Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ranking the Bubble

Here is my first attempt this year to rank the bubble teams.  I'll be posting my first projection of the field in a couple of minutes...

Teams I cannot see being left out, that have done just enough to get in:

Boise State
Iowa State

Teams I think are most likely in, but I would not be shocked if the committee left them out.

Wichita State- The Shockers finished 3-2 against the RPI top 50 and second to Creighton in a very solid Missouri Valley conference. They also are 8-5 against the RPI top 100. A road win over VCU is the highlight of their resume overall, though the home win over Creighton is nice as well. They beat Southern Miss who has strong RPI numbers, but is probably not a tournament team. They also have a nice win over borderline bubble team, Iowa.

Oklahoma- Oklahoma probably has done enough as well. They only went 3-7 against the RPI top 50 but went a strong 6-2 against RPI 51-100. 5 of those 7 RPI top 50 losses are to teams that will be seeded very highly (Gonzaga will likely be a 1, Kansas could be a 1, Kstate and Oklahoma State will be be seeded well) and the other two losses were to an Iowa State team that has likely done enough. Oklahoma has beaten Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State, in addition to sweeping borderline bubble team Baylor. Of course all but one of the two Baylor games was at home. It's not a perfect resume, but it likely is enough.
Cincinnati- The Bearcats have had a bunch of chances against the RPI top 5 (13) and have come away with relatively few wins (4). The result is that UC can point to 4 really good wins over @Pitt, Marquette, Uconn, and a neutral floor win over Iowa State, but more often than not UC has failed to beat tournament caliber teams, particularly at the end of the season. Cincinnati does have good wins over Villanova and Oregon, both of which are likely to be tournament teams. UC is 5-2 against Rpi 51-100 which puts them under .500 against the RPI top 100 (at 9-13). UC has nothing that really qualifies as bad losses, but getting smoked 3 times down the stretch cannot look good. All in all UC's tournament resume looks strong enough on its own, but it is not the same team it was early and there is a ton of room for disagreement about the Bearcats. The committee's ultimate criteria is whether or not a team is among the best 37 at large teams and I don't think it would be unreasonable for a committee to decide UC is not. That said, I could say that about everyone below them and I think UC's strong schedule and quality wins are enough, to pull them in.

Cal- Cal's resume comes largely down to strong play down the stretch and a really good performance in a fairly deep PAC 10. Cal has some high quality wins beating Arizona and UCLA. Cal also has a good win over Colorado and a sweep of Oregon, both of which should be tournament teams. The weakness in the resume comes from a losing record (3-5) against the RPI top 50 and the RPI 51-100 (3-5 as well). However, most of those losses were in conference in a solid, though not great PAC 12. It seems to me that the Bears have likely done enough to get in.

Last four in:

St Marys- To me St Marys is a tournament team because I don't think you can watch them and not believe they are one of the 37 best at large teams. I would actually put them ahead of anyone in the prior group, because I just think they are a better basketball team. Advanced statistics tend to back that up as St Marys was dominant in the WCC against everyone other than probable 1 seed Gonzaga and KenPom has them as the 25th best team in the country. That said, of their 26 wins 22 of them are against teams ranked 100 and below. That is a lot. Their only win against the RPI top 25 was against Creighton. St Marys is 1-3 against the RPI top 25, but all three losses are to probable one seed Gonzaga. They are 4-4 against the RPI top 100. St Marys did itself a real disservice scheduling this poorly in the non-conference schedule, and the committee could very legitimately leave them out, BUT I think if you are taking the best 37 there is little doubt St Marys fits.

La Salle- With wins over Butler, VCU and Villanova, as well as a strong performance in a deep Atlantic 10, La Salle has reason to be optimistic that it could earn a bid. Winning 1 more might be necessary, but given the bubble status of teams behind them it may not. Getting to the a10 finals would lock up a bid. La Salle is only 2-3 against the RPI top 50 and 4-4 against 51-100 so there are holes in the resume.

Tennessee- There are a mess of SEC teams trying to lay claim to an NCAA tournament bid, but I think of the SEC bubble teams, Tennessee has the strongest resume. Tennessee is a strong 4-4 against the RPI top 50. It has wins over Florida, Missouri, and Wichita State, all who will likely be in the tournament. It also split with bubble team Kentucky and has wins over borderline bubble teams Umass, Bama and Xavier. It was swept by borderline bubble team Ole Miss and has two bad losses to Georgia. In short, Tennessee has performed really well against the probable tournament teams on its schedule, but there is a lot of muck against some of the weaker competition. I think as of right now the better parts of their resume win out, but Tennessee should probably beat Bama (and of course Miss State before that) if it wants to feel decent.

Kentucky- 2-4 against the RPI top 50 and 5-5 against RPI 51-100 does not scream tournament team. It's two wins against probable tournament teams are both at home against Missouri and Florida, and both wins came after the Noel injury. Kentucky also has a split against bubble team Tennessee and a win over borderline bubble team Ole Miss. Short of a trip to the SEC finals I think UK will really be sweating on selection Sunday (and even that would not make their resume really shine). If UK loses their first tournament game to Arkansas/Vandy winner, their chances drop significantly.

