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Sully's Court: Dinner with Joe Lunardi + rising and falling

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff  February 24, 2014 09:59 AM

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I had dinner with Joe Lunardi, the original and still the best Bracketologist, last week and it was a fascinating hour for those of us obsessed with the NCAA tournament. A lot of people are obsessed with it including coaches like the one who with a losing record in his league who called Lunardi recently to try to convince him his team belonged in the bracket. Lunardi’s projections are objective and interpretive in that he tries to anticipate what the selection committee would do. He’s right about 99 percent of the time and he had bad news for that coach. Off the top of his head he told him that teams with losing records in their leagues have only made the tournament twice. Teams also consult him on scheduling because he has figured out the best path to the tournament after years of crunching the numbers. The numbers are with him at all times in his laptop including his S curve which his ESPN editors have now changed to seed rankings. I never miss it when he puts a new bracket on the site.

Five rising:

Baylor: The Bears seemed dead and buried after losing eight of nine but then came a victory in double overtime over Kansas State, an overtime victory over Oklahoma State and a big win at West Virginia which gives them a four-game winning streak (along with a win over last-place TCU) and renewed hope for an NCAA bid.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels are finally playing up to their talent as they made a strong statement by beating Duke Thursday and have won nine in a row.

North Carolina Central: Incredibly, the Eagles have a six-game lead in the MEAC. They’ll still have to win the conference tournament. When they do they’ll be a candidate to upset a higher seed; they’re looking like a 15. Right now, they’re on a 13-game winning streak.

Western Michigan: The Broncos have won seven in a row plus they have victories over Toledo, Ohio and Akron which makes them a contender in the MAC Tournament. Toledo is still the standout in the MAC but the tournament should be hotly contested in Cleveland.

Vermont: After losing to Stony Brook the Catamounts have won eight in a row and are 13-1 in America East with Stony Brook heading to Burlington this Thursday night.

Five falling:

Citadel: Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors, once wrote a book called “My Losing Season’’ (I’d highly recommend it) about playing for the Citadel. Here’s another losing season. The Bulldogs have lost 17 straight and are 4-25 overall.

Gonzaga: The Zags are having some problems and lost two in a row for the first time this season when they got beat by BYU and San Diego. For San Diego, it ended an 11-game losing streak against Gonzaga. I love the Zags’ talent but I don’t like them to go far in the tournament.

Northwestern: After briefly showing some signs of life in January, the Wildcats have sunk back toward the bottom of the Big 10 with a five-game losing streak.

Southern Cal: Andy Enfield probably thought his first season wouldn’t be easy but he couldn’t have thought it would this bad. The Trojans have lost eight in a row and 13 of their last 14. That makes them the worst team in the Pac 12.

Southern Utah: Back in 2001 Southern Utah gave BC all it could handle in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling 68-65. Now? This might be worst team in the country at 1-24 overall and 0-16 in the Big Sky.

Wake Forest: The Deacons showed some promise early in the ACC season by beating North Carolina and North Carolina State. Things have changed. They lost to the Tar Heels 105-72 Saturday and now have a seven-game losing streak.

This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers are the first team to start 29-0 since Illinois in 2004-05. There are two regular-season games left, Bradley in Peoria, Ill. and Missouri State in Wichita.

This week’s Final Four: Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Louisville. Syracuse has been asking to be upset for a few weeks and it finally happened against BC; then they lost a tough one to Duke. I don’t have confidence that the Orange are a Final Four team so I’ve dropped them out. Louisville proved they’re back playing their best by their victory at Cincinnati. As far as the final call in the Syracuse-Duke game. Jim Boeheim had every right to be upset. C.J. Fair practically jumped out of bounds to avoid the contact and made an incredible shot. It should have been a good basket and a free throw for Fair. That being said, Boeheim’s team still had a chance with 10 seconds left and he threw it all away with his tantrum. Imagine if one of his players did that.

This week’s national champion: Arizona

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