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NIT Bracketology – 3 Days Left

It's not what we wanted, but an NIT Title still carries a lot of prestige at Milwaukee.

All right, after poring over the statistics, rankings, and everything Ken Pomeroy and Jerry Palm, I’ve learned one thing:

Predicting the NIT is a far more difficult task then predicting the NCAA Tournament.  And as such, Joe Lunardi won’t gain my respect until he gets 65 of 68 NCAA teams and then guesses 30 of 32 NIT teams.  Right now, NITology.com appears to be the Joey Brackets of the NIT, so we’ll take them as a lead and try and sort things out from here.

 

The Milwaukee Panthers' stretch run will hopefully continue into the NIT.

The current NIT automatic bid teams are as follows: Milwaukee (Horizon), Saint Mary’s (WCC), George Mason (CAA), Coastal Carolina (Big South), College of Charleston (SoCon), Fairfield (MAAC), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), Missouri State (MVC), Murray State (OVC), Vermont (America East).

Of those conference champions, George Mason and Saint Mary’s are almost guaranteed to garner at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament.  Missouri State of the MVC is one of Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” and could still get in if bubble teams from the major conferences slip up.  As of right now, though, he’s got them in the NIT and so do we.

The NIT has 32 teams seeded 1-8 in four regionals. If we assume our current membership is every automatic bid minus George Mason and Saint Mary’s, then we have eight of the 32 already in place.

With their RPI’s:

42 Missouri State (MVC)
92 Milwaukee (Horizon)
96 Vermont (America East)
99 Fairfield (MAAC)
105 Coastal Carolina (Big South)
111 Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt)
113 Murray State (OVC)

Nafis Ricks (yup, that Nafis Ricks) and the Missouri State Bears are the only automatic bid team with serious credentials

Now, there are 31 conferences, and 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.  That leaves 37 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, and the at-large bids to the NIT are left to regulat season champions who lost in the conference tournament and did not receive an at-large bid the the NCAA Tournament.

Of the conference tournaments remaining, only five of them have conference champions that would be in the NIT if they lose.  Those conferences and their champions:

86 Kent State (MAC)
90 Long Beach State (Big West)
163 McNeese State (Southland)
177 Texas Southern (SWAC)
192 Bethune-Cookman (MEAC)

First off, there are two teams currently rated ahead of Milwaukee in the RPI that would be in the NIT if they lost in their conference tournament – Kent State and Long Beach State.  However, the higher-rated team of the two is only six places ahead of Milwaukee, and either team could drop below the Panthers in the RPI if they lose.

Of course, it may not matter.  Milwaukee’s problem with it’s RPI and at-large NCAA candidacy is the several bad losses, including one sub-200.

Justin Greene and Kent State better watch out, because a loss in the MAC Tournament means a 7-seed in the NIT

So, of the seven teams currently in, how do they stack up with the five potential auto-bids from the conferences yet to finish their tournaments?

Luckily for you, I have put together a pretty little spreadsheet that we can use to compare and contrast every NIT automatic bid school, as well as those five schools that could be joining the list if they lose in their conference tournament.

For one thing, it’s pretty damn hard to argue against Milwaukee.  The only school in my mind that has the edge no matter what is Missouri State.  Their RPI is 50 spots higher, and for a reason.  Their record is great, and their strength of schedule is second only to ours.

The stretch run of the Horizon League season afforded us tie-breakers over pretty much any other automatic-bid team.  Sweeping Butler in the regular season (ugh) and beating Cleveland State secured us three top-50 victories.  Another two over Valparaiso and we have five top-100 victories, both of which are superior to every other NIT auto-bid teams, including Missouri State.

Here’s where we get ahead of the others, and where we rank among them.  We’re taking Missouri State out of the equation because they are well ahead of the other automatic bid teams, who will make up the bottom of the NIT:

RPI. It’s no longer the #1 judge, but Milwaukee’s RPI is superior to every team except for Kent State and Long Beach State.  Of course, should either one of those teams pick up another loss in their conference tournament, their RPI may fall past Milwaukee’s.  Kent State is currently beating Buffalo in the MAC Tournament but still has losses against teams remaining in the field.  Long Beach State won tonight, but any loss in the conference tournament will harpoon their RPI.

The Panthers fought hard to come back from an awful start, but the two victories over Butler will help in seeding in the NIT.

Beating good teams – Here’s the facts.  Milwaukee has more wins against the top 50 than any team.  In fact, the Panthers have more wins against the top 50 than every team combined – by three – as in, Milwaukee’s the only team to beat a Top 50 school, and they did it three times.  Go to the Top 100, and the Panthers’ number goes up to five.  The only team that can get close to that is Fairfield, who is 4-3.  That’s technically a better percentage than Milwaukee’s 5-5, but only one of their four wins is above RPI 95, #69 Iona.  The Gaels of Iona, Fairfield’s best victory, are one spot behind #68 Valparaiso, Milwaukee’s 4th and 5th best victory.  Hell, Fairfield’s best loss (to #56 Penn State) would be Milwaukee’s 4th best victory.

The fact is, only one team has demonstrated the ability to not only beat top 50 teams, but beat real top 100 teams.  Number 62 Wichita State, who lost to Missouri State, remains the best team to lose to any of the NIT Auto-bid teams beside Milwaukee.  That’s a team just six spots ahead of Milwaukee’s fifth-best win.

Strength of Schedule – Milwaukee trampled the back end of the Horizon League.  But it’s not just the fact that they sank nine birdies on the back nine, it’s that it came against a truly great mid-major conference.  The Missouri Valley Conference is the only one of the others that is even close to the Horizon, and the H-League has definitely passed them up in 2010-11.  Four top-100 teams, only two sub-200 teams, Milwaukee won a regular season title in the best conference among those who have an automatic bid to the NIT.

Oh, and Missouri State lost to Northern Iowa, a team Milwaukee beat.  And got whooped by Valparaiso at the ARC, a team Milwaukee beat twice (all right, so the Panthers got beat up at Valpo too, but at least they won the next two).

Where it stands, I rank the NIT automatic bid teams as such; I’m including teams that could still lose in their conference tournament, in case they do:

1 Missouri State
2 Milwaukee
3 Kent State *
4 Long Beach State *
5 Fairfield
6 Vermont
7 Florida Atlantic
8 Coastal Carolina
9 Murray State
10 Texas Southern *
11 McNeese State *
12 Bethune-Cookman *

* – Still alive for the NCAA Tournament.

In case you’re following along, my eight-seeds as of today are Vermont, Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina, and Murray State.  My seven-seeds are Milwaukee and Fairfield.  Missouri State will get a 1 or 2 seed based on RPI.

Feel free to leave comments.

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