Friday, February 28, 2014

Bracketology Primer

With under two weeks to go in the college basketball regular season, I took a look at putting a sample bracket together. Here's a quick look at how everyone shakes out and some of the logic I used.

The Top Seeds

There are currently only 5 teams in the nation with less than 3 losses. One of them is Stephen F Austin whose strength of schedule is in the 200s and doesn't have the resume for a tournament berth if they don't win their conference tournament. The other four teams are the #1 seeds in my bracket. The #1 overall seed, despite only having 4 wins against the Top 50, is the Florida Gators.

They haven't lost since December 2nd and haven't lost a game outside the Top 30. They do have 13 wins against the Top 100, which says more about the strength of the SEC than the quality of Florida.

The rest of the #1 seeds shouldn't be much of a surprise. Arizona is running away with the Pac-12 and has 10 Top 50 wins. Syracuse comes in as the #3 overall seed because despide having the most Top 100 wins of this group (15), they are also the only team with a loss outside the Top 50 (to #184 Boston College). Wichita State rounds out the group. The closest comparrison I could find was the St Joe's team that had an undefeated regular season and last year's Gonzaga team, both of which got the #4 overall seed in the tournament. Even though Wichita is undefeated, which lands them on the top line, I don't think they'll be seeded higher than 4th overall given their profile, which only features 2 Top 50 wins.

The Seeds

2 Seeds
Kansas, despite 6 losses, has the best profile in the country. 12 Top 50 wins and 17 Top 100 wins. All 6 of their losses are to Top 50 teams.
Villanova has just 3 losses on the season, none of them coming outside the Top 10. A lot has been made about the Wildcats being ranked higher than Creighton, who has slaughtered them twice, but they have a better profile. If the Jays beat Villanova in the Big East Championship, Creighton and Nova will swap spots.
Iowa State's 8 Top 50 wins (3rd most in the country) can't be ignored and lands them on the 2-seed line.
Cincinnati edges out the rest of the field for the last #2 seed as the AAC leader and because they have no losses outside the Top 50 - something Creighton and Duke can't say.

3 Seeds
Creighton has a great profile with double-digit wins over the Top 100, but their 2 losses outside the Top 50 are what is currently keeping them off the 2 line.
Wisconsin is currently my highest rated team from the Big 10, but it seems hard to believe that the Big 10 Conference Champion wouldn't get a top 2 seed. Wisky has the profile (8 Top 50 wins, 15 Top 100 wins) to move up, but their 2 losses outside the Top 50 are holding them back.
Duke has played much better over the last month, but I'm not buying the hype of them as a #2 seed just yet. They are just 5-4 against the Top 50 which pales in comparrison to a team like Wisconsin who is 8-3 and Creighton who is 6-2.
Michigan is currently atop the Big 10 standings and has 7 Top 50 wins, including a sweep of Michigan St.

4 Seeds
Michigan St has less Top 50 Wins, less Top 100 wins and was swept by Michigan, which is enough to drop them below the Wolverines.
Texas is 7-7 against the Top 50, which is great in terms of wins and great that they haven't lost to a bad team.
Virginia currently leads the ACC but has played a very easy conference slate. They have just 3 top 50 wins and two losses to teams ranked in the 50s.
Louisville hasn't lost outside the Top 40 and is undefeated in the month of February, but is just 4-4 against the Top 50.

5 seeds
St Louis is still leading the A-10 after their loss to Duquesne but only 3 of their 12 conference wins have been by double-digits.
San Diego State has impressive wins over Kansas and Creighton but is carrying a loss to Wyoming (RPI 107).
UCLA doesn't have a win over a Top 25 opponent but has an impressive 7-5 mark against the Top 50.
UConn is the first team to appear on this list with a losing record against the Top 50, but only has 1 loss outside the Top 40 and that was back in December.

6 seeds
Iowa dropped two games this week in which they scored 89 and 86 points. The Hawkeyes only have 1 loss outside the Top 50, but are just 4-8 against the Top 50.
UMass has built one of the best profiles in the country with a 5-1 record against the Top 50 and 13 Top 100 wins. The drawbacks are 4 losses outside the Top 50 - including one to George Mason (RPI 145).
North Carolina is probably the hottest team in the country and haven't lost in over a month. Like UMass, they have 5 Top 50 wins and double-digit Top 100 wins, but are being held back by 4 losses outside the Top 50 (including 2 outside the Top 100).
Oklahoma is 7-5 against the Top 50 but have two losses to teams ranked in the 70s and one to Texas Tech (RPI 121).

