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Making The Case For Iona, By Ken Taylor - MAAC

Courtesy: MAACSports.com
          Release: 03/09/2012
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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:
  • RPI
  • 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)
Syracuse Big East 1
Kentucky SEC 2
North Carolina ACC 3
Michigan St. Big 10 5
Kansas Big 12 6
Temple A-10 13
Memphis Conference USA 18
Murray State Ohio Valley 20
Creighton Missouri Valley 23
St. Mary's West Coast 26
San Diego St. Mountain West 27
California Pac-12 34
Harvard Ivy League 36
Long Beach St. Big West 38
VCU Colonial Athletic 39
South Dakota St. Summit 46
Nevada WAC 48
Belmont Atlantic Sun 61
Akron MAC 62
Davidson Southern 64
Montana Big Sky 72
Loyola, MD MAAC 79
Long Island NEC 83
Lehigh Patriot 91
UNC Asheville
Big South
105
Lamar
Southland 116
Detroit Horizon 127
Norfolk State MEAC 132
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:
Team
RPI
Duke At-Large 4
Ohio State At-Large 7
Marquette At-Large 8
Baylor At-Large 9
Indiana At-Large 10
UNLV At-Large 11
Michigan At-Large 12
Wichita State At-Large 14
Southern Mississippi At-Large 15
Missouri At-Large 16
Georgetown At-Large 17
Louisville At-Large 19
Colorado St At-Large 21
Florida State At-Large 22
Gonzaga At-Large 24
Wisconsin At-Large 25
Vanderbilt At-Large 28
Florida At-Large 29
Saint Louis At-Large 30
Connecticut At-Large 31
Alabama At-Large 32
Iowa State At-Large 33
New Mexico At-Large 35
Notre Dame At-Large 37
Iona At-Large 40
Purdue At-Large 41
Virginia At-Large 42
Texas At-Large 43
Kansas State At-Large 44
BYU At-Large 45
South Florida At-Large 47
Miami, FL At-Large 49
Oral Roberts At-Large 50
UCF At-Large 51
West Virginia At-Large 52
Mississippi At-Large 53
Xavier At-Large 54
NC State At-Large 55
Marshall At-Large 56
Northwestern At-Large 57
Cincinnati At-Large 58
Middle Tennessee At-Large 59
Saint Joseph's At-Large 60
Oregon At-Large 63
Drexel At-Large 65
Seton Hall At-Large 66
New Mexico St. At-Large 67
Washington At-Large 68
Weber State At-Large 69
Mississippi St. At-Large 71
Tennessee At-Large 77

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):


Team   RPI Avg
Opp
RPI
Rk
Avg
Opp
rpi
Rec. Non
conf
RPI
Non
conf
Rec.

