Becoming a Virginia Cavaliers fan means signing yourself up for a lifetime of stress. During this basketball season alone, we've had to worry about broken hands, broken rules, transfers, shooting slumps, last-second losses, last-second wins, poor officiating, and sportswriters insulting our players on the internet. Why wouldn't we worry about the most worrisome and mysterious aspect of them all, selection into the NCAA Tournament? I'm here to tell you that, as a UVA fan, worrying may be natural, and you could continue to do so....but we will be just fine.
We don't need to worry about whether we should be or deserve the tournament. I think we do. Instead, let's look at it from a perspective of what the selection committee has told us about how they select teams and what their past actions tell us - it leads to a sure NCAA bid for the Hoos. First, I'll try to dispel a few myths, then we'll take a look at the bubble.
Myth 1: The Hoos' 4-6 record in their last 10 games will hurt
This may have been true years ago, but it's now just a relic of the past. The NCAA Committee eliminated "last 10 games" as a criteria years ago. Instead, they emphasize a team's "entire body of work." Yes, we are all down from a tough loss to NC State and a litany of defeats to the top of the ACC (the Committee, which for some crazy reason doesn't look at scoring margin, won't see how close those are). However, the team will be evaluated on those losses just as much as they are impressive wins over Michigan, Drexel, Oregon, Miami, and NC State.
Myth 2: Going 9-7 in the ACC isn't good enough. VT got left out in the past at 10-6, and Miami likely will with an identical 9-7 record
Not all conference records are created equally, and the Committee understands this. UVA played the top 3 teams in the ACC a total of 5 times, and the bottom three teams just once each. NC State played the bottom 3 teams twice each, picking up just one win over the top 7 teams in the conference. Both teams were 9-7, but UVA had a decidedly better conference season.
Myth 3: NC State's likely inclusion in the field will take our spot - there's only room for 4 ACC teams!
The Committee continues to stress that they are looking for the best 37 at-large teams, regardless of conference affiliation. NC State's rise only makes us look better, since we have played them twice and beat them once on the road. If they make the tournament, they'll be taking one of 37 at-large spots, not one of four "ACC spots."
Myth 4: Nothing about UVA's resume jumps out at you.
This is false. UVA doesn't have the world's best resume, sure. That's why we'll be a 10 or 11 seed instead of, say, a 1 or 2 seed. One of the best things we have going for us is our 9-6 road/neutral record. The Committee strongly emphasizes how a team plays away from home, and the Hoos have excelled at it. That win over Michigan keeps paying dividends; without it, we may be in trouble, but the team showed its ability to beat a top-10 team in the nation. Few peer teams own such impressive wins.
Now, here is the real reason why we could feel safe: The current bubble teams do not have better resumes than we do. If Virginia gets left out, it has to be in favor of somebody...and that somebody doesn't exist. ESPN's Bubble Watch lists 32 teams besides UVA as "locks" or "should be in." Of those 32, I count 6 spots that are guaranteed to be freed up by automatic qualifiers (conference champs), and thus not stolen. Let's assume the worst, that the rest of bids are stolen by teams that wouldn't otherwise make the tourney. This gives us 26 "locks" and 11 open spots for bubble teams, including us.
Here are the 23 teams ESPN believes have any shot at an NCAA bid. Your challenge is to pick the 11 that have better resumes than we do. I'll do a rudimentary pass-through and try my luck:
- North Carolina State [22-11 (9-7), RPI: 47, SOS: 30] (close call, so I'll give it to them- 1)
- Miami (FL) [19-12 (9-7), RPI: 58, SOS: 51] (no chance - we have the same record against a tougher ACC schedule, better computer numbers, similar good wins, but much fewer losses)
- South Florida [20-13 (12-6), RPI: 52, SOS: 34] (just 1 top 50 win, three sub-100 RPI losses, and an atrocious road record. No way)
- Seton Hall [20-12 (8-10), RPI: 61, SOS: 58] (4-7 on road, 7-9 against top 100, sub-.500 conference record, A couple good wins, but closing year with losses to Rutgers and DePaul keeps us safely ahead of them.)
