Trick or Treat: RTC Hands Out Its Halloween Goodies

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

At this time of year, when the visible signs of Autumn truly take form, you know two things. The first is that actual college basketball games are upon us. Not just speculation and hearsay; the game itself, the basis for all that hype and buildup, is right around the corner. Then there’s Halloween, the consummate Fall holiday, promising a bounty of tricks and treats for costumed children nationwide. Though you’ve most likely outgrown the days of door-to-door candy voyages and late night sugar binges, the last day of October still has meaning. College basketball deserves a place in the festivities, too. Like all Halloweens, you can’t mention confectionery tweets and scary costumes without trickery and mischief. After all, there is a separate holiday for that. To hit both sides of the coin, we’re bringing five tricks and five treats to our favorite teams, players, coaches, places and whatever else can be boxed into the college hoops realm. The mixed bag features a random compilation of offseason developments (both good and bad), preview-centric topics and some of the biggest storylines as we approach this season’s opening tipoff. As the bombardment of polls, rankings and All-America teams from various media outlets continues, consider this a refreshing tweak on your annual preseason college hoops diet. And I can promise you this: Much like your Halloweens of old, the pillow bags teeming with your favorite comestibles, this here holiday treat will not lack for taste. Though to maximize your Halloween satisfaction, consume this savory treat in tandem with a hearty serving of the real-life version (and make sure to stay clear of the tricks) – satisfying your palette, and your thirst for college basketball. There are few better ways to do Halloween.

Five Treats 
to be delivered upon…
 
1. The Hive Minds of Patriotic Scheduling.

The 2011 Carrier Classic will go down as one of the most memorable non-conference games in recent history (photo credit: AP)

Last season’s Carrier Classic played aboard the USS Carl Vinson was a spectacular way to christen the 2011-12 season. It featured two brand-name programs (Michigan State and North Carolina) and two coaching legends competing before a backdrop of gorgeous vistas, with a uniform-clad naval crowd and President Obama taking in the proceedings. More importantly, it captured some of the national sports attention usually reserved for football this time of the year and sparked a minor interest in the college hoops non-conference season. The shipside fun will come at you threefold this season, with Ohio State-Marquette, Syracuse-San Diego State and Florida-Georgetown all playing November 9 games on military vessels. But this year’s non-conference slate is outdoing last year’s offering: Michigan State will begin its season with a game against Connecticut at the Ramstein Air Force base in Germany. MSU AD Mark Hollis, we salute you.

2. NCAA Reform.

Since taking over as NCAA president in 2010, Mark Emmert has presided over an organization riddled with nonstop criticism. Most complaints attack the NCAA’s infractions committee, its obscure and inconsistent punishment guidelines, and the pace of its proceedings. Through it all, Emmert voiced his desire to pass NCAA reform. On Tuesday, his vision was realized. Among other streamlined legislative tweaks, the new four-tier penalty structure places a greater responsibility on coaches to police their respective teams. It also helps clarify and distinguish the parameters dictating violations and punishments, meaning we’re likely to have a better sense of the previously muddled relationship between violation classification and punitive severity. We’ve always wanted clarity, and now it’s here. This applies to all college sports, but for college basketball in particular, where recruiting violations and agent activity run rampant, the rule changes are a decided proactive move.

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Morning Five: 10.30.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2012

