Sunday, December 15, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet - Arizona at Michigan

Arizona celebrates one of 11 forced turnovers against Michigan. (AP)

It seems pretty obvious that as the NCAA Tournament rolls around Arizona will likely be a popular Final Four pick and possibly the Vegas favorite to cut down the nets. With a come-from-behind win against a good Michigan team (how good we'll find out over the next few months) away from home it seems this might finally be the Sean Miller Arizona squad that can actually make noise in the NCAAs. (Note: Yes, Arizona did make the Elite Eight as a No. 5 seed in 2011, losing to eventual National Champion UConn but I didn't consider that the type of great Arizona team Miller was seemingly putting together with his superb recruiting).

Arizona is, by far, the best team out west and seems a lock for, at-worst, a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs. The longer the Wildcats stay unbeaten, of course, the more a No. 1 seed seems very likely. Saturday's win lifted Arizona to 11-0 with non-home wins coming against San Diego State, Duke and now Michigan. That's a very solid road/neutral resume and we're only in mid-December.

Most impressive is Michigan seemed to be at full strength and the crowd was absolutely rocking. It helped the Wolverines take a 35-26 lead into halftime and carried over as a dunk opened the second-half scoring and gave Michigan an 11-point lead. That's where Arizona began chipping away, the way teams with legitimate title hopes tend to do on the road. When the dust settled it was Arizona 72, Michigan 70.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: MSU vs. Kentucky

In short, there was so much NBA talent on the United Center floor Tuesday night that most people were more enamored with the fabulous freshmen and their offensive exploits. Likely lost in the shuffle was the defense that - while it might not have looked like it - made some of the offensive highlights that much more impressive.

I charted both Michigan State and Kentucky's defense, possession by possession. If things play out like many experts believe, it might not be the last time I chart a game between these two superpowers.

Here's the defensive score sheet for the game with a brief explanation at the bottom of this post:

Friday, November 8, 2013

2013-14 NCAA Basketball Preview: Expect the Spartans to cut down the nets

The talk for most of the 2013-14 college basketball season will be about the next wave of fabulous freshmen and how the new "freedom of movement" rules are affecting play. What will go overlooked to a degree is the success of a team like Michigan State. With grizzled veterans and a Hall of Fame coach looking for title No. 2, the Spartans won't care about being a story in November; they'll enjoy being the center of attention in early April.

Tom Izzo has a great shot to lead Michigan State to another title,
its first since 2000. Will he do it? Deuce2Sports says, "Yes!" (AP)

1. Michigan State If there is every a year Tom Izzo will get his second title, this is it. The awe and wonder of the fabulous freshmen scattered throughout the nation will get most of the attention but this upperclassmen-laden team with anywhere from 3-5 NBA prospects has all the tools to win the title. Despite losing it's big post force in Derrick Nix the Spartans return everything else, led by experience and the goal of winning the national championship - not just making the Final Four - for the first time since the early 2000s.

2. Kansas
Outside of a few blips in NCAA Tournament shockers the Jayhawks are always peaking in March. I actually think Bill Self, not Coach K or anyone else, is the best coach in college basketball. Self gets talent, but nowhere near as much as Duke or UNC bring in but Self develops players and his teams always get better. Landing Andrew Wiggins, the "next LeBron" will be huge but it'll be Kansas' other parts that have the Jayhawks on the brink of another national title.

3. Louisville
The defending national champions will be in the mix again. I was very skeptical of Louisville entering last season but this group reminds me of three-year dynasties such as Kentucky from 1996-98 and Michigan State from 1999-2001. The team continues to reload, always improving while adding new parts. Russ Smith's decision to return, while a shocker, will be nothing but positive for the Cardinals. I don't think the Cardinals can match last year's success (it would take a national title) but another Final Four seems more than likely.

4. Ohio State

This last Final Four spot is really a coin flip between Ohio State and Oklahoma State. Thad Matta continues to be one of the most underrated coaches in America and it might surprise people but this team will actually be better without DeShaun Thomas. While Thomas was a prolific scorer it became the DT show way too often in Columbus the past few years. With no "go-to" guy it means the Buckeyes will have a team full of weapons. And believe me when I say all of them are very dangerous. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 NFL Mock Draft

One of these guys - Joeckel or Fisher - will go No. 1 to Kansas City. 

Ah... the 2013 NFL Draft comes to us tonight with a few huge questions. The biggest questions, in my eyes, are: What happens with the first two picks, and what will Philadelphia do at No. 4 if the Eagles don't find a trading partner. Those moves seemingly will shape how the draft goes.

With the Detroit Lions' pick at No. 5 the draft could get interesting. If the Lions take Dee Millner - what I said Detroit should do without a second of hesitation in my earlier post on Detroit's draft needs - it leaves BYU's Ziggy Ansah in a potential free fall or as a hotly-coveted player resulting in an early trade. If Detroit does indeed take Ansah (or if the below Top 5 makes up the NFL Draft's Top 5 in some order) then it leaves potential Top-5 guys like Millner or Dion Jordan there for the taking.

2013 NFL Draft: Lions Draft Needs

Every so often a really, really good team has a really, really bad year and ends up with a high draft pick in the following season. That's what I believe happened with the Detroit Lions in 2012.

I should preface that by saying a really good NFL team can easily go 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 in a given year. The Lions were a lucky 10-6 team in 2011 when a lot of things went right. The team was even more unlucky last year in falling to 4-12. In reality, both teams probably should have been closer to the 8-8 mark based on talent.

It's why I think the team takes a big leap this season as long as the draft yields some of those necessary pieces.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: NCAA Championship - Louisville vs. Michigan

It was a magical ride for the Wolverines that fell 40 minutes short of glory.

Done in by their defense (specifically the lack of rebounding and giving Louisville chance after chance on offense) Michigan lost in a classic NCAA title game to Louisville, 82-76.

