March Madness Will Really Begin Now

I love NCAA basketball, and the NCAA tournament is the greatest sports event in the world.  But, it wasn’t the most entertaining first round.  We only had 12 first round games decided by single digits.  For what it’s worth, the average this decade is 14.2 single-digit decisions in the first round.  The first six years of the decade were a particularly glorious time, with nearly half of the games in the opening round ending in a single-digit margin.

But, why is this?  My thought is that there were simply too many incorrectly seeded teams, leading to lopsided margins and bizarre outcomes.  I projected the field very well this year (earning 5th out of 195 on the Bracket Matrix), but that is because after a great rookie campaign in 2016 followed by two so-so years, I feel that I gained a solid understanding of how seeding is generated.  I’ll put that theory to the test again next year, but for now, let me have my moment, OK?

Anyway, while I projected well, I did not agree with many of the seedings.  That said, of course we expect blowouts in 1-16 matchups (though I’m sure Virginia fans were really, really nervous early on yesterday before their team took control after halftime) and 2-15 matchups.

But, even the traditionally competitive 7-10 and 8-9 pairings weren’t so close this year.  In the 8-9 pairings, Oklahoma dismantled Ole Miss by the score of 95-72, Washington defeated Utah State 78-61 in a game that was briefly close late but generally a double-digit margin, and UCF wrecked VCU 73-58 in a game that was never competitive.  In fact, VCU went over 10 minutes without scoring at one point.

In the 7-10 matchups, Wofford beat Seton Hall 84-68.  This was a bizarre game, in which Wofford led by 16 late in the first half and saw that trimmed to 1 at about the 4 minute mark.  But, the finish was indicative of Wofford’s superiority over Seton Hall, in my opinion.

Remember on Wednesday, I opined that Wofford was drastically under-seeded, having the profile of a 4 seed.  It’s true that they had no wins over any at-large qualifiers, but it’s also true that they ranked 13 in NET, suffered no losses outside of Quadrant 1, and that they beat a UNC-Greensboro team 3 times that was among the First Four Out (and was probably more deserving of a bid than St. John’s, Arizona State, or Temple).

Elsewhere, the 10 seed Minnesota beat the 7 seed Louisville 86-76.  This isn’t a blowout, but it wasn’t particularly close late.  Louisville was a team who I stated was falling and looking more like a 9 seed coming into the tournament.  In hindsight, Minnesota was under-seeded (I had them as a 9 in my projection on Sunday but didn’t comment on this on Wednesday).  So it goes.

To reiterate, this was my list of over- or under-seeded teams on Wednesday.  Of course, a 1 can’t really be under-seeded, so the teams on that line in this list are included because of outstanding recent performance, which is a measure I use when making picks.

Rising and/or Under-Seeded Teams: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan State, Houston, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech*, Auburn, Buffalo, Wofford, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Belmont, Oregon, Murray State, UC-Irvine, Yale.

Falling and/or Over-Seeded Teams: Michigan, Kansas, Kansas State*, Marquette, Maryland, Louisville, Ole Miss, Syracuse, VCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa, Ohio State, Arizona State, St. John’s.

Let’s look at how these teams fared.  We will exclude teams on the 1-3 lines or 14-16 lines, because I don’t pick upsets in those pairings in my brackets, as they are simply too infrequent to justify the risk.  So, looking at teams between the 4-13 lines and excluding matchups in which both teams were “falling” (Syracuse vs. Baylor, Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss, and the First Four matchup of Arizona State vs. St. John’s), we get the following records.

Rising teams: 7-3 in the first round

Falling teams: 4-5 in the first round (including Arizona State’s loss to Buffalo yesterday)

These are admittedly very small sample sizes, but we might be on to something here.  I have never tracked these records before, but I will do so over the next couple years.

Also, I said I was taking the following upsets in most of my brackets (I am invited to several pools each year that accept two entries per player, so I try to mix it up some):

First Round: (11) Belmont over (6) Maryland, (12) Murray State over (5) Marquette, and (13) UC-Irvine over (4) Kansas State.  I’m also taking (12) Oregon over (5) Wisconsin, (11) St. Mary’s over (6) Villanova, (10) Minnesota over (7) Louisville, and (9) UCF over (8) VCU (not really an upset, as 8-9 games are a coin flip, but still a lower seed).

Second Round: (11) Belmont over (3) LSU and (7) Nevada over (2) Michigan are my main upsets over the weekend.  I’m also taking Oregon over Cal-Irvine in the 12-13 matchup I picked.

Those first round picks went 5-2, with 4 winning fairly easily and the 2 losses coming down to the last minute.  Both second round picks are out, but I actually ended up retracting the Nevada over Michigan pick in almost every bracket.  Why?  Because as I looked closer, Nevada should have been on the over-seeded list.  They played an easy schedule and faded down the stretch, two criteria that are predictive of underperformance in March.

For what it’s worth, I went with these lower seeds often in the second round: (12) Oregon (over the 13 UC Irvine, but a 12 in the Sweet 16 is uncommon regardless), (5) Auburn over (4) Kansas, and (7) Wofford over (2) Kentucky.

I’d give Kentucky the edge in this last matchup, but Wofford is a value pick here.  They are a very good team and Kentucky is one that tends to be overvalued by the public.  When we are making picks, whether for our brackets or for other purposes, we always want to look at as many factors as time permits; one should be whether a team’s odds are inflated by positive public perception.  Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas always fall into this category.  (Click that last part if you want to see detail on that I wrote on Wednesday night.)

With all that said (and that was a lot!), it’s time to get your hopes up.  The second round is more exciting than the first most of the time.  The past two years, we’ve had nearly as many single-digit decisions in the second round as we’ve had in the first (with, obviously, half the number of games in the second round).  To be precise, that’s 20 second-round games decided by 9 points or fewer, with 25 first round games decided in the same range.  So, here’s to some real March Madness this weekend!

 

 

 

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Bracketology: Gonzaga or Duke (or Someone Else)?

If you’re like me and you’re still finishing up your brackets, you might be asking if Duke or Gonzaga is a better pick to reach the championship game and cut down the nets in this year’s NCAA tournament.  You might also be wondering if another team is worth a serious look.

Earlier today, I posted about how some helpful strategies are looking at a team’s good wins and bad losses over the season, their road record, and closely examining their recent play.  When we’re comparing two teams on the 1 line, we shouldn’t find a big difference.  So how about another method?  Let’s look at who is in each team’s path to the Final Four, along with who is being picked most often.

First, here are the teams I feel are rising or falling.

Rising and/or Under-Seeded Teams: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan State, Houston, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech*, Auburn, Buffalo, Wofford, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Belmont, Oregon, Murray State, UC-Irvine, Yale.  (I noted earlier that Virginia Tech belongs on this list because of the return of Justin Robinson.)

