Friday, December 2, 2016

The ACC/BigTen Challenge as a Bracket Barometer

With so many viable bracket and bubble contender, the ACC/BigTen Challenge provides a slightly closed system with fair matchups to see how these strengths stack up.  While anyone can have an off night on the floor, 14 contests are a decent sample size to at least feel how these teams stack up.  Feel free to reference back to the charts.  Bracket.  BCS.  First outs.

Purdue (projected 3) at Louisville (2); Result: Louisville wins 71-64, confirmed.  Louisville jumped out early, never looked back. 

Rutgers (OUT) at Miami (5); Result: Miami wins 73-61, confirmed.  Rutgers was undefeated head to south Florida, but this game stayed closer longer that I had anticipated. 

Nebraska (BUBBLE POOL) at Clemson (BUBBLE POOL); Result: Clemson wins 60-58, confirmed?  Both these teams have a lot to prove to get back into the discussion, so it makes sense this was a battle to the end.  Clemson steals a potential Top 50 win.

Virginia Tech (10) at Michigan (11); Result: Tech wins 73-70, confirmed.  I really didn’t think the Hokies could pull this one out on the road, especially against Michigan’s tight defense.  Win will be big in March.

North Carolina (3) at Indiana (2); Result: Indiana wins 76-63, confirmed.  Wow, Indiana did not f-around after that loss at Fort Wayne.  A road loss doesn’t mean too much for UNC, but a big bounce back win for the Hoosiers keeps them on the 2 line for while.

Ohio State (SECOND FIVE) at Virginia (1); Result: Virginia wins 63-61, disputed?  The Cavs played like a bag of wet hair, taking poor shots all game, and still pulled this out.  The Buckeyes booted so many chances to put the dagger in.  Either way, I think one of these teams is probably no quite rated correctly… whether UVA gets bumped to a two (not elite) or Ohio State turns the screws on Michigan, MSU, Maryland, and Iowa.

Pittsburgh (FIRST FIVE) at Maryland (8); Result: Pittsburgh wins 73-59, disputed.  Ooof.  I could see this type of score line for a road game, but the Panthers are expected to be a year away adjusting schemes and bringing in “different” talent.  This result flexes the depth of the ACC.

Georgia Tech (OUT) at Penn State (OUT); Result: Penn State wins 67-60, confirmed.  PSU wins at home, and the line is a wash.  Not much to discern here, other than both are a game closer to the NIT.

Syracuse (SECOND FIVE) at Wisconsin (2); Result: Wisconsin wins 77-60, confirmed.  Most people will keep Syracuse in their polls and brackets, and I don’t have much reason to hold them out other than this looks to be a rebuild season as opposed to a reload, despite the early results.  The 2-3 zone couldn’t hold the drive-kick-bomb by Hayes/Koenig, but for the most part, that should allow the Orange to split in conference and get on the bubble.

NC State (FIRST FIVE) at Illinois (OUT); Result: Illinois wins 88-74, disputed.  I will not fault a team for losing on the road, but NC State was handled pretty well by a team that was eventually run over by Florida State.  The Pack rotation is only 6 deep, which will get them in trouble against fast and physical opponents.

Iowa (9) at Notre Dame (7); Result: Notre Dame wins 92-78, confirmed.  I would like to think this is my crowning achievement.  My original outline had Iowa #4 in the Big 10 and Notre Dame #7 in the ACC.  After exhaustively balancing the equation, they both fell to #6, and with the strength of the ACC superior, Notre Dame landed 9 spots ahead on the S-curve.  Vindicated.

Michigan State (6) at Duke (1): Result: Duke wins 77-69, confirmed.  Coach K has revealed Duke has no depth.  Jones and Kennard have each dropped a complete game 3 times this year… before December.  That’s a lot of unnecessary miles against Penn State and URI.  MSU is wallowing in preseason schedule hell, with what looks to be 4 quality losses (assuming Arizona and Baylor hold on) and one near blown shot against the Shockers.  The December slate is pretty sloppy and if they lose any of these, they will slide in the seedings. MSU and Pitt have taken an approach of not forcing turnovers.  Very Odd.

