Monday, August 16, 2010

The 2010 NIT Tip-Off -- A Too Early Look at the Field

Filling Out the Field
News about early season invitationals for the 2011 season have been leaking out in dribs and drabs for the past two months. The NIT Tip Off, operated by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, owners and operators of the post season NIT, was inaugurated in 1985 as a counter move to the dwindling prospects for post season event (and later purchased by the NCAA as part of the settlement of MIBA's anti-trust law suit against the NCAA). From the first season, the event attracted a field of the top schools, and continues to do so every season. A move to the pod schedule format a number of years ago gives the tournament's preliminary round(s) a look and feel similar to a number of TV and impresario backed events like the Paradise Jam, the Legends Classic among others. Like the Legends Classic, the preliminary rounds are hosted at four separate sites -- the four top seeds. Unlike the Legends however, the pod hosts, heavily favored by high-major status and home court advantage, must win in order to advance to the Championship rounds (semi and finals) in New York City. The pod hosts for this edition of the tournament are Villanova (North), Tennessee (South), Wake Forest (East) and UCLA (West). The pod rounds (the preliminary rounds) will match the host and three invited teams to two games at the host site. First round winners at each pod site will play a second round game to determine who advances to New York City for the semi-final round. The three teams at each site who do not advance to New York City will play two additional Consolation Round games at site of the three highest seeded teams.

The Field
Four of the six above the "Red Line" conferences, the ACC, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC, are represented and will host the four sites for the preliminary rounds. The 12 "visiting" teams are drawn from conferences generally local to each pod site. The field, sorted by region, with the host team listed first:

(North) VillanovaBig East (South) TennesseeSEC
Boston UniversityAm. East Arkansas StateSun Belt
George WashingtonA-10 BelmontAtl. Sun
MaristMAAC Missouri StateMVC
(East) Wake ForestACC (West) UCLAPac-10
HamptonMEAC NevadaWAC
Virginia CommonwealthCAA PacificBig West
WinthropBig South PepperdineWCC

The teams are listed alphabetically within each region. The field definitely has a "bi-coastal" flavor, as the Big East, ACC and Pac-10 have many members located along the Atlantic and Pacific coastal region. Note however that the conference affiliation for each of the three "guests" in those three pods also have strong representation along the left and right coastlines. A product no doubt, related to the host sites. I wanted a bit more detail about the participants in each of the preliminary round sites, so tracked down RPI, won-loss records and returning minutes/points from the team sites, and some possession-based stats from Ken Pomeroy's web site. For each pod site, I have given the record information, followed by the possession-based information.

The East Region
The breakdown suggests this could be a very interesting mini-tournament. In the same way that throwing a party in the middle of a remodeling project is interesting...

2010 Season2011 Returning
Wake Forest39191032.934.1

Pod hosting for a team with an RPI (2010) of #39 makes good sense. Looking no farther, one could tease out a seed arrangement that would have Wake Forest play Hampton and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) play Winthrop (of the Big South Conference) in their first round game. Consider however that Wake hired Jeff Bzdelik barely four months ago, and the former Colorado (of the Big 12) coach has had to replace over 65% of his minutes and points from last season's squad. And wait, it gets worse...

2010 Adjusted
Wake Forest69.9106.591.40.852

Coach Bzdelik's Colorado struggled during his tenure, but pace and adjusted offensive efficiency were about the same as Wake's over the same period...but Wake Forest had a much better defense. VCU on the other hand appears to be in pretty good shape. I was a little surprised by the Rams' strong Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP), but the squad did win the post season CBI Tournament to close out the 2010 season. All things equal (while checking out Wake's and VCU's PWP), I would favor Wake by just under whatever they get for home court advantage. VCU's coach, Shaka Smart, however, enters his second season as head coach with over 80% of his squad's minutes and over 85% of their points coming back. Coach Bzdelik may not be able to run full practices with his squad until mid October, but I have to think he is breaking down VCU film now. This could be a very bumpy beginning to his tenure at Wake.

West Region
Like Wakes' Coach Bzdelik, UCLA's coach, Ben Howland, has something of a rebuilding job in 2011, so the timing for accepting an NIT Tip-Off hosting job is interesting...

2010 Season2011 Returning

This region also looks like the host will attempt to entertain while undertaking an rebuilding project. Based on RPI alone, one would think the match-ups would be Nevada versus Pepperdine and UCLA versus Pacific in the first round. Since UCLA hosts however, they get to pick their cupcake, so I suspect the Bruins will take the Wave, while Nevada and Pacific play the under-card match. This West however, is almost as muddy as the East. Nevada may have the better RPI, but second year Coach David Carter faces a rebuilding job even more extensive as Wake's Coach Bzdelik. Presumptive top seed? No actually. In fact the Wolfpack may have a tough time getting by the Tigers in the first round (assuming they are matched with Pacific). Pacific, coached by 24 year veteran Bob Thomason (21 years at Pacific), returns nearly 2/3 of the Tigers' 2010 minutes and over 70% of their points.

