Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bracketology Update: The Bubble Grows Clearer

Heading into the last weekend of the regular season, the bracket is starting to take shape. Teams in the middle are still inexplicably dropping games to bad teams, but those losses aren't enough to knock them out of contention.

At this point in the season, it's safe to say that 30 teams are in the field for sure. The results of this past week have somewhat separated the top 8 from the next 4 in the top 12, which makes seeding distributions a bit easier.

On the #1 line I have Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Indiana. Duke is the #1 overall seed with more Top 50 wins (8) than anyone but Kansas and more Top 100 wins (13) than anyone but New Mexico. Unlike Kansas, Duke has no losses outside the Top 100.  Just below them are Michigan, New Mexico, Louisville, and Michigan State. Any of those four could wind up on the top line on Selection Sunday.

By seed line, here are the teams that are in for sure at this point (though the seed lines are subject to change):

1 seeds: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana
2 seeds: Michigan, New Mexico, Louisville, Michigan State
3 seeds: Georgetown, Marquette, Florida, Miami (FL)
4 seeds: UNLV, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas State
5 seeds: Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, St Louis
6 seeds: VCU, Pitt, Butler, Notre Dame
7 seeds: San Diego State, Colorado, Minnesota, UCLA
8 seeds: Illinois, Missouri

The next group of teams are those that "should be in." This group is made up of 12 teams that likely will be in the tournament, barring any kind of epic collapse. All of these teams have flaws somewhere on their resume, but they have a good enough body of work to overcome those flaws. These teams are much more fluid on their seed lines and tend to move around a lot more as one bad loss or one good win could send them to the top or bottom of the heap.

8 seeds: Colorado State, Cincinnati
9 seeds: Oregon, NC State, Memphis, Creighton
10 seeds: California, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Temple
11 seeds: Villanova, Wichita State

Villanova was squarely on the bubble last week and could fall back there with a bad loss, but their win over Georgetown gives them 3 wins over Top 15 teams (Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown). Not many teams at this point in the season can claim that, which is good enough to get the Wildcats into the field, despite their bad losses. Wichita State has 3 bad losses, but with Evansville creeping into the Top 100, on paper the Shockers only have 1 sub-100 loss. Evansville lost tonight in the MVC Tournament, so the Aces might drop below that magic 100 line, but the Shockers overall resume (including a 3-1 record against the Top 50) is good enough to have them in the field. A trip to the MVC title game and a rematch with Creighton should alleviate any concerns on Selection Sunday.

And now we come to the bubble. No team on the bubble is perfect, but as this analysis stands there are 6 spots remaining in the field. There are 13 or 14 teams that could be considered serious contenders right now for the bubble, though that could change if a team makes a deep run in their conference tournament - Alabama, Boise St, BYU, Iowa St, Kentucky, La Salle, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, St Mary's, Stanford, Tennessee, UMass, and Virginia.  Three of these teams have no wins over the Top 50. Now, despite what Joe Lunardi might be saying (he has two of these teams in his "First Four Out"), it's really hard to make a case for Alabama, Southern Miss, or BYU to be in the Tournament. The Tide have an impressive 7 wins against the Top 100, but their best win is over #52 Villanova and they have 4 losses outside the Top 100, including one to #234 Auburn. Southern Miss has a great RPI (38) but their best win is over #64 Denver. Their only other Top 100 wins were a sweep of #95 East Carolina. What's staggering is that Lunardi has Southern Miss ahead of Kentucky (more on them later) when Kentucky has 3 wins that are better than Southern Miss's best win and a worst loss (#122 Georgia) not nearly as bad as Southern Miss's worst loss (#198 Marshall).

With 10 teams remaining for 6 spots, we can start moving teams into the field. St. Mary's has the best RPI (33) of the group, and has the second-best winning percentage against the Top 100. The Gaels 6-3 mark against the Top 100 is bested only by Virginia's 7-3 record. The Gaels two worst losses (their only two outside the Top 100) were on a neutral floor to Pacific and Georgia Tech (both ranked between 115 and 120) in November. Their only losses in conference play were to Gonzaga, and this should be enough to get them in the field, provided they reach the WCC Championship Game.

