A&M-CC
Summit – IUPUI
Sun Belt – Western Kentucky
SWAC – Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Saturday, September 29, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 14

No. 14: The WAC's Still Wacky
As we discussed in Bold Prediction No. 24, we fully expect another crazy season this year in the WAC. With Nevada vulnerable, any number of teams are primed to take over the mantle as the WAC's best team.

How do we see the WAC playing out? Our in-depth analysis of the conference can be found here.

In short, our Bold Prediction No. 14 is that the WAC will be a two-bid league with New Mexico State as a 10 seed, and bid-stealer Utah State as a 13.

Friday, September 28, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 15

No. 15: The Colonial’s Not Dead Yet
Over the past two years, no one has jumped on the Colonial bandwagon more than we have. That faith cost us dearly last year, when the committee ignored its own criteria for mid-majors to get an at-large bid (go and beat someone out of conference) and snubbed the Dragons despite upsets of Syracuse, Villanova, and Creighton.

As a new season tips-off, we refuse to let the committee’s actions last March, or some pre-season projections that the league is finally on the decline, cloud our opinion of what we feel again will be one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country. Yes, the middle-tier of the conference is weak (Hofstra, Drexel, and Old Dominion – last year’s at-large from the Colonial, will all take a step back this year), but the top of the league is talented enough and has scheduled well enough to again earn the Colonial two bids.

The key to this two-big projection is VCU. The Commodores not only return star Eric Maynor and a ton of confidence taken from last year’s tourney upset of Duke, but they also have a decent enough OOC schedule to impress the committee down the road. VCU plays at Maryland, at Bradley and home against Houston all before Christmas and with a decent Bracket Buster win thrown in later on, the Commodores, provided they win most of those games, should be in good shape. Remember, ODU got in last year on the coattails of its early-season win over Georgetown. VCU should be able to do they same with Maryland and Co.

The second Colonial team dancing will be the team that shot the league to stardom in the first place – George Mason. Two years removed from its miraculous Final Four run, the Patriots return Will Thomas, Dre Smith, and Folarin Campbell and should be in a dogfight with VCU all season for the conference title. Where Mason will earn its bid, though, is in the conference tourney. Their OOC schedule is too weak to warrant at-large consideration (their only notable game is at Kansas State), but the Patriots are certainly tournament tested, and we think that they will beat VCU in the Colonial final to earn a return trip to the dance.

To sum up, despite reports to the contrary, the honeymoon period for the Colonial is not over quite yet. Our Bold Prediction No. 15 is that the league will earn two bids this season: VCU as a 10 and George Mason as a 12.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 16

No. 16: Peak Is Over For The Valley
No conference was more difficult to figure out as the season went on last year than the MVC. At one point in late January, five (yeah, five) teams from the Valley made one of our brackets (Southern Illinois, Crieghton, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Indiana State). There was so much parody in the league midway through last season, that it was impossible to predict who would be standing come March. Eventually, though, the picture got a lot clearer: Indiana State lost 14 of its last 16 games, Northern Iowa faded fast after its 13-2 start, and Missouri State lost its Bracket Buster game to Winthrop before getting crushed by Creighton in the MVC tournament.

As it turned out, only two Valley teams – the Salukis and the Arch Madness-winning Bluejays – made the Final Field of 65. Missouri State, for what seems like the millionth straight year, was one of the tougher calls come Selection Sunday, but ultimately was on our Next Four Out list and missed the dance.

This year, as another season begins, the Valley is again one of the most dangerous and most unpredictable mid-major leagues in the country. That doesn’t mean, however, that the league will produce the quality of teams it has in previous years. Five head coaches and a lot of talented seniors have moved on, and besides favorite Southern Illinois, the league is a giant question mark.

Over the course of this year, you can expect lots of fluidity in the MVC, but in the end, we believe that the league is strong enough and has a good enough reputation (three Sweet 16 teams in the last two years) to earn multiple bids. The league’s unpredictability could be beneficial come conference tourney time, if someone can find a way to knock off the Salukis and earn the automatic bid.

