Sunday, December 3, 2017

Spidey's Blog: The Buddy Hield Theorem

I apologize for a second straight blasphemous post singing the praises of teams not named Michigan, but I'm learning to be a more pleasant sports fan these days, and I'm hoping to provide insight that will help others have a more enjoyable neutral sports-watching experience. That being said, I went on and on about Camp Randall last week so let me just say I went back to the Big House for the Ohio State game, and The Big House still blows away any other stadium experience. Seriously. But you knew that already. Other organizational notes: if you're here for fun basketball graphs, may I direct you back to my Twitter, and if you're antsy for the first bracket projection, that'll happen some time around New Years, once teams like Temple, Nevada, and Rhode Island aren't top 10 teams in the RPI. As for today's post, we're going to take a look at what makes for a perfect second favorite college basketball team.

On January 4th, 2016, I watched the single greatest college basketball game I had ever seen, and I emerged with a new temporary second favorite team. Buddy Hield's Oklahoma Sooners went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse to face #1 ranked Kansas. The teams traded haymakers for 3 straight hours, the game went to triple overtime, finished around midnight eastern, and Kansas emerged with an absolutely insane 109-106 victory. I followed the Sooners pretty closely the rest of that season, and while they never quite captured the magic of that night in Lawrence, they remained an insanely fun team to watch.

After a close friend of the blog wrote this flaming hot Deadspin post proclaiming Duke of all teams to be "fun," my initial visceral reaction caused me to dive deeper into my own basketball watching preferences, which eventually led me to come up with the ingredients that make a basketball team I would otherwise have no connection to fun for me to follow. I compared 2016 Oklahoma with a few other teams I enjoyed watching (2014 Creighton is the other big one, and to be honest I began to also grew fond of 2015 Wisconsin once Michigan was done playing them). When I thought back to why no team stole my heart in 2017, I realized that team was in fact just Michigan. This became clearer when I narrowed down my scattered thoughts to four simple ingredients:

1. A Game-Changing Talent. Following a basketball team is a big commitment, so if you're going to commit to a secondary team, it helps if they have one guy that is all over the court making plays. This might be the biggest difference between what you want out of your favorite team and your second favorite team. Obviously you usually want your team to share the ball and have multiple stars, but that's too much effort for a team you're only going to watch when it's convenient. Give me one Buddy Hield or Derrick Walton running wild all over the court stuffing the stat sheet and I will be delightfully entertained.

2. Incendiary 3-Point Shooting. This one is a personal preference, having grown up in the slog of the Amaker years before being enlightened by the glory of the Beilein offense, but I think most people would agree that teams that can light it up from beyond the arc are a lot of fun to watch. Especially when this isn't a team you've tied all of your emotions too, you want to be able to flip their game on and watch them just make it rain. This is what made 2014 Creighton so fun: they had Doug McDermott to attract all the attention of opposing defenses, and when they collapsed on him, there was Ethan Wragge hitting an insane 110 three pointers at a 47% rate. Find yourself a team that can do that and you'll be in good shape.

3. Insane Games Against Traditional Powerhouses. This one is kind of obvious unless you're a Duke fan. The reason you pick a second team is in the hope of getting to see them beat other teams you don't like. Or even if they don't win, like Hield in '16, if they give you an awesome game to watch and a reason to have a rooting interest, that works too. I didn't really fall for 2015 Wisconsin until the tournament, when they took down North Carolina, Arizona, and the greatest Kentucky team any of us have ever seen in three straight games. If your favorite team is having a down year, pick a secondary team who has the opportunity to beat all those teams you don't like, which brings me to my final point:

4. No National Championships in My Lifetime. You might not be the exact same age as me, so you can make this rule whatever you want. Since Michigan doesn't have a championship in my lifetime, I feel slightly jealous towards the fan bases that do have one in that time frame. So for me, this no-cheer list consists of UCLA, Kentucky, Arizona, UConn, Michigan State, Duke, Maryland, Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, and Villanova. That seems to nicely cover all the easily hate-able teams in college basketball, plus a few extras.

So Who Is it This Year? That's the question, isn't it? As the rest of this post indicates, sometimes it takes a while for the second favorite team to emerge, and that's okay. You just have to keep watching until someone steals your heart. So far none of the early contenders have really jumped out at me, but I'll put up a tentative top 5:

Oklahoma again? Trae Young does just about everything for what appears to be another fun Sooner team. I haven't watched any of their games yet, so I can't really form an opinion yet, but the numbers are encouraging. This would deviate quite a bit from Rule 2 though, as Oklahoma is much more proficient at 2-pointers than 3's this season.

Notre Dame? Seriously? Probably not, because it's Notre Dame. But Mike Brey has developed a style quite similar to Beilein's over the years, and this year Bonzie Colson is a game-changing talent that can take over a game at any point. The problem here is if you watched the Irish play Michigan State, majorly blowing their first chance to take down a traditional powerhouse. But if they can pull off a big upset against Duke or UNC, my opinion of them could change quickly.