Minnesota (OUT) at Florida State (8); Result: Florida State wins 75-67, confirmed.  Little Pitino has the Gophers with solid wins over Arlington and Arkansas, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they back-doored a cover.  This was a 17-point game with 5 to play, so I’ll say things regress to the mean.

Wake Forest (OUT) at Northwestern (FIRST FIVE); Result: Northwestern wins 65-58, confirmed.  The Deacs are competitive early and NW looks to be in the same position every year, being good enough to not finish last, but never getting over the hump.

Final score: 10 matchups confirmed analysis, 2 matchups are inconclusive, and 2 matchups disputed the analysis.  I’ll take those percentages any day for a rough run it Bracketology after being out of the game five years.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Comment on the Mountaineers Historic Night

On Monday, West Virginia forced Manhattan into 40 turnovers... yes, once per minute, a confused Jasper was making a poor decision to lead to points the other way.  Numerous folks were quick to laud Bob Huggins and his players for the accomplishment and what this performance could mean for them going forward.

Well, probably nothing.  23 minutes was the most minutes any player logged, which means that no singular player is responsible for the disruption Monday night.

The argument against this assertion is that they also forced 34 against New Hampshire, 26 against Mississippi Valley State, and 21 against Mount Saint Mary's.  While I like New Hampshire in a weak America East this year, that is a slate of crap to pray on at home.  They did a good job splitting their games over the break (blowing out Illinois isn't THAT impressive this year, and losing to Temple, eh?), but the real test will be this weekend in Charlottesville.  Without the benefit of home court whistles getting swallowed, my guess is that their insane 35% turnover per possession rate begins to regress toward the mean.  Right now, the Mountaineers shooting defense is just average and has relied on pure pressure and benefit of the doubt from officials.  A stronger team like UVA will not put themselves in those situations, and if they do, their is a good chance the whistle will bail them out.

I still like West Virginia for a high seed and are legitimately the second best team in the Big 12, but they have a lot of room for improvement.  The turnover rate is more indicative of the quality of opponent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Butler wins again

It's no longer news that the Big East is better than most thought it would be.  A year after hangover would be excusable for Villanova, and Xavier already peaked.  Seton Hall and Creighton looked to be ascending, but were considered fringe 25 teams.  DePaul and St. John's are currently rebuilding and have no chance, and Providence is retooling and hoping to compete without any established or nationally acclaimed players.  That left Butler, Marquette, and Georgetown on the Bubble.  Butler, with much transition and tragedy the last 18 months, look like more of a long shot.

Thus far Nova has held serve, Xavier is reaching new heights, and Creighton looked to be making the step until the Hanson injury will force them to reevaluate the rotation.  Providence is exceeding expectations in the early going, playing tight in games they looked to be far outclassed.  Seton Hall and Georgetown scheduled the gauntlet, which has not phased the Pirates, though there is real reason for concern on the Potomac, and JTIII has to be feeling some heat.

Surprising and joining the Top 3 has been Butler, no longer looking like a bubble team but a legitimate major conference threat that could earn a top 4 seed.  They picked up an early win over fellow bubble denizen Northwestern, traveled to slay Vandy and Arizona, then capped it off with a road win at Utah, which is about as inhospitable conditions to play in as they come.  Rolling to 7-0 is solid, but the quality of wins already has them in the driver's seat against 3 conferences when pitting strength of schedule.  They still can grab two more big wins hosting Cinci and taking Indiana in Indianapolis.

Chris Holtman is actually creatively mixing small and big lineups to suffocate opponents.  Right now, Kenpom has identified that Kamar Baldwin may be warranting more minutes as a defensive specialist, and the ancillary shooters are hitting regularly enough that teams cannot key and pinch on Martin.  Other than height, the Bulldogs do not have a weakness that the big boys can exploit.  While there is no way they are going undefeated, they will be a tough out for the rest of the Big East.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bracket Analysis

Made my first lock of the minute call earlier tonight.  Probably won’t use Twitter much more than a means to bitch about bad calls and bad end of game plays which pounding back beers at The Hatt.

