Monday, March 18, 2019

Avert your eyes!

Ugh, please don't look! Nothing to see here.

Yep, the 17th Seed finished in 163rd place out of 195 this year, after finishing in the top 25 last year. We sure did struggle this time around. So what happened?

1. We whiffed on Texas, Indiana and TCU. Everyone whiffed on TCU, so no problem there. We should've known better about UT and IU. That's just too many losses, no matter who you beat or what your other metrics look like.

2. I'm not sure we'd have put Temple, Belmont or St. John's in, either. Dan (my son) argued for St. John's on the basis of their good wins, but I talked him out of it because their NET was so low. Score one for him. I've said all year that the Committee doesn't like to put in mid-major bubble teams at the expense of mediocre majors with better schedules, and here's Belmont with UNCG as the first team out. Maybe something's changed. And I didn't think they'd think Temple did enough, but in hindsight we should have seen that they had - good record, decent numbers. We'll have to look more into it. St. John's would've been worth 6 points to us (they'd have been in the play-in for us) and Temple would've too (they were a late subtraction), so 12 points.

3. We blew it on seeding four teams: Iowa, Seton Hall and Minnesota were all overseeded, and VCU was underseeded. That cost us 8 points. I thought Seton Hall's late-season run and the others' overall profiles were worth more, and we made a stupid mistake on VCU, penalizing them too much for the early loss to Rhode Island.

4. Our last-minute change from Gonzaga to Sparty for the last 1-seed cost us four points total. I love the Zags and they're a worthy 1, but I don't feel bad about this change. Michigan State won the regular season and tournament titles for a conference that got 8 teams in the tournament, they had the Quad 1 wins too. They were worthy of a 1. Still, we probably should have stuck with our earlier gut feeling.

5. I probably overreacted to the tournaments. I was sure the Seminoles would move up a line after beating Virginia. I thought less of Purdue after their early exit. I already mentioned VCU.

6. I should have spent more time on the bottom quarter (the AQ's). I mostly sorted them by NET and checked against SOS, but I should have dug deeper.

7. Most of all, we did terrible with the bubble, as evidenced by the teams we put in/left out. Partly that was due to time... we were rushed at the end. But that's also not great planning by us. But on the third hand, the committee threw us a curve with Belmont and reached (NET-wise) on St. John's over TCU.

Well, we'll take a look at it and do better next year. Right?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

FINAL BRACKET PROJECTION



Just under the Matrix deadline. We debated Gonzaga vs Michigan State and ultimately picked Sparty after their win, and we barely made it work in the bracket. I hope. We'll see how we did.

------------

Well, that was frustrating.

We took a risk going with Indiana and Texas, and lost on both. We chose them because of their profiles - Texas had the great SOS and some big wins, and Indiana had the Q1 wins. Of course, they also had tons of losses.

I'm not upset about missing TCU. That was a coin flip.

I am eager to read the justification for taking Belmont. Not because I'm upset that they made it - quite the opposite. I'm thrilled that a great mid-major season was recognized (even with a play-in game). But I'm wondering why they got in ahead of, say, TCU or Indiana.

I feel good about switching to Sparty. That wasn't at all a terrible decision by us. I can accept the Zags as a #1, that loss to St. Mary's shouldn't have been a game changer for them. But Sparty was the Big 10 regular season and tournament champ, a conference that got more teams in than any other, and they had the Q-1 wins to back it up and fought through injuries. I feel justified.


Friday, March 15, 2019

A response to Michael Beller's Bubble Showdown Series

Before going further, be sure you've read Michael Beller's article on SI.com. Here it is: https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2019/03/13/march-madness-ncaa-tournament-bubble-bracket-format

You're back? Good.

First of all, I like Michael's stuff and I learn a lot from his articles. I'm not pretending that I have anywhere near his level of knowledge or experience in this area, I'm just an amateur bracketologist thinking through what he said. So all due respect to the idea and its creativity.

Since Michael asked us to ignore the elephant in the room (the gobs of money that the conference tourneys reap and would likely lose through his BSS), I won't address that concern either. I just think there's a simpler solution: tweak the play-in games themselves. Here are the tweaks:

1. No AQs can play in the play-in games. This will mean that the 16's will not be involved in the play-ins. Instead, they will go straight to the round of 64, which is what they should get as an AQ. We'll finally have true play-in games that involve teams that haven't earned anything as of yet, and they will play for the last four spots in the bracket.

2. With eight teams involved, at least four MUST be from conferences that otherwise only have their AQ team in the tournament. This will mostly help the mid-major conferences, though occasionally a league like the Atlantic 10 or even the Pac 12 might benefit.

That's it.

Let's look at it in practice, using SI's latest bracket as an example. Their "last four in" are St. John's, Florida, Arizona State, and Belmont. Their next four out are Indiana, Clemson, Alabama and UNC Greensboro. In my scenario above, you would include Indiana and UNC-G and find two more teams from this year's one-bid leagues. Say, Davidson and Toledo (two "almosts" from the Bracket Matrix). Seed them any way you want.

St. John's vs UNC-Greensboro
Florida vs Davidson
Arizona State vs Toledo
Belmont vs Indiana

Clemson and Alabama might squawk (we'll leave alone the funny fact that those two schools just played for the national title in football...again) but really, they aren't among the best teams in their own conferences. They had their chance to prove something.

Bid thieves would cut into this the same way they do now, but would only affect the multiple-bid league teams, not the others. So if West Virginia steals a bid in the Big 12, Indiana would drop out, and the at-large above St. John's would drop into the play-in.

This change would not be as drastic as Beller's, nor would it cost anyone any money (except a couple of power conferences already rolling in it). In fact, it would distribute a little more money out to the middle class of conferences, and that's not a bad thing. Feel free to comment below.

