Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ranking the Bubble

Every year I like to give you a little preview of the teams on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.  Every year people tell us the bubble is weak, but it's really always the same type of flawed teams.  This is how I think the committee will handle the bubble, not what I would do.  I wish we valued predictive metrics a little more and teams like St Marys, Penn State and Louisville received a little bump.  Bringing it night after night matters to me.  I'd have all three in if that were the case.  However, right now I think St Marys is in but should be scared, Louisville is basically a coinflip without doing more work and Penn State is definitively out.  I rank the bubble based on what I think the committee will do, based on their history.  The story is that the committee is transitioning how they do this, but until I see otherwise I'm still mostly going to focus on the metrics we see on teamsheets and give disproportionate weight to the awful rating system we know as RPI.  I'll have bracket predictions coming later this week. 

And with that, here is my ranking of teams on the bubble.  My last 4 in right now are UCLA, Syracuse, Louisville and Baylor.  You'll notice Middle Tennessee State sandwiched in that group.  I have them winning the CUSA tournament, but if they don't I'd probably still have them holding onto a bid and bumping Baylor out.  Of course that can all change this week as almost all of these teams (throwing out Penn State and St Marys) have chances to improve their resumes and improve their position relative to the others.  Should be a fun week.

Kansas State- 3-7 in their tier 1 games, 6-3 in tier two games and 12-0 against everyone else.  Kansas State is a team that took care of business in all its games it really should have won and put up enough wins against the best teams on their schedule that they should make the tournament.  A really solid team.  They finished 4th in the incredibly deep big 12 against a true round robin schedule.  I see no way they get left out at this point.

Texas- I think the Big 12 is going to appropriately be given a ton of respect by the committee.  The league is incredibly deep.  Only 1 team is outside the top 57 in kenpom (Iowa State at 104).  That means night after night is a battle.  Texas played 15 tier 1 games and went 5-10 in those games.  They went 3-3 against tier 2 teams and didn’t stumble at all in their 6 tier 3 and 4 games.  Texas has wins over WVU, TCU, Texas Tech, Butler and a sweep of Oklahoma.  Most of their tier 1 losses are to protected seed type teams.  (Duke, Michigan, Kansas twice, WVU, Texas Tech, Gonzaga and TCU all have a case depending how this week goes).  Objectively, Texas is a tournament caliber team. 

Providence- This is a team that probably has done enough by the committee’s traditional metrics, but they are likely to be the weakest at large team in the field.  Providence sits at 72 in kenpom.  They have 12 losses including 3 tier 4 losses to Umass (242 RPI), Minnesota (166 RPI) and Depaul (179 RPI).  However, they are in a conference that plays the RPI game really well, they played the RPI game well and they have enough big wins to put them over the top.  They are 3-8 against tier 1 and 5-1 against tier 2.  If the committee decides to better incorporate our best metrics, Providence is likely staying home, but until then I think they make it. 

St Marys- Another team lacking a great traditional resume.  I hope their reasonably strong predictive metrics (29 kenpom) and a couple nice wins are enough to get them in, but that loss to BYU puts them in a bit more precarious position.  They are 2-1 in tier 1 games and 2-2 in tier 2 games.  They have 2 tier 3 losses as well.  They piled up 24 of their 28 wins in tier 3 and 4 games.  That can be life as a mid-major, so I hope the committee gives weight to a pretty good performance in the few big games they had including a win at Gonzaga and their good predictive metrics, but this is the kind of small conference bubble team that is often left on the outside looking in.  I have them in, but they won’t sleep easy.

UCLA- A team I’m probably higher on than most bracket predictors, because of the strong wins they have assembled.  UCLA is 3-7 in tier 1 games and 5-1 in tier 2 games.  They have a neutral sight win at Kentucky, a road win at Arizona and swept USC home and away.  They lost some road games to middling Pac 12 teams, but I don’t think that will be enough to keep them out. 

Middle Tennessee State- I personally think this team should be in but they don’t have the kind of wins the committee likes so it end up going either way.  Dominant in their conference.  2-3 v. tier 1, 3-1 v. tier 2.  Really competitive games against 2 definite tournament teams (Auburn and Miami) and one bubble team (USC).  Problem is their best wins are probably Murray State, Vandy, Old Dominion and Western Kentucky.  Better small conference resumes have been left out before.  Win the CUSA tournament and it won’t matter.

Syracuse- It seems they are always on the bubble and this year is no different.  Syracuse finished with a losing record in the ACC, but did manage to go 3-7 against tier 1 teams and 3-3 against tier 2.  Their 2 “bad losses” were in conference and on the road against Wake and Georgia Tech.  Unlike last year, Syracuse was able to get a couple big wins out of the state of New York beating Louisville and Miami on the road.  I think this will be the difference in them getting left out last year and being one of the last teams in this year.  Additionally, their tier 1 losses are really difficult tier 1 games… (Kansas, Virginia twice, UNC and @Duke among those). 