2010 Adjusted

Looking past the first round games, a Pacific--UCLA match-up would put two teams with very similar profiles head-to-head. They have similar offensive and defensive efficiencies (Pacific is actually a bit better). Coach Howland has no problem with a slightly lower possession rate, should Pacific control the tempo. And again, Pacific's Pythagorean Winning Percentage is higher than UCLA's. Should the Bruins and Tigers survive the first round, this second round match may come down to the Pauley Pavilion's intimidation factor. Will the Tigers be able to filter out the distractions and focus on the game? Pacific's Coach Thomason has a 15-9 record versus Nevada, a 5-2 record versus and incredibly, a 0-0 record versus UCLA.

South Region
Tennessee is probably in the best spot as one of the host sites...

2010 Season2011 Returning
Arkansas St.202151492.292.9
Missouri St.90201289.394.6

The RPI-based first round would most likely pit Tennessee against Arkansas State, and Missouri State against Belmont, with the winners -- Tennessee and Missouri State -- facing off for the trip to the Big Apple. The Vols return over half of their minutes (57.1%) and points (51.0%)...just barely, but how challenging, despite the high percentage of returning minutes and points, would either Belmont or Arkansas State be to either the SEC or the Missouri Valley school? As for the second round game, looking just at the table above, it would seem to be at least as competitive as either the East or West Region/pod. But looks can be deceiving...

2010 Adjusted
Arkansas St.67.597.7100.50.420
Missouri St.65.5110.898.70.792

On paper a first round match-up of Belmont and Missouri State may be the best of the three that would be played over the two days. Both return substantial portions of their squad's minutes and points. While pace can be overblown at times, the nearly five possession difference between the Missouri State and Belmont could be trouble. If Belmont is behind, the Bruins might chafe at the Bears' more deliberate pace. Or if the Bears are beind, they may struggle to stay with the Bruins. In either case, the Vols' pace falls between the Bruins and Bears, so the Vols should have little trouble adjusting if the other team controls the pace.

North Region
Many of the details are sketchy at this point. The dates for the preliminary rounds, and for Villanova, even the site -- will this be moved to the Wells Fargo (nee Wachovia) Center downtown, or will the 'Cats host this on campus at the Pavilion? The Wells Fargo Center would make sense...

2010 Season2011 Returning
Boston University144211443.550.9
George Washington148161575.370.9

Villanova has a connection to each of the other teams in the pod. Boston U Coach Patrick Chambers was an Associate Head Coach at Villanova just two seasons ago. The Terriers were a last minute addition to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field last November. Though BU has a lot of minutes to replace from last season's squad, I doubt the Wildcats and Terriers will be matched in the first round. That first round opponent will most likely be the Red Foxes of Marist. Head Coach Chuck Martin did stints as an assistant for Bruiser Flint at Drexel, and at St. John's under (former) Coach Norm Roberts. Marist was the destination for former Villanova center Casiem Drummond, who later moved on to Georgetown College in Division 2. While some in the 'Nova Nation may not be happy about Marist's 334 RPI, with 92% of the Red Fox 2010 minutes returning, chances are good Marist will finish with a higher RPI this season.

2010 Adjusted
Boston University71.2104.097.40.679
George Washington68.2102.696.60.665

The first round match-ups here therefore, will most likely be Villanova and Marist, with George Washington, the A-10's representative in this tournament, matched with Boston University. Should seed hold, expect Villanova and GWU to face off for the second pod win. For the past three or so pre-seasons Villanova and George Washington have waived the second NCAA-sanctioned exhibition game in favor of an opportunity to conduct a closed scrimmage with each other. Coach Hobbs and Wright are extremely familiar with the other's personnel and style of play (and coaching). I suspect if the 'Cats (and Colonials) participate in a closed scrimmage this pre-season it will not be with each other.

The Semi-Finals and Beyond
I suspect, should the pod hosts' hold through the preliminary rounds, that Villanova and Tennessee will the match-up the NIT would want for the final. The semi-final then would match Villanova with either Wake Forest or UCLA, with Tennessee getting the other.

Further Reading...
The Official NIT Tip Off Site
The Tip-Off Brakets (.pdf format)
Other Early Season Invitationals with teams, dates and sites. From CBS.

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