Falling and/or Over-Seeded Teams: Michigan, Kansas, Kansas State*, Marquette, Maryland, Louisville, Ole Miss, Syracuse, VCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa, Ohio State, Arizona State, St. John’s. (Kansas State is on this list because their star player, Dean Wade, is doubtful for the tournament.)

Let’s ignore the first-round matchups for Duke and Gonzaga.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say we won’t see a 16-1 upset for the second year in a row.  Let’s look at each team in turn from the second round on.

Duke: A second round matchup against either VCU or UCF shouldn’t be too difficult.  But Virginia Tech (on the “hot” list) could be looming in the Sweet Sixteen.  After that, Michigan State, the strongest of the 2 seeds, could be next up in the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga: Both possible second round opponents, Syracuse and Baylor, are on the “cold” list.  Not only that, but Frank Howard, one of Syracuse’s key players, is suspended indefinitely as of tonight.  So don’t worry about this game.  The Sweet 16 could present an intriguing Murray State team, but 12-1 upsets are so rare as to render it pointless to think about (remember, you want to go for upsets that aren’t totally crazy).  Otherwise, the opponent is likely to be Marquette, who has really faded lately, or Florida State, who plays great defense but may not have the pieces to take out the Zags.

So, Gonzaga should make the Elite Eight.  The biggest threat in the other half of their bracket is Texas Tech.  That said, I’d give the Zags a bigger edge over Tech than I would give Duke over Michigan State.

Now, let’s also look at this: computer models on various sites put Duke’s odds of winning the national championship around 18%, with Gonzaga at 15%.  So here’s a nugget we can’t overlook: on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge right now, Duke is the national champion in 37.5% of entries, compared to only 8.6% for Gonzaga!  In other words, Duke is being considerably overvalued compared to the Zags (and the rest of the field).

So, if you’re looking to win a bigger pool, consider Gonzaga.  They have reasonable odds of winning it all and are being undervalued.  Yet another team to look at is Virginia.  Are you afraid to take them because of what happened last year?  I can’t blame you, but consider these two facts.  First, Virginia is much better on offense this year.  They are the only team in the nation who ranks in the top five in Ken Pom’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.

Second, it’s a common fallacy to believe that because something has happened before, it is a given that it will happen again.  Virginia has a recent history of underperforming their seed expectations, even before last year’s infamous collapse.  But you know who else did before 2016?  Villanova.  Twice in the early years of the decade, Nova lost in the second round as a 1 seed.  Another time saw them lose in the same round as a 2 seed.  Suddenly, they’ve won 2 of the past 3 titles.  Things can change.  And Virginia looks like they might be ready to turn that corner.

Let me add, Virginia is given about a 16% chance to win it all in the various computer models but like the Zags, only about 8% of players are taking them.  Yet another reason to give them a serious look.

One more team to consider is Michigan State.  As I said earlier, they’re the strongest 2 seed.  I’ve seen their computerized odds anywhere from 7 to 10 percent, but they’re being picked by only 5% of the population.

Finally, it appears that North Carolina is a team to avoid.  In addition to being in a region rife with teams who are peaking at the right time, UNC gets about a 10% chance to win it all in the computer simulations, but is being taken by about 16% of players so far.

Alright, I really have to fill out those brackets, and you probably do too if you’re reading this right now.  Hopefully, these strategies work.  When we’re looking to win pools, especially bigger ones, it is helpful to take a champion on the top 2 lines who is being undervalued.  Teams lower than that win it all too infrequently to justify the risk, as far as I’m concerned.

So now, something crazy will happen, like a 10 seed winning it all.  That’s why we love March.  Enjoy the Madness!

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Bracketology: Previewing March Madness

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and never filling out a perfect bracket.  On that somber note, let’s get to it.

While no one is going to go undefeated in their NCAA tournament bracket, there are some strategies we can follow that usually lead to more success.  I emphasize “usually” because there are some years where things simply get so crazy that it becomes a matter of who suffers the least attrition.  But even in those years, some tactics can make your bracket stand out, as you’ll soon see.

First, does it matter if you’re in a smaller pool (20-30 entries) or a larger one?  In either case, avoid picking too many upsets.  Typically, if you try to pick every upset, your bracket will end up in shambles by the end of the first weekend.  I know this from experience.  This makes sense when you think about how scoring works: most pools reward you much more heavily for correct picks in the later rounds.

That being said, you need to differentiate your bracket in a larger pool.  You can’t be in the money by simply picking what everyone else is picking.  So there are two ways to go about this.  A commonly endorsed way is to pick a champion that has a decent shot of winning it all, but that you don’t think others are likely to pick.  The second way would be to pick one of the favorites to win it all, but to pick a few upsets (again, don’t pick too many!) correctly earlier in the tournament.  Let’s look at each method closer.

The first method sounds good, but the fact is that 9 of the past 12 champions have been 1 seeds.  The other 3 have been a 2 seed (Villanova in 2016) and Connecticut twice (once as a 3, once as a 7).  So if you are going to use this technique to make your bracket stand out (for better or worse), I’d recommend going with the 1 seed with the longest odds to win it all or the 2 seed that you think is the strongest.  As of Tuesday afternoon, looking at futures, that 1 seed was North Carolina.  The 2 seed here would be Michigan State (more on that later).

The second method has worked better for me.  Every year, I enter a couple of different pools that accept multiple entries.  I do a couple in each pool.  My best entries, especially in the larger pool I’m in (well over 100 entries annually) are ones that have a chalky champ with some sneaky upsets along the way.  This is my 15th year entering that pool.  I’ve been “in the money” twice and just outside of it another two times.  My worst showings are those where I pick an unlikely champ along with a lot of upsets.  Don’t do that!

So, how can we identify the upsets that are most likely to happen, and the high seeds who are likely to live up to their seed expectations (Final Four for a 1, Elite Eight for a 2, Sweet Sixteen for a 3 or 4, and second round for 5-8)?  No method is foolproof and luck is always going to come into play, for better or worse.  But, I’ve found that we can give ourselves the best shot by analyzing the bracket and looking for who is over- or under-seeded.

To do this, I look at the same factors as when I project the bracket.  The ones that I lean on the most are NET, good wins, bad losses, and road record, especially against Quadrant 1 teams.  This last one makes sense because tournament games are played away from home against mostly quality teams.  And if a team has had a lot of chances to earn good wins and has rarely capitalized, they are unlikely to start now.  Lastly, some teams just haven’t had that many chances to play quality opponents, which is where looking at NET can really help us.

Then, I add a critical factor that used to be evaluated by the Selection Committee too: how has the team played lately?  This is where I really see some teams that are likely to make runs, and some who are likely to crash out sooner than expected.  Let’s get to it.  I’ll give you a list of each, followed by the upsets that we can delineate.

Rising and/or Under-Seeded Teams: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan State, Houston, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech*, Auburn, Buffalo, Wofford, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Belmont, Oregon, Murray State, UC-Irvine, Yale.

