Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Championship Week Bracketology

As the big conferences kick off their tournaments, here's a look at the bracket as I currently see it. There are some very slim margins between teams, so I provided a brief overview of everyone's resume with detailed resumes for the bubble teams so you can get a sense for how I came up with my rankings.

One note before I get into the bracketing part of the post. Since not all of the automatic bids are decided, I assumed the #1 seed (or highest remaining seed) from each conference tournament would earn the automatic bid. One effect of this was that Louisiana Tech became the auto bid from Conference USA, leaving Southern Miss (who has the best RPI of C-USA teams) to fend for themselves in the At-Large field. Since the Top 2 seeds in the MAC got double-byes to the semi-finals, I assumed Toledo as the MAC Champion. You can keep track of the teams that have secured automatic bids with my Conference Tournament Tracker.

So, without further ado, the #1 overall seed is...

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. The Gators ran 18-0 through the SEC and are 29-2 on the year with no losses since December 2 and no losses outside the Top 30.

The three other #1 seeds shouldn't be much of a surprise aat this point. There are only 6 teams in the nation with 3 losses or less: Wichita St (0), Florida (2), Arizona (2), Stephen F Austin (2), Villanova (3), San Diego St (3). Of those 6, Stephen F Austin has a strength of schedule ranked in the 300s and San Diego State's is ranked in the 100s. Arizona's 17 wins against the Top 100 are the most in the nation and Wichita State's perfect record are enough to get them onto the top line. The fourth #1 seed is up for some discussion, but I gave the edge to Villanova over Kansas because the Wildcats have only 3 losses - all of them coming to Top 10 teams - while Kansas has dropped 8 games, including 5 to teams ranked outside the Top 30. Compare: Villanova vs Kansas.

2 seeds

While Kansas missed out on the last spot on the top line, they get one of the #2 seeds. The Jayhawks have more Top 50 wins than any other team in the nation, which is case enough for them to be considered near the top line. Despite Wisconsin and Michigan having losses outside the Top 100, the Badgers have the second-most Top 100 wins in the nation (16) and Michigan has the 4th most Top 50 wins (8) and Top 100 wins (13) in the nation. I gave the 4th spot to Iowa State with a slight edge over ACC Champion Virginia, but that could change depending on the result of the ACC Tournament. Virginia has just a .500 record against the Top 50 and is 6-2 against teams ranked 50-100 while Iowa State is 9-6 against the Top 50 and has just 1 loss outside the Top 50. Compare: Iowa St vs Virginia

3 seeds

I gave some consideration to each of these teams for the last spot on the #2 line as well, and this is very much a line in flux depending on the results of conference tournaments. Syracuse's 2 home losses to teams outside the Top 100 put them behind Virginia in my eyes, though Syracuse, Virigina or Duke could find their way to the 2 line if they win the ACC Tournament. Cincinnati played a bad out-of-conference schedule but hasn't lost a game outside of the Top 50 (one of only 5 teams with that distinction). Creighton got the edge over Duke for the last #3 seed because of more Top 100 wins (13 to 10) and less bad losses (Creighton lost 3 games to teams ranked 50-100 while Duke lost 1 to a team ranked 50-100 and 2 to teams ranked in the 100s). Compare: Creighton vs Duke

4 seeds

It might seem strange to see Duke seeded so low on my bracket considering that I am a Duke fan and that only 8 of the 99 brackets on The Bracket Matrix have Duke seeded lower than 3 and Joe Lunardi has them as a 2-seed. That said, their resume just doesn't hold up. They have more losses outside the top 100 than any of the 2-seeds (except Syracuse who has 5 more Top 100 wins) and more losses outside the Top 50 than any of the 2 seeds (except Creighton, which I discussed above). Therefore, Duke drops all the way to the 4 line on my bracket, though with an ACC Championship with wins over Clemson (RPI 77), Syracuse (RPI 10), and Virginia (RPI 12) or UNC (PRI 22), the Blue Devils could play their way up to a 2-seed. San Diego State finally finds their place on my bracket, despite only have 3 losses, their 1 loss to Wyoming and just 7 Top 100 wins (less than any of my other top 28 teams) caused them to slide a little. In SDSU's defense, they simply didn't have as many opportunities to pick up quality wins, playing less games against the Top 100 than any team I have seeded above a 12-seed. Louisville and Michigan St round out the 4-seeds with Sparty edging Oklahoma because they have not lost outside the Top 100.

