21 January 2011

Addendum: a wrinkle to our 20 win threshold

An astute point was raised by "jonesingcat" in response to our post from earlier today that NU is on track to make NCAAs. That is that imbalanced schedules could throw a monkey wrench into our simplified view of Northwestern's NCAAs chances.

Due to the Big Ten's imbalanced schedule NU plays only once what are arguably the top two teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Purdue). This scheduling quirk undermines somewhat Northwestern's ability to piggyback off of the Big Ten's overall conference strength. Therefore we acknowledge that a 9-9 Big Ten record for NU may in fact not be enough to make the NCAAs as it would be accomplished against a somewhat weaker Big Ten conference schedule than implied by overall conference strength.

We will take jonesingcat's point one step further. The Big Ten is not the only conference with an imbalanced schedule. In fact most of the conferences have imbalanced schedules. In converse to NU's favorable conference schedule situation there could be a team or three from the Big East etc... with relatively strong conference schedules that could look favorable to the selection committee despite conference records which on the surface appear unworthy of an invitation to the Big Dance.

Since we are already scratching below the surface of the landscape we should also mention the risk of an unusually large number of upsets of nationally prominent favorites in the lesser conference tournaments. This x-factor would reduce the number of at-large bids for teams like Northwestern. All along we have implicitly assumed that there would not be an unusually high number of upsets of the Gonzaga's of the world in their conference tournaments. We acknowledge the reality could turn out differently.

In sum we now think 9-9 would put us in prime bubble territory and not safely into the NCAAs. So if you want to think in terms of wins necessary for a likely NCAA tournament invite we now think that number is 21. Still we will keep with the 20 win threshold for now until the picture comes into focus over the next few weeks but with the thought that 20 wins would get us onto the bubble and allow for some serious Maalox moments come Selection Sunday.