7 seeds
Ohio State has just a .500 record against the Top 50 and two losses (both to Penn State!) outside the Top 100.
Kansas State has 6 Top 50 wins, including wins over Kansas (RPI 1), Texas (RPI 23) and Oklahoma (RPI 25). However, they have 4 losses outside the Top 50, including two in November to teams ranked lower than 175.
Kentucky is a long way from the team that some thought would go 40-0. Their 13 Top 100 wins are impressive, but they have 3 losses outside the Top 50, including a sweep by Arkansas.
Memphis is just 3-6 against the Top 50 and just dropped a game to a Houston team ranked in the 150s. The Houston loss is their only loss outside the Top 50, though.

8 seeds
George Washington is the 3rd team from the A-10 in the bracket and has an impressive win over Creighton on a neutral court. They do have 3 losses outside the Top 50, making their profile very similar to Kentucky's.
New Mexico solidified their spot in the field last week with a win over San Diego State but are just 5-4 against the Top 100 and have 3 losses outside the Top 50.
VCU has a similar profile to George Washington in that they have 2 Top 50 wins (an impressive win over Virginia and a head-to-head win over the Colonials) but they also have 3 losses outside the Top 50. The A-10 Tournament is going to be nuts.
Arizona State is carrying a .500 mark against the Top 50, including an impressive victory over Arizona, but have been mediocre against the Top 100 with just a 7-7 record.

9 seeds
Southern Methodist is gunning for their first tournament appearance in 21 years and have an impressive 4-3 record against the Top 50, but are 4-4 against the Top 100 and have 2 losses to teams with triple-digit RPIs.
Stanford is just 5-7 against the Top 50 and 6-8 against the Top 100. The 5 Top 50 wins are more than anyone on the bubble has and should be enough to get them in, but there is nothing that jumps off the page about them either.
Baylor is still suffering from dropping a lot of games to open the Big XII slate, but their 5-8 mark against the Top 50 gives them a similar profile to Stanford and only 2 of their 10 losses have come outside the Top 50 (and only 1 outside the Top 100).
Pitt has one of the strangest profiles in the nation. They have just one Top 50 win (over #40 Stanford in November) but have lost only once to a team outside of the Top 20 (#56 Florida St). The Panthers are hanging on to their tournament position and won't get another chance for a quality win until the ACC Tournament and can't afford to add bad losses to this questionable slate, especially given their horrendouse non-conference schedule.

10 seeds
St Joseph's has a very similar resume to VCU (2 Top 50 wins, 7-6 against the Top 100, 3 losses outside the Top 50) but are seeded lower because of a poor non-conference slate. The Hawks can secure the #2 seed in the A-10 tournament if they win their final 3 games, which includes a trip to George Washington next Wednesday.
Gonzaga has been a perennial fixture in the tournament, but two recent losses have put their resume in question. Like Pitt they have just 1 Top 50 win, but are 7-4 against the Top 100. Unlike the Panthers, the Zags have 2 losses to teams with 100+ RPIs, which is cause for some to say they might be on the bubble if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
Colorado has lost just 1 game outside the Top 50, but have not been nearly as good since leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddle was lost to injury. Luckily, the Buffs have not dropped any games to bad teams during that time, but are just 1-5 against the Top 50 since losing Dinwiddle (after scoring 3 Top 50 victories with him in the lineup).
Oregon scored their best win of the season on the road in Pauley Pavillion this week and boosted their tournament profile. Their win over UCLA now gives them 2 Top 50 wins and a winning record (8-7) against the Top 100. Only 2 of the Ducks losses have come outside the Top 50 and only 1 outside the Top 100. With an RPI in the 30s, history is on their side as no Major Conference team in the last 6 years with a Top 40 RPI has missed the tournament.

The Bubble

With 21 Conference Champions projected to come from "One-Bid" leagues, this leaves 7 spots in the field to be occupied by Bubble teams. I'll run through the One-Bid leagues shortly, but here is a quick look at the 14 teams vying for the last 7 spots in the field.

Arkansas put themselves back in the conversation with a win at Rupp Arena, completing the sweep of Kentucky. The Razorbacks have 4 Top 50 wins and just 1 loss outside the Top 100 (though they have 3 losses to teams ranked between 50 and 100).