With all that said, our Bold Prediction No. 16 is that the Valley takes a few steps back this season (no Field of 65 with four and five teams in it), but ultimately ends up with two teams dancing: Southern Illinois as a 5 and Bradley, thanks to some talented juco transfers and a senior backcourt, as an automatic bid-stealing 12.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 17

No. 17: The A-10 Isn’t Awful Anymore
The Atlantic-10 likes to think of itself as one of the top, if not the top mid-major conference in the country. Five or six years ago, the league was correct in its self-assessment. Nowadays, the A-10 is playing catch-up to the MVC, Colonial, C-USA, and MWC in terms of reputation.

Not many prognosticators have been as hard on the A-10 is recent years as we have. Frankly, we have decided early on each season, and have been proved right in the end, that the league is worthy of just one bid (barring a conference tourney upset like George Washington last season). We haven’t been the only A-10 haters, though. The committee has killed the conference when it comes to seeding the past two years. Last year, a 24-win Xavier team that was the league’s best team all season, earned just an 8 seed, and two years ago, GW went 26-2 (16-0 in the A-10) and couldn’t get out of the 8-9 game.

This year, though, things might be looking up for this beleaguered conference. Xavier is still solid and looks to be the early favorite to win the league again, and the rest of the A-10 may finally be good enough to earn the league a non-regular season champ at-large team. Temple returns the A-10’s top two scorers (Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale), St. Joseph’s returns most of its team and has a strong OOC schedule to boot, Duquesne has a lot of transfer talent now available (remember the name Kojo Mensah), Dayton has most of its squad intact, and Saint Louis welcomes the league’s biggest off-season acquisition in new coach Rick Majerus.

What does all of this mean? It means that our Bold Prediction No. 17 is that the A-10 will finally earn back a little of its reputation this season. Two teams will make it: Xavier as a 6 seed and St. Joseph’s (Lunardi’s boys) as a 12.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 18

No. 18: Don’t Sleep On The ACC
Much of the pre-season talk about the ACC centers around two major questions: Can North Carolina win it all and can Duke bounce back from an un-Duke-like season that culminated in a first round loss to VCU in the NCAAs?

The answer to both those questions is “yes,” but what’s more important for us as we approach the start of this season is how the league as a whole will fare come Selection Sunday. The Pac-10 and Big East has received much of the pre-season love from experts and prognosticators (and deservedly so), meaning that the ACC (minus Dickie V) has received far less pre-season pub than in previous years. That’s unfortunate, because while the ACC might not have the two or three dominant teams it is used to having, it does feature a bunch of teams that could surprise in March.

The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are the class of the ACC (again), and North Carolina is the chic pick right now to win it all. Right behind those two, though, is a deep middle tier of teams, led by Sidney Lowe’s North Carolina State team. Perhaps no other 20-16, 5-11 team in recent memory has been so beloved the next pre-season as has the Wolfpack this season, but we have to admit that we are sipping (not gulping, but sipping) a little NC State Kool-Aid as well. The Wolfpack made a surprise run to the ACC tourney title game last season (almost destroying our final bracket in the process), and then made a nice run to the NIT quarters. They return everyone but point guard Engin Atsur (a loss, but not a season-killer) and have the momentum and the coach to make a steady rise up the polls as the season goes on.

Clemson (remember their 17-0 start last season?) also looks like a tourney-caliber team, as does Virginia, who returns stud Sean Singletary and a good enough supporting cast to compete with the ACC big boys. Maryland is young and dangerous, and should be able to come together in time for a late run in February. The wild cards in the conference are Florida State and Boston College. Both lost all-conference players (Al Thornton, Jared Dudley, Sean Williams), but both have a lot still left in the cupboard. Who gets the nod? We like the Seminoles to snag the league’s seventh and final bid (and FINALLY make it to the dance after years on the bubble), thanks to a Toney Douglas-led backcourt and a rookie frontcourt of 6’10” Julian Vaughn and 7’1” Solomon Alabi.

