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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
At the Watercooler: Tournament talk

Eamonn Brennan: Greetings again, Myron. We're back for another edition of our newly refocused Watercooler, wherein we discuss our guy Joe Lunardi's latest bracket calculations. Following Syracuse's wins at Louisville and at home over Cincinnati on Monday, these are Joe's four No. 1 seeds: Duke, Syracuse, Kansas and Michigan. Any issues with that?

Sean Miller
Sean Miller and Arizona could make a case for a No. 1 seed.

Myron Medcalf: No real gripes with it. I think there's a solid argument for every team with a No. 1 slot in Joe's latest bracket, especially given everything that has transpired in the past few weeks. But I guess I'm just wondering where Arizona stands in all of this. The Wildcats have a strong SOS. They've secured wins over Colorado, San Diego State, Miami and a Florida team that might be the best in the country. Again, we clearly have a mess at the top with multiple teams offering valid résumés for a No. 1 seed. But what about Arizona, Eamonn? Do the Wildcats deserve one?

EB: If you ask me whether I think Arizona is one of the four best teams in the country, I probably would say no. But if you ask me if they have a top-four NCAA tournament profile, which is based heavily on the Wildcats' RPI and SOS, the answer is almost certainly yes. I find it hard to pick a team of that top group to exclude (though I suppose Michigan's nonconference schedule wasn't exactly the greatest), but it's hard to look at Michigan's RPI (2), noncon SOS (11) and 5-1 record against the RPI top 50 and not think they deserve a place at the No. 1 seed table.

As an added bonus, hopefully the preceding response will help Arizona fans get over the fact that on Monday I said Florida should be ranked higher. The Wildcats' faithful didn't seem to like that idea. Weird.

MM: It probably won't help. I think Florida is the better team right now, but I say Zona is a 1-seed because of its résumé. That's why I don't get too caught up in polls. They're great for the barbershop -- and I learned the art of sports trash talk at the barbershop -- but not necessarily relevant to the NCAA tourney discussion. Arizona's wins, losses and SOS will matter, not our esteemed opinions on the top 25 teams.

One of the things I like about Joe's new bracket is that you can see the instability that often overtakes this sport in late January. The teams that looked like locks in December might be in trouble now. The teams that appeared to be out of it a month ago might have strong arguments for at-large bids now. And that leads me to Illinois, a neverending mystery. How did this program go from one of the hottest teams in America last month to a First Four game in Dayton (and to be honest, I'm not sure the Illini even deserve that) in this bracket?

Illinois guard Brandon Paul
Brandon Paul and Illinois started out surprisingly hot, but now a tourney bid might be in doubt.

EB: Well, there is one big-time explanation: The Illini stopped making 3s. At the outset of the season, Illinois was making those 3s. I think they were also catching a lot of people off guard. John Groce had totally reworked their attack by spreading the floor, running more ball-screen action and telling his guys to fire at will, and I think the combination of hot shooting and catching opposing coaches off guard fueled that big start.

Now, the Illini have gone cold. Since Big Ten play began, they are shooting just 23.4 percent from 3, worst of any team in the league. Their league opponents are shooting 42 percent, the second-best mark against any one team in the league. If you're a team that shoots the sixth-most 3s per field goals in the country (as the Illini do), and you start shooting 30 percent and your opponents start knocking everything down, your seams are going to rip. Throw in the hours of tape Big Ten coaches have now amassed on this team, and it's no wonder the Illini have been exposed.

In this bracket, sure, keep them in. It's just Dayton, after all. But unless these shooting numbers swing back in a much, much more positive direction, this team is not going to be trending in the right direction anytime soon.

MM: Well, good news for the Illini. They're not alone. Allow me to reintroduce our readers to a team known as San Diego State, a 7-seed in Joe's bracket. And trust me, this is not even last month's San Diego State squad. The Aztecs scored nine points … in the first half of a road loss at Wyoming over the weekend. Wyoming played without top scorer Luke Martinez. SDSU doesn't have a great nonconference SOS (159), and its best wins came against UCLA and Colorado State.

The team has lost two of three in a league that features six NCAA tourney teams, according to Joe's bracket. Sure, the Aztecs are in right now. But something has to change or they'll continue to fall (68 percent from the free throw line, 33 percent from the 3-point line) just like Illinois.

We've dissected a few teams that are going in the wrong direction. But do you think any teams should be higher?

Billy Donovan
Billy Donovan and Florida as a No. 2 seed? Scary stuff for the 1.

EB: Well, at the sake of belaboring a point we've already over-belabored (which may or may not be the title of the next Justin Bieber album), let's just say that if I were the No. 1 seed in a bracket that had Florida at No. 2, I would be less than thrilled. That's all.

I would say the same for Pittsburgh (a deserving No. 9 seed that's still better than its record), Kentucky (a No. 10), VCU (a No. 6), Ole Miss (a No. 8) and Colorado State (a No. 10).

That list of teams gives you a feel for how deep the field could be this season. It's really something. I mean, does any opposing coach in the country want to see Kentucky as a No. 10 seed? Even Maryland, a No. 11, which hasn't exactly torn the roof off this season, would scare me on that seed line.

MM: I agree. If I were a coach, I'd be worried about Boise State (11-seed) because of an offense that's ranked 25th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. I'd also be worried about Bucknell (12-seed) because Mike Muscala is literally a stat machine.

The bottom line is that we might be on the verge of witnessing the most entertaining and equitable field in years. And that's a great thing.

EB: I really do think that might be the case. I know there's always this big existential argument going on about college hoops about the cachet of the regular season, and there's always a larger sports argument that things are more fun when there are big, tentpole teams to cheer for or against … but I really couldn't care less about any of that. When it comes down to March and April, I just want as many good teams in the bracket as possible.

MM: Get your popcorn ready, Eamonn.