Despite their loss at UNLV this week, I think Boise State is still on the right side of the bubble. They have an RPI in the 40s, 3 Top 50 wins and a .500 record against the Top 100 (7-7) with only one of those losses coming outside the Top 50. They have two losses outside the Top 100, but their wins over UNLV and Colorado State (both in the Top 15 of the RPI) are good enough to cancel those out. Similarly, Tennessee's wins over Florida (RPI 6) and Wichita State (RPI 36) should be good enough to cancel out their sweep at the hands of Georgia (RPI 122). The Vols have 8 wins over the Top 100, which is tied for the most of any team remaining in the analysis.

Putting Boise and Tennessee in the field leaves us with 7 teams fighting over the last 3 spots. Of these teams, Iowa State scored a big win this week over Oklahoma State (RPI 23) which made for their 3rd Top 50 win. The Cyclones also have 6 Top 100 wins and just 2 losses outside the Top 100. Of the remaining teams, only UMass and Virginia have more Top 100 wins, but UMass has only 1 Top 50 win and Virginia has 7 losses outside the Top 100. Additionally, while La Salle only has 2 wins over the Top 50, they are the only team other than Virginia that does not have a losing mark against the Top 50. La Salle tops Virignia in both computer numbers and in bad losses, where La Salle has only lost once outside of the Top 85 while Virginia has 8 losses to teams with RPIs over 85.

Of the 5 remaining teams, Kentucky and Stanford have the least amount of bad losses. Kentucky only has 1 outside the Top 100 and Stanford has none. UMass and Ole Miss have 2 each with UMass's coming to teams ranked in the 100s and Ole Miss's coming to teams ranked in the 200s. Virginia (who has the most bizzarre at-large profile of all time) has seven. Strangely enough, against top competition, Virginia has fared the best with a 4-2 record against the Top 50. Stanford has 3 Top 50 wins but 10 losses and their wins were over teams barely in the Top 50 (#49 California and #50 Oregon). Despite having no bad losses, Stanford simply doesn't have the strength of victories to move them to the top of the heap.

Head-to-head, Kentucky and Ole Miss have very similar profiles. Kentucky has better strength of schedule numbers, more Top 100 wins and less bad losses. Additionally, Ole Miss's two worst losses are significantly worse than Kentucky's worst loss. The Wildcats also beat the Rebels in their only head-to-head meeting. Kentucky has the slight advantage over Ole Miss here, so we can eliminate the Rebels.

UMass has an impressive 8 wins against the Top 100, but only one of those came against the Top 50. In addition, their sole Top 50 win is not as good as Kentucky's Top 50 win. Kentucky has a better record outside the Top 100 and played a slightly more difficult out-of-conference schedule.  However, the biggest difference here is that Kentucky has two wins (#56 Tennessee and #57 Ole Miss) that are better than UMass's second-best win (#67 Ohio). Kentucky retains the advantage here as well.


Finally we come to the most difficult side-by-side comparison of all. Kentucky's very bland resume against Virginia's utterly bizzarre resume. Both record categories are essentially a push. Kentucky has a better RPI and significantly better strength of schedule numbers. Virginia has much better wins and Kentucky. The Cavaliers are 4-2 against the Top 50 with wins over Duke, North Carolina and NC State. All three of those are better than Kentucky's best win. However, Virginia has been downright awful against teams with RPIs in the 100s. While Virginia has 3 wins that are better than Kentucky's best win, they also have 6 losses that are worse than Kentucky's loss at Georgia. All things told, I have to give the ever-so-slight edge to Kentucky. Despite Virginia's quality wins, Kentucky has been better in road and neutral games, particularly in conference play where they are 4-5 on the road while Virginia is 2-7. Kentucky played a much more difficult non-conference schedule and didn't even play (let alone lose) any games against the bottom 50 in the nation while Virginia played 4 and lost one.

(click to enlarge)

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