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.