Sunday, February 26, 2017

W-2 BP68

It's that time of year again! The first conference tournament games kick off tomorrow.

Probably the biggest bracket discussion yesterday was the fate of Gonzaga and the top Pac-12 teams. Gonzaga dominated the WCC in such a way that I don't think a single loss to BYU suddenly drops them from the 1 seed line. There is simply not an obvious replacement, be it a second ACC team or a Pac-12 team. The biggest complication for them is probably if Louisville beats North Carolina in the ACC title game.

As for the top Pac-12 teams, the media seems oddly confused by why the bracketologists are "down" on UCLA, putting them more in the 3 or 4 seed range than the 1 seed range. The fact that their offense is really good or that "they can beat anybody" is not really an argument for seeding, since their defense is a mess and teams aren't judged by how good they look anyway. The problem for UCLA is that their strength of schedule is so poor. Even with yesterday's huge victory, they still have only 5 RPI Top 50 wins and 11 RPI Top 100 wins. That's basically equivalent to Gonzaga (5 and 10, respectively), and Gonzaga's schedule has been softer than usual this season as well. In comparison, a team like Baylor, despite going just 10-6 in Big 12 play thus far, has 8 RPI Top 50 wins and 14 RPI Top 100 wins. And that is why Baylor is in a better position than UCLA to earn a 2 seed.

Anyway, there was just one at-large change this week, with Rhode Island pulling themselves back in and Kansas State dropping out. There were also two changed auto-bid projections, with Cal State Bakersfield replacing New Mexico St as WAC champion, and Eastern Washington replacing Weber State as Big Sky favorite.

In addition 5 teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Arizona St, UConn, Memphis, Mississippi St, and New Mexico. That leaves just 31 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. NORTH CAROLINA (ACC)
1. GONZAGA (WCC)

2. Louisville
2. KENTUCKY (SEC)
2. Baylor
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

3. Florida
3. Oregon
3. Duke
3. UCLA

4. Florida State
4. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
4. Purdue
4. Butler

5. Virginia
5. CINCINNATI (AAC)
5. West Virginia
5. SMU

6. Minnesota
6. Notre Dame
6. Iowa State
6. Oklahoma State

7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. South Carolina
7. Saint Mary's
7. Creighton

8. Maryland
8. Xavier
8. VCU
8. Miami FL

9. Michigan
9. Arkansas
9. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
9. Michigan State

10. Virginia Tech
10. Northwestern
10. Illinois State
10. USC

11. Syracuse
11. Wake Forest
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
11. Marquette
11. Rhode Island

12. California
12. TCU
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. AKRON (MAC)
13. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
13. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)

14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
14. BELMONT (OVC)
14. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)

15. UNC-ASHEVILLE (BIG SOUTH)
15. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (WAC)
15. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. NORTH DAKOTA ST (SUMMIT)

16. EASTERN WASHINGTON (BIG SKY)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Providence, Seton Hall, Vanderbilt

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Indiana, Kansas State, Georgia, Tennessee

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Illinois, Utah, Alabama, Mississippi, BYU

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, St. John's, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio St, Penn St, Texas Tech, Boise St, Colorado St, Colorado, Stanford, Auburn, Texas A&M

Sunday, February 19, 2017

W-3 BP68

I have to admit that I just haven't had the time to watch as much hoops this week as I normally like to due to work commitments. To that end, I am pre-emptively apologizing for whatever I'm super wrong on this week (I'll just go out on a limb and assume that it's Maryland).

Anyway, one thing that certainly did happen this week is the strengthening for the bubble. I know that we're supposed to say how the bubble is so "weak" every season, but right now it's actually a bit atypically strong. And that led to quite a bit of at-large churn this week. In all, Arkansas, Illinois St, and Michigan moved into to the Field of 68, while Indiana, Rhode Island, and Utah dropped out.

One other change was the top of the ACC, where North Carolina's home game against Louisville on Wednesday makes them the favorites to take the ACC regular season title (and thus the favorites to take the ACC tournament title). As such, they slide up to a projected 1 seed.