Analysis by region:

Keeping Villanova in this spot until proven otherwise.  They will draw the weakest play in game.  I split up Howard and Bryant (both those picks look dubious in the early going, but regular season results mean very little in one bid leagues) and the clearly next two weakest teams (New Hampshire and Liberty) will fill the 16 seed play-ins.  Balancing out the ACC, Big Ten, and Big East will prove difficult, which is why Louisville and UNC slip out of their S-Curve spots to steer clear of Duke and UVA.  I have Louisville I hair ahead of the Heels now, and sense that they will even out as the conference schedule shakes out.  Xavier also looks to be 2-seed worth again, but I have them solidly below UNC, Purdue, and all the other projected 2s for now.

With 2 Big East Teams, 1 ACC, 1 A-10, and 1 MVC team as the Top 5 seeds, this already has the perception of the “weak bracket” which would favor the overall 1 seed.  The Spartans are dragging ass in November, which is par for the course for them.  I find it hard to believe that they slip further south than a 6, even with 10 losses.  Southern Methodist is a total wild card down here, and could play a dark horse Sweet 16/Elite 8 here.  They look sharp early, but will not face the most trying conference slate… if they fall below 3rd in that conference, I doubt they will get called again… they missed a couple years ago as a ranked team, which let’s you know what the committee thinks of the AAC.

BYU is already a candidate to slide out in favor of a fourth A-10 team (pushing Nevada this way) or an extra PAC-12 or ACC team (Colorado, Pittsburgh).  Florid Gulf Coast, Belmont, and Green Bay have to be happy with this draw.  Overall, neither the 8/9 seeds are a threat to Villanova (yeah, tell NCState that).  Other than that, this is wide open.

Duke is the consensus #1 team until Monday, but they keep this spot until January.  They get the Kansas looks to surge to a high seed based on strength of schedule, but this is a 7-loss team.  Despite the highlight reels draft picks, this is probably not a top 10 squad.  Purdue gets a preferred seed to avenge last season’s disappointment.  They are a physical team and shouldn’t crap the bed again.  Gonzaga will waver between a 3 and 7 seed, depending on whose rankings you use.  Once again, they attract NBA caliber talent (or bodies at least) that will be imposing against any team.  They need a run to solidify nearly 2 decades of dominance in the regular season.  The Blue Jays will build an impressive resume, but this team looks like it will collect a couple questionable losses to keep them out of the elite.  Not sure about UCLA… they seem to have some chemistry issues, and while nobody will question Steve Alford’s coaching acumen, he may not have the personality for UCLA, where the expectations outweigh the atmosphere to win.

The way that this season is playing out, URI and Notre Dame can easily switch lines in this bracket.  A Duke/Maryland second round game would be bizarre on a couple fronts, and not really a matchup Duke wants.  Monmouth is holding a 12 seed, but that really requires nobody in the MAAC to suck ass and drive down their strength of schedule.  They have already missed a couple non-conference scalps as well, probably eliminating their at-large potential. Harvard is the projected winner based on potential, but if Princeton refuses to lose, they would demand a much higher seed.  Lehigh recruits well and gets the kinds of players that can make life difficult for any top seed.

Kentucky should run the table in the SEC, but with a young roster (again), expect some growing pains.  The strength of the SEC does them no favors.  4 big non-conference games will decide their fate as the number 1 overall or just a number 1.  The Big Ten, missing the 1 line, should get at least 1 2 seed, and Indiana is the second team drawn from the conference.  Typically, the committee avoids putting both the SWAC and MEAC in the play in games, and Texas Southern should compile the numbers to justify the 15 seed.  Fort Wayne has already taken down the Hoosiers and should roll to a huge opportunity against UNC.  Though this game is likely to end up in Greenville, could you imagine the upset potential if they end up in Indy?  Both Arizona and Miami are fine teams from strong conferences, but do they scare anyone?

