UConn is 17-7 overall and 7-5 in the Big East. Cincinnati is 19-7 and 7-6 in conference play. The implications of this game would be huge, both for the Big East standings and seeds in both the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament – if UConn could play in the postseason.
It's still an important game, especially for Cincinnati as the Bearcats try to improve their resume. But, for UConn, it's just another harsh reality slap to the face.
With six games remaining in the regular season, there is little doubt the Huskies would have a strong case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament but the program's past problems with Academic Progress Report has been well documented. The current UConn players and coaches and being penalized for the shortcomings of previous players and the merits of that penalty have been debated at great length.
I participated in the mock selection session held by the NCAA for 20 media members in Indianapolis last Thursday and Friday. There was no formal discussion of UConn's tournament credentials by our group. That would have been a waste of time and it was difficult enough to select, seed and bracket a 68-team tournament field in two days.
There was a reminder that 11 teams are ineligible for the NCAA field this season. Jacksonville State and UConn were briefly mentioned in that discussion. The other teams banned are Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State, Texas Southern, Toledo, Towson, Central Florida, California-Riverside and UNC Wilmington.
When the NCAA staff presented us with ballots before the session we were asked to mark "AL" for at-large teams we felt were "definitely at-large teams" and "C" for teams that "should receive consideration." The 11 ineligible teams were on the ballot but there were no circles to fill in for either category in the votie.
I did conduct a very informal straw poll of the media participants and NCAA staff members in attendance. These are people with great understanding of the selection process, and the unanimous opinion was that UConn is tournament worthy.
Without the benefit of close inspection, the general feeling was that UConn – based on its body of work to this point – would receive a seeding somewhere in the No. 5 to No. 7 range as an at-large team. Given the decimated roster coach Kevin Ollie had to work with in his first season following Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, that would have been quite the accomplishment.
Remember, the mock session for the media last week, which resulted in a complete bracket, was make believe and based on data to that point – along with some predictions for automatic qualifiers and conference tournament champions that were provided by NCAA staff. The field we selected included eight Big East teams: Syracuse (3 seed), Louisville (3), Georgetown (4), Marquette (5), Pittsburgh (5), Cincinnati (7), Notre Dame (8), and St. John's (10). The Red Storm was projected as winner of the Big East tournament and received the conference's automatic bid.
|Ken Davis (left) and Mark Snyder at NCAA mock session (NCAA photo)|
(Note: Conference totals were never mentioned during our two-day process. I had no idea how many Big East teams had been selected until after I left NCAA headquarters and took time to count. But I would say my partner, Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, and I did a good job. During the mock session we represented Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes and were in charge of conference monitoring of the Big East, in addition to the Ivy, Summit and West Coast conferences).
But, in this fantasy world, UConn does compare favorably to those teams in the middle range of the tournament field. First, let's compare UConn with Cincinnati.
As of Wednesday, the Huskies are ranked No. 34 in the RPI, with a strength of schedule ranking of 19th and a 3-5 record against teams ranked 1-50. Those wins are over Michigan State, Syracuse and Notre Dame. The Huskies are 5-2 against teams ranked 51-100 and have no losses against teams ranked 101 or lower.
Cincinnati's file: No. 42 (RPI); 31 (SOS); 4-5 (vs. 1-50) with wins over Marquette, Oregon, Pittsburgh and Iowa State; 5-2 (vs. 51-100); and no losses vs. teams ranked 101 or lower.
Those are just a few of the tools committee members can use in making decisions but, as you can see, these two Big East teams very similar – in terms of the data. Cincinnati has spent more time in the national polls but that is something the committee would never discuss. Polls are a non-factor.
The No. 6 seeds in our tournament field were Ohio State of the Big Ten, Oklahoma of the Big 12, Oregon of the Pac-12, and Minnesota of the Big Ten. Here's a quick look at their credentials:
Ohio State (18-7, 8-5): 30 (RPI); 23 (SOS); 2-7 (vs. 1-50); and 2-0 (vs. 51-100).
Oklahoma (16-8, 8-5): 17 (RPI); 4 (SOS); 2-6 (vs. 1-50); and 7-2 (vs. 51-100).
Oregon (21-5, 10-3): 38 (RPI); 101 (SOS); 3-2 (vs. 1-50); and 3-3 (vs. 51-100).
Minnesota (18-8, 6-7): 15 (RPI); 2 (SOS); 4-6 (vs. 1-50); and 7-1 (vs. 51-100). The Gophers also have a loss to Northwestern, ranked No. 117 in the RPI standings.
And the entire bracket from the mock session can be seen here.