The first six on this list are 1 and 2 seeds, and all have a legitimate claim for that top line.  Houston and Texas Tech are 3 seeds who have come on strong late in the season (Tech’s quarterfinal loss to a sorry West Virginia squad in the Big 12 tournament notwithstanding).  Virginia Tech is rising because they’re getting Justin Robinson back, which greatly improves their chances.  The rest, when we look at their recent outings and/or season as a whole, have played above their seed line.

For example, Wofford ranked 13th in NET and went undefeated in a solid mid-major (the Southern Conference).  They were slotted on the 7 line, but they look more like a 4.  Buffalo ranked 15th in NET, won at Syracuse early in the season, and took both the regular season and conference tournament championship in a fairly strong mid-major this season (the MAC).  They are a 6 but also look more like a 4.

Now, let’s look at teams who are overvalued right now.

Falling and/or Over-Seeded Teams: Michigan, Kansas, Kansas State*, Marquette, Maryland, Louisville, Ole Miss, Syracuse, VCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa, Ohio State, Arizona State, St. John’s.

Kansas qualifies because they started off hot but have suffered 3 blowout losses lately and are a pathetic 3-8 on the road (2-7 versus Quad 1).  Kansas State makes the list because at this time, it is anticipated that their star player, Dean Wade, will be out at least for their opening round game against UC-Irvine.

Further down the list, remember that Marquette was a 3 in the February 9 Bracket Reveal and Louisville was a 4.  They are now a 5 and a 7, respectively, and that is in part because they melted down.  I’d argue that you could really view them as worse, as a 7 and a 9.

At one point, I liked Marquette as a sleeper to win it all, but I’d stay far, far away from that pick now.  They come in having lost 5 of their last 6, including twice to a middling Seton Hall and twice to non-tournament teams.  A Sweet 16 run isn’t out of the question, but under no circumstances would I pick them to go further than that.  Louisville has lost 4 of 6, with the two victories coming against Notre Dame and one of the losses at Boston College.  Do not pick them to go past the second round.

VCU is simply over-seeded, as they took five losses outside of Quadrant 1 and their best win was at Texas.  Arizona State has two Quad 4 losses along with two in Quad 3, while St. John’s has lost 4 of 5.  One was by 32 to Marquette on Friday night, and the others were to Xavier and Depaul.  One will get a win… because they play each other.  But that’s it.  Next up for the winner is Buffalo.

With that in consideration, where do we see combinations of rising and falling teams in which the lower seed is likely undervalued by others in your pool?  I am going to fill out my first bracket based on this criteria and see how I do.  It has worked well the past two years, since I implemented this system – winning a smaller pool in 2017, for example, with an entry that was in the 96th percentile on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

First Round: (11) Belmont over (6) Maryland, (12) Murray State over (5) Marquette, and (13) UC-Irvine over (4) Kansas State.  I’m also taking (12) Oregon over (5) Wisconsin, (11) St. Mary’s over (6) Villanova, (10) Minnesota over (7) Louisville, and (9) UCF over (8) VCU (not really an upset, as 8-9 games are a coin flip, but still a lower seed).   If you want to get really crazy, consider (14) Yale over (3) LSU.  Though LSU has played well lately, I think the suspension of their head coach is going to cost them at some point.

Second Round: (11) Belmont over (3) LSU and (7) Nevada over (2) Michigan are my main upsets over the weekend.  I’m also taking Oregon over Cal-Irvine in the 12-13 matchup I picked.

Beyond this, I’m playing it fairly safe, as you usually get burned taking teams lower than a 3 to get to the Final Four.  I will be taking a couple such teams in my other brackets, but in this one, I’m not picking any major upsets at this point.  My Elite Eight has Duke over MSU, Gonzaga over Texas Tech, Virginia over Purdue, and Kentucky over UNC.  In the Final Four, I have Duke over Gonzaga and Kentucky over Virginia.  Then, I have Duke cutting down the nets on April 8.

In my other brackets, I’ll vary the picks and take a couple more risks in the later rounds – but not too many!  Enjoy the First Four matchups tonight and the flood of games starting tomorrow!

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How Will Michigan and Michigan State Fare in the NCAA Tournament?

First off, I’m excited to say I placed fifth of 195 entrants on this year’s Bracket Matrix!  The goal is to win some year, but 97th percentile is nothing to complain about.  My overall score of 362, including 49 correctly seeded teams, blows away my previous highs from 2016 of 340 with 41 teams correctly seeded.  Scroll below this article or click here if you want to see my final projection from yesterday.

This also marks the third time in my four years on the Matrix that I’ve defeated various people who get paid to project the NCAA Tournament field (yes, shameless self-promotion).  Hopefully that translates into some success in my brackets, as I will be bringing you some analysis and making my picks over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover how the NET appears to be applied by the Selection Committee, and on Wednesday, I’ll talk about who I think is over- or under-seeded, based on a combination of the season as a whole and recent performance.  The Committee ditched the “last 10 games” criteria a while ago, but as we navigate the brackets and look for potential upsets, as well as high-seeded teams to avoid investing in, we should look at this criterion.  For today, let’s look at the chances of my home-state teams, Michigan State and Michigan.

Before I talk about Michigan State, let’s address two common complaints right now.  First, the seeding, and second, the placement in the East region with Duke.  The seeding was never going to change based on the results of yesterday’s Big Ten championship game.  It has been known for years that the Selection Committee doesn’t care about the games that take place the day of the Selection Show, beyond those that determine automatic qualifiers from one-bid leagues.

Bernard Muir, the Committee Chair, confirmed as much when he stated last night that they knew Michigan and Michigan State were 2 seeds going into the weekend.  This calls into question how much Saturday’s games even mattered, but I don’t know.  I do know for certain that Selection Sunday games don’t matter in seeding, never have, and probably never will.

As for being placed with Duke, that’s unfortunate.  But it’s not insurmountable, as we’ll discuss.  But here’s the thing.  The Committee will not place the overall number 1 and overall number 5 seed together.  That means Tennessee wasn’t going to the East region.

Moreover, they try to keep teams as close to home as possible and in the event that all teams on a given high seed line play east of the Mississippi – a common event nowadays given the pitiful state of Pac 12 basketball – the last team on that line will be banished to the West region.  That would be Michigan.  That also means Tennessee was going to be placed in the South, as the location of the regional (Louisville) is closest to home for them.    So, either Kentucky or MSU was going to be paired with Duke, with the other being paired with North Carolina in the Midwest region.  Do you really believe a team is significantly better off playing UNC than Duke?

That being said, I like Michigan State’s chances to make a run much more than I did last year.  They have returned to their traditional mold under Tom Izzo: great point guard play (Cassius Winston), a couple of dangerous perimeter shooters (Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins), and bigs who crash the boards and out-tough their opponents (Xaiver Tillman).