Here's the defensive score sheet for both teams with some notes that follow:

Monday, April 8, 2013

NCAA National Championship Preview: Michigan vs. Louisville

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on April 8, 2010)

The last time Michigan was in standing 40 minutes from a national title was 20 years and three days ago. That was, of course, the infamous “time out” game against North Carolina.
(If you’re unfamiliar – and if you are you’re probably not reading this, but here goes anyway – Michigan’s Chris Webber called a time out with 11 seconds remaining and the Wolverines trailing 73-71. The problem: Michigan was out of time outs. The technical foul resulted in two free throws – both makes – and the ball back to North Carolina. Michigan lost the title game 77-71).
Nevertheless, as many bad memories as Michigan fans have from that game, getting back to basketball’s title game is something to celebrate in itself. According to Kenpom Michigan road to the Final Four was the eighth hardest (out of 44 teams) in the 11 years he’s been filling our brains with tempo-free statistics. If Michigan wins the title, I’m curious where the Wolverines’ run would rank out of the 11 champions.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan vs. Syracuse

Taking a quick glance at Michigan's defensive score sheet and it doesn't take a genius (or Wolverines coach John Beilein) to tell you Michigan's second unit was the reason the Wolverines are playing in Monday's title game vs. Louisville.

The Wolverines offense was exceptional in the first half with 36 points in 27 possessions (1.11 PPP) but as the clock ticked down it was defense that made the difference. While Nik Stauskas struggled along with many other starters (a pass can be given to both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III because they were both given the task of slowing down a big mismatch in the Orange's C.J. Fair and paid the price defensively) while it was the reserves who pulled Michigan to the finish line.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Defensive Score Sheets: Michigan's Road to the Final Four

Many will say Michigan's offense has carried it to Atlanta for this year's Final Four. That's true for the most part but it would be wrong to ignore the defense during the four-game run through South Dakota State, VCU, Kansas and Florida.

Here are three of Michigan's defensive score sheets during it's Final Four run (apologies for not DVRing the South Dakota State game) with some commentary to follow:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Final Four Preview: Michigan vs. Syracuse

It has been 20 years since Michigan last reached the Final Four. That is, of course, if you ignore vacated records since Michigan’s Fab Five had both their 1992 and 1993 Final Four appearances (and national title game appearances) wiped from the record books.
Regardless, this is an exciting time in the state of Michigan because, for the first time in more than 20 years both Michigan and Michigan State have elite teams. That said, this weekend isn’t about Michigan State – a team that had reached six Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and won a national championship since the last time Michigan reached the Sweet 16 (1994) and this season.
This is about how the nation’s last undefeated team back in January, survived a fall from the No. 1 ranking, endured a brutal 1-3 stretch against the Big Ten’s best, withstood heartbreak in the season finale that had a layup fallen the other way a Big Ten championship would have been in the rafters, and shook off a quarterfinal loss in the Big Ten Tournament to take a slap-in-the-face No. 4 seed and march to the 2013 Final Four.
Did it take some luck? Sure, but every March run has a dash of luck. Kansas had to collapse, including missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 10 seconds to play and Trey Burke had to drain a 30-foot 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. As improbable as that was, it’s the kind of stuff March dreams are made of. If there was any doubt Michigan’s run was all luck th0se thoughts were cast away with an absolute 79-59 shellacking of Florida, the No. 1 team in the country via efficiency numbers for much of the year.
Now the Wolverines have a date with Syracuse – a team that no one outside the state of New York can possibly root for, starting with a smug, curmudgeon coach who refuses to play any sort of challenging  nonconference schedule and ending with an unpredictable-at-best style of play.
Michigan vs. Syracuse for a spot in the 2013 national title game. Let’s get it on!
Here’s a big breakdown of Saturday’s Final Four showdown in Atlanta (h/t to Kenpom):

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. Duke

In MSU's 71-61 loss to Duke in the Sweet 16 a lot will be made about the Spartans' offensive struggles. And, for the most part, those statements will be reasonable.

It should be said, however, that while the "MSU made one field goal in 14:38" it wasn't as if the Spartans weren't scoring. When the field goal drought began MSU's Adreian Payne had just tied the score at 35-35 with a phenomenal dunk. During the drought MSU's only field goal was a driving layup by Gary Harris.

But, when Branden Dawson made a layup with 3:32 to play it cut the Duke lead to 62-53. So, just so we're on the same page, MSU scored 16 points in the 14:38 that the offense was on life support. That's not great, nor good, but it isn't the worst display of basketball since Kansas lost to TCU earlier this year.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Duke-Michigan State: A Lopsided History

For as much as Tom Izzo yearns to turn the Michigan State into a Duke-like program the Spartans' master has been really bad in head-to-head matchups against the Blue Devils and Coach K.

The teams have met seven times during Izzo's tenure and the Spartans are just 1-6 in those games. To be fair, Duke has had the better team every time the teams have met and only once were the Spartans favored to win a game. (MSU was a 3-point favorite at home in 2003 but lost by 22).

The silver lining for the Spartans is that Izzo is 1-1 against Coach K in the NCAA Tournament. Duke won the 1999 Final Four matchup en route to a title-game loss to UConn while the Spartans were victorious in the 2005 Sweet 16 en route to a Final Four appearance.

While "real life" wins and losses haven't been plentiful, Vegas thinks the Spartans have been great in the MSU-Duke matchups. The Spartans are 5-2 ATS. In fact, the underdog has covered in all but one meeting in the seven-game series.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan vs. VCU

Everyone talked about VCU's "Havoc" defense fueled off press-caused turnovers.

When push came to shove it was Michigan's tried-and-true man-to-man defense that wrecked the havoc at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Michigan cruised to a 78-53 victory against the Rams -- a team coming off a 46-points win over Akron in the Round of 64.

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. Memphis

Quite simply, Michigan State laid down the hammer defensively against Memphis to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons and 11th time in Tom Izzo's tenure.

MSU's 70-48 win against a team many thought would give the Spartans trouble is what makes it that much more impressive.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


What a wild year projecting the bracket. Not only was the bottom of the bubble as soft as usual but as many as seven teams have legit claims for a No. 1 seed.

After devouring resumes and comparing profiles this is our final projection of what the bracket will look like (if the committee is smart):

Analysis: Louisville gets the slight edge over Indiana for the overall No. 1 seed (and a spot in Indianapolis) because it won its conference tournament. The committee will say that doesn't  matter but history says it does (a lot).