March 15 Bracket Update


This will probably be my final update before Sunday's "final exam." Some decisions I've made since last time:

I've evicted St. John's from my bracket. Yes, 3-1 vs Villanova and Marquette is impressive. And the VCU win looks better too. But if I had a committee spot, I'd be seeing the 2-5 finish, the lousy performance against Marquette in their own backyard last night, and an unimpressive NET compared to some other bubblers and thinking this may have once been a tourney-worthy team, but not anymore.

They aren't quite equivalent, but some might say "Why Texas but not Indiana?". Well, Texas lost to a better team in more of a "road" environment yesterday. And Texas has four wins against top 4 seeds in the bracket (albeit, Indiana has three). Personally, I don't think either will make it in the end, and Texas is my last team in right now. But Texas is also a dozen points higher in NET and has Indiana whipped in SOS, plus they're noticeably higher than them in the other ranking systems. Texas has the better argument, at least between these two teams. Might not keep them in though. I can't imagine that the Committee will let in a 16-16 team as an at-large, despite the profile.

I have NC State in as an 11 right now, despite them having the worst non-con SOS in all of D-I. Doesn't putting them in but kicking Texas out reward weak scheduling? Does the Committee think about that?

And I've added Belmont. I won't lie, I'm glad to do this. I've harped a lot about how mid-majors usually get the shaft from the Committee. But if they're going to pay attention to their new NET rankings, Belmont should get an at-large. Furman's a little higher in NET and has the better "best" win, but Belmont has the superior non-con SOS and is slightly better in Q1+Q2 games. Had Villanova finished among the top four seeds, I might've given Furman this spot. But I like Belmont's profile a little better overall.

I need to research why some folks are putting Arizona State in as a rising 10 seed. A 67 NET, a 71 SOS, and two Q-4 losses? Must be the wins over Kansas, Mississippi State and Washington. I've heard that they value big wins more than they ding you for bad losses, but still.

I'm not penalizing Texas Tech for losing to the Mountaineers. They're still a 3 as far as I'm concerned. It would take some shuffling for TTU to lose enough ground to fall to a 4, especially since I thought they'd be worthy of a 2 if they won the Big 12 tournament.

Syracuse holds their 9-seed, I think. Buffalo's ceiling is probably a 6 if they win out and their floor is probably a 7 at this point.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

For Game of Thrones fans!

Not sure how much of a Venn diagram we have showing the intersection of fans of fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones with fans of college hoops and bracketology (not to mention my obsession with Peanuts), but I'm in that zone myself. Game of Thrones is easily my favorite work of fiction and favorite television show, and not just because of the hype. If you haven't read or watched it yet, my recommendation probably won't get you to but I'll give it anyway!

So the point here is that, as a big fan, I am a frequent visitor to Tower of the Hand, an excellent fan site with amazing chapter and episode summaries and many deep-dive articles about the characters, story, and fan theories. They are having readers do summaries of each episode leading up to the start of the final season on April 14, and I was given two episodes in the middle of Season Four: Mockingbird and The Mountain and the Viper. I didn't know if I'd get selected at all, since while I visit the site a lot I haven't participated actively in it for many years. Not only was I selected but I also got two of the best episodes in what for me was the very best season of the show (taking place at the climactic end of the third book in the series). I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing and writing about these two episodes.

So if you're a fan of the books and/or show, please check out my review here: https://towerofthehand.com/blog/2019/03/11-mocking-mountain-s4e7/index.html. I highly recommend the site, www.towerofthehand.com. And don't let my poor graphic design abilities deter you.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

March 10 Bracket




Hi again, this bracket is being sent to the Matrix tonight. I've made a few updates, but the Liberty-Lipscomb game was in progress when I finished it. I'm thinking Liberty is about a 13. I left out NC State. I'm really unhappy leaving out the mid-majors. Lipscomb, Furman, the loser of the SoCon title game, Belmont... this is a pretty solid crop of mids and it pains me to put in TCU or Clemson ahead of not just some but all of them. I know the refrain: who did they beat? Bid thieves will shrink the bubble even more but I still think there ought to be a way to get these teams in. Am I the only one who feels this way? Indiana is a serious bubble team, having swept Michigan State and with wins over Marquette, Louisville and Wisconsin. But one of those victories over the Spartans was part of a 1-12 streak. Yet it's possible they'll get a third crack at Sparty and if they win... what?

So it begins with Murray State, Liberty, Bradley and Gardner-Webb (congratulations, GW, on your first Dance!). Long way to go!

I keep forgetting to mention that my bracket column appears in the Dunkirk Observer on Mondays so please check it out at www.observertoday.com! Tomorrow I preview Championship Week, and next Tuesday (not Monday) I'll have my first ever tournament preview.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

March 7 Update


Going to try to do more frequent updates from here on out, if I can.

Some movement in the last couple days (I think of them more as "corrections"). For instance:
- Moved Tennessee up to the top. Now, this is more a gut call because some numbers (road record, SOS, Q-1 wins and games) point at Kentucky. But the rankers like BPI, KenPom and SOR slightly favor the Vols (as does NET position), so I switched them for the time being. It'll be decided in the SEC tournament.

- I actually moved Houston back up to the 3 line (one spot on the curve). The UCF loss wasn't that bad, and so I switched them with Kansas. Florida State cracks the top 4. I considered moving Marquette down, but liked their overall profile more than Virginia Tech and Kansas State.

- I flipped Villanova and Nevada largely on the Wildcats' win over Marquette and Nevada's loss to USU. I still think the Wolfpack can stick at 6. I like Cincy as a 6 too, but they'll have to do some damage in the AAC tourney to keep it.

- I'm thinking Buffalo and Wofford are just about even as 7's. UB hasn't looked that great in some narrow MAC wins, though they do keep winning. With help they can get a 6 but I think 7 is more reasonable.