That last element was glaringly missing last year, and had a lot to do with the second-round loss to Syracuse.  Eventually, and predictably if you had paid attention throughout the season, the Spartans simply folded against the Syracuse zone.  It was hideous and ugly.  This was a game that was unwatchable unless you were a Syracuse fan, took twisted pleasure in seeing a higher-seeded team lose in front of basically a home crowd (the game was in Detroit), took Syracuse on the money line at +448 because you had been paying attention, or some combination of the above.  So the game was watchable for me, but I digress.

There is no point in even discussing the first-round matchup against Bradley, so let’s move on.  When we look at a potential second-round game against Louisville or Minnesota, I do not see MSU losing to Louisville again, nor do I see them falling against a mediocre Minnesota team.

As we move forward to the Sweet Sixteen, a few teams could await.  Let’s look at them.  LSU has no coach, Maryland is so mistake-prone that they will probably lose to the Belmont/Temple winner (especially if it’s Belmont), and that team will not beat Michigan State (if they get by LSU).

So now it’s on to the Elite Eight.  Here, it will be absolutely critical for Tillman to stay out of foul trouble, as Michigan State is clearly better with him in the lineup than with Nick Ward or any of their other bigs.  If he can do so, they have a chance to overcome Zion Williamson and Duke to reach the Final Four.  If not, forget about it.  It’s that simple.

I am not saying Tillman, or anyone else on the face of the earth, is going to stop Williamson, but we are talking about a difference between a 20/10 game and a Williamson names his numbers and goes out and gets them game.

With that in mind, let’s look at Michigan.  Here, it’s less of a matchup and round-by-round issue than an issue of this: can these guys stay out of their own way?  When they pummeled Iowa and Minnesota over the weekend, the offense was a thing of beauty.  Ball movement, player movement, and finding the good shot – staples of the John Beilein era – were displayed throughout each game.

Turn your pages to Michigan State on Sunday, and it was back to the stale, stagnant, standing around, isolation offense that we’ve seen way too much from this team this season.  This type of offense works in the NBA, or if you have players who are good enough to be in the NBA next year.  Michigan is not in the NBA, nor is anyone on the roster good enough to be in it next year.

So, in a pattern that has repeated itself most games since Big Ten play started (going back to December), the offense had multiple several-minutes-long periods of forcing up terrible shots after using the first 28 seconds of the shot clock to do nothing.  This caused a 13-point lead early in the second half to disintegrate into a third loss to the Spartans in as many weeks.

So, the key for Michigan is to play with some sort of purpose on offense.  The defense is more than good enough to keep them in any game.  But, the rhythm and shot selection on offense will be the difference between an exit against Nevada or Florida this Saturday and advancing to the Elite Eight to face Gonzaga, or Florida State, or Syracuse (this region could get really chaotic really fast) and possibly beyond.

In short, I expect MSU to advance at least to the Elite Eight, and I see Michigan as a total wildcard.  So, that’s it for today.  Tomorrow, I’ll offer some thoughts on how it looks like the NET was applied.  For now, start working on your brackets!  And hey, why not look at the Bracket Matrix to see how everyone did? 

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Bracketology: The Final Projection

And here we go, with the Selection Show just hours away.  I’m excited, and I know you are too.

I’ve written at length this week about how the 1 line might shape up.  This, along with the bubble watch, seems to be everyone’s favorite topic as we approach Selection Sunday.  At this point, I am projecting the following 1 line: Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, and North Carolina. 

 There is no argument about Duke and Virginia.  I think it comes down to which two of the three of Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Kentucky should get the final two top seeds.  I’ve gone back and forth about this 1,000 times this week (500 of which have probably been today), so I’m going to throw out most of the analysis and go back in time a week.

When I gave a breakdown of the potential 1-seeds on Saturday, March 9, I had it as Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, and Kentucky, with North Carolina as the first 2 seed.  Since then, Duke clearly helped solidify their cause.  Virginia didn’t hurt theirs.  Neither did Gonzaga, as St. Mary’s is a decent squad and it is very hard to beat anyone three times in a season.

So why UNC over Kentucky?  It’s simple: UNC picked up two Quad 1A wins since that post, while Kentucky beat middling Florida and Alabama teams.  Had they won against Tennessee yesterday, I probably would have kept them on the 1 line.  But they didn’t, so here we are.

The other major change is that North Carolina State has fallen out of the field as a result of Oregon “stealing” a bid by beating Washington in the Pac 12 championship game.  Yesterday, I offered a comparison of NC State, Temple, and Alabama, and dropped Alabama out of the field because of the A-10 stealing a bid.

To reiterate, there were four teams left in the field yesterday who had zero Quad 1 road wins.  Those teams were Nevada, Utah State, Temple, and North Carolina State.  There has never been any debate that Nevada is in, and what little debate might have existed about Utah State prior to yesterday was silenced when the Aggies won the Mountain West conference championship game.  So what separates Temple and North Carolina State?    

North Carolina State has a better NET ranking at 33, compared to Temple’s 56.  But, NC State also has two Quad 3 losses to Temple’s one, and has a non-conference strength of schedule of 352, second-worst in the nation.  Perhaps most importantly, based on what we can gather so far, is that Temple has a 1A win, at home against Houston.  Really, you could make the case either way and I wouldn’t argue the point, but I think the Selection Committee will see Temple’s resume as slightly better than that of NC State.

Also, Auburn moves up to a 5 and Mississippi State drops to a 6.  This one is close, so here’s how I see it.  Mississippi State had 8 Quad 1 wins to Auburn’s 4 coming into today, but that’s somewhat misleading.  Both had 5 wins over at-large quality teams.  Auburn’s best was at home against Tennessee, while Mississippi State’s best was at home against Wofford.  Some have both on the 5 line with Marquette down to a 6 but I’m not buying it, as Marquette piled up 5 Quad 1A wins over the course of the season.

Lastly, Florida State rises to a 3 with Texas Tech falling to a 4.  It was the other way around prior to the conference tournaments, but FSU earned wins over Virginia Tech and Virginia, which was enough to push them ahead of Texas Tech, who lost to a bad West Virginia team in their opening Big 12 tournament game.

So, with Selection Sunday upon us, let’s get to the projection.  I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers and noted moves up or down since yesterday in parentheses.  The only contingency is that I’m assuming Georgia State holds on to beat UT-Arlington in the Sun Belt final.  If so, this will stand as my final projection.  If not, I’ll do a slight revision to reflect UT-Arlington making the field.

