Transcript: ESPN Bracketology Conference Call with Joe Lunardi and Charlie Creme


Transcript: ESPN Bracketology Conference Call with Joe Lunardi and Charlie Creme

Earlier today, ESPN Bracketologists Joe Lunardi and Charlie Creme spoke with media about their latest bracket predictions and what teams need to do to close out the season for both men’s and women’s basketball tournaments ahead of Selection Sunday and Selection Monday.

A transcript of the call is below.

Joe, for the Louisville game today: will a win in a game that big for them put them in? Conversely, what would a loss do for their chances?
JOE LUNARDI: Well, it’s 3-2 right now. Certainly we are watching this pretty closely. I think Louisville needs to win the game. They do not have a great résumé and are lacking in the big win department, although obviously they have gotten awfully close to the finish line against Virginia the last time. They’re holding my last spot at the moment, but if they don’t win this game, they will either slide or get passed by someone else between now and Sunday. You don’t want to be team 68 with three days to go because that spot’s likely to disappear. And that’s not even counting the possibility of a bid stealer somewhere from some league that we haven’t even thought of yet.

Joe, what does Utah need to do in the PAC-12 Tournament to get in?
JL: Probably get to the final. All the PAC-12 teams are just lacking in the big wins because they’re not really available in the league. That’s why Arizona State’s hanging around because their big wins came outside the league. Nobody else can really say that to any great extent. I think Utah, not to be snarky, just have a classic NIT résumé. And that doesn’t mean they can’t make it, but I don’t see it happening short of the finals.

And of course then you’re in a situation where if you win that game, and you get that big win, you don’t need the at-large bid because you just got the automatic.

With Houston, what do you see their ceiling as with this weekend’s AAC Tournament? Or, do you feel like they have reached their cap on how high up a seeding they can go?
JL: No, I think they could go up another line. Probably not two. But I will say this. I’m in D.C. for the Atlantic 10, and of course people always ask you for sleepers, who is going to be overseeded, who is going to be underseeded, I think they’re really dangerous. I’m not talking from a bracket perspective, I’m talking from a basketball perspective. I saw them up at Mohegan, I watched them a lot.

Not a lot of people have beaten Wichita State and Cincinnati this year, except each other, right? And they have done it, and now they get them, maybe, on a neutral floor. It wouldn’t surprise me if they won this tournament, and then we’ll talk a real jump-up, with the proviso that that championship game is on Sunday, and there’s a lot of history to suggest that the cable goes out in the Committee room some time on Sunday.

Currently you have Florida as a five. What is their ceiling based upon what they do in the SEC Tournament? If they go out on Friday, can they move down? What do you see the range?
JL: I seem to be a little higher on the Gators than some others. I see them slotted behind Kentucky by a lot of people. I’m just not seeing that, and certainly the head-to-head sweep might have something to do with my thinking there. I don’t think they could get higher than a four winning the tournament, and again we’re talking about another Sunday championship game, which means the seeding may be done by then. I think they’re going to be in this five, six range almost regardless of what happens in St. Louis.

But they’re another team that I think will be underseeded relative to their potential to advance. I think they’re a second-weekend team.

Are all the fives and fours out West, or is that something that the Committee will determine on Sunday?
JL: Well, I don’t have a vote, so if I’m saying they’re going West, that comes with a big shaker of salt. But the reality is the Boise and San Diego pods are not needed by any of the likely one, twos and threes. They’re all that’s left when you get to the fours and fives. It’s not like they’re being shunned, it’s they’re the only pods left. So if they’re a four or five, they’re traveling.

Charlie, you’ve had the Ohio State women’s team on the three-seed line the last week and a half or so. Given that they won the Big Ten tournament, do you see them sticking there, and what do you see their ceiling as in this tournament?
CHARLIE CREME: I see them as a three. I don’t think there was ever a chance for them to go up to the two line, even though they did win the tournament. The problem they had was that there was too much in front of them. There was too much of a gap. And the fact that during the Committee reveals, the second one in particular, didn’t even have an Ohio State in the top 16 at all, it showed us a little bit of the Committee’s thinking and the places that they needed to climb to in order to get anything higher than I think where I have them.

I think all along I’ve been a little higher on Ohio State than certainly the Committee. I had them in the top 16 prior to that reveal. I think it’s because they had that one little gap in the season where they lost three of four, I think it was, and that was right around that time.