Virginia Tech? The Hokies seem to have some players that can light it up and currently have the best effective FG% in the country, but no clear go-to guy that would take them to the next level of awesome. They also don't appear to be quite good enough overall to put the fear of God into the rest of the ACC just yet.

Arizona State? Um maybe? Haven't watched them at all either, but Tra Holder has an extremely impressive Kenpom line: 134.8 offensive rating on 25.7% of possessions while playing 88.6% of available minutes. The Sun Devils score from all over the court and travel to Phog Allen this week. They only have an 8% chance of pulling off the upset, but if they do, this competition is locked down.

TCU? This is basically an even more balanced version of Virginia Tech. The Horned Frogs have 6 different players with an offensive rating over 115, and have the second best offense in the Big XII (after Kansas) led by great 3-point shooting. They probably won't emerge into a true second favorite team, but they'll upset someone at some point and it'll be a lot of fun.

So that's Spidey's anatomy of a fun team. I watch a lot of college basketball, so I'm really hoping someone emerges from the pack of "kinda fun" into a true team to keep an eye on and cheer for in big games. I'd love to hear from readers about what criteria makes a team fun for you. I think this guide will work for a large percentage of college basketball fans, and if you disagree with the rules, there's always Duke.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spidey's Blog: Never Change, Badgers

Quick note: I was going to write some things about basketball, but it's hard to really develop informed opinions after games against North Florida, Central Michigan, and Southern Miss. I'll do a post after Maui and most of my thoughts will probably be the same barring some sort of Hawaiian insanity. Here's an off topic post about football:

If you ask a college sports fan what makes college sports so great, many of them will try to talk about to the grand traditions and the passionate fans. These people are by no means incorrect, but what really sets college sports apart are actually the bizarre traditions and the silly fans. Every major fan base has them (I'm assuming), and they probably seem normal if you grew up doing them. For example, if you start playing the Blues Brothers theme song, I will instantly start doing an elaborate choreographed dance of origins completely unknown to me. Heck, the fact that you're reading a blog started by a guy who wore a Spider-Man suit to basketball games for four years says something about the scope of silliness were talking about here. But when you experience another fan base's own weird "things," the weirdness is put in a whole new light. And it is a joy to experience.

I had the fortune of getting the chance to travel up to Madison this weekend to see Michigan and Wisconsin play at Camp Randall. The game was a frigid slugfest featuring fullback dives lots and lots of punts, as every matchup between the Wolverines and Badgers is, but what really made the trip exciting was standing in the Wisconsin student section. Lost behind the magic of "Jump Around" is a series of truly bizarre traditions that I think we need to discuss.

The first clue that I was standing in a pit of friendly lunatics came after Wisconsin's first first down, after which everyone around me simply said, "First and ten Wisconsin!" in perfect unison and then continued watching the game. This continued the entire game, and was so eerie that I found it less uncomfortable to sarcastically join in the cheer than to stand by while this synchronized declaration took place. And this was just the beginning.

Many of Wisconsin's cheers seem to stem from the desire to trash talk despite having never really experienced much trash talk themselves. I imagine this must be what life is like in the Big Ten West without any major rivals (sorry Minnesota). So what happens as a result are cheers and songs that are full of unnecessary swear words. For example, a Michigan penalty resulted in a rousing chant of "you fucked up" rather than the classic "you can't do that." A song about the moon (wait, let's pause for a second and appreciate that both Michigan and Wisconsin have a song about the moon) involves hilarious hand motions and a repeated line about the bright shining light of the moon, but of course the third time through, "the moon" is replaced with "the motherfucking moon." Because, you see, it's rebellious! This leads me to what was quite possibly the most senseless cheer I've ever heard at a sporting event, where two halves of the student section would take turns chanting "fuck you" and "eat shit" AT EACH OTHER! Why would they do this multiple times a game? I could not for the life of me get an answer. I asked a few people and the only answers I got were "the university always threatens to take away our season tickets if we keep doing it" (so like, maybe stop doing it) and "you can totally hear it on TV!" (so like, maybe stop doing it!). Regardless of reason, the students continued happily cussing each other out while a football game transpired.

These next few could probably be cleared up if I just did some research, but I prefer to continue marveling at their strangeness. When Wisconsin scores a touchdown, instead of playing their classic fight song, "On Wisconsin," they play what sounds to me like the song about the Great Chicago Fire, which if you think about it is a ridiculously insensitive song in its own right. Maybe it was a common tune 100+ years ago and was used in many settings, but either way it very much threw me off. But not as much as I was thrown off by THE HORSE. What is THE HORSE, you ask? I have no idea. At one point during the game, the band started playing a song that prompted the student section to break out into a choreographed dance, and the guy in front of me turned around and explained "It's THE HORSE!" as if that was all the explanation I would need to understand what's going on. In the middle of this song, everyone started spelling out T-H-E-H-O-R-S-E, and then continued dancing. Why not B-A-D-G-E-R-S, or W-I-S-C-O-N-S-I-N, you might ask? I asked it too, but once again got no logical answer. It's just THE HORSE, and it's yet another one of Camp Randall's "things," I guess.

