Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Look At the Bubble

As we enter the last week of the regular season for the major conferences and about half of the mid-majors start conference tournament play the contenders have separated themselves from the pack. There are still a lot of teams on the bubble, thanks in large part to teams either lacking quality wins or having some big-time negatives on their resumes. Here's a look at approximately where things stand right now, at least in my eyes.

#1 Seeds

There is a big debate right now with how the top seeds will fall. One thing is for sure, the top two overall seeds are locked up.

  One way or another, Kentucky and Syracuse will be the top teams in the tournament. They both have only 1 loss so far this year, with Kentucky falling on a last-second shot to Indiana and Syracuse losing to Notre Dame.

The other two #1 seeds are up for grabs right now between Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, and North Carolina. Missouri and Ohio State were contenders for the top line, but have dropped off in the last few weeks. As things stand right now, I think if any of the 3 conferences (Big Ten, Big XII, ACC) have the same team win both the regular season and the conference tournament, that team will definitely get a #1 seed. Kansas clinched the Big XII regular season crown, which gives them a slight edge right now. Duke has head-to-head wins over Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina (though will have a rematch against the Tar Heels for the outright ACC Championship on Saturday). Therefore, by my estimation, the other two #1 seeds right now are...

Yes, you can argue that either Michigan State or UNC belong here too. But if the season ended today, I think these two teams would be on the top line.


At this point in the season, I have 27 teams that are "In" the field for sure: Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, Kansas, UNC, Michigan St, Marquette, Missouri, Baylor, Ohio St, Georgetown, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Louisville, UNLV, Temple, Wichita St, Florida St, Florida, Vanderbilt, Murray St, Creighton, St. Mary's, Gonzaga, Memphis, Southern Mississippi

Additionally, I have 12 teams that "Should be in" barring some kind of epic collapse: Notre Dame, San Diego St, Virginia, UConn, Purdue, Kansas St, New Mexico, Alabama, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Iowa St, California.

Given Cal's loss to Colorado, Washington is now the Pac-12 leader and I think the committee will have a hard time not putting the regular season Pac-12 champ in the tournament, so for now I think they are in the "Should Be In" category. If Washington drops a game somewhere and Cal wins the Pac-12, Washington heads right back to the bubble.

There are 19 conference champions that probably won't get an At-Large bid, though cases like Long Beach St, Iona, Oral Roberts, Belmont and Middle Tennessee could make things interesting if they don't win their tournaments.

The Bubble

That left me with 9 bubble spots to distribute between what I identified as 20 teams in contention for the tournament. Looking at things like Top 50 wins, Top 100 wins, 100-200 losses and 200+ losses, I moved Northwestern, Miami, Illinois, Cincinnati, and Mississipi St to the top of the bubble. Yes, I know Illinois and Mississippi St don't pass the eye test, but looking at their resumes, they both have decent bodies of work. Illinois has 4 Top 50 wins and only 2 losses to teams with RPIs over 100. Mississippi St similarly only has 2 bad losses to teams with 100+ RPIs and have 3 Top 50 wins. Cincy's Non-conf SOS is horrendous, but they have 5 Top 50 wins so it was hard to keep them out given how bad some of the other teams were.

I took a look at the bottom of the bubble next to chop off the bottom end and eliminated NC State, Colorado, Ole Miss, UCF, LSU, Dayton, and St Joes (in that order) based on overall resume weaknesses.

So then we come down to the "Last 4 In"/"First 4 Out" discussion. The 8 teams I was left with at this point were: Arizona, BYU, Colorado St, St Louis, South Florida, Texas, VCU, Xavier.

Of this group, Texas had the most Top 50 wins (3) which gave them an advantage and moved them to the top of the "Last 4 In" group. USF is a paltry 1-7 vs the Top 50 with their best win over Seton Hall, whose RPI is 44, so not really a convincing Top 50 win at that.


USF's best road win was over Pitt (RPI 97) and that was their only Top 100 road win. They also lost to VCU, which moved VCU up on my board. USF got dropped to the bottom of my "First 4 Out" category.
Despite struggling since "The Fight", Xavier has a solid all-around resume. They have 2 Top 50 wins over Vandy (on the road, big plus) and Purdue and are 5-3 vs the Top 100 with all 3 losses coming on the road in conference play. They have only lost 1 game to a team outside the Top 100. Due to the strength of some mid-majors, the losses they took right after "The Fight" (Oral Roberts, Long Beach St, Gonzaga) don't look so bad since all those teams are in the Top 50 of the RPI. I put Xavier in based on their quality wins and lack of bad losses. 

I eliminated Colorado St next based on their "Home Court Hero" status. They have some impressive wins - San Diego St, New Mexico - but they are both at home. In fact, all 6 of their Top 100 wins were at home. Their best road win (and actually their ONLY road/neutral win) against a Top 200 team was over #135 UTEP. The Rams computer numbers are strong (mainly based on playing Duke and Southern Miss in non-conference play, both games they lost by over 20) but they just don't win away from home. 

That left me with 4 teams fighting over 2 spots: Arizona, BYU, St Louis, Texas.
It might be surprising that St Louis has dropped this far, but their overall resume is really sparse on quality wins. They have no Top 50 wins and their best wins are over St Joe's and Washington. The Billikins also have losses to Loyola Marymount (RPI 114) and an inexcusable loss to 6-23 Rhode Island (RPI 251).
BYU has a very similar resume with a 5-5 record against the Top 100 (St Louis was 5-4). However, BYU has a Top 50 win over Gonzaga. BYU also has 2 100+ losses, one of which was also to Loyola Marymount. However, what separated them from St Louis was their other loss was to Utah St (RPI 154). BYU has a better win and a less bad worst loss than St Louis, which gave them the edge.