In all, 10 teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Arkansas St, La Salle, North Carolina St, Oklahoma, Richmond, Rutgers, Temple, Texas, Tulsa, and Washington St. That leaves just 36 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. GONZAGA (WCC)
1. NORTH CAROLINA (ACC)

2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. Louisville
2. KENTUCKY (SEC)
2. Virginia

3. Baylor
3. Florida
3. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
3. Purdue

4. Duke
4. Oregon
4. CINCINNATI (AAC)
4. UCLA

5. West Virginia
5. Florida State
5. SMU
5. Butler

6. Maryland
6. Notre Dame
6. Oklahoma State
6. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)

7. Saint Mary's
7. Iowa State
7. Minnesota
7. South Carolina

8. Creighton
8. Northwestern
8. VCU
8. Xavier

9. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
9. Michigan State
9. Virginia Tech
9. Miami FL

10. USC
10. Michigan
10. Kansas State
10. California

11. Marquette
11. Arkansas
11. TCU
11. Wake Forest
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)

12. Illinois State
12. Syracuse
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. AKRON (MAC)
13. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

14. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
15. UNC-ASHEVILLE (BIG SOUTH)
15. NORTH DAKOTA ST (SUMMIT)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Rhode Island, Indiana, Utah, Tennessee

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Clemson, Seton Hall, Alabama, Georgia

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Providence, Illinois, Ohio St, Penn St, Texas Tech, Boise St, Stanford, Auburn, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, UConn, Memphis, Pittsburgh, St. Bonaventure, St. John's, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado St, New Mexico, Arizona St, Colorado, Mississippi St, BYU

Sunday, February 12, 2017

W-4 BP68

We're only four weeks from Selection Sunday, and some teams have already played their final home game of the season. It all goes by so fast, doesn't it?

We had our first mid-season "official" bracket yesterday, and though they just listed teams on the Top 4 seed lines I fear that this will grow out over time. The media has already created the pointless "Record vs Top 16 teams" narrative, and anything that gives more television time to college administrators as well as arguing points for media analysts is going to grow.

Regardless, it's important for people to understand that my bracket looks different from the mock bracket because it is a projection. Those two Big 12 teams listed as 1 seeds yesterday? They will have to play once and perhaps twice more, and both are going to pick up more losses, and so in the end I expect only the Big 12 champion to earn a 1 seed.

The real movement this week was around the bubble, which got tougher and tighter. Only Syracuse moved in (replacing Clemson), but a whole lot of the chaff at the bottom were eliminated. In all, 14 teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Boston College, Charleston, Chattanooga, Davidson, DePaul, Fresno St, Georgia Southern, Iona, LSU, St. Joseph's, San Diego St, San Francisco, Washington, and Wyoming. That leaves just 46 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

The only other change to the Field of 68 this week is North Dakota State replacing Fort Wayne as projected Summit League auto-bid winner.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. VIRGINIA (ACC)
1. GONZAGA (WCC)

2. North Carolina
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. KENTUCKY (SEC)

3. Louisville
3. Baylor
3. Florida
3. Purdue

4. Duke
4. CINCINNATI (AAC)
4. West Virginia
4. Oregon

5. UCLA
5. Florida State
5. South Carolina
5. SMU

6. Xavier
6. Butler
6. Notre Dame
6. Maryland

7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Creighton
7. Saint Mary's
7. Oklahoma State

8. Iowa State
8. Minnesota
8. Kansas State
8. VCU

9. Northwestern
9. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
9. Miami FL
9. California

10. Michigan State
10. Wake Forest
10. TCU
10. USC

11. Indiana
11. Virginia Tech
11. Marquette
11. Utah
11. Syracuse
11. Rhode Island

12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. AKRON (MAC)
13. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

14. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
15. UNC-ASHEVILLE (BIG SOUTH)
15. NORTH DAKOTA ST (SUMMIT)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Clemson, Michigan, Illinois St, Arkansas, Tennessee

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Seton Hall, Ohio St, Georgia

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Memphis, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Providence, Illinois, Iowa, Penn St, Texas Tech, Boise St, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, UConn, Temple, Tulsa, North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, St. John's, Nebraska, Rutgers,  Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado St, New Mexico, Arizona St, Colorado, Washington St, Mississippi St, Arkansas St, BYU

Sunday, February 05, 2017

W-5 BP68

It was a tough week for the bubble, and so programs that picked up big wins were able to slide well up the bracket, most notably Oklahoma State. Teams like Minnesota and Kansas State, which seem like dicey bubble teams, are actually in relatively safely at the moment, though obviously they're just a bad loss or two away from trouble again.

