Last night we had a special episode of the Steel City Blitz podcast to talk about the current status of the NCAA Tournament bracket and look ahead to the final month before Selection Sunday. After the Selection Committee revealed their Top 16 last week, I adjusted my bracket projections to better align with the priorities they displayed in selecting and seeding the first four lines. Here is an in-depth breakdown of today’s bracket update.
A few terms for reference on the team data:
RPI – Ratings Percentage Index, used by the NCAA to rank the quality of a team. All referenced rankings (i.e. “Top 50” reflect the Top 50 teams in the RPI).
SOS – Strength of Schedule
NCSOS – Non-Conference Strength of Schedule
RBM – Results-Based Metrics (This averages a team’s rankings in the RPI, KPI, Strength of Victory)
PBM – Predictive-Based Metrics (This averages a team’s rankings in the BPI, KenPom, Sagarin)
Metric Avg – The average of RPM and PBM
Additionally, the NCAA Team Sheets this year break out teams by “Tiers” rather than the tradition 1-50, 50-100, etc.
Tier 1: Home vs 1-30, Neutral vs 1-50, Away vs 1-75
Tier 2: Home vs 31-75, Neutral vs 51-100, Away vs 76-135
Tier 3: Home vs 76-160, Neutral vs 101-200, Away vs 136-240
Tier 4: Home vs 161-351, Neutral vs 201-351, Away vs 241-351
Virginia remains atop the bracket in the same place the Committee put the Hoos. Virginia has the best computer rankings, has the second-most Tier 1 wins, and is the only team in the nation with fewer than 3 losses. Villanova lost to Providence this week, but since that game was on the road it did not heavily impact their resume (Providence was actually the best team that Villanova lost to this season). Therefore, while there could be a case to flip Xavier and Villanova, I kept the Wildcats ahead of the Musketeers. Xavier also has a lower metric average, which kept them in third. The two teams face off in the marquee game of the weekend on Saturday, so we will get an answer to the ordering of the Big East very soon. Auburn jumps up to the #4 overall seed by virtue of Purdue taking their worst loss of the season and Auburn scoring a solid victory over Kentucky.
Purdue slides back onto the #2 seed line after losing to Wisconsin and is replaced by Auburn. I kept Purdue ahead of Kansas because of Kansas’ Tier 3 loss and Purdue having a better metric average. That said, Kansas’ 9 Tier 1 victories are the most in the nation and the Jayhawks are certainly in the conversation for a #1 seed. Cincinnati’s loss to Houston was their second-toughest road game of the season and did not significantly harm their profile. The Bearcats still have a better metric average and more Tier 1+2 wins than anyone seeded below them.
Clemson lost in overtime to Florida State this week, which slid the Tigers down two spots behind Texas Tech and Michigan State. Clemson has not lost a game outside of Tier 1 this season and has a big showdown with Duke this weekend. The results-based metrics like Clemson a lot more than the predictive metrics. The Tigers stayed ahead of North Carolina because of UNC’s Tier 3 loss (at home against Wofford).
You may be a bit surprised to see Ohio State and Oklahoma remain on the 4-seed line after both took losses this week. That being said, bracketology is about the overall body of work, not adjusting based on most recent results. For Oklahoma, they lost at Texas Tech (their toughest road opponent so far this year) which did not significantly harm their resume. The Sooners have not lost to a Tier 3 or 4 opponent this year, and have more Tier 1 wins than anyone other than West Virginia and Alabama (who both have a Tier 3 loss) and Florida State (who has more Tier 2 losses and worse computer numbers). For Ohio State, losing on the road to Penn State was a Tier 1 defeat and did not alter their overall profile by much. Tennessee and Arizona held serve this week with Arizona picking up a quality win at Arizona State.
West Virginia has a better metric average and the same number of Tier 1 wins as Oklahoma, but the Mountaineers have a Tier 3 loss that kept them out of the Top 4 seeds. Gonzaga is adored by the predictive metrics and has not lost a game outside of Tiers 1 and 2. Kentucky has been up and down all season but still have avoided a truly bad defeat. Their 10 Tier 1+2 wins are the second-most of any remaining team. Rhode Island might be the hardest team in the entire field to seed. The Rams have run through the A-10 (which is having a down year) but also played an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule and have a solid metric average. However, Rhode Island only has 1 Tier 1 victory (a neutral-court win over Seton Hall). All of their losses have come against Tier 1 opponents and the lack of a single questionable defeat lifts the Rams into this spot.
