Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bracket Projection: 1/30

Blog notes: My wi-fi was out four days, so I haven't gotten around to writing about Purdue yet. That'll come later this week. Also I'll be going to Allstate Arena next Tuesday for the Northwestern game, so expect a bracket post on Monday with no analysis, followed by some sort of follow up post Wednesday or Thursday. For now, back to your regularly scheduled bracket post:

1 Virginia Villanova Duke Purdue
2 Auburn Clemson Kansas Xavier
3 Oklahoma Michigan St. Arizona North Carolina
4 Cincinnati Texas Tech Kentucky Tennessee
5 Rhode Island Wichita St. Seton Hall West Virginia
6 Florida Creighton TCU Ohio St.
7 Nevada Arizona St. Miami FL Gonzaga
8 Michigan Florida St. Saint Mary's Louisville
9 Arkansas Alabama Butler Texas
10 USC Providence Texas A&M Syracuse
11 Marquette Boise St. SMU Houston
11 North Carolina St. Kansas St.
12 Loyola Chicago New Mexico St. Buffalo Middle Tennessee
13 Louisiana Lafayette Vermont East Tennessee St. South Dakota St.
14 Murray St. Bucknell UC Santa Barbara Northeastern
15 Montana Iona Northern Kentucky Wagner
16 Florida Gulf Coast Princeton Stephen F. Austin North Carolina A&T
16 Winthrop Texas Southern

This would be a hilarious bracket in terms of preseason expectations, considering Duke, Kansas, Arizona, and Kentucky are all in the same region. That probably wouldn't happen because I do think ticket sales and ratings play a bigger role than the committee likes to admit, but that is where the teams fall at this moment. 

What's up with the SEC? The conference known for football is vastly improved this year, currently holding onto 7 tournament spots where they usually only send 3-5. There are as many as 9 or 10 SEC teams battling for tournament position right now, but the most surprising one to me by far is Auburn. They're 19-2 on the year, have risen from the 50s to the top 10 on Kenpom, and look like the runaway favorite to win the SEC, which would make them the first non-Kentucky/Florida team to do so since LSU nine years ago. Will the Tigers hold on to their lofty position as a 2 seed? They get Kentucky at home and travel to Florida down the stretch, but other than that they have very few tricky games and could finish with an impressive resume.

Michigan holds steady on the 8 line. For the fifth straight week, Michigan finds themselves in a winnable 8-9 matchup with the winner facing a tough 1 seed. This is starting to feel a lot like 2011, where Michigan annihilated Tennessee in the first round before losing a nail-biter to an absolutely loaded Duke team. Let's check in with the graphs after the Purdue loss and the Northwestern win:

I'm not sure why Kenpom still predicts Michigan at 11-7 when his own probabilities show 12-6 much more likely. Michigan is now at an 89% chance of finishing 11-7 or better. However, five of the seven remaining games are between 44 and 61%, so there's still quite a bit of swing to the schedule. Saturday's game against Minnesota is one of the ones not in that range, so that's kind of a must-win as far as holding position goes. There's also Big Ten tournament seeding on the line from here on out, as Michigan looks to be in a battle with Nebraska for the last double bye. They need to finish in sole possession of fourth to get that, since Nebraska owns the tiebreaker there. It's something to keep an eye on as the calendar turns to February.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bracket Projection: 1/23

Rivalry week, apparently. Check out those 8-9 matchups this week. Texas A&M-Texas and Florida-Florida State first round matchups would certainly be fun. Other than that, I don't think you'll be too surprised by anything. Let's take a look and then I'll cover the updates from yesterday:

1 Villanova Duke Virginia Purdue
2 Clemson Xavier Kansas North Carolina
3 Auburn Oklahoma Arizona West Virginia
4 Texas Tech Michigan St. Cincinnati Tennessee
5 Ohio St. Kentucky Seton Hall Wichita St.
6 TCU Arizona St. Rhode Island Nevada
7 Creighton Louisville Miami FL Gonzaga
8 Michigan Saint Mary's Texas A&M Florida
9 Arkansas Butler Texas Florida St.
10 Syracuse Missouri Marquette Alabama
11 USC Boise St. SMU Notre Dame
11 Providence UCLA
12 Louisiana Lafayette Western Kentucky New Mexico St. Buffalo
13 South Dakota St. East Tennessee St. Vermont Loyola Chicago
14 Stephen F. Austin Murray St. Northeastern Northern Kentucky
15 UC Santa Barbara Montana Bucknell Canisius
16 Princeton Texas Southern Winthrop Florida Gulf Coast
16 Wagner North Carolina A&T

Virginia Tech beating North Carolina was about the only notable thing that happened yesterday, and even that you can pretty much ignore because UNC was borderline 1 seed going into the week, so the loss reaffirms them as a 2 right now. 

No more Maryland. Yeah, and that was before they lost to Indiana last night. The Big Ten is down to four teams as predicted earlier this year. However, Ohio State continues to rise like crazy, and that could continue as they legitimately compete to win the Big Ten. It's a crazy year.

Clemson continues to rise. Here's another weird one you may have noticed. The Clemson Tigers have been steadily climbing all year long and are all the way up to a 2 seed with a whopping 10 wins over the RPI top 100. Personally, I would be surprised if the ACC ends up with four of the top 8 teams on the S-curve, but crazier things have happened. They have a huge matchup with Virginia tonight, so by the time you actually are reading this, things could have changed.

Michigan had an eventful week. Since we last met, Michigan won a crazy one against Maryland, got run off the court in Lincoln, and did the normal thing you do when you play Rutgers. That combination of events makes the graph look like this:

We've shifted back to 11-7 but with a favorable skew: still a 70.5% chance of finishing 11-7 or better. Obviously a win Thursday against Purdue would work wonders toward the season outlook. I'll be making the trek down to Mackey to watch the game, so hopefully I'm treated to an exciting game. I'll be writing a post on my trip as I did when I went to Madison, so keep an eye out for that sometime at the end of the week. 

Now I've got an Oklahoma-Kansas game going on in the background that I'd like to pay more attention to so I'm going to close my computer and watch that. You should too. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bracket Projection: 1/16

What I missed. Due to the adult-like nature of my schedule these days, I've gotten into the habit of preparing all the data to make a bracket on Monday and then actually making it on Tuesday. So I think these posts are basically all going to have to include a list of notable events that happened between the data and the bracket. First the bracket, then the games I missed:

1 Duke Virginia Villanova Purdue
2 West Virginia Kansas North Carolina Oklahoma
3 Xavier Michigan St. Texas Tech Wichita St.
4 Kentucky Seton Hall Auburn Clemson
5 Arizona Tennessee Arizona St. Cincinnati
6 Arkansas TCU Creighton Miami FL
7 Nevada Ohio St. Texas A&M Gonzaga
8 Florida Michigan Florida St. Butler
9 Rhode Island Missouri Texas Notre Dame
10 UCLA Marquette Saint Mary's Louisville
11 Boise St. Syracuse Maryland Georgia
11 Houston Baylor
12 Missouri St. New Mexico St. Buffalo Western Kentucky
13 South Dakota St. Vermont East Tennessee St. Towson
14 Stephen F. Austin Murray St. UC Davis Louisiana Lafayette
15 Northern Kentucky Iona Bucknell Florida Gulf Coast
16 Radford Montana Princeton Texas Southern
16 Hampton Robert Morris

Yesterday Kansas beat West Virginia, Florida State lost to Boston College, and of course Michigan beat Maryland. But if you're Michigan, you wouldn't be too upset with the draw shown here. Missouri is weak and Virginia, while always formidable, has a recent history of struggling in the tournament, and could be a team Michigan exploits. I'd certainly take this draw, but they're probably more like a 7 now after the week they just had.