Down to 3. I did BYU vs VCU first. Again, two similar resumes, but BYUs was marginally better. BYU is 5-5 vs the Top 100 and VCU is 4-4. Both had a Top 50 win, but BYUs was over Gonzaga (RPI 18) and VCU's was over South Florida (RPI 46). BYU's best "non-home" win was over Nevada (RPI 56) and VCU's was over Akron (RPI 58). Both teams had 2 losses to teams with 100+ RPIs, but BYU's worst loss was to Utah St (RPI 154) was better than VCU's worst loss was (Georgia Tech, RPI 175). To cap it off, BYU's computer numbers were better (RPI 49, SOS 107) than VCU's (RPI 60, SOS 213). 

This put BYU in the field, as they were better than both VCU and St Louis. I figured I should analyze Arizona next, because if they were better than BYU, I wouldn't need to look at VCU vs St Louis as they would both be out.
Arizona's also had 1 Top 50 Win (at Cal, RPI 36). Arizona is 4-8 against the Top 100 (as opposed to BYU's 5-5) but their wins are better. Arizona's best 2 wins (Cal and New Mexico St, RPI 71) were on the road (as opposed to BYU, whose only Top 100 non-home win is a neutral site win over Nevada). On top of the better wins, Arizona only has 1 loss to a team with an RPI over 100 (at UCLA, RPI 131). While Arizona's computer numbers aren't as good as BYUs, they have a better slate of Top 100 wins and less losses to teams with 100+ RPIs. This was enough for me to put Arizona over BYU, knocking VCU and St Louis from contention.

Therefore, my Last 4 In were: Texas, Xavier, Arizona, BYU
And my First 4 Out were: VCU, St Louis, Colorado St, South Florida

I was honestly surprised that St Louis dropped so far down the board, especially being a 21-6 team, but they just don't have the resume right now for me to justify putting them in the field. They have a huge opportunity tonight against Xavier at home that is almost a must-win for both teams. The A-10 standings are a mess right now. Temple is the clear leader, but there are 6 teams within 2 games of the 2nd place Billikins. The top 4 get byes in the conference tournament, so St Louis should be fairly safe for a bye, but there are 5 teams fighting over the last 2 byes that are all a game apart in the standings. In all likelihood, we'll see some bubble-bursting elimination games in the A-10 tournament involving St Joes, Xavier, and St Louis.

The Bracket

Here's a quick look at my current bracket:

South Region
1. Kentucky vs 16. Stony Brook/Miss Valley St
8. Southern Miss vs 9. Kansas St
5. Temple vs 12. Illinois
4. UNLV vs 13. Iona
6. Creighton vs 11. California
3. Baylor vs 14. Belmont
7. Gonzaga vs 10. Iowa St
2. Marquette vs 15. Davidson

East Region
1. Syracuse vs 16. UNC-Asheville/Savannah St
8. Memphis vs 9. New Mexico
5. Wichita St vs 12. Mississippi St
4. Wisconsin vs 13. Texas/BYU
6. St. Mary's vs 11. Miami
3. Ohio St vs 14. Akron
7. Notre Dame vs 10. Harvard
2. Missouri vs 15. Weber St

West Region
1. Duke vs 16. UT-Arlington
8. Purdue vs 9. Washington
5. Florida vs 12. Drexel
4. Louisville vs 13. Middle Tennessee
6. Murray St vs 11. Northwestern
3. Georgetown vs 14. Nevada
7. Virginia vs 10. Seton Hall
2. Michigan St vs 15. Bucknell

Midwest Region
1. Kansas vs 16. LIU-Brooklyn
8. UConn vs 9. Alabama
5. Florida St vs 12. Long Beach St
4. Indiana vs 13. Xavier/Arizona
6. Vanderbilt vs 11. Cincinnati
3. Michigan vs 14. Oral Roberts
7. San Diego St vs 10. West Virginia
2. North Carolina vs 15. Valparaiso

Monday, February 27, 2012

Conference Tournament Preview Part 1

As we enter into the last week in February, some of the Mid-Major conferences have concluded their regular seasons and are beginning tournament play. The big boys are still playing out the rest of their regular seasons this week and will start tournament play next week. But don't sleep on these small conferences. There are a lot of competitive leagues that should yield exciting tournament games. It's win-or-go-home for these small schools and they're going to leave everything they have out on the court. The ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) will carry pretty much all of the championship games, along with some of the semi-finals matchups. Here's a preview of what to watch for over the next week.

March 1-3, 9 

Top Seeds: Stony Brook, Vermont

Tournament Format: 9 teams, 8/9 Play-In

Upset Special: Albany

The Outlook: Stony Brook rode an undefeated home record and a league-leading defense (holding opponents to under 60 points per game) to the Regular Season Championship. Vermont's loss to Binghamton (the Bearcats only win of the season) kept them from sharing the regular season title with Stony Brook. If you're looking for a sleeper team, Albany has two of the top 5 scorers in the league (Gerardo Suero - 21.7 PPG and Logan Aronhalt - 14.2 PPG) and boasts the top scoring offense in the league. This is a top-heavy conference and the champion will likely be playing in one of the "First Four" games in the Big Dance. The America East champion has not been seeded higher than 15 in the NCAA tournament since 2007.

