Tournament plans for Central Florida and Cincinnati ?
On a hunch, let’s conclude for now that Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Syracuse will make the NCAA Tournament. All are unbeaten (through Jan. 6)and currently project as potential No. 1 seeds. It’s also pretty safe to assume that San Diego State will be dancing. Which brings us to unblemished Central Florida and Cincinnati. Should the Knights and Bearcats start making Madness reservations?
Comparing non-conference profiles of the two is pretty easy. UCF has wins over Florida and Miami-FL on neutral courts. Cincinnati has beaten Dayton and Xavier at home. Those are each school’s best wins. UCF’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 168 (according to CollegeRPI.com) and Cincinnati’s ranks No. 336. Against teams currently rated 200 or lower in the RPI, UCF is 4-0; Cincinnati is 9-0. By almost any measure, Central Florida has a better at-large resume at this point.
Now, let’s look ahead …
Cincinnati plays in the Big East – both a huge advantage and potential pitfall. The Bearcats have ample opportunities to overcome a brutally week non-conference slate. And it starts in the next five games – @Villanova, South Florida, @Syracuse, @Notre Dame, @St. John’s. The Bearcats will be favored only at home to USF. In February, Cincy has trips to Pittsburgh and Georgetown – and hosts Louisville, West Virginia and Connecticut. UC is going to have to win some of these games. A road win or two would be helpful. Can the Bearcats do it? Sure. We just don’t have enough evidence yet to be confident. Especially because UC has very little worthwhile data from November and December. Tournament odds are 50-50 right now. Check back on February 1.
Central Florida has fewer opportunities to make big impressions – meaning the Knights need to put together a pile of Conference USA wins. A Memphis free-fall doesn’t help – UCF could benefit by a Tiger resurgence. Through games January 5, UAB has the league’s next best RPI (48). Southern Mississippi is a solid team, but a bubble contender at this point. Same for UTEP. UCF visits Southern Miss on January 15 and Memphis on January 26. Tournament odds are 60-40. The goal will be making the Selection Committee remember the early wins over Florida and Miami.
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