BYU is squarely on the bubble and can't afford any bad losses at this point. They have 3 Top 50 wins (including a neutral court win over Texas and a road win over Stanford) and are 7-6 against the Top 100. However, they have 4 losses to teams outside the Top 100, the most of the bubble group. The Cougars do have a Top-5 non-conference strength of schedule, which the Committee will swoon over.

California has a typical bubble resume - 3 Top 50 wins, 6 Top 100 wins, 3 losses outside the Top 50. Two of those losses are outside the Top 100, which is a cause for concern.

Dayton, like most other teams on the bubble, has 3 Top 50 wins and 7 Top 100 wins. They are 7-6 against the Top 100 but have 3 losses to teams with RPIs over 100.

Florida State is hanging around the conversation thanks to their 3 Top 50 wins but at 6-10 against the Top 100. They have lost 4 times outside the Top 50 but only 1 of those losses were outside the Top 100.

Minnesota has had a brutal February, but saved their bubble hopes with a win over Iowa, giving them 3 Top 50 wins. However, their resume is littered with bad losses, including 5 to teams outside the Top 50 (2 of those coming to teams with 100+ RPIs).

Missouri, a few weeks ago, looked to have the best chance to be the 3rd SEC team in the field, but the Tigers have just 1 win against the Top 50 and are 7-6 against teams ranked between 50th and 100. They have just 1 loss outside the Top 100, but those 6 losses to teams ranked between 50 and 100 are frightening.

Nebraska had worked their way into the bubble conversation, but like Minnesota have just 3 Top 50 wins and are 6-8 against the Top 100. The Huskers have lost 4 times outside the Top 50 with 3 of those coming to teams ranked in the 100s.

Oklahoma State dropped 3 games while Marcus Smart was suspended and the question is how the Committee will handle that. Their 10 losses are more than any team other than Baylor I have discussed so far, but only 1 of those losses has been outside the Top 50. The Pokes are just 3-9 against the Top 50 and will have to do some work in the Big XII tournament to ensure their spot in the field.

Richmond is currently in a fight with history. In the last 6 years, no Mid-Major with an RPI over 50 has made the Tournament. The Spiders currenty sit at 54th but will get chances to improve their profile with games against VCU and Dayton before the A-10 Tournament. The Spiders are being held back by their 4 losses outside the Top 50, though only 1 was outside the Top 100, but it was this week to George Mason. You don't want to take your worst loss of the season in late February.

Southern Miss is currently tied atop Conference USA, and they have a profile that might be good enough to squeeze them in if they don't win the C-USA tournament. The Eagles are 1-1 against the Top 50, 4-3 against the Top 100 and have just 2 losses t teams with 100+ RPIs. They played a bad non-conference slate, which could hurt their chances.

Tennessee has almost an identical profile to Richmond - 2 Top 50 wins, 7 Top 100 wins and a 7-9 record against the Top 100. The Vols also have 2 losses outside the Top 100. Tennessee did have a good non-conference schedule, so that will help their resume.

Toledo is currently in 2nd place in the MAC and has a Top-40 RPI, which seems to be a prerequisite for a mid-major to be considered for an At-Large bid. However, the Rockets have played just one game against a team ranked in the Top 75 (a loss to Kansas). Toledo is 3-3 against teams ranked between 75 and 100 and has just 1 loss outside the Top 100, but I'm not sure if that will be enough to get them in.

With 14 teams in consideration, I started by putting 3 in the tournament and taking 3 off the bottom. I put Oklahoma State in because they only have 1 bad loss, the fewest of the group. Similarly, Arkansas has the most Top 50 wins of the bubble teams so I put them in. California also earned a spot based on having the best win (over #2 Arizona) of any of the bubble teams with 3 Top 50 wins.

On the bottom, Dayton and Nebraska's 3 losses outside the Top 100 were too much for me to overcome, so I took them out of consideration. Similarly, Tennessee's 5 bad losses were enough to knock them out in my book.

It was literally a toss-up between the last 8 teams for which should be my last 4 in and first 4 out. Minnesota and BYU got in based on their non-conference strength of schedule and Southern Miss got in because of their similarity in profile to Middle Tennessee, who earned an At-Large spot last year. Missouri and Xavier simply did not have enough good wins to offset their bad losses. Toledo's lack of a win over a Top-75 opponent was enough to keep them out in my eyes. This left a literal coin flip between Richmond and Florida State. I gave the slightest of edges to the Seminoles based on better performance away from home - Florida State has 6 road/neutral court wins that are better than Richmond's best win away from home.

