Friday, March 12, 2010

Of rainy days, mismatched puzzle pieces and the CIT and CBI bubbles

That's it I quit I'm going to watch The Price Is Right!

When my sister and I were kids, one of our Mom’s favorite rainy day activities was to join us in putting together puzzles. Which would have been fine, if only my sister and I were better, on earlier rainy days, at making sure the right pieces ended up in the right boxes. So inevitably, by lunchtime, I’d become frustrated that a piece from a baseball puzzle wasn’t snapping into place with a piece from the ocean puzzle and I’d stomp off and rant about how much I hated George Mason, or something.

Anyway, trying to assemble something from the mess that is the CBI and CIT bubbles is apparently the adulthood version of futilely trying to build a baseball puzzle with ocean puzzle pieces. There is no rhyme nor reason to anything and nothing ever fits. But here I am anyway, resisting the urge to throw my hands in the air and trying to make logic out of nonsense. College basketball addiction, catch it!

This exercise will be doubly fruitless if my hunch is correct and there is no more basketball to be played this season for the Flying Dutchmen. With 19 wins (18 against Division I opponents), the Dutchmen are even more precariously on the bubbles than last season, when they had 21 wins and 20 against Division I opponents.

At this moment, the Dutchmen are one of 38 mid-major teams that have finished the season with at least 19 wins but have not earned an automatic bid to the NCAA or NIT (this total includes the runner-up in the America East, whose final Saturday will pit two 19-win teams, Vermont and Boston, seeded lower than first).

There are another 13 schools with at least 19 wins but with no automatic bid to the NIT in the back pocket. So the bubble will only get more crowded over the next three days, especially since the mess that is the NCAA Tournament bubble is going to knock a whole bunch of BCS schools into the NIT and a whole bunch of deserving mid-majors out of the NIT and into the scramble for CBI and CIT berths. How on Earth is Northeastern, which finished second in the CAA with a 14-4 record and played a worthy non-conference schedule, in danger of missing the NIT?

In addition, as of Thursday, the Dutchmen were 148th overall in the RPI at and just 38th among mid-major teams that have already completed their seasons and have not earned an automatic bid to the NCAA or NIT. More importantly, they are just 11th among potential mid-major CBI and CIT teams in the northeast (technically, the Dutchmen are 12th, since they are behind both Vermont and Boston, but one of those schools will obviously earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament). That list:

72. Northeastern
80. Fairfield
90. Iona
96. Harvard
110. Duquesne
127. Vermont
129. Niagara
131. Princeton
139. Boston U.
143. Rider
147. Drexel

Further muddying the picture is the willingness of the CBI and the CIT to award bids to schools willing to pay the fee to host a home game. As noted yesterday, George Mason—whose RPI on Thursday morning was 159, 11 spots lower than Hofstra—has already locked up a CIT bid and has begun selling tickets to its first round game Tuesday night. So even if the Dutchmen measure up, merit-wise, it may not be enough (hint, hint, buy a game Hofstra!).

The CBI—which is run by the Gazelle Group, which runs multiple pre-season tournaments—has also bartered with teams willing to participate but unwilling to pony up the $60,000 host fee. Wisconsin-Green Bay last year hosted a game against Vermont in exchange for agreeing to play in and cover the costs of a Gazelle Group-run tournament in 2010-11.

But let’s retain optimism here on the final Friday before Selection Sunday. Of the 11 mid-major northeast schools ahead of the Dutchmen in the RPI, only the loser of the Vermont-Boston game will be able to match the Dutchmen’s record in their last 10 games (8-2).

The CIT likes to minimize travel for its participants, so there’s a few natural fits for a short Hofstra road trip. The best chance is probably a game at Iona, which is already a regular rival for Hofstra. A bit less likely is a game at Fairfield, since the schools already played one another this year.

Games at Ivy League schools Harvard (yes please, give me an excuse to go to Boston) and Princeton are possible. A lot less likely is a game at either Vermont or Boston (yes please, give me an excuse to go to Boston), given Hofstra’s unwillingness to associate itself with America East regular season champion Stony Brook.

If a BCS school wants to buy a CBI game, then the likes of Boston College (15-16; oh and yes please, give me an excuse to go to Boston) and UConn (17-15) become potential road opponents for the Dutchmen, though the Huskies would seem less likely since the Dutchmen already visited Storrs this year. Technically, St. John’s (17-15) is a possible CBI foe as well, but given that Tom Pecora is being bandied about as a potential replacement for Norm Roberts, I’m just going to go ahead and assume that game is not going to happen.

I’m also going to assume NO game is going to happen, that the last image of the 2009-10 Dutchmen is Halil Kanacevic’s desperate heave from midcourt at the buzzer of the second overtime against Northeastern Saturday. But for a couple more days, at least, we’ll hold out some hope that the mismatched puzzle pieces somehow comes together for the Dutchmen to participate in the CBI or CIT.

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