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North Dakota State Should Be Dancing – No Matter What

Special to CHD.

I have one idea I want to run by the general population of college basketball junkies. Within the aura of the March Madness media world, every writer and their brother has an opinion and a prediction on who will make the Big Dance, who won’t make the Big Dance, who will be cutting down the nets in April, sleeper teams to watch, and whether Ethan Wragge will make the Kevin Pittsnogle NCAA tournament all-time facial hair team (if you don’t remember Pittsnogle, just google “Kevin Pittsnogle corn dogs wedding”. That should tell you all you need to know about what type of persona makes up this hypothetical team. And now you have “Kevin Pittsnogle corn dogs wedding show up in your google searches anytime you start a search with a K. You’re welcome).

Tomorrow, none of these opinions will matter. Not mine. Not yours. Not Joe Lunardi’s. I am still going to saturate your march madness knowledge with an idea that I have not seen floating around the internet and doesn’t seem to be picked up on ESPN, CBS, or any other media giant’s that I have read while perusing the various aforementioned college basketball opinions.

The idea is this: the North Dakota State Bison men’s basketball team should be dancing no matter what the outcome is of their Summit League Conference tournament. They should be like a college kid who goes out on the dance floor at 1 am while everyone else is clearing out because, well he started drinking 12 hours earlier and is so happy for no real reason other than he IS IN COLLEGE. He doesn’t need a reason to be happy. HE IS IN COLLEGE. He doesn’t really know where he is but he hears music, sees lights, and an open floor space. Dance away my friend, no one is judging at this hour. It shouldn’t matter to the NCAA tournament committee if NDSU wins their conference tournament or not- they were let in by the bouncer well before midnight. Even if they are relatively unknown and their face doesn’t quite look like their out-of-state id.

To prove my point, two sensible things need to happen that aren’t too difficult to comprehend: calculate some simple math and make a logical assumption. Let’s start with the latter. Assumption: Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is the best tool (not the only tool, but the best) used to evaluate conference tournament teams. To me, and to every writer/talk show host/commentator alive, this is almost common knowledge.  Go look at espn, CBS, nbc, or any other major media outlet’s most recent bubble article. The comparisons between the teams will look something like this- TEAM X is 4-5 vs TOP 100, TEAM Y has 6 wins vs TOP 50 while TEAM Z has 4 losses outside of the top 25. These comparisons are all subtly making reference to the RPI being the base indicator in judging what actually is a top 100, top 50, top 150 team.

Let’s take a closer look at RPI:  Winning percentage + opponents winning percentage + opponent’s opponents winning percentage. All three metrics make up equal parts of the formula (1/3 each for you non math majors out there, or 33%). While simple, it is most likely the best objective measure there is to identify tournament worthy teams. I understand there are advanced metrics and statistical measures out there, but at the very least the RPI does give us a good indication of how deserving a team is in making the NCAA tournament. A team needs to win games. But that’s not enough, it needs to win games against teams that also win games. But that’s also not enough, it needs to win enough games against teams that win enough games against teams that win enough games. In layman’s terms, to have a good or respectable RPI a team needs to have a good record and play good teams.

Let’s do an “eyeball” test on the RPI. The top 10 RPI as of 3/7/13:

1. Arizona

2. Kansas

3. Florida

4. Villanova

5. Wisconsin

6. Wichita St.

7. Duke

8. Virginia

9. Iowa State

10. UMass

Passes the test right? Kansas is number two even though they’ve lost seven times. I don’t think you would hear too many arguments that would think it’s ludicrous Kansas is number two. Wichita State, who hasn’t played anyone as the critics say, is rated a respectable 6th but not in the top five. This is perfect- playing both sides of the fence- quiets the critics by implying maybe they shouldn’t be a 1 seed, but also clearly states Wichita State is a top 10 team. UMass might pop out a little bit at number 10, but before making judgments have you seen UMass play? They are 23-6, playing in a top six conference, and have beaten Nebraska (possible tournament team), New Mexico (#20 in the nation), and BYU (probable tournament team) outside of the dredges of the A 10 schedule. They have two bad losses, but hey so does everyone else it seems (See: Duke, Syracuse).