It's probably time to talk about Purdue. Yeah, would you look at that: Purdue suddenly accomplishes what Michigan State couldn't the last few weeks and climbs to the 1 line. In reality, the top three overall seeds are rock solid right now and Purdue, Oklahoma, and North Carolina are all extremely close, but my choice went to the Boilermakers after looking at their impressive resume. They currently have wins over Louisville, Arizona, Michigan, Butler, Marquette, Maryland and Minnesota, and their only 2 losses are both to tournament teams. With a corps of seniors, a consistent style of play, and a very winnable conference, the Boilermakers could hang on to their current position. I'll be at Mackey for their rematch with Michigan next week, so I'll be hoping Michigan makes their path to a 1 a bit more difficult.

Speaking of Michigan. Yeah, what a week. Since we spoke last, Michigan took the aforementioned Boilermakers to the brink, ran Sparty off their home floor, and won a wacky first half slog turned second half barnburner against Maryland. Apparently that's only enough to raise them one seed, but they're moving up right now and I expect that to continue with an easier slate this week against Nebraska and Rutgers. I tweeted the win probability graph yesterday but I'll throw it in here again since it looks so nice:

The Wolverines have won 9 of their last 10. Let's keep the wins coming. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bracket Projection: 1/9

A new #1 overall emerges. Yep, the Cavaliers have shot up the rankings after their quick 3-0 start in the ACC that included a big win over former 1 seed North Carolina. You won't see anything too crazy in this bracket, but take a minute to admire that 1-8-9 pairing in the West regional:

1 Virginia Duke Villanova Xavier
2 Michigan St. Oklahoma Kansas North Carolina
3 West Virginia Purdue Arizona St. Texas Tech
4 Arizona Seton Hall Clemson Wichita St.
5 Kentucky TCU Arkansas Texas A&M
6 Cincinnati Miami FL Auburn Tennessee
7 Nevada Florida St. Creighton Gonzaga
8 Missouri Butler Notre Dame Rhode Island
9 Ohio St. Michigan Florida Texas
10 Louisville SMU Saint Mary's Alabama
11 Syracuse UCLA Maryland Boise St.
11 St. Bonaventure Minnesota
12 Missouri St. New Mexico St. Western Kentucky Buffalo
13 South Dakota St. Lipscomb Vermont Louisiana Lafayette
14 Murray St. UC Santa Barbara Towson East Tennessee St.
15 Iona Northern Kentucky Radford Stephen F. Austin
16 Texas Southern Montana Penn Bucknell
16 Hampton Robert Morris

Beilein vs. LaVall with the winner facing Duke? Sign me up. Remember last year when I correctly had the Michigan-Oklahoma State matchup way back in like February and made a big deal about how cool that would be? Yeah let's hope the wish list continues.

Michigan State gets stomped and somehow moves up a seed. Yeah, RPI is stupid. Oh well. They shouldn't have even been that low last week, so this is better I guess.

How many tournament teams will the Big Ten get? Somehow there are six Big Ten teams in this week's bracket thanks to the emergence of the Buckeyes. However, my gut tells me Maryland without Justin Jackson and Minnesota without Reggie Lynch will not end up in the tournament. As it stands, they're both hanging on by a thread. I'm thinking four Big Ten teams is more likely, barring any unforeseen craziness. Michigan is still a 9 seed but they're just barely in the territory I would consider "safely in" rather than a bubble team. But the margin for error is slim with so much dead weight in the conference. Let's check the graph:

11-7 should do the trick, it's just a matter of whether they can get a big win or two to move up the seed lines. Tonight's game against Purdue scares me as a 41% chance of victory. There would be no shame in losing to a top 5 Purdue team, but it would make the graph look a bit dicier. Assuming the trip to East Lansing this weekend isn't going to go particularly well, it seems going 0-2 this week would only put more pressure on the sea of 70ish% games remaining against the middle tiers of the Big Ten. The path to March Madness is laid out for them; they just have to take advantage.

