by Jerry Palm
There has been another change at the top of the bracket this week as the top of the field continues to play its way backwards. BYU takes over for San Diego State on the top line for now, but may have to win out to keep it.
Of course, other contenders continue to fall away. Texas once looked like a strong candidate for a top seed, but has lost twice since Friday's bracket. They blew a 22-point lead at Colorado on Saturday, then Kansas State came back on them at home Monday night (although from not nearly as large a hole). Combine that with the loss at Nebraska the previous week and it looks like the Longhorns are trying to play the whole middle of the Big 12 into the field. That's good news for Baylor, who plays them this weekend.
The result is that the Longhorns find themselves as a 3-seed today, while Notre Dame moves up to the second line. Both the Irish and red-hot Purdue have chances to challenge for top seeds, but probably need to win out and get help.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has won five in a row, including it's three biggest wins of the year, and has played itself right off the bubble.
Virginia Tech also picked up its biggest win so far when it beat Duke on Saturday. Despite the screaming of the TV commentators that the Hokies are now a lock, that's not true. They can't go on a three-game losing streak from here and expect to get in.
Arizona had a rough week in LA, losing to both USC and UCLA, and dropping into a tie with the Bruins for first place in the Pac 10. The Wildcats have done little of substance away from home. Their only top 50 RPI wins came over UCLA and Washington, both in Tucson. Poll voters still love them for their gaudy record, but they look like a middle of the bracket team.
I get a lot of question about team's selection or seeding that go something like this "My team is ahead of this other team in the conference standings, so why are they seeded lower?"
The answer is that conference standings (and conference record by itself) are not at all relevant to the selection and seeding process. Conference standings don't matter in part because so many leagues play unbalanced schedules. Seriously -- is there anything less meaningful than the Big East standings? And the other thing about conference performance is that it is only about two-thirds of a team's entire profile, and teams are judged on their entire body of work, not just conference play.
So, I have Old Dominion ahead of George Mason in the bracket because the Monarchs' non-conference performance makes up for a two-game deficit in the Colonial standings. They have a non-conference wins over Xavier, Richmond, Clemson and Cleveland State. Mason's only non-conference win of any substance came over Harvard at home. In fact, Mason's best away-from-home win of the season came at VCU. ODU beat both Xavier and Clemson on neutral courts. So, I see a slight overall edge to ODU.
The extreme case of this is Alabama, which is 11-3 in the SEC at the moment and has clinched the West division title, but still isn't close to an at-large bid. Their non-conference performance was so bad that a gaudy league record hasn't been able to wipe it away. Of course, it doesn't help that the rest of the West stinks and that accounts for most of the Tide's conference schedule.
I'll have more in the Bubble Watch later today.
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