February 29 – March 3 
Macon, GA

Top Seeds: Belmont, Mercer

Tournament Format: Top 8 teams qualify, Normal 8-team bracket

Upset Special: USC Upstate

The Outlook: Belmont is the best team in the conference and has a fringe shot at an at-large bid if they fail to win the tournament. USC Upstate is the feel-good story that pretty much no one has heard of. They went from winning just 5 games last year and finishing in the basement of the league to winning 20 games and finishing 3rd in the Atlantic Sun this year. Belmont has the #2 offense in the nation, averaging 82.1 points per game. By contrast, Mercer is built on defense, boasting the most stingy unit in the conference, allowing just 63.1 points per game. Belmont swept Mercer this season, but won the first game by 4 and the second by 1. 

March 3, 6-7 
Higher seed hosts first round, regular season champion hosts Semi-Finals and Finals

Top Seeds: Weber State, Montana

Tournament Format: Top 6 teams qualify, 1 & 2 get byes to Semi-Finals

Upset Special: no clue

The Outlook: This is a top-heavy conference with Weber St and Montana, both 14-1 in conference play as of Monday, dominating the league all season. The two meet Tuesday night at Montana in a game that will decide the regular season title. No one else in the league is even in the same conversation as these two. Weber St and Montana are contrasts in styles. Weber St is led by Damian Lillard, the leading scorer in the conference, has the 11th best offense in the nation (79.1 PPG), and has 3 players shooting over 40% from behind the arc. On the other hand, Montana boasts the best defense in the conference, allowing only 61.8 PPG.

February 27, March 1-3 
Campus Sites

Top Seeds: UNC Asheville, Coastal Carolina

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 7/10 and 8/9 Play-in Games

Upset Special: Charleston Southern

The Outlook: UNC-Asheville was the first school to clinch a regular season title this year, winning the Big South by 4 games over Coastal Carolina. This is an offense-driven league with 6 teams averaging over 70 points per game. VMI has the 5th best offense in the nation and would be a sleeper pick if not for their paltry 1-13 road record this season. Asheville is close on their heels with the #6 offense in the nation (80.8 PPG) and has 5 players averaging over 10 points per game. While Asheville has distinguished themselves from the pack, "the pack" was tight with only 3 games separating 3rd place from 8th place. Even though Asheville has been solid all year, they are likely headed towards a 16-seed, as the Big South Tournament champion has been placed at the bottom of the bracket for 3 consecutive years.

March 2-5 
Richmond, VA

Top Seeds: Drexel, VCU, George Mason, Old Dominion

Tournament Format: 12 teams, Top 4 get byes to Quarterfinals

Upset Special: Delaware

The Outlook: Unlike some of the other leagues, the CAA was built on stingy defense this season. Only George Mason averaged over 70 points per game and three teams (Drexel, VCU, and Georgia St) held opponents to under 60 PPG. Aside from Kentucky, Drexel is the hottest team in the country, riding a 17-game winning streak into the conference tournament and haven't lost since January 2nd. Delaware is the #5 seed and riding an 8-game winning streak over mostly bottom-of-the-conference teams into the tournament but does boast an early-season win over Drexel. VCU, George Mason, and ODU are all solid squads and it wouldn't be surprising to see any of the top 4 teams take this tournament. The CAA isn't as strong as in years past but name recognition and a weak, weak bubble could help them get a 2nd team in the Big Dance. Reputation may help the CAA champion in tournament seeding - the CAA Champion hasn't been seeded below a 12-seed since 2004.

February 28-29, March 5-6 
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Valparaiso, Cleveland State

Tournament Format: 10 teams, Top 2 "Double Bye" to Semi-Finals

Upset Special: Butler

The Outlook: Valpo, coached by Tournament Buzzer Beater legend Bryce Drew, won the league by two games. However, the rest of the league was tight, with only 2 games separating 2nd and 7th place. The "Double Bye" format gives a huge advantage to the top 2 teams that only have to win once to get to the championship as opposed to the rest of the field that has to win 3 times to get to the title game. It's been a down year for Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs, but you can never sleep on them this time of year. In addition to having the best defense in the league, Cleveland St was the only team with a winning record on the road, which may come in handy if they have to play the championship game at Valparaiso. Valpo has home court advantage in the tournament and was 8-1 at home in conference play this year, their only loss to Milwaukee back in December.

No Tournament

While there isn't a conference tournament, this is a huge week for the Ivy League. Harvard enters the week with a 1/2 game lead on Penn in the conference standings. If both teams win out, the Ivy League may have to play a Tiebreaker game for the second consecutive year. Harvard has games at Columbia and at Cornell this week while Penn plays Brown, Yale, and at Princeton. If they don't get the automatic bid, Harvard should be right in the middle of the bubble picture, thanks to wins over Florida State and fellow bubble teams UCF and St Joe's.

March 2-5 
Springfield, MA

Top Seeds: Iona, Loyola (MD)

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 7/10 and 8/9 Play-in Games

Upset Special: Fairfield

The Outlook: Iona blitzed through the conference, boasting the top scoring offense in the nation (83.4 PPG) and almost 20 assists per game. The Gaels are led by PG Scott Machado who leads the nation with 10.1 assists per game. Big man Mike Glover is second in the conference with 18.1 PPG and 9.1 RPG. The Gaels can shoot the lights out, with 3 players averaging over 40% from behind the arc. Iona has a Top 40 RPI so if they were to lose in their conference tournament, they might have an outside (though slim) shot at an At-Large bid. This is a team that could make some noise in the Big Dance out of a 12 or 13-seed. The MAAC has produced good teams over the last few years, with the champion getting a 14-seed or higher each of the last 4 tournaments.