Gonzaga could get bumped to the No. 2 line but the Zags profile is just as good as Kansas and Miami's - two teams that also won regular season and conference tournament titles. I like Kansas's profile slightly more than Miami's so the Jayhawks get the final No. 1.

Duke is an interesting case: It's rare for a team to not only fail to win its conference tournament and receive a No. 1 seed but almost as rare for a team not to win the regular season title either and grace the top line. I think too many teams passed Duke (slightly) this week for the Blue Devils to be on the top line.

Bubble: My last four teams are all "major" schools, but that's because I have Boise State and Middle Tennessee State in the field as No. 11 seeds. Every team is flawed at the No. 11 line and below but a team like La Salle really has a bad profile. Nothing sticks out as being good and everything screams NIT. I don't think any non-Explorer fans will be complaining about the Explorers being in the NIT.

FINAL FOUR: If this was the actual bracket all four No. 1 seeds look like Final Four teams to me. Duke presents the challenge to Indiana as well as Miami to Kansas. It's going to be a wild ride regardless.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Michigan State-Ohio State Round 3: All About Defense

By any metric both Michigan State and Ohio State are two of the best defensive teams in the nation. OSU is 6th in Kenpom's rankings while MSU is 7th (they're separated by 0.1 if you're curious).

In the meetings this season it is clear the team whose defense was more ferocious (and more physical) won the game.

Here are the two defensive score sheets from this year's previous meetings - MSU's 59-56 win in East Lansing and OSU's 68-60 win in Columbus.

It doesn't take a genius to see which game the Spartans won. Surprisingly, Adreian Payne was awful (read: he was in charge of Deshaun Thomas in round 1 when Thomas scored 28 of OSU's 56 points) but really good in round 2. Yet the results went the other way. It really starts and ends with Keith Appling.

What Appling will have to do today against the Buckeyes is let his defense fuel his offense. If he lets his offense, which is sure to be bogged down by Aaron Craft's defense, influence his defense then Michigan State could be in for a struggle.

A lot is seemingly at stake. A No. 1 seed is still up for grabs and while MSU looks like a solid No. 2 seed right now the Buckeyes have hopes of winning the Big Ten Tournament and leapfrogging the Spartans. Even just winning this game could get that done for OSU and push MSU to the No. 3 line. Who knows at this point, but it's a possibility.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Big Ten Tournament Preview

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on March 14, 2013)

Not to be a killjoy but the Big Ten Tournament isn’t as wide open as you might imagine. Sure the conference – this year more than ever – is loaded but here’s a simple yet important fact: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois have won 11 of the 15 tournaments.
Much like Duke’s seemingly single-handed dominance of the ACC Tournament (with UNC success sprinkled in), these four horses have pretty much dominated the Big Ten Tournament.
Even more interesting: The No. 1 seed has won six of the past eight tournaments, losing in the finals of another one.
So, as much as we all want to be giddy about the winner of the 8/9 Illinois/Minnesota game  making a run history says we need to relax and drink a tall glass of reality.
This statistical trio isn’t meant to sway you from looking at a sleeper team making a deep run, just that your sleeper team probably won’t win the whole thing. On four occasions the championship game has featured a No. 8, No. 9, No. 10 and No. 11 seed. While all those teams lost, it leaves open the possibility that a likely NIT-bound team could have a 50/50 shot in the title game of being a NCAA Tournament party crasher.
Outside of No. 4 seeded Michigan winning the tournament in 1998 – a title that has since been vacated – only one non-Top 3 seed (No. 6 Iowa in 2001) has won the tournament.
Here’s a look at each team’s odds to reach each round compliments of