The commonality here is that these teams all have metric averages under 30. Wichita State has the highest metric average of the remaining teams but their Tier 3 loss and only 2 Tier 1 wins drags their profile down a bit. Texas A&M has been hot and cold all season but it is hard to argue with their 5 wins against Tier 1 opponents. Creighton has been quietly consistent in the middle of the Big East pack. The Jays don’t have a signature victory but their only potentially questionable defeat was a neutral court loss to Baylor (who has played their way into the Tournament conversation). TCU might be a bit of a surprise to find this high, but Jamie Dixon’s team has been solid and has good computer numbers while only taking one questionable loss – a defeat at Vanderbilt in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
The middle of the SEC pack is a bit muddled as many of these teams have gone around and beaten each other. As such, they all have a number of good wins against Tier 1 teams but also more Tier 2 losses than other teams in the middle of the tournament field. Missouri tops the list of 7-seeds because of their 10 Tier 1+2 wins (the most of any remaining team) and the fact that they have only lost twice outside of Tier 1. Florida State came next because of their lack of a Tier 3 loss. Alabama and Florida were essentially even for me, but I gave the Crimson Tide the edge based on their 16-point win in Gainesville.
The difference between the 7-seeds and the 8-seeds is where we will find out if the Committee cares more about quality (Tier 1) wins or mediocre (Tier 2) losses. Miami and Michigan are two teams that are hard to gauge – they have played well at times but neither has the volume of quality wins to necessitate being ranked higher. Michigan’s lack of a bad loss and good metric average gave them a slight elevation over some teams with more Tier 1 wins that fell below them. Butler took their worst loss of the season this week by losing at home to Georgetown. Another factor for these four teams is that none of them challenged themselves in non-conference play.
You could look at these teams as being the last “should be safe” teams in teh field. Below this, teams certainly fall into the bubble conversation. Texas’ computer numbers are a bit of a cause for concern, but their 5 Tier 1 victories elevate the Longhorns to this position. Louisville is a fascinating case. They have a wide disparity between the results metrics and the predictive metrics and have not taken a loss outside the Top 50 this season. That said, they also are very slim on quality wins and have the fewest Tier 1+2 wins of any team in this projection. Louisville has a challenging schedule down the stretch so the Cardinals will have plenty of opportunities to add quality wins.
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, chances are you didn’t stay up to watch the end of the St. Mary’s-San Francisco game last night. The Gaels took their second-worst loss of the season and fell to the Dons. St. Mary’s, Nevada, and NC State are the first teams to appear in this projection with more than one Tier 3 loss. Nevada beat Boise State this week to take control of the Mountain West Conference and the Wolfpack should win the regular season conference title. Seton Hall has a neutral court victory over Texas Tech but also have two bad losses to Georgetown and Rutgers that are keeping the Pirates from feeling secure.
Baylor played their way into the field over the last few weeks by beating Kansas at home then scoring an overtime road win at Texas. Baylor has not lost to a team outside the Top 100. The Bears have a wide disparity between their results-based metrics and predictive-based metrics but their lack of bad losses and adding two Tier 1 wins in a week has put them in the top half of the bubble. Houston just dealt Cincinnati their first conference loss of the season on Thursday night. The Cougars are a quality team with very good computer numbers. However, their resume is held back by two things – a bad non-conference schedule and bad losses to Tulane and Drexel. Houston is the first team to appear in the bracket with a Tier 4 loss.
Last 4 In/First 4 Out
Another year, another bubble picture featuring Providence. The Friars have the best wins of any team in the bubble picture with victories over Xavier and Villanova. They also have some of the worst losses with a 17-point home loss to DePaul and a road loss to UMass. Providence’s resume has 3 bad losses which is enough to keep them on the bubble right now, despite their two great wins. They also have a wide split between the results-based metrics and the predictive metrics. With the number of quality teams in the Big 12, there are countless opportunities for good wins, and Kansas State has two of them with victories over Oklahoma and TCU. Additionally, the Wildcats have only lost once outside of Tier 1 (to #87 Tulsa). Their atrocious non-conference schedule is the biggest red flag on this resume. Washington is an incredibly difficult team to gauge. The Huskies beat Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and beat Arizona at home, but also have lost to Oregon, Oregon State, and Utah (2 of those by double-digits) in the past week. Washington has the widest disparity between results-based metrics and predictive metrics of any team in the bubble picture. The results-based metrics say this should be a bubble team while the predictive ones say it shouldn’t even be an NIT team. The Huskies have two Tier 3 losses and a bizarre 1-4 record against Tier 2, but also played a tough non-conference schedule and have 2 better wins than anyone sitting outside the field. UCLA was the Last Team In thanks in part to their road win over Arizona. The Bruins computer numbers are middle-of-the-pack and they only have 1 loss outside of Tiers 1+2. They also have 2 better wins than any of the first few teams out.