Clinched bids since yesterday: Vermont, North Carolina Central, Prairie View A & M, Utah State, Iowa State, Villanova, Buffalo, Montana, Old Dominion, Duke, Abilene Christian, New Mexico State, Oregon, UC-Irvine, Yale, Auburn, St. Louis

In since yesterday: North Carolina Central, Prairie View A & M, St. Louis

Out since yesterday: Norfolk State, Texas Southern, Davidson

1s: Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, North Carolina (+1)

2s: Kentucky (-1), Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: Houston, LSU, Kansas, Florida State (+1)

4s: Texas Tech (-1), Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas State

5s: Marquette, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Auburn (+1)

6s: Mississippi State (-1) Iowa State, Maryland, Buffalo

7s: Wofford, Cincinnati, Nevada, Louisville

8s: Seton Hall, Ole Miss, UCF, Iowa

9s: Minnesota, Oklahoma, Baylor, Syracuse

10s: Utah State, Washington, VCU, Florida

11s: Ohio State, TCU, Arizona State, St. John’s, Temple, St. Mary’s (+1)

12s: Oregon (new), Murray State, Liberty, New Mexico State

13s: UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern, Old Dominion (+1)

14s: Yale, St. Louis (new), Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Colgate, Bradley, Abilene Christian (+1)

16s: Gardner-Webb (-1), Prairie View A & M (new), Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State, North Carolina Central (new)

Last Four Byes: Washington, VCU, Florida, Ohio State

Last Four In: TCU, Arizona State, St. John’s, Temple

First Four Out: North Carolina State, Belmont, Alabama, Indiana

Others Considered: UNC-Greensboro, Creighton, Furman, Clemson, Lipscomb, Xavier, Memphis

Enjoy today’s championship games and the Selection Show.  Check out the Bracket Matrix to see how all of the bracketologists fared! 

Coming next year, I’ll try my hand at actually bracketing the teams as we get later into the season.  For now, let’s all hope for an exciting NCAA Tournament.  After that, I’ll take a break for a little while and then get into some baseball writing as we approach May.

Thanks to all for reading this season!

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Bracketology: Duke is Back to a 1 Seed

On Thursday, I explored the debate over whether Gonzaga will get a 1 seed.  Later in the day, I put Gonzaga ahead of Duke for that last 1 seed.

Well, we had a thrilling night of hoops last night, and the best game had to be Duke’s 74-73 win over North Carolina.  This game was everything we hoped it would be with Zion Williamson participating for Duke.  As for seeding implications, I’ve reverted to where I was last Saturday, with Duke as the #2 overall seed and North Carolina as the #5 overall seed.  In other words, Duke is back to a 1 and UNC is back to a 2.

The reason is simple: the perception among the Selection Committee is going to be that Duke is the second-best team in the country (if not the best) with Zion in the lineup.  Remember, they were the overall top seed in the February 9 Bracket Reveal.  The three games they lost after that were twice to UNC and once at Virginia Tech, all without Zion.  It is clear that they are a 1 seed with him in the lineup, and while losses without one player or another are still factored in, more weight has traditionally been placed on what a team has done with the players who will be available in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina still has a shot at a 1-seed, as they are now behind Kentucky and Gonzaga.  The game between Kentucky and Tennessee this afternoon will help to settle that.

Elsewhere, the biggest change was VCU dropping 2 seed lines after their bad loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals yesterday.  I wouldn’t usually make such a drastic move this late in the process, but when I looked more carefully at VCU’s resume, it stood out that they only have one win over a team in the field.  That is against Temple on a neutral court, and Temple is today’s Last Team In.  Not only that, but VCU has three Quadrant 3 losses.  I have them on the 10 line for now but don’t be shocked if they are snubbed tomorrow.  This historically isn’t a resume that bodes well for an at-large bid.

The other major change is that Alabama has fallen out of the field as a result of the A-10 now up for grabs for a “bid thief.”  Quite frankly, I am not at all impressed with the resumes of North Carolina State and Temple, the last two teams in, either.  None of the three has any Quadrant 1 road wins – the only other teams in the field who have this dubious distinction are Nevada and Utah State, and no one is debating that those teams are in

What separates Alabama is that they have had seven chances to get such a win and have come up empty (Temple has had 4, and NC State 5).  They also have five losses below Quad 1, while Temple has 3 and NC State has 2.  The Tide have also fallen below the historical cutoff for getting an at-large of being at least 4 games above .500, as they now sit at 18-15.

So, with the eve of Selection Sunday upon us, let’s get to the projection.  I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers and noted moves up or down since yesterday in parentheses.

Clinched bids since yesterday: Vermont

In since yesterday: Abilene Christian, Davidson

Out since yesterday: Sam Houston State, Alabama

I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.

1s: Virginia, Duke (+1), Kentucky, Gonzaga

2s: North Carolina (-1), Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: Houston, LSU, Kansas, Texas Tech (+1)

4s: Florida State, Purdue (-1), Wisconsin, Kansas State

5s: Marquette, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State

6s: Auburn, Maryland, Buffalo, Iowa State (+1)

7s: Wofford, Cincinnati, Nevada (-1), Louisville

8s: Seton Hall, UCF, Ole Miss (+1), Iowa

9s: Baylor, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Minnesota (+1)

10s: Washington, Utah State, VCU (-2), Florida (+1)

11s: TCU, Ohio State (-1), Arizona State, St. John’s, North Carolina State (+1), Temple (+1)

12s: St. Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty, New Mexico State (+1)

13s: Davidson (new), UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern

14s: Yale, Old Dominion, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Colgate, Bradley, Gardner-Webb

16s: Abilene Christian (new), Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State, Norfolk State

Last Four Byes: VCU, Florida, TCU, Ohio State

Last Four In: Arizona State, St. John’s, North Carolina State, Temple

First Four Out: Belmont, Alabama, Indiana, UNC-Greensboro

Others Considered: Creighton, Furman, Clemson, Lipscomb, Xavier, Memphis, Oregon

Gone Fishin’: These teams no longer have any control over their own fate, and it’s hard to see them getting in with the resumes they have.  They are Nebraska, Dayton, and Fresno State.

Enjoy today’s championship games, and look for my final projection before the Selection Show tomorrow.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: Gonzaga Keeps a 1 Seed… For Now

Yesterday, I wrote a ton about the bubble and the concept of elimination games in the conference tournaments.  I also explored the debate over whether Gonzaga will get a 1 seed.  Later in the day, I put Gonzaga ahead of Duke for that last 1 seed.  A couple thoughts to add here: Gonzaga remains the only team to beat Duke when Duke was at full strength, and it’s hard to see the Selection Committee giving three 1-seeds to the same conference.  But this is March Madness, where anything can and does happen, so stay tuned.

I’ll continue looking at this and the rest of the field throughout the day but for now, let’s get right to it.  I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers and noted moves up or down since yesterday in parentheses.   Below the projection, I’ve included more detail on the teams.

In since yesterday: Florida, Alabama

Out since yesterday: Creighton, Indiana

I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.

