Additional Supporting Information Will Be Added Later This Afternoon (Mar. 9)
Making the Case for Iona
By Ken Taylor, MAAC Associate Commissioner
Taylor participated in the NCAA mock selections in February 2011. Below is his opinion on how the 2012 NCAA Championship field stacks up for the selection committee based on his insight and experience.
One of the most anticipated days of the college basketball season is Selection Sunday for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Around 6 p.m. this Sunday, millions of Americans, blank bracket sheets in hand, will wait with baited breath as Greg Gumbel breaks the news to 68 lucky teams: Who is in? Who are they playing? Where will they play?
To that end, the debate also includes: who got left out?
The committee has already commenced the selection process and two MAAC teams this week will be on the board for the committee: Loyola as the MAAC Champion is our automatic qualifier; Iona, with a strong RPI, non-conference resume and several top-100 wins is clear to be under consideration for an at-large selection. MAAC fans know the 1995 Manhattan team was the league’s only at-large selection in its 31-year history.
A little over a year ago, I was privileged to participate in the United State Basketball Writers Association mock selection. I traveled to Indianapolis and, along with 19 other media and conference officials, experienced a simulation of how the committee selects and seeds the brackets. We experienced everything from how the committee views the bracket, team sheets and other data available to the food they eat (the ice cream bar they had was very popular). Say what you want about the selection process, I can promise you this: The committee does a thorough job of evaluating each team under consideration.
Today, I want to take knowledge from that experience to make a case for Iona and Loyola in the NCAA tournament.
There are two basic processes that take place. First you select the teams: There are 31 automatic qualifiers who advance by winning the conference tournament (sans the Ivy whose regular season champion gets a bid). Then the committee selects the 37 best teams available…regardless of conference affiliation.
Here is a list of the factors and resources that the committee DOES take into consideration:
- Conference monitoring program (The MAAC had regular discussions with two committee members to provide detailed and expanded information regarding the league)'
- Research on specific games including quality non-conference wins, head-to-head results against teams under consideration, overall quality of competition a team played throughout the season
- Team sheets: A breakdown of results against RPI 1-50, 51-100, 101-200 and 201-346, strength of schedule, opponents’ strength of schedule and overall RPI
- Polls: AP, ESPN/USAToday, and regional advisory committee polls.
Here is a list of factors that will not come into consideration:
- Conference affiliation,
- Previous appearances in the tournament
- Performance by team’s conference members in previous tournaments
- Lobbying by assigned or ‘connected’ committee members
- Conference RPI: each team is viewed with its own merits.
Let’s take a look at the two MAAC teams on the board, starting with Iona.
Here are the factors that will help Iona’s cause:
- Five wins against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI (including four out-of conference teams).
- Non conference RPI of 19
- Non conference strength of schedule of 44
- Record of 9-3 in non-league games
- Record of 11-4 in road games and 15-6 in games played away from home.
Here are factors that hurt Iona’s chances:
- Two ‘bad’ losses to teams ranked below 200 in the RPI: at Hofstra and at Siena
- No top 25 wins (in the end none of their opponents are ranked in the top 25).
- Teams from stronger leagues have many more top 100 games to play and more opportunities to play against top 25, 50 and 100 teams.
A quick look at the field and how it gets picked.
The committee does an initial ballot and selects any team that should be put into the tournament without significant debate. I recall the NCAA noted this list is usually approximately 20-25 teams. To make this list a team must appear on 8 of the 10 committee ballots. Also, I took the liberty to designate all 31 automatics qualifiers noting some are already determined and others are projections.
|Automatic Qualifiers (with RPI noted: bold teams are in for sure, non-bold are projections)|
|Michigan St.||Big 10||5|
|Murray State||Ohio Valley||20
|St. Mary's||West Coast||26|
|San Diego St.||Mountain West||27|
|Long Beach St.||Big West||38|
|South Dakota St.||Summit||46|
|Stony Brook||America East||138|
|Miss Valley State||SWAC||151|
|Western Kentucky||Sun Belt||190|
|That leaves 37 at-large and I noted the following possibilities based on RPI:|
|New Mexico St.||At-Large||67|
For the “initial ballot,” I counted in everyone through Vanderbilt.
The 31 AQs plus the 17 “locks” for the tournament give us a total of 48 spots locked up. That leaves 20 spaces for the committee to look at carefully and evaluate team against team. The committee then goes through a voting process to determine and rank the remaining teams until the field is filled. This process is what takes up about 80% of the time the committee spends on the selection and bracketing process.