  1. The AP on Monday released its All-America squad and there were no surprises with this year’s group. Indiana’s Cody Zeller received all but one vote (64) for the first team (queue the Gary Parrish outrage article), while mid-major stalwarts Doug McDermott (62), Isaiah Canaan (43) and CJ McCollum (16) joined fellow Big Ten stars DeShaun Thomas (26) and Trey Burke (16) on the squad. There are six players on this year’s team because McCollum and Burke tied for the last spot — not because the AP has, like many conferences, forgotten how to count. Keep this and all preseason All-America lists in the proper context, though — of the five players chosen to last year’s preseason team, only Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger ended up on both the preseason and postseason first team. Three others — Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, UNC’s Harrison Barnes, and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor — finished as Honorable Mention postseason winners, while Kentucky’s Terrence Jones didn’t even earn that distinction. The two season-long NPOY candidates from last year — Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson — were among the others receiving votes in last year’s preseason list. Caveat emptor.
  2. Tis the season for preseason rankings, selections, lists, and all sorts of fun but ultimately meaningless analysis. Still, until the first games tip off just over 10 days from now, this is all we’ve got. Basketball ProspectusDan Hanner has produced his preseason analysis of all 345 Division I teams, and as he notes, some of the results of his model may well surprise you. For example, the model loves UCLA and all of its incoming talent but isn’t nearly as high on Louisville and all of its returning talent. It seems to think that the Big 12 conference race is going to be one for the ages with eight teams at .500 or better, but it’s not buying into the hype that NC State is ready to overtake one of its rivals to win the ACC. If you’re a numbers geek who gets off on efficiency analytics, it will be interesting to do a cross-tabbed comparison between Hanner’s preseason rankings and the Ken Pomeroy preseason rankings which are due to release sometime later this week.
  3. For non-stat geeks, there’s always the controversial RPI, which despite its myriad shortcomings, remains the “organizational tool” of choice for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Building off of SI.com writer Luke Winn’s previous work examining several power conference schools gaming the RPI by playing (and beating) good mid-majors in the non-conference slate, TSN’s Ryan Fagan takes the next step and reviews a number of mid-major programs that have figured out the best way to prepare a team in terms of both the RPI and its corresponding mental toughness is to play those kinds of games, often on the road in places like Lawrence, Durham or Pittsburgh. He mentions that Davidson, Lehigh, Detroit, Belmont, UNC Asheville and Long Beach State (what else is new?) have all taken this tack with their non-conference scheduling this season. We’re certainly not complaining — these are some of the best games of the November and December months of the schedule.
  4. Iowa State’s transfer project keeps right on truckin’, with the weekend news that USC point guard Maurice Jones has matriculated there and will become eligible in the 2013-14 season. While Fred Hoiberg has picked up another talented piece for his backcourt — Jones did everything but serve fajitas to the fans in the Galen Center last year — there is a degree of oddness about his departure from the Trojan program. According to a September statement released by the school, Jones was declared academically ineligible at USC and would be forced to miss the season as a result. Jones disputes this characterization, stating unequivocally that he “just got suspended from the school for a year, but it wasn’t because of my grades. […] It was something that happened at the school. I can’t really say what it was, but it wasn’t my grades.” It would seem somewhat unusual for a school to suspend a player for a different reason while using academic issues as a cover story, so we’re not sure what exactly is going on with this one — what we do know is that Iowa State has picked up a talented waterbug of a player who should seamlessly move into a starting role to replace Korie Lucious (another transfer) next season.
  5. With Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky all populating the preseason top five lists, this is as good a time as any to make sure that you’re regularly reading the WDRB.com College Basketball Notebook from Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich. Based in Louisville, the duo is perfectly situated to report on many of the anecdotes, rumors and tidbits that come out of this basketball-crazed Fertile Crescent on a daily basis. In this week’s version, for example, Crawford and Bozich discuss the numerous suitors for Andrew Wiggins, Tom Crean’s threat to use his bench productively, Calipari’s naysaying about his latest batch of fabulous freshmen, and Pitino’s verbal merengue around his contract extension with the Cardinals. Trust us,  you’ll learn something new every time you stop by — make it part of you weekly reading.
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Night Line: Seton Hall The Big Winner In a Huge ‘Bubble’ Night

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The NCAA Tournament ‘bubble’ is in perpetual motion during this time of year, as it expands or shrinks based on small conference qualifiers and new teams move in and out seemingly every day. Tuesday night was no different, as 10 different teams on the Bubble Watch tracker were in action against quality opponents. Of those, a total of five teams had home games against Top 20 opponents — the kind of must-win games that can add a great victory to a resume and build confidence down the stretch. Seton Hall and Colorado State were the only two teams to come out victorious at home against their talented foes, and the circumstances surrounding the Pirates’ win against No. 9 Georgetown should seal the deal for the Hall as an NCAA Tournament team.

Jordan Theodore was Locked In for Seton Hall on Tuesday (Seton Hall Athletics)

The Pirates did on Tuesday what Northwestern, Mississippi State, and NC State couldn’t — beat a great team at home. Seton Hall dominated the Hoyas en route to a 73-55 win highlighted by senior Jordan Theodore’s massive night. The point guard had a career-high 29 points and five assists, including a perfect 5-5 night from behind the arc and 8-8 performance at the free-throw line. The Pirates have been up and down during Big East play, at one point losing six straight games and looking nothing like a postseason-worthy squad. But they’ve recovered to win four of their last five contests to improve to 19-9 overall and 8-8 in the Big East. Knocking off Georgetown was the team’s fourth top 50 win and propels them onto solid ground at the moment. With remaining games versus only Rutgers and at DePaul, the Hall is in great shape to simply take care of business against inferior opponents and lock up a bid.