Work To Do

With a little over a week left in the regular season plus conference tournaments. The bottom of the field is still wide open. The following teams could work their way into the Bubble Conversation by Selection Sunday if they stack wins over the next few weeks.
- Boise State
- Clemson
- Georgetown
- NC State
- Ole Miss
- Providence
- St John's
- West Virginia

One-Bid Leagues

For purposes of putting this bracket together, I'm going to assume that the current conference leaders are going to get the automatic bid from their conference.

America East - Vermont will be the top seed in the conference tournament and the clear favorite after defeating Stony Brook this week. Current Leader: Vermont
Atlantic Sun - Florida Gulf Coast captured everyone's fandom last year in the NCAA Tournament and they are locked at the top of the A-Sun with Mercer, who they defeated in the conference championship last year. Mercer has been knocking at the door of the Big Dance for a while but hasn't made the trip to the Tournament since 1985. Current Leader: Mercer
Big Sky - The Big Sky always produces an exciting end to the regular season as only 7 of the 11 teams qualify for the Conference Tournament. Currently 4 teams are tied at 5th-9th in the standings and the 8 teams from 3rd to 10th are within 2 games of each other, jockeying for the last spots in the tournament. Weber State and Montana have played in 3 of the last 4 championship games. Current Leader: Weber State
Big South - Incredibly, there are 7 teams in the Big South that are within 2 games of first place High Point (11-4 in conference). This tournament is going to be insane. The Big South is one of the lowest ranked conferences in the nation, which pretty much guarantees a spot in the Play-In game for the tournament winner. Current Leader: High Point
Big West - UC Irvine just beat UC Santa Barbara this week to take over the top spot in the conference. The teams split their season series and we may get a rubber match in the tournament between the Anteaters and the Gauchos. Those are two of the best nicknames in the country. Current Leader: UC Irvine
Colonial - Delaware leads by a game over Townson, and the two have paced the field this season. Beware the Fightin' Blue Hens. Current Leader: Delaware
Conference USA - Four teams are currently tied atop the standings (Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Tulsa) with UTEP a game behind. Only Southern Miss has a profile capable of getting an At-Large bid and Louisiana Tech currently holds the tiebreaker atop the standings, so C-USA falls as a "one-bid" league. Current Leader: Louisiana Tech
Horizon - Green Bay ran away from the field this season and the Phoenix might have an outside shot at an At-Large bid if they don't win the Horizon tournament. Current Leader: Green Bay
Ivy - The only conference without a tournament. Harvard holds a one-game lead over Yale but the Bulldogs already have a win over Harvard and could take the bid if they win out. Current Leader: Harvard
MAAC - The best small conference in the country, the MAAC has been a battle this season between the 4 teams atop the standings (Iona, Quinnipiac, Manhattan, Canisius). All of these teams can score a ton of points and this should be a great tournament. Current Leader: Iona
MAC - Western Michigan is the current leader but Toledo and Buffalo are only a game behind. If Toledo doesn't win the tournament, they have a chance to get an At-Large bid. Current Leader: Western Michigan
MEAC - North Carolina Central has run away with the MEAC this year and is 22-5 overall with just 1 conference loss. Unfortunately, the MEAC is the second-lowest ranked conference in the nation, so anything above a 15-seed seems unlikely for NCCU and an At-Large bid is pretty much out of the question if they don't win the MEAC tournament. Current Leader: NC Central
NEC - Robert Morris has a 3-game lead in the NEC standings which is incredible considering 4 players were suspended for the season in January. Current Leader: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley - Belmont and Murray St are locked in a battle atop the OVC with Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State lurking 3 games back. The last 5 OVC Tournaments have been won by one of those 4 schools so it looks like history will repeat itself. Current Leader: Belmont
Patriot - Boston U holds a slim lead over American who started conference play with 10 straight wins then dropped 4 of 5. Current Leader: Boston U
SoCon - After getting destroyed in a brutal non-conference schedule, 2-time defending champ Davidson has a 3-game lead atop the SoCon standings. The top 4 get byes in the conference tournament, and there are currently 3 teams (Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga) tied for 3rd through 5th. Current Leader: Davidson
Southland - Stephen F Austin is on a 23-game winning streak and is 15-0 in the  Southland, holding a 4-game lead on the rest of the field. The Lumberjacks are 26-2 overall, one of just 5 teams in the nation with less than 3 losses, but don't have the profile to garner At-Large consideration. Current Leader: Stephen F Austin
SWAC - Southern currently leads the conference by 3 games but is fighting an NCAA ruling that they are academically inelligible for post-season play. Since the Jaguars are currently inelligible, I'm putting second-place Alabama State in the field. Current Leader: Alabama State
Summit - North Dakota State has an RPI in the 40s and could get At-Large consideration if they don't win the Summit League Tournament. The IPFW Mastadons (what a nickname!) are currently in second place and looking for their first ever trip to the Big Dance. Current Leader: North Dakota State
Sun Belt - Georgia State has a 3-game lead, but history is not on their side. The #1 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament has only won the tournament once in the last 6 years. Second place Western Kentucky has emerged from the Sun Belt in 4 of the last 6 years, so you have to like their chances. Current Leader: Georgia State
WAC - Utah Valley just took control of the conference by beating New Mexico State in a game that turned ugly when NMSU players started throwing punches at Utah Valley fans that stormed the court. Yikes. New Mexico State has won 3 of the last 4 WAC tournaments and never from the #1 seed. Current Leader: Utah Valley