And yes, Jump Around was incredible and very much lived up to its reputation as one of the best traditions in college football. But even that one has a history that involves the administration banning the song for fear it would literally topple the stadium, before un-banning it after realizing how ridiculous the idea of a concrete structure falling over because of humans jumping up and down was. It was once banned, but we made it come back: rebellious! But they jumped around with extreme enthusiasm and it was incredibly fun, despite coming at a sad part of the game for me as a Michigan fan.

So congratulations Wisconsin for being a special and ridiculous slice of what makes college sports so fun. Keep on doing your weird things. As for me, I'll be more comfortable back home at the Big House next weekend dancing to the Blues Brothers, screaming Mr. Brightside, and rebelliously yelling the feared phrase "you suck" after the Buckeyes are forced to punt. I look forward to my next road trip and learning the next batch of crazy brewing somewhere else in the wide world of college sports.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Spidey's Blog: 2017-18 Basketball Eve

Hello there! It's me, your friendly neighborhood Internet bracketologist. College basketball season is finally upon us! And while I've retired from my old post in the Maize Rage, I'll continue to blog and forecast brackets with enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Last year's rookie campaign was a big success, culminating in a bracket that beat Joe Lunardi by a single point (still waiting for that call, ESPN). This year I'll continue with my usual bracket projections and win probability graphs, but this year I'm planning to add some perspectives on the team and the season as it all unfolds. We'll see how this goes; I'm usually much more of a numbers person, which is why I started this whole project in the first place. But hopefully you, dear reader, will enjoy my scattered thoughts about Michigan basketball, or the Big Ten, or all of NCAA basketball. We're not really sure where this adventure is going to take us, but I'm looking forward to it.

If You Have Two X-Factors, You Don't Have Any

I've had various conversations with people about the upcoming Michigan basketball season, and I love talking about all the unproven talent and potential that will be on the court this year. But many of these conversations involve me or the person I'm talking to declaring someone on the team "the X-factor." If Charles Matthews is as good as the hype, this offense will be the best in the Big Ten. If Jaaron Simmons can run the pick and roll with Moritz Wagner, they'll pick up right where they left off last year. If Wagner can play defense and rebound, that'll be the difference between a good season and a great one. All of these things are true, but at what point does someone go from being an X-factor to simply an unknown? To me it seems like a way of avoiding the slightly unsettling truth that we really know very little about this basketball team.

This unknown brings me back to my beloved win probability graphs. This feels like a good time to drop them in [note: preseason win totals do not include later round Maui matchups against undetermined opponents]:


These graphs are just an aggregate of individual probabilities, and that made me start thinking about how it's not so different to apply this thinking to individual players. Each player has a certain probability of having a good season, and the aggregate of all the players shows the potential outcomes for how good a team is, right? Then I thought about how player performance isn't binary: a player's season isn't measured simply as "good" or "bad," but in the space between. A better analogy here is that each individual player essentially has his own bell-shaped curve of potential outcomes for his own season, each with his own mean and variance. Moritz Wagner, an NBA talent with several areas for improvement, has a moderate spread with a high center, ranging from "Skilled Big Ten Stretch 5" to "Fire-breathing Lottery Pick Striking Fear Into the Hearts of Traditional Big Men Everywhere." The seniors, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, are known commodities with minimal spread and high-ish centers. And then there's everyone else, whom we know almost nothing about. The transfers could be anything from instant replacements for last year's seniors to guys struggling to find their place in John Beilein's complex system. And finally, the freshmen (and sophomores with expanded roles) could end up just about anywhere on this theoretical basketball spectrum and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

Put all these imaginary probability curves together and you get...an even wider and shallower imaginary probability curve. It's not out of the question to see this team having a losing conference record and missing the tournament. It's also not out of the question to see them being one of the top 2-3 teams in the Big Ten and priming themselves for another deep tournament run. Everything in between in the huge, scary Unknown, but that of course is the reason we watch the games. The Unknown can cut down your two best players with injuries and sabotage your season. But the Unknown can also turn a 14-point deficit with 7 minutes left into this:


And that's why we keep on watching from wherever we are this season. Go Blue!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

FINAL BRACKET PROJECTION

The title says it all! Check it out and compare it to the actual bracket which comes out in about an hour. Here we go:


NEW YORK MEMPHIS KANSAS CITY SAN JOSE
1 Villanova North Carolina Kansas Gonzaga
2 Oregon Arizona Duke Kentucky
3 Louisville Florida UCLA Baylor
4 West Virginia Notre Dame Butler Florida St.
5 Cincinnati SMU Virginia Purdue
6 Creighton Minnesota Iowa St. Saint Mary's
7 Wichita St. Wisconsin Michigan Arkansas
8 Maryland Oklahoma St. Dayton VCU
9 Miami FL South Carolina Virginia Tech Northwestern
10 Seton Hall Wake Forest Vanderbilt Xavier
11 Michigan St. Kansas St. Middle Tennessee USC
11 Providence Marquette
12 Vermont Rhode Island UNC Wilmington Nevada
13 Princeton East Tennessee St. New Mexico St. Bucknell
14 Northern Kentucky Iona Florida Gulf Coast Winthrop
15 Texas Southern Kent St. North Dakota Troy
16 Mount St. Mary's Jacksonville St. South Dakota St. New Orleans
16 NC Central UC Davis

