Saturday, February 11, 2017

Simulation Saturday Preview!!

Edited: Crap, I forgot Louisville.

Today, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, the NCAA will give us an early look at how the top four seed lines would look if the season ended today.  I call this "Simulation Saturday" (as opposed to the actual "Selection Sunday") and you should too. I'm getting a trademark, probably.

It will be kind of interesting to see how this shakes out. Without the benefit of full conference seasons and conference tournaments, things are really up in the air, and this is obviously a pointless made-for-tv exercise. But that's true for all sporting events.

The 1-Seeds

Right now the clear consensus among bracketeers is that Kansas and Baylor are both deserving of a 1-seed. But I think there's also a general consensus that the Committee will probably not actually award two 1-seeds to the Big 12 on Selection Sunday (unless there's absolutely no other choice). Instead, it seems likely that the leader of the ACC—whoever that turns out to be—will be given the fourth one seed (presuming that Gonzaga and Villanova are the other two).

Right now North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia, and Florida State could all make a case for being that team. (And Duke, I guess...) But things haven't shaken themselves out yet, and at this moment picking any one of those teams for the 1-line would really be an exercise in predicting which one of them comes out on top in the ACC.

So for Simulation Saturday, will the committee grant the 1-seeds based on current resumes, or will it bend its processes a bit so that this ends up looking more like the final product?

I'm predicting they will go with current resumes. The main rationale put out for this exercise is to provide a little "transparency" into the selection process, so I think they'll want to come out armed with their "record against RPI top 50" and "conference affiliation is never mentioned in that room" factoids. Accordingly, I predict the 1 seeds will be:


The 2-seeds

One of the reasons I think they'll stick to the script on 1-seeds is that there's no clear leader for elevation among the potential 2-seeds. 

You've got the four ACC teams mentioned above, but right now they haven't really differentiated themselves. 

There are three Pac-12 teams arguably in contention—Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA—but all of them lack the magical "top 50 RPI wins" that the committee loves so damn much. (More on this later.) 

Wisconsin is sitting at No. 7 in the AP poll, so you might think they'd be in the mix. But they also lack the magical top 50 wins, and will likely be punished for it. 

Two teams from the SEC, Florida and Kentucky, should make the top 16, but they're both long shots for even the two line at this point. 

One dark horse is Butler, which is up there with Baylor for most impressive resume. For example, they are an incredible 12-3 in tournament quality tests (similar to Kenpom "Category A" games), which is three more wins of that type than anyone else. Unfortunately for them, this doesn't quite translate into the committee's stupid "magic top 50 RPI" wins, where they are a mere 7-2. The committee won't pay much attention to what are actually very impressive wins like at Marquette, at Georgetown, at Utah, vs. Indiana (neutral). Butler also has lost two of three, and it has two "bad losses" (at St. John's and at Indiana State) that are always hard to evaluate. Still, Butler's 7-2 against the top 50 is pretty good, and I think there's a chance they show up higher than people are thinking.

Another contender purely on the numbers is Creighton. But they've been on somewhat of a slide recently, corresponding to their loss of Maurice Watson for the season. I think they'll be dropped at least for purposes of this exercise and used as a talking point.

Although it would be defensible, I don't think the committee is going to come out with four ACC teams on the two-line. But North Carolina and Florida State are probably locks for a 2. Louisville is only 3-5 against the RPI top 50, so I think they'll be demoted.  So, after all that, here's my guess:

North Carolina
Florida State

That final spot on the 2-line is really hard. I think the main contenders are Florida, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oregon. (With a possible "popularity contest" slot for UCLA.) Arizona and Oregon are only in contention because it seems like the Pac-12 should get a 2, but their "resumes" (as traditionally defined by the committee, anyway) are lacking. Florida has only 4 top 50 RPI wins, but it is No. 7 in the RPI and boast the 6th hardest non-conference SOS (though this is somewhat juiced by "neutral court" games played around Florida while their arena was being renovated). So I'm just taking a wild stab that Florida will be elevated to allow for the talking point of rewarding a tough non-conference schedule.

The 3-Seeds

Let's talk about the Pac-12. It has three really good teams: Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA. It has one other likely tourney team, USC, one bubble team, Cal, and one or two other okay teams (Utah and Colorado?) The rest of the conference is sort of like a mid-major division. As a result, the Big Three are lacking in quality wins, or even opportunities for quality wins. They are also at risk for some "bad losses" when they play the mid-major division on the road.

I'm seeing UCLA on the two-line in some places, and I'm a bit mystified. They are 3-3 against the magic top 50, 21st overall in the raw RPI, with the 280th ranked non-conference schedule. You can obviously make an argument that UCLA is a really good team, but not using objective metrics normally cited by the committee. I'm predicting they'll be demoted and used as a talking point.

Arizona and Oregon are slightly better than UCLA on the top-50 metric, and vastly better on non-con SOS. I think they'll be here on the three line, but could really see either of them anywhere between 2 and 4.


The 4-Seeds

The Big Ten has a problem similar to the Pac-12's, in that there are few opportunities for magic top-50 wins. The bottom of the conference is much better than the bottom of the Pac-12, but that typically doesn't matter much to the committee. So Wisconsin, with its 2-3 record against the top-50 and 246th rated non-con SOS, will likely be relegated to the 4-line for now—at best. Wisconsin might also suffer from application of the "eye test" given its recent inability to dominate inferior opponents.

Besides the teams already mentioned but not placed (UCLA, Creighton, Wisconsin), other possible contenders for the four-line are Cincinnati (great record, but lacking magic top-50 wins), West Virginia (great team, lacking some of the stuff the committee likes), Duke, and Purdue. Possibly Xavier, I guess. Can make a case for any of these teams, obviously, but here's my guess:


I'm betting Duke will get a Coach K bonus, and that UCLA will get a Hollywood bonus.

Edited to add: in my morning haze, I forgot to put Louisville in there on the three line when I demoted them from the two. Of the original fours, I'm demoting Cincinnati just cuz.

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