NCAA Tournament Bracket – 2/20
A full slate of weekend games (156 games on Saturday alone) on Bracket Buster weekend (lots of non-conference games, and a huge shakeup of the national landscape) answered a lot of questions, raised more questions, and set us up for a fantastic 3 week stretch run.
It also coincided with the NCAA’s mock bracket projection, a dress rehearsal of the real committee for media types. A number of insightful articles have been written about them over the weekend, a couple of which I have linked, including one excellent one railing against the pervasiveness of the RPI in all the numbers the NCAA presents to the committee, but discussing the mechanics and thoroughness of the process. Others prefer the simplicity of the RPI. All four are excellent reads if you’re into the workings of the committee or would like to learn more about different measures available to compare teams.
At the top of the bracket, Michigan State continued their strong run towards a number one seed by taking an outright lead in the Big Ten with a win at Purdue, while Ohio State fell to Michigan. Huge clashes between Kansas and Missouri and UNC and Duke are on tap for this week and next, and should help clear up which teams will end up on the #1 and #2 seed lines. For now, Kentucky and Syracuse appear to be in great shape for favorable geographic locations in the Regionals as the top two overall seeds.
Bracketbusters also allowed a few teams to stake their claim to tournament bids and left others wondering what could have been. The biggest winners from the weekend: Wichita State and Murray State. Murray State ran all over St Mary’s, giving them a third big win on their resume and all but guaranteeing a bid should they lose in the Ohio Valley tournament. Wichita State, meanwhile, turned in yet another dominating performance at Davidson, and may have played themselves up into a Sweet 16 seed.
The Colonial Athletic Association also proved to be a big winner. The top 6 teams in the conference standings all won over the weekend, including Drexel winning their 16th straight game at Cleveland State and VCU defeating Northern Iowa to keep their at-large bids alive.
The tough luck team of Bracketbuster Weekend: The Beach. Long Beach State went right to the wire at Creighton, losing on a game winning shot with 0.3 seconds remaining. This was the 8th tough road game for the veteran squad, which has shown that it can take on anyone anywhere. What they haven’t done is win most of these road encounters, with the lone exception a win at then ranked Pittsburgh (to go with a neutral site win over then top-10 Xavier). However, ask Kansas, UNC, Louisville, or San Diego State if they want to see this team again on a neutral floor, and I don’t think you’ll get many takers. The 7th most experienced team in the country, and still undefeated in the Big West conference, they are the type of team that can turn these close road losses into neutral court wins come March. But first, they’ll have to get there.
In important Big Ten bubble contests, Illinois was blown out by last place Nebraska, who went on an incomprehensible 43-7 run to end the first half and begin the second. If Bruce Weber’s seat wasn’t hot before that game (and it was), it’s scorching now. Meanwhile, Purdue and Northwestern are hanging on the good side of the bubble. Bill Carmody’s Northwestern squad attempts to make its first ever NCAA Tournament, and has a chance for a marquee win when it hosts Michigan on Tuesday night.
In the Big East, Seton Hall, South Florida, and Cincinnati notched important wins in the early part of the week, while Notre Dame and Marquette moved towards high seeds in the bracket. Connecticut appeared to be going the wrong direction fast after getting run off their home floor by Marquette. But as I type this, Shabazz Napier just buried a 35 footer with 0.7 seconds remaining in overtime to beat Villanova and grab a monumentally important win for the defending champs.
Big 12 – Texas faltered at Oklahoma State, while Kansas State got a hugely important road win at Baylor. Both sit well on the good side of the bubble, but a Texas squad ranked much higher in efficiency based ranking systems than in RPI or human polls can put itself in a great position by beating that same Baylor team that has struggled in recent weeks.
ACC – NC State had a disastrous week, blowing a 20 point lead over Duke on Thursday, and getting soundly beaten by Florida State on Saturday. They are the first team out of the bracket today and will look back wistfully on that wasted opportunity against Duke if they end up on the wrong side of the bubble in 3 weeks.
SEC – Vandy got an important win at Georgia on Sunday and can finally breathe a little easier with their tournament standing. Alabama and Mississippi State, not so much, after Alabama suspended Tony Mitchell for the remainder of the season and Mississippi State dropped yet another conference game, this time to conference bottom dweller Auburn. As for Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, and Tennessee, time is quickly running out if it hasn’t already.