1s: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga

2s: Duke, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: LSU, Houston, Purdue, Kansas (+1)

4s: Texas Tech (-1), Florida State, Kansas State, Wisconsin

5s: Marquette, Virginia Tech, Villanova (+1), Mississippi State

6s: Auburn, Maryland (-1), Nevada, Buffalo

7s: Iowa State, Wofford, Cincinnati, Louisville

8s: UCF, Iowa, VCU (+1), Seton Hall (+1)

9s: Ole Miss (-1), Baylor, Oklahoma (-1), Syracuse

10s: Washington, Utah State, Minnesota, Ohio State

11s: TCU, Arizona State, Temple (+1), Florida (new), St. John’s (-1)

12s: Alabama (new), North Carolina State, St. Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty

13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern

14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Colgate, Bradley, Gardner-Webb

16s: Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State (new), Norfolk State

Last Four Byes: Ohio State, TCU, Arizona State, Temple

Last Four In: Florida, St. John’s, Alabama, North Carolina State

First Four Out: Indiana, Creighton, UNC-Greensboro, Xavier (+1)

Next Four Out: Belmont, Furman, Clemson, Lipscomb

Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Memphis, Oregon, Dayton, Davidson, Fresno State, Nebraska (back on the fringes of the discussion after a surprising win against Maryland, but still a very long shot short of winning the Big Ten Tournament.

Gone Fishin’: These teams no longer have any control over their own fate, and it’s hard to see them getting in with the resumes they have.  Arkansas, Providence, Georgetown, and Texas.  The Longhorns have been getting a lot of discussion as a bubble team, but 16-16?  That simply isn’t good enough and it would set a terrible precedent if the Selection Committee included such a team.  I don’t see it happening.

Now, let’s look at how the tiers are shaping up today:

Tier 1 (Shot at a 1 Seed): This is teams 1 through 9, ranging from Virginia to LSU.  Note that Michigan and LSU are very long shots, but not totally out of this discussion.  Their scenarios are the equivalent of the final week of the NFL season where if 4 other teams lose, one ties, and one wins by exactly 10 points, your team gets in.  But, you never know, especially this season.  The biggest debate continues to be where Gonzaga will land in this area.

Tier 2 (Lock for a Protected Seed): This is the current overall 10 to 13 seeds, ranging Houston to Texas Tech.  Houston, Purdue, and Kansas could rise to the 2-line, and Texas Tech won’t go lower than a 4, even with the bad loss to West Virginia.  Their entire body of work is sufficient to be among the top 16 teams.

Tier 3 (Still Have a Shot at a Protected Seed): This is the current 14 to 21 overall seeds, ranging from Florida State to Auburn.  The higher end of this group could rise to the 3 line, with the worst landing as a 6-seed.

Tier 4 (Middle of the At-Large Pack): This is the current overall 22 to 30 seeds, ranging from Maryland to Iowa.  The best of these teams could rise as high as the 5 line, and the worst will land no lower than an 8 seed.

Tier 5 (Last Group 100% In): This is overall seeds 31 to 38, ranging from VCU to Utah State.  The better end of this group could rise to the 7-line, and I don’t see any falling lower than the 10-line.

Tier 6 (Almost Surely In): This is overall seeds 39 to 42, which is Minnesota to Arizona State.  I’d be surprised if any of these teams were left out given the state of affairs right now, but I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question.

Tier 7 (Absolute Toss-ups): This is today’s overall 43 to 47 and 69 to 71 seeds, ranging from Temple to UNC-Greensboro.  Flip a coin right now, pick heads or tails for any of these teams, and you have as a good a chance of being right as if you scrutinize their resumes.  All have some attractive qualities but also potentially fatal flaws as far as getting into the NCAA Tournament.

St. John’s, in particular, looked horrendous in their loss to Marquette last night, and the “bad losses” side of the ledger is almost as long as the “good wins”’ one.  But at least they have a couple of Quadrant 1 road wins, unlike Alabama and North Carolina State below them, who are 0-7 and 0-5 respectively on the road vs. Q1 teams.

Ugh.  Maybe this year the paradigm will shift and we will see more mid-majors instead of teams like this, but I won’t hold my breath on that one.  Speaking of, what separates UNC-Greensboro from their mid-major competitors in the tier below them?  UNCG has zero losses outside of Quadrant 1.

Tier 8 (The Situation is Dire): This is overall seeds 72 to 76.  Georgetown has serious work to do, and the other four need considerable help at this point.

So, that’s how I see it today.  Enjoy the games, and look for another projection tomorrow, as well as my thoughts throughout the day on Twitter (@Mike_Broman1).  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

 

 

 

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Bracketology: Gonzaga or Duke on the 1 Line?

If you’ve reached this page looking for a comparison of Gonzaga and Duke’s chances in the NCAA tournament, click here to go to that article.  

This would be so much easier if there were five regions in the NCAA Tournament.  I have no idea how the Final Four (or Five?) would work, but that would be for the league to figure out.

Why do I say that?  The margin between Duke and Gonzaga for the fourth 1 seed (and the first 2 seed) is so thin right now.  First, let me restate something I said on Saturday.  Reading this made me rethink how the two teams stand in comparison to each other for the 1,000th time since Gonzaga lost to St. Mary’s on Tuesday night.

From Saturday:

Gonzaga doesn’t have the win profile of the teams around them, but they were a top seed in the bracket reveal on February 9 and they’ve been winning by mind-boggling margins ever since, helping them to reach #1 in NET.  Their only losses are at North Carolina and to Tennessee at a neutral site.”

Next, we have North Carolina or Duke.  In all likelihood, one of them will get a 1 seed.  Duke is better positioned right now primarily because they swept Virginia and beat Kentucky at a neutral site.  But, it’s really close, and UNC won at Duke to complement the early-season win over Gonzaga.  A home win against the Dukies in tonight’s rematch might give UNC the push they need to be a 1 seed.”

At that time, my one seeds were Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, and Kentucky, with North Carolina as the first 2 seed.  I followed my train of thought on UNC-Duke and moved UNC up after they completed the sweep of Duke on Saturday night.  Now, let’s take a closer look.

First of all, Virginia is a 1 seed.  Period.  Next, we have North Carolina, followed by Kentucky.  Both are on the inside track to a 1 seed, but far from a lock.

On the other side of things, we have Michigan State, Tennessee, and Michigan as the 6, 7, and 8 overall.  All have weaknesses in their bodies of work as compared to the other teams on the top two lines.  For Michigan State, that is two losses outside of Quad 1; for Tennessee and Michigan, that is a relatively poor Quadrant 1 road record (.500, while the others are all at least two games over).

Now, for Duke and Gonzaga.  First, would we be having this conversation if Gonzaga had taken care of business on Tuesday night?  No.  So, is moving them down an overreaction to one game, as opposed to a careful scrutinizing of their whole body of work?  Maybe.  Does Duke have a better win profile?  Absolutely.  Has Gonzaga looked better lately – the tried and true “eye test”?  Yes.

