Talking UVA, Mason and NCAA Tournament with Joe Lunardi

Talking UVA, Mason and NCAA Tournament with Joe Lunardi
February 22, 2012, 3:48 pm
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This is the week to start formally breaking down the brackets, start gauging how the locals fit into the NCAA Tournament field of 68. College basketball analyst and noted bracketologist Joe Lunardi, in town last weekend for Saturdays George Washington-St. Josephs radio broadcast, let me chat him up a few a minutes regarding the potential NCAA Tournament possibilities for the locals. Plus, I also looked up a bunch ofstatisitcalinformationand team schedules (thank you WarrenNolan.com). After starting with what I learned about Georgetown, here is the March Madness 411 on Virginia and the ACC, George Mason and the CAAVirginia: 21-6, 8-5 (ACC), Streak (W2), Last 10 (6-4)
Key Numbers: RPI (34), SOS (100),vs. RPI top 50 (2-3), vs. RPI top 100 (8-3)
Notable Wins: Michigan (RPI 10), Miami, Oregon
Bad (RPI) losses: Three losses outside RPI top 100 (TCU, Va. Tech, Clemson)After rising into the mid-teens in the Associated Press top 25 poll earlier this season, the Cavaliers 2-3 record over the last five games entering this week dropped them to No. 25 (and just outside the top 25 of the USA Today coaches poll). Injuries have hurt - now addMalcolm Brogdon's left foot woes to the list -but Lunardi sees the dip as simply the Cavs falling back to the mean.When they were ranked in the teens, I wasnt seeing that. Thats not a knock. They are probably ahead of schedule in terms of rebuilding, said Lunardi, who slots the Cavaliers into a No. 8 seed in his latest bracket.Behind Mike Scott's 20 points, the Cavaliers avoided a second loss to Virginia Tech - not to mention ginning up any bubble talk- winning 61-59 in Blacksburg on Tuesday night. UVAs early success still puts coach Tony Bennetts squad into a solid seed position, though the lack of impressive conference wins to date puts them in danger should the Cavs suffer a late season collapse. That resume aspect is not all on Virginia; outside of Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, there are simply not many potent teams to knock off.They dont have as much to fall back and they dont have that many great wins in the league because the league doesnt present that many opportunities for great wins, said Lunardi.If the Cavaliers advance past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Lunardi suggests their deliberate, defensive-minded approach could pose problems for a high seed with minimal preparation time between games.They still have an excellent chance to be a single digit seed and a favorite. Their style will make them very difficult to play against with short preparation.Lunardi recently projected six ACC teams into the tournament with NC State and Miami before the Hurricanes lost at Maryland - among the last four into the field of 68, but ultimately figures five participate in the madness.George Mason: 23-6, 14-2 (CAA), Streak (W5), Last 10 (9-1)
Key Numbers: RPI (75), SOS (219),vs. RPI top 50 (0-1), vs. RPI top 100 (2-2)
Notable Wins: VCU (70), Bucknell (90)
Bad (RPI) losses: Florida International (235, neutral), at Florida Atlantic (172)Since the end of non-conference play, the collective stance from national college hoops pundits regarding the CAAs chances of being more than a one-bid league has been a hard line not going to happen. Now with less than three weeks before Selection Sunday, there appears some to be some wiggle room in that entrenched position for two reasons: Including the Patriots win over Lamar and the Rams knocking off Northern Iowa, the top six teams in the CAA all won their BracketBuster games this past weekend. No individual triumph stood out, but together the strength of the conference stood out. More of an eye test and mental bump than anything, but a good weekend for the conference as SI.coms Andy Glockner wrote. At the time I spoke with Lunardi on Saturday afternoon, the entire CAA lacked a single victory against a program sporting a top-50 RPI. By Monday, the conference sported three such wins despite not facing a single top 50 team last week. What changed? Updated calculations pushed South Florida and Iowa into the top 50. Earlier this season Drexel and VCU knocked off the Big East program while Hofstra downed their in-state foe. This is a rising tides situation and Mason is 3-1 against those three CAA programs with another regular season game against VCU remaining. Tied with Drexel for first place entering the final week of the regular season, Mason has the tougher path to a title with two road games. Beyond the obvious achievement of winning the regular season title for a second straight season, coming in first place also means the Patriots avoid either Drexel or VCU in the semifinals. While his evaluations lean toward the numbers, Lunardi said Drexel passed the eye test, though he still set the odds the CAA would receive an at-large bid at 1-4. Even following the updated math, his latest bracket has but one CAA team in the field (first place Drexel is a 14 seed). However VCU has moved intohis group of eight teams just on the outside. Same for Glockner, putting VCU and Drexel on the list of mid-to-small major programs in the mix for an at-large berth.So yes, even tied for first place, even after defeating VCU, Mason still has plenty of work left simply to climb ahead of other CAA teams, let alone make the field. Of course, the Patriots could simply end all suspense and win the conference tournament (March 2-5) in Richmond. Should they lose either game this week winning three games in Richmond might be their only hope.