Conf
rec

Road
rec
Sos Non
conf
sos
Top
100
1-50 51-
100
Florida At-Large 29 114 35 22-9 30 12-3 10-6 4-7 42 114 8-8 3-5 5-3
Saint Louis At-Large 30 138 89 23-6 40 11-2 12-4 6-5 110 201 7-4 0-2 7-2
Connecticut At-Large 31 93 3 20-13 10 10-2 10-11 3-7 2 11 9-11 4-7 5-4
Alabama At-Large 32 105 17 21-10 24 11-3 10-7 4-7 29 50 8-9 3-5 5-4
Iowa State At-Large 33 118 45 22-10 72 10-3 12-7 4-7 33 148 6-8 5-7 1-1
New Mexico At-Large 35 147 106 24-6 92 13-2 11-4 7-3 121 291 7-4 4-3 3-1
Notre Dame At-Large 37 116 39 22-10 144 8-5 14-5 5-5 52 159 10-7 6-5 4-2
Iona At-Large 40 172 159 25-7 18 9-3 16-4 11-4 139 41 5-3 1-1 4-2
Purdue At-Large 41 108 24
21-11 68 10-3 11-8 5-5 34 149 9-9 4-8 5-1
Virginia At-Large 42 135 83 22-8 45 13-1 9-7 7-4 99 238 7-5 2-5 5-0
Texas At-Large 43 115 37 20-12 54 10-3 10-9 4-7 18 91 4-10 4-9 0-1
Kansas State At-Large 44 117 41 21-10 47 11-1 10-9 6-4 61 253 6-8 6-7 0-1
BYU At-Large 45 153 118 23-8 39 10-3 13-5 8-3 93 69 5-6 2-6 3-0
South Florida At-Large 47 105 17 19-13 122 6-6 13-7 5-8 27 53 6-10 1-9 5-1
Miami, FL At-Large 49 117 41 19-11 69 9-4 10-7 5-8 57 122 3-10 2-6 1-4
Oral Roberts At-Large 50 185 202 27-6 79 9-4 18-2 10-4 201 195 3-3 1-2 2-1
UCF At-Large 51 140 90 20-9 78 9-3 11-6 3-7 94 180 3-6 2-5 1-1
West Virginia At-Large 52 94 4 19-13 28 10-3 9-10 4-6 16 29 9-12 5-8 4-4
Mississippi At-Large 53 112 31 19-12 63 10-4 9-8 4-8 49 137 5-11 2-6 3-5
Xavier At-Large 54 117 41 19-11 67 9-5 10-6 5-7 45 49 7-10 2-7 5-3
NC State At-Large 55 123 57 21-11 44 11-4 10-7 5-4 28 16 5-9 3-8 2-1
Marshall At-Large 56 122 53 19-12 52 8-5 11-7 5-7 21 4 5-9 2-4 3-5
Northwestern At-Large 57 102 9 18-13 25 10-2 8-11 4-7 12 51 5-13 1-10 4-3
Cincinnati At-Large 58 133 80 23-9 153 10-3 13-6 7-5 119 317 9-6 6-3 3-3
Middle Tenn At-Large 59 175 167 24-6 31 10-3 14-3 10-4 196 82 3-3 0-1 3-2
Saint Joseph's At-Large 60 121 48 20-12 41 10-5 10-7 5-8 39 40 6-9 2-4 4-5
Oregon At-Large 63 146 103 22-9 82 9-3 13-6 7-4 88 127 5-9 0-2 5-7
Drexel At-Large 65 185 202 27-6 80 9-3 18-3 11-3 231 224 4-3 1-2 3-1
Seton Hall At-Large 66 115 37 20-12 21 11-1 9-11 4-7 55 126 7-9 3-7 4-2
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
Washington At-Large 68 147 106 21-10 116 7-5 14-5 6-5 78 57 4-8 0-6 4-2
Weber State At-Large 69 204 267 22-6 50 7-3 15-3 7-6 220 118 1-5 0-3 1-2
Mississippi St At-Large 71 123 57 21-11 60 13-2 8-9 3-6 79 196 7-9 2-4 5-5
Tennessee At-Large 77 110 29 17-13 198 7-7 10-6 3-8 37 166 7-10 4-7 3-3

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 Florida
Miami, FL
Oral Roberts
UCF
Mississippi
NC State
Northwestern
Middle Tennessee
Saint Joseph's
Oregon
Drexel
Seton Hall
New Mexico St.
Washington
Weber St.
Mississippi St.
Tennessee

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:

Team Conference RPI Avg
Opp
RPI
Rk
Avg
op
rpi
Rec. Non
conf
RPI
Non
conf
Rec.
Conf
rec
Road
rec
Sos Non
conf
sos
Top
100
1-50 51-
100
Davidson Southern 64 190 221 24-7 56 5-5 19-2 9-5 165 5 2-4 1-3 1-1
Montana Big Sky 72 199 246 23-6 107 6-5 17-1 9-4 185 78 3-3 1-2 2-1
Loyola, MD MAAC 79 195 228 24-8 64 8-3 16-5 11-6 217 215 2-3 1-2 1-1
Long Island NEC 83 214 291 25-8 172 6-6 19-2 8-8 245 268 2-1 0-1 2-0
Lehigh Patriot 91 215 295 25-7 115 11-4 14-3 12-6 302 328 3-3 0-2 3-1
UNC Asheville Big South 105 209 278 21-9 202 2-7 19-2 8-5 189 34 0-5 0-2 0-3
Lamar Southland 116 202 257 20-11 61
7-6 13-5 8-9 208 61 0-5 0-3 0-2
Detroit Horizon 127 166 143 20-13 208 5-6 15-7 6-8 178 199 2-8 0-2 2-6
Norfolk State MEAC 132 227 324 22-8 74 8-5 14-3 10-4 295 85 2-2 0-2 2-0
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.

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