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/11

One last quick one before the final prediction tomorrow. No new auto-bids since the last update, but they will start coming in waves. 14 auto-bids will be secured today, with the final six finishing up tomorrow. The MAC prediction has switched back to Akron after Ohio lost, and the Big Sky prediction has switched back to North Dakota after Eastern Washington lost. Also, Florida flipped with Duke, Virginia flipped with Cincinnati, Saint Mary's flipped with Notre Dame, Michigan flipped with South Carolina, USC flipped with Vanderbilt, Michigan State flipped with Illinois State (both still 11 seeds, but the Redbirds are now in the First Four), and Syracuse dropped out, being replaced by Kansas State. Here's the rest of it:


NEW YORK KANSAS CITY MEMPHIS SAN JOSE
1 Villanova Kansas North Carolina Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida St. Duke Arizona UCLA
4 Cincinnati Butler West Virginia Florida
5 Virginia Purdue SMU Notre Dame
6 Maryland Iowa St. Minnesota Saint Mary's
7 Creighton Dayton Oklahoma St. Wisconsin
8 Michigan Miami FL Arkansas Wichita St.
9 VCU South Carolina Northwestern Virginia Tech
10 Vanderbilt Seton Hall Wake Forest Xavier
11 USC Michigan St. Marquette Providence
11 Illinois St. Kansas St.
12 UT Arlington Nevada Middle Tennessee UNC Wilmington
13 Princeton Vermont East Tennessee St. Bucknell
14 Florida Gulf Coast Winthrop New Mexico St. Akron
15 Iona Northern Kentucky UC Irvine Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's Jacksonville St. New Orleans North Dakota
16 North Carolina Central South Dakota St.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/9

We're now three days from Selection Sunday, and not much has changed. This bracket is almost exactly the same, except with more green. Gonzaga, Bucknell, Northern Kentucky, Mount St. Mary's, and South Dakota State all secured bids in the last two days. I also flipped Cal St. Bakersfield and North Dakota with New Mexico State and Eastern Washington, not because either former team lost, but because Kenpom has the two latter team's as slight favorites to win their respective conference tournaments. It will only be slightly embarrassing if I later have to switch them back, but oh well. Here's what we've got:


NEW YORK KANSAS CITY MEMPHIS SAN JOSE
1 Villanova Kansas North Carolina Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida St. Florida Arizona UCLA
4 Duke Virginia West Virginia Butler
5 Cincinnati Purdue SMU Saint Mary's
6 Maryland Notre Dame Iowa St. Minnesota
7 Creighton Dayton Oklahoma St. Wisconsin
8 Miami FL Arkansas South Carolina Wichita St.
9 VCU Michigan Northwestern Virginia Tech
10 USC Seton Hall Wake Forest Xavier
11 Vanderbilt Illinois St. Marquette Providence
11 Michigan St. Syracuse
12 UT Arlington Nevada Middle Tennessee UNC Wilmington
13 Princeton Vermont East Tennessee St. Bucknell
14 Ohio Florida Gulf Coast Winthrop New Mexico St.
15 Iona Northern Kentucky UC Irvine Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's Jacksonville St. New Orleans Eastern Washington
16 South Dakota St. North Carolina Central

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/7

I imagine just about every day this week something will happen to shake up the bracket, so these posts might become a daily thing. We shall see. Yesterday three more teams punched their ticket: UNC Wilmington, East Tennessee State, and Iona. I had all of them in already, but I had to change my pick from the Summit League as the South Dakota State Jackrabbits knocked off in-state rival South Dakota; as a result they are now projected in. Four more teams will secure an auto-bid today (although the loser of the WCC Tournament finals will still certainly receive an at-large bid). I also flipped Butler with Florida State and Creighton with Maryland. Here is the full bracket as of today:


NEW YORK KANSAS CITY MEMPHIS SAN JOSE
1 Villanova Kansas North Carolina Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida St. Florida Arizona UCLA
4 Duke Virginia West Virginia Butler
5 Cincinnati Purdue SMU Saint Mary's
6 Maryland Notre Dame Iowa St. Minnesota
7 Creighton Dayton Oklahoma St. Wisconsin
8 Miami FL Arkansas South Carolina Wichita St.
9 VCU Michigan Northwestern Virginia Tech
10 USC Seton Hall Wake Forest Xavier
11 Vanderbilt Illinois St. Marquette Providence
11 Michigan St. Syracuse
12 UT Arlington Nevada Middle Tennessee UNC Wilmington
13 Princeton Vermont East Tennessee St. Bucknell
14 Ohio Florida Gulf Coast Cal St. Bakersfield Winthrop
15 Iona Northern Kentucky UC Irvine Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's Jacksonville St. New Orleans North Dakota
16 North Carolina Central South Dakota St.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/6

