March 6, 2009 8:16 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
The State of College Basketball is a rapidly-aging ratings system that uses a lot of good basketball sense, per-game team performance ratings and degradation of older results to rank the teams from No. 1 to 344 (here's the long-winded version). In its overall form, it retroactively picked three of the Final Four in a simulation of 2006-07, did okay as a predictor last season, and enters 2008-09 ready for more. For our purposes here, it gives the world's only hype-free, non-voting, computer poll of teams in the lower 22 and a half (we include the A-14) conferences. This is the full chart, and this is a recording.
1. Butler (Horizon League), 100.236, 25-4 (15-3)
That 58-56 thrill-ride of a win over Cleveland State to clinch the Horizon seems a lifetime ago rather than a week, probably because it earned the Bulldogs a nice long break and two rounds' worth of byes. And doesn't that selection committee sheet looks great? 2-1 against the RPI top 50, nine total victories over the top 100. Perhaps the only way they could miss out on the NCAA Tournament is if they lose by 65 points on their home court in the semis to Wright or Milwaukee. We're reaching here. They've done everything they need to do.
2. Xavier (Atlantic 10), 98.754, 24-5 (12-3)
The Musketeers are now firmly ensconced in the RPI's top 10... doesn't mean much for them, since the Selection Committee doesn't care about a team's own RPI, but it sure helps teams that have beaten them (like Butler). The X is 6-3 against the current top 50, and added four more victories over the next 50. Coming off yet another gigantic home win over Dayton (yawn), Xavier finishes the slate at Richmond before heading to Atlantic City as the No. 1 seed, having clinched its third straight regular season championship Wednesday.
3. Utah State (Western Athletic), 92.315, 26-4 (13-2)
USU is 16-0 in Logan, and that Utah win back in December looks better every day. On the flipside, the Aggies lost at Nevada last Saturday and was outplayed in just about every aspect of the game. Unfortunately, that's where the tourney will be next week, and the Spectrum on Wheels is well-advised to bring plenty of curds and blue Aggie ice cream to help the players feel as much at home as possible. San Jose State at home, which is also WAC POY favorite Gary Wilkinson's (17.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) senior day, comes on Saturday.
4. Saint Mary's (West Coast), 90.109, 23-5 (10-4)
So Patty Mills will play in this weekend's WCC tourney, at which Saint Mary's earned a bye to the semifinals due to its second-place finish. The storyline is that this is definitely going to get them into the NCAA's, because the team apparently lives and dies with him. Has anybody seen this guy put the Gaels in jeopardy with an 8-for-22 shooting night? Or accounted for the fact that any team is going to struggle after abruptly losing its point guard? News flash: SMC has won five straight games without Mills, and is a very good team with or without him, although what may end up killing the dream is fewer quality wins than the other teams high on this list. And here's a twist: the Gaels have added a regular-season game next Friday night against Eastern Washington of the Big Sky in order to get Mills some more in-game work. Somebody (perhaps a BCS bubble team, should SMC lose in the WCC final) is going to protest this.
5. Creighton (Missouri Valley), 89.571, 25-6 (14-4)
P'Allen Stinnett will be on the cover of USA Today all weekend, because they don't publish on weekends. (We usually don't, either.) But Creighton is a tougher NCAA sell than Saint Mary's: it's not because the MVC should change its name to the Big Valley if it wants two bids, it's because many of the top 50 wins the Bluejays had suddenly aren't top 50 wins anymore. As George Mason and Illinois State and New Mexico have all fallen out, leaving just the Dayton victory on the left side of the team sheet. If Altman's Army can overcome its lack of quality rebounding and win three games this weekend, it's in the NCAA Tournament. If they miss, their fate will be decided based on other teams' suckitude.
6. Siena (Metro Atlantic), 86.301, 23-7 (16-2)
As we move father down the list, it's harder to make at-large cases... just win and get in. The Saints' team sheet shows an 0-4 record against the top 50 and that 100-85 loss to Niagara last weekend. Good thing for this team is that they play their conference tourney in the comfy confines this weekend, where it's 14-0 in 2008-09 and beating opponents by an average of 14 points. It's the official stand of this site that if the Saints are dropped on their own floor by a clearly inferior squad, the NIT is good enough. That's not going to happen, though: get your floor-storming shoes on, Saints fans.
7. Dayton (Atlantic 10), 84.361, 24-6 (10-5)
If anything derails Dayton's Dance dreams, it'll be a stunning loss of momentum in the last couple of weeks. Three losses in four games might indicate that the Flyers aren't playing their best basketball of late, but bad shooting is really cutting into their margin for error. We talked the other day about UD's uncanny ability to turn possessions into points, but two sub-40 percent shooting performances in this five-game stretch (Saint Louis and Xavier) have kept the team in low-point trouble. Half of UD's six losses have occurred when the team hasn't managed 60 (UD is a pedestrian 4-3 when that happens).
8. North Dakota State (Summit League), 84.249, 23-6 (16-2)
Bison Fever! NDSU clinched the league title in its first try, and will enter Badlands Bedlamâ„¢ as the No. 1 seed. People talk about Ben Woodside a lot because he won like two MMBOW's and scored a bunch of points that one time, and everyone knows about the seniors that all redshirted so they could win in 2009, but how about the skilled size that's coming up? Michael Tveidt and Dejuan Flowers are both 6-7, shoot the crap out of the ball (56 and 54 percent, respectively), and will return next year no matter what happens from here on out. It'll be valuable experience that will keep the Bison good as they enter the next chapter.
9. Rhode Island (Atlantic 10), 83.401, 22-8 (11-4)
The Rams won't get the top seed in the A-14 tourney, but still have some serious momentum wit a six-game win streak heading into the regular-season finale with UMass this weekend. When URI heads to A.C. next week, they'll hope that their super-hot shooting can overcome the super-mediocre defense and keep the Ram run alive to nab an NCAA big for the first time since 1999. But, and this is for the chatters and Twitterers that keep asking and want some sort of assurance about the NCAA Tournament: no chance. Just keep winning.
10. Temple (Atlantic 10), 80.809, 18-11 (10-5)
As Xavier reaches new heights and Rhode Island rises, Dayton stumbles and Temple has very nearly played its way out of postseason contention. A nine-point win over a death-spiraling Saint Joe's squad stopped the Owls' own bleeding, a two-game skid to La Salle and Dayton that happened to a team that had used up all its hit points early in the season. Temple ends its regular season at GW on Saturday, and who knows? It's a team that can win three games in Atlantic City if it can snap back into the same focus exhibited during a five-game February win streak.
The Next 12:
11. Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon League), 79.323; 12. Davidson (Southern), 79.071; 13. Niagara (Metro Atlantic), 78.959; 14. Illinois State (Missouri Valley), 78.734; 15. Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), 76.990; 16. Cleveland State (Horizon League), 76.792; 17. Weber State (Big Sky), 76.368; 18. George Mason (Colonial), 75.679; 19. Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), 73.910; 20. Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), 73.833; 21. Stephen F. Austin (Southland), 71.602; 22. Oakland (Summit League), 70.343.
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