Wednesday, February 22, 2017

FEB 21st Bracket- Doesn’t include Tuesday’s games.

The top four seeds stay the same, though Villanova and Gonzaga are basically identical, and UNC and Kansas are pretty close as well.  Nova can play their way back to the top seed, and UNC can pretty easily end up the #3 overall.  The bracket will realign with Nova in the East… for now this is acceptable.  Kentucky move back to the 2 line… barely.  They still don’t look game to stay ahead of Florida.

As this bubble l;itterally collapse on itself with a lack of mid-majors and sub .500 BCS teams imploding and crapping the bed on the road, the play in games shift back a seed line to accommodate for the fact that a 14/15 loss Syracuse team with 2 road/neutral wins does not belong ahead of numerous 26-30 win mid-major champions.

LAST FOUR IN: Michigan State, Houston, Syracuse, Alabama.  This is about as close as the SEC can get to a 5th team.  Georgia can’t beat anybody significant, and nobody else can string together 3 wins in a row.  UNCW and MTSU could do the committee a favor and lose in their conference tourneys to provide a few stronger options.

FIRST FOUR OUT: Rhode Island, TCU, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall.  TCU and URI really belong in the field, but bad recent losses have them in the penalty box.  Georgia Tech and Seton Hall are a barrage of potential, but just put too many questionable losses out there.

NEXT FOUR OUT: Indiana, Texas Tech, Georgetown, Clemson.  A couple of dumpster dives into the RPI here with Indiana and Texas Tech.  Both need a huge win streak of Top 50 and road variety to prove anything.  Clemson and Georgetown have the strength of schedule, but man, Clemson hit the wall so hard they could put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  ETSU jumped into the field over Chatt and Furman.

Fun Matchups!
Dayton vs Xavier- Battle of I-75!  Xavier is reeling right now and probably didn’t expect to be the lower seed here.

Saint Mary’s vs Princeton (in Sacto): Virtual home pod for the Gaels, but Princeton can compete and the crawling tempo.

Wichita State vs Kansas State: KSU can beat anyone, anywhere, on any night.  Shockers have not had many opportunities and the winner of this battle for the Sunflower State could be a Final Four darkhorse.

Wisconsin vs Vermont: Wisconsin has shown they do not have the depth and the Cats could expose that.

Notre Dame vs Marquette: Two Coach K prodigies, different generations.  The over under here could over 170.

Locks- 6: UNC, Louisville, Duke, FSU, UVA*, Notre Dame
Good Shape- 2: Miami, VT (they can exhale now)
Bubble- 4: Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Clemson (probably finished), Wake

There is no way that 11 teams can get in.  There just isn’t enough wins out there.  If GT and Cuse split, it probably eliminates both of them (especially if they can’t harvest road wins).  Wake needs to win out and can change their lack of good wins..

Big 12
Locks- 3: KU, Baylor, WVU
Good Shape-2: OSU, ISU
Bubble- 3: KSU, TCU, Texas Tech

TTU has a lot of ground to cover… their profile is weak mid major, and now that they are way behind in the standings…  Beard, Dixon, and Weber have done some great triage on some hurting [rograms.

Big East
Locks- 3: Nova, Butler, Creighton
Good Shape- 1: Xavier (yikes)
Bubble- 4: Marquette, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Providence

Xavier needs to right the ship soon or they could easily fall into double digit bubble trouble.  Marquette still has work to do, and the Hoyas and Friars are all but dead.

Big 10
Locks- 3: Purdue, Wisconsin, MD
Good Shape- 3: NW, Minnesota, Michigan
Bubble- 2: MSU, Indiana

Hoosiers RPI is probably too much to overcome, unless they beat Purdue twice down the stretch.  Crazy to think they could knock off both UNC AND Kansas and stagger into an NIT road game.  MSU probably can’t afford a split in their final 4 games… Nebraska and Illinois are not quality wins.

PAC 12
Locks- 4: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, USC
Bubble- 1: California

Just commentary, but not sure I get the Markelle Fultz hype.  The PAC 12 is mid-major quality outside the top 3, and he could only help put up 2 league wins?  The Huskies have killed TCU’s RPI!