The regular season is done, and conference tournament season is upon us. Four teams have already punched their ticket to the tournament: Jacksonville State, Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, and Wichita State. Everyone else is pretty sure whether they're in or out, with the exception of possible bid thieves and a few bubble teams whose fate will be determined by the results of conference tournaments. The biggest thing to figure out is the seeding, and here's where I have things as of today (green highlight means the team has secured an automatic bid):


NEW YORK KANSAS CITY MEMPHIS SAN JOSE
1 Villanova Kansas North Carolina Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida Butler Arizona UCLA
4 Duke Virginia West Virginia Florida St.
5 Cincinnati Purdue SMU Saint Mary's
6 Creighton Notre Dame Iowa St. Minnesota
7 Dayton Maryland Oklahoma St. Wisconsin
8 Miami FL Arkansas South Carolina Wichita St.
9 VCU Michigan Northwestern Virginia Tech
10 USC Seton Hall Wake Forest Xavier
11 Illinois St. Vanderbilt Marquette Providence
11 Michigan St. Syracuse
12 UT Arlington Nevada Middle Tennessee UNC Wilmington
13 Princeton Vermont East Tennessee St. Bucknell
14 Ohio Florida Gulf Coast Cal St. Bakersfield Winthrop
15 Iona Northern Kentucky South Dakota UC Irvine
16 Eastern Washington Jacksonville St. New Orleans Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's North Carolina Central

Biggest Movers (since last Monday): Xavier has been crashing hard the last few weeks, finishing 9-9 in the Big East and suddenly a legitimate bubble team. I have them as a 10. California closed out the season with crippling losses to Utah and Colorado, and Kansas State finished 8-10 in the Big XII. Both of those teams have some work to do in their respective conference tournaments if they'd like to get back into the tournament picture. Replacing them is Vanderbilt, who turned things around to finish 10-8 in the SEC, and of course, Wake Forest.

1 seeds: No changes. These will probably hold, although Gonzaga's spot is the shakiest. If one of the 2 seeds goes on a run and wins their conference tournament, they could potentially jump them, but I doubt it.

Big Ten: Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all hold steady on their seed lines. Maryland and Northwestern each move up a seed after their wins over Michigan State and Michigan, respectively. The Spartans, meanwhile, move down into the First Four after dropping their final two games at Illinois and Maryland. The Illini, meanwhile, were closing in on the field before dropping an embarrassing game to Rutgers, essentially ending their tournament hopes. And somehow Iowa is in the conversation after closing the year on a four game winning streak to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten. I still don't think they'll get in, but they're certainly making things interesting. Barring a magical run from someone in the Big Ten Tournament, the seven Big Ten teams in the field now will probably be the same come Sunday.

Michigan: The Wolverines got to that elusive 10-8 in conference play after a heartbreaking buzzer-beater against Northwestern before setting the nets on fire in Lincoln last night. Let's take a look at how likely that 10-8 mark was as the season progressed:

January 2: 20%
January 9: 16%
January 12: 10%
January 23: 12%
January 27: 22%
February 1: 18%
February 9: 14%
February 12: 24%
February 17: 33%
February 20: 28%
February 27: 52%
March 5: 63%

It's amazing to look back at the team's struggles and think about how unlikely it is that they ended up finishing the way they did. The turnaround has been fun to watch. So now they will certainly be in the tournament, with a game this week against Illinois, a game Kenpom claims Michigan has a 70% chance of winning. If they can win that one, another showdown with conference champion Purdue awaits. The only thing left to play for is seeding, and I think Michigan will be in an 8-9 matchup in the NCAA Tournament unless they can knock off the Boilermakers again. 

Be on the lookout for continued updates throughout the week, before my final projection is made, probably minutes before the actual bracket is revealed. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/5

I realized I put the wrong date Thursday's bracket, which put it in the wrong column on BracketMatrix, but oh well. Today we have the correct date, just in time for tomorrow's full post to make it obsolete. Jacksonville State punches the first official ticket...right into a 16 seed play-in game. And the Horizon League's top two teams--Valparaiso and Oakland--both lost in big upset games, paving the way for...Northern Kentucky? Maybe? It will be interesting to see how the rest of that tournament shakes out. Other movement: Duke flipped with UCLA, Oklahoma State flipped with Dayton, Xavier flipped with Arkansas, and California dropped out, being replaced with Wake Forest. Full bracket update coming tomorrow, as usual.


NEW YORK MEMPHIS KANSAS CITY SAN JOSE
1 Villanova North Carolina Kansas Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida Butler UCLA Arizona
4 Florida St. West Virginia Duke Cincinnati
5 Purdue Virginia SMU Saint Mary's
6 Iowa St. Notre Dame Creighton Minnesota
7 Wisconsin Maryland Dayton South Carolina
8 Miami FL Oklahoma St. Arkansas Virginia Tech
9 Wichita St. Xavier Michigan VCU
10 USC Seton Hall Northwestern Michigan St.
11 Marquette Illinois St. Wake Forest Providence
11 Syracuse Kansas St.
12 Nevada UT Arlington UNC Wilmington Middle Tennessee
13 Monmouth Vermont Princeton East Tennessee St.
14 Winthrop Cal St. Bakersfield Bucknell Akron
15 Florida Gulf Coast South Dakota Northern Kentucky UC Irvine
16 Mount St. Mary's New Orleans Texas Southern North Dakota
16 Jacksonville St. North Carolina Central

