Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Bracket Projection: 12/26

Brackets are back! I don't even want to spend three paragraphs explaining anything before we jump right in. Here is the first bracket projection of the 2017-18 season:

1 Duke Villanova Michigan St. North Carolina
2 Purdue Texas A&M Arizona St. Xavier
3 TCU Oklahoma Kansas Tennessee
4 Arizona Virginia Seton Hall West Virginia
5 Arkansas Wichita St. Kentucky Miami FL
6 Gonzaga Florida St. Clemson Texas Tech
7 Missouri Louisville Auburn Michigan
8 Creighton Cincinnati Syracuse Alabama
9 Temple Rhode Island St. John's Texas
10 Notre Dame Baylor Nevada Florida
11 St. Bonaventure Butler Minnesota Maryland
11 SMU Virginia Tech
12 UT Arlington Missouri St. New Mexico St. Middle Tennessee
13 Lipscomb Towson Stephen F. Austin Vermont
14 Murray St. Ball St. South Dakota UC Santa Barbara
15 Bucknell Northern Kentucky Iona East Tennessee St.
16 UNC Asheville St. Francis PA Idaho Texas Southern
16 Hampton Princeton

A few annual reminders...

The regional groupings mean nothing. But they're fun! And of course Michigan would get matched up against Florida, their eternal opponent in all postseason events.

It's not a full-on future projection, but it's also not the best current projection. The fatal flaw of these projections is that two of the rankings used in the formula contradict each other: RPI can only measure what you've done so far, making it an "if the season ended today" prediction. But Kenpom is a predictive ranking, making it a "what it will look like at the end of the season" prediction. Put those together in the middle of the season, and you get a bracket that answers neither question fully. But as the season goes on, those concepts will slowly converge and the bracket will start to make more sense.

And now for a few of my own personal thoughts I had while putting this together that may be of interest:

The Big Ten is hanging on by a thread. If you've watched more than five seconds of Big Ten basketball this season, you've probably heard an announcer declare this a "down year" for the conference, and they would not be wrong. On one hand, this probably won't be a year where the conference champion is a 4 seed as has been the case in recent years, but I definitely expect fewer Big Ten teams selected than what we've gotten used to. Michigan is currently the third highest seeded team in the conference as a 7, and Minnesota and Maryland just barely squeaked into the play-in games. The cutoff in the conference will not be as generous as it has been in past years due to more than a few bad nonconference losses.

3 out of 4 1 seeds are probably locks. Duke has a tough conference schedule ahead of them, but their lofty RPI rating from an impressive nonconference schedule will hold them up as long as they don't completely collapse. And Villanova and Michigan State are sitting right where they want to as they head into conference play, where both of them are heavy favorites to roll through their respective conferences. I fully expect those three teams to be on the 1 line all season long. The final spot will be an open question all season, as the current contenders--North Carolina, Xavier, and Arizona State--were all very close in my system. 

Seeds 4-10 are just a mess. There are a lot of huge gaps between my projections and those currently on Bracket Matrix, which is to be expected this early in the season. A team like Notre Dame, for example, is listed anywhere from a 5 seed to out of the tournament. So keep an eye on all the movement through the middle of the bracket as the season progresses, and I'll be watching for important games that can have a big effect on seeding.

Michigan is at the high end right now. The Matrix has the Wolverines as a 9, with an average seeding of 8.58. My system sees them as a 7-8 borderline right now who got the lucky bounce as teams were being slotted into place on the final S-curve. Let's check in on their win probability graph for the Big Ten season:
I'm not sure how many Big Ten wins it would take to feel really comfortable about making the field. Usually it's 10, but is it 11 this year? We'll have to find out. Michigan has a 59% chance of going 10-8 or better, and a 37.4% chance of going 11-7 or better. They open conference play with a coin-flip game on the road against Iowa before traveling back to Crisler to face Illinois. A 2-0 start (46.7% chance of happening) would be a huge step in the right direction before their first matchup with the Boilermakers, and would allow fans confidence in the team's tournament prospects to grow.

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