Friday, January 16, 2015

Grip's Bracket - Friday, January 16 (Automatic Bids)

Welcome to the first bracket and bubble watch of 2015!  Conference play is up and running and things are beginning to shake out across the land.  We'll begin with the automatic bids in this post then beneath that will be the bubble watch and then finally the bracket.

Automatic Bids

These are all the one bid leagues that do not have a second team on the Watch.  For now, autobids are determined by a combination of highest RPI, highest KenPom ranking, best record and preseason polls with defending champions getting the benefit of the doubt.  Once we get deeper in to conference season, things will shake themselves out more and the criteria will be simpler.

America East - Albany.  The Great Danes are the only 4-0 team in the league and Vermont is the only other unbeaten.  Stony Brook remains the top ranked team in both RPI and KenPom and they're the only team with double digit wins but they lost at Vermont.  This likely remains a three horse race.  The Seawolves are actually the only ones in the league with a top 100 RPI and with Albany second best at 200), the Long Islanders are the only ones with even a remote chance of avoiding a 16 seed.
Atlantic Sun - North Florida.  This conference is only through two rounds of games but only the Ospreys and Lipscomb are 2-0.  The bid goes to the North Floridians because they're actually above .500 overall and superior by every metric.  The league's best overall record belongs to South Carolina Upstate and they're one spot ahead of Dunk City for the best RPI.  Unfortunately the two teams are 176 and 177 in RPI respectively so this league is almost assuredly getting a 16 seed no matter who wins it.
Big Sky - Eastern Washington.  Nothing has changed here.  They're the lone unbeaten, though all four of their conference wins are by single digits so there's hope for the rest of the league that the Eagles aren't streets ahead of them.  Senior laden Sacramento State is a game back at 4-1 and the only other double digit win team in the conference.  This has become the most offensive league in the country: EWU as well as 4 of the 5 one loss schools are in the top 115 of adjusted offensive efficiency.  On the flip side, no one is in the top 200 of adjusted defensive efficiency and exactly half the league is sub 300.
Big South - Coastal Carolina.  Again, no change here with the favorite being the lone unbeaten.  High Point is hot on their heels of the 14-3, 5-0 Chanticleers however at 13-4, 4-1.  The Panthers are exactly 30 spots ahead in RPI (80 vs 110) and Coastal is 26 spots higher in KenPom (104 vs 140.)  UNC Asheville is 3-1 but just 7-8 overall while 11 win Gardner Webb and Radford are caught in the conference's midsection of 5 teams with 2 or 3 league losses.
Big West - UC Davis.  Third straight league where we're down to only one unbeaten thanks to the Alan Williams Project shockingly losing at home to 5-13 Cal State Northridge last night.  That's a microcosm of how disappointing their season has been thus far.  UC Irvine and Long Beach State both won last night to get to 2-1 and Hawaii didn't play but the Rainbow Warriors, who join Davis in having 13 wins, will still be a factor and welcome in the Mustangs next Thursday.
CAA - Northeastern.  The three horse race between them, William & Mary and Hofstra has materialized as those three are each 4-1 after the Huskies beat Hofstra on Wednesday while the Tribe were busy coming back from down 22 at home to beat UNC Wilmington.  Northeastern gets the bid because they have by far the best RPI of the three at 65 while W&M's is 105 and Hofstra - the highest ranked and only top 100 KenPom team - is 147.
Horizon - Green Bay.  They lost at Oakland last night to drop them in to a one loss tie with the resurgent Cleveland State, 16-3 Valparaiso and darkhorse Detroit.  It's still likely going to be the Phoenix and the Crusaders in the end - and either would likely get a juicy 12/13 seed - but the Vikings only lost at Valpo by a deuce and the Titans get their home shot at Green Bay tomorrow so we'll see.
Ivy - Harvard.  They finally lost to BC on Wednesday, breaking their six game winning streak over their local, bigger rivals.  Their win at Dartmouth and Princeton's comeback against Penn on Saturday are the only two conference games to be played.  Nothing else has changed here with Yale appearing to be the Crimson's only serious challenger.  Both are top 100 in RPI and look like they'd land in the 12/13 seed range.
MAAC - Iona.  Monmouth lost by a point in OT to Saint Peter's on Wednesday, dropping them from a first place tie with the 5-1 Gaels, who lead the nation in 3 point percentage.  The Hawks beat them by 3 back in December but Iona's won 8 of 10 since including their last 4.  One of those was over previous auto bid holder Canisius, who is just 3-3 in conference play after their 2-0 start.  Rider and Manhattan are also a game back of the Gaels, who are likely the league's only hope at avoiding a 16 seed.
MAC - Buffalo.  Somehow, this conference is even messier than I thought it would be.  The Bulls are 2-1.  So are *SEVEN* other teams.  How is that possible?!  It goes without saying that this is arguably the most wide open league in the country but the Bulls continue to be the pace setters in both RPI (48) and KenPom (72.)  Perhaps most surprisingly?  Eastern Michigan is NOT one of the eight 2-1 teams.  In fact, they and Ohio are the only two winless schools.