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/1

We're in crunch time now, where every day things can shift slightly as teams make their final push towards qualifying for the tournament, so I'm attempting to tweak the bracket throughout the week before publishing another full update on Monday. As they stand, Oklahoma State flipped with Iowa State, Maryland flipped with Xavier (who should probably be even lower), Virginia Tech flipped with VCU, and Winthrop replaced UNC Asheville after the Bulldogs were upset by the Campbell Camels in the Big South Tournament. Here is the full bracket as it stands:


NEW YORK MEMPHIS KANSAS CITY SAN JOSE
1 Villanova North Carolina Kansas Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida Butler Duke Arizona
4 Florida St. West Virginia UCLA Cincinnati
5 Purdue Virginia SMU Saint Mary's
6 Iowa St. Notre Dame Creighton Minnesota
7 Wisconsin Maryland Oklahoma St. South Carolina
8 Miami FL Dayton Xavier Virginia Tech
9 Wichita St. Arkansas Michigan VCU
10 USC Seton Hall Northwestern Michigan St.
11 Marquette Illinois St. California Providence
11 Syracuse Kansas St.
12 Nevada UT Arlington UNC Wilmington Middle Tennessee
13 Monmouth Vermont Princeton Valparaiso
14 Bucknell Akron Belmont East Tennessee St.
15 Cal St. Bakersfield Winthrop Florida Gulf Coast South Dakota
16 North Carolina Central New Orleans Texas Southern UC Irvine
16 Mount St. Mary's North Dakota

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bracket Projection: 2/27

We have reached the final week of the regular season. I am currently trying to plan a way to give quick updates throughout the week without doing entire projections every day, because things will change quickly, and I want to be able to update how things stand in real time. So be on the lookout for Twitter updates throughout the week. Anyways, this week we have a hilarious Kansas City bracket that would be awesome, but would probably never happen. The top four seeds in that one region--Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and UCLA--have as many championships between them (27) as the other 64 teams in the field combined. Picking a Final Four team from that region would be an incredibly tall order, and potential Sweet 16/Elite 8 matchups would be insane. We can only hope there is a bracket that great in the actual tournament. And of course, Michigan ended up in that region, playing VCU and then potentially Kansas in a fun callback to the 2013 Final Four run. Anyways, let's look at the rest of the bracket:


NEW YORK MEMPHIS KANSAS CITY SAN JOSE
1 Villanova North Carolina Kansas Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida Butler Duke Arizona
4 Florida St. West Virginia UCLA Cincinnati
5 Purdue Virginia SMU Saint Mary's
6 Oklahoma St. Notre Dame Creighton Minnesota
7 Wisconsin South Carolina Xavier Iowa St.
8 Miami FL Maryland VCU Dayton
9 Wichita St. Arkansas Michigan Virginia Tech
10 USC Seton Hall Northwestern Michigan St.
11 Marquette Illinois St. California Providence
11 Syracuse Kansas St.
12 Nevada UT Arlington UNC Wilmington Middle Tennessee
13 Monmouth Vermont Princeton Valparaiso
14 Bucknell Akron Belmont East Tennessee St.
15 UNC Asheville Cal St. Bakersfield Florida Gulf Coast South Dakota
16 North Carolina Central New Orleans Texas Southern UC Irvine
16 Mount St. Mary's North Dakota

Biggest Movers: A lot of movement this week: Virginia was in free-fall after losing four in a row. They won their last game, but they still drop to a 5. Wisconsin has lost four of five and is all the way down to a 7. Northwestern's slide catches up to them as they fall all the way to a 10. USC is also crashing hard after losing four in a row. Same goes to Kansas State, who has lost five of six and is hanging on by a thread. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State continues to move up; they are truly the turnaround story of the season after starting 0-6 in the Big XII and now winning nine of their last ten. Miami is also on the rise, up to an 8 seed after four wins in a row, including big ones against Virginia and Duke. On the bubble, TCU finally drops out after losing five in a row. Wake Forest flips once again; who knows what will end up happening with them. And Tennessee is out after losing to Vandy and South Carolina. Replacing them is Providence (making their first appearance all season after a huge four game win streak against tough competition), Marquette (back in for now), and Illinois State (of course). 

1 seeds: We have a change! Two weeks ago I said the old four would hold "barring any late stumbles." Well right on cue, Baylor has lost three of their last four, and falls down to a 2 seed, making way for North Carolina, a team that is very much getting hot at the right time. What is hilarious about this setup is that gloriously NIT-bound Indiana now has wins over two different 1 seeds, but still will not be in the tournament (more on that later). Finally, Gonzaga lost! Other people have probably covered the shocking nature of the Zags defeat better than I could, but they had a 98.6% chance of beating BYU and finishing undefeated, and they blew it. They still manage to stay on the 1 line, though.