-My Cuse sticks at 8 for now, but they need a win at Clemson to keep it. Beat the 3-seed in the ACC tournament and maybe a 7 is possible. VCU is rising here and if they run the A-10 table I could see a solid 8 seed, and a nightmare for an unlucky 1.

- Oklahoma moves up after beating Kansas. I think that keeps them off the bubble. Ole Miss is sinking, though their losses have been close ones so I don't want to ding them too much. I'm pulling Utah State up out of the 11's, too.

- Likewise, Minnesota's win over Purdue gets them out of the play-ins for now. Seton Hall sneaks up a couple spots after beating Marquette. St. John's is hanging by a thread. NC State is in deep trouble.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, March 4, 2019

2017 Tournament Analysis

I never published this from 2017 but I thought it'd be interesting to see how these predictions went. This is unedited and the results are highlighted.

EAST: Villanova over Duke (watch out for SMU though)
I think Villanova will waltz to the Elite 8. Baylor won't get by SMU, though, and will be a tough out for Duke. Villanova-Duke is final-four-quality.
SMU lost in the first round, and South Carolina shocked Duke then Baylor. Villanova was done in the second round too. South Carolina made the final four. No points, but I'm not sure anyone saw SC coming. Hey, did YOU have a 7-seed in the Final Four?

WEST: Gonzaga over Arizona (and nobody else)
These two teams have a pretty easy march to the Elite 8. Yeah, WV or ND might give Gonzaga a tough game in the Sweet 16, but I'm not buying Florida State. Arizona-Gonzaga is another final-four-quality game, even if KenPom.com would clearly favor the Zags.
The Mountaineers did give Gonzaga a game (losing by 3) and Xavier edged Arizona in the Sweet 16 but got blown out by the Zags in the regional final. I get partial credit. LOL.

SOUTH: UCLA over UNC (with some interesting contenders)
I'm on the UCLA bandwagon. I think Kentucky will have a tough time getting to the second weekend (though I do think they'll eke out a win over the Shockers, I won't be at all surprised if they don't). UNC has the easiest track to the Elite 8 outside of Villanova, especially if MTSU pulls an upset or two.
Since UNC won the national title, the UCLA upset call was off (they didn't make it past Kentucky). Kentucky DID eke out a win over the Shockers, and gave UNC all it could handle in the Elite 8. Was right about UNC's track to the Elite 8 though. 

Here's an error: I didn't say anything about the Midwest Regional. I called the Michigan upset (below) but would probably have whiffed on Oregon.

1. I think Michigan will upset Louisville. The Cardinals are really good and well coached, but the Wolverines are en fuego and I think they'll pull an upset. KenPom would disagree, given that Louisville's #6 over there, but I think "hot" will trump "not hot" in this game.
Michigan DID upset Louisville. Woo hoo!

2. I looked for a long time at Wichita State vs Kentucky in the second round. I mostly think Kentucky ought to win, but these are two top 10 teams in KemPom.com, and it was a tough decision. Nobody should be surprised if the Shockers win, or lose at the wire.
Called the close game right.

3. The chalkiest bracket to me seems to be the West. I could see all four top seeds getting to the second weekend (though I think Notre Dame will beat WV in a slight upset). A Gonzaga-Arizona elite 8 game would be almost as incredible as a Duke-Villanova East final.
Xavier was the only non-chalk winner in this region but lost in the Elite 8. 

4. I am in a pool that lets us re-do our picks once the Sweet 16 is set, for a smaller prize. And if SMU is playing Duke as I project, I'm going to take a long look at that game too. I'd be a fool not to push Duke into the Elite 8 (at least) as of today, but let's see how they look on Sunday night.
Yeah, dead wrong on SMU. 

5. It's not very daring but I really like MTSU to make the Sweet 16. I'm not sold on Butler or Minnesota at this point.
Called the 12 over 5 upset, but Butler beat MTSU handily.

6. I've jumped on the UCLA bandwagon, taking them to beat Kentucky and then UNC to make the Final Four.
Shouldn't've done that.

7. I'm going to put Iowa State into the Final Four. I can very much see them defeating Kansas in the Sweet 16, giving them a virtual home game in the Elite 8... and since I'm not high on 2-seed Louisville and Oregon lost a key player, I'm guessing they'll beat Michigan or whatever team ends up there. Again, going with the hot hand in this region (plus Kansas' history of underperforming and their veryclose wins this year). Also, the Midwest doesn't do much for me.
Shouldn't've done that either: lost in the second round.

8. I think the top two seeds in the East and West would be a great Final Four if it were possible. But I'm counting on Gonzaga to break through at last, despite their SOS, and on Villanova repeat as champions, over UCLA.
Gonzaga broke through, but Villanova, UCLA and Iowa State did not. 

Question of the Day

Please chime in to today's question.

In my previous post I declared Wofford and Buffalo to be equals, and they're just now starting to be seeded near each other (Buffalo has been seeded much more highly until the last week or so). What do you think? Is one profile clearly better than the other and if so, why? What will the Committee say?

Saturday, March 2, 2019

March 3 Bracket


Selection Sunday is coming up so fast, just two weeks away! I think things are starting to fall into place now, but there's still a long way to go. I'll add to this post after my Observer article appears Monday at www.observertoday.com.

UPDATE:
So in my Observer article I mentioned Wofford. They make an interesting comparison to Buffalo, I think. Consider their resumes:

Wofford has just four losses on the year: North Carolina (a 2-seed), Kansas (a 3), Mississippi State (a 6) and Oklahoma (a bubble team). Their NET is 14 (!!) and they are 3-4 in Q1 games. They have zero Q2-Q4 losses.

UB has just three losses on the year: Marquette (a 4-seed), Bowling Green (a Q2 loss) and Northern Illinios (a Q3 loss). Their NET is 15 (!!) and they are 2-1 in Q1 games but have two Q2/Q3 losses.