MEAC - North Carolina Central.  The Eagles, Norfolk State and Hampton are all 4-0 with Central making their Virginia road trip this weekend, going to Norfolk State on Saturday before facing the Pirates on Martin Luther King Day.  5-13 South Carolina State is somehow right behind the trio at 3-1 and fellow surprise package Maryland Eastern Shore is 2-1.  Central's RPI is right outside the top 100 (literally, it's 101) but they're gonna need another dominant conference title to match their 14 seed from last year.  Anyone else is getting a typical MEAC 15/16 seed.
NEC - St. Francis (NY).  That's right.  The Forgotten Five member has found its way in to the bracket.  Both St. Francises, Bryant and Robert Morris each have one loss in league play but the New Yorkers get in because (a) they haven't lost to another member of the foursome (b) they're the highest ranked in KenPom and (c) did I mention they're a Forgotten Five member?  Sure St. Francis (PA) has an RPI 75 spots ahead of everyone else and won at Rutgers.  They also have a tournament appearance in their history.  The Flashes don't.
Ohio Valley - Eastern Illinois.  How about the job JAY SPOONHOUR is doing in Charleston? (yes there's a Charleston, Illinois.  News to me as well.)  The Panthers are 5-0 in OVC play and have won EIGHT straight and 10 of 11 after a 1-5 start.  The latest two of those wins was an 11 point home win over Belmont, the preseason favorite and previous bid holder and then last night a 7 point win at previously unbeaten Eastern Kentucky.  Murray State is also 4-0 after pasting Belmont last night and might still be the favorite to win the league.
Patriot - Colgate.  Forget about LE-HIGH LE-HIGH.  It's now all about COL-GATE COL-GATE.  The Raiders have decided that they want to #GoGetThatPatriot and are alone on top at 4-1 in conference play, despite being just 7-11 overall.  Everyone else except Lehigh and Holy Cross (thought to be a preseason contender) has 2 or 3 league losses.  Basically, it's MAC level messy except everyone is pretty bad instead of quite solid.
SoCon - Wofford.  They had been begging to be tagged and it finally happened last night with an embarrassing second half collapse against (an admittedly improved) The Citadel.  That drops them in with the other one loss clubs Chattanooga and Mercer, although the Terrers already went to Chattanooga and won by 4.  Despite that sub THREE hundred RPI loss, Wofford still has a top 50 RPI, which is incredible.
Southland - Sam Houston State.  Albilene Christian was 346th out of 351 teams in KenPom the Monday before Christmas.  Since then they've won 5 of 6 to join the Bearkats and Stephen F. Austin as the only unbeatens in Southland play.  They host the Jacks tomorrow in what would be their biggest upset yet if they can pull that off.  Meanwhile, SHSU is 14 spots ahead of SFA in RPI (and about 150 spots ahead of AC) so they get the bid for now.
Summit - North Dakota State.  This was easily the hardest autobid to award.  The Bison are 3-1 along with Oral Roberts and South Dakota.  NDSU beat ORU but SD beat NDSU.  South Dakota State is right beneath them at 3-2, having won 3 in a row after starting 0-2 and the Jackrabbits have the best RPI in the league at 147.  Then it's ORU at 154 and then NDSU at 164.  SDSU also is the league's best KenPom team at 136 and only two spots separate NDSU and ORU at 172 and 174 respectively.  NDSU and SDSU are the only two in the league with double digit overall wins.  Basically if you compare the resumes of everyone, which is basically what you have to do since they're all so close, NDSU's is the best.  But not by much.
Sun Belt - Louisiana Lafayette.  The Rajun Cajuns are the defending tournament champions and they're in a 3 way tie for first with rival Louisiana Monroe and pet favorite of mine Georgia Southern.  Meanwhile, preseason favorite Georgia State is 4-2 along with defensively minded Texas State.  This is a much more wide open league than it looked when conference play started and the chances of it producing yet another shock conference tournament winner are good.
SWAC - Texas Southern.  Alabama State is the only other unbeaten but they're ineligible for the auto bid.  Southern is 3-1 with their lone loss to Mike Davis' boys in a thrilling finish last Monday.  Alabama A&M is the SWAC's answer to South Carolina State at 3-1 in the league and 4-10 overall.  The Tigers are actually inside the top 100 of RPI now at 92, which betters their chances of doing the impossible for a SWAC school and avoiding a 16.  Everyone else is sub 200 so they won't be doing the impossible if they win the league tourney.
WAC - New Mexico State.  Only one round of play here so half the league is 1-0 and the other half is 0-1.  Of the 1-0 teams, NMSU's RPI is 152 and none of the other three is inside the top 240.  And Grand Canyon's ineligible for the tournament until 2017-2018 anyway.  Whoever wins this league will be very, very lucky to avoid a play in game unless the Aggies dominate it like they have in recent years.  That seems unlikely considering this year's team is a shell of recent years.

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