Locks- 2: UK, Florida
Good Shape- 2: USC, Arkansas
Bubble- 1: Alabama

Ole Miss and Auburn have wins, Tennessee has RPI, Georgia has broken hearts… none are even that close.

Locks- 2: Dayton, VCU
Bubble- 1: URI

Locks- 2: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Locks- 2: Cincinnati, SMU
Bubble- 1: Houston

Locks- 2: WSU, ISU

I don’t get the anti-WSU/ISU rhetoric coming out of Bristol.  The Shockers have 4 losses, all to teams projected to be in the tournament.  Sure, LSU and OU being among the worst teams in the country have hurt their RPI, and the bottom heavy MVC hasn’t helped.  The Redbirds have won 16 of 17, but their schedule is significantly weaker.  The split with Tulsa hurts.  Murray State hurts.  The committee will probably punk the loser to the play-in game, and if it’s the Shockers, they can make a solid run.  Regardless, a 6 loss ISU team should be in.

Other Leagues
Locks- 1: MTSU
Good Shape- 1: UNCW
Bubble- 5: Nevada, Vermont, Monmouth, Arlington, ETSU

These are in no particular order.  MTSU can afford a loss or two.  UNCW cannot and would be smart at least make the CAA semifinals, losing to Charleston.  Of the other 5, Monmouth is the only one with a solid paper case, but Memphis falling apart has not helped.  They need Princeton to be a Top 50 team… man, that USC game would have been their free pass.

52 locks (30 plus one bid leagues), 11 in good shape, and 22 teams vying for 5 slots.  MADNESS.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Coach of the Year Candidates

It is impossible to argue with the job Mark Few has done in Spokane this year.  Even with a loss in the WCC tourney, they could easily be the number one overall seed out of a non-power conference.  The reason that I am not putting him on the top of my Coach of the Year short list is because he is basically doing the same thing he has done every year, and the Bulldogs continue to get results.  He is not necessarily exceeding expectations given the resources and competition faced.

1.     Andy Enfield, USC: Funny story.  When I was contemplating Enfield as a candidate, I was floored to realize that he is now in his fourth year at USC (not second- man FGCU seems like it was yesterday) and that he inherited the program from years of Kevin O’Neill damage, not just Tim Floyd fallout.  Holy crap!  Has USC been that anonymous for this long that the last 10 years are a total blur?  Was Mayo/Young the last time they really had any hope?  I pegged them to finish 5th again, but this is the 3rd best team in the conference, except in those rare instance UCLA decides to play both ways.
2.     Mike White, Florida: Billy Donovan left the program in decent shape, but this was expected to be a down year for Florida, likely sitting on the fringes of NCAA contention.  They are the best team in the SEC this year.  Maybe not the most talented team, but certainly the most effective team.  The Egbunu injury may take away any Final Four prospects, but this will remain a Top 15 team despite playing just 8 home games to date.
3.     Grant McCasland, Arkansas State: Remember when ASU was good? Me either.  They scheduled ambitiously and were rewarded with a 2-3 mark against the Top 100 non-conference… they would love another shot at Arlington.
4.     Scott Drew, Baylor: Like, literally spitting in the face of adversity.  He has kept a talented, but certainly not elite, team focused amid a brutal schedule and negative publicity… many people want to see Baylor fail, but certainly not the basketball team.
5.     Kermit Davis, MTSU: The Blue Raiders encore to throttling Michigan State last year has been to go 5-1 against the Top 100 (kenpom) and look like the best mid-major program nobody talks about.  It would be a travesty for a 5 loss MTSU team to miss out on the Dance if they get upset by decent ODU, Rice or LaTech teams.
6.     Mark Few, Gonzaga
7.     Bob Huggins, West Virginia: Just when you think the game has passed him by, Huggy Bear grabs a drink and takes you to school.  The shorter shot clock encourages teams to press more to prevent teams from getting into their offense.  However, most teams that press run standard configurations that can be exploited for 3 on 2 breaks, or pick up fouls taking poor angles.  The Mountaineers broke many a weak-willed teams with disciplined reaching and shifting to force horizontal movement, limiting the ball handler’s vision to take the next pass.  Players rotate quickly and everyone plays free safety when it’s their turn.  Huggins doesn’t have a deep lineup, but gets top seed performance when it clicks.
8.     John Becker, Vermont: The Cats brought back a solid 3rd place squad, but wasn’t expected to run the table like this.  Unfortunately, they missed all 4 opportunities to take a Top 50 win to secure their at large spot, but Becker’s name will be at the top of many coaching short lists.