UB's best win (Syracuse, an 8-seed) is better than Wofford's (Furman, a fringy bubble team) but their worst loss to Northern Illinois is to a team with a 150 NET while Wofford's worst loss is to Oklahoma with a 42 NET.

Aside from thinking that a game between these two would be amazing, I'm not sure which I'd put ahead of the other. It's not like Wofford went undefeated in a conference without good teams. Furman (44 NET) and UNC Greensboro (58 NET) are both tougher than Toledo (60 NET) and Bowling Green (106 NET), though Teamrankings.com has the MAC two spots higher than the Southern. If they both win out, I think they need to go on the same seed line. But I also think that both should be safely in the field.

I'll be very interested in how the drama unfolds at the top too. North Carolina is my top 2-seed right now after Michigan State's shocking loss to Indiana. Tennessee's profile, despite the win over Kentucky, isn't quite as strong given their SOS disparity. If UNC beats Duke this week I'll probably give the Tar Heels a 1-seed, but I think it's very close between Duke/Kentucky/Tennessee/UNC right now. If any of them sweep the regular season and tournament titles, it'll be tough to keep them off the top line.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Feb 24 Bracket


Well, here's another bracket update. This was made before Saturday's games.

One issue I've been thinking about is who could really advance their standing in the next couple weeks. Syracuse and Mississippi come to mind. Despite the loss tonight, 'Cuse has UNC and Virginia coming up, and Clemson will be a resume builder too. And Ole Miss has both Kentucky and Tennessee coming up. On the one hand, neither current 8-seed is likely to so much as split, much less sweep, those games. But speaking hypothetically, even a split will improve both of their SOS numbers, and in that scenario the Orange would have two wins against likely top 2 seeds. A split would give the Rebels some very strong SEC wins as well. Looking over the 7-seeds (Cincy, Buffalo, Mississippi State, Washington), I think a split might move Syracuse at least into that group and possibly above it with a couple ACC Tournament wins in Brooklyn. Ole Miss might not have quite that high a ceiling, but they can certainly climb to at least a 7 if they steal one of those wins.

Wofford a 9?? Well, they're not losing games, and they played a tough non-conference schedule. Ultimately, I'm not sure the Committee will recognize them... but if they run the table through the So Con tournament? Maybe they'll have to. It's not like the 9 and 10 seeds are that wonderful. I hope they get it. The difference between them and Buffalo, to me, is that Buffalo won one of their two games against top teams. If Wofford could have pulled off just one upset in the non-con season, they'd be up with Buffalo.

Does Tennessee's loss today drop them off the top line? If so, does Gonzaga move to 3rd overall? And who moves up? Kentucky and North Carolina have arguments. Michigan might too if they beat the Spartans. Glad I have some time to think about it...

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Feb 17 Bracket


Here's this week's bracket, through Friday's games. Lots of Saturday games today, but I'm not sure they moved the needle on my bracket. Personally, I think that if Tennessee loses, they stay the #2 overall seed and Kentucky stays #5. And if they win, I think Kentucky is still in the 5-slot. So I'm okay with this for now.

I'm going against my own "rule" against giving non-power-conference teams any breaks by keeping Utah State in the field. The bubble isn't that impressive, and I think the door might be open a crack since there's several mid-majors knocking on the door.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Feb 11 Bracket Update


So here's the latest bracket. The top 16 reflects the Selection Committee's rankings. There were a lot of Big 12 teams along the 8/9 lines, and I couldn't keep them all away from the 4/5 Big 12 teams. I still feel pretty good about VCU as an at-large, and about Wofford as an 11. The bubble and its underside are an ugly place, so I went with giving the Mountain West a second bid in Utah State.

To elaborate on my previous post, I'm still struggling with Duke vs Tennessee, or "1a and 1b" as the Committee chair put it. Duke's metrics and SOS numbers were almost entirely better than Tennessee's. The Vols' only loss, to a then-whole Kansas team, is about on par with Duke's loss to Gonzaga, and you'd think there'd be some leeway given to Duke given that their loss to Syracuse came with the Blue Devils missing two starters for most of the game. I was putting Virginia ahead of Tennessee prior to Saturday, and I found THAT to be the tougher decision. Don't get me wrong... Tennessee's lengthy win streak and single narrow defeat means they're clearly on the top line. This is a matter of splitting hairs. I think the season sweep of Virginia puts Duke solidly ahead for now, but I'm very excited for the upcoming Tennessee-Kentucky matchups. If Tennessee sweeps, they're a lock for a 1-seed and probably the #2 overall seed. If Kentucky sweeps, they switch places. I think a split maintains the status quo and we won't know until a possible meeting in the SEC tournament which will get the edge. I wonder if both could be on the top line... a 3-loss Tennessee team that loses twice to the Wildcats and a Kentucky team whose only late season loss is to those same Vols.

As my article at www.observertoday.com shows, my son Dan and I debated Michigan State for a few extra minutes. We considered dropping them to a 3 due to their 3-game losing streak. Ultimately, we didn't want to move Kansas up (they had lost four of six) and didn't think Purdue was quite ready despite a 7-game win streak (because of their early season losses). The early season games are as important as the late season games, so Purdue has work to do before moving up, but if the current trends hold up I think Purdue can and will replace Sparty on the 2-line.

I'm frustrated that we bumped Houston and Nevada down a peg this week after pretty much having them pegged correctly in previous weeks. The schedules, especially Nevada's, seem so empty compared to the other 3 and 4 seeds. While I can see Houston perhaps moving up a bit if they can beat Cincinnati (as they did this weekend), I'm not sure where Nevada will find any big wins to lift them out of a 4-seed. I think they've topped out at 4, barring a bunch of teams collapsing ahead of them.