And one final note on the Big XII. It's awesome, friends. The ACC will have the most tournament teams like they always do, but if you don't think the Big XII is the best conference, you're doing yourself a disservice. As you may know, I've hitched myself to the Oklahoma bandwagon, as they personify the traits laid out in my guide to finding a second favorite team impeccably. Kansas is Kansas and will probably win the conference like they always do, but somehow the current projected conference winner is Texas Tech of all teams. And of course West Virginia is quite formidable as well, and nine of the ten teams are in the Kenpom top 60. Do yourself a favor and watch some conference games (when they're not frustratingly buried on ESPNU); you won't regret it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bracket Projection: 1/3

This is a terrible bracket. I mean, some parts of it are fine, I guess. So why do I even bother posting it? Let's take a gander at what makes it so terrible, and then spend the rest of this post discussing the shortcomings of the selection committee.

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

First of all, I made this while watching the games yesterday, and by the time I had finished it, Texas Tech had beaten Kansas, Auburn had beaten Tennessee, Mississippi State had beaten Arkansas, Florida had beaten Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt had beaten Alabama. All of these games could have a significant impact on seeding, and they aren't accounted for. But that's not really my biggest complaint. As you gaze upon this garbage bracket for a few seconds you'll see what I'm talking about. What's that? The 3 seed in the Midwest region? The Spartans of Michigan State? That's right, the number 1 team in the AP Poll, the Sagarin ratings, and the number 2 team in Kenpom is like, 12th in my system, which has nothing to do with my own personal biases and everything to do with our good friend, the Rating Percentage Index. Let's dive a little deeper:

An RPI refresher: The formula for RPI is 

0.25*(winning %) + 0.5*(opponents' winning %) + 0.25*(opponents' opponents' winning %)

If that seems a bit silly, you are correct. 75% of your RPI is strength of schedule, and 25% of it is completely out of your control, because you can't control who your opponents schedule in their nonconference season. Strength of schedule is very important of course, but there's a certain category of teams that will absolutely kill your RPI no matter how badly you beat them, and the Big Ten loves to schedule them for some reason.

On December 17th, Michigan State had the #3 RPI in the country. Since then, they've won 4 games by an average score of 107-59. This has caused their RPI to fall to 28th. Seriously. After beating #312 Houston Baptist, they fell to 5th. #142 Long Beach State knocked them to 9th. #340 Cleveland State dropped them to 13th, and the final win over #172 Savannah State caused them to fall all the way to 27th. That is insane, and completely contradicts the product we've seen on the court. If any of this reminds you of this hilariously incorrect Graham Couch article, it's because last season Michigan State's RPI was actually the only thing keeping them in the field for a while, and the schedule he proposes in the article would have completely bombed them out of the tournament. 

So what does it mean? For Michigan State? Probably nothing. They're still a 1 seed on Bracket Matrix, but more recent projections have included more 2s and 3s, including obviously the one you see here. But every year this kills the Big Ten in seeding, with the notable exception of last year's Minnesota. The Gophers expertly scheduled teams projected to have winning records in below-average-but-not-atrocious conferences, such as Louisiana Lafayette, UT Arlington, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State. This paid off for them in seeding, where they got a totally undeserved 5 seed that they used to embarrass themselves against Middle Tennessee. The previous year, Michigan State got screwed over by Oregon, who used the same scheduling tactics as Minnesota to sneak their way into a 1 seed. The Spartans were stuck with a totally undeserved 2 seed that they used to...also embarrass themselves against Middle Tennessee.

John Beilein has been asked about this, as he is one of the biggest offenders of terrible scheduling strategy. He claims (in more diplomatic terms) that he'd rather play a game that's an automatic win and use that time work on his own scheme, rather than running the risk of being upset by a mid-level team. That's totally fair, but stressful when you have anything resembling a bubble team, and annoying when it prevents your great team from getting the seed it deserves. The only solution would be for the selection committee to rely less heavily on such an archaic and clearly flawed ratings system, but a bracketologist can only dream.