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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
At the Watercooler: Bracketology

ESPN.com

Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? Wait a minute. It's not Friday. Looks as though the bosses in Bristol pulled an audible. We've been moved to Tuesdays. And I'm fine with that. It gives us an excuse to talk about Joe Lunardi's bracket each week. We could discuss seeding, S-Curve, etc.

But the most significant issue right now is that Kentucky is barely holding on in Lunardi's new bracket. Now we have to consider that last season's national champion might actually miss the tournament field this year. What do you think about that?

John Calipari
Kentucky fans are praying John Calipari's Wildcats can finish strong.

Eamonn Brennan: The days all run together during the season anyway, Myron. You could have convinced me it was Sunday. (Wait, it's not Sunday, right?)

I'll admit it: At first, I was a little bit shocked to see UK in such a shaky position. I probably shouldn't have been, but I'm just used to certain things, and under John Calipari, Kentucky has almost always been in supreme RPI shape. We're just barely at the point where we can start seriously discussing résumés and the like. Having not really dug in, I assumed that even though these Cats were struggling, their schedule was still tweaked to keep them well within the RPI at-large margin for error, at least this early in the game. But after checking out the bracket and reading Joe's analysis on where Kentucky's résumé is right now, what can you say? He's right.

Probably the biggest thing you have to remind yourself of is that although Kentucky has played well in spurts, and looked really good against Louisville in late December, the Wildcats haven't actually beaten anyone. Their best win is Maryland, and that happened Nov. 9. And of course, as everyone knows, they just lost to Texas A&M at home. The RPI is not only about who you've played but also who your opponents and opponents' opponents have played, and losing at home to Texas A&M is not exactly going to help you in that (highly questionable) metric.

UK fans are probably going to freak out on our boy, but I'm really not sure how right now, on Jan. 15, you can disagree with the analysis.

MM: That's true. They will freak out. And that's to be expected from a fan base that's so accustomed to success. This program has missed the NCAA tournament once (2009) since 1992. Losing is not something Kentucky fans really understand because it has been so rare throughout the program's history. So the idea that the Wildcats could go from the national title to the NIT is certainly startling, even if they're not quite in that drastic of a position just yet.

I'm shocked, too. Confession: I got caught up in the Kentucky hype. I saw that team live in Louisville and figured it's just a matter of time before it puts it all together. I was one of the guys who touted the Wildcats' potential and probably masked the obvious flaws in their résumé. I mean, they have four first-round draft picks, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford. That has to work at some point, right? Not exactly. Lost in the hoopla was exactly what you've noted. The Wildcats don't have a meaningful win other than a victory over Maryland in the first game of the season.

EB: And that won't cut it. Kentucky is 44th overall per ESPN.com's Daily RPI, and as Lunardi noted, its greatest dilemma is that it has only a handful of opportunities to climb back into the NCAA tourney picture. The Wildcats will have to dominate the SEC going forward. And if you're squeezing by Vandy and losing to Texas A&M at home, what are the chances of that happening?

Joe makes the point that Kentucky basically has four chances for marquee-ish victories the rest of the way. Those come against Ole Miss, at Florida, Missouri and then the Florida redo in Lexington on March 9. Kentucky has to perform really well in those games to put itself in tournament position. But the problem is that there are so many opportunities for questionable losses in the SEC that if the Wildcats stumble along the way, even if they do win those big games, they could still be in trouble.

It ain't good, Myron. It ain't good at all.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have their eye on March and a No. 1 seed.

MM: We could talk Kentucky all day, but I think there's another discussion that addresses a much larger portion of the field. I'm very comfortable with Joe's top seeds: Louisville as the No. 1 overall seed. Duke, Indiana and Kansas as the other three top seeds. I respect Michigan sliding down to a 2-seed after Sunday's loss to Ohio State. But if the season had ended today, Duke would be an interesting situation for the selection committee. There are a few unknowns about this team simply because we're not sure when Ryan Kelly will return. Could be a Kenyon Martin situation if he's not 100 percent if/when he returns, right?

EB: Ryan Kelly and Kenyon Martin. Those are two names I never expected to hear in the same sentence. Next thing you'll be telling me Kelly got a tattoo of female lips on his neck. (Never forget.) By all accounts, Duke is likely to get Kelly back before the tournament. It's too early to draw conclusions on what Duke would look like if it had to go a prolonged period without Kelly.

