BPI and the March Madness 'bubble'

Since the advent of major college basketball (now called Division I) in 1947-48, many teams have entered and some have left. However, only five have been playing major college basketball that entire time and have never made the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern, Army, William & Mary, St. Francis (N.Y.) and The Citadel were all part of the original 160 teams in D-I. This year, they entered a collective 0-324 in trying to make the tournament. With Northwestern’s 75-68 overtime loss to Minnesota, all five schools lost in their conference tournaments.

But what about Northwestern’s at-large chances?

Joe Lunardi has Northwestern among his "First Four Out". The Wildcats have the 14th toughest strength of schedule according to RPI, the toughest among those schools Lunardi currently does not have in the field.

Last year, Seton Hall missed the tournament with the 14th toughest schedule, but the Pirates went 13-18. Given Northwestern’s 18-13 record, a better comparison is Connecticut, which missed the 2010 tournament despite the fourth-toughest schedule and a 17-15 record.

BPI Analysis: Northwestern’s 50 BPI falls closely in line with its 51 RPI. Again, the Wildcats are helped by a strong strength of schedule. The problem? Northwestern is 1-10 against the BPI Top 50. Among those currently in Lunardi’s latest field, Northwestern has a higher BPI than Colorado State, South Florida, Xavier, Washington, Mississippi State, Drexel and Seton Hall.

One team that appears to be safe is Colorado State, which is the ninth-to-last at-large team in Lunardi’s latest projection. However, with an RPI of 20, it’s notable that the Rams are even in the bubble discussion.

Highest RPI Last 15 Years
Missed NCAA Tournament

Over the past 15 years, the highest RPI for a team that missed the tournament was 21 (Missouri State in 2005-06).

CSU has a chance for a statement win on Friday when it faces San Diego State, the top seed in the Mountain West.

BPI Analysis: With a BPI of 70, Colorado State represents one of the biggest discrepancies between RPI and BPI. It’s worth noting a similar discrepancy with previous high RPI teams that missed the field. In 2007, Air Force had a 30 RPI and 51 BPI. The following year, Dayton had a 32 RPI and 73 BPI. Among Lunardi’s current "First Eight Out", BPI favors all eight over Colorado State. Of those, Miami (FL) has the highest BPI.

Since the field expanded to 48 teams in 1980, the ACC, Pac-10/12, SEC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 8/12 have always had multiple bids. However, after Thursday it’s possible that the Pac-12 could be a one-bid league. The Pac-10 was last a one-bid league in 1978, when the field was 32 teams.

Washington (RPI: 69) and Oregon (RPI: 63) lost in the quarterfinals, seriously hurting their chances of an at-large bid. Washington currently is the fourth-to-last team in the tournament, and Oregon is among the First Four Out. That’s setting up a repeat of 2010, when California and Washington were the conference’s only tournament representatives.

California is considered safely in. If the Golden Bears win the Pac-12, it could lead to a one-bid scenario.

History says that a Pac-12 team in the RPI top 60 has a relatively safe chance of making the field. Over the past 15 seasons, only three teams in the conference were left out with an RPI that high.

BPI Analysis: BPI agrees on Oregon at 63, and isn’t all that much kinder to Washington (57). However, Arizona is another story. The Wildcats have a BPI of 40, much higher than their RPI of 77. Among schools with a higher BPI, only Miami (FL) is not currently in Lunardi’s latest projection.