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New ESPN BPI Rankings are Useful but Far From Groundbreaking

Posted by EJacoby on February 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

The Worldwide Leader is again looking to stake its claim in the advanced stat revolution, this time in the college basketball realm. Saturday was the unveiling of ESPN’s new College Basketball Power Index (BPI), which ranks all Division I teams 1-344 based on a number of factors that go beyond wins and losses. The two most obvious questions to ask of this new system are: How does the BPI compare to the KenPom and Sagarin ratings that college basketball purists have come to know so well? And is this BPI ranking system any good on its own? These rankings appears to be quite similar to those of the popular KenPom, though there are a couple of unique additions to this system that attempt to make it stand out.

The New BPI Rankings De-Value Ohio State's Games They Played Without Jared Sullinger (AP Photo/T. Gilliam)

It’s hard to argue with what ESPN is doing here by releasing a brand new metric at the perfect time now that college basketball begins to own much of the sports spotlight for the next month and a half. It will be helpful to read ESPN’s introduction to the index, which gives a chart that points out the features of the BPI compared to RPI, KenPom, and Sagarin, and also describes the benefits of their system that they believe is the most accurate assessment of team rankings. ESPN notes that their numbers include details that are “pretty technical and many people won’t be interested, so we won’t go into detail, but we think they improve how the tool works.” Considering the great technicality with which many purists understand Sagarin and KenPom, it would actually be quite useful to release this ‘technical’ information for comparison’s sake. Regardless, the BPI appears to be quite similar to these accepted ratings. BPI accounts for pace when measuring scoring margin, it awards value to winning close games more than close losses, and it includes detailed strength of schedule numbers.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 7th, 2012

  1. Last week at this time, California sat at #30 in the RPI, one of the factors that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to determine at-large participants. However, after losing at home to Arizona on Saturday, its RPI fell to #48, giving us an excellent example of just how tenuous of a claim Pac-12 schools have toward an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The win did bump Arizona up to #62 from #85, while Washington, the conference leader, still sits at #72. For perspective, an RPI in the 30s will very likely get you in, while pushing up into the 40s will leave you wondering on Selection Sunday eve. In short, odds are getting stronger that the only team that will be truly comfortable when they tune into CBS on Selection Sunday is the winner of the conference tournament.
  2. We gave our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to Joshua Smith for his big weekend in Washington, but the Pac-12 handed out the hardware to Arizona senior guard Kyle Fogg, a worthy recipient based on his well-rounded weekend leading the Wildcats to a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. It is Fogg’s first ever POTW honor, and the 83rd all-time selection for an Arizona player.
  3. Yesterday we mentioned the injuries that Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp suffered in their game against Arizona State on Saturday, but today Mike Montgomery confirmed that the injuries aren’t anything to worry about and that both players will practice and play this weekend when the Golden Bears head to the Los Angeles schools. Meanwhile, Arizona State junior guard Trent Lockett will likely return to action this week for the Sun Devils after missing six games with a badly sprained right ankle. The team’s leading scorer took over the point guard duties for Herb Sendek following the team’s dismissal of Keala King, but may be able to return to more of a wing role now that junior guard Chris Colvin has had some success running the point. Nevertheless, ASU has gone 1-5 in Lockett’s absence.
  4. The Pac-12 is probably no different than other leagues around the country in that fans from one end of the conference to the other think the officiating, um, isn’t very good. Oregon fans are the latest to take up the call for better officiating, following their loss to Colorado Saturday night on a controversial last-second foul call. Conference commissioner Larry Scott made it a priority to work on improving the work of Pac-12 football officials last year, and here’s hoping a similar initiative is in the works for the basketball side of things. However, there is a significant barrier in the way: Basketball officials aren’t tied to or affiliated with any one conference, but rather work a variety of games with teams from different conferences involved. But, to this point, Scott has worked wonders in his time with the conference, so hope remains that he can work on improving the state of officiating in Pac-12 basketball.
  5. And lastly, speaking of the commissioner, he was awarded with a contract extension to 2016 yesterday, unanimously approved by all 12 university presidents. In his first two years as the Commish, he has expanded the conference to 12 schools (and twice almost bumped it up to 16), scored a huge new television deal with ESPN and Fox that begins next year and will include a Pac-12 television network, and just generally done a great job marketing and promoting the conference not only around the West, but nationally and even internationally. Now, USC fans may not be all that enamored of Scott, but the rest of the conference seems to be mighty pleased with the way things are being done under the new commissioner.
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Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 7th, 2012