Iowa State will get the misadventure of drawing the play-in winner, who will almost surely be favored.  So I do admit that Baylor, Florida, and Syracuse are making me look pretty stupid early on, and the presence of Georgetown over any of those 3 teams, amongst 20 other deserving teams early this season, takes away much of the validity of this projection.  For now, let’s just say Georgetown wins the Big East tourney.  South Carolina is one of my early season favorites to sneak into the Sweet 16.  Unlike the East Region, the 8/9 game provides a legitimate threat to Kentucky to bust the bracket.  Texas has some ground to cover, but Butler will give them fits.

The Aztecs are talented enough and play the opponents to get a better seed, but they are not the 2 seed of yesteryear.  In addition to Fort Wayne, Wilmington and Arlington will provide must see matchups regardless where they matchup, 11 to 15.

The West always seems to grab the weakest sister of the 1 seeds.  This shouldn’t be an insult to UVA, because once again they are going to be lights out.  I am not sure how Tony Bennett squeezes the life out of every basketball game, and why it never works come March, but the results are on paper.  Bakersfield is game, but not putting up 50 against them.  Marquette can get after anyone when they go small, but is a long shot.  They should have the composure to survive a shootout with the Razorbacks..  Wisconsin can fall anywhere from 1 to 4, but they have the most talent and experience in the conference.  Oregon’s 2015 run may be written off as a fluke if they don’t repeat.  Still the most talented team in the conference, but there is some concern the tempo can only take them so far.  Bob Huggins has built a consistent winner in Morgantown and will draw an interesting regional rivalry game against Ohio.  The Bobcats have been strong for years.

The 12 seed play in game is one of the more exciting clashing of systems.  Both teams are methodical offensively, but use unique defensive solutions to limit points.  Michigan plays more high-level talent, but Northern Iowa has a pretty balanced roster 1-10 and can survive foul trouble and injuries.  Saint Mary’s could be crewed catching the winner of that game.   Cincinnati is the class of the AAC and will draw a decent, but overachieving Davidson team.  Seton Hall and Tech aren’t blowing anybody’s skirts up and have a lot to show to be considered contenders… as opposed to “just good enough.”

This should get a good look over the next holidays with an update around New Year’s.  Expect to see some movement on the lower end at large teams… little on the one-bids.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Preseason Bracket- November 22, 2016

Fort Wayne, amongst the teams doing my preseason predictions proud.  Great win for a program that needed to prove they could do it before making their NCAA debut.

Not really going to let these early season result skew my preseason thoughts... Will include some analysis tomorrow.

The most difficult part, besides fitting the s-curve without disrupting conference parameters, regional opportunities, as seeding appealing matchups.  My 8/9 lines look like a Who's Who of December 27th bowl game participants.  It will be fun to see how this evolves.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Apologies to:

The first 5 out:
North Carolina State
Oklahoma State

The next 5 out
Virginia Commonwealth
Texas Tech
Saint Bonaventure
Ohio State
Rough year for the MWC and MVC.  I knew that the MVC lacked depth behind Wichita State, but Northern Iowa again will have to play their way into the main field, barring a spectacular conference season (like 16-2) or a big surge from the bottom of the conference to drive up their strength of schedule.

Giving the regular season title and first round bye to Nevada, San Diego State will play their way in as well.  Steve Fisher finds a way to win games, but this looks to be a slightly down year.  The conference second tier schools just aren't bringing enough clout to even get to the final 24, which makes it difficult to objectively compare the Aztecs outside head to head.

I gave Michigan the nod over Ohio State and Northwestern.  They will finish .500 in league play, but will get the nod in all the metrics (Pomeroy, Sagarin, RPI).  I had to do some deep digging, and really feel any of the top 3 teams on the first 5 out list have earned it more, but I'll ignore week 1 results and give Georgetown the nod for the other slot.