I think my biggest whiff this week was on Virginia Tech. Upon further review, they have good rankings numbers but a really poor SOS and especially non-conference SOS. I can see why the Committee left them out of the top 16, and I bumped them down to a 6 after their loss this weekend. That might be an overreaction, but man, that SOS is bad for a top team.

I'm going to be watching the Atlantic 10 closely. VCU is a bubble team, and Davidson and Dayton may play their way onto the bubble too. I took a bit of a chance on Utah State, going against my theory that the Committee won't give the non-Power Five conference schools any real consideration. This is more of a statement about the state of the bubble than about how the Committee will actually handle the situation, though. The other bubble teams are on their way DOWN, while Utah State is on its way UP. So I went with them for now.




Sunday, February 10, 2019

Committee vs Chris


Hopefully I'll have a new full bracket soon, and a somewhat deeper dive into my questions and thoughts on the bracket reveal from Saturday, but for now, here's my top 16 vs the Committee's, and a link to www.observertoday.com for my latest article (to appear on Monday). I don't really want to do a more detailed article here until that one runs, and I haven't had a chance to do a fresh bracket based on the weekend's games yet.

Suffice to say, though, that I'm going to update mine to reflect the Committee's top 16 and move out from there. Lots of action this weekend!

I will say this, though: I did not understand the committee's comment on the show about how close Tennessee and Duke are. Duke's overall numbers and metrics just seem so much better. The Vols are clearly a 1 but I didn't think they were that close to Duke.

And I'll say that I made the same mistake on Nevada as I did on Houston. Had I gone with my previous week's projection and kept them at a 4 and a 3 respectively, I'd have only missed on Wisconsin (who was my first team out) and Villanova (who was the Committee's first team out) and I'd be feeling pretty good. What matters now is to learn from their reveal and make my own bracket better from it.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bracket Reveal Projection, Feb 8


So this Saturday the Selection Committee will be revealing their top 16 teams, meaning the top four seeds in each region. I'm doing my bracket early this week so I can see how I do against theirs.

I had my son Dan help me out. Dan's 18 and has been helping me do brackets since I started in the 2016-17 season. So when I say "we", I mean our committee of two.

Our first debate was over the fourth #1 seed. Gonzaga won out, but we gave some serious consideration to Kentucky and Michigan. I won't be surprised if Michigan and Gonzaga swap positions before all's said and done (Gonzaga can't afford a loss if it wants to be on the top line). And Kentucky is knocking on the door if either of them stumble even a little bit.

The toughest call, though, was our last #2 seed. Michigan State, Kansas and Purdue were considered. Purdue is the hottest team of the three, having won 7 straight. Kansas had the best SOS by far, and Sparty had the best overall BPI/KenPom/Sagarin numbers by far. Ultimately, we followed the profiles and downplayed recent performance, and left the Spartans as a 2 for now, followed by Kansas and Purdue. I had the Jayhawks as a 3 last week, and they'd done nothing to justify moving them up. Both of those teams lost key players, though, and I feel as though Purdue has a good chance at that last 2.

Our last debate was the last two teams in the field of 16. We looked at Virginia Tech, Iowa State and Wisconsin. The Badgers had the best win (Michigan) but also the worst loss (W Kentucky). Tech had the best profile but has the fewest Q-1 wins and games. And Iowa State splits the difference. Ultimately we went with the Hokies and Cyclones, but Wisconsin will have its chances.

Two tough decisions we made were to move Houston down to a 4 (we've had them as a 3) and to leave Nevada out of the top 16. Nevada has no Q-1 games and a worse loss than anyone in the top 4 seed lines. They may be good, and they may knock people off in March, but we agreed that their profile didn't hold up. I'll be interested to see, if the Committee puts them in the top 16, how they justify it. I'll learn a lot from their explanation.

We also dropped Houston, who also just didn't have the volume of games against Q-1 teams. A one-loss season is great, and they have some tougher games ahead against Cincy, but I'm not sure they can hold on to a top 4 seed if they don't run the table.

This is also why I dropped Buffalo further, to the 8/9 game. If they continue to win, maybe they can eke out a 7-seed, but they're one regular season loss from needing to make the MAC final in order to be in the at-large picture.

That's all for now. Looking forward to learning something Saturday.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Feb 3 Bracket


Hi all, this week I spent time updating a post I wrote last year, so not much to add about this week's bracket. I will say I struggled with Gonzaga/Michigan/Michigan State for that last 1-seed. In the end, I'm glad I bumped up Gonzaga (I did so before the Spartans lost to IU but after the Wolverines lost to Iowa). Though it ought to lift the Hoosiers out of the play-in game!

I held Buffalo steady at a 7-seed for now. Bowling Green is a tough road game. But I won't be surprised if they start falling into the 8/9 range in some brackets, and if they lose again before the MAC tourney I think they'll be on the bubble if they get upset in Cleveland.

Speaking of the MAC, we plugged in first place Bowling Green in a 14-seed for now, as we assume the current first place team will claim the automatic bid, and that's them as of today. This pushed the other teams up, moving Wofford into a 11 and Hofstra into a 12. I also plugged Davidson into a 12-spot as they lead the Atlantic 10 at the moment, and put VCU into a 11-spot due to a lack of better options.

I'm looking forward to the Committee's reveal next weekend, and I'll put up a top 16 projection before the reveal.

How to Fix the Play-In Games

This post was originally written about a year ago. I made an attempt to update it and clean it up so it would sound a little less "rant-y." But I wanted to re-post it because I think about it every time I place four 16-seeds into their respective play-in games, and on the self-serving side, because it's likely that one of my favorites would be placed there if they somehow won their tournament. They, and all the 16 seeds, deserve better.

How to Fix the Play-In Games

Imagine for a moment that there was a national contest at your school. The winner from each school would get to compete at a national competition. So you won, but wait! When the contest pairings come out, you learn that since went to a smaller school, you have to compete against winners from other small schools, and if you win THAT time, you’ll get to go to nationals.