5 seeds

Oklahoma got the benefit that many Big XII Teams got in my bracket because they simply played so many games against Top 50 teams. St Louis looked like the best team in the A-10 before mid-February when they dropped 4 of 5 games, including an inexplicable home loss to Duquesne, and slid back. Despite UNC's 3 losses outside the Top 100 (which all came early in the season), the Tar Heels have played their way up to the 5 line and could go higher if they win the ACC Tournament. I had a hard time deciding on the last 5-seed, but ultimately gave it to UCLA because they have a winning record against the Top 50 and only 1 loss outside the Top 100.

6 seeds

This is where the profiles start to get a little messy. Up until this point, 17 of the 20 teams had above-.500 records against the Top 50 and only UNC had more than 3 losses outside the Top 50. Of the remaining teams to be seeded, only UMass and Ohio State have above-.500 records against the Top 50, and they find themselves here on the 6-seed line. UConn and Texas also land here because of their lack of bad losses. Despite having losing records against the Top 50, the Huskies and Longhorns have only lost once outside the Top 50. Out of the remaining teams, only Memphis and Oklahoma State can make a similar claim, but both of those teams have losing records against the Top 100.

7 seeds

This might be the most unknown group in the whole bracket. Baylor and Oregon were borderline bubble teams a month ago while Kentucky was in the discussion for a top 3 seed. The Wildcats have fallen off while Baylor and Oregon have gone on incredible runs. Baylor played their way back to a .500 record against the Top 50 and their 8 wins are nothing to sneeze at. Similarly, VCU's .500 mark against the Top 50 is better than all but 3 of the remaining teams on my bracket. Even though Oregon and Kentucky are below .500 against the Top 50, their 11 and 12 wins against the Top 100 are more than any remaining teams. Of the remaining teams, only Gonzaga (10-4) and Colorado (10-10) have double-digit wins against the Top 100, which is a huge boost to Oregon and Kentucky.

8 seeds

It might be a bit of a surprise to find Iowa this low on my bracket, btu their resume is not nearly as good as their reputation this year. Even though the Hawkeyes have hovered around the Top 25 most of the season, they are just 4-8 against the Top 50 and are 2-3 against teams ranked 50-100, the first team in the field with a losing record in that segment of their resume. Their lack of losses outside the Top 100 is bouying up their tournament chances, but their non-conference schedule was awful and a bad loss in the Big 10 tournament could send the Hawkeyes into questionable territory. George washington and Memphis should be safely in the field at this point, but can both help themselves by stacking wins in their conference tournaments. Memphis has only played 1 game against teams ranked 50-100 so their sub-.500 record against Top 50 teams carried over to their Top 100 record, but the fact is the Tigers have onl ylost once to a team ranked outside the Top 50. New Mexico gets the last spot on the 8-seed line, which might be a bit low for them but the weakness of the Mountain West this year hurt the Lobos.

9 seeds

Oklahoma State is the hardest team to seed. They have only lost once outside the Top 50 (to Texas Tech, the game Marcus Smart was thrown out of) and they dropped all 3 games when Smart was suspended. If you take those 3 games out of consideration, the Cowboys are 5-7 against the Top 50 and 8-7 aginst the Top 100, which are both respectable. Ultimately, I think the Pokes will land somewhere in the middle but could be an incredibly dangerous matchup for a #1 seed in the second round. Gonzaga has the best record against the Top 100 of any remaining team, but their 2 bad losses sunk them below some of the teams above them in my eyes. Southern Methodist and Kansas State have the albatross of losses to teams with sub-200 RPIs that are dragging down their profiles. Kansas State benefits from the Big XII schedule and could be seeded higher because of their 7 Top 50 wins and .500 record against the Top 50.

