Monday, November 28, 2016

Bracketology Update: 11/28

I normally plan on doing these posts on Fridays, but there was a holiday and a football game that I think most of you cared more about than a fake superhero predicting sports events that won't happen for another three and a half months. Anyways, we're back, with a decently shaken up Big Ten, and a forthcoming post encouraging you not to overreact to big wins or losses, but to slightly shift expectations depending on what each team has done. But first we'll jump into the very top of the bracket, where things look boring and similar:

1 seeds: My 1 seeds remain the same with Villanova, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. Villanova defeated a few top-100 teams in Charleston, and then traveled home to face...Charleston. They're still rolling. Duke is still solidly in here, but I really would be safer just having "ACC Champion" as my 1 seed, since Virginia and North Carolina look very strong as well. One of them will be a 1 seed, and for now we're going to keep guessing Duke until anything indicates otherwise. Kentucky and Kansas got a few more wins against undermatched competition.

Big Ten: In the conference, things appear to have moved a bit. As a generally cautious predictor during nonconference play, I tend to move the needly slowly with regards to where I think a team will land. We will also find out a lot more about our conference this week during the always entertaining ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with many of the matchups within the challenge being mentioned in the following section. Here's where things currently stand:

Wisconsin: 2 seed - The Badgers defeated Tennessee and Georgetown before falling to a very good North Carolina team in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. This week they play a tough Syracuse team at home. A loss there would cause me to question me keeping them this high, but for now they remain a solid 2.

Indiana: 4 seed - The overtime loss to #119 Fort Wayne could really end up hurting the Hoosiers come Selection Sunday. Those are the type of "bad losses" that usually bump a team down a seed (one of the reasons the Big Ten champs were a 5 seed last year), so I will do the same. However, a win at home against the Tar Heels on Wednesday could potentially put them back where they were before this loss.

Purdue: 4 seed - No big games, but their outlook relative to the rest of the conference has improved slightly, especially according to Kenpom, where they sit at 15th. They face a very difficult matchup with Louisville on Wednesday.

Michigan: 5 seed - A lot to discuss in the Michigan-specific section, but a big win over SMU and a big loss to South Carolina have caused confusion over how good Michigan actually is. My enthusiasm is strong enough to bump them up a seed, but I'm still keeping my optimism in check.

Ohio State: 5 seed - Nothing new here, although they will probably get their first loss of the season on the road against Virginia on Wednesday.

Michigan State: 5 seed - It was an eventful week for the Spartans, who nearly lost at home to #86 Florida Gulf Coast, got shut down by Baylor by 15 points, and then upset a pretty good Wichita State team. This week they face the nearly impossible task of defeating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. MSU is still a pretty good team, but they're on track to finish the year with too many losses to be in a very favorable seeding position at the end of the season.

Maryland: 7 seed - Still hard to get a read on Maryland, but they keep on winning against decent competition, so I'll keep on moving them up until I find it necessary to do otherwise. This week they beat Kansas State, and next week they play Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State, which will provide two more challenging, but winnable matchups for this mysterious team.

Northwestern: OUT (barely!) - Northwestern has been the pleasant surprise of this early basketball season; this week they beat #65 Texas by 19 and lost by just 4 to #29 Notre Dame. Could this be the year the Wildcats finally make the Big Dance? I'm still skeptical, but I'll be watching closely to see if they can get a few more big wins.

Iowa: OUT - The Hawkeyes put up just 41 points against Virginia's always fearsome defense, and then got upset by Memphis, surrendering 100 points. This could be a rough year for them.

Nebraska: OUT - The Cornhuskers got a nice win over a good Dayton team before falling to UCLA. That's not a bad start, but they have a tough stretch coming up with 4 of their next 5 games coming against top 40 teams.

Illinois: OUT - Illinois finds themselves with a very bad loss at home to #107 Winthrop, a game where they led 70-62 with 3 minutes left before giving up an 8-0 run and falling in overtime. They followed that up with losses to West Virginia and Florida State that weren't even competitive. They could also be in for a rough year.

As for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, I thought it would be fun to put together a win probability graph for the conference as a whole. The ACC won the first 10 meetings, but haven't won outright since 2008, with the Big Ten winning 5 of the last 7 with two ties. Here's how the Big Ten looks to do this year:

It is not good. There is a 74.1% chance the ACC wins outright, only a 10.4% chance the Big Ten wins outright, and a 15.5% chance of a tie. The evidence is overwhelming that the ACC will break their winless streak this year, as the Big Ten is favored in just 5 of the 14 games (fortunately, Michigan is actually the single most likely Big Ten victory at 70% in their home game against Virginia Tech). However, the ACC was heavily favored last year, and the Big Ten came away with the 8-6 victory, so let's hope the conference can do something similar this year.

Michigan Update: The model was correct that Michigan would go 1-1 against their two big matchups this week (they also added a win over lowly Mount St. Mary's to get their record to 5-1). The team was uncharacteristically awful at South Carolina, but the Gamecocks went on to beat a very good Syracuse team by 14 points, so it would appear they are quite a bit better than we expected. Kenpom now expects SC to finish 23-8, which would certainly put them in the tournament. This would then allow us to file Michigan's road loss to them as "not that big of a deal." The 2K Classic championship remains impressive, and there's a lot to like about the Wolverines going forward. Let's check in with our win probability graphs:
11-2 is looking more and more likely in nonconference play. That would probably mean a loss to UCLA and wins against everyone else. As for the Big Ten, things look ever so slightly better, with 11-7 still as the most likely scenario, this time at 20.1%. There was a moment there between the SMU and South Carolina games that 12-6 was the highest bar, but that seemed a bit optimistic, and has since gone back about to where it was last week.

This week, as mentioned earlier, the Wolverines face #39 Virginia Tech at home. A loss would be a disappointment and would cause us to reset expectations a bit. A win would put them at 3-1 against the top 50, which would put them well on their way towards a very solid resume.

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