DU widely projected as a #14 seed; Lunardi on crack?
With the top two seeds in the Sun Belt, #1 Middle Tennessee State and #2 Arkansas-Little Rock, losing yesterday (along with #4 Louisiana-Lafayette, for good measure), #3-seeded Denver is now the nominal favorite to win the tourney, and with it, the league’s NCAA automatic bid.
Of course, that status as the “favorite” will be worth a bucket of warm spit come tip-off tonight — I’m frankly somewhat terrified of much-improved #7 seed Western Kentucky, which I see as a real threat to beat Denver and win the SBC’s auto bid. But being favored does have one side benefit: Denver is now the “projected” Sun Belt representative in the various brackets put out today by “bracketologists.” So we can see where folks have the Pioneers hypothetically seeded in the NCAAs as of now.
For the most part, the answer is about what I expected. Of the folks listed in the Bracket Matrix, sixteen have Denver has a #14 seed, while ten have the Pioneers as a #15 seed. The distinction between #14 and #15 is critical, as college basketball is generally perceived as having a fairly clear-cut top eight teams this year, meaning the #2 seeds will be much harder to beat than the #3s. So if you’re Denver, you really, really want a #14 seed. (Ideally in the Albuquerque pod.)
But the biggest name among the bracketologists, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, bizarrely has Denver as a #16 seed headed for the “First Four” in Dayton, meaning he thinks the Pioneers — whose profile includes wins over RPI Top 50 teams St. Mary’s, Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee, and RPI Top 100 team Wyoming — are one of the four worst teams in his projected NCAA field. That’s hard to believe, and Glockner is openly mocking Lunardi for it.
That said, recalling the time Niagara was inexplicably thrown into the play-in game, anything is possible. The committee sometimes seems to pay limited attention to seeds lines #13 through #16, which sucks, because the distinctions are really important among those seeds, arguably moreso than the difference between, say, a #6 and a #7, or a #10 and a #12. So I worry a little that Lunardi’s seemingly careless placement of Denver could be repeated in the real bracket.
Just to be safe — and to increase their chances of that #14 seed, or maybe even, dare to dream, a #13 seed — DU fans should root against following “projected auto bid” teams from other leagues. If these teams lose, the resulting champion will almost certainly be below Denver (RPI #90) on the S-curve, whereas the current projected champ might or might not, depending on whom you believe.
Loyola (Maryland), MAAC (RPI #88; title game tonight vs. #126 Fairfield)
Davidson, Southern (RPI #63; title game tonight vs. #246 Western Carolina)
Valparaiso, Horizon (RPI #92; title game tomorrow vs. #152 Detroit)
Bucknell, Patriot (RPI #85; title game Wednesday vs. #109 Lehigh)
UT-Arlington, Southland (RPI #94; tourney starts Wed.; everyone else is sub-100)
Weber State and Montana, Big Sky (RPIs #69, 84; semifinals tomorrow vs. #172 Portland State, #213 Eastern Washington)
Nevada and NMSU, WAC (RPIs #49, 65; tourney starts Wed.; everyone else is sub-100)
Akron, Ohio and Buffalo, MAC (RPIs #70, 71, 79; tourney starts today; everyone else is #97 or worse)
Also — and this a really marginal difference, but you never know — DU might prefer to face North Texas (RPI #201 at last check) instead of Arkansas State (RPI #247) in the title game, since the Mean Green could conceivably crack the RPI Top 200. If DU then beats UNT in the final, the Mean Green’s presence in the Top 200 would improve Denver’s record against teams ranked 101-200 from the current, somewhat ugly 6-4 to a marginally better 8-5. Beating a squad led by future NBA first-round pick Tony Mitchell might also do more to impress the committee, “eye test”-wise, than beating a Red Wolves team with a losing record.