10 seeds

Colorado is an incredibly hard team to seed because most of their big wins came early in the season before leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddle was injured. After Dinwiddle's injury against Washington (Colorado's worst loss of the season), the Buffs were 7-7 with a 2-5 mark against the Top 50. Their bad losses came at Utah and an overtime loss to California (who is on the bubble). I think the 2 Top 50 wins and only 2 losses outside the Top 50 (none outside the Top 100) without Dinwiddle is good enough to get Colorado in. Pitt has plummeted down the bracket since mid-January. The Panthers played a terrible non-conference schedule and were 1-7 against ACC teams in the Top 70 since mid-January. Pitt's best win is over Stanford (RPI 44) but they also haven't lost to a team outside the Top 70 which will likely be enough to get them in (barely, barring an upset in the ACC Tournament). No one on the bubble has more than 4 wins against the Top 50 or 9 wins against the Top 100, which was enough to put Arizona State in the field for me. Despite Stanford having a 4-8 mark against the Top 50, they are the only remaining team without a loss outside the Top 100, which gives them the edge over the remaining teams for the last spot on the 10 line. As an interesting aside, you might be saying "But Ian, Iowa had a 4-8 record against the Top 50 and a losing record against 50-100 teams and you seeded them a lot higher?" Well, when you look at their resumes side-by-side you see that Iowa has 2 wins better than Stanford's best win and all 8 of Iowa's Top 50 losses were to teams ranked in the Top 25 while Stanford has lost 5 games to teams ranked 25th-50th. Compare: Iowa vs Stanford

The Bubble

With the top 40 teams in the field and 21 conference champions from one-bid leagues that will be seeded at the bottom of the bracket, this leaves 7 spots to be decided amongst "bubble" teams.

As things currently stand, I have 14 teams sitting on the bubble battling over the last 7 spots in the field. Three of these teams will get "byes" and not have to play in the First Four play-in game while the "Last Four In" will have to play in a play-in game. The 14 teams are Arkansas, BYU, California, Dayton, Florida St, Georgetown, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Providence, Southern Miss, St Joseph's, Tennessee, and Xavier. Every team except Southern Miss (1-1) and Arkansas (3-3) is below .500 against the Top 50. Georgetown has the most Top 50 wins (5) but is just 2-4 against teams ranked 50-100 and has 3 losses outside the Top 100, including the worst loss of the group (Northeastern - RPI 218). At this point, Georgetown's bad losses are simply too much to overcome and knock them out of consideration.

Only 2 teams - Dayton and BYU have winning records against the Top 100, but those are offset by bad losses (Dayton has dropped 3 games to teams ranked outside the Top 100 while BYU has dropped 4). Dayton, along with St Joe's and California are the only teams on the bubble with 4 wins against the Top 50. Along with the most Top 50 wins of the group, St Joe's and Cal only have 1 loss outside the Top 100 (along with Florida St and Providence). These factors are enough to give St. Joe's, Dayton and Cal a slight edge in my eyes, so I am comfortable adding them to the field as the last 3 teams to get "byes" on the 11-seed line.

This leaves us with 10 teams fighting over the remaining 4 spots in the field. While there are no easy decisions at this point, some have to be made. Missouri has a staggering 5 losses to teams ranked 50-100 and 2 more to teams ranked in the 100s. The Tigers best win is over UCLA (RPI 27) and there simply isn't enough there for me to put them in the field. While Providence has only lost once outside the Top 100, they are 4-4 against teams ranked 50-100 and have just 1 win over a Top 45 team. The Friars best road/neutral court win is over St John's (RPI 58).