  1. Alabama star forward Tony Mitchell was suspended indefinitely on Monday by head coach Anthony Grant, who did not elaborate on specific causes other than to say that it wasn’t the result of a specific action but a series of transgressions. The junior wing who averages 13/7 on the season picked a tough time to fail to come through for his team, as the Crimson Tide travels to Auburn tonight and LSU on Saturday. Sitting firmly on the early February bubble, Alabama cannot afford to lose either game against two lower-tier SEC teams without one of its two best players in the lineup.
  2. From a player forced to sit to a coach choosing to do so, College of Charleston head man Bobby Cremins opened up Monday about his recent leave of absence from the team. Citing doctor’s orders, the 64-year old coach said that he was running himself into the ground: “I got physically exhausted, fatigued and lacked the necessary energy to coach our team. My doctor advised me to take an immediate medical leave of absence, which I did.” Coaches are competitive and stressed-out people in general, so it probably didn’t help matters that Cremins’ team got off to a 9-1 start this season before dropping eight of their next 11 games. Reading between the lines a bit in Cremins’ statement to the media, he didn’t sound like someone ready to stop coaching — let’s hope he gets his energy back in time to lead CofC to a run in the Southern Conference Tournament next month.
  3. If you were like most of America, you didn’t know Duke had lost another home game until sometime yesterday given that Miami’s overtime victory over the Blue Devils finished as most people were either en route or settling into their Super Bowl parties. One man who knew it all too well and no doubt carried it with him into a sleepless night on Sunday was Mike Krzyzewski. Already having assailed his team in the postgame interview for a perceived lack of effort, the venerable coach on Monday took to the airwaves on 99.9 FM The Fan in Raleigh to further chastise his team for not “playing hard” during parts of the loss to Miami. As we all know, Duke’s ridiculous success has always been predicated on its tough man-to-man defense; and its defensive success has derived from equal parts talent and effort. This year’s defense, however, is one of the worst the Blue Devils have fielded since Chris Collins and Jeff Capel were hoisting shots at the rim rather than dry erasers at the white board. Coach K cannot change the talent part of his defensive problem overnight, but he can change the effort issue. We’d expect his players to come at North Carolina like a pack of starving jackals in Chapel Hill tomorrow night.
  4. We’re really not sure what to make of this, but if your goal is to figure out who has the best chance of finding the sunny side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, maybe this simple equation from Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus is really all you need. Could it really be that easy — perhaps so. Considering that the RPI is the metric favored by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it makes sense that teams rated highly in that manner have a bit of a leg up. When you then add Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency-based metrics to the RPI, you’re essentially favoring teams that play the game of basketball (from a possession-by-possession standpoint) a little better than those who do not. Voila, the combination seems to result in a hybrid model that is a fairly accurate predictor of the field.
  5. Seth Davis was back in action Monday with a new Hoop Thoughts column, and although we disagree with him that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry will take very long to see back on the regular season schedule (five years, tops), we completely concur with his sentiment that the entire rabbit hole of conference realignment is a very, very bad thing for college athletics. And yet this is the tip of the iceberg, we’re afraid. The Pac-12 on Monday just rewarded its commissioner, Larry Scott, with an extension of his contract through 2016. How is this relevant, you ask? Recall that it was Scott’s maneuvering two summers ago in trying to lure several Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 that set into motion much of the ensuing hysteria and deal-making among schools and conferences looking out only for themselves. Without Scott’s overtures, would Missouri and Texas A&M be going to the SEC? Would Pittsburgh and Syracuse be ACC-bound? It appears that there’s no honor among the barbarians at the gate, though — say it with us now — Scott’s contract extension was approved… unanimously.
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Tracking The Four: Cuse Get Juiced and Leaves One Unbeaten Team Standing