Big Ten: The struggles of Wisconsin and Northwestern have already been mentioned, but Maryland is struggling as well. After losing three in a row, they are down to an 8 seed. Minnesota continues to confuse people as their win streak climbs to seven and their seed climbs to a 6. Purdue and Michigan State hold steady this week, and Michigan inches their way up to a 9 after their big win over Purdue. No one else really looks to have a chance, although Illinois could make some noise if they can beat Michigan State and make a Big Ten Tournament run. Indiana's loss to Iowa pretty much sealed the deal for their path back to the NIT. As for a much better team that will not be going to the NIT...

Michigan: Two more wins for the Wolverines, including their biggest win of the year from a resume standpoint, move them almost certainly off the bubble and safely in the tournament. This is a massive accomplishment if you go back and look at some of the graphs from earlier in the season when things were looking pretty bleak. Speaking of graphs...


That's all that's left. Michigan has a 51.6% chance of finishing 10-8, a 27.7% chance of finishing 11-7, and a 20.7% chance of finishing 9-9. That is an amazing turn around, and a great time to be figuring things out. With only two games left, though this graph doesn't really mean much and should be taken with caution. Although it is most likely to win one of their next two, that doesn't mean if Michigan were to beat Northwestern on Wednesday, we should expect them to lose to Nebraska this weekend. If they beat the Wildcats, the graph flips to 63% for 11-7. If they lose, the 10-8 bar goes up to 63%. Such is the nature of finishing the season with two games where both teams have a solid chance of winning. By the time of my next article, the regular season will be finished, and we'll be looking towards the Big Ten Tournament, and moving closer to my final bracket projection. 


Monday, February 20, 2017

Bracket Projection: 2/20

Three years ago, my roommate and I stumbled upon an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, watching about 15 seconds of it before switching to something else. In those seconds, we watched a tiny guy receive a pass absurdly far from the basket, before the announcers declared, "oh he might shoot from there." He did, shooting with painfully bad form, and of course, the shot went in. Sorry the GIF doesn't continuously loop, I'm still a little new at this whole blogging thing. If you want to watch it multiple times, you'll have to reload the page.



Many things were bizarre about this: 1. The fact that he shot from 30 feet away with terrible form, 2. The fact that it went in, and 3. The fact that the announcers were completely unfazed by this entire series of events. To only watch that bit of the game out of context turned this player, Phil Forte, into somewhat of a cult hero in our world. Three years later, we were excited to find out the man is still in college and is the all-time leader in three pointers for the Cowboys. We always joked that the only way this fairytale could end is with Michigan and Oklahoma State playing in a first round 7-10 matchup in the NCAA Tournament. And the reason I'm telling you this long and obscure story is because when I ran the bracket this week, lo and behold, look at where those two teams are:


NEW YORK KANSAS CITY SAN JOSE MEMPHIS
1 Villanova Kansas Gonzaga Baylor
2 Oregon Kentucky North Carolina Louisville
3 Duke Florida St. Florida Arizona
4 West Virginia Virginia Butler Cincinnati
5 Purdue Saint Mary's SMU UCLA
6 Xavier Creighton Notre Dame Wisconsin
7 Maryland Oklahoma St. Minnesota South Carolina
8 Iowa St. Northwestern VCU Dayton
9 Wichita St. Arkansas Virginia Tech USC
10 Miami FL Michigan California Michigan St.
11 Kansas St. Illinois St. TCU Tennessee
11 Marquette Seton Hall
12 Nevada UT Arlington UNC Wilmington Middle Tennessee
13 Princeton Vermont Monmouth Akron
14 Bucknell Valparaiso East Tennessee St. Belmont
15 UNC Asheville Cal St. Bakersfield Florida Gulf Coast North Dakota St.
16 Mount St. Mary's North Dakota UC Irvine Texas Southern
16 North Carolina Central New Orleans

We can only hope that magical matchup holds through the end of the year. Anyways, let's take a closer look at the bracket:

Biggest Movers: The purple Big XII teams are in a bit of a slide, as TCU has lost three straight and Kansas St. has lost three of their last four. Both drop down to 11 seeds. Wake Forest has lost two in a row and Syracuse has lost three straight, so both of those teams drop back out of the tournament. Taking their place once again is the always back-and-forth Illinois State, and Marquette, who is now hanging on by a thread.

1 seeds: They are the same. Gonzaga will finish undefeated (97%).

Big Ten: Michigan's big win over Wisconsin moves both of those teams up and down one seed, respectively, as Wisconsin is now a 6 and Michigan is a 10. Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota, and Michigan State all hold steady, and Northwestern drops down to an 8 after their loss to Maryland. Indiana would have to win out to have a shot (something they have a 2.1% chance of doing), and Ohio State is all but eliminated, barring a magical Big Ten Tournament run.