But their non-conference success rate was pretty good. Honestly, they might have had a chance to be a two, had they not gotten whacked by South Florida the way they did. That really set them back, it almost offset the Big Ten Tournament championship in terms of that discussion.

In terms of their ceiling in the tournament, I think they better defend better than they have been. It’s a little hard to read the Big Ten because a lot of teams in that conference lack on the defensive end, and if they’re going to make a Final Four and get back home, they’re going to have to somehow find something that they haven’t had all season, which is the ability to stop people in key moments.

I certainly think they’re a Sweet 16/Elite 8 type team and if they have one of those great offensive games, then they can get to an Elite 8. But beating one of the real top dogs is going to take a defensive effort that I’m not sure that they have in them.

Joe, you had Saint Mary’s still in your latest bracket. What is your argument for or against Saint Mary’s getting an at-large bid?

JL: Well, let me start with the for argument and it’s really simple: I think they’re really good. And I think they have been really good with the exception of the tournament in Anaheim. And I was there, I was there with St. Joe’s, so I saw those games. I saw them lose to Washington State. I saw Washington State win the tournament; I still can’t believe that that happened. Because I didn’t think they were really very good. But even at the time I remember the Saint Mary’s people saying, oh, our guys are all sick.

Now, how much you want to ascribe to that is up to each Committee member, but I think once they won at Gonzaga, they had shown their level. I know that on paper they’re weak, or at least weaker than a lot would like to see in this kind of quadrant metrics era. But at some point, just a little bit of common sense needs to come into play with all this. And they pass all that for me.

The argument against is quality wins, went out early, got upset, had a so-so loss to what, San Francisco. It’s not a great conference. They missed two years ago, blah, blah, blah. There’s no doubt in my mind from a basketball perspective that if Saint Mary’s played best-of-seven on a neutral court against these sub .500 teams from some of the other conferences that we’re talking about, that they would win. For the simple reason that they have better players and they’re a better team. And I hope that carries the day for them.

Coach Bennett was frustrated with [press] asking about it after the BYU loss. Other than winning the conference tournament, is there anything he can do to not be in this conversation at the end of every year?
JL: Yeah, he’s got to schedule better. He and I have had that conversation face to face and by phone. It really hurt him a couple years ago and it might bite him this year. It is going to bite him at least in terms of seeding, and I think that’s unfortunate and also avoidable.

Now in fairness, a couple teams they played were supposed to be a good bit better. Like winning at Dayton last year basically was their best win and went a long way toward getting them in, and they had the return game this year and Dayton had a rare offseason. It happens. But they have got too many, too many cupcakes. They need to trade a couple of them for some tests and take themselves out of this predicament.

Is there any chance that both Michigan and Michigan State could open up in Detroit?
JL: It looks unlikely, given the current geography. And by that I mean there are teams on or around them on the seed list that for whom Detroit is also the closest spot. Xavier and Purdue in particular, and maybe Cincinnati, that if you go strictly by the mileage consideration, would kind of have first dibs on that spot. Now how much the Committee wants a Michigan-Michigan State atmosphere in that building, it’s hard to say. Because you could send Xavier to Pittsburgh, a difference of 20 miles or Xavier to Nashville for another 20 miles. I’m not Rand McNally so I’m not the expert on that, but you could do that. But it would be going against typical bracketing practice. At this point I would say the chances of both being there are very unlikely. Certainly Michigan isn’t going to be a good enough seed to bump out those others. Michigan State, maybe.

Charlie, where does USC sit as we head into the weekend?
CC: Right now I have them as the first team out of the Tournament, and they have been a dilemma for me because I find them to be really competitive against good teams, and they do that fairly consistently. The problem is they never beat any of them, and they only have one top-50 win, and they have had 12 chances in which to do that, and they have only picked up one of those wins. I think ultimately that’s going to be the thing that keeps them out.

Is there a chance they get in? Yes, and I have them right there on the cusp, and it’s based largely on the fact that they are and have been so competitive against good teams. But history tells us that one top-50 win, especially with that many opportunities, in an RPI that’s just okay, isn’t enough to get them in the field. So that’s why I have them on the outside looking in.
Do you think Michigan would move up on the three line at all, and do you think that the Committee takes any extra time to look at them now that they have that whole week to decide knowing exactly where Michigan was?
JL: I don’t think they’re going to get better than a three. I think it’s more likely that, if I’m off, it will be in the other direction. We saw that same scenario with them last year, they made an incredible run and then they started even further back in the pack.