March 1-4 
St. Louis

Top Seeds: Wichita St, Creighton

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 7/10 and 8/9 Play-in Games

Upset Special: Northern Iowa

The Outlook: The Valley traditionally has one of the most exciting tournaments and that shouldn't change much this year. Wichita St and Creighton are in good shape for At-Large bids, assuming both win at least a game in the Conference Tournament. Both teams have explosive offenses (Wichita St averages 78.3 PPG, Creighton 79.7 PPG). Creighton has one of the best scorers in the nation, Doug McDermott who averages 23.1 PPG (3rd in NCAA). Northern Iowa started the season strong, posting a 10-2 record before Christmas. Since Santa visited, the Panthers have been a mediocre 9-10, including a Bracketbusters loss to VCU. Though the top two teams certainly distinguished themselves from the rest of the league, only 1 game separated 3rd and 8th place, which should lead to another wide open "Arch Madness" tournament in St Louis. 

March 1, 4, 7 
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: LIU-Brooklyn, Wagner

Tournament Format: Top 8 teams qualify

Upset Special: Robert Morris

The Outlook: After one of the most grueling regular seasons in the nation, where teams play a staggering 18 conference games, the Top 8 have to navigate a full tournament with no byes. LIU-Brooklyn is clearly the best team in the league, boasting the 4th best offense in the nation (81.8 PPG) and has home court advantage throughout the tournament, where they have not lost this season. Point Guard Jason Brickman is 5th in the nation with 7.1 Assists Per Game Their only blemishes in conference play were a loss at Robert Morris and to Monmouth after they already had the league title wrapped up. LIU will be tested off the bat in their conference tournament, having to face Sacred Heart and the nation's 4th leading scorer Shane Gibson (22 PPG). While I picked Robert Morris as my upset special because I'm from Pittsburgh and I'm biased, they boast one of the best road records in the conference (11-6, 6-3) and have a victory over LIU. The conference champion is likely destined to find themselves at the bottom of the NCAA bracket - the champion hasn't received a seed higher than 15 since 2002.

February 29, March 1-3 

Top Seeds: Murray St, Tennessee St

Tournament Format: Top 8 qualify, 3 & 4 byes to Quarterfinals, 1 & 2 "Double Bye" to Semi-Finals

Upset Special: Honestly anyone other than Murray St would be an upset

The Outlook: While Murray St ran away with the league this year, finishing 28-1 overall, their only blemish coming against Tennessee St on February 9. However, they exacted their revenge in the form of an 18-point thumping on Senior Night at Tennessee St last week. Point Guard Isaiah Canaan is in the race for National Player of the Year, averaging 19.4 PPG and 3.8 APG all while shooting an astounding 48.4% from beyond the arc. The "Double Bye" format helps Murray State, but with a 3-0 record against the Top 50, including wins over Southern Miss, Memphis, and St Mary's, the Racers are easily in the Big Dance, even with a loss in the conference tournament.

February 29, March 3, 7 
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Bucknell, Lehigh

Tournament Format: 8 team normal bracket

Upset Special: 

The Outlook: The road to the tournament goes through Lewisburg, where the Bison have lost only twice all year. Bucknell was well on the way to an undefeated conference record in the middle of February before they made the race interesting and dropped back-to-back games to Lehigh and Holy Cross. The Bison got back on track and enter the tournament on the strength of big man Mike Muscala who averages 16.7 PPG and 9.1 RPG. If anyone has a shot at the Bison, it's probably Lehigh who boasts the best offense in the league (75.9 PPG) and the 6th leading scorer in the nation, CJ McCollum (21.7 PPG) and has won in Lewisburg already this year.

March 2-5 
Asheville, NC

Top Seeds: Davidson, UNC Greensboro, Elon, Wofford

Tournament Format: Top 2 from each division get byes, teams seeded by finish within division play cross-division games

Upset Special: College of Charleston

The Outlook: Davidson is a decent team but hasn't put together the resume to qualify for an At-Large Bid, so the SoCon will be a one-bid league. UNC Greensboro might be one of the stories of the year in the NCAA. Their coach resigned after 10 games and Wes Miller (a guard on UNC's 2005 National Championship team) was named interim coach, making him the youngest coach in Division 1 basketball. The Spartans struggled with the transition, going 0-6 in Miller's first month as coach. But since January 12th, when UNC Greensboro was a lowly 2-14, they went 10-4 including a 7-game winning streak that propelled them to the top of the SoCon North Division. 

March 3-6 
Sioux Falls, SD

Top Seeds: Oral Roberts, South Dakota State

Tournament Format: Top 8 qualify

Upset Special: Oakland

The Outlook: Offense, offense, offense. That's the name of the game in the Summit League. Seven of the 10 teams average over 70 points per game and 5 of the top 15 scorers in the nation are from the Summit League. Oakland's Reggie Hamilton (25.5 PPG) is the nation's leading scorer while South Dakota State's Nate Wolters (21.2 PPG) and IPFW's Frank Gaines (21.0 PPG) are also in the Top 10. Oral Roberts has an RPI hovering in the 40s with 2 bad losses, which likely won't be good enough to land them an At-Large spot if they fail to win the tournament. The Golden Eagles were 17-1 in conference play with their only loss a 15-point defeat at South Dakota St. With the tournament in Sioux Falls, you have to think South Dakota St who posted a 14-0 home record this year, will get a home crowd boost. But honestly, with all the scoring talent in this league, anyone could take home the tournament crown. The Summit League champion has received a 13 or 14 seed in the Big Dance each of the last 5 years.