I also just have no desire to put Syracuse in until they prove they aren't going to mail in the first four months again, but they could end up clowning me again.

Seeding the bracket tonight.

63 Teams for 47 spots

The MAC and Conference USA are 1 bid leagues, lucky to make the 13 line, unless somebody runs the table and loses in the conference finals.  Not very likely because these are pretty balanced leagues.

88 Teams for 49 spots

Now that 19 sure one-bid leagues have been identified, I am sorting through the numbers and rosters to get bead on where these teams will be in 4 months.

Big Dogs I don't see making it as far as public opinion or the numbers:
Clemson, Syracuse, Florida, Baylor, California, Texas A&M.

The goal is to narrow those 88 teams to about 60.  Per usual, it is a tight squeeze on the mid majors if the ACC and Big Ten claim 20 spots.  The Big 12 is unnaturally balanced this year.  Kansas isn't running away with this and could find themselves staring at 5-6 league losses.  There isn't a single team that is not a true bubble contender, and if parity does reign, we could be looking at a glut of 8-10 conference records with legit profiles.  I really think that Baylor is going to struggle on the road this year as you can only take those "No means no!" chants so long.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Initial Bracketing Insights: One Bid Leagues

The first thing that has really become apparent is that UNC Wilmington is trending the right way.  If we were to stage conference tourneys now, and they did not win, they would be on the bubble... probably in that first 8 out group.  Good for the overall health of the CAA after its mass exodus.

Bryant and Howard are significantly worse than the other one-bid champions I have identified.  November and December results do not make a season in these leagues.  That belongs to February and March.  Out of all my predictions, Bryant did have the furthest to go, as Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson are more established.  Surprised by Howard's numbers, though.

2017 Predictions: The BCS teams

Despite my bias toward the Big East, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and powers in the Missouri Valley and West Coast, I feel that it would be ignorant to state that these conferences are in the same class as the 5 BCS Conferences.  The Big East clearly has the talent to compete with any of these affiliations, and top to bottom, the A-10, MWC, and AAC have the horses to run with the PAC-12 and SEC this year.  It really comes down to resources, exposure, and the “self-licking ice cream cone.”

The resource gradient does not drive basketball as much as football, but at the end of the day, even your middling BCS program (say, Washington?) is spending so much more per student athlete.  It makes everything easier, from recruiting, training, and actually going to and playing the games.  Richmond and Saint Bonaventure just are not going to have those selling points.

Exposure has changed dramatically the last 15 years.  Back in the days of yore, dish was the only way to get out of region games, let alone mid-major and small conference games.  Now I can choose from any of about 6 to 20 games on any evening or weekend through FiOS (no, I am not trying to sell their service… it sucks, but is still better than cable).  This at least gives casual fans the opportunity to observe that Old Dominion may be legit.  However, when CBS advertises its game of the week, they never try to dig outside the BCS sandbox.  The Big East makes it difficult to ignore, but you are more likely going to be pimped Tennessee/Georgia or Oklahoma State/Oklahoma.

These first two discriminators do not necessarily give a school an advantage reaching the tournament through conference affiliation.  But the self-licking ice cream will do exactly that, giving mediocre teams more credit for getting their asses handed to them through mandatory conference games than rewarding excellence winning the games you should win.  I think the SEC is a prime example.  Outside Kentucky, there isn’t a true dominating national contender.  It is really them, 9 bubble teams, and 4 doormats.  Pretty much all 9 of those teams are going to log 17-22 wins of varying caliber.  The advantage is that they not only get the strength of schedule bump from playing Kentucky, but also all of their other conference opponents who have played Kentucky, even the doormats. 