I would like to see them a three, I think they’re really dangerous, I’m not sure that the extra week is going to impact the evaluation at all. Generally speaking, with the exception of the very last games like late Saturday into Sunday, there’s a bit of a recency bias, like for these Wednesday, Thursday, Friday games, when they’re making the final selections and seedings. But I personally and selfishly was in favor of the early Big Ten tournament, if only because it took a chunk of the workload away from these next few days. And I’m sure that they will have that in mind in the future that making life easier for Joe and Charlie is the way to go.

Wondering about St. Bonaventure, are they safely in, no matter what happens in the A-10 Tournament? And what do you see their ceiling at?
JL: I’m going to defer to the St. Bonaventure grad on the call.

CC: They have to be in. But Joe’s the expert on that side of the fence, so in terms of the actual math and putting the pieces all together, I have to defer to Joe on that.

JL: Here’s what I’ll say: I think St. Bonaventure had a great day yesterday just by not playing, because a lot of teams around them, what’s the word I can use? Soiled the bed, as you might say. Having said that, including to Coach Smith in the lobby of the A-10 hotel this morning over a cup of coffee, that I think they’re safely in. We have seen this movie before and not all that long ago, and the Committee’s recent history with the next tier leagues like the Atlantic 10, the American, the Mountain West and the West Coast Conference is, frankly, pretty discouraging for those individual leagues and schools.

When I did my list of who is a 90 percent lock at this point, I made the cut line just above St. Bonaventure because they could lose to a less than great team in their first game on Friday here in D.C.. So let’s get through one more win, which would, what, be 13 in a row, I think? And let’s see if that’s not enough to hit the Committee in the head with a bat with respect to the Bonnies.

Do you think their Q4 loss to Niagara could be a hang-up there too?
JL: I mean, was that even in this century? That was the first game of the season without Adams, right?

Yes. No Adams in that game, and really early in the season.
JL: I mean, if they miss because of that, then there’s really something wrong with this whole system. But they better miss for a better reason than that if they miss. But I really think if they’re not 90 percent in, they’re 88 and a half.

Charlie, wanted to get your thoughts on Georgia. What is the appeal of putting them in the No. 4 seed with a 26 RPI and also after going 4-1 after the last reveal being in the top 16, do you feel like Georgia’s a lock to sustain that spot?
CC: I think you just hit on it. I’m not sure if this is the first time we were talking about this that I would actually have Georgia in the top 16. The Committee kind of gave me a little help in regard to how they’re thinking, and particularly when it comes to Georgia, amongst other things, but I think one of the chief reasons I have them in is exactly that. The Committee has them in the last reveal, they won four of five since, and beat a couple good teams along the way in that four wins. So there should be no logical reason to take them out because there wasn’t enough other teams that came up and would take the spot from them. A team like Maryland maybe had a chance and needed to win the Big Ten Tournament and didn’t do that. Duke lost in the quarters of the ACC Tournament. Those would be the type of teams that could have come up, regardless of what Georgia did, and stolen a spot in the top 16, but nobody did that.

I can’t see how the Committee would turn around now just two and a half weeks later and/or three weeks later and pull Georgia out. I do think they’re safely in the top 16. But we have seen Committees do odder things than that. So I’m not sitting hear saying it’s a hundred percent lock and take it all the way to the bank, but if logic persists and their thinking is consistent, then there shouldn’t be a reason that Georgia should fall out of the top 16.

Charlie, what do you think about the Michigan résumé? Obviously they started out having some success and they beat Ohio State on the road, but then near the end they got into a bit of a slump and lost a couple games and then they did beat Maryland, but then again they lost pretty early on in the Big Ten Tournament. What do you think about them?
CC: Michigan’s an interesting team for me. I think they’re in. I actually said awhile ago I thought they were safely in. That win over Maryland I think, I think sealed the deal because it kind of answered some questions that they were having with some losing late in the season and they beat a good team in Maryland. I would have liked to have seen them win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, but that said I think they’re safely in. But then last year, I thought they were a no-brainer to be in the Tournament and the Committee left them out and frankly to this day I’m still seething over that and I think the Committee completely blew it on Michigan last year. Their résumé — in fact, someone asked me, how many did you get wrong last year? And I said well I didn’t get any wrong, the Committee got some wrong. And Michigan was that team.

