Sunday, February 24, 2019

Bubble Banter Feb 24

Introducing a new feature: Bubble Banter.™*

Here's a look at the ever-shifting projected pre-conference-tourney bubble, courtesy of the all-seeing but somewhat vision-impaired T-Ranketology Algorithm:

First, some overall thoughts.

The bubble is thin. I don't think anyone beyond Butler here is a real threat to get an at large, and the teams below Temple (Furman, San Fran, and Butler) are pretty questionable too. If you look at the "Bid%" column, which is the ultimately score that I sort this by, historically only one team since 2008 has made the tourney with less than a score of 10 (Iona in 2012) and only four others have made with less than a 20.

But the bubble will tighten up during conference tourney season. There are number of conferences that are fairly likely to produce "bid thieves" this year. Here are current auto-bids toward the bottom of at-large portion of the bracket:

The top four (maybe five) teams there are all probably in the dance no matter what, and each has a pretty good shot of not winning their conference tournament. Belmont and Lipscomb would be long shots as an at-large, but stranger things have happened.

All told, at the end of the day there's a decent chance that we get a very well defined bubble—similar to what we had in 2017, where there was near unanimous consensus on who should be in, and only one or two other teams with even a borderline case.

Now for some team-by-team.

TEXAS. This is a team that is not widely considered on the bubble—they're currently the top 9-seed at Bracket Matrix—and the consensus is probably correct. They have four Q1 wins, three of which are "Q1-A." That's why they've got that "19" in the resumé column. So why are they here? Because they are 15-12 and T-Rank is currently projecting them to finish the regular season 17-14. Teams less than 4 games over .500 do not generally make the tournament. Their remaining schedule is very difficult, so they could play well and still finish with a very ugly record. Something to keep an eye on.

CLEMSON. Clemson has the opposite problem, in that they are 1-9 in Q1 games. They've only got one sure opportunity left, a home game versus UNC. A win there would be very helpful. But if they lose that and win the other three (at Pitt, at Notre Dame, Syracuse) they figure to be sweating it out.

MINNESOTA. The Big 10 has six locks, one likely (Ohio St.), and Minnesota on the bubble. Minnesota has a pick em game at Rutgers today and another toss up coming up at Northwestern. I think they'll need to win both of those, or else they'll need to upset Purdue or Maryland.

UCF. Tacko Fall's crew just throttled SMU by 47 today. It will be interesting to see how much this gooses their already respectable NET ranking. This is another team that lacks the committee's prized Q1 wins (0-3), but they've got at least three more opportunities: at Houston, Cincinnati, and at Temple. One win there keeps them in the discussion, two should be enough.

UTAH ST. The Aggies have two huge home games coming up: San Diego St. and Nevada. They're on the bubble now because T-Rank pegs them as a slight home favorite over Nevada. If they lose that game, they'll probably need to win the MWC tourney.

SETON HALL. A prototypical high-major bubble team. They're buoyed by three Q1 ones, including two super wins over Kentucky and at Maryland. But T-Rank projects them to finish 17-13, which means winning just one out of their last three (at Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova). Beating the Hoyas and winning one of those big home games would go a long way.

SAINT MARY'S. This is another team that is not on the consensus radar because they lack Q1 wins. And they are below the actual realistic cut-line (accounting for a couple of bid thieves) even here. But they show up in this projection because they still have a home game against Gonzaga on the calendar. They'll have to win that game or beat Gonzaga in the WCC tourney to get in.

ALABAMA. Another major conference team with a barely-acceptable overall record. T-Rank is projecting them at 18-13, and this is not a team that can likely get in with less than 19 overall wins. They do have home Q1 opportunities coming up against LSU and Auburn, so they can forge their own path with wins there.

