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How important are early-season results?

    When it comes to teams in the Big 6 (BCS) conferences, you can argue that early-season NCAA basketball games are not absolutely critical to post-season aspirations.  That’s true to a point, assuming the team in question wins enough conference games or beats enough of its league’s heavyweights.  But without some significant out-of-conference wins, NCAA selection becomes more questionable.  That’s why Bracketville posts Key Games throughout the season as a way to look at potentially meaningful games.

    How do results matter? Take two examples from last year.  Syracuse finished 19-13 overall and 9-9 in regular-season Big East play, losing to Villanova in the opening round of the Big East tournament.  syracuseTheir quality conference wins included Georgetown and Marquette (they also lost @ Cincinnati and @ South Florida).  Ultimately, the Orange missed the NCAAs not simply because of a 9-9 league mark, but because they beat only one team in the Top 50 of the RPI in non-league play (St. Joe’s).  Part of that was a scheduling problem; SU had few chances to post a marquis win before January.

   Meanwhile, Kentucky made the NCAA’s as one of the final at-large teams at 18-12, even though the Wildcats finished their non-league schedule at 6-7 which included a home loss to Gardner-Webb.  The difference?  UK finished 12-4 in the SEC with wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee (both highly-seeded NCAA teams last year).  Was 12-4 in the SEC that much better than 9-9 in the Big East?  Hard to say.  Certainly the Big East was better top to bottom.  The point is, both teams squandered their non-conference schedule and one paid dearly with a trip the NIT.

   Is it mandatory at power conference teams win big in November and December?  No.  Does it make a difference?  Yes.  It can make a difference in selection and – perhaps just as important – seeding.  Why do you think Big 10 teams haven’t fared well in seeding (or selection) the past few years?  They haven’t won many big out-of-conference matchups.  Once January arrives, teams beat up on each other.  Often, the best way to separate yourself is big early season wins over quality teams – especially on the road. 

   That in mind, here are upcoming games that make a difference (Thursday and Friday, December 4&5).  You can always find updates, the current schedule and recent key results under Key Games here at Bracketville.  As always, send us a Rebound – Bracketguy.

Upcoming Schedule under “Key Games” above …

THURSDAY – December 4

  • USC @ Oklahoma – Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series; visiting Trojans have missed chances for early-season notible wins but get another chance here.
  • UCLA @ Texas – Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series; another battle of heavy weights. Both teams plan on having a long dance in March.
  • Butler @ Cleveland State – Two of the Horizon league favorites go head-to-head.  Can young Bulldogs take an early lead in the standings?

FRIDAY – December 5

  • Arizona @ Texas A&M – Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series; both of these teams could use a quality out-of-conference win.  This would qualify.

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