The Bracket

Now that we have determined the 68 teams in the field comes the fun part, putting them in a bracket! The first round hosting sites are Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando and Spokane on Thursday-Saturday and Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego and St Louis on Friday-Sunday. The South and West Regionals are on Thursday-Saturday and in Memphis and Anaheim. The East and Midwest Regionals are in New York and Indianapolis and are Friday-Sunday sites. Since BYU is in the field, they can not play a Sunday game, which means they must be placed in the South or West regions and must be in a first round site in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando or Spokane. Additionally, Memphis can not be in the South and San Diego State can not play in San Diego in the first round because they are the host schools.

South Region
1. Florida vs 16. High Point/Alabama St
8. Arizona St vs 9. Baylor
San Diego
4. Virginia vs 13. Belmont
5. St Louis vs 12. Harvard
3. Creighton vs 14. Western Michigan
6. Oklahoma vs 11. BYU/Florida St
2. Cincinnati vs 15. Boston U
7. Ohio St vs 10. Oregon

West Region
San Diego
1. Arizona vs 16. Utah Valley/Weber St
8. VCU vs 9. Pitt
4. Louisville vs 13. Stephen F Austin
5. San Diego St vs 12. Green Bay
3. Wisconsin vs 14. Mercer
6. North Carolina vs 11. Oklahoma St
2. Iowa St vs 15. Vermont
7. Kentucky vs 10. Colorado

East Region
1. Syracuse vs 16. Davidson
8. New Mexico vs 9. Southern Methodist
San Antonio
4. Texas vs 13. Iona
5. UCLA vs 12. Minnesota/Southern Miss
San Antonio
3. Michigan vs 14. Georgia St
6. UMass vs 11. Arkansas
2. Villanova vs 15. UC-Irvine
7. Kansas St vs 10. Gonzaga

Midwest Region
St Louis
1. Wichita St vs 16. Robert Morris
8. George Washington vs 9. Stanford
4. Michigan St vs 13. Louisiana Tech
5. UConn vs 12. North Dakota St
3. Duke vs 14. Delaware
6. Iowa vs 11. California
St Louis
2. Kansas vs 15. NC Central
7. Memphis vs 10. St Joseph's

First Four - Tuesday in Dayton
BYU vs Florida St
High Point vs Alabama St
First Four - Wednesday in Dayton
Minnesota vs Southern Miss
Utah Valley vs Weber St

Bids by conference: Big XII - 7, Pac-12 - 7, ACC - 6, Big 10 - 6, AAC - 5, A-10 - 5, SEC - 3, Big East - 2, MWC - 2, WCC - 2, C-USA - 2
Highest RPI in the field: Arkansas (RPI 57)
Lowest RPI left out: Toledo (RPI 38)

A note on bracketing - the only change I made of moving teams between seed lines was moving BYU and Florida State into the first play-in game on the 11-seed line and putting Minnesota-Southern Miss on the 12-seed line. In my rankings, Minnesota and Southern Miss were higher, but this was done so that BYU's scheduling requirements could be met. Hopefully you enjoyed this little exercise in putting together a bracket. I'll be updating my bracket prediction page a few times a week as we move closer to Selection Sunday.

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