Not surprisingly the Big Ten’s Top 5 teams – who have all spent most of this season in the Top 25 – dominate the odds. The only thing that sticks out might be No. 2 Ohio State having better odds of reaching the semifinals than No. 1 Indiana despite the Hoosiers having the best odds of reaching the finals and winning the tournament. It seems to smell like oddsmakers know an Illinois/Minnesota vs. Indiana game will be much tougher on the Hoosiers than a Purdue/Nebraska vs. Ohio State game will on the Buckeyes.
The only teams, based on these odds, that would really qualify as that deep sleeper team that could make a run are Minnesota and Iowa. Keep that in mind when looking at the following betting odds compliments of
INDIANA (+140): It should come as no surprise that the Hoosiers are overwhelming favorites. It is a little surprising that other teams don’t have better odds, especially since this isn’t being played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Still, Indiana proved it was the Big Ten’s best team all season and deservedly won the outright Big Ten Championship (albeit by a few inches). I’ve said it all season and the numbers agree: the one team that can beat Indiana is… Indiana. Whether it is Tom Crean’s unusually substitution patters that turn a 10-3 lead at Michigan to a 27-16 deficit or his team forgetting how to make layups (14 missed first-half layups at Michigan) or shoot the 3-ball, Indiana’s hiccups have been when it has a major off night. Does that mean the Hoosiers can’t be beat? Absolutely not. If you look at the games Indiana probably should have lost during the regular season but pulled out look no further than both games vs Michigan State (won 75-70 at home and 72-68 on the road) and the season finale at Michigan (won 72-71). In the first of the three games Indiana benefitted from what some would say was the “Hall of Calls” atmosphere in a game. The latter two involved the Spartans and Wolverines missing crucial free throws down the stretch that would have sealed a victory. 
Now, maybe that’s being too hard on the Hoosiers. Maybe Indiana showed resiliency in winning those games. That could be true, but it’s an important point to mention because as such heavy favorites it appears like Indiana cruised its way through the Big Ten season en route to the title when that is far from truthful. Indiana very well could win the tournament and secure a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region so +140 is a nice deal if you want to wear candy-striped pants this weekend.
OHIO STATE (+350): Ohio State could have been the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and I have a feeling these odds would be quite similar. Why? Ohio State has reached the final in six of the past seven years including the past four. The Buckeyes have three championships in that span? The reason Ohio State has been so successful under Thad Matta is because the Buckeyes bring it on defense every night that despite offensive deficiencies the team is always in the game. Based on experts I’ve talked with it’s about 50-35-15 on who wins the Big Ten Tournament (compared to the above-listed odds). Indiana gets the 50 percent and the Buckeyes get the 35 percent. (Michigan State is getting the 15 percent). Not only did Ohio State finish the year on a five-game winning streak to fall just one game back of a co-championship but the Buckeyes did so in large part because they won in Bloomington. It was such an impressive performance that many feel Ohio State’s defense is a Big Ten kryptonite for the Hoosiers. At 7/2 Ohio State looks like the best buy in the Big Ten Tournament, especially by drawing the easiest quarterfinal matchup it seems.
MICHIGAN STATE (+400): The Spartans have been fluctuating around 5/1 and 4/1 odds. This seems about right as a quarterfinal matchup with desperate Iowa – a team that has given MSU fits in the past – likely awaits. That coupled with MSU’s history of early Big Ten Tournament exits and oddsmakers are being realistic. (If MSU had OSU’s history in this event I could see the Spartans closer to 3/1 or 5/2). That being said, for the second straight season it appears Tom Izzo really wants to win this tournament. He might say that’s always been the case but body language and early exits against inferior teams say otherwise. This year’s slogan is “Win the Championship We Didn’t Win The First Time.” That in itself tells me the Spartans are planning for a long stay in Chicago. The outside shot at a No. 1 seed (MSU would have to win the tournament and likely beat OSU in the semifinals and either Indiana or Michigan in the title game) still exists and is one reason the Spartans are a phenomenal buy at +400.
MICHIGAN (+450): The Wolverines have never won this event since their inaugural 1998 title has been vacated. Michigan hasn’t even sniffed the finals since. Another odd factoid is that only one No. 5 seed – Ohio State in 2009 – has reached the title game. Being in the 4/5 game used to be a daunting task because it’s the toughest quarterfinal game to win, obviously, and the winner gets a date with likely the No. 1 team. With recently added Nebraska the No. 5 team now plays in the first round against the league’s bottomfeeder. It’s an “easy” game but one that requires an extra day en route to the championship. (Last year’s first No. 5 vs. No. 12 game ended with Indiana beating Penn State but losing to No. 4 Wisconsin in the quarterfinals). With all that said we’re still talking about a team that’s seeded fifth in is conference tournament and is No. 6 in the latest AP Poll. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t your Grandpa’s No. 5 seed. Michigan should get revenge against Wisconsin and set up another classic with Indiana in the semifinals. Despite going 0-2 vs. the Hoosiers this year the Wolverines showed they’re not that much different in terms of NCAA ceiling. If there is one Big Ten team that can win four games in four days and cut down the nets it’s the Wolverines. At 9/2 it’s a very solid bargain.
WISCONSIN (+1000): No one is buying the Badgers and for good reason. This isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s great teams. Despite another top four finish in the Big Ten – Wisconsin’s 12th straight under Ryan – this team was bailed out with only one game vs. Indiana and no return trip to Ann Arbor. Throw in what seems like a dozen heroic-yet-fluky game-winning baskets and this team has early exit written all over it. Can the Badgers make some noise? Of course, especially since their path would include Michigan (beat in Madison), Indiana (beat in Bloomington) and Ohio State (split with but beat by 22 in Madison) or Michigan State (0-2 vs. the Spartans). It’s possible that Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Tournament but, as the odds says, highly unlikely.
MINNESOTA (+2200): There are two reasons the Gophers are this high. First, it wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota beat Indiana at The Barn. Second, this team started the year 15-1 and was ranked as high as No. 8 in the polls. Those to facts combined make oddsmakers leery of the Gophers getting hot. The problem with Minnesota is it hasn’t been hot since January. It’s had surges no doubt (Indiana) but for the most part the Gophers have lost to every good team they’ve played since starting 15-1. That’s not the recipe for a sleeper. It’s the recipe for a one-and-done or, best-case-scenario a team that reaches the quarterfinals. Pass on the Gophers.
IOWA (+2500): The only reason I’ll give you a quick rundown of Iowa is because I have a strong feeling that Iowa could make a finals run. Northwestern won’t put up much of a fight in the first round game and the Hawkeyes very well could slay Michigan State and Ohio State. I worry about any type of matchup with Indiana or Michigan, but if you think the Hawkeyes can beat the Spartans and Buckeyes why not take a chance at 25/1?
OTHERS (+2500): Illinois, despite having the same odds as “The Field” was listed separately because the Illini always play well at the United Center (see 2003 and 2005 titles at the United Center as well as a spot in the 2000 finals as the No. 11 seed). That said, teams wins games, not venues. Illinois, like all “field” Big Ten teams are much too hot and cold to win four games in four days. Purdue has been playing extremely well recently in almost upsetting Michigan and whooping Wisconsin on the road before that and Minnesota at home after that. I would argue that Purdue is the most dangerous No. 7 seed this tournament has seen in some time because of how it is playing right now. Purdue is playing much more like a 21-10 team fighting for a No. 9/10 NCAA seed than a team that is sitting at 15-16 with the NIT being the best-case scenario. Still, think about that when filling out your Big Ten bracket as Purdue could very well wreck some havoc on the favorites in the lower half of the bracket.

The Pick: Usually I have a great vibe to  pick against the Spartans in any Big Ten Tournaments. Last year, for the first time since early in the new Millennium, I didn’t get that feeling. I went with MSU to win the tournament over OSU and the Spartans did just that. Now I’m getting a similar feeling. the team I would be most worrisome about as a MSU fan would be Ohio State. But, as I mentioned above, don’t overlook a surging Purdue team that could give Ohio State a big run in the quarterfinals. With that fatigue I think the Spartans win the season series against the Buckeyes en route to the title.
While I don’t think the Spartans will get a No. 1 seed by winning the Big Ten Tournament I think it will cement them on the No. 2 line and gives MSU an outside shot at being in the Midwest Region (Indianapolis) if somehow Louisville surpasses Indiana on the S-Curve for a spot in that region. (If Indiana is in the Midwest – which is likely now – the next two Big Ten teams on the S-Curve, likely Michigan and Michigan State, can’t be in the same region). In the finale we should see another classic Big Ten game – what else would you expect with this season? – where the winner gets the better No. 2 seed. Look for the Spartans to outlast the Wolverines 67-64 to win their second straight Big Ten Tournament title and fourth overall. At +400 the Spartans are your team.