In all, three teams moved into the bracket this week: Rhode Island, TCU, and Bucknell. Bucknell is the new Patriot League favorite, replacing Lehigh. The two at-large teams replaced are Arkansas and Michigan, who both fell out of the bracket after brutal losses.

As we're only five weeks from Selection Sunday, the unrealistic bubble teams are sliding off of the Full Bubble and we're starting to get real clarity on which teams will be seriously competing for the final few at-large bids. 9 more teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Eastern Michigan, George Mason, George Washington, Louisiana-Lafayette, Loyola-Chicago, Marshall, North Dakota State, Northeastern, and Ohio. That leaves just 60 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid. Close to 50 more teams will be eliminated over the next five weeks.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. VIRGINIA (ACC)
1. North Carolina

2. GONZAGA (WCC)
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. KENTUCKY (SEC)

3. Louisville
3. Baylor
3. Purdue
3. Florida

4. CINCINNATI (AAC)
4. West Virginia
4. Duke
4. Oregon

5. UCLA
5. Florida State
5. Saint Mary's
5. SMU

6. South Carolina
6. Xavier
6. Butler
6. Maryland

7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Notre Dame
7. Creighton
7. Iowa State

8. Northwestern
8. Kansas State
8. Minnesota
8. Oklahoma State

9. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
9. VCU
9. Michigan State
9. Wake Forest

10. Indiana
10. Virginia Tech
10. Clemson
10. Marquette

11. Miami-Florida
11. California
11. TCU
11. USC
11. Utah
11. Rhode Island

12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. AKRON (MAC)
13. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)

14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
14. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. UNC-ASHEVILLE (BIG SOUTH)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Syracuse, Michigan, Illinois St, Arkansas, Tennessee

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Seton Hall, Ohio St, Texas Tech, Georgia

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
UCF, Memphis, Georgia Tech, North Carolina St, Georgetown, Providence, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn St, Boise St, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi St, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, BYU

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UConn, Temple, Tulsa, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Davidson, La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's, DePaul, St. John's, Rutgers,  Oklahoma, Texas, Charleston, Iona, Colorado St, Fresno St, New Mexico, San Diego St, Wyoming, Arizona St, Colorado, Washington, Washington St, LSU, Chattanooga, Arkansas St, Georgia Southern, San Francisco

Sunday, January 29, 2017

W-6 BP68

Having the Big 12/SEC Challenge in the middle of the season like this is an unquestioned good. I'm happy just for the Kansas/Kentucky game, but the quality non-conference opponents gave a chance for several bubble teams to improve their situations. It helped provide clarity, and also helped Villanova move back to the #1 overall seed in my projected bracket.

The biggest change to the top half of the bracket is Duke dropping precipitously, as the Blue Devils defense has really fallen apart, even with Saturday's comeback win over Wake Forest. Near the bottom of the bracket two at-large spots changed, as VCU and Oklahoma State moved in to replace Rhode Island and TCU.

Three projected auto-bids from one-bid leagues changed this week as well. Valparaiso replaces Oakland as the Horizon favorite, UNC-Asheville replaces Winthrop as the Big South favorite, and Mount St. Mary's replaces LIU as the NEC favorite.

In addition, 7 more teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Harvard, Louisiana Tech, UMass, Missouri, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, and Toledo. That leaves just 69 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. VIRGINIA (ACC)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. GONZAGA (PAC-12)(WCC)

3. Baylor
3. Louisville
3. West Virginia
3. Purdue

4. Duke
4. UCLA
4. CINCINNATI (AAC)
4. Florida

5. Oregon
5. Florida State
5. Saint Mary's
5. SMU

6. Butler
6. Notre Dame
6. South Carolina
6. Xavier

7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Creighton
7. Maryland
7. Iowa State

8. Indiana
8. Kansas State
8. Northwestern
8. Virginia Tech

9. Miami-Florida
9. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
9. Michigan
9. Clemson

10. Marquette
10. Minnesota
10. Utah
10. Wake Forest

11. USC
11. Arkansas
11. Oklahoma State
11. VCU
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)

12. Michigan State
12. California
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. AKRON (MAC)
13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. UNC-ASHEVILLE (BIG SOUTH)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Rhode Island, TCU, Texas Tech, Illinois St, Tennessee

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Syracuse, Seton Hall, Illinois, Ohio St, Georgia, Texas A&M

