The NFL season is winding down, with the Super Bowl taking place this Sunday. As the NFL season ends, we’ll be shifting our focus towards covering NFL Draft prospects. In addition to that, I’ll once again be covering college basketball, particularly focusing on bracketology. Last year, I wrote a number of “primer” posts explaining how bracketology works and some recent history on how RPI corresponds to a team’s chances to make the NCAA Tournament.
New in 2019: The NET Ranking
This season, the NCAA has unveiled the new NET Rankings that have replaced the RPI. The NET formula is a secret, so amateur bracket-projectors (like myself) are at the mercy of the NCAA releasing new rankings in order to update our bracket predictions.
We do not know how the selection committee will use this new ranking system, but it is safe to assume that it will be similar to the RPI. By that, I mean that it will be a framing metric to organize teams, but other factors will still play a bigger role in a team’s selection. Good wins will still be the most important factor for a team’s selection. Bad losses will still drag down the resumes of prospective tournament teams. Non-conference strength of schedule will continue to be a point of discussion.
Get to Know: Team Sheets
The primary tool used by the Selection Committee in reviewing a team’s “resume” are Team Sheets. Like last year, the Team Sheets have games sorted by “Quadrants” depending on the NET Ranking of an opposing team and the game location. Here is a sample of Pitt’s current Team Sheet:
Pitt currently has one good win (their home victory over Louisville). In the past, the Selection Committee has been willing to overlook a large number of Quad 1 losses if the team also has good wins and a limited number of bad losses. For Pitt at this point in time, they have only one truly bad loss (at home against Niagara, in Quad 4). Their road loss to West Virginia is not a bad loss as it falls in Quad 2. This may sound surprising, but at this point Pitt should be considered a bubble team. There are currently a number of teams that have just 1 good (Quad 1) victory and only a handful of decent (Quad 2) wins along with minimal bad losses. As we can see from the team sheet, Pitt will have a number of opportunities over the next six weeks to add good wins to their resume and keep themselves in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament.
Remember: Joe Lunardi Isn’t All-Knowing
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a word of caution in this post. As the calendar ticks down towards Selection Sunday, one of the phrases you’ll hear is “this win puts them in” or “this loss knocks them out.” While wins and losses down the stretch tend to get over-stated, the Committee will look at a team’s overall body of work when considering them for one of the 36 At-Large spots.
However, when it comes down to the teams on the bubble, you can find a compelling reason to keep many teams out of the tournament. Therefore, when any bracketologist, whether it’s Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, or someone else says “this is one of the last 4 in” they are basing it on a judgement call that they personally are making. This is one of the beauties of the Committee. Each Committee member has their own preferences. One member might think that big wins are more important than bad losses. Another might care more about a team proving they can win away from their home gym and care more about road/neutral court wins. When the committee comes together to vote, each of these interests gets a voice, but is not predominant in the decision-making. However, when a singular bracketologist (whether it’s Joe, Jerry or me sitting at home with an Excel sheet) looks at two resumes side-by-side, you’re inevitably going to have your own personal biases about what you think is most important.
This is where your personal biases come into play and why it is difficult to accurately predict what the Committee is going to do. The folks at The Bracket Project keep track of bracket predictions from a number of bracketologists (their last Bracket Matrix contained over 100 bracket predictions). They also have been “scoring” bracket predictions for the last 12 years. Joe Lunardi currently ranks 68th out of 127 bracketologists who have been in the Matrix over the last 5 years. So when someone on ESPN says that Joe Lunardi is hardly ever wrong, you should probably laugh. The issue with Lunardi is that also being employed by ESPN, his job is not just to predict the bracket but to add to the “drama” of the season (and thus bring in more ratings). Therefore, ESPN uses Lunardi’s rankings to promote every game as a make-or-break game for a team, whether it be to stay “in” the tournament, to play their way in, or to fall off the 1-seed line. In reality, as I mentioned before, the Committee is more focused on the overall “body of work.”
During the season, I’ll be updating my bracket projection page. This will be a static link, so feel free to bookmark it and check back periodically for updates. I will usually update twice a week during the regular season and more often as we get into Conference Tournaments in the beginning of March. If you have questions about your team’s placement or resume, feel free to leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @thesteelersnat.
What To Watch This Week
There are a number of big games this week. If you’re just dipping your toes into the college hoops season, here are some of the high-profile matchups.
Virginia at NC State (7pm, ESPN2) – Virginia is one of the top teams in the country while NC State’s resume is thin on good wins.
Kansas at Texas (7pm, ESPN) – Both teams are in my current bracket projection.
Lipscomb at Liberty (7pm, ESPN+) – The top two teams in the Atlantic Sun square off.
Mississippi St at Alabama (8:30pm, SECN) – Two teams on the right side of the bubble fighting to stay there.
Ohio State at Michigan (9pm, ESPN2) – Michigan spent some time at #1 this season while the Buckeyes are in the middle of the Big 10 pack.
Pitt at Clemson (9pm, ESPNU) – Two teams on the bottom end of the bubble looking to add to their resumes.
Ole Miss at Florida (6:30pm, SECN) – Two middle of the pack SEC teams that are both in the Tournament conversation.
Marquette at Butler (6:30pm, FS1) – Marquette might be the best team in the Big East this year while Butler is currently on the bubble.
Stony Brook at UMBC (7pm, ESPN+) – The America East is a three-team race this year between these two and Vermont.
St John’s at Creighton (8:30pm, FS1) – Two bubble teams from the middle of the Big East pack
Temple at Houston (7pm, ESPN2) – Houston is the first team to 20 wins this year while Temple is on the bubble looking for a big win.
Arizona at Arizona St (9pm, ESPN2) – The Pac 12’s best hopes for bubble teams face off.
Gonzaga at BYU (11pm, ESPN2) – The Zags have been dominant this year but BYU has been a thorn in their side for years, particularly in Provo.