March 3-6 
Hot Springs, AR

Top Seeds: Middle Tennessee, Arkansas-Little Rock

Tournament Format: 11 teams qualify due to Louisiana-Monroe failing to meet NCAA Academic standards. Play-in Games: 8/9, 7/10, 6/11

Upset Special: Denver

The Outlook: Middle Tennessee won the regular season title by 2 games and has the resume of a bubble team should they fail to win the conference tournament. The Blue Raiders have 3 Top 100 wins but 2 bad losses, including one that might be a bubble burster to Western Kentucky (RPI 224). Denver started the season strong and could make some noise in the tournament on the back of their league-leading defense (60.7 PAPG). Arkansas-Little Rock is the defending tournament champion and have rebounded from a 3-10 start to the season to go 12-4 in conference play and finish second in the league.

February 29 – March 5 
Las Vegas

Top Seeds: St. Mary's, Gonzaga

Tournament Format: 8/9 Play-in, 3 & 4 byes to Quarterfinals, 1 & 2 "Double Bye" to Semi-Finals

Upset Special: San Francisco

The Outlook: This is one of the most bizarre tournament formats you're going to see. The WCC structured things to try to give an advantage to the top schools which should make for an interesting tournament. St. Mary's and Gonzaga should be fairly safe for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, and BYU is hovering around the bubble with an RPI in the 40s. Loyola Marymount has caused problems for the top teams this year but doesn't have the resume for At-Large consideration. Don't sleep on the #5 seed San Francisco who has played close games against the top teams and upset Gonzaga a few weeks ago. The Dons have the second best offense in the conference (75.2 PPG). BYU is the team most in need of a big run there to solidify their tournament hopes.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bracketology: Analyzing the RPI

As we tick down the days until Selection Sunday, every ESPN broadcast will be inundated with Joe Lunardi's "Last 4 In" and "First 4 Out." While ESPN broadcasters take Joe's predictions as bible fact, Joe actually is pretty average among the 60+ bracketologists tracked by The Bracket Project. Last year, Joe's final bracket had a Paymon score of 310, his highest score in the 6 years the Bracket Project has existed. (For the record, "Paymon Score" was developed to "score" bracket predictions. You get 3 points for every correct team in the field, 2 points for every team correctly seeded, and 1 point for a team seeded within 1 of the seed where you predicted them.) In their "All Time" standings, Joe ranks 27th out of 44 bracketologists. And he gets paid a boatload of money by ESPN? Yikes.

As those of you know who have been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I consider myself an amateur bracketologist. My Paymon Score last year was 312. Marginally better than "Joey Brackets"? Damn right.

I got 65 of 68 teams correct, 32 correct seeds, and 53 within 1 seed. Not bad for an amateur. 

This year, in the interest of greater transparency, the NCAA has been releasing the actual NCAA RPI and Team Sheets that the committee uses when selecting the field of 68.

Even though it isn't the greatest tool of analysis, the Committee still heavily relies on the RPI when ranking teams. I compiled some data over the last 4 tournaments on how RPI relates to tournament bids. Every year, there is a mid-major school that has a high RPI rating, a low strength of schedule, and winds up playing in the NIT. Using the RPI as a comparison metric, here are some interesting findings. Remember, this data is just for the last 4 tournaments.

Every school with a Top 30 RPI has made the field. Of the 120 teams with Top 30 RPIs, 40 have received automatic bids as conference champions and 80 have received At-Large Bids. Surprisingly, there have been the same number of Major and Mid-Major conference champions with Top 30 RPIs (20 each). However, among the At-Large group, there have been 64 teams from Major conferences and 16 teams from Mid-Major conferences. Regardless of conference size, all 80 of these teams have gone dancing.

Now remember, this is not saying that the Top 30 in the RPI will be the teams seeded on the higher lines in the bracket. This is just saying that they made the tournament. After the 30 line is where you start to see the data diverge between Major conference schools and Mid-Major schools. Of the 19 Major Conference schools ranked between 31 and 40, all 19 made the tournament (17 of which were At-Large bids). Of the 21 Mid-Major schools, only 12 made the dance, only 6 of which were At-Large bids. If you take the 6 Mid-Major conference champions out of the equation, only 40% (6 of 15) At-Large eligible Mid-Major teams with RPIs between 31 and 40 actually got tournament bids.

The 2009 Dayton Flyers were the highest ranked team to not get an NCAA Tournament bid over the last 4 years (RPI 32). They went on to beat North Carolina in the NIT Championship.

If we consider the Top 30 RPI line to be a "loose" delineation of where the bubble begins, especially for mid-major squads, there are some teams that should be doing some sweating over the last week of the regular season and into conference tournament week.

Colorado State, Creighton, New Mexico, Harvard, St Mary's, San Diego State, Murray State, Middle Tennessee State, and Long Beach State have RPIs that have been hovering in the 30s this year. As of right now, Colorado St and Creighton are under the 30 line but are by no means "safe." One bad loss and they're back on the wrong side of the line.