Thus, our Bold Prediction No. 18 is the ACC will surprise some people this season, and at the end of the day could have as many Sweet 16 teams (three) as any other conference in the country. We’ll seed the seven teams as follows: North Carolina (1 seed), Duke (3 seed), North Carolina State (4 seed), Clemson (6 seed), Virginia (8 seed), Maryland (10 seed), Florida State (12 seed).

Monday, September 24, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 19

No. 19: The SEC IS Deeeeep
The Sears’ Trophy’s two year stay in the SEC might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean that the conference is headed for much of a drop off – if any – this coming season. Top to bottom, the league is full of veteran talent and loaded with teams that could make Sweet 16 runs or better come March.

The head of the class this season is clearly Tennessee, a sure-fire preseason top-8 team which features the nation’s best shooter in All-American candidate Chris Lofton. Kentucky, however, isn’t very far behind the Vols. Billie Gillespie is a proven winner and he inherits a potent, experienced backcourt led by Joe Crawford. Florida lost everyone, but still has the coach and enough spare parts left to sneak back into the tournament.

Even the SEC West is looking up in the early going. Last season, only ridiculous at-large entrant Arkansas made it from the West division, but this year, several teams from that half of the league could find themselves dancing. The Razorbacks return almost their entire team for new head coach John Pelphrey and Mississippi State brings back a core that made the NIT semis a year ago. (Alabama was also deserving of some preseason pub until Ronald Steele was lost for the year.) As a whole, the league also has some possible tourney sleepers in Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Georgia.

What does all this depth and balance mean? It means that our Bold Prediction No. 19 is that the SEC will send six teams to this year’s NCAA tourney. Our way-too-early seedings for these teams? How about Tennessee a 2, Kentucky a 3, Arkansas a 5, Florida an 8, Mississippi State a 9, and Auburn an 11.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 20

No. 20: The Big XII Is OK At Best
The Big XII has sent four teams dancing each of the last two seasons, and last year it landed three top-four seeds (Kansas a 1, Texas A&M a 3, and Texas a 4). But with a mass exodus of star power (Durant, Law, etc.) at the top of the league and a bulk of teams that still aren't ready to make a jump up, it's hard to imagine the Big XII making much of an impact - aside from Kansas - on the national stage this season. Even Kansas' high hopes are hanging in the balance of Brandon Rush's rehab.

Based on sheer numbers and because of its power conference status, our Bold Prediction No. 20 is that the league will get five bids this season. We admit that's being generous, and Big XII fans might see just four make it if enough upsets occur during Championship Week (ex. C-USA, WCC). Kansas, assuming Rush is fine, will be a force, and Texas and Texas A&M will bring back enough talent to compete. The conference's most intriguing team is Kansas State, which enters the year without Bob Huggins, but with frosh stud Michale Beasley and a rehabbing, not-as-fat-as-previously-thought Bill Walker. That young core could help the Wildcats surprise some people, assuming Walker is OK. The fifth and least safe Big XII bid goes to Mike Anderson's scrappy Missouri squad.

In the end, we see the Big XII's four bids looking like this come March: Kansas (1 seed), Texas (5 seed), Texas A&M (6 seed), Kansas State (9 seed), and Missouri (11).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 21

No. 21: The Big Ten Stinks (Please Tell The Committee)
Last year, aside from Ohio State and Wisconsin, we were down on the Big Ten all season. In our final bracket, the selection committee showed that they thought otherwise. We seeded Indiana at a 9 seed and they ended up as a 7, we seeded Purdue as a 12 and one of our last four in and they (somehow) got a 9, and most ridiculous, we left Illinois out and they got a 12 seed to give us one of our two mistakes.