Michigan: This week the Wolverines got one of their biggest wins of the year at home against Wisconsin. They then fell last night on the road in overtime to Minnesota. While fans obviously would've liked to see the team win both games, they have still helped their cause quite a bit, as the graph suggests:


They have a 38.4% chance of going 9-9, a 36.5% chance of going 10-8 or better, and a 25.1% chance of going 10-8 or worse. If you feel like things hang pretty precariously right now, you are correct. This week Michigan plays at Rutgers and comes home to face Purdue. The Rutgers game is obviously a must-win, as the Scarlet Knights are by far the worst team in the conference. Purdue, on the other hand, is currently the best team in the conference, winners of 5 straight, and they will provide significant matchup problems for the Wolverines. Despite that, Kenpom still sees the game as a coin flip at Crisler. That game isn't an absolute must-win, but doing so would make the last two road games quite a bit less stressful. When we return next week, we'll be facing down the final week of the regular season, and the bracket will finally be starting to solidify.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Bracket Projection: 2/13

Well would you look at that, we have an actual bracket post on an actual Monday. With Michigan in it! This week the Selection Committee did something they've never done before, which is release the top 16 teams in the field if the tournament were to start right now. That is helpful in knowing what resume aspects the committee values, but as you know, the tournament doesn't start right now, so while my top 16 is still very similar to what the committee released, I didn't just blindly place their top 16 into my bracket, because mine still does a tiny bit of projection. One other note about this week's field: we encountered a logjam with the 1-8-9 part of the bracket. With so many Big XII teams with those seeds, this bracket shows potential for second round matchups between teams that played each other twice in the regular season, something the committee likes to avoid. I'm not sure how they tackle situations like these, and my bracket is scored by seeds and not by specific matchups, so I'm just going to leave it as is and let you see where my seeds currently stand. I've rambled enough in this section, so let's just look at the bracket:


NEW YORK SAN JOSE MEMPHIS KANSAS CITY
1 Villanova Gonzaga Baylor Kansas
2 Oregon North Carolina Kentucky Louisville
3 Virginia Florida Florida State Arizona
4 West Virginia UCLA Butler Duke
5 Purdue Cincinnati Wisconsin Creighton
6 Saint Mary's Notre Dame Xavier SMU
7 South Carolina Maryland Minnesota Northwestern
8 Iowa St. Oklahoma St. USC Dayton
9 VCU Virginia Tech TCU Kansas St.
10 Michigan St. Arkansas Miami FL Wichita St.
11 Wake Forest California Tennessee Seton Hall
11 Michigan Syracuse
12 Boise St. UT Arlington UNC Wilmington Middle Tennessee
13 Akron Vermont Monmouth Valparaiso
14 Bucknell Princeton New Mexico St. Belmont
15 UNC Asheville East Tennessee St. Florida Gulf Coast North Dakota St.
16 New Orleans UC Irvine Weber St. Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's North Carolina Central

Biggest Movers: Florida is the only team that takes a big jump after they blew out Kentucky and haven't lost since January. Meanwhile, a lot of movement on the bubble took place this week. Illinois State drops out as the Missouri Valley still can't figure out if it is sending one or two teams this year. Clemson is in free fall at 3-9 in the ACC; it's amazing they stayed in the field this long. Marquette fell to Butler and Georgetown this week as their chances grow slimmer, and Indiana is replaced by Michigan after the Wolverines' big win at Assembly Hall. The other newcomers are the always mysterious Wake Forest and first-timers Tennessee and Syracuse, who have both been slowly creeping up the rankings the past few weeks.

1 seeds: Kansas retakes their spot on the 1 line after beating Kansas State and Texas Tech. I still think Louisville is very good, but these four have held their positions for most of the season and will probably keep them, barring any late stumbles. Meanwhile, it's safe to say Gonzaga will finish the regular season undefeated. After beating Saint Mary's in the only mildly difficult game left on their schedule, their chance of a perfect record jumped all the way to 95.6%. 

Big Ten: The big story of the committee's top 16 was the fact that zero Big Ten teams were in it. That actually matters more to the Big Ten teams on the bubble, because it appears the committee doesn't value the conference very highly this year, which is definitely something to keep an eye on. So Wisconsin and Purdue are now both 5 seeds after Wisconsin's loss to Northwestern, and Maryland, Minnesota, and Northwestern are all still jammed on the 7 line. It will be interesting to see if and how those three teams move down the stretch. Farther down on the bubble, three of the conference's most historic programs are still fighting for their tournament lives. Michigan improved their stock the most this week after beating fellow bubble teams Michigan State and Indiana in impressive and encouraging fashion. The Wolverines now hold on for dear life as one of the last four in. Michigan State somehow weathers the 29-point loss to their rival and stays as a 10. Indiana, meanwhile, drops out, essentially ceding their spot to Michigan, for now. 

Michigan: Michigan's two big wins this week do a whole lot of good for their resume right now. And from a non-analytical standpoint, we can say the team has picked a good time to start playing some of their best basketball of the season. There's still quite a bit of work left to be done though, as the quite symmetrical win probability graph indicates:


Michigan has 6 games remaining, and the graph shows they will most likely go 3-3 over than stretch. Other than Rutgers, every game is between 37%-60% win probability, so near coin-flip games. They definitely need to win three of them, and probably four to be safer. They will then have another shot or two to beat a good team in the Big Ten Tournament like they did last year. It's going to be a stressful home stretch, but if the team continues to play the way they did this week, it will be an exciting stretch.