In the Pac 12, California kept rolling along with wins over Oregon and Oregon State and appears safe for now. Washington and Arizona, far from safe. Washington completed a season sweep of Arizona this weekend, however, and moved back to the good side of the bubble. Both of those teams, as well as Oregon and Colorado, will need to win the games they’re supposed to and then some if they want to play in the big tournament. Oregon’s win at Stanford last night was a good step forward.
Gonzaga, Memphis, and Southern Miss did anything but help their respective causes, all losing conference games to teams in the bottom half of their respective conferences on Saturday.
Finally, New Mexico grabbed total control of the MWC with wins over San Diego State and UNLV this week, while Temple and St Louis continued to separate themselves from the rest of the Atlantic 10. Xavier and St Joseph’s are trying to pull themselves along with the leaders, while everyone else has fallen off the pack.
Who will step into the bracket with so many bubble teams seemingly struggling to make their case? Here’s how the bracket has shaken out through Sunday’s action:
|2||Duke||Ohio St.||North Carolina||Michigan St.|
|4||Florida St.||Wichita St.||Wisconsin||Florida|
|6||California||Vanderbilt||Notre Dame||Nevada Las Vegas|
|7||Murray St.||Creighton||St. Louis||Gonzaga|
|8||St. Mary’s||San Diego St.||Memphis||Virginia|
|9||Iowa St.||Alabama||Harvard||West Virginia|
|10||Connecticut||Southern Mississippi||Seton Hall||Kansas St.|
|11||Texas||Purdue||Brigham Young||Miami FL|
|12||Miss St./Cincy||Long Beach St.||Washington||Northwestern|
|15||Davidson||Cleveland St.||Wagner||Weber St.|
|16||Vermont||NC Asheville||Bucknell||Texas Arlington|
|Norfolk St.||Mississippi Valley St.|
|Next Four||Second Four Out||In Trouble|
|North Carolina St.||Virginia Commonwealth||Colorado St.|
I remind everyone that I take the approach of projecting what will happen on Selection Sunday, rather than trying to create the bracket as it would look today. This means that teams will have to exceed or fall short of expectations the rest of the way to move up or down, and doing what is expected would likely be enough to stay exactly in place. Of course, the closer we get, the closer the two converge and I believe the two methods would provide similar results at this point.
Here is the ranking scale that got us there with all remaining teams under consideration. I have tried to calculate the percentage chance of a team in a similar spot getting an at-large bid at this point, but since it’s on a top to bottom sliding scale, there are imperfections in these calculations. That said, they look pretty accurate at this point, so even if two or three teams look a little bit off, I feel comfortable publishing those probabilities at this point. The main issue is that the team ratings assume they live up to expectations, so for many of the smaller conference leaders, those odds incorporate their chances of taking care of business in conference tournaments. Should a team such as Belmont lose, they would likely drop in the ratings, so their chance of an at-large bid should they need it is likely lower than the listed odds. I will limit my list to those teams with a greater than 5% chance of earning an at-large bid at this point and going forward. Note that Arizona is the last team in and NC State the first team out.
|21||Nevada Las Vegas||40.08||96.91%|
|31||San Diego St.||59.99||80.29%|
|47||Long Beach St.||80.77||54.63%|
|54||North Carolina St.||86.02||45.60%|
|70||South Dakota St.||100.01||22.66%|
|72||New Mexico St.||104.19||17.56%|
In addition, the conference breakout is included below. The cutoff between virtual locks and teams just “comfortably in” as defined by a better than 98% chance of getting in is between Indiana and Temple above. The next cutoff, which denotes which teams should feel comfortable with a greater than 75% chance of receiving a tournament bid occurs between Alabama and Harvard. Of course Harvard should win the Ivy league’s automatic bid as regular season champion and won’t require an at-large bid. “Lost Bids” denote those reserved for teams that could get into the NCAA tournament by winning their conference tournament that would not otherwise get an at-large bid, thus shrinking the number of available at-large bids for other teams.
|Current||Proj||Lock/Close||Proj. In||Bubble In||Bubble Out||In Contention|