Since the reveal, the Zags are 8-1, with all 8 wins coming by double digits, including a 48-point embarrassment of St. Mary’s on February 9.  Then again, the level of competition hasn’t exactly been stellar.  Duke is 6-3.  Granted, the losses are UNC times 2 and at Virginia Tech, but they also lucked out, more or less, in beating Wake Forest by one at home.  How much of this is related to Zion Williamson being out?  I have no idea, given that they still have multiple other lottery picks on the team.  Moreover, no one knows how the Selection Committee will factor that in.

I could flip a coin at this point, and that might be how I decide.  Then again, how Duke looks with Zion back in the lineup should tell us a lot.  For now, I’m going to stick with what I said on Saturday and put Gonzaga back on the 1 line.  As the old adage goes, if you can’t figure out the answer on a multiple choice test, stick with your first guess.  But, this is a very, very precarious position for Gonzaga, because the questions are going to be different once Duke gets back in action tonight.

So, here we go.  That is the one change I have made since this morning.  Several more will be coming tomorrow, but I want to wait for the full slate of results.

I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.

1s: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga (+1)

2s: Duke (-1), Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: LSU, Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue

4s: Kansas, Florida State, Wisconsin, Kansas State

5s: Virginia Tech, Marquette, Maryland, Mississippi State

6s: Villanova, Auburn, Nevada (+1), Buffalo

7s: Wofford, Cincinnati (-1), Louisville, Iowa State

8s: UCF, Ole Miss, Iowa, Oklahoma

9s: VCU, Baylor, Syracuse, Seton Hall (+1)

10s: Washington (-1), Minnesota, Utah State, St. John’s

11s: TCU, Indiana, Ohio State, Arizona State, Creighton

12s: Temple, North Carolina State (new), St. Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty

13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern

14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Colgate (new), Gardner-Webb, Bradley

16s: Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State (new), Norfolk State

Last Four Byes: St. John’s, TCU, Indiana, Ohio State

Last Four In: Arizona State, Creighton, Temple, North Carolina State

First Four Out: Florida, Texas (+1), Alabama, UNC-Greensboro (+1)

Next Five Out: Clemson, Belmont (-1), Furman, Georgetown, Lipscomb

Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Memphis, Oregon, Xavier, Providence, Fresno State, Arkansas, Dayton, Davidson

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be back with an updated projection and how I see the tiers I’ve been writing about this week shaping up.  For now, enjoy the games, and check out the Bracket Matrix!

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Bracketology: Lots of Bubble Teams Today, But No Elimination Games

Yesterday, I put Gonzaga behind Duke in the battle for the final 1 seed.  I analyzed it again last night and I still see it that way.  I’ll go into more detail about my reasoning in a post later today.  For now, let’s get to everyone’s favorite topic this time of year:

Bubble Watch

The most impactful game yesterday was North Carolina State versus Clemson.  I moved NC State into the field and Clemson out – their 1-10 Quadrant 1 record is an eyesore that won’t help their cause – but both could still get in, as we’ll get to below.

There are a lot of important games including bubble teams today.  I’ve bolded those who are on the bubble in the following list.

The games are: Indiana vs. Ohio State (12:30 PM EST), North Carolina State vs. Virginia (12:30), Florida vs. Arkansas (1:00), Creighton vs. Xavier (2:30), TCU vs. Kansas State (2:30), Alabama vs. Ole Miss (7:00), Minnesota vs. Penn State (7:00), St. John’s vs. Marquette (7:00), Texas vs. Kansas (9:00), Utah State vs. New Mexico (9:00), Arizona State vs. UCLA (9:00), and Georgetown vs. Seton Hall (9:30).

Remember, as I wrote about on Friday, there is no such thing as an NCAA Tournament elimination game in the conference tournaments.  This is true unless you’re on the absolute fringes of the bubble and even then, you could still get in if enough teams ahead of you lose and the metrics shift in your favor.

Let’s look at that idea more closely.  Let’s say all of the teams I named in the Bubble Watch games today lose (other than Indiana or Ohio State, since they’re playing each other).  Now, let’s say that there is a fundamental shift in how the Selection Committee evaluates teams, and they put Belmont, Furman, UNC-Greensboro, and Lipscomb in the field.  Even with that, 5 of the teams in key games today would still make the field, given that 9 are in it right now.  Or, someone on the fringes (like a Providence) would get in.

And that is why there is no such thing as an NCAA Tournament elimination game during Champ Week.  So now, let’s get to this morning’s projection.

Clinched bids yesterday: Colgate

In since yesterday: North Carolina State, Colgate

Out since yesterday: Clemson, Bucknell

I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.

1s: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke

2s: Gonzaga, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: LSU, Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue

4s: Kansas, Florida State, Wisconsin, Kansas State

5s: Virginia Tech, Marquette, Maryland, Mississippi State

6s: Villanova, Auburn, Nevada (+1), Buffalo

7s: Wofford, Cincinnati (-1), Louisville, Iowa State

8s: UCF, Ole Miss, Iowa, Oklahoma

9s: VCU, Baylor, Syracuse, Seton Hall (+1)

10s: Washington (-1), Minnesota, Utah State, St. John’s

11s: TCU, Indiana, Ohio State, Arizona State, Creighton

12s: Temple, North Carolina State (new), St. Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty

13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern

14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Colgate (new), Gardner-Webb, Bradley

16s: Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State (new), Norfolk State

Last Four Byes: St. John’s, TCU, Indiana, Ohio State

Last Four In: Arizona State, Creighton, Temple, North Carolina State

First Four Out: Florida, Texas (+1), Alabama, UNC-Greensboro (+1)

Next Five Out: Clemson, Belmont (-1), Furman, Georgetown, Lipscomb

Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Memphis, Oregon, Xavier, Providence, Fresno State, Arkansas, Dayton, Davidson

Gone Fishin’: Toledo (no Quad 1 wins and they won’t have a chance to get one until the MAC final)

Now, let’s look at how the tiers are shaping up today.  They are fairly similar to yesterday.  I expect some shifts the next couple of days, as the major conference tournaments get into full swing.

Tier 1 (Shot at a 1 Seed): This is the current 1 and 2 lines, ranging from Virginia down to Michigan.

Tier 2 (Lock for a Protected Seed): This is the current overall 9 to 13 seeds, ranging from LSU down to Kansas.  These teams could rise to the 2 line and will not land lower than the 4 line.

Tier 3 (Still Have a Shot at a Protected Seed): This is the current 14 to 21 overall seeds, ranging from Florida State to Villanova.  The higher end of this group could rise to the 3 line, with the worst landing as a 6-seed.

Tier 4 (Middle of the At-Large Pack): This is the current overall 22 to 28 seeds, ranging from Auburn to Iowa State.  These teams could rise as high as 5 and fall as far as 8.

