Last week, I posted the predictions for the 13 early tournaments. Now the other 19 (that’s right, the Ivy League has joined the party) tournaments are set and most are underway, so I’ve updated the Google spreadsheet with all the predictions. KenPom is off to the early lead and looking for his first ever victory in the prestigious Conference Tournament Predictions contest that he doesn’t know he’s in. TeamRankings, the two-time champion, is in 2nd place, while my predictions (the reigning champs!) are trailing the pack.
Cinderella Index – Early Tournaments
In last week’s post, I introduced the Cinderella Index as a way to try and quantify which teams to root for during chamionship week. Let’s see where we stand with those Cinderellas:
Among the teams with a double-digit Cinderella Index, two have punched their ticket already with UNC-Wilmington winning the CAA and East Tennessee St. taking the SoCon automatic bid. On the flip side, Belmont and Monmouth were unable to fulfill their promise–Monmouth especially was dealt a tough draw as they lost to 4-seed Siena on Siena’s home floor (more on this later). Vermont and Bucknell are in their conference’s title game, yet to come.
Moving down the CI list, South Dakota lost to in-state rival (I’m just guessing they’re rivals?) South Dakota St. in the semifinals, but Florida Gulf Coast took care of business in the A-Sun. The Horizon tournament was chaos with both Oakland and Valpo going out in their first game to the two lowest seeds in the tournament. Last-seeded Milwaukee almost won the whole thing, bowing out in the final to Northern Kentucky. Some of our smaller Cinderellas did punch their tickets as well, with Winthrop and Mount St. Mary’s winning the Big South and NEC, respectively.
Cinderella Index – Late Tournaments
The late tournaments are dominated by the power conferences–you won’t find any Cinderellas from the ACC, for example–but there are still plenty of potential Cinderellas playing this week.
Middle Tennessee actually has a shot at an at-large should they stumble in C-USA, but they are far from a lock. Nevada is the class of a down year in the Mountain West. Princeton (my alma mater) has the unfortunate distinction of being the first regular season Ivy League champion in the new conference tournament era. The Tigers went undefeated in conference, but their reward is to open up on the road against 4-seed Penn as the Ivy tournament will be held at the Palestra, Penn’s home floor. This deserves a longer post but it really is a travesty for smaller conferences to play at a pre-determined home site of one of their schools, and potentially putting their top teams at a home-court disadvantage. Playing on the home court of higher seeds or having all games at the #1 seed are my preferred options, but if the site must be pre-determined, it has to be a neutral venue.
Texas-Arlington is a top 100 team from the Sun Belt, and Akron is the top team in a slight down year for the MAC. I left the A-10 teams in there, but Dayton is a likely at-large team and the conference is kind straddling the line between mid-major and high-major. Still, Rhode Island is the best team in the conference by my rankings but likely needs the auto bid. New Mexico St. is again the class of the WAC (though CS Baskersfield is feisty again).
The next three teams–Texas Southern, UC-Irvine, and NC Central–are the clear top teams in their conferences but that says more about the rest of their conference foes than about themselves. None of the three are likely to produce an upset in the big dance. The last two conferences are in a similar boat except without a clear-cut #1 team. In the Big Sky, it’s Weber St. and Montana yet again battling for supremacy, while the Southland is as balanced as they are bad.
So far, we are 2-for-4 among the top Cinderella Index teams with 2 more already in the final. Here’s hoping we get a few more into the bracket this week, which will make the opening week of March Madness all that more mad.