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
UCF, Memphis, Georgia Tech, North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, Providence, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn St, Boise St, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi St, Vanderbilt, BYU

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UConn, Temple, Tulsa, Boston College, Davidson, George Mason, George Washington, Richmond, St. Joseph's, DePaul, St. John's, Rutgers,  Oklahoma, Texas, Charleston, Northeastern, Marshall, Iona, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Loyola-Chicago, Colorado St, Fresno St, New Mexico, San Diego St, Wyoming, Arizona St, Colorado, Washington, Washington St, LSU, Chattanooga, North Dakota St, Arkansas St, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Francisco

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hard Schedules, Easy Schedules, And Florida State


What does it mean to say that a team has a hard or easy remaining schedule? In the simplest sense, we can measure how difficult the average remaining opponent is. But we can ask a different question: What makes a schedule harder or easier to deal with?

Oh, and why am I only projecting a 4 seed for Florida State when they're 18-2 with 9 RPI Top 50 wins and the BracketMatrix has them as the ACC favorite and a 2 seed?

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The fact is that on Selection Sunday teams are judged on their resumes, but not in a purely objective way. There are biases driven because of the power of the RPI, and due to the fact that it is hard to take home/road into proper account. I've written many times about how the RPI process can be manipulated, with the most thorough piece being this one.

In short, you are rewarded for "quality wins", meaning RPI Top 50 wins, with special bonuses for wins over ranked teams, and with a win over a Top 10 team being a jewel in your crown. Meanwhile, you are punished for "bad losses", with a sliding scale from non-NCAA Tournament teams, RPI 51+, RPI 101+, et cetera.

The problem with the system is that by not taking home/road into account, home games are massively overvalued. Right now, Maryland sits 49th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. And so despite being ranked in the human polls, a home game vs Maryland is equivalent in the Sagarin ratings to a road game vs 10-8 Lehigh, who currently sit 117th. Yet a win vs Maryland is a "quality win" and a loss is no sweat, while a win vs Lehigh means nothing at the same time that a loss to Lehigh would be seen as catastrophic.



So, what are you looking for in your schedule? You want a lot of home games versus teams that would make up "quality wins", and you want to avoid road games vs decent teams unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. As I wrote after last year's brackets were announced, this provides a tremendous penalty and hurdle for mid-majors. But this exists on a smaller scale within major conferences as well. When you're in the ACC you want a lot of shots at home against teams like Louisville and North Carolina, and you sure as hell want to avoid road games in places like the Carrier Dome.

So what about that Florida State schedule remaining? On first glance it seems soft by ACC standards - nothing against Louisville, North Carolina, or Virginia. But instead, 7 of 11 remaining games are on the road, mostly against decent-but-not-likely-tourney teams like Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Pittsburgh. At home they play mostly teams with no upside like NC State and Boston College. Their two remaining chances for Top 25 wins, Notre Dame and Duke, both come on the road.

In other words, as good as Florida State is, there is nearly a 50% chance that they fail to pick up another particularly impressive win in the regular season, while the odds are high that they lose two or three games against the likes of Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.



For example, Florida St has beaten Virginia, Duke, Louisville, and Notre Dame in the last two weeks, yet according to Pomeroy they have just a 29% chance of escaping their next three games unscathed against Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Miami. Under 30 percent despite being favored in every game! If Florida State loses two of three, the media is going to start asking questions about what has "gone wrong" with a team that just beat Virginia and Louisville falling to, say, Georgia Tech and Syracuse. Yet nothing will have changed other than a schedule less conducive to perceived success.

In contrast, check out this piece of Virginia's upcoming schedule.


Here we see teams that would be perceived as massive resume-building victories (Louisville and North Carolina) coming to Charlottesville, where the Cavaliers will likely be favored. And they only have one real "bad loss" land mine in NC State. They have already suffered one of those losses earlier this season (at Pittsburgh, on the road and in overtime, on January 4th).

In other words, Virginia's schedule is built for success, with two great chances for big wins, and few chances to pick up bad losses. Florida State's is the opposite, almost certainly set up to lead to a decline in NCAA Tournament seed. Florida State already had their resume-building stretch, beating Louisville, Duke, and Notre Dame at home, but those games are all behind them. Most likely, they're heading for a decline down the stretch.