Despite the committee's love of the Big Ten last year, we still think the league will be a disappointment in 2007-2008. Yes, the league has two All-Americans in Drew Neitzel and D.J. White and because of them, Michigan State and Indiana are legit top-3 seeds entering the season, but the middle and bottom of the league is weaker than that of any other BCS conference. Ohio State will slip but has enough talent left to stay afloat and Wisconsin's style of play makes it a tough team to bet against even without Alando Tucker, but no one else in the league registers as anything close to a dangerous team.

That said, our Bold Prediction No. 21 is that only four Big Ten teams will make this year's NCAA Tournament: Indiana (a 2 seed), Michigan State (3 seed), Ohio State (7 seed), and Wisconsin (9 seed). Our apologies to our buddies at the Illinois message won't sneak in again this year, too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 22

No. 22: The East Is Second Best
At some points last season, some bracketologists had as many as nine Big East teams in their fields of 65. Even in some of this season’s early projections, eight or nine Big East teams are getting bids. Thanks to the parody in the league itself and more importantly thanks to inevitable upsets across the board during Championship Week, neither amount will be correct in the end; however, those preseason predictions do speak to how deep the Big East will be again this season.

Georgetown and Louisville will both be top-six teams when the official preseason polls are announced and they will be battling for a Big East title and a possible No. 1 NCAA tourney seed all year long. Dominic James and Marquette are also loaded, and should emerge as the league's third best team, which would earn them a top-four seed on Selection Sunday. Syracuse and UConn are poised to bounce back from poor seasons a year ago (we still have no clue how the Orange didn't go dancing). Pittsburgh lost a lot up front, but returns enough grinders and defensive-minded players to pull a few upsets along the way and earn the conference's final bid, and Villanova has the point guard in Scottie Reynolds that helps teams win important games down the stretch.

Our Bold Prediction No. 22 is that the Big East will get seven teams into this year’s Final Field of 65. Louisville and Georgetown aside, the Big East might not have the quality of entrants that the Pac-10 or ACC has – the Big East seeds will surely be lower as a whole – but that doesn't mean that the country's deepest league won't make a splash in March.

Here’s a way too early stab at seeding the Big East: Louisville (2 seed), Georgetown (2 seed), Marquette (4 seed), Connecticut (7 seed), Pittsburgh (8 seed), Syracuse (8 seed), and Villanova (10 seed).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 23

No. 23: The West Is Best
Last season, six Pac-10 teams earned a trip to the tournament, including an 18-13, 10-8 Stanford team that entered Selection Sunday squarely on the bubble and out of some people’s final brackets. Those six entrants certainly made the committee look smart, as three made the Sweet 16 and two (UCLA and Oregon) made the Elite 8.

Where does the Pac-10 do for an encore? How about making bracket history? No league has ever sent 70 percent of its teams to the dance, but this year, with a ton of star power returning and a crop of stud recruits (Mayo, Love, etc.) ready to make their debuts, the Pac-10 will do just that - and earn a record seven tourney bids. UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, and Washington State are virtual locks, and Stanford (with the Lopezes back) are a pretty safe bet as well.

The battle for the last two spots should be a three-horse race between Washington, Arizona, and Cal. The Wildcats are as young as they come and have a brutal schedule, but when all is said and done we feel that they will be able to gel come Fabruary and March and make a run in the Pac-10 tourney to lock up a bid. For the final Pac-10 bid, the Bears get the nod for now over the Huskies. Even without Spencer Hawes, Washington is deep and talented, but it's hard to overlook the frontcourt that Cal returns. It's still a mystery who will get the ball to DeVon Hardin and Ryan Anderson (who could both be 2008 first-round picks), but that duo should be dominant enough to make thee Bears one of the last few teams in come Selection Sunday.