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome back to TT4, where the lowest ranked team of the four in this week’s RTC Top 25 also happens to be the only undefeated squad left in the country. Will Murray State lose a game before the Big Dance? They continue to win in impressive fashion and are now getting a key cog back in the lineup for the stretch run. Meanwhile, our two major-conference teams are coming off poor weeks and UNLV keeps quietly handling their business. All four TT4 teams remained ranked in the Top 20 and have important games this week. Let’s look at what’s new:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State Continue Pushing Towards Perfection (AP Photo/S. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They are the only undefeated team left in the country! After being down at halftime, the Racers climbed back to defeat Morehead State on Wednesday, 66-60, in a huge road win that was their toughest remaining test. Please raise your hand and leave a comment below if you had Murray State as the last team to lose this season. Not only is MSU unbeaten but they are getting their third-leading scorer Ivan Aska back any day now, as the senior forward has been cleared to play by doctors. All things are looking up for the Racers (20-0, 8-0 OVC), and all of their remaining games have suddenly become must-watch, or at least must-follow action as they try to make history.
  • This Week’s Key CogIsaiah Canaan. The star guard was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week after going for 20 points in the win at Morehead State and 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in a road win over SIU Edwardsville on Saturday night.
  • Play of the Week – The Racers were down by one against Morehead State until Canaan hit this deep three-pointer with 3:58 left to give Murray State a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Talking Point – The head coach of SIU-E, Lennox Forrester, was thoroughly impressed by the Racers on Saturday, and thinks they may have a special season ahead: “They carry a swagger about them. They’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler.”
  • Coaching Tree of Life – The last time Murray State was ranked before this season (1998), Mark Gottfried was the head coach. The last Racers’ rookie head coach to win 20 games was Mick Cronin in 2003-04, and the in-jeopardy MSU single-season wins record of 31 came under Billy Kennedy’s watch in 2009-10. Gottfried, Cronin, and Kennedy are all major coaches at NC State, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M, respectively, today; perhaps coach Steve Prohm is next in line for a big-time job. Then again, Prohm could also be deserving of a major raise and extension there in Murray.
  • Stats Central – They’ve earned praise for proficient three-point shooting, but an underrated aspect of Murray State’s offensive game is their attacking prowess. The Racers have a season-long free throw rate (which measures FTA/FGA) of 45.1%, which ranks 19th nationally. But they’re even more outstanding in conference play, with a rate of 52.8% that ranks third in the country amongst all teams in their conference games.
  • What’s Next? – The Racers have just one game on tap for this week, at home against Eastern Illinois on Saturday (8:00 PM ET). EIU is 2-4 in OVC conference play and coming off three straight losses.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They took care of business this week by thrashing TCU at home before then opening up a big second-half lead and defeating New Mexico at home as well on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels continue to look the part of a consistent, elite team and they’ve even slid into the Top 10 of this week’s RTC Top 25. UNLV (18-3, 2-1 MWC) has only lost on the road to three teams that are either ranked (SDSU) or receiving votes (Wisconsin, Wichita State) this week. They are ranked sixth in the RPI and should get a very strong look at a top three NCAA Tournament seed if they continue to play this well.
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Rough Panic Index: NCAA’s First Official RPI Released, ACC Teams Do Not Fare Well

Posted by mpatton on January 4th, 2012

The NCAA released its first official RPI (ratings percentage index) standings. You’re probably already familiar with the RPI, but it’s really the most important ranking –despite being a skewed evaluator of a team’s success — because it’s what the NCAA Selection Committee relies on when evaluating teams for selection into the NCAA Tournament. The RPI’s basic formula accounts for a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (25%). It also takes into account home and away (which it bluntly multiplies by 1.4 (for a home loss or road win) or 0.6 (for a home win or road loss). This makes the rating very favorable to good mid-major teams that play lots of nonconference road games against good opponents. A savvy BCS-conference coach can also manipulate the rating by playing some of these mid-major darlings at home or a neutral site.

Duke Occupies the ACC's Top Spot in the First RPI from the NCAA

Regardless of its inadequacies, the RPI is hugely important for Selection Sunday. Selection Committee members know and trust the RPI, even if Ken Pomeroy’s or Jeff Sagarin’s rankings are considered better evaluators of a team’s success. The important categories of the RPI are top-25, top-50 and top-100. Wins against the top-25 are gold; losses usually don’t hurt too much. Wins against the top-50 are critical (barring a very, very good record) for an NCAA tournament-worthy profile and a few losses won’t kill you. Wins against teams out of the top-100 are mandatory and losses to said teams should be avoided at all costs.