Unfortunately, they look a lot like they did last year in terms of the season they put together, the kind of strength of schedule they had, how they finished the year. Last year they finished the season poorly too. So, that worries me just a touch. But when you start to measure them up against the other teams that would be in that nine, 10 range, that bubble if you wanted to expand it further, Michigan to me still rates better than all of them. In fact, they rate better than a lot of those teams come from the Big 10, even though for instance Nebraska had a better record and was in the league, but their schedules in the league weren’t the same. So, with the Big Ten especially, you got to look at everything. I think Michigan is the third best team in that league and should be in the field safely. But I’d put an asterisk next to that because last year they also should have been in the field and ended up winning the WNIT instead.

If they, assuming that they do make it, how far do you think they could possibly get in the Tournament? I see that have you them a number eight right now which means they would play UConn pretty soon in the tournament, so were you thinking probably just first or second round?
CC: Yeah, I think they’re going to be probably in that eight spot. Maybe about eight, nine probably is the most likely scenario. I think they’re more likely a nine than a seven, let’s put it that way. So it’s going to put them in that game one way or the other. And I have them playing in Albany, so they would meet UConn in the second round if that were the case. They’re not winning that game. But the fact is they’re probably not beating any of the other No. 1 seeds either.

Best case scenario I think for Michigan in the Tournament is win a game and enjoy that, and then get ready for next year.

Joe, do you believe that with what transpired last night in Kansas City, that Oklahoma State today against KU is in a do-or-die situation? As for Oklahoma, can you remember any team that so completely changed in personality over the course of six or seven weeks as they have?
JL: Well, let’s do the Oklahoma State part first because in a way it’s easier. I don’t think it’s do-or-die, I could certainly see them making it unless they lose by 60 or something, and that really shouldn’t happen because they have proven to be a pretty good matchup and they defend so well, they don’t give up enough points to get blasted like that, at least it would seem.

But there’s a pretty consistent history if you’re right at the edge of the cut line and the bubble, that non-conference really comes into play. And we have seen it every year, whether it’s our friend Seth Greenberg who used to have that issue every year at Virginia Tech and the year Ohio State won the NIT, their non-conference was way down, I just wouldn’t want to be in that situation. But I could certainly see them making it without winning today on the momentum and quality wins elements that they have built.

Now Oklahoma is their history here. You could argue that they have kind of a doppelganger this year in Arizona State. They got as high as a 2 and finished 8-10 in the PAC-12 and people are saying well, Joe, you’re down on Arizona State and you’re not as down on Oklahoma, why? Well the answer’s actually pretty simple if you think about it. Oklahoma’s losses are all to tournament teams. And kindly, the PAC-12 is not strong this year. So we do have this kind of schizophrenia right in front of us, and I think that a couple years ago at one point I had Iowa as a 1 seed, and they ended up playing in an 8-9 game. And a 1 seed as late as the Committee reveal in mid-February.

So it does happen. It doesn’t happen often, and frankly historically those teams usually don’t last very long in the Tournament.

Arizona State would be a fashion play-in team and would be interesting.
JL: In fact, let’s start beating the drum for that now. I’m all for it.

I wonder how the Committee should appraise Kentucky if Jarred Vanderbilt doesn’t play or if he does play. How do they try to handle that?
JL: It starts to feel almost like the Stanley Cup playoffs to me after awhile. So-and-so has a lower body injury which we won’t talk about and then suddenly he’s going to be healthy so that we can tell the Committee he’s going to be healthy.

I don’t think in their case it’s going to be that huge of a deal because they’re not in a great position to really improve their standing anyway with or without him, short of winning the SEC Tournament. I also don’t think they’re at real risk to drop very far. I think we’re talking about one line either way. On the current list of player absence/player return/unusual circumstances, they’re not in the top-5 right now with this one.

Where do you have Kentucky seeded at this point, and what do you think it would take for them to make a deep run?
JL: I have them as the best 6 right now. And Florida as the weakest 5 right now, based on the head-to-head between the two. Because it was that close. Do I think they’re going to make a deep run? I mean, yeah, could they play in the second week, could they be in the Sweet 16? Yes. I think that’s it though.

