Palming The Road To 64

By Jeff Lippman - January 28, 2008

Huzzah! Huzzah!'s January 28 edition of Jerry Palm's "Road To 64" bracket has been released.

If you have been paying attention and hanging on to every typed word this blog has spewed forth, then you very well know how much I remain anti-Big Ten. Only Ohio State deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament, and that is simply because the AP and the Coaches have been ranking them all season, I'm still not buying the Buckeye's cow.

So you can expect that when I focused my vision on Mr. Palm's Jan. 28 bracket, noticing that not only was OSU in the NCAAs according to Palm, but so were five other Big Ten schools, I was a little surprised. Six teams for the most powerless of the power conferences? More teams then the ACC, SEC and Pac-10?

Here, for your amusement, are the Big Ten teams (and records) who are currently residing in Palm's bracket: No. 5 seed Ohio State (15-4, 6-2 Big Ten), No. 7 Minnesota (15-6, 6-3), No. 10 Iowa (13-7, 6-3), No. 10 Indiana (12-8, 5-3), No. 9 Michigan (12-7, 5-4) and No. 7 Penn State (13-7, 4-4).

And here are some teams from other power conferences who are currently without a nod in Palm's bracket: Auburn (14-6, 2-3 SEC and ranked No. 25 in AP), Florida State (14-7, 4-2 ACC), Arkansas (17-4, 2-4 SEC).

It's not exact science, obviously. But I caught up with Palm to find out how he tabulates his bracket this early in the season. The answer: well, it's not exact science.

"I try and evaluate the same sort of criteria as the women's committee does," Palm said. "I can't watch as many women's games on television as I can with the men so I am at a bit of a disadvantage, but I see my fair share."

Palm certainly has a better feel for Big Ten basketball, living in West Lafayette, Ind., home of the Purdue Boilermakers. But feelings don't really have anything to do with it. Instead, it's all about the here and now.

"It's all about strength of schedule, how you did against your schedule, how you are playing now, how you are doing in your conference," Palm said. "Although, this time of year, how you are doing in conference is a little sketchier because they are still relatively early in conference play."

Right now, the in-conference records of many of those Big Ten schools look more impressive then those in the SEC or ACC. But there is a reason for that. And that is, the competition in the ACC and SEC is far better. So even though Auburn's record is 2-3 in the SEC, I still think they are better then Michigan, or Penn State, or Minnesota.

So why did the Tigers fail to make Palm's bracket?

Three little letters that every college basketball fan knows but few understand: R.P.I

"Auburn is 14-6, but they have lost five out of seven so they are not playing well," Palm explained. "Their RPI is dismal because their non-conference schedule was not difficult."

And while I think the RPI can RIP for right now, it is still the best and most accurate way to predict tournament prowess by combining strength of schedule with records and conference strength.

And as Palm says, just because the Big Ten has six teams and the SEC four now, doesn't mean that by March things don't look a whole lot different.

"I don't think there is any question that the Big Ten is a down league," Palm admitted. "But this stuff varies week to week. Teams that are playing poorly right now get pushed aside."

Deep Blue Rising?
One ACC school that is getting love from Palm's bracket are the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke is 15-4 and 4-1 in conference play and is currently ranked No. 10 in the nation. Palm has given them the No. 2 seed in the New Orleans region alongside No. 1 seed Tennessee.

That means they are a two seed in a region that isn't the most difficult - the most difficult is the Greensboro region where No. 1 Connecticut resides.

Do the Blue Devils deserve a desirable No. 2 seed when teams like No. 8 Cal and No. 9 LSU are left to be a three and a four, respectively? I might be inclined to say no, but the Blue Devils can go a loooong way to proving me wrong Monday night when they play that No. 1 seed in their region, Tennessee in Durham.

A huge victory in front of thousands of Cameron Crazies will catapult the Blue Devils not only up the rankings but up my personal opinion ladder as well.

There is no question in my mind that Duke is going to be an excellent team. This group of Blue Devils, however, still has a lot of growing up and learning to do. Tonight in Durham can be their first big-time lesson.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:47 AM on January 28, 2008

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