With the Crimson Tide still right on the proverbial bubble for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, it's time once again to examine Bama's tournament resume.
As of yesterday, the Tide appears in 34 of the 66 bracket projections tracked by the Bracket Project. Assuming those 66 projections are fairly representative, this confirms once again that we are right on the cut line, one way or another, right now. In order to assure we have a spot, then, we have to improve upon our current resume. If it stays at roughly the same strength, we'll be sweating bullets on Selection Sunday, and if it becomes any weaker we're toast.
I explained in this piece last week how the resume below is presented. It's now updated with new RPI numbers, new tournament projections, and the Tide's latest two wins.
|Wins (18)||Upcoming (5+)||Losses (8)|
|5-seed Kentucky (Home)||#270 Auburn (Home)||#166 Iowa (Neutral)|
|8-seed Tennessee (Away)||#70 Ole Miss (Away)||#137 Providence (Away)|
|#70 Ole Miss (Home)||3-seed Florida (Away)||#116 St. Peter's (Neutral)|
|#115 Arkansas (Home)||10-seed Georgia (Home)||#115 Arkansas (Away)|
|#119 S. Carolina (Home)||TBD (Neutral)
||#99 Seton Hall (Neutral)|
|#122 Lipscomb (Home)||#59 Oklahoma St. (Away)|
|#132 Miss. St. (Away)||5-seed Vanderbilt (Away)|
|#132 Miss. St. (Away)||2-seed Purdue (Away)|
|#222 LSU (Away)|
|#222 LSU (Home)|
|#225 SE La. (Home)|
|#227 Pepperdine (Home)|
|#252 Troy (Home)|
|#270 Auburn (Away)|
|#275 S. Ala. (Home)|
|#305 Ala. A&M (Home)|
|#325 Fla. A&M (Home)|
|#328 Toledo (Home)|
We examined this resume last week and highlighted its weaknesses, but below the jump we'll take a more critical look at why, despite Bama's SEC-leading record, the Tide still has so much more to do to be assured of a bid to the Big Dance.
Let's first examine the loss column. Four losses to sub-100 teams is more than your typical bubble team would have. Fortunately, the St. Peter's Peacocks, of all people, have actually been steadily climbing in the RPI as they have continued to rack up conference wins. On the other hand, Iowa continues to get dominated by the Big Ten, as we knew they would when we played them, and they are sinking like a rock. Our two Big East opponents have also struggled in conference play. Providence has slipped way down and Seton Hall is teetering on the edge of becoming our fifth sub-100 opponent in the loss column. We need those two to pick up some more wins if they can, but that's always going to be difficult in the brutal Big East.
One of the many reasons the RPI is awful is that losing on Providence's home court in a close game is considered a bad loss. In addition to beating Alabama on their home court, Providence has also beaten Louisville and Villanova--two teams projected as 4-seeds--yet they are ranked #137 in the RPI and we are punished for losing to them in a road game in early December. There isn't much we can do about the losses we have, though, other than hope those teams can keep their RPI numbers as respectable as possible.
Moving forward, seeing as we already have too many "bad" losses, we can't add any more to that column our it's game over. Fortunately, our game Wednesday night against Auburn should be our last game all season to play a sub-100 team, and thus our last time to risk a truly "bad" loss. Clearly, given that Auburn's RPI is very near the lowest ever in college basketball history for a major conference team, we absolutely can not lose that game. Think a neutral-court loss in early November to the #166 team is bad? Try adding a home-court loss in late February to the #270 team. It would mean instant death. Luckily, losing any one of the other games wouldn't be a particularly bad loss in and of itself, so long as the total number of losses is limited.
Looking at the win column, the thing that really jumps out is the on-paper strength, or rather weakness, of the teams we've beaten. We do have two quality wins, for sure, but only having one more win besides those in the top 100 is very troubling, especially since Ole Miss is falling. They should be able to remain in the top 100, but they need to win some more games to ensure that happens. Moving forward, the best way to remedy this of course is to add more top-100 wins. In order to really improve our win column, we need at least two more wins against top-100 teams and one more against a tournament-caliber team.
Furthermore, a whopping 10 of our 18 wins have come against sub-200 teams. That's a big red flag as well for those looking at our resume. Part of the problem is that when we scheduled cupcakes to play at home early in the season, just like everyone else does, we scheduled the wrong cupcakes. Other than Lipscomb, and to a lesser extent SE Louisiana and Pepperdine, these teams have sunk so low in the RPI that they are dragging our numbers down big time compared to other bubble teams that played cupcakes more in the 150-200 range. The other part of the problem is the sucking of LSU and Auburn. That's four conference games where we're stuck playing teams in the 200's. That's inexcusable on the part of LSU and Auburn, and it's a big reason why our numbers are so low. No other major conference bubble team has to play anywhere near four conference games against teams ranked that low, and never before has it happened in the SEC. If you're wondering why a 12-4 SEC record for Alabama won't necessarily get us in when no 11-5 team has ever before been left out, there is your answer.
Finally, even what would normally be considered solid conference wins over dangerous teams like Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi State (twice) aren't really doing much for us. Mississippi State struggled badly in non-conference play due to suspensions, Arkansas and South Carolina played a weak nonconference schedules, and then all three are having their numbers weighed down heavily from having to play LSU and Auburn multiple times. In normal years, beating teams like those would give you wins against teams in the top 100, but not this year.
The bottom line for all this goes back to what was said at the very beginning: in order to assure we have a spot, we have to improve upon our current resume; if it stays at roughly the same strength, we'll be sweating bullets on Selection Sunday; and if it becomes any weaker we're toast.
We're toast if: we lose to Auburn. Period. Adding the King of All Bad Losses would weaken the resume beyond repair.
We're also toast if: we beat Auburn, but then lose out--possible since all four remaining games will be very tough..Beating Auburn does nothing, and going 0-4 after that clearly won't be enough.
We're on the bubble, but probably out if: we beat Auburn, win one of the next three, and lose the first game in the SEC Tournament. That would give us an extra top-100 win, but it would also add three more losses, thus weakening our resume. The 12-4 SEC record could be easily argued away by the committee given what our win column would look like.
We're sweating it out if: We beat Auburn, then win only one of the next three, and add a win in the SEC Tournament. That would give us two more top-100 wins and probably at least one tournament-caliber win, but it would also add three more losses. At that point, we'd have a chance, but we wouldn't be safe and might have to worry about conference tournament results taking away bids, other bubble teams winning, etc.
We're probably in if: We do anything better than the above. If we add two good wins while only adding two more non-bad losses, our resume would be improved and we'd probably be okay. If we can add three more good wins without losing to Auburn it should definitely be enough.
Remember, I am not a bracket expert. I am simply looking at our current resume, looking at the fact that actual bracket experts say that resume puts us literally right on the cut line, and then making the assumption that improving the resume puts us on the good side of the bubble, keeping it the same level keeps us in the middle of the bubble, and weakening the resume puts us on the wrong side of the bubble.
As you can see, we have some tough work to do to ensure our resume improves. Note one important thing about the above scenarios: any scenario that improves our resume starts with a win over Auburn on Wednesday night.
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