What is Auburn’s ceiling? How far could they fall if they were to lose even their opening game either to Texas A&M or Alabama?
JL: I think they’re at their ceiling as a 3. If they lose, if the Committee’s undervalued them, they could fall to a 5, but I think the most likely scenario there is that they would be a 4. And really 4, 5 isn’t that much of a difference because you’re going to be favored to win your first game anyway. Then you’re playing the same opponent 4 versus 5 in the second round with a different color uniform.

So even if Auburn were to win the SEC Tournament you don’t think they could move up to the 2 seed line?
JL: I don’t think now they could. I think the competition ahead of them is too strong.

Geographically do you think it’s possible for Auburn to get back to playing in Nashville, or will they be sent elsewhere?
JL: I do, but the geography is weird in that there’s this cluster of teams in the Nashville, Detroit, Pittsburgh site, right? Those spots are just filling up unusually quickly and every time I get to Auburn, Nashville’s no longer available. And if they win the SEC, if they move up within the 3’s, maybe they fall back into Nashville, but there’s even like the North Carolina factor that Nashville’s the best spot for them after Charlotte.

So it’s just bad site availability circumstances for Auburn, it’s not that they have done anything wrong.

Charlie, a question about Purdue: What criteria gets the Boilermakers in and then conversely what would keep them out?
CC: Well, right now I have them out and the issue with Purdue is one, their RPI; two, the won/loss record and the fact that they have a collection of top-50 wins, outside of Central Michigan, which is looking less and less impressive.

All those games were in the Big Ten, I’ve had a real dilemma around a lot of teams in the Big Ten, namely Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota and Rutgers, because well Rutgers is kind of set aside, it’s really Purdue and Nebraska and Minnesota because they do have a collection of top-50 wins, nothing in the top-25, and all of those wins have come against each other. So is it mediocrity in the league? I tend to lean toward mediocrity since none of them did anything of substance in the non-conference.

The advantage though that Purdue would have going in is the fact that they at least scheduled better in the non-conference than Nebraska and Minnesota. Actually they scheduled a lot better in the non-conference than those two teams. But what’s unfortunate for them is that they didn’t play well down the stretch, they only have 18 wins, and their RPI is north of 60 now. I think all of those things put together are going to be too much for that strength of schedule to overcome and they’re going to end up being in the WNIT.

Charlie, you got Iowa as a 6. Do you see them moving up or down from that, and how far do you think they can go in the Tournament?
CC: I don’t see them moving anywhere. One of the things that we have in the women’s game that’s different than the men is that all of the big dogs are done playing. There’s nobody to lose in front of Iowa, and there’s no games for them to win to slide pass anybody. I think where they’re at now is where they’re going to end up.

I’m pretty confident in terms of where they’re going to land. The only thing I could say is that based on my last answer with the Big Ten, is that if the Committee views the Big Ten maybe even more dubiously than I do, then maybe Iowa isn’t quite a 6 and maybe they slide into a 7. But all of their metrics suggest that they be a 6. Actually, the metrics would suggest possibly a 5, but I think there’s a couple of holes in their season that will preclude that.

How far they can get in the Tournament with them, honestly, it’s entirely about matchups. If they get a team that doesn’t necessarily rebound very well or doesn’t have a great presence inside, they’re going to be able to score a ton of points and could move into a Sweet 16. But if they get a team who is not going to let them take the ball off the glass and run, or a team that’s going to be able to double Gustafson and she’s not getting enough help, or she’s not able to beat the double team, then they could lose early, they could lose the first game, depending upon that team. Their faith is all going to be in where the Committee puts them, or more specifically, who the Committee puts them up against.

What would allow Texas Tech to get put in that Dallas region?
JL: They’re part of the domino effect from the Auburn answer earlier, because Dallas/Wichita, if the Auburns and Tennessees of the world can’t go to Nashville, then Dallas and/or Wichita is next for them in terms of proximity, and that then becomes Wichita and Texas Tech out of Dallas.

They need to root for Auburn and Tennessee to be winning in the SEC Tournament in addition to themselves, of course, so that they can bump some of the Nashville folks and free up Dallas.