Tier 5 (Last Group Safely In): This is overall seeds 29 to 37, ranging from UCF to Washington.  The better end of this group could rise to the 7-line, and I don’t see any falling lower than the 10-line as of now.

Tier 6 (Would be in Today, But Not a Lock): This is overall seeds 38 to 43, which is Minnesota to Ohio State.  These teams could be anywhere from the 9-line to out of the field, which reflects the volatility of the bubble at this point.

Tier 7 (Absolute Toss-ups): This is today’s Last Four In and First Four Out, which ranges from Arizona State to UNC-Greensboro.  Some of these teams could rise as high as the 10-line, and others will most likely be banished to the NIT.

Tier 8 (The Situation is Dire): This is the Next Five Out.  Georgetown has serious work to do, and the other four need considerable help at this point.  What separates UNC-Greensboro from their mid-major competitors in this tier?  UNCG has zero losses outside of Quadrant 1.

So, that’s how I see it today.  Enjoy the games, and look for my detailed breakdown of the top two seed lines later today.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

 

 

 

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Bracketology: What Now for Gonzaga?

Champ Week update: only 2 of 11 top seeds have won conference tournaments so far.  The madness is truly here.

One of those top seeds who didn’t win their tournament was Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference (WCC).  Yesterday, I opined that Gonzaga was nearly a lock for a 1 seed.  Today, I’m not sure of that, as that statement was partly based on the belief that they would beat St. Mary’s in the WCC final.  If they had beaten St. Mary’s, they would be close to a lock for a 1 seed.  But now, let’s take a closer look.

Right now, I see Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky with the inside track to claiming top seeds.  A variety of factors come into play here.  One of the critical ones is “1A” wins, which I consider to be wins over teams with a shot at a protected (top 4 lines) seed.  Virginia has six such wins, while UNC and Kentucky have five each.  Next, we have to look at Duke, who has five such wins, including at Virginia.

Gonzaga only has a single 1A win (Duke on a neutral court).  So, I’ve moved them down to the 2 line, just below Duke and ahead of Michigan State, Tennessee, and Michigan.  Gonzaga played a stronger non-conference schedule that those three – capitalizing with the win over Duke – and avoided any bad losses.  So did Tennessee, but they are also short on 1A wins relative to other teams on the top two lines.

As for who is the victim of St. Mary’s “bid steal,” that is Florida for right now.  I had the Gators as an 11 seed yesterday, but a careful analysis of the bubble reveals some ugly truths for them.  They are a terrible 3-11 in Quadrant 1, have only two wins against teams currently projected in the NCAA tournament, and have two Quadrant 3 losses.  The same claims can be made about Creighton, Temple and Clemson regarding terrible Quad 1 records (3-10, 2-6 and 1-9, respectively) and lack of wins over teams in the field.  But, the only loss below Quad 2 among those three teams is Temple’s loss vs. Penn.

The other problem for Florida is their 17-14 overall record.  Historically, a team must be at least 4 games above .500 to be selected as an at-large participant.  That barrier might be broken this year, but if so, it will be by a team with more quality wins, such as Indiana, who is also 17-14.

Yesterday, I introduced eight tiers that I see as separating teams from others.  Let’s get to today’s projection, then I’ll offer some comments on how I see the tiers today.

Clinched bids yesterday: Fairleigh Dickinson, North Dakota State, Northeastern, Northern Kentucky, St. Mary’s

In since yesterday: Fairleigh Dickinson, North Dakota State, Northeastern, St. Mary’s

Out since yesterday: St. Francis-PA, Nebraska-Omaha, Hofstra, Florida

I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.

1s: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke (+1)

2s: Gonzaga (-1), Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan

3s: LSU, Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue

4s: Kansas, Florida State, Kansas State, Wisconsin

5s: Marquette, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Mississippi State

6s: Villanova, Auburn, Cincinnati, Buffalo

7s: Wofford, Nevada, Iowa State, Louisville

8s: Oklahoma, Iowa, Ole Miss, UCF

9s: VCU, Baylor, Syracuse, Washington

10s: Seton Hall, Minnesota, Utah State, St. John’s

11s: Indiana, Ohio State, TCU (+1), Arizona State (+1), Creighton (+1)

12s: Temple, Clemson, St. Mary’s (new), Murray State, Liberty

13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern (new)

14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

15s: Montana, Bucknell, Gardner-Webb, Bradley

16s: Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson (new), North Dakota State (new), Norfolk State

Last Four Byes: St. John’s, Indiana, Ohio State, TCU

Last Four In: Arizona State, Creighton, Temple, Clemson

First Four Out: Florida, North Carolina State, Belmont, Alabama

Next Five Out: Furman, Georgetown, Lipscomb, UNC-Greensboro, Texas

Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Dayton, Memphis, Toledo, Oregon, Fresno State, Davidson, Xavier, Providence

Now, let’s look at how the tiers are shaping up today.  The top three tiers are the “1A” group I discussed above, those that definitely will be a 4 seed or higher or still have a shot at it.

Tier 1 (Shot at a 1 Seed): This is the current 1 and 2 lines, ranging from Virginia down to Michigan.

Tier 2 (Lock for a Protected Seed): This is the current overall 9 to 13 seeds, ranging from LSU down to Kansas.  These teams could rise to the 2 line and will not land lower than the 4 line.

Tier 3 (Still Have a Shot at a Protected Seed): This is the current 14 to 21 overall seeds, ranging from Florida State to Villanova.  The higher end of this group could rise to the 3 line, with the worst landing as a 6-seed.

Tier 4 (Middle of the At-Large Pack): This is the current overall 22 to 28 seeds, ranging from Auburn to Louisville.  These teams could rise as high as 5 and fall as far as 8.

Tier 5 (Last Group Safely In): This is overall seeds 29 to 37, ranging from Oklahoma to Seton Hall.  The better end of this group could rise to the 7-line, and I don’t see any falling lower than the 10-line as of now.

Tier 6 (Would be in Today, But Not a Lock): This is overall seeds 38 to 42, which is Minnesota to Ohio State.  These teams could be anywhere from the 9-line to out of the field, which reflects the volatility of the bubble at this point.

Tier 7 (Absolute Toss-ups): This is overall seeds 43 to 47 and 69 to 71, which ranges from TCU to Belmont.  All of these teams have some quality attributes in their body of work, but also serious flaws that expose them to falling out of the field even more so than the Tier 6 teams.  Chances are, these teams rise as high as the 10-line, with some being banished to the NIT.

Tier 8 (The Situation is Dire): This is overall seeds 72 to 77, ranging from Alabama to Texas.  These teams either have serious work to do in their conference tournaments (Alabama, Georgetown, Texas) or need a lot of help due to their resumes now being in the books (Furman, Lipscomb, UNC-Greensboro).

So, that’s how I see it today.  Enjoy the games, and look for my detailed breakdown of the teams later today.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

 

 

 

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