Another year, another set of NIT bracketology. Conference season is upon us and that means we have enough data to start projecting the NCAA tournament and NIT fields.
Obviously the tournament I’m most concerned about is the latter. I’ve projected the NIT bracket for the past six seasons (thanks Northwestern!), but this season I’m changing things up a bit.
Unlike Joe Lunardi or other bracketologists, I’ve always used Ken Pomeroy’s projected conference standings to pick conference leaders, in essence taking a forward-looking projection for the automatic bids. This season, with the help of RPI forecast and Pomeroy I’ve decided to take that one step further. This bracket is no longer “if the season ended today.” Instead it’s designed to be “what will the NIT bracket look like on Selection Sunday.”
The big changes? You won’t find power conference teams that have nice records but are projected to finish under .500 overall (though Wisconsin and a few others are quite close). How conference play hurts mid-major teams is also now automatically factored in. Instead of dropping those teams down the bracket as the season progresses the top contenders are already filtered toward the middle.
Ideally this should also make the bracket a little more stable over the long term. Then again, there could be some big shakeups if teams surpass expectations during conference play.
Monmouth – The Hawks are currently the MAAC auto-bid, because Pomeroy projects them to finish at 16-4 in conference play. If they win the MAAC regular season title they’d obviously be guaranteed an NIT bid, but if King Rice’s team finishes with four conference losses and loses late in the MAAC tourney (semifinals or final) they’ll be a fascinating case for an at-large. (I personally feel like they’d deserve it.)
Seton Hall and the Big East – I’m currently only projecting four Big East teams into the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Xavier, Providence and Butler). They’re all easy calls. After their big
home road victory over Marquette, the Pirates are the logical fifth team from the conference. The problem? A real lack of a quality wins. Kevin Willard’s team is 11-2, but they’ve beaten only two NCAA tournament at-large quality teams (Georgia, Wichita St.) and that puts a huge burden on conference play. The margin of error is extremely slim. The other Big East teams with at-large hopes—Georgetown and Creighton—also need some big statements in Big East play. The top of the Big East is excellent, but it may limit the number of bids the league receives to the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.
Fordham – This team is a great story, but Atlantic 10 play brings a whole new set of challenges. Fordham’s Charmin soft non-conference schedule might have them at 8-2 against Division I opponents, but the best win is? Home against St. John’s. Maybe? The Rams could go 10-8 in Atlantic 10 play without any great wins. Without some quality home wins (or an unexpected road win at GW, VCU, Richmond or Saint Joseph’s) Jeff Neubauer’s first season seems destined to include ponying up some cash to play in the College Basketball Invitational.
That covers the locals, but feel free to ask about other teams in the comments.
NIT Bracketology for January 1, 2016
Last 10 NCAA at-large (no order): UCLA, George Washington, South Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Baylor, VCU, Florida St., Richmond, Texas Tech
Note: The bottom 10 teams (in italics) are on the NIT bubble because regular season conference champions not in the NCAA tournament will be given spots.
1. Seton Hall
8. James Madison
4. Ohio St.
5. UNC Wilmington
3. Ole Miss
6. San Diego St.
2. Georgia Tech
7. Middle Tennessee
1. Oregon St.
8. UC Irvine
5. UT Arlington
3. Saint Joseph’s
2. Kansas St.
7. Louisiana Tech
1. Saint Mary’s
5. Rhode Island
2. Northern Iowa
5. Boise St.
7. Georgia St.
Others considered: Milwaukee, Temple, New Mexico, UAB, Duquesne, Marquette, Southern Illinois, Fordham, Houston, Fresno St., LSU (plus 42 other teams that are more likely CIT/CBI bound)