Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Postseason Prediction Post

I can’t speak for other NU fans, but I figured that the 2014 season would put NU on the NCAA bubble had Bill Carmody been still been the coach. When Jim Phillips canned Carmody and hired Chris Collins, my expectations dropped. Coaching changes generally involve some adjustments that can be difficult, and bringing in a rookie head coach to in an absolutely brutal B1G seemed foolish. When Jaren Sina requested and was granted his release, my expectations dropped a bit more. NU was now without its highest-rated signing in over a decade and without a clear back-up at point guard. When Collins spoke about his vision for NU’s style of play, my expectations dropped yet again. He spoke of an up-tempo style, and it should have been clear to any NU fan that this approach was not a sound one with the roster Collins inherited. The more I heard from Collins, the greater my skepticism grew. By the time the season started, I expected a losing record. This was not because I thought the roster was totally devoid of talent, but because Collins did not appear up to the task of winning in the B1G with the talent he was handed.

The season opening blow out win over the anemic Eastern Illinois Panthers meant nothing, but double-digit losses to every decent non-con opponent coupled with home losses to mediocre Illinois State and DePaul squads not to mention squeakers over IUPUI and Brown solidified my doubts. The conference season began with three thrashings, and I began to think this could be the worst B1G team in nearly a decade.

A defensive adjustment helped NU win five of its next seven, including three consecutive road wins. At that point, the NIT seemed like a real, though perhaps distant, possibility. One genius who actually makes a living writing about college basketball even speculated that the NCAA tourney was in play!



A quick review of NU’s non-conference record, RPI, and efficiency splits would indicate to any non-moron that NU had basically two paths to the NCAA tourney, even after the win at the barn: 1) go at least 7-1 to finish conference play with wins at both MSU and OSU and no home losses, or 2) win the B1G tourney. The first path would make NU a bubble team, I believe, but that scenario is likely out of play now with the home loss to Nebraska. The second path seems like NU’s only way to the Dance this year. More on that in a bit.


Post-Season Chances, Reality-Based Edition

There are  now four post-season tournaments featuring NCAA D1 teams: NCAA, NIT, CBI, and CIT.

The CIT website expressly states that “from the outset the idea was to invite teams that were not members of the power six or BCS conferences.” So you can cross that off the list of possibilities.

The CBI website defines the event thusly: “The 16-team field consists of teams not selected for the NCAA Tournament. Teams are invited based upon performance during their conference and non-conference schedules, as well as how well the team is playing at the end of the regular season.” Schools have had to pay to hose CBI games in the past, and only one B1G has participated in the event’s six years. That was last year’s 15-17 Purdue squad.

Most NU fans are familiar by now with the NIT. What you might not know is that teams are not required to have .500-or-above records to participate in the NIT. That rule changed in 2006, though no sub-.500 teams has been invited since then. With the auto-bids for conference regular-season champs that lose in their conference tourneys, NIT bids can actually be tough to earn, and a B1G team with a winning record cannot simply expect to make the NIT when it misses out on the NCAA.

Since this is the reality-based edition, I’m not even going to discuss the NCAA tournament here.

Ken Pomeroy projects NU to be 14-17 (7-11), which means he expects the ‘Cats to lose five of their final seven games. If that happens, then the CBI becomes the only possible post-B1G tourney destination for NU. Based on what (little) I know about the CBI, if NU wants to pay to host a game, then it probably will be able to. Considering how neglectful the university has been to the basketball program over time, and considering the absolutely pathetic attendance for the 2012 NIT game against Akron, I’m skeptical that Jim Phillips will lay out the requisite cash. On the other hand, fans do seem to be jazzed about Chris Collins—if he can get students and fans to come to an unwatchable NU-Nebraska game, he might be able to get them out for a CBI game.


Post-Season Chances, Fantasy Edition

Let’s talk NIT. One bizarre irony of this season is that many of the same folks who were dissatisfied with the best five-year stretch in NU history, which featured an unprecedented four consecutive NIT bids, are now ecstatic over the mere mention of the NIT. But the NIT is a huge stretch at this point. At a minimum, I believe that NU would need to finish the B1G tourney at .500. The most likely route to .500 for NU is: beat Minnesota, Indiana, and Penn State at home, beat Purdue on the road, and lose in the first round of the B1G tourney. With an RPI that sits at 97 today, I doubt that a .500 record would be enough. More likely, the ‘Cats need to go at least 5-2 down the stretch AND pick up a win in the B1G tournament.

If the B1G plays out according to the KenPom predictions, this is what the B1G tournament bracket will be:
1
Michigan
8
Minnesota








9
Northwestern


5
Wisconsin






12
Penn St.





4
Ohio St.



2
Michigan St.



7
Indiana










10
Purdue





6
Nebraska




11
Illinois




3
Iowa


With a 5-2 finish, though, NU could finish as high as fourth in the B1G. In that case, NU would have a first round bye and would find itself three wins from its first-ever NCAA bid. Since this is the fantasy edition, we can entertain such thoughts. I’m even willing to state that if NU gets to the point that it has ensured itself an NIT bid, then it may well be playing well enough to win the damn B1G tourney. In my dreams, an NCAA bid is actually more likely than an NIT bid!


Back to Reality

More likely than not, NU will end this disappointing season with a losing record and no post-season appearance. Why do I call this season a disappointment? The defense has gotten so much better. That's encouraging, right? Yes, but the offense is egregiously bad. I know the story is that Collins needs to get "his guys", but what does it say that the two best returning offensive players (Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski) have both had the worst years of their careers under Collins? That's not encouraging to me. Folks who think the NCAA tourney is a lock within the next two years might be disappointed.

2 comments:

  1. Here's what I wanna know - will we still have this commitment to defense when CCC gets "his guys" in? I have a concern that his desire for "up-tempo" means we'd abandon the current zeal for defense. Or perhaps the new NU players can play both ways well.

    Love that line about how some fans would be ecstatic for the NIT, given that's where we've been for the past several years.

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    1. Great point. The narrative about the program's new identity being rooted in the defense is counter to the previous one about the new er being fast-paced & high-flying. What we're seeing this year is the complete opposite of the original promise. So, yeah, it's a valid to wonder if this focus on defense remains as the roster changes. With this defense all you need is a middling offense to be an NCAA tourney-level team.

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