Big East Championship Preview

It feels like 1:45 a.m. on a Friday night-turned Saturday morning. The noise is beginning to die down. It’s “Last Call.”
Welcome to the 2013 Big East Championship.
After years of entertaining the nation at Madison Square Garden this year’s version of the Big East Championship will be the last as we know it.
That doesn’t mean we should get all sappy and treat this as any other event than a great one to put a few bucks down on our hopeful champion pick. Technically, the tournament began yesterday but don’t kid yourself, no one was paying any attention to the South Florida-Seton Hall and Rutgers-DePaul games unless you wanted to see what a potential NCAA Jamaican basketball team might look like.
The crux of the tournament begins today, not surprisingly with a game with more bubble implications than you might think. Cincinnati, for all the big wins its accumulated this season (Iowa State, Oregon, at Pitt at vs. Marquette) it still finishes 9-9 in a mediocre Big East this season. With the unbalanced schedule you can see how there weren’t a lot of marquee Big East wins and a lot of losses. Cincinnati lost at Providence and at home against St. Johns and also registered five of its conference wins by sweeping Rutgers and beating DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida. That folks, means Cincinnati got 55 percent of its Big East victories against the league’s four worst teams. Nothing says “bubble” to me like that resume.
Now, when comparing Cincinnati’s resume to others it would seem a lot of teams would have to have magical conference tournament runs to pass Cincinnati but beating Providence would be a good idea just to be safe.
Speaking of Providence, somehow the Friars (17-13, 9-9 Big East) are appearing in some of the “First Eight Out” sections of bracket projections. Come again? Apparently a resume that has the following: Sweep of Villanova and home wins against Cincinnati and Notre Dame is NCAA Tournament worthy. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned a pathetic NCSOS that included loss to… wait for it… UMass, Penn State, Boston College and Brown. Yet, in some people’s eyes (maybe the committees?!?) the Friars are on the bubble. At the very least it makes for interesting theater for today’s noon tip.
But we’re not here to break down every game; rather, we’re here to break down the tournament. Here are the Big East Championship odds via

LOUISVILLE (+140): Not surprisingly, Louisville is your overwhelming favorite. What is surprising is that Georgetown – one of the three-way Co-Champions – has the fourth-best odds and Marquette – another co-Champion – has the fifth best odds.
With so much stock put into conference tournaments Louisville might have to win the Big East Tourney to keep its projected No. 1 seed. (Like it or not the selection committee has a really bad habit of giving No. 1 seeds to conference tournament champions with slightly less remarkable bodies of work than to teams with stellar bodies of work who fall short in conference tournaments). That gives Louisville all the motivation it needs. Couple that with the fact Louisville has won 10 of 11 games – the only loss being the 5 OT thriller at Notre Dame – and the Cardinals are peaking at the right time. And if you believe that the conference’s best team is going to win this tournament then Louisville at +140 is well worth your time.
Here are your Big East Championship odds via

Maybe it’s the statistical nerd in me but I love comparing computer algorithms projections and Vegas’ odds. Usually they’re pretty much the same but every now and then you find a “glitch” that could be a big payday. Based on the two sets of numbers we have you see how Vegas still likes Georgetown (2nd favorite) while the computers do not (fourth). You’ll also notice how Pittsburgh goes from Vegas’ No. 4 to the computers’ No. 2.
PITTSBURGH (+550): That means Pittsburgh, the team that always schedules softly in the nonconference but always muscles its way through the Big East for a decent NCAA seed is the big sleeper here. It’s no secret that Pitt has had great success in the Big East Championship. Jamie Dixon reached the title game in four of his first five seasons, finally winning the title in his fourth try (2008). Since then, however, Pitt hasn’t been back. The Panthers lost in the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed in both 2009 and 2010 and as the No. 1 seed in 2011. Last season was a disaster as Pitt was the conference’s No. 13 seed and lost in the second round.
Now, Pitt hasn’t exactly beaten great teams. Let me clarify: Pitt whooped Georgetown early in the Big East season. The Hoyas then went on to win 14 of their final 16 games to claim a share of the conference title. On Jan. 8 when the teams met Georgetown and title weren’t said in the same sentence outside of some playful office jokes. The win against Syracuse was right at the time the Orange started their downward spiral. So, while Pitt has shown the ability to win games it did spent much of the later part of the conference season beating up on the lower-tier teams.