Now let’s look at the five most likely ACC teams to make the Big Dance: Duke (#2 in the RPI), North Carolina (#10), Virginia Tech (#38) and Virginia (#56).

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The Sun Belt Is Tired Of Gettin’ Pushed Around

Posted by jstevrtc on October 27th, 2010

Having had sand kicked in its face for long enough, the Sun Belt Conference has taken a long, cold look at itself in the mirror, and decided that it’s time to hit the gym.

On Monday, the conference announced that it planned to implement rules designed to increase the conference’s RPI rating. Specifically, the Sun Belt will mandate that its member basketball schools must only schedule non-conference opponents that, as ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported, have a “three-year combined power rating within the top 150,” and/or teams that ended the previous season with an RPI within the top 150. The scheduling of games against non-Division I teams will be forbidden, and programs must constantly endeavor to average an attendance that surpasses the national average of 5,038 fans per game (as Katz reports, the Sun Belt brass are planning to help with this). The theory is that this scheduling upgrade en masse will raise the Sun Belt’s conference RPI and, in doing so, might lead to more than the single auto-qualifier each year in the NCAA Tournament, or at least a higher NCAA seed for the conference tournament winner. This would seemingly lead to other positive effects that all conferences love, like rising attendance at games, an increased television profile, and — to put it frankly — more respect. The rules outlined above will take effect starting in the 2011-12 season.

Troy's New Trojan Arena Will Seat Just Over 5,200 Hoops Fans

The Sun Belt is certainly ripe for a drastic self-determined change, meaning one that’s not being executed just to keep the conference alive. The great Sun Belt schism happened in the off-season of 1991, when most of the conference’s members bolted for other leagues and the remaining schools had to merge with the American South Conference to keep the Sun Belt in existence.  Since that time, the Sun Belt has had more than one representative — its conference tournament winner — in the Big Dance exactly three times: 2008 (#10 South Alabama, at large; #12 Western Kentucky, auto), 1994 (#11 Western Kentucky, at large; #11 Louisiana-Lafayette, auto), and 1993 (#7 Western Kentucky, auto; #8 New Orleans, at large). Note that long drought, there — the span from 1995 to 2007 represents thirteen consecutive tournaments in which the Sun Belt was a single-bid league. And they logged only one win in that interval (#8 Western Kentucky def. #9 Michigan, 1995). In terms of actual conference RPI, the Sun Belt finished last year at its 10-year nadir of 22nd out of 32 conferences, averaging a year-end rank of 17.5 over that time period.

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The New NCAA Tournament — We Can Live With It

Posted by jstevrtc on July 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.

The NCAA got around to announcing “The Decision” regarding the layout of the now 68-team tournament and specifically the makeup of the competitors in the four “play-in games” today, and the end result?  Punt.

Getting the terminology out of the way first, these games are officially no longer part of the Opening Round, nor are they “play-in games” (not that they ever were). They now make up the entirety of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, otherwise known as the First Four. Those games that get played on Thursday and Friday? Those are now the Second Round, with the weekend games now the Third Round, with the winners there still advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

We knew before today that there were three main options that the NCAA was considering: the final eight at-large teams matching up, the lowest eight automatic qualifiers matching up, or some combination of the two. That last one, that’s what we got. And you know what? That’s probably the best decision.

The NCAA dropped back and punted, here -- but the resulting field position isn't that bad.

If the NCAA had chosen to send only the lowest eight qualifiers to these games, there would have been numerous problems, not the least of which would be a continuation of the idea that those first four games aren’t really part of the NCAA Tournament. The teams that advance from one-bid conferences like the MEAC, SWAC, American East and Big Sky (to name just a few of the usual suspects) would battle it out in Dayton in relative anonymity for the right to advance to their chance to get killed by a one-seed, while your typical college basketball fan would ignore the whole thing. In the process, sure, the teams involved would have a better chance at winning a game in the NCAA Tournament and thereby earning themselves an extra share of the proceeds from the tournament, but once the “actual” tournament started, there would be four less automatic qualifiers sticking around for their chance to get on national television and test out their slingshot against Goliath. Then there’s also the fact that after spending $10.8 billion on the rights to the tournament, the first four games of the package would be a total wash for the television networks, stuck broadcasting games like Mississippi Valley State against Northern Arizona to a national television audience of almost four digits.

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