Monday, February 4, 2013

Ascendant Teams - Big Conferences

March is a month away, and the conference season continues to weed the good from the bad. Right now there is a vast middle field where teams could either play their way in or out of the tournament.  These are the teams with the most positive movement in the College Women's Hoops S-Factor in each of the big conferences right now. 

Big 10
Ascendant team: Illinois
The Big Ten is one of the more volatile conferences this year.  One can envision plausible paths to a tournament berth for nine different teams (Ohio State is amazingly not one of these nine).  Currently Illinois is the most ascendant team.  Now at 6-3 in the Big Ten, they should be able to manage a 10-6 conference record or possibly an 11-5.  Wins over Georgia and Nebraska should outweigh losses to Bradley and Illinois State. 

Big 12
Ascendant team: West Virginia

The Big 12 is once again the best conference in the NCAA in terms of RPI, and it has the best team in the nation (Baylor).  But what Baylor lacks is an in-conference foil, the Notre Dame to Connecticut, the Cal to Stanford, the St. Mary's to Gonzaga.  In years past this role has been played by Oklahoma or Texas A&M, but Oklahoma is not as strong as in years past (thanks in part to the many torn ligaments in the knees of their players, including Whitney Hand) and Texas A&M is raising hell in the SEC.  Basically the Big 12 is Baylor, then everyone else, then TCU.  The result is that Baylor is currently on something like a 479-game conference winning streak, and those middle eight teams could win or lose on any given night to any of the others. Last week was a particularly good week for West Virginia, which beat both Oklahoma teams to get back into the middle of the Big 12 pack.  Their next four games will either make or break the Mountaineers: at Texas Tech, at Kansas, Oklahoma State at home, and Iowa State at Hilton.  I can see them going 0-4, 4-0 or anything in between.

Big East
Ascendant team: Rutgers
The Big East is similar to the Big 12 in that there is a clear three-way split of the teams ranging from really really good to really really bad. On top of everyone are Connecticut and Notre Dame; below everyone are Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall and Cincinnati; and in the middle are nine teams that could beat or lose to most any of the other teams on any given night.  The most unstable of these teams seems to be Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have gone 4-1 in their last 5 games, but they managed to let truly-awful Seton Hall hold them to a season-low 42 points in a loss two weeks ago.  Rutgers has a pretty good path to a 9-7 conference record, which would put them firmly on the bubble for the tournament.

Pac 12
Ascendant team: Washington
The Pac 12's chronic RPI deficiency was supposed to be helped out by the addition of Utah to the ranks, but it has been Colorado that has provided the boost the conference has lacked in years past.  Unfortunately, any increase in competitiveness by an improved Colorado has been offset by a lackluster Arizona State and USC.  Right now the Pac 12 is still only getting 4 teams in, but the Washington Huskies have looked strong lately.  They are on a six game winning streak, but their victories have been over the Pacific Northwest's cupcake trio of Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State, as well as Arizona and the aforementioned disappointing Arizona State.  Still, they have a really good shot at going 12-6 in conference (in part because they only play Stanford, Cal and Colorado once).

Ascendant team: Missouri
The SEC is made up of five great teams (Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina), four pretty awful teams (the ones from Alabama and Mississippi) and five middle teams where anything is possible.  Vanderbilt has the best conference record of these teams (5-4) and currently has the best tournament resume, but Florida, LSU, Arkansas and even Missouri, which just Davided the Tennessee Goliath, have reasonable paths to a tournament berth. 

Ascendant team: none
The maximum number from the ACC in the tournament will likely be six, barring an amazing seven game winning streak by Georgia Tech. Virginia is currently the team out, but they'll probably finish 11-7 in conference and be back in.

Now in:
Utah State
Eastern Kentucky

Now out:
Montana State

Conferences with multiple bids:
Big 12: 7
Big 10: 7
Big East: 6
SEC: 6
ACC: 5
Pac 12: 4
Atlantic 10: 3
Missouri Valley: 2
West Coast: 2

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