The delineation grows even wider between Majors and Mid-Majors as the RPI numbers go up. For teams with RPIs between 41 and 50, only 2 major conference teams were not given At-Large bids. 90% (19 of 21) Major conference teams with RPIs in the 40s went dancing. Conversely, the data was not nearly as promising for Mid-Major schools. Only 3 Mid-Major schools with an RPI in the 40s got bids while 10 were left out in the cold. Only 23% of At-Large eligible Mid-Major schools got tourny bids, while 90% of their Major conference counterparts were invited to the Big Dance.

Obviously, this is further proof that the RPI is not the be-all-end-all of the decisions made by the Tournament Committee. Factors like strength of schedule, quality of victories, and other positives and negatives in a team's body of work play into the decision. But since all of the team sheets the Committee uses work within the framework of the RPI, it is a good baseline data set to use.

There is a distinct divide in the data between teams with RPIs in the 40s and RPIs in the 50s. No mid-major school with an RPI over 50 has made the tournament in the last 4 years. For major conference schools, the probability decreases dramatically. For teams with an RPI between 51 and 60, 11 of 23 (48%) got At-Large bids. Only 2 of 18 teams with RPIs between 61 and 70 got At-Large bids, and only 1 team with an RPI over 70 (USC last year) has gone dancing.

If we take the mark of a Top 50 RPI as a delineator of where the "bubble" starts for Major conference teams, there are a number of schools that have some work to do to improve their resumes: Northwestern, Miami, Oregon, South Florida, Washington, Purdue, Texas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, Arizona.

As we wind down the last week of the season, I'll be posting my first bracket prediction at the end of the regular season, along with Conference Tournament previews for all 30 Conference Tournaments. I've been doing something of a nightly "Bubble Watch" on Twitter as well for those that need that bracket fix. If you love college basketball as much as I do, this is one of the best times of the year. Get ready for an exciting two weeks leading up to Selection Sunday!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Blog Tournament

For the fourth consecutive year, Sean over at Sean's Ramblings is running his annual "Best Pittsburgh Sports Blog" tournament. Last year, we were fortunate enough to be one of the 32 blogs in the tournament field and actually pulled out a first round victory over Puck Huffers before falling to Steelers Depot in the Sweet 16.

This year, we were not only lucky enough to be one of the 32 once again, but actually moved up the bracket to a #4 seed. We're facing Pitt Script, a very solid Pitt Panthers blog in the first round. Here's a look at this year's bracket.

Voting for our first round matchup is open. Go here to vote (hopefully you vote for us!).

If you decide to vote in any of the other matchups, here's a list of who we're endorsing:

Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke? over Cardiac Hill (WHYGAVS is probably the best Pirates blog out there)
Faceoff Factor over Steelers Gab
Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin over Blog 'n' Gold (only because BNG is "sponsored" by the Post-Gazette and we'd prefer to see an independent blogger win this)
That's Church over Steelers Today
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls over Empty Netters (honestly, EN should probably win this, but same logic as Blog n' Gold above)
The Steelers n'at over Pitt Script (of course, it's us!)
Blitzburgh Blog over Black Shoe Diaries (the guys at Blitzburgh Blog are some of our best blogging buds)
Raise the Jolly Roger over Nice Pick, Cowher (RTJR is solid)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nothing To Report, So Let's Manufacture Drama

Do you feel like the offseason is taking forever? Obviously, losing in the first round of the playoffs leads to three to four more weeks of "offseason" than Steelers fans have become accustomed to over the last few years, but it's hard to believe we're still a month away from Free Agency. Yes, the Steelers are still somewhere between $10 and $20 million over the cap (depending on savings from Woodley & Taylor restructures) and will have to make some more cuts or restructurings in order to get to that number over the next month. If the current trends are any indication, the Steelers will probably try to trim as much cap room as possible through contract restructurings. Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison could be candidates once again as they have two of the biggest cap numbers on the team. At this point, it seems like everyone is just grasping at straws for Steelers news.

There was a flurry of articles earlier this week about Hines Ward. One of the best writers in the city, Dejan Kovacevic over at the Trib, said that the Steelers were disrespecting Ward by not communicating with him. Ron Cook, who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, wrote an inflammatory piece about how Ward isn't owed anything. Yeah, I'm not even linking to Cook's article. Not going to give the PG whatever ad revenue they get from increased site traffic. How Pittsburgh has a 6.6% unemployment rate and Ron Cook has 2 jobs will continue to be one of the great mysteries of this city.

Kevin Colbert did an interview earlier this week and said he didn't expect Rashard Mendenhall to be ready by the start of the 2012 season. That's not really a surprise as it typically takes 9+ months to recover from an ACL injury and over a year to fully recover. Think of it this way: Evgeni Malkin had an ACL injury in January 2011. He started the season for the Pens, but missed a few games early in the year due to lingering pain in his knee. Now, about a full year later, he's back to kicking ass and taking names. Rashard is a young guy, and if he has to sit out the whole 2012 season so that he can be 100% in 2013 and beyond, so be it. We want him healthy, not playing hobbled. Get well soon, Rashard. In the mean time, we'll ride Isaac Redman. As we talked about in our Requiem for the 2011 Season, we have a full stable of running backs with Redman, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, and Baron Batch. We're confident the Steelers can Moneyball that group into a running-back-by-committee group in 2013.

