College Basketball Bracketology: UConn and Harvard In, UMass On The Fringe

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Butler Bulldogs to win the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament by a score of 53-41 at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In our first Bracketology Breakdown, we've got UConn and Harvard going to the Big Dance, with UMass headed to the NIT. Find out why three other teams still have a shot at playing past their conference tournament and why Boston College's games are so important.

Welcome to our first edition of New England College Basketball Bracketology. From today until the NCAA Tournament, NIT, CBI and CIT brackets are revealed in March, I will bring you a weekly look at where each of the seven teams we cover here at SBNation Boston stand in their quest for postseason play. Occasionally we will give shout outs to other teams from New England but the focus will be on UConn, Boston College, Harvard, UMass, Boston University, Northeastern and Holy Cross. With three teams 10+ games over .500 and several teams heating up, we could easily match last season's four postseason bids (2 NCAA: UConn and Boston University, 2 NIT: Harvard and Boston College).

Bracketology Week 1

1. UConn Huskies (14-3, 4-2 Big East/RPI (RealTimeRpi.com): 4)
Best Wins: 67-53 vs. #24 Harvard (Dec. 8), 67-53 @ Notre Dame (Jan. 14), 78-76 vs. Florida St (Nov. 26 neutral court)
Worst Losses: 67-60 @ Rutgers (Jan. 7), 68-63 vs. Central Florida (Nov. 25)

The Huskies are sitting pretty, as usual, with many websites projecting them as a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last week's big wins over West Virginia and on the road at Notre Dame have quieted the critics, at least momentarily, and solidified the team's chances for a Top-4 seed. UConn's losses haven't been that bad, although the loss to Rutgers (RPI: 139) could come back to bite the Huskies if they continue to struggle on the road because of their youth. This week provides two must-win games for different reasons. A win over Cincinnati tonight would help UConn in their pursuit of claiming the second spot in the Big East behind Syracuse. Saturday's road tilt at Tennessee is a must win for the team's confidence and because of how bad the Vols have been. The Volunteers hold the fourth highest RPI in the state (behind Eastern Tennessee and Tennessee Tech) and despite their recent strong play, they just haven't been that good this season.

Projection: 100% Chance of Postseason Play (98% NCAA Tournament, 100% NIT)
With Andre Drummond playing better, a second-seed isn't out of the question going forward if they can claim the second spot in the wide-open Big East.

2. Harvard Crimson (15-2, 1-0 Ivy League/RPI: 48)
Best Wins: 46-41 vs. Florida State (Nov. 25 neutral court), 74-69 vs. St. Joseph's (Dec. 31), 59-49 vs. Central Florida (Nov. 26 neutral court)
Worst Losses: 60-54 @ Fordham (Jan. 3)

For the second straight season the Crimson look poised to take their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, but this season Harvard might have a much better case for an at-large bid, if they improbably fail to win the Ivy League again. Last season the Crimson played five teams that earned bids to the NCAA Tournament and held a 2-5 record against those teams, including their heartbreaking loss against Princeton in the Ivy League "Automatic NCAA Berth" game. This season Harvard holds wins over Florida State, St. Joseph's and Central Florida who are all between solidly being in the field of 68 and firmly on the bubble. Add in road wins against two of the top teams in the America East (Vermont and Boston University) and that could be a fourth win against a tournament team. Even the annual loss at UConn was much closer than last season and should impress the voters. Harvard could make their Selection Sunday a lot easier though by taking care of business in the Ivy League, which starts with three straight road games to finish off January.

Projection: 100% Chance of Postseason (93% NCAA Tournament, 100% NIT)
All the Crimson have to do is keep winning at home and avoid any bad slip-ups on the road. No one in the league is as strong of a contender as Princeton was last season.


3. UMass Minutemen (14-4, 3-2 Atlantic Ten/RPI: 60)
Best Wins: 73-65 vs. Davidson (Dec. 23), 71-62 vs. St. Joseph's (Jan. 14),
Worst Losses: 85-61 vs. College of Charleston (Nov. 26 neutral court), 82-75 @ LaSalle (Jan. 8)

UMass will be the most fun team to follow over the next two months because of their volatility. The Minutemen will have plenty of chances to play themselves onto or off of the bubble against the rest of the stacked Atlantic 10. Thus far UMass has amassed a 14-4 record but have played the 128th most difficult schedule with just four true road games. A quick look at the Minutemen's resume shows a team that has beaten the teams they were supposed to, but haven't neccessarily earned that signature win yet. All four of their losses have been to teams in the RPI Top 100 in games that were played on neutral courts or true road sites. While those losses are respectable, Derek Kellogg desperately needs a win away from home against a team ranked higher than 182 (East Carolina) in the rankings. The team will get plenty of chances in Atlantic 10 play, with two road games against teams in the Top 100 this week: Duquesne (100) and Richmond (93).

Projection: 80% Chance of Postseason (30% NCAA Tournament, 70% NIT, 50% CBI/CIT)
This has been Kellogg's most successful year at the helm of his alma mater and I think the school and program are desperate for a postseason appearance. Right now they're just off the bubble for the NCAA Tournament but firmly in as part of the NIT.