Over the last decade, it has been incredibly rare for a major conference team with an RPI in the 40s to miss the NCAA Tournament. Yet the first two teams that I have outside the field both have RPIs in the 40s. Simply put, Syracuse and USC don’t have enough quality wins to put them ahead of any of the teams in the field. Syracuse has only 1 Tier 1 win (a road win at Louisville) while every At-Large team in my projection has at least 2 Tier 1 wins. Syracuse has strong computer numbers and a decent metric average, which should keep them in the bubble conversation. Road losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are hindrances on Syracuse’s resume. USC, like Syracuse, has strong computer numbers and a decent enough metric average. There is simply nothing exciting about the Trojans’ resume. Their best wins are on neutral courts over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State (two of the better mid-major teams) but they don’t have any victories against teams I projected to be in the At-Large field. USC also has a terrible home loss to Princeton (RPI 203). While a major conference team with an RPI in the 40s has rarely missed, no team with an RPI over 75 has received an At-Large bid in the last decade. Given that, it may be surprising to see LSU this close to the field. Their RPI, Non-Conference Schedule, and metric averages are the biggest things holding the Tigers back right now. Put another way, their win portfolio (5 Tier 1 wins, 7 Tier 1+2 wins, only 1 Tier 3 loss) is great, but it is the computer numbers that are dragging them down. LSU swept both Texas A&M and Arkansas and has wins over Houston and Michigan. Utah is creeping into the bubble picture after a road win at Washington this week. The Utes have been decent since two bad losses to BYU and UNLV early in the season. They do not have a great metric average and played a bad non-conference schedule so the Utes will need to avoid bad losses down the stretch in order to stay in the bubble conversation.
Next 4 Out
St. Bonaventure has a big opportunity for a signature win this weekend against conference leader Rhode Island. The Bonnies played a good non-conference schedule, which should help their cause. Four losses to teams with triple-digit RPIs (#100 Davidson, #130 Dayton, #184 St Joe’s, #161 Niagara) are holding the Bonnies back. Marquette hit a bit of a slump lately and doesn’t have a marquee victory on their resume. Their best wins are a sweep of Seton Hall and a win at Providence. However, the Golden Eagles have not lost to a team ranked outside the Top 70, which certainly helps their cause. Marquette’s non-conference schedule was not great and could be called into question. Speaking of non-conference schedules, Mississippi State played one of the worst slates in the nation. Additionally, the Bulldogs have been home court heroes with quality wins over Missouri, Alabama, and Arkansas all coming in Starkville. They are just 1-7 on the road with losses to Vanderbilt (RPI 114) and Ole Miss (RPI 120). Boise State is my highest-ranked team without a Tier 1 victory. The Broncos placement here is partially due to their metric average being better than all of the remaining teams and the fact that they have not lost to a team in Tier 3 or 4.
I considered 15 other teams when conducting the latest bracket update. These teams are (for now) outside of the bubble picture and would have to do quite a bit over the next three weeks to play themselves into the conversation. For some teams like Georgia, Temple, Notre Dame, and Western Kentucky, they simply have too many bad losses for me to consider them as viable bubble candidates at this point in time. Teams like Boston College, UCF, Oregon, Iowa State, St. John’s, Colorado, and South Carolina have either too many losses or too high of a metric average to warrant consideration on the bubble. The Big Ten is down this year, so opportunities for quality wins are sparse. That being said, for Nebraska and Maryland to have no Tier 1 wins is a deal-breaker. Oklahoma State and Penn State both played bad non-conference schedules. As mentioned in the “First Four Out” discussion – Oklahoma State has RPI history working against them and needs to improve their computer numbers to be considered. Penn State completed a season sweep of Ohio State to give them two quality wins, but home losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota are an albatross on the Lions’ resume.
To see how the bracket shakes out when all of these teams plus the 22 other conference champions are slotted into regions and matchups, check out the Steel City Blitz Bracketology page!