So once upon a time, the commissioners in several of the “mid-major” conferences realized that they were never going to get the cherry home-and-home opportunities against the big schools, so they gamed the RPI formula.  First off, avoid games against the lower third of teams except for the ones you have to play in conference.  BCS conference teams were more than happy to buy those games anyways to drive toward 20 wins.  Second, find neutral site games and “preseason” tournaments to add additional games to the schedule that have the road/neutral bonus.  Finally, the “Bracket Buster” series was established to give these teams additional Top 50/Top 100 games to both their contenders, as well as the mid and lower conference teams.  The result has been frustration and consternation, and arguably the end of the RPI used as the basis for selection and seeding. 

Virginia Tech under Seth Greenberg was the example of how the system was being worked and how NOT to schedule.  It seemed every season, they would take advantage of their natural home court advantage and spoil a Duke, Maryland, or UNC, chalk up a few other Top 50 wins on their way to 23-9, lose early in the ACC tourney, then find themselves in the NIT because their schedule was fat on Campbell, Longwood, and VMI.  Now it is possible for a team to get screwed because after putting together a fair schedule, those opponents all just had a bad year, but Tech played some good teams… it’s just that the bad teams were always really bad.  Now the book out is that if you anticipate being in the bubble discussion, avoid those games and on the weak BCS teams, weak mid majors, or the best small conference schools.  This has made scheduling harder for the non-BCS conferences because they cannot offer their opponent the same resources or exposure.  Hence, the rich get richer through association, and the middle class fights the fight.

On to the predictions!

The ACC is a true dog fight.  5 elite teams, 7 legitimate bubble teams, 2 doormats, and 1 Clemson.  UVA and Miami have huge upside and downside, but I can’t see either falling below .500, even in this loaded conference.  Notre Dame and Florida State will likely get high seeds based on strength of schedule, and this conference will probably never get 12 teams in, but 10 is not out of the question.

The Big Ten is also loaded the same way with 3 legit final four players, the enigma that is Michigan State every year, 4 other teams that will have to play their way out at this point, four other bubble teams, and then the 2 doormats.  When I finished my predictions, I was surprised how low I had Michigan.  They seem safe, yet bottom half of the conference.  While there is much to like about the progress being made at Northwestern and Nebraska, it just seems that there is a chasm of talent between them and the next tier.  The other teams are all rebuilding, not reloading.

One through five in the PAC 12 are fairly interchangeable based on schedule, injuries, suspensions.  Utah has great upside, and USC is sneaky good this year and a fun Sweet 16 dark horse.  I’m betting on Cal and Washington stumbling this year before making moves next year, though Lorenzo Romar may not make it around if the Huskies are tanking winnable games.  People have shown that is possible to win in Pullman, but not this year… not sure that is the case in Tempe or Corvallis, as those teams never seem to play up to potential.

Texas returning to respectability ups the profile of this conference.  I don’t see a true front-runner, even if Kansas has the talent to do so.  Bob Huggins will beat and bruise and win 75% of his games.  The question is: “where is the fall off?”  There are strong teams here, but Oklahoma was a Buddy Hield force, but will show growing pains.  Brad Underwood has Oklahoma State trending the right way, but inherited a mess.  Baylor has talent, but man, that athletic program is a ticking time bomb.  Can Jamie Dixon turn TCU around, or was that Pitt program really Ben Howland and a house of cards that nobody knocked down?  This smells of a 4 bid league, but will probably get 6.

My thoughts on the SEC were pretty clear.  It is Kentucky and a bunch of 8-9 seed fodder.  I like South Carolina, but Frank Martin started with nothing there and is coaching up a bunch of 2 and 3 stars.  There are lots of good coaches down here, but the football drain on these programs seems to keep many dormant until after bowl games.  Texas A&M was a good story last year, but they are fringy at best.  Florida is not taking a step forward.  I am still not sure why Arkansas is getting so much love, but Mike Anderson at least plays exciting basketball.  The real wild card and potential west division anchor going forward could be Auburn and Bruce Pearl.  His ethics will always be questioned, but he does what Mike Anderson does, and he has typically had more success and consistency.

Now that this is complete, I should have a bracket out Wednesday.