And that is why, despite Florida State having a stronger resume than Virginia at the moment, I am projecting a stronger seed on Selection Sunday for the Cavaliers than the Seminoles.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

W-7 BP68

The big theme yesterday were teams starting to grab control of major conferences. Kentucky and Villanova have been well in control of their conferences for a while (Villanova, in particular, after the unfortunate injury to Maurice Watson). But yesterday, Arizona and Wisconsin both grabbed big wins to firmly become favorites to win their conference regular season titles as well.

The Big 12, being the deepest conference in the country, is still tight at the top, though Kansas always seems to find a way to win that. The ACC is the one league that really is a tossup, with North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, and Florida State all firmly in the mix. And, of course, Duke is probably the most talented team in the nation if they can ever get their full roster together (which is the reason I still have them picked as the projected ACC tournament champ below).

The bubble also saw quite a bit of churn this week, with three teams moving into the Field of 68: Marquette, Utah, and Wake Forest. They took the places of the three teams that dropped out: Houston, Texas Tech, and VCU.

We are now in the Full Bubble, and 5 teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Canisius, Green Bay, Oregon St, Tennessee St, and William & Mary. That leaves just 77 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. North Carolina

2. DUKE (ACC)
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Baylor
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

3. Virginia
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. Louisville
3. West Virginia

4. Purdue
4. UCLA
4. Florida State
4. Oregon

5. Butler
5. CINCINNATI (AAC)
5. Notre Dame
5. Xavier

6. Saint Mary's
6. Florida
6. SMU
6. Creighton

7. Iowa State
7. South Carolina
7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Indiana

8. Kansas State
8. Maryland
8. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
8. TCU

9. Virginia Tech
9. Michigan State
9. Clemson
9. Northwestern

10. Miami-Florida
10. Michigan
10. Minnesota
10. Wake Forest

11. Arkansas
11. Marquette
11. Utah
11. USC

12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. Rhode Island
12. California
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. AKRON (MAC)
13. OAKLAND (HORIZON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, VCU, Seton Hall, Oklahoma St, Texas Tech, Illinois St, Georgia

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
UCF, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, Ohio St, Tennessee, Texas A&M

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Memphis, Georgia Tech, North Carolina St, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, Providence, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn St, Oklahoma, Charleston, Valparaiso, Boise St, San Diego St, Arizona St, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi St, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga, BYU

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UConn, Temple, Tulsa, Boston College, Davidson, George Mason, George Washington, UMass, Richmond, St. Joseph's, DePaul, St. John's, Rutgers, Texas, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Harvard, Iona, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Toledo, Loyola-Chicago, Missouri St, Southern Illinois, Colorado St, Fresno St, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Washington St, LSU, Missouri, North Dakota St, Arkansas St, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Francisco

Sunday, January 15, 2017

W-8 BP68

There are always a few weeks every season where it's hard to find 68 teams to fill in the bracket with. For whatever reason it's a bad week for bubble teams, and the bubble just seems awfully soft. This is one of those weeks. There is little stability down in the 11-12 seed range, and expect that area of the bracket to continue to churn.

In the end, two projected at-large bids changed this week. Northwestern and VCU came in while Ohio St and Oklahoma St dropped out. There were also two auto-bid changes, as UC-Irvine is the new Big West favorite (replacing Long Beach St) and LIU is the new NEC favorite (replacing Wagner).

This is also the first week of the "Full Bubble", which I start every year on the first bracket on or after January 15th. The Full Bubble is an exercise in mathematically eliminating teams from at-large contention with each bracket. I start with a zillion of teams, and then each bracket will narrow it down until we just have the Selection Sunday bubble. This year, the Full Bubble starts with 82 teams, and by Selection Sunday we'll be down close to 10.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. DUKE (ACC)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Virginia
2. Baylor

3. West Virginia
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
3. Louisville

4. Purdue
4. UCLA
4. Butler
4. Creighton

5. Oregon
5. Florida
5. Xavier
5. CINCINNATI (AAC)

6. Florida State
6. Notre Dame
6. Saint Mary's
6. Iowa State

7. SMU
7. South Carolina
7. Indiana
7. Clemson

8. Virginia Tech
8. USC
8. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
8. WICHITA STATE (MVC)

9. Michigan State
9. TCU
9. Maryland
9. Miami - Florida

10. Kansas State
10. Michigan
10. Houston
10. Minnesota

11. Texas Tech
11. Arkansas
11. California
11. VCU

12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. Rhode Island
12. Northwestern
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. OAKLAND (HORIZON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)