4. Boston University Terriers (8-11, 4-1 America East/RPI:177)
Best Wins: 61-55 vs. Stony Brook (Jan. 14), 75-61 vs. Boston College (Dec. 3)
Worst Losses: 71-66 @ Cornell (Nov. 20), 83-69 @ Vermont (Jan. 5)

We've reached the point in our feature where team's sole hope of postseason play involving the NCAA Tournament or NIT will have to include a regular season or tournament championship crown. Fortunately for the Terriers-they're off to their best start in conference play since the 2009-10 season, and have already beaten three of their four biggest competitors in the league. In the past week, Boston University downed Maine University on the road, followed by home wins over Stony Brook and Albany University over the weekend. With the streak, the Terriers are a half game out of first in the conference and hold the only road win against a top-5 team in conference thus far. All Boston University needs to do going forward is avoid meltdowns like they had last season. After a 3-1 start, the Terriers blew road games at three of the four cellar dwellers in the conference in 2011, to keep them out of the running for the top spot. Remember the winner of the regular season in the America East and other one-bid conferences automatically gets an NIT bid if they fail to win their conference tournament.

Prediction 30% Chance of Postseason (30% NCAA Tournament, 35% NIT)

The Terriers are favored in all of their games but one going forward according to Omnirankings.com. If they can actually be that successful they'll guarantee themselves at least an NIT berth.

5.Holy Cross Crusaders (8-9, 2-1 Patriot League/RPI: 157)
Best Wins: 84-78 vs. Lehigh (Jan. 7), 88-83 vs. San Francisco (Dec. 22)
Worst Losses: 72-60 @ Maine (Nov. 27)

Holy Cross has played a pretty difficult schedule (158th hardest) and big a part of that has been quality road opponents. Unfortunately for the Crusaders the team has come up just short time and time again against those opponents on the road. On the year Holy Cross is just 1-8 in road games, with the lone road win coming against 4-13 Dartmouth. Add in a very talented Patriot League, that has two if not three teams ahead of the them, and it will be extremely difficult for Milan Brown to take his team to the postseason for the first time since 2007 when they were a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they are going to pull it off, the Crusaders will need to continue winning at the Hart Center and pull off an upset or two on the road. Anything lower than a top two seed in the Patriot League Tournament will prove costly for the Crusaders, because all games are hosted by the higher seed. Something tells me Holy Cross isn't going to be able to beat two higher seeded teams on their home floor in the span of a week.

Prediction: 7% Chance of Postseason (7% NCAA Tournament, 0% NIT/CBI/CIT)
No Patriot League team has ever played in the CBI/CIT which means they're lone chance is one of the top two tournaments. Bucknell and Lehigh are a bit too strong for Holy Cross to beat out for the top seed, so the Crusaders might have to hope for a miracle week in March.

6. Northeastern Huskies (8-8, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association/RPI: 167)
Best Wins: 78-64 @ St. Johns (Nov. 26), 82-74 OT @ Boston University (Nov. 11)
Worst Losses: 56-53 @ Louisiana Tech (Dec. 20), 79-68 @ Bradley (Dec. 6)

It's been 20 years and counting since Northeastern last made a trip to the Big Dance and it doesn't look like they have much a shot this year, despite a recent hot streak. The Huskies have improved from last year's dismal performance (7-21) but are very much still in a rebuilding process. Northeastern's 4-2 conference record is deceiving because all four of their wins are against teams in the bottom four of a very talented CAA. In the team's two losses, both home games, they've dropped contests to a second- tier team in UNC Wilmington, and Old Dominion who's tied for first in the conference. Bill Coen's squad will get two chances to prove the doubters wrong this week when they host Georgia State and then travel to Drexel.

Prediction: 6% Chance of Postseason (2% NCAA Tournament, 0% NIT, 15% CBI/CIT)
While the NCAA and NIT Tournaments are solely restricted for the best of the best (and the automatic bids), the CIT and CBI accept teams that have had good seasons but also want to send a strong senior class out on a farewell or give their freshmen class some seasoning. With a team built around two freshmen big men and two junior leaders hungry for success, the Huskies might pay the fee in hopes of it launching the team into 2012-13, if they can finish strong over the next two months.

7. Boston College Eagles (7-10, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference/RPI: 211)
Best Wins: 61-59 vs. Virginia Tech (Jan. 14), 59-57 vs. Clemson (Jan. 12)
Worst Losses: 78-72 2OT vs. Rhode Island (Jan. 2), 75-61 vs. Boston University (Dec. 3)

There's not much to say about the Eagles postseason chances: they were over before the season began. Boston College has no shot at any tournament unless they can achieve the impossible and finish their ACC schedule well over .500, and even then we might be talking about the CBI. Once we accept that idea as a fallacy, let's move on to why Boston College's games still have a lot of meaning. This season Boston College has played and lost to Harvard, UMass, Boston University and Holy Cross. Each of those teams saw their resume get a nice little boost this week when Boston College earned two surprising wins in the ACC. If the Eagles can continue their recent strong play, it could definitely help Harvard and UMass in their potential quests for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Not only do Eagles wins help those teams resumes, they also can hurt the very teams that Harvard and UMass are competing with for spots. Virginia Tech and Clemson are both struggling to make it on to the bubble and took a big hit when Boston College knocked them off.

Prediction: 0.4% Chance of Postseason (0% NCAA Tournament/NIT, .4% CBI/CIT)
Sorry Eagles fans, at least you can watch Reggie Jackson play in the NBA Playoffs.

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