Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Could Jimmer and BYU snag No. 1 seed?

To answer the (self-posed) question as simply as possible: Yes.

In fact, it may be difficult for them to get anything but a top seed in this year’s Big Dance.

While national — and local — fans have spent a great deal of their college basketball-focused time checking BYU’s box scores to see how many points Jimmer Fredette can score on a given night, what has been overlooked is just how solid of a NCAA Tournament resume is being built out in Provo, Utah.

 Sure, it’s no secret that BYU is having a good year as a team, as evidence by the squad’s No. 8 billing in this week’s ESPN/USA Today poll.

(Note — as we go forward, a ranking written like “No. X” will refer to such team’s rank in the ESPN/USA Today poll; RPI rankings will always be directly referenced.)

But when we look at the math and statistics behind BYU’s season, the Cougars’ campaign gets even more impressive. Granted, BYU cannot afford to drop more than one more game in the regular season and they need to win their conference tournament to have a shot at a top seed, but consider the following …
  • BYU is the current owner of the NCAA’s top RPI. 
  • The Cougars are credited with having the nation’s ninth toughest schedule — and that ranking is bound to improve (more on this later). 
  • Jimmer and the Fredettes — shout out to The Saratogian’s Matt Donato for the moniker —  already own five wins against top-30 RPI teams, with a chance to garner at least one more such win in the regular season. For comparison’s sake, the Kansas Jayhawks own two such wins; undefeated Ohio State owns four such victories; and, Texas has notched three wins against top-30 competition. Meanwhile, Duke has not beaten a single top-30 team.
So, BYU already has a pretty nice resume, especially when compared with other top teams in the country. More importantly, for Jimmer-maniacs, BYU stands to get an added bump in its RPI ranking thanks to some early-season opponents mounting stronger than expected campaigns …

Utah State — BYU defeated Utah State on Nov. 17, 78-72

The Aggies are rolling. The WAC-leader is sitting at 22-2 (11-0 conference) and haven't seen an opponent come withing single digits of them yet in 2011. Utah State is up to No. 17 (RPI: 25) in the poll and will likely keep climbing as nobody in the WAC looks likely to be able to beat them. Every Utah State win helps out BYU's resume.

Vermont — BYU defeated Vermont (at the Civic Center in Glens Falls) on Dec. 8, 86-58

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the America East power, the Catamounts are sitting pretty at 19-5. While you won't see Vermont anywhere near the Top 25, the Catamounts look poised to finish with an RPI in the top 100. BYU played Vermont simply so Fredette could have his homecoming game, but that game has actually been a huge help to the Cougars' resume.

Arizona — BYU defeated Arizona on Dec. 11, 87-65.

While the Wildcats are a known national commodity, Arizona has not really been a player on the national scene in a few years and nothing much was expected from them this season, either. But, instead, the Wildcats (20-4, 9-2 Pac-10) are in first place in their conference and have pushed themselves up to No. 16 in the country (same as their RPI ranking).  

While BYU has certainly been helped by it's conference's strength — rival San Diego State is No. 6 nationally and has the fourth best RPI — these three above wins are the gifts that keep on giving for BYU. Arizona, Utah State and Vermont figure to keep winning and give BYU the chance to have wins over three potential conference champions.

Now, the final piece of BYU's top-seed puzzle: Geography.

There are essentially three teams — BYU, Kansas and Texas — currently fighting for the top seeds in the tournament's Southwest and West regions. As it stands, ESPN's Joe Lunardi is projecting Kansas to head West (Anaheim) as the top seed and Texas to grab top billing in the Southwest (San Antonio).
But Kansas and Texas are Big 12 conference mates; only one of them can win their conference tournament. It would be tough for me to see the NCAA's selection committee saying a Kansas or Texas squad coming off a conference tournament loss is more worthy of a top seed than a conference-champion BYU squad with a higher RPI, to boot.

Bottom line: If BYU does its part — lose no more than one game and win its conference tournament — Jimmer's bunch will be headlining March Madness as a top seed.

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Blogger Gene Morris said...

Very interesting to see it all laid out. Good job!

February 8, 2011 at 12:38 PM 

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