With the bracket in front of you now, you can see why Louisville and Pittsburgh seem like the good bargains. It’s all about matchups. The only two “challengers” to Pitt are Georgetown (Pitt won at Georgetown 73-45) and Syracuse (Pitt won at home 65-55).
Louisville, assuming it can get past the Villanova/St. John’s winner (the Cardinals beat S. Johns at home 72-58 but lost at Villanova 73-64), it would play either Marquette ( a team it beat at home 70-51) or Notre Dame (a team it should have beaten twice but lost the aforementioned 5 OT game in South Bend 104-101 to go with a season-ending 73-57 home victory).
Here’s a quick breakdown of other title contenders:
Georgetown (+400): I’m trying to understand why more people aren’t on the G’Town bandwagon. The Hoyas have been very consistent all season outside of that home clunker vs. Pitt. My guess is people feel this is the Otto Porter show and the guy can’t keep it up for three straight days. But keep this in mind: Georgetown has a real shot at a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big East Championship (assuming it includes the Pitt/Syracuse winner and either Louisville or Marquette). Getting a “cheap” title by beating some streaky high seed (Villanova) might get the Hoyas the title but not the marquee win it needs. At 4/1 the Hoyas are actually a decent buy here.
Syracuse (+500): If you pre-January 26 Syracuse this is the bargain of the year. That was when the ‘Cuse was 18-1 and looking like a legitimate title contender. The Orange are 5-7 since with its best win being a home win against Notre Dame. All the losses are respectable and to NCAA teams (outside of UConn which would have been in the tourney as a 9/10/11 seed). But Syracuse not only has been losing games but it has looked bad in doing so. The last game at Georgetown highlights this: The final regular season Syracuse-Georgetown clash and you go out and score 39 points? Yes, that would have beaten both South Florida and Seton Hall in regulation Tuesday night but it’s a pathetic number for a team with third best odds to win this tournament. This is one of those “if-we-make-it-look-like-people-are-high-on-Syracuse-maybe-others-will-follow” lines. Don’t believe the faux hype.
Marquette (+900): If you like hardworking teams then Marquette is the squad for you. Unfortunately hard work only gets you so far (see a Sweet 16 ceiling). That hard work also seems to pay off more at home than on the road. Marquette went 16-0 at home while going just 5-6 on the road. Marquette has never reached the Big East finals, only getting to the semifinals in 2008 and 2010. This is a decent longshot to take but the deck seems stacked against the Golden Eagles.
Notre Dame (+1500): Like Marquette the Irish are a much different team at home than on the road. The Irish have never reached the finals but have reached the semis, most recently last season before falling to eventual champion Louisville. I do believe Mike Brey has it in him to get this team to win four games in four days, but this is the likely road the Irish would face: Rutgers, Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown/Pittsburgh. That is a really tough climb but stranger things have happened at MSG, right?
Villanova (+2200): The Wildcats have the wins that seemingly have cemented them into the Big Dance. Keep in mind every one of them came at home. Even when St. John’s is a bad team it is still tough playing them in this event since it is on their home floor. That won’t be an opening-game cakewalk for the Wildcats. Still, I could see ‘Nova making some kind of shocking run but I think a spot in the finals is the ceiling here. Gamble on the Wildcats at your own peril.
Cincinnati (+2200): Somehow I have more faith in these Bearcats. The No. 1 seed in this tournament has lost its first game in two out of the past three years. (It did reach title game the three years before, winning it twice). Still, somehow teams getting to play the day before seem a little more fresh compared to the rusted No. 1 seeds. Now, I think Georgetown will be reach for Cincinnati (or Providence if the Friars pull the upset) but as we mentioned above the Bearscats have a lot on the line and winning as many games as possible wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Field (+2500): If you’re playing the field you’re honestly saying you think either Seton Hall or Rutgers is going to win this thing. (Providence is listed at +3500 and St. John’s is at +7000). If that’s the case I suggest you find another hobby. Play St. John’s at +7000 for the simple fact the Red Storm are seeded higher than both No. 11 Rutgers and No. 12 Seton Hall and are playing home games. If you play the field you’re an idiot.
THE PICK: I’ve toggled back and forth with this. It’s between Louisville, Georgetown and Pittsburgh. Pitt is the big sleeper but Louisville and Georgetown are the best teams. In my heart of hearts I believe this Cardinals team is similar to the 2008-09 version that won this tournament en route to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I see the Cardinals potentially benefitting from some other upsets and cutting down the Madison Square Garden nets for the final time. Louisville at +140 is the call. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Correlation Between Conference Tournament, Final Four? We Analyze

Can a team win the NCAA National Championship despite losing its  first conference tournament game?

Do Final Four teams tend to be conference tournament winners?

Does a conference tournament early exit actually help a team (re: more rest) or spell March disaster?

Due to the abundance of these questions I took on the unenviable task of looking at every Final Four team since 1999 and charting that team's result in their respective conference tournaments. That's 56 Final Four teams, 55 of which played in a conference tournament. (2001 Arizona didn't play in a conference tournament because the Pac-12 didn't have a tournament from 1991-2001).

Only one thing tends to hold true: No team has lost its first conference tournament game and won the NCAA National Championship. That said, nine teams have reached the Final Four after a first-game exit in their league tourney. However, just one of those nine teams - the 2000 Florida Gators - reached the championship game after losing the first game of its conference tournament.

There were two big surprises: First, only five conference tournament runner-ups reached the Final Four (compared to a combined 24 semifinal and quarterfinal losers). Second, 41 of the 55 teams were either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their respective conference tournaments.

What it says is your Final Four "sleepers" are more likely to be under-seeded teams that fared well during the conference season than a team that had a mediocre season and made a little surge in the conference tournament.

Here is the breakdown of results:

It might be worth noting two of those "No. 5 seed or Higher" teams have reached the Final Four the past two seasons (eventual champion UConn in 2011 was the No. 9 seed in the Big East Championship and Louisville was the No. 7 seed in the Big East Championship in 2012).

So, the morel of the story is the expectations for your team in the NCAA Tournament should dictate how much stock you put into a conference tournament. If you think your team is a possible national champ then make sure it wins its first game. If the Final Four is your ceiling then don't sweat a conference tournament loss as much as the experts want you to.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bracketolology: 4th No. 1 seed is only one 'up for grabs'

I might be in the minority but I firmly believe I'm right when I say the following: Duke, Indiana and Gonzaga have locked up No. 1 seeds.

While the Zags won the WCC Tournament last night it would be shocking to see Duke and Indiana lose in the quarterfinals in their respective ACC and Big Ten Tournaments; it would be even more shocking if that cost either team a No. 1 seed. We throw around "body of work" an awful lot and then we put so much emphasis on a 4-day, neutral-site conference tournament that becomes nothing more than a foot in the entire body of work.

Hypothetically, let's say Duke and Indiana lose in the quarterfinals while Kansas, Michigan State (or Michigan), Louisville and Miami win their respective tournaments. All the winners, in my eyes, are fighting for the final No. 1 seed. (Yes, it might not end up being the fourth No. 1 seed, but there is only one "up for grabs.")

The point is, Kansas, MSU, Michigan, Louisville and Miami have all had nice seasons, but they are still a rung below Duke and Indiana. I suppose it's possible a few teams could pass Gonzaga, but it seems criminal that a 31-2 Gonzaga team with the schedule it played in the nonconference coupled with WCC dominance wouldn't get a No. 1 seed. Worst case for the Zags seems to be the final No. 1 seed if a team like Louisville - our projected fourth No. 1 seed today, wins the Big East Tournament and passes Gonzaga no the S-Curve. I don't believe Kansas, MSU, Michigan or Miami can pass the Zags at this point. (Michigan might have the best shot with a chance to run through a Wisconsin-Indiana-MSU/OSU gauntlet to the Big Ten Tournament title, but it's still unlikely that would be enough).

