It’s February. The Super Bowl is over and national signing day is done. It is officially college basketball season.
The NCAA tournament bubble is changing fairly dramatically each week, with teams all over the country looking to snag one of the 37 at-large bids for a chance to go dancing in the best sporting event known to man.
The Colorado State Rams currently stand with a foot on each side of the bubble, hoping they can do enough to make their first NCAA tournament since Matt Nelson led them to a near upset of future NBAers JJ Redick, Sheldon Williams, Chris Duhon, Dahanty Jones and Duke in 2003.
I’ll tell you what the Rams need to do to make the tourney in a bit. First let’s look at where the experts place the Rams right now.
ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi projects the Rams to be watching the Madness on TV in his latest bracket. He moved the Rams from his “Last Four In” to his “First Four Out” after last week. Locals might find it interesting that Lunardi’s bracket has Colorado Sate sandwiched between Wyoming and CU as the third, fourth and fifth teams left out. Neither of the other brackets mentions the folks in Laramie or Boulder. (Sidenote: Wyoming still has to play UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Colorado State on the road. I’ll think they’ll go 0-4 and be removed from the discussion).
CBS‘s Jerry Palm has CSU playing in the 13-seed play-in game in his bracket. He has the Rams as his last team in.
Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Glockner has the Rams playing in the 12-seed play-in game in his bracket. He also has CSU among his “Last Four In.”
Now it’s important to keep in mind that these bracket projections– as fun as they are– don’t really mean much and are kind of silly. These are all simply guesses at what the selection committee might do if the season ended today. Thing is, the season doesn’t end today; there’s a lot of basketball left to be played.
Rewind to about a year ago. I remember scanning these brackets and seeing the Rams projected to make the field in most of them (even a 10-seed at one point). Then the team lost four of five regular season games and got bounced in the opening round of the Mountain West tournament. They were nowhere to be found on Selection Sunday.
With that in mind let’s look at what Tim Miles’ squad has done and needs to do.
Besides team records and the “eyeball test” (whatever the hell that is) the things the selection committee looks at the most are RPI, Strength of Schedule, Quality Wins and Bad Losses.
The biggest thing working for the Rams are the computer numbers. Their RPI is 26 and their SOS is 10. Those numbers indicate a lock to make the tourney. The Rams don’t have any bad losses either. However, CSU has only one quality win (San Diego State at home). To make the tourney, they will have to get a few more wins over RPI top 50 and top 100 teams.
They will have their opportunities.
We are halfway through the MWC schedule. Each team has played seven games with seven to go. The Rams went 4-3 the first time through with all three losses coming on the road to some of the better teams in the conference (UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming) they get those teams in Moby this time around.
Here’s what needs to happen for the Rams in their seven remaining games for them to go dancing:
at TCU: Must win
at Boise State: Must win
vs. Wyoming (70 RPI) : Must win
vs. New Mexico (43 RPI) : Must win
at San Diego State (18 RPI) : Can afford to lose, but a win would make them a near-lock (assuming they haven’t lost to TCU, BSU or UW).
vs. UNLV (11 RPI) : Pretty close to a must win
at Air Force: Must win
Okay you got all that? Simple stuff really. Pop quiz coming soon.
This team should be better prepared for a stretch run and the accompanying pressure after last year’s collapse. The above schedule is no walk in the park, and actually when you factor in the number of “must wins,” it’s pretty daunting. The Rams can’t afford to slip up one time and lose a game they shouldn’t. That’s not an easy thing to handle.
So I guess for me the bottom line is this: I would be surprised if the Rams make the NCAA tournament. It’s hard for me to see a 6-1 record finish and even 5-2 might not be enough.
Either way, we should be in for an interesting few weeks of college basketball.