Big Ben did an interview with Mike Prisuta of the DVE Morning Show that aired this morning. Everyone seemed to want to run with the fact that Ben and Haley hadn't talked yet. Honestly, we really don't care. They'll get together at some point and put together an NFL-caliber offense. Don't believe me? Haley had a top 5 passing attack in Arizona when he had a top-tier QB and WR group. Haley had a top 5 rushing attack in Kansas City when he had basically nothing at QB and WR but had a game-breaking RB. Regardless of his personality, Haley's history shows he can build an offense tailored to the talent that he has. The bigger news to us was that Ben said he started doing offseason workouts recently. Yeah, it's February. We've been without Steelers football for a little over a month, and already Ben is gearing up for 2012. Love it.

Speaking of Ben, there are some ridiculous opinions out there about what's going on in Pittsburgh. It's reached the point where it's flat-out funny the way non-Pittsburghers are interpreting the situation. Let's take this slew of tweets from The Huddle Report (an NFL Draft website) today:

I wasn't aware the Steelers were having problems with Ben. Were you? Nope? Didn't think so. Because they're not. If we draft a QB, it's going to be because Leftwich, Batch, and Dixon are all free agents and we can only bring one of them back and need a #3.

Okay, not sure what this guy is reading, because nothing I've read in local papers or heard on the local radio seems controversial.

But then we come to the coup-de-grace...


Wait...Arizona, for real?

I'd love to know what this guy was smoking this morning.

Except Dan hasn't come back yet. The only news story on this was based on an interview Team President Art Rooney II did a few weeks ago saying he expected Dan, his father, to return to the Steelers in some capacity in 2012, leaving his post as ambassador to Ireland.

Surprisingly, the Huddle Report guys were quiet for pretty much the rest of the 9-5 work day. But then, at a little after 5pm, they showed their hand.

Hm...now doesn't this seem interesting? Make up a totally unfounded rumor in the morning and hint that a relatively unknown player would be a good fit to remedy the "situation" in said rumor. Then, later in the day, in the hopes that people had been searching for info on this guy all day, drop the line that they can pay YOU, the people who pretty much started the rumor in the first place, to learn more about the guy no one really knows about. Great business plan guys.

Now, the "Grass Is Always Greener" crowd was calling for us to trade Ben as soon as Arians got the Colts job. These are the same folks that wanted us to trade Ben to St. Louis or Oakland two years ago. What was this ludicrous proposal? Ben to Indy for the #1 pick so we could take Andrew Luck. That's almost as laughable as the Trade-Ben-to-Oakland-and-draft-Jimmy-Clausen theories that were floated out there (and actually found their way into at least one mock draft that I remember). This is the kind of speculation you always have to watch out for come draft season. Everyone thinks the kid coming out of college is better than the established NFL starter. Remember last year when people were saying LSU's Patrick Peterson was better than Darrelle Revis?  
Not sure who that scout was, but they should be fired. 

Finally, since we're talking news, we would be remiss if we didn't talk about LINsanity. If you haven't heard of Jeremy Lin, you're living under a rock. Growing up as a fan of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, I have a deep-seeded hate for the New York Knicks (especially John Starks, for those that remember the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals). If Lin played for anyone other than the Knicks, I would probably be more of a fan, but you can't deny what he has done has been nothing short of incredible. If you want a player to draw up as a comparison, it would probably be James Harrison who was undrafted, cut by a few different teams, and then exploded onto the scene. Even though I'm not a fan of the Knicks, Lin's performances have been pretty incredible, including this game-winning 3-ball he dropped on Toronto last night.

It still won't get me to watch the NBA though. I'd much rather watch college basketball. Speaking of which, we're about a month away from Selection Sunday. Get your brackets ready.

Want one more good laugh before you go? Check out the latest tweet from The Huddle Report. This one speaks for itself.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Out with the Old, In with the New

As many predicted, February 2012 might be known as the month when the Steelers cleaned house and parted ways with many long-standing players. Given the team's current situation of being about $30 million over the salary cap, they need to clear some room in order to be able to sign free agents (Mike Wallace in particular). Two players (Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle) have already been cut, and it is likely that more cuts will come, possibly involving long-time Steelers such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Casey Hampton.

While we as fans may find it hard to see the Steelers take the field without these guys on the roster, it's part of life in the NFL.

Chris Hoke decided to call an end to his career and ride off into retirement. Aaron Smith seems to be likely to follow him. This obviously leaves somewhat of a hole along our defensive front, but the front office has been proactive, drafting Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward at the top of the draft over the last 3 years.

We all knew this day would come. Now it's just up to the front office to decide who they can afford to keep on the roster, who still has the talent to play on this team, and what players they are going to target in free agency and the draft to fill the holes generated by the cuts that certainly will happen.

The cuts of B-Mac and Battle will likely save about $4.5 million in cap room, leaving us with about $25 million to go. LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor have reportedly restructured their contracts, which will save the Steelers some cap room as well.

Contract restructuring is a tool that the front office is likely to utilize as much as they can in the coming weeks. Basically, it's a win-win for everyone. A guy who is due a large amount of salary money this year (such as Woodley's $11.5 million) can take a lower base salary (say, down to $5 million) and get the rest of the money added to his signing bonus. Adding money to the signing bonus enables the cap hit from that money to be spread out over the life of the contract, which is a win for the team. Having the money added to his signing bonus means Woodley gets more money up front, which is good for him.