- Northwestern [18-13 (8-10), RPI: 57, SOS: 12] (The loss to OSU sealed their fate, they won't be in)
- Texas [20-13 (9-9), RPI: 48, SOS: 14] (4 top 50 wins and solid computer numbers mean they'll probably be in. I'll even give them a chance at passing us to be conservative - 2)
- California [24-9 (13-5), RPI: 36, SOS: 87] (Lots of Pac-12 teams below. Suffice it to say that one will win the conference, and one will likely get an at-large bid. Look at those RPIs! None will be ahead of us in line)
- Oregon [22-9 (13-5), RPI: 62, SOS: 92]
- Washington [21-10 (14-4), RPI: 69, SOS: 90]
- Colorado [22-11 (11-7), RPI: 72, SOS: 95]
- Arizona [23-10 (12-6), RPI: 75, SOS: 127]
- Ole Miss [20-12 (8-8), RPI: 50, SOS: 61] (They still have tourney games to go, we'll allow them the potential of making a run - 3)
- Mississippi State [21-11 (8-8), RPI: 73, SOS: 81] (Lunardi has them last 4 in, but that's a stretch to me. 3-6 road record, 7-11 against the top 100 RPI, a couple bad losses, they won't be in front of us)
- Tennessee [18-14 (10-6), RPI: 83, SOS: 37] (Loss to Ole Miss likely leaves them out, prohibitive RPI and lots of really bad losses)
- Colorado State [20-11 (8-6), RPI: 25, SOS: 4] (The Committee loves them some computer numbers. That and a handful of top 100 wins puts CSU in strong shape. Based on RPI/SOS, we'll allow them the possibility of passing us - 4)
- Xavier [20-11 (10-6), RPI: 43, SOS: 43] (Currently beating Marshall, looks like an auto-bid)
- Southern Miss [25-8 (11-5), RPI: 19, SOS: 52] (Conference USA games their RPIs very successfully. Despite some bad losses, it looks like they'll be in the field. Based on RPI, they could be seeded ahead of us - 5)
- Long Beach State [24-8 (15-1), RPI: 39, SOS: 130] (Another interesting case, with a strong RPI and great record...but no good wins. They'll likely win their conference tourney today, but I'll put them ahead of us just in case - 6)
- Marshall [21-12 (9-7), RPI: 41, SOS: 19] (Strong non-conference schedule could get them in the field...but identical record in weaker conference, and a few pretty bad losses won't be enough to put them in front of us, even with that win at Cincy)
- Iona [25-7 (15-3), RPI: 42, SOS: 161] (Didn't schedule a tough OCC, and lost their only couple tests. No wins against teams that will be in field, their best against St. Joesph's at home. They'll be really lucky to get their name called)
- Brigham Young [25-8 (12-4), RPI: 49, SOS: 103] (ESPN: 3-6 vs. the top 50, 5-6 vs. the top 100, so-so schedule strength)
- Oral Roberts [27-6 (17-1), RPI: 56, SOS: 227] (See Drexel, below)
- Drexel [27-6 (16-2), RPI: 63, SOS: 247] (I think Drexel should be in. But basically every metric, including RPI, SOS, top 50 wins, top 100 wins, lack of bad losses, favors us. Also, there's that head to head neutral site win for us)
There you have it. I count 6 teams that are listed as "bubble teams" that could possibly pass us, even though ESPN "locks" us. It'll take another 5 or 6 to keep us out of the field (or 1 or 2 to even put us in danger of the play-in game). Does anyone else want to play?
Why else should we be safe? First of all, I don't usually put much stock in the "experts" attempting the impossible task of predicting the field...but not one person has put out a bracket without us in it or predicted we wouldn't be in. Last night, Seth Davis tweeted wondering why we were still a "lock"...but later clarified, "Nah I think they make it."
Additionally, UVA's RPI currently stands at 51 - it should improve a bit, as teams in front of us lose in their tournaments. WahooMetrics looked at past RPI-cutoffs:
In 2011, the top four seeds in the NIT, and thereby the first four out of the real tournament, were Virginia Tech, Alabama, Colorado, and Boston College. Their final RPIs were, respectively, 65, 59, 67, and 61. In 2010; Illinois 66, Virginia Tech 52, Arizona State 69, and Miss. State 59.
Virginia didn't have the strongest finish, but the team did enough to make the tournament. Our name will be called tomorrow night when the field is released, and then the fun will begin. Get out those clippers, Mike and Jontel!