It's going to be really interesting to see what the Big Ten No. 1-seed competition is going to be like. Indiana and Michigan are obvious favorites, and both could theoretically get one. Their league could be a boon (tons of chances to get top-50 wins) or a hindrance (tons of chances to lose games). The Big Ten giveth and it taketh away.

I think the No. 1 seed thing will, as usual, settle itself in relatively reasonable fashion. But what about the rest of the field, Myron? Any seeds you think are too high? Too low?

MM: Eamonn, you're right about the Big Ten. That's going to be a battle that either elevates Indiana and Michigan into those slots or jeopardizes their No. 1 potential. A lot of possible losses in that conference. And definite parity. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

On the bracket, I definitely have a few concerns. If Joe is going to give Baylor an 8-seed for beating an overrated Kentucky team on the road after losses to Charleston and Northwestern, then Saint Louis (wins over New Mexico and the Texas A&M team that just beat Kentucky at home, too) should be in the field as well. Not "First Four Out."

Kansas State is a 7-seed. Seems low for a team that has suffered losses to only Joe's 2-seeds (Gonzaga and Michigan) and has wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. Too high? I'm not sure how Ohio State's win over Michigan elevates the Buckeyes to a 3-seed. Maybe it's just me. Crushed by Illinois, squeezed by Michigan after the Wolverines' comeback in the second half, 176th in nonconference SOS (per ESPN.com Daily RPI). I don't get that one, either.

What'd you think when you first saw the bracket?

Jamie Dixon
Does Jamie Dixon need to beg to get a little more love for Pitt?

EB: I was struck by Pittsburgh as a 10-seed. Not because I think Joe's wrong. He's not. Based on the Panthers' noncon schedule and how they've played in the league thus far (particularly at home, which is sort of baffling), they deserve to be somewhere in that area. If you're going strictly by how the committee will look at Pitt's performance right now, or how your average fan would feel when it looked down the Panthers' results, then yeah -- that sounds about right.

But then you pop over to KenPom.com and see Pitt ranked at No. 9 overall. Or you could go to our Basketball Power Index page and see it ranked No. 23. The LRMC Bayesian rankings have it at No. 13. And so on. Both advanced metrics and unadjusted per-possession statistics tell us Pittsburgh is actually a good team (if not a top-10 one, which I definitely don't buy). And there the Panthers are, seeded at No. 10. This dynamic is going to be fascinating to watch unfold over the remainder of the season.

A couple of other thoughts:

• Never underestimate the power of a nonconference win at a place like Creighton. Boise got a good one at Wyoming last week, but other than that it hasn't beaten anyone remotely noteworthy. But the Broncos are a No. 8 seed right now because, by golly, they beat Creighton on its own floor. You can't hate on that.

• If I were an 11-seed, I would be completely and utterly horrified to see 6-seed VCU on my doorstep. That is not a 6-seed.

• And hey, because we're discussing Kentucky almost missing the tournament, how about North Carolina? The Tar Heels are hanging on the 11 line, without absolutely zero margin for error the rest of the way in a lopsided and arguably disadvantageous ACC schedule (sort of like UK's). There's nothing quite like a potential NIT psychodrama at a blueblood program, is there, Myron?

MM: It will be fun to watch. Like Kentucky, the Tar Heels might need upsets over the ACC's best (Duke, North Carolina State) to feel completely comfortable. But that's also assuming they'll get past the rest of the league, and there are no guarantees for a North Carolina squad that's 1-2 in the ACC because of multiple stretches of mediocre basketball. UNC might improve, but as you said, I expect to see a lot of flip-flopping with the Tar Heels in Joe's future brackets.

They're not the only team that can't get too comfortable yet. NC State played big against Duke last weekend, but the Wolfpack had a very inconsistent 2011-12 season. I need to see more ACC basketball before I assume NC State will build on that win and maintain (or rise) from a 4-seed in upcoming brackets.

The SEC won't offer Missouri many opportunities for quality wins, and it has already lost to Ole Miss. The Tigers have such a limited pool of games that will elevate their status, so there's certainly a chance they fall in the coming weeks, especially if they suffer another loss to an SEC team that's not named Florida.

And finally, I think Arizona has be the most nervous 2-seed in the field. The Wildcats just lost to Oregon in their only regular-season matchup with the Ducks, and they play UCLA twice. But the rest of their slate features teams that will do little to help them preserve a high seed.

EB: All good points. The good news -- for everyone -- is that it's only Jan. 15. This is a preliminary Dr. Joe Lunardi check-up. We have a few weeks before the bubble talk really ought to get going, before we can go ahead and diagnose any of these patients for advanced treatment. Until next time, Myron.