16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Wake Forest, Marquette, Seton Hall, Oklahoma St, Illinois St, Utah

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
UCF, North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio St, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M, BYU

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Memphis, Temple, Davidson, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, Providence, Iowa, Penn St, Oklahoma, Texas, Charleston, Northeastern, Valparaiso, Boise St, San Diego St, Arizona St, Colorado, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi St, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UConn, Tulsa, Boston College, Georgia Tech, George Mason, George Washington, UMass, Richmond, St. Joseph's, DePaul, St. John's, Rutgers, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Green Bay, Harvard, Canisius, Iona, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Toledo, Loyola-Chicago, Missouri St, Southern Illinois, Colorado St, Fresno St, New Mexico, Wyoming, Tennessee St, Oregon St, Washington, Washington St, LSU, Missouri, North Dakota St, Arkansas St, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Francisco,

Sunday, January 08, 2017

W-9 BP68

With a full and healthy roster, I don't think there are a lot of questions that Duke has the most talented team in the nation. Of course, they might never be truly healthy and together all season long. Just as the freshmen are starting to get back to full strength, Amile Jefferson went down with an injury yesterday of unknown severity, and Grayson Allen might face yet another suspension for tripping. And Coach K will be out for at least a few more weeks. There is still plenty of time for Duke to get back on track, but at this point I have to drop them as the #1 overall projected seed. The ACC is just too good at the top to do otherwise.

There were three other changes to the Field of 68 this week. California moves in for Texas A&M. Two auto bid projections changed as well. Oakland is the new Horizon League favorite (replacing Valparaiso) and New Orleans is the new Southland favorite (replacing Stephen F Austin).

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. DUKE (ACC)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Virginia
2. Baylor

3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
3. West Virginia
3. Louisville

4. Purdue
4. UCLA
4. Butler
4. Creighton

5. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)
5. Oregon
5. Florida
5. Xavier

6. Indiana
6. CINCINNATI (AAC)
6. Florida State
6. Iowa State

7. Notre Dame
7. Saint Mary's
7. Clemson
7. SMU

8. South Carolina
8. USC
8. Michigan
8. Virginia Tech

9. Arkansas
9. Minnesota
9. Miami-Florida
9. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)

10. Texas Tech
10. Kansas State
10. Maryland
10. Michigan State

11. Rhode Island
11. TCU
11. Houston
11. Ohio State

12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. Oklahoma State
12. California
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)

13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. OAKLAND (HORIZON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)

16. LONG BEACH STATE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. WAGNER (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, VCU, Marquette, Seton Hall, Northwestern, Texas A&M

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
UCF, Memphis, Syracuse, St. Bonaventure, Providence, Illinois, Nebraska, Illinois St, Colorado, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, BYU

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
Temple, Davidson, La Salle, St. Joseph's, Georgetown, Iowa, Penn St, Oklahoma, Texas, Charleston, Valparaiso, Evansville, Boise St, New Mexico, San Diego St, Arizona St, Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga

Sunday, January 01, 2017

W-10 BP68

It's New Year's Day and we are just ten weeks out from Selection Sunday. With college football nearing a close, we are very close to college basketball coming to the sporting fore.

In terms of the projected bracket, the biggest change this week is in the Pac-12, where I have made Arizona the favorite, replacing UCLA. My blog piece here talks about why I think UCLA is due to decline, and we've already seen a bit of that, as their shooting has cooled off since I published that. I know that I'm lower on Oregon than most, but that is partially due to being skeptical of their big week. Beating UCLA and USC isn't as impressive as the media thinks it is since both games were at home and both of those teams are (in my opinion) overrated by the polls. To put it in perspective, according to Sagarin and Pomeroy a road game at California (which Arizona won this week) is equivalent in difficulty to a home game against UCLA. Right or wrong, it's clearly a three team race.

