Monday, November 21, 2016

2017 Predictions: The BCS teams

Despite my bias toward the Big East, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and powers in the Missouri Valley and West Coast, I feel that it would be ignorant to state that these conferences are in the same class as the 5 BCS Conferences.  The Big East clearly has the talent to compete with any of these affiliations, and top to bottom, the A-10, MWC, and AAC have the horses to run with the PAC-12 and SEC this year.  It really comes down to resources, exposure, and the “self-licking ice cream cone.”

The resource gradient does not drive basketball as much as football, but at the end of the day, even your middling BCS program (say, Washington?) is spending so much more per student athlete.  It makes everything easier, from recruiting, training, and actually going to and playing the games.  Richmond and Saint Bonaventure just are not going to have those selling points.

Exposure has changed dramatically the last 15 years.  Back in the days of yore, dish was the only way to get out of region games, let alone mid-major and small conference games.  Now I can choose from any of about 6 to 20 games on any evening or weekend through FiOS (no, I am not trying to sell their service… it sucks, but is still better than cable).  This at least gives casual fans the opportunity to observe that Old Dominion may be legit.  However, when CBS advertises its game of the week, they never try to dig outside the BCS sandbox.  The Big East makes it difficult to ignore, but you are more likely going to be pimped Tennessee/Georgia or Oklahoma State/Oklahoma.

These first two discriminators do not necessarily give a school an advantage reaching the tournament through conference affiliation.  But the self-licking ice cream will do exactly that, giving mediocre teams more credit for getting their asses handed to them through mandatory conference games than rewarding excellence winning the games you should win.  I think the SEC is a prime example.  Outside Kentucky, there isn’t a true dominating national contender.  It is really them, 9 bubble teams, and 4 doormats.  Pretty much all 9 of those teams are going to log 17-22 wins of varying caliber.  The advantage is that they not only get the strength of schedule bump from playing Kentucky, but also all of their other conference opponents who have played Kentucky, even the doormats. 

So once upon a time, the commissioners in several of the “mid-major” conferences realized that they were never going to get the cherry home-and-home opportunities against the big schools, so they gamed the RPI formula.  First off, avoid games against the lower third of teams except for the ones you have to play in conference.  BCS conference teams were more than happy to buy those games anyways to drive toward 20 wins.  Second, find neutral site games and “preseason” tournaments to add additional games to the schedule that have the road/neutral bonus.  Finally, the “Bracket Buster” series was established to give these teams additional Top 50/Top 100 games to both their contenders, as well as the mid and lower conference teams.  The result has been frustration and consternation, and arguably the end of the RPI used as the basis for selection and seeding. 

Virginia Tech under Seth Greenberg was the example of how the system was being worked and how NOT to schedule.  It seemed every season, they would take advantage of their natural home court advantage and spoil a Duke, Maryland, or UNC, chalk up a few other Top 50 wins on their way to 23-9, lose early in the ACC tourney, then find themselves in the NIT because their schedule was fat on Campbell, Longwood, and VMI.  Now it is possible for a team to get screwed because after putting together a fair schedule, those opponents all just had a bad year, but Tech played some good teams… it’s just that the bad teams were always really bad.  Now the book out is that if you anticipate being in the bubble discussion, avoid those games and on the weak BCS teams, weak mid majors, or the best small conference schools.  This has made scheduling harder for the non-BCS conferences because they cannot offer their opponent the same resources or exposure.  Hence, the rich get richer through association, and the middle class fights the fight.

On to the predictions!

The ACC is a true dog fight.  5 elite teams, 7 legitimate bubble teams, 2 doormats, and 1 Clemson.  UVA and Miami have huge upside and downside, but I can’t see either falling below .500, even in this loaded conference.  Notre Dame and Florida State will likely get high seeds based on strength of schedule, and this conference will probably never get 12 teams in, but 10 is not out of the question.

The Big Ten is also loaded the same way with 3 legit final four players, the enigma that is Michigan State every year, 4 other teams that will have to play their way out at this point, four other bubble teams, and then the 2 doormats.  When I finished my predictions, I was surprised how low I had Michigan.  They seem safe, yet bottom half of the conference.  While there is much to like about the progress being made at Northwestern and Nebraska, it just seems that there is a chasm of talent between them and the next tier.  The other teams are all rebuilding, not reloading.

One through five in the PAC 12 are fairly interchangeable based on schedule, injuries, suspensions.  Utah has great upside, and USC is sneaky good this year and a fun Sweet 16 dark horse.  I’m betting on Cal and Washington stumbling this year before making moves next year, though Lorenzo Romar may not make it around if the Huskies are tanking winnable games.  People have shown that is possible to win in Pullman, but not this year… not sure that is the case in Tempe or Corvallis, as those teams never seem to play up to potential.

Texas returning to respectability ups the profile of this conference.  I don’t see a true front-runner, even if Kansas has the talent to do so.  Bob Huggins will beat and bruise and win 75% of his games.  The question is: “where is the fall off?”  There are strong teams here, but Oklahoma was a Buddy Hield force, but will show growing pains.  Brad Underwood has Oklahoma State trending the right way, but inherited a mess.  Baylor has talent, but man, that athletic program is a ticking time bomb.  Can Jamie Dixon turn TCU around, or was that Pitt program really Ben Howland and a house of cards that nobody knocked down?  This smells of a 4 bid league, but will probably get 6.

My thoughts on the SEC were pretty clear.  It is Kentucky and a bunch of 8-9 seed fodder.  I like South Carolina, but Frank Martin started with nothing there and is coaching up a bunch of 2 and 3 stars.  There are lots of good coaches down here, but the football drain on these programs seems to keep many dormant until after bowl games.  Texas A&M was a good story last year, but they are fringy at best.  Florida is not taking a step forward.  I am still not sure why Arkansas is getting so much love, but Mike Anderson at least plays exciting basketball.  The real wild card and potential west division anchor going forward could be Auburn and Bruce Pearl.  His ethics will always be questioned, but he does what Mike Anderson does, and he has typically had more success and consistency.

Now that this is complete, I should have a bracket out Wednesday.

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