Honorable Mentions: Cuonzo Martin, Rick Pitinos (both), Brad Underwood, Frank Martin, Dana Altman

February 17 Poll

Moving Out: UNC Wilmington, Butler, South Carolina, Maryland

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Villanova
  3. Kansas
  4. Oregon
  5. Florida
  6. Baylor
  7. North Carolina
  8. Louisville
  9. Duke
  10. Saint Mary’s
  11. Arizona
  12. UCLA
  13. Kentucky
  14. Purdue
  15. Florida State
  16. Southern Methodist
  17. Wichita State
  18. West Virginia
  19. Virginia
  20. Cincinnati
  21. Wisconsin
  22. Creighton
  23. Illinois State
  24. Middle Tennessee State
  25. Notre Dame

Moving In: Florida, Southern Methodist, Wichita State, Middle Tennessee State

How are they out?: Maryland, Southern California, Butler, Dayton, Vermont, Iowa State

Man, I feel like Wisconsin should be doing so much more...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine's Day Bracket Update

Numbers were compiled through the 14th, but a couple of adjustments have been made.  First, Rhode Island’s tank job against a pretty bad Fordham team has been reflected.  Seton Hall gets the benefit of the doubt in their place, though they were not convincing beating Creighton (like seriously, how does a clock suppressing “roll-in” get intercepted?) and still have to host Nova, Xavier, and go to Butler… they need two more wins there, because DePaul is not helping the RPI.  I bumped Arkansas up to the 11 line against Syracuse.

So, apologies go out to Indiana as I am not seeing them getting back in the mix without winning at least 5 in row.  Georgia also has a case, but needs to beat UK and Bama to make a statement to be considered in the first four out, let alone the field.  Providence has not fared well away from the Dunk, and that DePaul loss is killing them… they are basically Syracuse in different uniforms, just not getting the computer number love.  Georgetown also continues to lurk out there, without any bad losses since Arkansas State turned out pretty good… just can’t win enough games.

LAST FOUR IN: Seton Hall, TCU, Arkansas, Syracuse.  I think Arkansas is most likely to establish themselves in the bye field as a 10/11.  The other 4 are just too inconsistent to have any margin of error to hold off…

FIRST FOUR OUT: Rhode Island, Texas Tech, Marquette, Clemson.  Clemson has the best numbers and as recently as the last federal holiday was looking more like a 5/6 seed in the NCAA tournament, not a road team in the NIT.  Marquette and Texas Tech possess criminally low RPI numbers despite decent Top 50 records.  They were squaring off in the last play-in game at some point and that looks to be their only destiny.  The Rams were the A-10’s only hope for a 3rd at-large bid, and that is long gone without extraordinary circumstances.

NEXT FOUR OUT: Utah, Wake Forest, Alabama, East Tennessee State.  Wake needs something.  The Clemson loss drops them to 0-37 against the Top 50.  A win at Cameron isn’t saving them.  4 in row in the ACC might.  Utah is in the same boat as Wake; so little quality to support their standing with Cal and USC.  Need to beat Oregon tonight and avoid any slip ups.  Alabama started pretty far behind the curve, but I have been saying for a month now that it is a better candidate than Georgia.  ETSU gets a fair chance to enhance their profile against Furman and Chattanooga, but they are really only here because nobody else has stepped up.