Assuming the RPI is the best objective measure of a team’s worthiness, not the only measure, but most important measure, let’s now do some simple math:

68 teams make the NCAA tournament. 32 of them are automatic bids. That leaves 36 at large spots. That would mean RPI’s of 1-36 would be a good indicative of the at large teams (again not the ONLY way to judge them). Now let’s assume that 10 of those top 36 are automatic qualifiers (as was the case in 2013). That pushes the RPI “cut line” around 46. Basically, I’m saying teams in the top 46 should make the ncaa tournament, OR AT LEAST be on the bubble or in serious conversation for it. Let’s take a look at the teams 40-49 of RPI, or as we will call it now, the bubble decade, with ESPN’s most recent bracketology in parenthesis (all data as of 3/7/14):

 

40. Kansas State (8 seed)

41. Nebraska (last team in, 11 seed)

42. SMU (8 seed)

43. Baylor ( 9 seed)

44. North Dakota State (13 seed as AQ, not on ESPN’s mid major bubble watch. Or CBS. At All. No mention. )

45. Dayton (12 seed/play in game)

46. Xavier (11 seed)

47. Arkansas (11 seed/play in game)

48. Stanford (10 seed)

49. Pitt (10 seed)

 

Do you see what I am getting at? Based on RPI alone, this should get the Bison in the conversation, which doesn’t appear to be the case currently. ESPN’s most recent bubble watch lists Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Green Bay, and Louisiana Tech. No mention of NDSU while only Southern Miss has a better RPI than NDSU (thanks to a one point victory over NDSU back in December).

Reality is RPI alone shouldn’t be the reason to get teams in the big dance, or else it would just be used like a BCS formula taking all human judgment out of it. But that doesn’t mean NDSU shouldn’t be dancing, because they should. Here is NDSU’s profile at a glance:

Record 23-6. RPI: 44. Good Wins: Notre Dame, Delaware, Towson, Western Michigan. Bad losses: North Dakota, Denver. As the Bleacher Report points out, NDSU is 9-5 against the RPI top 150 and Memphis is 5-6 against the RPI top 150.

NDSU plays in a lower tier league, but also won at Notre Dame. You think it’s easy winning at Notre Dame? Ask Duke that question. Even beating Notre Dame at home can be tough (ask Syracuse). A season is not based on one win, and NDSU’s season isn’t based on that win. They also beat Delaware and Towson, numbers 1 and 2 in the respectable CAA, and Western Michigan, also a respectable team from the MAC. They have torn through summit league play, losing only twice on the road to top 150ish RPI teams (IPFW 127, Denver 150. RPI rankings- dang I did it again! Just saying Denver and IPFW are not your ncaa JV squads).

If an NCAA tournament committee member hears North Dakota State, he might think of some unathletic, slow white boys just jacking up threes with no reason or rhyme participating with the Big Boys of college basketball on March’s biggest stage. Well I hope he watches them before making any rash decision on their tourney hopes. That stereotype (ie- small school in the Midwest) couldn’t be more wrong. They are #1 in the nation in field goal percentage (not three point percentage) at 50.2 % because their offense is old school. They feed the post to their skilled center Marshall Bjorkland and their offense- open shots, cuts to the lane, feed off of him. With excellent footwork and soft touch around the basket, he shoots a cool 64% from the field. Let me repeat a part of that in case you missed it: THEY LEAD THE NATION IN FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE. THEIR RPI IS 44 and THEY LEAD THE NATION IN FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE. Their best player is senior small forward Taylor Braun, the summit league player of the year. Braun averages 49 % from the field, 41 % from 3, 77 % at the charity stripe, 18 points/game, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and almost 2 steals a game.

Are they just a bunch of shooters who can’t get shots off against the bigger, more athletic power conference schools? In other, words, do they pass the eye test? Trayvonn Wright, NDSU’s starting senior forward has an answer to that:

 

Ummm….I’ll take that as a yes? On a sidenote, please take the next two minutes looking at Trayvonn Wright’s other dunks on youtube. This will be worth your while — unless you are one of those fans that thinks we shouldn’t have a three point line or shot clock, and would like to run four corners offense for an entire half. And if that’s the case, you probably also hate ice cream so I can’t help you in life. No one can.

NDSU should win their conference tournament, but basketball is a funny game sometimes. Sometimes the ball goes in when it shouldn’t, and sometimes the ball doesn’t go in when it should. Sometimes there are dumb mistakes made by kids in their late teens and early 20s, and sometimes a better team loses when they shouldn’t. It’s basketball. It happens. It’s how Syracuse can lose to Boston College at home, and how Duke can lose to Wake Forest. Upsets are what makes march madness great. But to have those upsets in the NCAA tournament, the best team from the smaller conferences needs to represent those conferences. All too often, the best team, in a one and done format, gets upset themselves, limiting the quality of basketball and upset potential in the NCAA tournament.

NDSU is already one of the best 36 at large teams. No one is talking about them, but they should be. Let’s hope NDSU wins their conference tournament (same goes for you Green Bay, Stephen F. Austin, Davidson) so we don’t have to worry about any nonsensical solutions from the committee.

If they win their tournament, make sure you think twice before seeing the words “North Dakota State” and immediately moving the 4 or 5 seed onto the next round. They experienced, athletic, well coached, and can score inside and outside. Did I mention they lead the nation in field goal percentage?

If by chance they do slip up, NDSU’s march madness shouldn’t be done. The bouncer just needs to glance at their id.

 

 

 

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