Louisville – The good for Louisville is they went 15-0 against the tier 3 and 4 teams, so they don’t have any bad losses.  The problem is they were only 3-10 against tier 1 teams and 1-2 against tier two teams.  Their wins include a sweep of Virginia Tech, a solid tournament team, but nothing more and win over Florida State who many have on the bubble (I think they are in).  To their credit their losses are almost all to really good, often protected seed type teams, but unless they go deep in the ACC tournament I think you’ll see Louisville among the last 4 in or first 4 out.  If the committee looks at all to advance metrics Louisville could get a bump, 34 kenpom is really good for a bubble team.

Baylor- Another big 12 team that played a brutal schedule and racked up enough big wins to be on the bubble.  Baylor has wins over protected seed type teams in Kansas and Texas Tech.  They have a sweep of bubble Texas to go with a Neutral sight win over Creighton and a home win over Oklahoma.  They finished 8-10 in the Big 12.  I have as my last team in, but they are certainly a team that could put themselves on the right side of the bubble this week.  They have 5 tier 1 wins and 11 tier 1 losses.  Only 2 of their losses were not tier 1. 

USC- Another PAC 12 bubble team.  They have better RPI numbers than UCLA, but I have them behind UCLA because of the UCLA sweep and the fact that when you look at the actual wins, UCLA just has better ones than USC.  USC has a win over Middle Tennessee St and New Mexico State as well as a sweep of Utah.  None of those teams are surefire tournament teams, in fact I’d say Middle Tennessee St. has the best shot among those.  I have them as my first team out right now, with work to do.

Alabama- This is a team that really crashed into the finish line.  They now have 14 losses and only went 8-10 in the SEC.  To their credit they have 6 tier 1 wins and 8 tier 1 losses.  That’s a strong record in that sense.  Their problem is they have bad losses to Minnesota, Vandy and Ole Miss and some other nontournament team losses to UCF, @Georgia and @Mississippi State.  That tier 1 record gives them hope, but I think they have work to do in the SEC tournament.

Marquette- Marquette is 4-7 against tier 1 teams and 4-3 against tier 2 teams.  They have a bad loss to Depaul, but other than that have mostly avoided bad losses.  Their biggest strength is a sweep of Seton Hall and a Sweep of Creighton.  Both teams are solidly in.  They have zero wins against top 25 teams, so objectively I just don’t think their wins are as good as some of these other teams around the bubble.  That said, a couple of wins in New York and they will likely find themselves on the other side. 

Washington – They have three really nice wins.  They won at Kansas, at USC and they beat Arizona.  They are 3-6 against tier 1 teams and 2-4 against tier 2 teams.  They are one of a handful of teams in the PAC 12 that can really help themselves in getting a bid come selection Sunday.  Right now they are still on the outside looking in. 

Penn State- This is a team with a good case to be in the field, but their traditional metrics will most likely keep them out.  Most these bubble teams are sub 40 kenpom with many far lower.  Penn State sits at 30 exactly.  Penn State’s problem is they have 13 losses and an RPI of 80.  That’s ugly and not a resume you see get in the tournament.   They have 3 tier 1 wins but every one of them is against Ohio State.  Frankly, though a tournament type team that would be a scary lower seed for whoever drew them, they don’t have the resume and will almost assuredly be left out. 

Notre Dame-  I’ve seen them listed as a bubble team by several.  They need a run to the finals of the ACC tournament.  They simply have not done enough.  Wins over Wichita State, Florida State, NC State and Syracuse are nice, but don’t combat 13 losses including losings to Georgia Tech, Ball State and Indiana.  They only have 2 tier 1 wins. 

Oklahoma State-  Another team that technically isn’t out, but wouldn’t be in today.  They have 6 tier 1 wins including a great sweep of Kansas and a win at West Virginia.  8-10 in that Big 12 is also nothing to sneeze it.  They also have no bad losses.  Their big problem is the committee isn’t letting in an at large team with an RPI of 87.  Oklahoma State needs to probably make the finals of the Big 12 tournament to have a shot. 

Utah- Decent RPI numbers but not a whole lot else.  Missouri, Arizona State and UCLA are the only tournament caliber teams they beat this season.  They have a bad loss to UNLV, losses to BYU, Arizona State and Colorado and they were swept by USC, the PAC 12 bubble team with the most similar profile.  A trip to the conference tournament finals opens the door, but short of that I just don’t see it. 

Boise State – 1-2 vs. tier 1 teams and 4-2 vs. Tier 2 teams.  They are the only Mountain West team with an at large chance not named Nevada.  Their problem is that of their tier 1 wins the only one against an at large caliber team was against Loyola-Chicago.  I think they have to win the Mountain West tournament, but they are at least in the discussion. 

Mississippi State-  They wouldn’t be in today, but the SEC is deep enough that they can add some big wins and put themselves in the discussion with a run to the finals.  They have 3 tier 1 wins, but none are particularly noteworthy.  They’ve mostly lost to the best teams on their schedule, often by large margins.  They aren’t dead, but they like a few of the teams above them, need to do some real work this week. 

Temple – They probably killed their chances with their two losses to end the season.  They have too many bad losses… @LaSalle, George Washington, Tulane, Memphis, @UConn….that’s a pile of losses to really mediocre teams.  However, they do have wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State.  A run to the finals of the AAC will likely give them neutral floor wins over Houston and Wichita State.  Do that and maybe the committee rewards their really strong strength of schedule.  I don’t think so because of the bad losses, but you never know. 

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