This very thing happens to four teams every Selection Sunday. Four conference tournament champions, with automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, must play each other for the right to advance to the round of 64. None of the other conference champions have to do this - they are placed directly into the 64 team bracket.

Bids to the NCAA Tournament are supposed to be guaranteed to winners of the conference tournaments. No matter your record, if you win your conference tourney, you’re going to the Tournament. Everyone has a chance. It's what makes the conference tourneys so dramatic, and it contributes to the term "March Madness."

Think about what making the Tournament means to some of the lower tier conference schools. Both school and conference get some national air time. Their representative gets to square off against a national power – likely a once in a lifetime shot. Think what that means for recruiting, for national exposure, to the coaches and individual players! Verne Lundquist and Jim Nantz are going to be discussing them by name! Sure, the 16's have only one win against the 1's (congratulations, UMBC!), but it's still a great opportunity for these schools.

However, the champions from two conferences will not get that opportunity. They won’t get to play Duke or Tennessee this year, because they’ll have lost the First Four game against another team from another lower-tier conference.

This is profoundly unfair to these 16-seed teams.

Yes, these games get some viewership. Yes, you get some competitive, exciting games. And yes, teams (and especially coaches) can claim they “made the NCAA Tournament” or even “won a tournament game.” The financial rewards are no less if you're in the play-in game, and in fact, two conferences will get an extra share because their teams will have advanced. (Note I said "conferences," since tournament payouts go to the conferences for distribution to teams, not directly to the teams or schools themselves.)

But losing to North Carolina on Thursday, with half the country watching, while painful, is very different than losing on Tuesday or Wednesday night before a fraction of the audience to a team from a similar conference. Losing to UNC means you played UNC. You might’ve even hung around for the first half. Lose in Dayton, and you miss that whole experience, and far fewer people saw you.

That’s what’s wrong with the First Four games as they are currently set up. They deny two conference champions, who have earned the right, their shot at the frenzy of the NCAA Tournament. Their shot at a top team. Their shot at exposure and yes, their shot at history (slim though it may be). These teams earned their ticket but were given one EXTRA hoop to jump through, failed, and were shown the door before even really taking the stage.

Let’s flip the script a minute. If we’re weeding out two 16’s through the play-in games, that means that a pair of what would’ve been 15’s are now on the 16 line. That means that two 1 seeds that are expecting to play a 16 (which, again, have only toppled a 1-seed once) are really playing 15’s, (which have knocked off a handful more 2’s). Indeed, this is true right up the line. A pair of 2-seeds are getting what should be 14’s, and a pair of 3’s are getting 13’s, and so forth. So even if you’re a high seed, you’re very possibly playing a (ever so slightly) better team. In fact, without the 16-seed play-in games, UMBC would have been a 15 seed and not played Virginia at all!

We know that the first play-in game was set up after the split of the WAC and Mountain West, but instead of eliminating an at-large bid, they made the two lowest-seeded teams play their way into the tournament. Again, these teams EARNED BIDS BY WINNING THEIR CONFERENCE TOURNEYS! So Winthrop (which lost the first play-in game by four points) was denied access so that a bigger conference also-ran could snag a bid and get beat by double digits. How fair was that? So fair that the 2001 Tournament’s Wikipedia page doesn’t even list the score of the play-in game, only that Northwestern State lost to Illinois. Gregg Marshall’s Winthrop team is only mentioned as the second 16 seed in Illinois’s region. Sure, they might’ve lost to Illinois by 42 like NWST did, but that’s not the point. They didn’t get their day in the sun.

I think teams that earned the automatic bid deserve a bid in the round of 64. But what about the other play-in teams, the ones on the bubble? Since the “First Four” concept was established, half the play-in games are for bubble teams to play their way in. That is how ALL the First Four games should be. 

Most bubble teams are middling teams from the power conferences. They were around or below .500 in conference play, had a couple of decent wins balanced out by perplexing losses, and are usually pretty inconsistent. A few bubble teams are from the "mid-major" conferences, enjoying great runs but playing weaker schedules. Middle Tennessee, Valparaiso, and Monmouth are recent examples of teams that were dominant in conference games, played a tough enough schedule to merit at-large consideration, lost in their conference tourneys, and landed on the bubble. So you have consistent excellence against weaker competition, vs inconsistent and mediocre performance against higher level competition. The Committee invariably goes with the latter when deciding between them.

So here's a solution:

I want every 16-seed to know it’s going straight to a Thursday/Friday showdown and getting its shot at that season’s hoops royalty in front of the entire country.

I want eight bubble teams to duke it out for the right to eke its way into a double-digit seed. The “last four in” and “first four out” can settle it on the court.

And I want at least two of those bubble teams to be from outside the multi-bid conferences. The rule I’d make would be that at least two of the eight First Four teams must come from conferences that do not already have two teams in the field.

Am I really advocating that the Committee be forced to reach past some bubble teams for teams that in some years might be truly inferior? The answer is yes, because we’re trading proven mediocrity (in the form of, say, a 17-14 record) for what MIGHT be mediocrity… or what MIGHT be considerably better (in the form of a 26-win team or conference regular season winner/runner-up that only played a handful of top tier opponents). Three quarters of the First Four spots can reward high major mediocrity and one quarter of the spots can reward mid-major dominance.

Making the 16’s play their way in is both unfair and a cynical way to make room for the bigger conferences to get extra bids. But changing the First Four to all-bubble teams, and mandating some room for a couple extra mid-major teams, will make these games into true play-in games that will involve the teams that most deserve to be in such a game. And if you’re a bubble team that couldn’t get into a play-in game, you probably didn’t deserve it anyway – certainly not as much as the 16 that won their conference tournament.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

January 27 bracket


Made a few changes this week. Michigan State bumps Michigan down to a two. Almost seems unfair, but it's not like the Wolverines won't have their chances to reclaim a top seed. Kentucky is climbing fast. My feelings on Buffalo are well known, and their loss earlier in the week drops them to a 7 on my bracket. UB is still clearly in at-large territory, and any other team winning the MAC will steal a bid from a bubble team. I left UB as the MAC auto-bid team for now.