Let’s expand the list of teams to include several key pieces of data (note data is from NCAA nitty gritty report for games through Thursday, March 8):
|New Mexico St||At-Large||67||165||140||22-9||62||11-5||11-4||7-5||98||60||1-6||1-5||0-1|
Keep in mind 20 bids remain from this list of 35 teams
If you look at each factor Iona ranks as follows:
- 8th in RPI
- 31st in average RPI of opponent and rank of average opponent
- 2nd in non-conference RPI
- 31st in strength of schedule
- 6th in non conference strength of schedule
- Tied for 21st in number of top 100 wins
- Tied for 25th in number of top 50 wins
- Tied for 11th in number of wins against 51-100
- Better winning percentage against top-50 than 30 of the 35 teams on the list
- Better winning percentage against 51-100 than 21 of the 35 teams on the list
- Better winning percentage against top-100 than 31 of the 35 teams on the list
- 30th in number of games played against top 100
- Tied for 1st in number of road wins
One big factor the committee has publically stated is this: “On the portion of the schedule they can control, did the team challenge itself with quality opponents and how did they do in those games?” Looking at Iona, they were 9-3 out of league with five top-100 wins. Two of the three losses were also top-100 teams (Purdue & Marshall). In addition, Maryland, a team Iona beat by 26 points, is currently 101 in the RPI.
How does being in the MAAC factor in? Two things to consider. A good league (i.e. BCS league) gives those teams many more opportunities to play top-100 games. For example, ‘bubble team’ South Florida is 1-9 against top-50 teams and additionally 5-1 against teams ranked 51-100. So the committee gets an interesting contrast: USF and Iona both have one win against top-50. They are close in top 100 wins (USF 6, Iona 5). Iona has a better winning pct., while USF has more wins. They share one common opponent: Vermont. Both won tight games, USF by two at home while Iona won by one on the road. How does the committee sort through this?
Well, hopefully by now, you can see the challenge they have.
A few more positive notes for Iona to consider:
- Iona played 21 of its 32 games away from home and went 15-6 in those games. They went 11-4 in true road games.
- Iona did not play at home between Nov. 28 (home win vs. LIU) and Jan. 6 (home win vs. Niagara). The Gaels went 7-2 over that stretch, which included stops in Buffalo, Denver, West Virginia, Vermont, and Virginia (twice).
- Denver went 14-2 at home this season and 7-1 in non-conference play, including wins over Southern Mississippi, St. Mary’s, and Middle Tennessee. Iona was the only non-conference opponent to win at Magness Arena.
- Iona played only three non-conference home games. The three opponents were Nevada (48), Saint Joseph’s (60), and LIU (83). Iona went 3-0.
- Iona lost at Siena which posted a record of 8-1 at home in the league (only lost to MAAC Champion Loyola). Siena was 10-4 overall at home. Iona did beat Siena by 36 three weeks prior to the loss.
The trick is to find 16 teams Iona compares to favorably on the above list of at large candidates:
I submit to you the following 18 teams to make that list:BYU
South FloridaOral Roberts
New Mexico St.
If Iona can rank ahead of at least 16 of these teams, then they would be in the field based on this simulation. If you want to look into this further: Nitty Gritty | Team Sheets
Now, as far as Loyola is concerned, they are grouped into the automatic qualifiers group that typically fills out the bottom seeds of the bracket.
Based upon results and teams that have already qualified, it looks like Loyola will enter as a 15 seed and with some help (i.e. surprise teams winning some of the remaining conference tournaments) they could go as a high as 14. Keep in mind there are six team that fill out the 16/17 seed line. Two enter directly as 16 seeds while four other teams are paired off to play into the 16 seeds. That leaves Loyola among the next four which puts them likely as a 15 seed.
Here is a comparison of the automatic qualifiers:
|UNC Asheville||Big South||105||209||278||21-9||202||2-7||19-2||8-5||189||34||0-5||0-2||0-3|
|Stony Brook||American East||138||237||334||21-8||239||5-6||16-2||7-7||332||296||0-2||0-1||0-1|
|Miss Valley State||SWAC||151||222||312||19-12||230||1-11||18-1||8-11||306||24||0-7||0-5||0-2|
|Western Kentucky||Sun Belt||190||166||143||15-18||200||4-9||11-9||3-8||132||31||2-8||0-4||2-4|
There are still games to be played and lots to be determined. However this works out, one thing is certain - both Loyola and Iona had special seasons. Hopefully we can see them both continue in the NCAA Tournament. If it doesn’t work out for Iona, they should at least one of the four top seeds in the NIT. That would put them in position to make a run all the way to Madison Square Garden. That said, let’s hope they’re dancing in the NCAA Tournament next week!
Enjoy the tournaments, everyone! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.