Others with a chance:

Virginia- This might be the weirdest resume I have ever seen. Virginia is 2-2 against the Rpi top 25, 2-0 against 25-50, and 4-1 against 51-100, making it a robust 8-3 against the RPI top 100. Virginia has performed its best against the best competition on its schedule. Virginia has a win over probable 1 seed Duke to go with wins over UNC, NC State, Wisconsin and Tennessee. That is strong stuff. Of course UVA only has an RPI of 67 having lost 7 games to teams outside of the RPI top 100, one of which was to RPI 316 Old Dominion. So that is the bad. UVA is also only 3-9 away from home. UVA's non-conference SOS was 307. This is the stat where borderline bubble teams have historically gone to die. When in doubt the committee has penalized teams that schedule poorly out of conference and rewarded teams that scheduled well. Still usually the doubt does not include top line wins that are as good as this Virginia teams. I think it is less than 50-50 they get in without a win over NC State tomorrow, but with that win the prospects get to over 50/50. How the committee handles UVA will be interesting.
Ole Miss- Just some shameful stuff from Ole Miss down the stretch losing to dreadful South Carolina and Mississippi State teams. Those losses are now tacked on to a resume that was already lacking. Ole Miss has a home win over Missouri, a sweep of bubble Tennessee and a win over borderline bubble Bama. I don't think that is enough right now, but Ole Miss has a favorable SEC tourney draw and each game will provide an opportunity to play their way in. If Ole Miss beats Missouri to start, they will be in discussion. If seeds hold, could a semi-final matchup with UK be a play-in game for the Big Dance?

Bama- Similar resume to Ole Miss, except that its shameful losses were to Auburn, Tulane and Mercer. 1-4 against the RPI top 50 and wins against quality teams are not even that impressive having only beaten UK, Tennessee, and Villanova among possible at large teams. I think Bama has to make the finals of the SEC tournament to have a shot.

Iowa - Another interesting resume, where the non-conference SOS is absolutely killer. Iowa did not do as much as UVA against the top, but it also did not fail as miserably against the bottom. Iowa is only 1-6 against RPI top 25, but those losses are to Indiana (2x), Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State...that is a murderer's row. Iowa is 3-2 against 26-50 and 1-0 against 51-100 to 100 with wins over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio State. Of course its non-conference SOS is 310 and 15 of its 20 wins are over teams outside the RPI top 100. I don't even think a win over Michigan State will be enough, I think Iowa must make the Big 10 finals (beating OSU along the way). That said, beat Michigan State and the discussion gets more interesting. For now Iowa is out.

Middle Tennessee State- They have a 29 RPI and a win over Ole Miss. They do not have much else. I don't think they get in, I don't think they should get in, but they would not be the least accomplished team to sneak in (See Utah State/Air Force 2006).

Louisiana Tech- It's easy for La Tech, win the WAC and make the big dance. Their resume deserves a brief mention, only because this type of team has snuck in on insanely rare occasions in the past (situations where I believe the committee has got it wrong). Their one top 50 win is over Southern Miss. They only have 3 wins over the RPI top 100. Sorry, that SHOULD not cut it.

Baylor- Their win over Kansas suddenly made things a little more interesting, but this resume is thin enough that there is plenty of more work to do. Baylor is only 3-10 over the RPI top 50 (though 2-0 against 51-100). It's 3 wins are very solid over Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kentucky. A trip to the Big 12 finals would give them 5 top 50 RPI wins and would likely include additional wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State. That would put them squarely on the bubble.

Akron- 1-2 against the RPI top 50 and 3-1 against RPI 51-100, in addition to a really dominating year in the MAC...Could that have been enough? Maybe. After the suspension of one of its best players, probably not. The problem is, Akron's wins simply were not good enough to overcome any slip-ups in the MAC, much less 2 in its final 3 games. Akron now must win the MAC to get in... I think.

Umass- The 1-6 record against the RPI top 50 is not good, however, the 7-2 record against RPI 51-100 is very solid. Umass is one of those teams like most of below the cut, that has a lot of work to do, but will have opportunities to do it. It's best win, however, is against bubble, La Salle and that is just a really lacking resume. A run to the finals that includes wins over Temple and VCU would make their resume a lot more interesting, however.

Xavier- Another weird resume, that really illustrates how far Xavier has come throughout the season. This was a bad team early, but I am 90% convinced right now they are one of the 37 best at large teams. Of course entire body of work matters, and Xavier's resume is not that of a best 37 at-large team at the moment. Xavier has 15 losses and is 0-5 against RPI 51-100. Of course it is also 5-3 against the RPI top 50, which is really good (like comparable to 6/7 seed good). If they beat VCU and Temple on their way to A 10 championship birth, they will get their RPI top 50 record up to 7-3 which would be stellar. Could that be enough to outweigh all the bad?

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