What would a win or loss do for them today? A 3 or 4 is probably what they’re looking at right now?
JL: Yeah, they’re right in the middle of 4s. They could certainly drop to a 5 with a loss. It’s going to take probably advancing to the final or maybe even winning it to move up at this point from a 4.

Charlie, what conferences you see as bid stealer? How comfortable do you see Creighton as opposed to Rutgers or potentially being in the tournament?
CC: The bid stealer situation, I think we’re pretty safe now. Potentially Northern Colorado, if they were to lose could be an at-large, but I don’t think anybody’s getting in as an at-large if they lose.

The ones that were potential — Green Bay won, so the Horizon is only going to get one team. Quinnipiac won, so the MAAC’s only going to get one. The other MAC, the Mid-American, I’m actually still wrestling with a little bit, they’re still playing, and Buffalo and Central Michigan are still into the semis.

I think if one of those two teams were to lose in the semis on Friday, not only would it be a bid-stealing situation, it might open up a spot. I think a loss in the semis would be enough to move one of those two teams out. The reason they’re both in right now is just history tells us what the Committee does with this RPI, and their RPI’s are both in the Top-30 and it’s a pretty rare that teams get left out in those instances. But the résumé of those two teams are kind of iffy, other than that number. I’m thinking if they both don’t make the final of the Mid-American, one of them is going to fall out.

In terms of Creighton, I like their chances to get in. There’s definitely some flaws. The 18 wins are a little light for sure, and they have had a couple of losses that I would say are kind of sketchy. They could get the Washington loss on a neutral floor back in November, I think that would be nice. But the reason have I them in making the field is because the last couple years the Committee seems to have talked a lot about and been impressed by teams that go out and actually schedule in the non-conference, and Creighton did that. Their non-conference schedule was top-15 in the country. And the other thing they like, and they have mentioned, when we’re talking bubble teams after the fact, is teams that were competitive even in their losses.

So part of that, it goes hand in hand with what Creighton did with their scheduling. They have also played UCLA fairly tough on a neutral floor, they played Florida State fairly tough, and we’re talking two 3 seeds there, and they beat Nebraska, they beat South Dakota State. To me if this Committee is consistent with what we have heard from the last couple, I think Creighton has a really good case and should be in the field.

Joe, what does Alabama need to do in the SEC Tournament in order to get into the field? And could their win over another bubble team in Oklahoma come into play at all, that head-to-head matchup?
JL: It could. I mean, if they don’t win today, I’m pretty sure they’re done. So let’s get that under their belt and maybe revisit the idea. Alabama did not have a good day yesterday because they rate a little below some of the other teams that also lost, so they all kind of slid together, and that just makes today really big for them.

I’m surprised, to be honest, because I really like their team. Maybe that’s a little biased. I knew Avery up at the network and I like him, but I could certainly see that even though conference affiliation has nothing to do with any of this, to get that 8th team from the SEC — a lot of things are going to have to break their way.

Joe, could you weigh in on the ACC bubble teams that are in action today, such as Louisville and Notre Dame?
JL: I think Louisville, well, at least last time I looked up, they were getting handled pretty well. I think that’s going to knock them out and keep them out. Syracuse is my kryptonite, everybody knows that. I don’t hide from it. Because my friend Charlie here is a big Syracuse fan, I’m going to keep them out, knowing that that will get them in.

CC: Thanks, Joe, I appreciate that.

JL: Right. As for Notre Dame, this is kind of unprecedented, to have a player of this magnitude returning at this late stage of the game. Again, I try to revert a little bit to common sense, like if Bonzie Colson hadn’t missed that chunk of games that he did, we wouldn’t be having the conversation. Right? They would clearly be in the field with enough wins and we would be talking about seeding. I think that a good showing today, and certainly a win, they’re going to make it.

Again, it’s unprecedented. I can’t say these four times just like this that team always made it. No, it’s the other way around, it’s guys getting hurt, or suspended, or leave the team, or the dog swallowed my homework, or something that causes a team to have a diminished roster, not an enhanced one. But coming back yesterday in my view was huge for Notre Dame and if I were in the room, I would include them.

Charlie, you’ve had the Virginia women between the 7 and 10 seed all season. Can you break down the arguments for them being in and then being out of the Tournament?
CC: Well, the argument for them being in is that they scheduled really well. They competed very well in, I think, the best league in the country. A major conference team with an RPI of 31 never gets left out of the field. It would be a pretty big shock to me based on history that Virginia, given that circumstance, would be left out of the field.