(click to enlarge)

Since everyone loves the "Last 4 In/First 4 Out" designation, I broke it down similarly. I knocked Florida State out becasue of their 2-4 record against record against the Top 100 specifically 2-4 mark against teams ranked 50-100. Minnesota had some of the best wins of the group and played a tough non-conference schedule but was the only remaining team with a losing record against the Top 100 and had the worst road/neutral win of any team. Despite losing 3 games outside the Top 100, I put Nebraska in because of their good wins and because they only lost once to teams ranked 50-100. Similarly, BYU was the only team with a winning record against the Top 100, which coupled with a top 10 Non-Conference schedule was enough to get the Cougars in the field. Xavier has two of the best wins of anyone remaining, which gives them an edge over Tennessee and Arkansas. Tennessee has great computer numbers but their 4 losses outside the Top 100, including a sweep by Texas A&M are frightening. Arkansas' bad non-conference schedule haunts their resume and their poor record away from home (4-8 in road/neutral games) offsets their sweep of Kentucky. Nothing on Southern Miss' resume aside from their RPI really inspires confidence, but they have the profile of a mid-major team that the Committee has let sneak into the field the last few years. Here's a look at the Last 4 In from the last two seasons:

2012 Last 4 In

2013 Last 5 In

Southern Miss has a resume that could be seen as comparable, if not better than the resume that got Middle Tennessee in last year. I know that resumes each year are looked at in isolation, but with an RPI in the Top 35, Southern Miss fits the bill right now as a last team from a mid-major league in that causes people to raise their eyebrows.

There have been a lot of questions flying around about Green Bay lately. Simply put, I will be stunned if Green Bay is included in the field. The Phoenix do have a win over Virginia, but that is their only win in the Top 90 and they have 3 losses outside the Top 100. On top of that, Green Bay has an RPI of 62 which would truly be an unprecedented move for the Committee to include them in the field. In the last 6 years, the lowest-ranked Mid-Major to be included in the field was BYU (RPI 48) in 2012. In the last 6 years only 9 of 21 mid-major teams (43%) with RPIs in the 40s were given At-Large bids and none with an RPI over 50 were given a spot in the field. This does bode well for Southern Miss (RPI 35) and Toledo (RPI 36) should they fail to win their conference tournaments.


Now that we have our 68 teams comes the fun part of putting them into a bracket.

South Region
1. Florida vs 16. Coastal Carolina/Alabama St
8. George Washington vs 9. Southern Methodist
4. Michigan St vs 13. Stephen F Austin
5. Oklahoma vs 12. Harvard
3. Virginia vs 14. Eastern Kentucky
6. UMass vs 11. Xavier/BYU
2. Iowa St vs 15. UC-Irvine
7. Oregon vs 10. Pitt

West Region
San Diego
1. Arizona vs 16. Mt St Mary's/Weber St
8. New Mexico vs 9. Gonzaga
San Diego
4. Louisville vs 13. Manhattan
5. St Louis vs 12. North Dakota St
3. Syracuse vs 14. Georgia St
6. Texas vs 11. Dayton
2. Michigan vs 15. American
7. Kentucky vs 10. Arizona St

Midwest Region
St Louis
1. Wichita St vs 16. Stony Brook
8. Iowa vs 9. Oklahoma St
4. San Diego St vs 13. Louisiana Tech
5. North Carolina vs 12. Toledo
San Antonio
3. Creighton vs 14. Mercer
6. UConn vs 11. California
2. Wisconsin vs 15. Utah Valley
7. Baylor vs 10. Stanford

East Region
1. Villanova vs 16. Wofford
8. Memphis vs 9. Kansas St
San Antonio
4. Duke vs 13. Delaware
5. UCLA vs 12. Nebraska/Southern Miss
3. Cincinnati vs 14. NC Central
6. Ohio St vs 11. St Joe's
St Louis
2. Kansas vs 15. Milwaukee
7. VCU vs 10. Colorado

First Four - Tuesday in Dayton
California vs Nebraska
Coastal Carolina vs Alabama St
First Four - Wednesday in Dayton
Southern Miss vs Xavier
Stony Brook vs Weber St

Bids by conference: Big XII - 7, Pac-12 - 7, A-10 - 6, Big 10 - 6, ACC - 5, AAC - 5, Big East - 3, SEC - 2, MWC - 2, WCC - 2, C-USA - 2
Highest RPI in the field: California (RPI 55)
Lowest RPI left out: Tennessee (RPI 43)

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