THE SLUDGE AT THE BOTTOM: Michigan, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Houston, Cal, Miami, Kansas State.  Once again, these are all teams that are making this season so frustrating.  Typically, there would be more mid-major strength to weed these teams out, but they all seem comfortable getting trounced on the road and pulling a home upset or two to get people excited.  This why I feel Illinois State, Middle Tennessee State, Wilmington, and Vermont are all fairly safe at-large candidates.

No surprises with the 1 seeds.  Gonzaga and Villanova continue to pull away, while Kansas fights to the death every night.  It is impossible to imagine the ACC not grabbing a 1 seed, but it is not likely to sort out until the ACC tourney semi-finals.  In this order: UNC, UL, Duke, FSU, UVA.  Gonzaga would probably benefit from the game in Sacto, as elevation could be a factor working against them.

Games of interest: Northwestern vs. Illinois State… Wisconsin, bounced to the 4 line with Purdue,  vs Nevada, Notre Dame vs. Wilmington.  Monmouth has huge upset potential vs Creighton, and we all know what to expect from Gulf Coast, who played Baylor tight and only lost to MSU by 1.

One ACC conflict, as Duke could inherit Syracuse via the play in game the first weekend.

Also not happy that Baylor and Kansas ended up in the same bracket... that will be avoided next time if they are 1/2.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rating Teams and the Three Factors

To develop my own customized team ratings for seeding, I wanted to get away from the RPI.  The RPI is a fair litmus test to validate “how real” a team’s record is, but does little to evaluate “how good” a team is.  RPI ratings can be manipulated by clever scheduling, and can also be sabotaged by things outside of a team’s control.  I also did not want to just cut and paste Pomeroy or Sagarin ratings and say “Hey, look what I did…” Not cool, and honestly, not much fun. 

The best way I felt to display these figures was to take a page from the immortal Dr. Emmett Brown’s playbook when he converted the DeLorean into a Time Machine.  The internal display gave the operator 3 readings: where you are, where you were, and where you are going (in some order).  This led me to create three different rankings: Basic, Strength, and Normalized.

As you can see from the graphic, each ranking values the teams differently, as it takes into different factors that rate performance.  While we know West Virginia can blow the door off any team any given night, it doesn’t tell us if they can achieve consistent results, or if they can sustain those results going forward.

The Basic Rating tells us Who You Are.  Weighted primarily off Pomeroy efficiency and Sagarin Ratings, normalized for a minimal level of performance, it gives a fair indicator of how well you score, how well you prevent scoring, and how good the overall quality of opponent has been.  This is great in a vacuum for theorizing which team is over/underrated, but does little to get us to a bracket.

The Strength Rating tells us Who/Where You Were.  In order to actually incorporate a tool the NCAA uses, I have used the teams’ RPI numbers to determine Top 50 W/L, Top 100 W/L, and bad losses.  It answers the question: When I have stepped on the court with my peers, what results have I delivered.  Some teams, like Iowa State and Georgia Tech, benefit immensely here.  The mid-majors, due to down years in the gut of many of their conferences, defections, and just bad scheduling luck, are getting crushed in this aspect.  Few teams got many opportunities, and many of them blew those.  And you just can’t help the fact that you may have put BC, Washington, and Texas on your Big Boy schedule and those teams are Butt.  This does give a fairly reliable rating of who is tourney caliber, and I used it for a few published brackets… but as I said before, opportunity and schedule can be manipulated here to mask what a team will do come NCAA time.

So… the Normalized ratings attempt to tell us Where you are Going, particularly in March.  Here, we reduce those opportunities to percentages, while giving additional weight to road neutral win % and win % in the last 12 games.  This puts mid majors on a level playing field with majors. Syracuse can buoy their record with wins at the Carrier Dome, but the NCAA Tourney isn’t at the Carrier Dome.  While Iowa State bangs around the Big 12, their quality numbers get a boost by doing it consistently and occasionally stealing one on the road.  Belmont and Vermont, lacking the quality opportunities, can be fairly rated by taking on all their challengers without slip up.

While not perfect, these numbers output consistent values that don’t have teams jumping all over the grid.