That said, I talked about USC a little built earlier and top-50 wins, and opportunities to get top-50 wins and not delivering. Well, Virginia falls into that category, too. They have had 14 chances to win, they have won two of them, they don’t really have any wins that just jump off the page. Their best win is NC State and while that’s a good win, it’s not earth-shattering, it’s not beating Notre Dame, it’s not beating Florida State, it’s not even beating Duke. And the 18 wins, like I mentioned with Creighton, is a little bit light. Those are the two sides of the fence, and I’ve gone back and forth on Virginia both in inclusion and in seed, and the wavering is based upon the fact that I think what we just talked about, those things weigh very close to equal. I just come back to the fact that we just don’t see major conference teams with an RPI around 30 being left out of the field, so that’s why I have them in.

The seeding for Virginia’s interesting because basically I have them as an 8, 9 team and they have been an 8, 9 team. However, because of bracketing principles, they’re always getting flipped because there’s probably going to be 8 ACC teams in the field, so it’s hard to bracket them and to keep them two in each region. Virginia’s constantly being moved, depending upon what level they fall on on that particular night.

Right now I have them 32 overall which places them at an 8, but they have to get moved. The only seed line that affects the bracket in the way it needs to go is moving them to a 7. But if they fall one spot from 32 to 33 and they’re a 9, then they have to be flipped to a 10. The range in their seed is great, even if their number on the board is very slight. They’re kind of an interesting team as far as that’s concerned.

With Virginia, falling is usually upset central. Do you see another team that should be an upset alert in the first round, or do you see them as being a team that can make some noise?
CC: I don’t think they score well enough to make some noise. They just struggle on offense too much. They defend so well, and that’s why they have been able to win some of the games that they have been able to win. But generally speaking they struggle to score, and they have actually saved themselves in a couple games that might have knocked them out of the field with just getting enough offense in the last five to seven minutes to win some of these games. And especially if they end up falling in an 8, 9 situation, then I don’t think they have a chance of beating any of the No. 1 seeds. We have already seen them play two of them, four games against Notre Dame and Louisville, and they didn’t fare too well in any of those games. I don’t see them getting past anything more than one win, really.

Joe, kind of doubling back on the Michigan-Michigan State situation, who seems more likely right now to get to Detroit? And looking at the Michigan State situation, what needs to transpire for them among those three sites?
JL: I think Michigan State will be higher on the seed list than Michigan, in spite of losing to them in the Big Ten tournament and Michigan winning the whole thing. Michigan State did finish two or three games ahead of them in the regular season. Even with an unbalanced schedule that’s still a pretty significant difference.

I’m confident that Michigan State will be ahead of Michigan on the seed list, so much that if there’s a spot in Detroit that’s open, they will get it. I still have Xavier ahead of the two Michigans on the seed list and that’s not likely to change. I have Purdue ahead of the two Michigans on the seed list, and that is a matter of debate because Purdue finished in between them in the standings, advanced further than one of them in the tournament, and of course lost to the other in the final, but probably has the strongest overall body of work. If the Committee chooses to strictly go by mileage, Xavier and then Purdue and/or Cincinnati will end up in Detroit ahead of one or both of the Michigans. And I said earlier the Committee could wiggle, they could choose to put Xavier or Cincinnati in Pittsburgh, which is only about a 20-mile difference to try and open up a Detroit slot. They have just not done that in the past. They go one team at a time, look at the mileage, I call it drop and slot, and then move on to the next team on the list. I don’t agree with that practice, I think they should look at a whole seed line together and see what teams would make the most sense for everybody.

But they spend so much time, a disproportionate amount of time, I think, creating the seed list for that purpose. That’s just their way of doing it and there’s no right or wrong here, it’s just not the way I would do it as nicely as I can say. I don’t have a vote and I’m certain that they don’t care what I think.

Can you recall any time with three sites with so many teams in play for them at those top seeds?
JL: No, this is a pretty good mess. Not as good a mess as the bubble right now, but it’s definitely a mess.

