Herb Sendek is not a bracketologist.
He doesn’t sit up at night deciphering South Alabama’s RPI or judging New Mexico’s nonconference wins.
He has more important things to do, like coach his Arizona State basketball team.
But Sendek’s curiosity got the best of him Tuesday night. He called Sun Devil publicist Doug Tammaro to see what was being said and written about the Sun Devils’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a big mistake,” Sendek said. “We started to play those mental gymnastics, which at the end of the day are fruitless because there’s only one opinion that really counts and that’s the (NCAA selection) committee.”
C’mon, Herb, how much fun would March be without bubble teams and bracket busters and guys named Joe Lunardi? Heck, your freshman point guard, Jamelle McMillan, checks espn.com three or four times a day to see the latest projections.
McMillan couldn’t have liked what popped up on his screen Tuesday. The University of San Diego’s upset victory over Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game late Monday knocked a bubble team out of the NCAA Tournament.
And several bracketologists, including ESPN’s Lunardi, believe ASU will be that team if it loses to USC Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
Now, I don’t pretend to study this stuff as much as Lunardi, but I don’t understand the Sun Devils’ tenuous status.
ASU went .500 in arguably the toughest conference in the country. It has five wins against teams with RPIs of 31 or higher: Xavier, Stanford, Arizona (twice) and USC.
“If you go 9-9 you certainly should get in because of the balance and depth in the league,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said.
Yet, there are folks who have ASU out and New Mexico (24-6) in, even though the Lobos have just one win against teams ranked in the top 50 in RPI.
Clearly, the Sun Devils’ nonconference schedule is the biggest factor working against them. It’s ranked 308th and included such luminaries as Florida Gulf Coast, Montana State, Idaho and Saint Francis.
But New Mexico fattened up on Eastern New Mexico, Eastern Washington, Southern Utah and Weber State. What’s the difference?
Something else to consider: ASU is being penalized because its opponents in the Maui Invitational — Illinois, LSU and Princeton — are having down years.
Illinois’ RPI the last five seasons was never lower than 29. This year, it’s 137.
LSU, a Final Four participant in 2006, has a 159 RPI.
Princeton is 5-21 with an RPI of 327.
That’s not soft scheduling. It’s bad luck.
“That field appeared to be much tougher than it played out,” Sendek said.
What’s more mystifying is the bracketologists’ love for Arizona.
Nearly every tournament field projection includes the Wildcats, who finished seventh in the Pac-10.
Granted, Arizona played a much tougher non-conference schedule than ASU. In fact, the Wildcats’ strength of schedule ranks second nationally, behind Tennessee.
But should losing to Memphis and Kansas be valued more than winning, even against inferior teams?
Then there’s the fact ASU’s best non-conference win — Xavier — is more impressive than UA’s victories over Texas A&M and UNLV.
Furthermore, ASU has the edge over Arizona where it should count most — in Pac-10 play.
The Sun Devils were 9-9, the Wildcats 8-10. And ASU swept Arizona.
If the Wildcats and Sun Devils both bow out in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals, how can the selection committee justify taking the seventh-place team and passing on the fifth-place club?
If that’s not enough to gall ASU fans, there’s talk that Oregon has a more attractive resumé than ASU.
Yes, the Ducks finished 9-9 in the Pac-10. But they have 18 victories to ASU’s 19, and their nonconference schedule included wins over Pacific, Western Michigan, Portland, San Francisco and Sacramento State.
In the conference, Oregon was 1-7 against the top four teams. ASU was 2-6, Arizona 3-5.
Given the strength of the Pac-10, you can make the case that all three teams deserve to be in the tournament. But Arizona and Oregon instead of ASU?
That shouldn’t happen.
Perhaps the best thing to do is follow Jeff Pendergraph’s lead. The ASU junior forward is ignoring all the speculation and focusing on things he can control.
“I was playing video games (Monday) night,” Pendergraph said. “Call of Duty. I was establishing my dominance online.”
Bracketology that, baby.