I have Syracuse as a 10. On my s-curve, they were actually a middling 9, but I had trouble finding a spot on the 9-line for them, what with two ACC teams on the 1-line and Florida State and NC State an 8 and a 9 respectively. So I bumped them down to a 10 for now. (As I write this, the Orange are getting whacked at Virginia Tech, so I might be glad to have held them to a 10 for another week).

I may have Ohio State a little low too. I was running into a similar problem as Syracuse's, with other Big 10 teams in the 2, 7 and 10 seeds. I think with some of these bubble teams it's pick your poison, and I went with teams that fit the slot conference-wise.

I continue to have Atlantic 10 problems too. Is VCU a bubble/at-large team? Can St. Louis or Dayton become one? And where do we put George Mason or (my choice) Davidson in the pecking order? I'm going with Davidson for now as the auto-bid, as they beat GMU. A team or two had better start to create some separation soon though.

New article coming out on www.observertoday.com on Monday.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20 Update


I'm happy to say that these bracket projections are now appearing here, on the Bracket Matrix, and now on Mondays in the Dunkirk Observer along with my weekly column there. I'm grateful for the opportunity to do the column (and grateful to the Bracket Matrix for all their work as well!). When I took Joe Lunardi's bracketology certificate course five years ago, it was mostly to satisfy my own curiosity and understand Syracuse's bracket position better. But I enjoyed the process so much that I couldn't resist trying to build my own brackets. And I didn't do that consistently until I found The Bracket Matrix, which gave me a venue to share my projections and compare myself to others doing the same thing. This is the third year I've sent brackets to the Matrix, and while last year I tried to do a brief article here with each bracket update, this is the first time I've really tried to "put it out there." I'm still learning, and I welcome comments. I just want to point out that I do the bracket on Saturday evening for publication on Monday, and that means that some Saturday games and all Sunday games are not considered for that week's bracket. Sorry for the lag, but these take time to build, and I work two jobs.

This week we had some activity on the 1-seed line, but while I shifted the order I didn't bounce anyone down to a 2-seed. This is partly because none of the losses were really earth-shattering and partly because I still couldn't justify putting any of the 2's ahead of the current 1's. Michigan's, Virginia's and Duke's losses were all to teams currently in the field. I might've dropped Duke had they got beaten badly by Virginia, but their win over Virginia shows they belong on the top line (and the narrow loss at Cameron Indoor is no reason to drop the Cavaliers down either). Michigan's loss at Wisconsin isn't terrible either. Michigan State would be a worthy 1-seed, but I'm not ready yet to restore Gonzaga there. Kansas is unlikely to reclaim a 1-seed, and UNC is my last 2-seed right now (taking Texas Tech's spot after TTU's loss to Baylor).

The Atlantic 10 is making a comeback of sorts, with St. Louis and VCU both barely in the field. They're sort of interchangeable in the standings but I considered St. Louis to be the auto-bid team and VCU to be the at-large. Dayton's on the radar too, but VCU's victory over the Flyers puts the Rams in for now. We'll have to see if a team in that conference can separate themselves enough to lift their champion out of the 12/11 seed range.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Yeah, I know, this is a bracketology blog. But baseball was my first love, and two of my favorite players have a good chance to get inducted, so I wanted to do a quick "if my votes counted" Hall of Fame ballot. Like the real things, I can only take 10 players. Here's who I'd take (not who I think will get in) and why:

1. Mariano Rivera. He's the best reliever ever, regular AND post season. You can believe that the modern closer doesn't pitch enough innings, and that they're not worth the money they're paid, and that they'd be better used in higher-leverage situations if they're really that good. And you might be right. This guy's still a slam dunk and it'd be a shock if he didn't get in.

2. Roger Clemens. We'll get this out of the way. I don't love Clemens as a person. I know there's accusations and evidence of PED use. I also know that, like #3 below, he was probably a Hall of Famer before he allegedly started using them. And if you think PEDs gave him an edge, then quantify it for me. How many wins, points of ERA, and K's are we going to shave off to normalize him? I bet what's left is a Hall of Famer too.

3. Barry Bonds. See Clemens above, and substitute batting stats for pitching and "Bonds" for "Clemens" and my argument is the same. These two guys aren't "just makes the threshold" hall guys. They're among the all time greats, well beyond the minimal HoF expectations. Time to move on from the steroid mess and recognize greatness (of the player, if not the person).

4. Roy Halladay. I think he'd have gotten in eventually even without his untimely, tragic death, but I'd be ready to vote him in right away. He had a great peak, even if his counting stats don't look quite as impressive. And he was pitching during the offensive explosion, too.

5. Mike Mussina. Moose and Halladay have what I think of as the modern era's new Hall of Fame-worthy stats. Innings pitched and total number of starts are way down, as are win totals, compared to earlier days. No one's going to win 20 games five years in a row like Catfish did in the 70s. Guys who get 200 IP, an ERA in the low 3's, and 17-18 wins a year are going to be the hall-worthy starters eventually, because they'll still be a cut well above the rest of the league. Is Moose a Maddux-Pedro-Randy level starter? Probably not. But there's a long drop from those guys to the Hall cut line, and I think Mussina crosses that line to get in.

6. Edgar Martinez. A great hitter, pure and simple. I think what's holding him up is A. he's a great hitter in an era of great hitting, and B. he spent too much time DHing and too little time in the field. Well, plenty of guys in the Hall were worthless on D (or amazing on D and worthless at the plate), so I'm not willing to exclude a guy at Edgar's level just because his team DHed him all the time. I think he deserves to get in.

