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:

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:

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:

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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bracket Projection: 1/31 - Updated

I'm back. Yesterday I just threw up the bracket with no explanations or anything, so today we're revisiting that same bracket and doing the usual talk about it that you're used to seeing. Let's re-post that bracket for the sake of convenience:

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

Biggest Movers: I cannot figure out the Indiana Hoosiers. They lost both of their games this week, and are somehow up to an 8 seed. Something tells me the chance that I correctly predict their seed come selection Sunday is very small. Meanwhile Pittsburgh and Georgia drop out: I can't believe I even had the Panthers in this long. They have lost seven in a row and project to finish 4-14 in the ACC after a 12-3 start that included wins over Marquette, Maryland, and Virginia. Georgia meanwhile is 4-5 in the SEC and just on the outside of the bubble. The Missouri Valley goes back to having an at-large team, as Wichita State makes it back in, and finally our Wolverines take a hold of that final spot in the field after their big win over Indiana. More on them later.

1 seeds: We have a change here for the first time since December. Kentucky lost two games in a row and drops down to a 2 seed, making room for Gonzaga to jump back up to a 1. The Zags remain undefeated, with a 47.1% chance of finishing the job. Meanwhile, Villanova and Kansas both lost tough road games this week: Villanova to Marquette, and Kansas to West Virginia. Despite that, they hang on to their spots on the 1 line without too many teams immediately at their heels.

Big Ten: More clarity once again here. Minnesota and Maryland flip spots, as the two teams seem to be on opposite trajectories right now. Northwestern is ranked in the AP poll now, and as their record improves, they move up to a 7 seed. It's looking more and more likely this could finally be the year in Evanston. Indiana makes no sense and we already talked about them. Michigan State drops a bit, probably because their Minnesota wins are starting to look less impressive. And of course Michigan appears in one of the play-in games. Speaking of which...

Michigan: The Wolverines still have their work cut out for them. I said last week they had to at least go 1-1 against Indiana and Michigan State, which they did. That causes the win probability graph to look like this:
That's better than last week, but still not great. There's 26.7% chance they go 9-9, a 44.4% chance they finish below .500, and a 28.9% they finish above .500. I'm still operating on the assumption that 10-8 will probably get them in, and 9-9 would require some magic in the conference tournament.

This week they have a midweek bye and play Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes have been struggling, so this should hopefully be a game Michigan can lock down before focusing on the rematch with the Spartans three days later. We'll be back here on Monday to check on the outlook during that stretch of the schedule.