So, our Bold Prediction No. 23 is that a record seven Pac-10 teams will make this year’s final Field of 65: UCLA (1 seed), Washington State (3 seed), Oregon (4 seed), USC (4 seed), Arizona (6 seed), Stanford (7 seed), and Cal (a dangerous 11 seed).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 24

No. 24: This Year's New Mexico State Is...
Each year, it’s become a tradition for us at B101 to fall in love with a non-first place mid-major team and include them in our bracket early in the season, in hopes that they eventually win their conference tournament or earn a somewhat unexpected at-large bid. Two years ago, it was Hofstra (a love affair that screwed us in the end), and last year it was then-Reggie Theus-led New Mexico State. After a solid start to 2006, we added the Aggies to our bracket on December 26th (two and a half months before anyone else did) and kept them in every bracket the rest of the way. Our faith was rewarded when our boys went on to win the WAC tournament title on their home floor and snag an automatic bid.

So who’s this year’s New Mexico State? Which mid-major conference do we like to be a two-bid league? This year, we’re going with a group of Aggies again: Stew Morrill's Aggies of Utah State. Our Bold Prediction No. 24 is that the WAC will get two teams in this year’s final Field of 65, and that second team will be Utah State.

Ironically enough, our old friends from New Mexico State factored heavily in this bold prediction. Theus may have moved on, but new Aggies coach Marvin Menzies inherits one of the league’s best players in senior Justin Hawkins (three starters are back in total) to go along with heralded 6-9 freshman Herb Pope. Pope’s troubled past is well-documented, but if he can stay focused on basketball during his rookie season, he should help New Mexico State win the WAC regular season title and dethrone a Nevada team that was decimated by graduation.

With Nevada down, a handful of teams will be battling for second place, and we like Utah State to establish themselves as the league's second best team. The Aggies certainly have enough talent returning to do it. Senior shooting guard Jaycee Carroll, the league’s best player and top returning scorer at over 21 ppg, is back, and he joins senior point guard Kris Clark (4 assists per game last year) in the league's most potent backcourt. Morrill's track record is also a huge plus here - the Aggies have won 23 or more games eight years running.

Remember, you heard it here first. Utah State will be this year’s version of New Mexico State. They may not win the regular season WAC title, but don’t be surprised if they upend New Mexico State on its home court to win the conference tourney. We think they'll find a way to go dancing somehow...and once again we'll hope that our blind faith pays off.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

B101's Bold Prediction No. 25

No. 25: Down Goes Lunardi...Again
It's almost too easy to pick on Joe Lunardi, ESPN's smug and omnipresent Bracketology "expert," (and his cop-out, season-ending-today prediction method) but last year, he gave us more statistical ammunition than ever before. Lunardi missed just two at-large teams (as did almost everyone else, including us), but the rest of his final bracket was laughable. He seeded only 19 teams exactly (B101 had 27), and seeded only 48 within one seed line (B101 had 52). He also managed to miss a number one seed (UCLA over Florida). And, oh yeah, he lied about the number of teams he had within one seed line on national TV.

This year, our Bold Prediction No. 25 is that, once again, we will be more realistic than Lunardi during each week of the regular season and more accurate when the final field is announced on Selection Sunday. The numbers, again, won't lie...

Bracketology 101's Bold Predictions

With 25 days left until March Madness, it's about time we at Bracketology 101 offer up our preview for the upcoming college basketball season. As you may have noticed, we have already made some slight design changes to the site and we are excited to debut several new daily and weekly features over the course of the season. As always, our focus will remain on our weekly bracket, but we plan on supplementing the bracket with fresh editorial content, polls, RSS feeds, and more.

Those won't be the only changes to hit B101 this season, however. This year will mark the first time (we're pretty sure) that someone has blogged about Bracketology from Iraq. Craig's Marine duties have sent him overseas, but he has pledged to keep a keen eye on the college basketball landscape, and in between flights he will make guest appearances on the site to answer questions and give him insight on all things bubble-related.

In the meantime, we present our 25 Bold Predictions for the upcoming year. Over the next 25 days, we will analyze a wide array of conferences, teams, and players and predict how we think things will unfold bracket-wise this season. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Chris and Craig
Bracketology 101