Poll Positions: Top 25 Chatter

December 5th, 2006

Wichita State a #1 seed?

Wichita State (# 10 AP / # 16 Coaches) is still undefeated, with wins already on the road against half of last season’s Final Four and a huge upset of Syracuse (# 21 AP / Coaches) in the Carrier Dome. Neither LSU (# 9 AP / # 11 Coaches) nor Syracuse is overrated. Both are solid, experienced teams that will be ranked in the top 15 or higher at season’s end. These are exactly the kind of high-quality wins the Selection Committee looks for when determining seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

After non-BCS conference school Memphis earned a #1 seed last season, many fans in Southeast Kansas might be wondering if – assuming their dream season continues - it indeed may be possible for their Shockers to pull off the same feat. Improbable, maybe, but it is possible.

For the Shockers to earn a top seed, they will more than likely need to have an RPI at least in the top 5 or 6 nationally as well as a strong strength of schedule rating, which will be determined largely by the strength of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Take a look at last year’s #1 seeds. The top four teams in the RPI at the end of the regular season ended up being the four #1 seeds. Of those, Duke (#1) and Villanova (#4) were also in the top 4 in terms of strength of schedule. However UConn (#43) and Memphis (#31) were not. Still, UConn played 18 games against the RPI top 50 last season, winning 14 of them. Memphis played 12, winning 8. All four of their losses during the regular season came against teams in the RPI Top 50. In other words, Memphis and UConn both made up for a relatively weak December and conference schedule with a strong early season one – just as Wichita State has done.

The Shockers’ remaining schedule may actually be tougher than Memphis’ at this point in the season last year. Wichita State plays New Mexico on Dec 22, in Las Vegas. After that, they have the usual home-and-away sets with conference foes Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Creighton and Bradley – all of which have quality wins so far themselves.

By my count, Wichita State could play as many as 14 games against RPI Top 50 this season. This should be enough to merit consideration as a top seed, again, presuming they win the MVC automatic bid and end up with no more than 3 losses at season’s end.

As of right now the most likely top seed contenders are Pittsburgh (# 2 AP / Coaches), Ohio State (# 5 AP / # 4 Coaches), North Carolina (# 3 AP / Coaches) and UCLA (# 1 AP / Coaches), with Florida (# 7 AP / Coaches) not far behind. All of them will be playing more ranked opponents than the Shockers during conference play, giving them a greater chance of moving to the top of the RPI should they keep winning. Pittsburgh may play as many as nine games against ranked opponents this season.

But should one of them stumble, who knows.

College Basketball: It’s FANtastic

Whenever I get into an argument over the 1,793 or so reasons why the college game is superior to the NBA, one that often comes up is the fact that college coaches have job security that lasts longer than any given game. Well, scratch that one off the list.

Coach Dan Monson of Minnesota was given the resign-or-be-fired ultimatum just seven games into the season, in which the Gophers went 2-5 after a five game losing streak. He was coming off a winning record and a NIT Tournament berth last season, and expectations were high coming into 2006-07.

However, absent some sort of scandal, no college coach should be fired mid-season. Period. After a season is over, a decision can be made whether to retain or fire a coach. Once that decision is made, that should be the final word for the year so coaches, old and new, and their potential recruits can plan for the upcoming season with some semblance of confidence. Coach Monson should have been fired in April, or not at all.

High school recruits sign their letters of intent mostly, if not entirely, because of the coach. If that coach is suddenly gone a few games into the season, kids that commit to the school can’t demand a trade like the NBA. By and large, they’re stuck, and future recruits are going to think twice about committing to any school where the coach does not have a long-term contract.

Also, with parity what it is today, college basketball is now a game where upsets happen so often most are not even considered upsets. Every week they happen by the dozen.

These win-or-else threats to coaches puts even more pressure on a profession many consider the most ulcer-inducing in the nation already. If coaches want to put up with that kind of mentality from the front office, they should go to the NBA. At least they’ll get paid more.

Leave the instant-gratification, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nonsense to the pros.

Huskies Getting Fat on Cupcakes

So UConn (# 19 AP / # 10 Coaches) is now in the Top 10, at least in the Coaches’ poll. No doubt they have played some great teams to move up eight places since the preseason.

Let’s see…Quinnipiac, Central Arkansas, Fairfield, Albany, Sacred Heart, and Texas Southern to name a few. Not exactly a trial by fire. Although they did beat an Ole Miss team that hasn’t played anyone either.

It doesn’t get much better. Over the course of the next few weeks leading up to Big East play, the Huskies compete against the likes of Northeastern (Coach Calhoun’s former school), Saint Mary’s and Coppin State. Compare this to last season when UConn faced a brutal early season schedule that earned them a championship in the EA Sports Maui Invitational – one of the most loaded early season tournaments in memory.

Jim Calhoun obviously believes this is the best way to develop his young team – one of the most inexperienced in the nation – before they face the likes of LSU and a tough Big East Conference schedule. I’m not one to doubt a Hall of Famer with two national titles, so we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s right.

Charging Bison

Move over Oral Roberts, we have a new champion in our ongoing upset-of-the-year category: North Dakota State 64, Marquette (# 17 AP / # 20 Coaches) 60. You may remember the Bison from their stunning victory against then-#15 Wisconsin last season.

What you may not know is that this is only their third season playing in Division I. They are currently still competing as an Independent, but have been invited to join Mid-Continent Conference next season, playing with the likes of the aforementioned Golden Eagles and Oooey-Pooey (otherwise known as IUPUI).

It’s not a stretch to imagine the Bison earning the MCC automatic berth in their first or second season there, putting North Dakota State into the NCAA Tournament just five years removed from Division II. If that happens, rest assured Coach Tim Miles will be entertaining many, many job offers in the near future.