Morning Jac 041011
Every day we take a step closer to Selection Sunday (or Monday, or whenever the MCLA committee decides to release the bids), and there are still a lot of moving parts. However, the easiest seed to nail down is usually the No. 16 seed.
Distinguished either by strength of conference or strength of résumé (or both), there is typically a clear-cut 'favorite' for the position that is fed to the top-ranked team (i.e., Michigan). Things are a little murkier this year. Not just because it's still tough to determine who is going to make the tournament, but also because there are a handful of programs that could fit the profile of the MCLA's rear guard.
Let's take a look at the candidates in alphabetical order:
Florida State (14-1, SELC)
The Seminoles don't have their typical non-conference schedule and Florida's sprint toward irrelevancy has weakened the SELC, but the Seminoles do have three wins over ranked opponents and the Magical MCLA "Close Loss" to No. 10 Texas (a fact often overlooked). If FSU finishes 18-1 and wins the conference -- likely meaning a win over at least one more ranked opponent -- it's absurd to think that FSU will be No. 16.
Illinois (8-2, GRLC)
Two weeks ago, the Illini were front-runners for the last position simply by being the best team in the worst conference. While the GRLC may still be in the discussion for worst league -- along with the UMLL, LSA and PCLL -- Illinois not only has the strength of schedule to avoid No. 16, but also has the quality wins to back it up. Regardless of what happens against Michigan State this afternoon, the Fighting Illini know they'll have (at least) Duluth in their rear view mirror.
Minnesota Duluth (4-6, UMLL)
The Bulldogs are going to be an interesting test case for the selection committee because their body of work will ask a key question: should a team get credit for putting together a strong schedule even if it doesn't win any of them? Theoretically, there are a lot of teams that could play the same group of opponents and go winless, so the more precise question is: should Duluth receive credit for having the resources and reputation to put that schedule together? It's a question that goes to the heart of competition in the MCLA. Regardless, UMD will be in the hunt for the 16th seed as the UMLL auto-qualifier, although they could be bolstered by the "close loss" phenomenon.
Oregon (6-6, PNCLL)
Heck, the Ducks took Michigan to double-overtime. They might just be the No. 2 seed! In all seriousness, like Illinois, Oregon knows it has at least Duluth behind it in the seeding, and still has a chance to pick up another seed or two against Cal Poly today.
UC Santa Barbara (8-4, SLC)
The Gauchos are only in consideration due to a win over fellow bubble team Utah, a couple of "close losses," and their reputation. Other than the win over the Utes, UCSB has amassed its other seven wins by feasting on middling WCLL teams (Cal, UC Davis and Santa Clara, who have combined for an 18-16 record) and mediocre SLC programs - SDSU, Claremont, Loyola Marymount and UCLA, which are a combined 17-26. If the Gauchos aren't pushed out of the tournament completely by a second PNCLL team, they are serious candidates for the No. 16 seed.
Texas (11-0, LSA)
The Longhorns present a dilemma because if the notion that Florida State could be the No. 16 seed is "absurd," as I posited above, then Texas would have to be in the clear. The committee will probably not look favorably on the fact that UT only left the state once (in January), canceled a trip to Oregon late in the game, and the uncompetitive nature of the LSA. The Longhorns ask the corollary to the Duluth question: should a team be rewarded for beating the only impressive team on its schedule? I think UT is a contender, but has just enough insurance to keep it out of No. 16.
Utah (5-4, RMLC)
The Utes issue at this point is not its seed; they need to be concerned about just earning a bid. The win over Simon Fraser is looking better, the Duluth victory is losing value, and the UCSB loss could be a thorn in Utah's side. The pollsters like Utah, but the math may not add up, especially if there are any conference tournament upsets. The good news is if Utah makes it, they probably won't be No. 16.
So there's not clear cut "winner" at this point, although things could change from week to week. And a monumental tournament upset will endther race. But what's the big deal? It's not like Michigan's unbeatable, right?