Thursday, February 05, 2009

This week in mid-majordom, 2/5

No truth to the rumor Dayton's team colors have been officially renamed "Rabbit's Foot Red" and "Weighted Dice White."

History in the making. Oh, the things I could accomplish if I wasn't lazy. The 10Ks I could run, the screenplays I could write, the car floorboards I could keep uncluttered. And I could do the research to figure out if the Dayton Flyers, 63-61 winners over La Salle last night on a dunk with 1.8 seconds to play, are on pace to have the biggest disconnect between their Pomeroy rating and NCAA Tournament seed in the relatively brief history of Kenpom's ratings.

Because I am lazy I don't know for sure, but I don't have any doubt the Flyers are in the running. After the La Salle win, Dayton's record improved to an eye-popping 21-2. The Flyers are 33rd in the RPI, a solid 7-1 in the A-10, and 4-1 vs. the RPI top 100 with a huge 14-point win over Marquette on a neutral court. They're a 9-seed to the Bracket Board, a 9 to Lunardi, a 7 to B101. By any measure, the Flyers are currently solidly in the NCAA field and should stay that way barring a whole series of upsets down the stretch.

Well, any measure but Kenpom's. There, the Flyers rank 81st, 10 places behind 13-9 Wright State, 11 behind 13-8 UTEP, 13 behind 11-11 Oral Roberts ... and, well, a whole lot of other teams who won't be able to sniff an at-large bid with one of those newfangled bloodhound-nose transplants. Why? One way of putting it would be in Kenpom's statistical "luck" terms, where the Flyers rank as the season's fifth-luckiest team and the only one in the top 10 with serious NCAA aspirations. One would be to simply look at the astonishing run of close games they've had in A-10 play alone: 72-71 over Fordham, 63-61 over George Washington (when the Colonials threw away a one-point lead with a six-guys-on-the-court-tech with 21 seconds to play), 47-46 over Saint Louis. The Flyers have put up that 7-1 mark in the league while somehow outscoring their opposition by, on average, only 3.125 points a game. One other way would be to put it the way the excellent Dayton blog Flyers Fieldhouse put it after the La Salle win:
Now 9-0 in games decided by five points or less. Call it clutch, call it luck, call it what you like. I call it an assload of wins and I suggest you do, too.
I agree, but if that 9-0 run goes much further, I'd really like to ask Kenpom himself or some other non-lazy person to figure out if we could call it "history" as well.

A second bid on the Horizon. I can't even tell you how long K-Dub has been predicting the "next Missouri Valley" would be the Horizon--it's been, like, years--but as usual he's looking more prescient by the day. After UW-Green Bay's not-entirely-surprising upset of Butler Tuesday, the Horizon now has four different teams in the Pomeroy top 75: Butler checks in at 29 as expected, but then there's Cleveland St. at 60, UWGB at 67, and the aforementioned Raiders of Wright St. at 71. The conference as a whole ranks 11th in both Kenpom and the RPI, and is breathing down the MoVal's neck in both.

The point? This is too strong a league for Butler to expect to navigate the entire conference tourney minefield, particularly when those three very good teams will all enter the tourney fray knowing that an auto-bid is their only NCAA ticket while the Bulldogs can rest safely on an at-large. I'm calling it right now: not only will the Horizon go multi-bid for the second time in three years this year, it's only going to be the start of a multi-year multi-bid streak. (I'm very, very sure you'll be back next March to correct me if I'm wrong.)

(I guess there's one hiccup in this scenario, and that's Butler whiffing on their BracketBusters trip to Davidson, letting the Horizon regular-season title slip away, falling early in the Horizon tourney, and then watching their at-large bid get jacked. I don't see any of that happening save maybe that last bit--I'd take the Bulldogs over Davidson right now, and seeing anyone else sit atop the league standings at the end of the long haul just doesn't make sense--but it's not outside the realm of possibility.)

Curse breaker? It's my own personal pet belief that when Tubby Smith finally decided he'd had just about enough of Kentucky fans' bellyaching and cut loose for Minnesota, he enacted his revenge by placing a hideous curse on the position he left behind. So horrible was this curse that it affected not only the man who replaced him, but every other coach in the chain of succession that stretched across the country as a result of Smith's departure. Thus has Billy Gillespie struggled mightily to live up to expectations following Smith in Lexington; thus has Mark Turgeon struggled mightily to live up to expectations following Gillespie at Texas A&M; thus has Gregg Marshall struggled mightily to live up to expectations following Turgeon at Wichita St.; and thus has Randy Peel struggled mightily to live up to expectations following Marshall at Winthrop.

But while Peel is overseeing wholesale collapse and Gillespie and Turgeon tread water (at best), Marshall appears to be finally making some headway in snapping the hold of Smith's hex. Not a ton, mind you--the Shockers are still 11-12 overall and 5-7 in the Valley. But after starting 0-6 in conference play the Shockers have reeled off wins in five of six, including last night's 64-58 victory at Indiana St., the Shockers' first road win of the year. If Wichita can lift their heads over .500 in the conference by the end of the year, maybe it'll be time for Gillespie, Turgeon, and Peel to give Marshall a call and ask exactly what brand of exorcism they'll need to use.

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