ARIZONA STATE. The algorithm is lower than the consensus here (Bracket Matrix has ASU on the 11 line, above five other at-larges). ASU has some terrible losses, and it's always hard to know how those will be factored in, if at all. But what's really driving this projection is that they finish the season with three losable road games (Oregon, Oregon St., Arizona) that won't give them any juice for winning. If they win two of those, they'll probably be in good shape.

TEMPLE. Another team just above the consensus cutline with some tough games ahead: at Memphis, at UConn, and UCF. The Memphis game would be a Q1 win, so it is a crucial high leverage tossup.

FURMAN / SAN FRANCISCO. I don't think these teams have a realistic case any longer as an at-large because their resumés cannot withstand a conference tourney loss and they have no opportunities to improve it. Theoretically USF could beat Gonzaga in the WCC semis and lose to Saint Mary's in the finals, but that still probably wouldn't cut it.

BUTLER / CREIGHTON / GEORGETOWN / NEBRASKA. These are the dregs of the theoretical bubble. They're here because they have the opportunities to improve their resumés with big wins. But they probably won't.

Update: On reflection, probably too harsh on Butler here. Main problem with their profile, per the algorithm, is the projected record of 17-14. That's presuming a 2-2 finish against Providence, at Villanova, Xavier, and at Providence. If they go 3-1, even losing to Villanova, they'd probably still be a live heading into MSG.

*It is extremely likely this will be the only installment of Bubble Banter™ so please cherish it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The "new" quadrant: Q1-A

The NCAA recently added some additional information to their "team sheets": splitting so-called "Quadrant 1" and "Quadrant "2" into two subcategories each (Q1-A, Q1-B; Q2-A, Q2-B). E.g., here's the relevant portion of Wisconsin' current team sheet from a few days ago:

As you may or may not be able to make out, the "Q1" games are split up, with the top (Q1-A) games defined as top 15 at home, top 25 neutral, and top 40 on the road.

In practice, the committee has always privileged these kind of extremely good wins, sometimes to a practically incalculable degree. The best recent example of this is Arizona St. making the tournament last year, almost exclusively on the strength of their road win over Kansas.

For this reason, my "T-Ranketology" algorithms in their various forms have always given a lot of extra credit for these kinds of wins. Specifically, in calculating the "resume" rank that goes into the current algorithm, the Q1-A wins are worth 20 points, Q1-B wins are worth 10 points, and Q2 wins are worth just 3 points. These values were derived experimentally to get the best match I could to actual committee decision-making, and I think it does a pretty decent job.

So it is definitely true, as David Worlock tweeted, that breaking out this new category of Q1-A wins is a way to show that beating Duke at home is better than beating Furman on the road (both of which would fall into the broader Quadrant 1 bucket). But I will be interested to see how much this is used by the committee this year. In particular, this could be used as a way to delegitimize mid-major resumés.

Before the quadrant system was formalized last year, the team sheets denoted top-50 wins and top-100 wins. Experimentally, it also put a lot of extra weight on top-25 wins. In each of these categories, it didn't matter where the games were played. The quadrant system attempted to fix that, by essentially redefining the top 50 category to include road games against the top 75. That was a positive development for non-power teams because it gave them more realistic opportunities to amass these top-quality wins.

But there was resistance in the trenches, I believe. Specifically, people just don't *believe* that beating a team like Furman on the road should be anywhere near the same category as beating Duke at home (much less on the road). Expanding the top category to include more games against the likes of a Furman made that top category seem over-inclusive. Even a bit ridiculous.

The formal delineation of a new top category is a response to this unease, I think. The very best category of wins—the ones the committee really tends to care about—shouldn't include games against the likes of Furman.

We'll see how this plays out. Right now, the "Nitty Gritty" breakdown doesn't include the Q1-A as a separate column, so the impact may remain limited. But if we see the committee using Q1-A records as justification for their seedings in the top 16 dry run coming up, I think we'll know that behind the scenes they are the real wins to care about.

In any event, I've broken out Q1-A wins on my site pretty much wherever the quadrants are mentions. Enjoy.