Here's are updated projections following last night's punched tickets (Gonzaga and Iona):

"Last Four In" update: I struggle to see where a team like Middle Tennessee State doesn't get in. At 28-4 the Blue Raiders would have the most wins of any team not in the field. Of course, MTSU doesn't own a Top 50 win and only two Top-100 wins. Either way the Blue Raiders will be the "first" in one category. I think the committee does the right thing and rewards MTSU for its season rather than taking a middle-of-the-road BCS school (I'm talking to you, Kentucky and Mississippi). Obviously, the kicker here is the "big boys" have more time to notch  big wins and the recency effect is always in play. Still, I think the First Four will end up having two mid-majors and two major schools - the way it should be.

"First Four Out" update: It's like a SEC Tournament on this line. The SEC doesn't deserve three bids but it might get it if one of these teams can knock off Florida or Missouri this week. Beating up on each other doesn't add much to an already mundane resume. The SEC Tournament, in terms of NCAA Tournament implications, might be the most fun to watch. (The Big Ten, obviously, will be the battle of the heavyweights and should be uber-entertaining).


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana at Michigan

Remember early in the year when the majority of media (and even Big Ten coaches such as Tom Izzo) said the Big Ten title runs through Bloomington and Ann Arbor? Well, look at the scenario that’s played out.
If Indiana wins it claims the outright Big Ten title (the Hoosiers first outright championship since 1993). If Michigan wins the Wolverines will grab a piece of their second straight conference crown. So the world was right: Indiana at Michigan will determine the Big Ten Championship*.
(*Should be noted that if Michigan State and Ohio State join Michigan in the win column today – the Spartans and Buckeyes host Northwestern and Illinois, respectively – that there would be a four-way tie for the Big Ten title.)
Indiana won the meeting on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday 81-73 in a game that was around a four-point margin for much of the evening. The big difference was Indiana going 22-for-25 from the free throw line compared to just a 6-of-7 outing for Michigan.
And since your anticipation is killing you, here’s a big breakdown of this afternoon’s showdown in Ann Arbor (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan  (24-5, 12-5) vs. Indiana (24-5, 13-4)
Line: Michigan -2
Kenpom Score: Indiana 74-73 (56%)
Kenpom ranking: Michigan 11th, Indiana 2nd
Offensive efficiency: Michigan 120.9 (2nd), Indiana 124.0 (1st)
Defensive efficiency: Michigan 93.3 (56th), Indiana 88.3 (13th)
eFG%: Michigan 55.2 (11th), Indiana 55.9 (7th)
TO%: Michigan 14.7 (1st), Indiana 18.9 (117th)
OR%: Michigan 32.6 (137th), Indiana 39.1 (9th)
FT Rate: Michigan 28.7 (330th), Indiana 48.0 (3rd)
Tempo: Michigan 64.7 (237th), Indiana 67.9 (87th)
If there has been one noticeable difference in both of these teams since the meeting a little more than a month ago it’s been this: Michigan’s defense has slowly regressed while Indiana’s ability to “put the knife in a turn it” when an opponent is down late has become an inconsistent thing. Eight games ago (when Michigan was 20-1) the Wolverines’ defensive efficiency was 89.5 and 31st in the country. As you can see above, it’s now above 93 and in the 50s — alarmingly high for a projected No. 2 seed.
Indiana’s had the following win probabilities late in their recent losses: 98.9% with three minutes to go at Illinois (IU led 70-62); 90.5% with 15 minutes to go in loss at Minnesota (IU led 44-36); 90% with under 15 minutes to play vs. Ohio State (IU led 39-34). Technically, only the Illinois game was in the closing stages but all of these games had the moments where a few hoops would have broken it open for the Hoosiers. In all cases Indiana’s offense went dry and a potentially dead team was able to grind out a win.
The last time these teams played the “three big factors” were as follows: Michigan’s ability to take care of the ball (Michigan only had 8 TOs in 69 possessions – an 8.6 TO%), getting to the free throw line (Michigan was just 6-of-7 while Indiana was 22-of-25), and the paint (both teams scored 34 points). Obviously, Michigan’s inability not to foul was the biggest difference as the Wolverines did well in most other areas of the game.
Tonight’s three big factors: Defending Trey Burke, the 3-point line, and Can Cody Zeller be stopped?
Defending Trey Burke: It’s no secret that Burke makes Michigan go. Honestly, the more I watch Burke the more I see Allen Iverson at Georgetown. Burke, like Iverson, has the ability to slow the game down almost in an instant and speed it up when necessary. Sure both make mistakes but both were always in control. I can’t help but wonder: Where would this team be without Burke? There’s no doubt it isn’t a Top 5 team. But are the Wolverines even in the Top 25? Is the 25-5 record closer to 20-10? That’s not a knock on Michigan but on Burke’s value.
Last time out Tom Crean used Yogi Ferrell on Burke while opting to use Victor Oladipo on Tim Hardaway Jr. It worked for the most part but I’m surprised he didn’t try Oladipo on Burke to, from the get-go, separate the head from the body. If Burke becomes a non-factor early it means Hardaway, Nik Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III would have to manufacture offense. All three can, but without Burke it really takes away from Michigan’s overall game play.
Then again, Crean is an Izzo disciple and probably lives by the philosophy of letting the best player go off but not allowing him to get teammates involved. If Burke goes for 40 today Michigan probably doesn’t win because that means Burke isn’t getting his 8-10 assists. It’s definitely a poison pill for Crean today. Can you let Burke get his 20-25 points but keep his assists to five or fewer or does Burke have a 17-10 game that leads Michigan to victory?
The 3-point line: The arc was pretty cruel to both teams last time out. Indiana (7-18) and Michigan (7-23) both had ample opportunities from deep but the shots just didn’t fall when needed. Indiana started the game 4-for-4 from 3-point range, the final one giving the Hoosiers a 16-7 lead less than four minutes into the game. From there, however, Indiana went 3-of-14 from deep. That’s a major part of Indiana’s game as the better Indiana is from deep in a game the more area of the post Zeller can operate in without bodies in his way.
Indiana shoots 41.8 percent from 3-point range (3rd best in the country). Michigan’s 37.7 percent puts it at No. 34. This isn’t so much about 3-point defense as it is about just whether the shots are falling. Both teams will get open looks, semi-open looks and contested treys. They’ll make and miss some in each category. The team that wins likely will hit an extra triple or two that will be the difference.
Defending Cody Zeller: I’m on record saying I believe Zeller is a solid player but he’s not an All-American. He has the look of a 10-12 year NBA guy who comes off the bench and maybe starts on a bad team. For as much talent as Zeller has I don’t see the fire all the time. Like other players who are always picked apart because their “motor” isn’t always running, Zeller sometimes becomes just another center. That’s not good for an Indiana team that becomes like some small mid-major team jacking up threes without a post presence.
Now, when Zeller is on he’s attacking the rim, calling for the ball, and seems to have a touch on every possession. (He was on when the team’s met in Bloomington, going for 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting). If you look at the games Indiana lost (or almost/should have lost) Zeller is not a focal point of the offense: vs. Michigan State (9 points on 2-of-7 shooting); at Illinois (14 points on 4-of-6 shooting); at Minnesota (9 points on 2-of-9 shooting); vs. Ohio State (17 points on 5-of-9 shooting). Zeller should be taking 15 shots minimum a game, not including times he gets fouled and goes to the line. So, that means upwards of 20 shots a game. When he’s in single digits it just shows a void in the Hoosiers’ offensive execution in that particular game.
If Michigan’s Jordan Morgan was 100 percent I could envision he and Mitch McGary holding down the fort on Zeller. Even though Morgan has played at least 22 minutes in his last three games he’s still not the Morgan of old. McGary has his flashes of greatness but his youth still rears its ugly head every now and then, especially against wiley veterans such as Zeller and the Big Ten’s other experienced big men.
Michigan knows Indiana will be feeding Zeller early and often. If it doesn’t force him into an off shooting day and keep him off the line Michigan likely will be playing catchup and will have to win the game by forcing turnovers and dazzle from 3-point range.
The Pick: I somewhat toggled on this pick for much of the weekend depending on the projected line I came up with. I initially settled on thinking Michigan would be a 1- or 2-point favorite. And that’s just what we have (Michigan -1). Like Indiana’s trip to East Lansing when the Spartans were 1 1/2-point favorites this number is more about how to even out the betting rather than who is likely to win. (Yes, that is what Vegas always does but correct me if I’m wrong: If Indiana was favored here at least 3/4 of the money would go on Michigan, no? I’m not being fooled. Indiana is the better team and has been playing better overall ball as of late despite dropping two of three. Key stat: Michigan is 1-8 ATS in its last nine game. That’s just another reason I’m going with the Hoosiers knowing Tom Crean’s club really deserves an outright Big Ten Championship and will play like it. 
Other Big Ten Games:
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at Ohio State (22-7, 12-5), 12:30 p.m., Sunday (ESPN)Kenpom: Ohio State 72-61
Line: Ohio State -9 1/2
Analysis: It’s quite simple: If Ohio State wins it gives itself a chance to win a piece of the Big Ten Championship (which likely would net it the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament). Illinois is looking to lock up a .500 conference record and slay the Buckeyes for the second time this season (Illinois won 74-55 in early January). What’s interesting about this matchup is that you’d expect Illinois would have shot the lights out from deep in the 19-point win in January. The fact is Illinois went 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from 3-point range. It was a 20-of-31 shooting day from inside the arc that was key. Ohio State wins this game but Illinois at least keeps it close and covers the 9 1/2. (Of course, that’s what I said when Illinois was at Michigan and the Illini gagged any chance of a cover away down the stretch)
Northwestern (13-17, 4-13) at Michigan State (23-7, 12-5)Kenpom: Michigan State 69-51
Line: Michigan State -19 1/2
Analysis: The Spartans have only seen a line this big twice this season (1-1). MSU was a 30-point favorite against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (won by 32) and it was a 23-point favorite against Louisiana-Lafayette (won by 3). (MSU also was an 18-point favorite against Nebraska in mid-January but only won by 10 in a game that was tied with six minutes to play). The Spartans don’t blow teams out and if they do it’s usually in the low double digits. MSU wins but Northwestern covers the 19 1/2. 
Last week: 2-4 (Duke kept me from an 0-5 Saturday!)
2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 62-33-1
2013 Year-to-Date: 70-36-1