On a more positive note, the Steelers introduced Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator this week. For those that have read the blog for a while, you'll know I was not a fan of Bruce Arians and the offense he ran. While the local Pittsburgh media loved Arians (probably because they knew they could get quotes out of him after a game), they acted like the whole offensive coordinator search was some affront to Ben Roethlisberger. Let's set the record straight here. Just because Ben liked Bruce and liked what he was able to do in Arians' offense (namely, play schoolyard ball and throw it all over the field) doesn't mean that's what is best for the team or best for the offense. For the local media to jump on and say that Ben should be allowed to do whatever he wants is like you walking up to some mom at the mall and telling her she should be buying her kids DQ instead of a salad because what they really want is ice cream.
But now Haley is coming in, and from his reputation around the league we know a few things. He is a passionate coach that wants what is best for his players, and isn't afraid to get in their face and tell them that they're wrong. As for offense, he had a top passing attack with an elite QB and WR in Arizona and a top rushing attack with one of the best backs in the league in Kansas City. What does that tell me? That Haley is adaptable to the players that he has on the team and will build an offense designed to maximize the talent we have on the roster. Of course, that's me saying this in February. We'll see what happens when September rolls around.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Quest: Fan Base & Pro Potential

As my quest continues to find a new favorite college football teams, here's a brief recap of what I've covered already:

Today I'm going to tackle two very different but very important facets of the college football experience - Fan Base and Pro Potential. Being part of Steeler Nation, we all know about the importance of feeling part of a greater fan base that spans the country. Obviously, teams will have their concentrations of fans in their geographic centers, but with the age of the internet and 24-hour sports networks, the fandom experience is now at the national level. In my book, there is no such thing as "too many fans." Even though I've gone on the record as stating I vehemently dislike bandwagon jumpers, I think the teams I have limited my search to are mostly outside of the "bandwagon" realm that mostly includes teams like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and The U. For the teams on my list, USC and Ohio State are probably the closest to "bandwagon" teams. I'm also going to take a look at the amount of NFL-caliber talent these schools have produced. Since I am a Steelers blogger, I'd like to be able to follow the guys I cheer for in college at the next level.

Fan Base
Level of Interest: Low

Say what you will about the New York Times and their editorial staff and what they publish in their paper, but the people they have running the blogs on their website do a bang-up job. Their college sports blog, The Quad, brings a great balance of statistical analysis and "eye-test" analysis. One of the articles they wrote in early September 2011 dealt with College Football fanbases and approximating their size based on television markets, google search data, the CommonCensus Sports Map Project and stadium attendance. As should be expected, the teams that had large geographic footprints tended to have larger fanbases. To determine the metric for Fan Base score, I used two components: total fans as estimated by The Quad article above and the numerical ranking of those fanbases. Why did I do this? Because if I had just awarded scores based on the total number, the top school (Ohio State with over 3.1 million fans) would have had about double the points of the 10th ranked school (Clemson with about 1.7 million fans). However, going by purely the rankings wouldn't have accurately depicted just how many more fans Ohio State has than everyone outside the top 10. By combining the two numbers I was able to give weight to both measures.

To determine a "score" for total number of fans, I divided the size of the fanbase by 3,167,263 (the size of Ohio St's fanbase). This gave me a 0-10 number for each school based on the size of their fanbase. For the ranking, I inverted their rank on a 1-120 scale to determine the size relative to all other D-1 programs. Then I divided that number by 12 to get a 0-10 number. The resulting two numbers were averaged for the final Fan Base score. The Top 10 were:

1. Ohio State - 10.0
2. Penn State - 9.1
3. Texas A&M - 8.0
4. Auburn - 7.8
5. Alabama - 7.7
6. Clemson - 7.4
7. Georgia Tech - 7.2
8. Wisconsin - 6.8
9. Virginia Tech - 6.6
10. Iowa - 6.4

Pro Potential
Level of Interest: Average

To determine the capacity of a program to produce NFL-caliber talent, I took a look at the NFL drafts from 2000 to 2011. For each of the 34 schools, I looked at the total number of players drafted and the number of players drafted in the first round. I utilized 3 components in my calculation for Pro Potential: Average Number of Drafted Players per Season, Average Number of First Round Picks per Season, and Percentage of Drafted Players Taken in the First Round. For Drafted Players per Season, I simply took the total number of drafted players and divided by 11, the number of drafts from 2000 to 2011. For First Round Picks per Season, I took the number of first round picks divided by 11, then to weight the number evenly, multiplied it by 10. Finally, I divided the number of players taken in the first round by the total number of players drafted and multiplied that number by 10 for the third component. Since no team had more than 40% of their players taken in the first round or averaged more than 6 players drafted per season, I totaled the three components and divided by two to give me a 0-10 final Pro Potential score. The Top 10 were:

1. USC - 10.0
2. Ohio St - 9.7
3. LSU - 7.1
4. Penn St - 6.4
5. Georgia - 5.9
6. Tennessee - 5.8
7. Virginia - 5.1
8. Oklahoma St - 4.6
9t. NC State - 4.4
9t. Auburn - 4.4

After incorporating these two aspects into the overall rankings and scaling them based on the Level of Interest multiplier, here is the new Top 25 Poll:

1Ohio St267.2
7Virginia Tech215.8
9South Carolina206.6
10Boise St202.1
14Georgia Tech188.4
17Michigan St183.1
18Boston College182.6
20Texas A&M174.4
21Penn St174.3
22North Carolina172.3
23Oklahoma St165.1

Dropped out: Wake Forest, Navy