7. Todd Helton. I'm not sure Helton gets in. He and Larry Walker had their stats somewhat inflated by playing in Coors Field. This vote is simply about me thinking I'd like to see his case debated further.

8. Andy Pettitte. Now, my heart (which bleeds pinstripes... I know, I've said I bleed Orange, so maybe it's orange pinstripes) would like to see Andy get in. Mostly his case is on his playoff legacy, which is largely due to him playing on one of the great dynasties, and on his win totals, which fans of advanced stats will tell you aren't a good measure of a starting pitcher (and I agree). There's also the matter of his admission that he used PEDs (once, while rehabbing) and his close friendship with Clemens, so haters have a confession and guilt by association. I don't expect him to get elected (unless there really is an east coast bias), but again like with Helton, I think the debate should take place.

9.  Omar Vizquel. If there's a place for Ozzie Smith, (and there is, and there should be), then there's a place for Omar Vizquel.

10. Curt Schilling. Based on his numbers, his career regular season and postseason performances, I have to give him my last vote. Based on his bloody sock and the fact that he stuck it to my team not once but twice, he'll get that vote grudgingly. But I think he's a borderline case, less so than Pettitte (who I think might head the Hall of Very Good) and about as much so as Mussina.

I think 10 is too few. I could've voted for Larry Walker, maybe the Crime Dog, maybe Sammy Sosa too. The Hall has squeezed voters by only giving players 10 years on the ballot and only giving voters 10 slots. The Hall should not be only for guys like Maddux and the like. Yeah, a line has to be drawn somewhere, but it should be behind the Mussinas, Edgars and Omars, not in front of them. And guys are getting kicked off the ballot way too early, which is why it's hard to criticize voters for not having a 100% ballot for anyone. Someone really wants to keep Manny Ramirez on the ballot so he gives Manny a vote instead of Mariano. Whatever... that's the fault of the rules the Hall set up.

Hoping to see Moose and Mo both in, rooting for Roy too, and even Edgar. Really hoping the PED issue dies down as we get farther from the worst of it, too.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Jan 13 Update


This is the third bracket of the season and the first I'm feeling some confidence in, though again, there continues to be lots of movement. Had a terrible time with the play-ins. You have to watch the conference affiliations AND be sure one play-in leads into a Thursday site and the other leads into a Friday site. That's a lot. But I also feel like the top three lines are coming into focus. Placing those teams in those lines is tough, though, with five ACC teams in the top 16 (for now).

I moved Buffalo up to a 6 this week, partly because of their big win but much more due to the teams around them losing, sometimes multiple times. I still think they'll get shorted at tournament time, but at least they didn't lose to Rutgers (sorry Buckeye fans). I don't mean to dwell on the Bulls, but they will be a very interesting case in March for the Committee. Their best wins (West Virginia and Syracuse) look a little worse each week. While Syracuse righted itself after the loss to Buffalo (at least until Saturday night), West Virginia has lost four straight and is at the bottom of the Big 12. So they beat the Big 12's worst team, and two bubble teams ('Cuse and San Francisco). Better than most other mid majors? Definitely. Worthy of an at-large? I'd say so. Five or six seed material? I'm not so sure, especially once the MAC schedule pushes those non-league wins further back.

Ole Miss makes its first appearance of the season. Whacking two top 15 teams, including one on the road, makes for a fast-track to a single-digit seed even coming off the bubble.

I think from here I'll be doing a new bracket on Saturday (not Sunday) night, and maybe doing reflections like these on Sunday. My projections are now appearing in my local newspaper on Mondays, so that's an exciting development (for me).

Monday, January 7, 2019



So here's my latest projection. Some things I considered:
1. I know I had Tennessee on the top line last week, and bumped them down this week even though they didn't lose. My problem was that I couldn't leave unbeaten Virginia as a 2-seed, especially after the way they hammered Florida State. And even though Kansas also lost (and I know that the Committee doesn't really look at head-to-head but rather body of work), I couldn't put the Vols ahead of a team that beat them when push came to shove. I have a feeling that after Michigan and Duke there'll be a lot of volatility (though we'll see what happens after Virginia plays Duke in a week or so!).

2. I couldn't leave Nevada as a 2 after taking that loss to New Mexico. Again, I feel like the Committee is relatively unforgiving of teams outside the Power Five (or six or so), and that Nevada will have to earn its way back to the 2-line.

3. By the same token, I had trouble putting Houston as a 4. They were actually among my 5-seeds, but I had trouble putting Florida State there after their loss to Virginia (no shame in that, though), and I had nowhere to put an ACC school with 4 already in the top 16, so for now I bumped them down and Houston up. Personally I think Houston can get a top 4 seed, but like Nevada, they won't get much margin for error. And I hated to drop FSU that far down. These early bracket projections are tough but they get easier as the overall body of work grows.

4. Is the best Pac-12 team really just a 9-seed? Is the best A-10 team really just a 12-seed? Is the best Big East team really only a 6-seed? Just doesn't seem right.

5. If we consider the "power" conferences to be Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, ACC, Big East, then there are two at-large bids currently going to schools outside of those leagues, both to schools in the American. And that's not exactly a wimpy conference, either, consisting of some traditionally strong basketball programs (UConn, Cincy, Temple, Memphis, Wichita State), along with some newer upstarts (Houston, UCF). It hurts that the A-10 is in such a down year since they're usually good for at least one and usually 2-3 at-large bids.

These early brackets will change a lot from week to week. The last two years I learned a lot from the Committee revealing their top 4 seeds (top 16 teams) and was able to use that information to improve my projections going forward. At that point I can see if the Committee thinks there are 5 ACC teams in their top 16 (and what they did with that fifth team!), and puzzle out how they came to that conclusion, and use that info as I project going forward.