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bracketology: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Gonzaga on No. 1 line

I was a huge proponent of Gonzaga not being on the No. 1 line for a few reasons: The Big Ten is so good this year that three teams could have laid claim to a No. 1 seed. Then you have two ACC teams (Duke and Miami), two Big East teams (Louisville and Georgetown) to go with Kansas as "big boys" who have played a tougher schedule throughout the season and, without stumbles, would definitely have better resumes.

Then last week happened. Michigan lost at Penn State. Michigan State lost at Michigan. Indiana lost at home to Ohio State. Georgetown fell at Villanova. Miami lost at Duke. The compilation of those losses means there just isn't any way to keep Gonzaga off the No. 1 line (not today and not on Selection Sunday if Gonzaga wins the WCC Tournament).

Duke, by virtue of not being swept by Miami and by having arguably the toughest schedule in the country (Kenpom has MSU No. 1 and Duke No. 11) not only gets a No. 1 seed but, at the moment, would be the No. 1 overall seed.

I'm on record saying Indiana can lose at Michigan and in the Big Ten quarterfinals and should still be a No. 1 seed. The overall body of work is there and Indiana's wins stack up with any other team's. Now, could Indiana be the last No. 1 seed? Of course. But I just don't think, given my worst-case scenario, that the selection committee could justify putting four teams ahead of the Hoosiers on the S-curve.

The other No. 1 seed goes to Kansas. The biggest head scratcher as to how the committee will judge the Jayhawks is the TCU loss. It's, by far, the worst loss by any No. 1 seed contender. Then again, Kansas has been dominant as of late and a 27-4 record speaks for itself in a solid Big XII.

At this point, most of the debate centers around the "Last Four In." It's not that those teams don't matter but, seriously, those teams don't matter. There will be four "bid stealers" so if you're in a "First Four" game right now you need to play your way in. I have Iowa State, Tennessee, Virginia and Temple as those teams right now. 

Kentucky has two "good" wins this season: vs. Missouri (No. 8 seed) and vs. Ole Miss (projected First Four out). That isn't exactly the kind of resume you want to show the committee in hopes of a NCAA bid. Therefore, there is no debating the defending champion Wildcats are NIT bound at the moment.