Thursday March 8, 2012

The University of Massachusetts will take its 21 wins and an Atlantic 10 tournament first-round victory over Duquesne to Atlantic City this weekend.

Will the Minutemen find the luck to beat top-seeded Temple on Friday and possibly play their way into the NCAA Tournament? If you ask Joe Lunardi, the answer would be a definite maybe.

"They do have to win the tournament to get in, although their path, now that they have Temple in the quarters, could really put them up against some helpful RPI games to get there," said Lunardi, who is ESPN's "Bracketologist."

Lunardi visited with many of us on a conference call Wednesday to discuss where teams are before Selection Sunday and the tournament, which starts Tuesday with the "First Four."

UMass-Temple is the first of four quarterfinals in Atlantic City, and it will be shown on Time Warner Cable (Channel 11 in Pittsfield) at noon.

The Owls and the Minutemen met late in the regular season and Temple earned an overtime win. Lunardi said that, had the Minutemen won that game, an at-large bid might have been more realistic.

"I think four chances in five, they're going to have to win in Atlantic City," he said.

As to the league, Lunardi says he puts the over-under at 21 2, and thinks the A-10 will get the over.

"I think some combination of Xavier, Saint Joseph's, Dayton or simply a weak RPI conference champion could occur here," he said. "This is really a pretty even Atlantic City event coming up.

"All eight favorites have advanced. I don't remember the last time that happened. I don't think that any of the teams that are getting byes are invincible. I think they're all vulnerable to the teams they're playing."

One area where Lunardi makes a strong case for changing selection criteria is asking that teams in the major conferences not be allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament unless they have finished .500 or better in their conferences. The man we call "Joey Brackets" said that's not just his opinion, but an opinion based on fact.

"It's not a random idea of mine that teams have to be tournament eligible by being .500 in their league," he said. "No. 1, I've been writing it for years. No. 2, two or three years ago, I did an extensive study about so-called middling majors and their performance in the tournament itself versus the Ionas and the Drexels of the world.

"The high-winning mid-majors, despite fewer spots and worse seedings, have outperformed under .500 conference teams pretty significantly over the five- and 10-year period I studied two or three years ago. That's without the Butlers and the VCUs of the last couple of years added in."

That means unless UConn wins the Big East Tournament, the Huskies couldn't get in, because they were 8-10 in the Big East. It's the same story for Arkansas. The Razorbacks were 18-13 in a pretty good major conference, but they were 6-10 in league play. It seems fair that if you can't win half of your league games, you haven't done enough to get into the tournament.

We'll see who's right Sunday.

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.