Joe, another question on Michigan State. That mid-season reveal of the Committee having them at number 11 overall, did that surprise you at all? Has Michigan State’s strength of schedule put a cap on them as far as their seeding?
JL: Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Earlier on the call Charlie discussed a team on the women’s side from the Big Ten that he was surprised about in the various women’s reveal process. We have to react to that and adjust to that no matter what people may think, because essentially the Committee is giving us some of the answers to the test. We may not like the answers, but if we were taking a geography test and the teacher gave us four of the answers, and we answered something else, that would be pretty dumb. Obviously that’s not the way that we’re doing it.

So, yes, I was surprised. I would personally still have Michigan State as no worse than a 2, just from a basketball perspective, but here we are. If they were 11 overall before losing early in the Big Ten Tournament, it would take a lot of arrogance on our part as pundits to put them 5 through 8, which is what would be required for them to be a 2. So I’m surprised by it all. I guess it’s non-conference schedule, it’s more quadrant one wins or lack of them that’s hurting these Big Ten teams. It’s eventually going to bite a team like Nebraska, and that’s more of a comment on the conference in isolation this season than it is necessarily a comment on the individual team or teams that’s being impacted by kind of the scarcity of quality win opportunities.

Both of the Nebraska men and women’s teams are on the bubble. Can you explain why they’re on the bubble, and why one might be in and the other might be out?
CC: Nebraska is part of that Big Ten mix that is just a big dilemma in that there’s a collection of top-50 wins that lacks impression. It looks like a tournament team when you look at that number, but if you dig deeper none of them are in the top-25. They’re all within the conference, and while Nebraska finished at 11-5 in the league and in third place, their schedule wasn’t as difficult even within the league than some of the other teams in the Big Ten.

Now that all said, I have them in the field just barely because of the way they have played of late. They have improved considerably throughout the season and they have looked like “looked” like a tournament team in the last three weeks or so.

I don’t love the numbers. I mentioned something about how the Committee has looked at strength of schedule in the past, and they did not schedule very well in the non-conference. This is a case where I don’t blame Amy Williams for not scheduling. She had a young team. She was relatively a new coach in the program, and you want to get some wins under your belt. I don’t blame her in the same way I might blame some other coaches around the country for the way they scheduled. But it is what it is, and there’s not a lot there. Nebraska’s actually lost to a couple of other teams on the bubble in that non-conference that they’re going to be competing with or presumably competing with for spots.

Nebraska is my last team in right now and I could wake up tomorrow morning and have a different viewpoint and switch them one spot and they’re out. I don’t have a definitive answer on Nebraska, but those are some of the things that I think will be discussed by the Committee, and there’s arguments certainly on both sides of the fence for it.

Joe, as it pertains to Nebraska’s men’s team, Tim Miles has said they’re in. He feels confident about that, obviously, he’s their coach. What’s your perspective on Nebraska’s men’s team?
JL: Overall my perspective is that Charlie and I won’t be visiting Nebraska together anytime soon. I think we’re going to have to be in undisclosed locations the next time we come to the state.

CC: Designated survivor amongst the two of us.

JL: Exactly. Good one. And that will be like the NIT bracketologist. He’ll be the designated survivor. It’s like the Secretary of Agriculture or something.

I’m really, really trying to say this kindly, because the Nebraska questions have been constant and passionate and I get it. They’re not close, relatively speaking. And if we were talking about a team with their profile, outside the Big-10, we wouldn’t even be having the conversation. They don’t have the wins or the schedule. They’re holding their hat on a 13-5 that was created artificially. I get it, and I get Coach Miles and I get every Big-10 person who is beating the drum for them. But this is a Big-10 in name only, and I think the Committee is more than smart enough to see that.

So if Nebraska does get in, what would that create or suggest?
JL: It would probably mean that ESPN will have a new bracketologist next year, and that the power conference bias that inevitably exists on a Committee in which six of the 10 seeds are guaranteed for those leagues, plus the Big East, has gotten to an entirely new and unhealthy level. If the criteria is beating other teams in the Tournament, what is Nebraska’s case outside of beating Michigan at home, and then giving it back by equal measure in the Big-10 Tournament? The truth is there is no case, and that’s why they’re not going to make it.

# #

Angela Yang

I am a Senior Publicist in ESPN Communications based in New York, focusing on affiliate and digital PR. I am a proud University of Georgia alum, graduating with a double major in Public Relations and Sociology. Prior to joining ESPN, I worked in entertainment publicity at NBCUniversal, FOX and Turner in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, I am a die-hard Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs fan.
Back to top button