There were two changes to the Field of 68 this week. Houston moves in as an at-large team, replacing Seton Hall. And Stephen F Austin moves in as the new Southland favorite, replacing Sam Houston St.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. DUKE (ACC)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Virginia
2. GONZAGA (WCC)

3. Baylor
3. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
3. Louisville
3. West Virginia

4. Purdue
4. UCLA
4. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)
4. Indiana

5. Creighton
5. Butler
5. Florida
5. Xavier

6. Florida State
6. Oregon
6. Iowa State
6. CINCINNATI (AAC)

7. Notre Dame
7. Saint Mary's
7. Clemson
7. Michigan

8. Virginia Tech
8. Miami-Florida
8. SMU
8. Texas Tech

9. South Carolina
9. USC
9. Oklahoma State
9. Ohio State

10. Kansas State
10. Arkansas
10. Maryland
10. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)

11. TCU
11. Michigan St
11. Texas A&M
11. Minnesota

12. Rhode Island
12. Houston
12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)

13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)
15. STEPHEN F AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)

16. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
16. LONG BEACH STATE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. WAGNER (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, VCU, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Northwestern, California, Colorado

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
UCF, Memphis, Temple, Syracuse, Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, San Diego St, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, BYU

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
UConn, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, Nebraska, Penn St, Rutgers, Texas, Charleston, Evansville, Illinois St, Boise St, New Mexico, Arizona St, Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga

Sunday, December 25, 2016

W-11 BP68

Things are always a bit quiet during finals week, and so there was little change near the top of the bracket. There was some churn near the bottom, however, as bad losses knocked Houston, Providence, and Syracuse out of the projected bracket. In their place entered Kansas State, Seton Hall, and TCU.

One observation this season is that the battle for 1 seeds is awfully wide open. While there have been some recent seasons where, even by the middle of December, it was obvious that we were down to just five or six serious contenders for 1 seeds, at this point I can make an argument for at least twelve. And we might not get too much clarity until these teams start playing each other in conference play.

Capitalized teams are projected automatic bid winners. Remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. DUKE (ACC)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Virginia
2. GONZAGA (WCC)

3. UCLA (PAC-12)
3. Baylor
3. Louisville
3. Indiana

4. Creighton
4. West Virginia
4. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)
4. Arizona

5. Purdue
5. Butler
5. Florida
5. Xavier

6. Florida State
6. Iowa State
6. CINCINNATI (AAC)
6. Notre Dame

7. Saint Mary's
7. Oregon
7. Michigan
7. South Carolina

8. USC
8. Clemson
8. Minnesota
8. Miami-Florida

9. Texas Tech
9. Virginia Tech
9. Ohio State
9. Arkansas

10. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
10. SMU
10. Texas A&M
10. Oklahoma State

11. Michigan St
11. Rhode Island
11. Maryland
11. Kansas State

12. Seton Hall
12. TCU
12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)

13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. SAM HOUSTON STATE (SOUTHLAND)
15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)

16. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
16. LONG BEACH STATE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
16. WAGNER (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Temple, North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest, VCU, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Northwestern, California, Colorado

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
UCF, UConn, Memphis, Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, San Diego St, Stanford, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, BYU

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
George Mason, George Washington, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, Nebraska, Penn St, Rutgers, Charleston, Old Dominion, Rice, Evansville, Illinois St, Loyola-Chicago, Northern Iowa, Boise St, New Mexico, Arizona St, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why UCLA Will Likely Regress


Is UCLA due to regress? On first glance that is a trite question: Of course they are. They started the season ranked around 20th in the human polls and are now a clear #2. Knowing nothing but those two facts one would project that UCLA is more likely to drop from #2 than rise to #1 over the next three months.

But is there something unique about UCLA that makes them more likely to regress? This tweet below is a view that I have seen a few people suggest:
I'm not sure what "Final Four good" means when an 8 seed or worse has made the Final Four five times in the last six seasons, but it is definitely true that historically teams with more balance have had more NCAA Tournament success than teams without that balance. When you pick Final Four teams in your bracket in March, look for teams that are Top 20 in both Pomeroy offense and defense and you're going to increase your chances of success.

Of course, teams great on only one side of the ball have had success, too. Two seasons ago, the Jerian Grant-led Notre Dame team finished 2nd in Pomeroy offense and 102nd in defense while going 14-4 in the ACC, winning the ACC tournament, earning a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and nearly toppling 37-0 Kentucky in the Elite 8. The year before that, the Doug McDermott-led Creighton team finished 2nd in Pomeroy offense and 125th in defense while going 14-4 in the Big East and earning a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


At this time, UCLA's offensive/defensive gap isn't even as extreme as those aforementioned teams. They currently sit 2nd in Pomeroy offense and 68th in defense. But what is concerning is how they have gotten this far, which is on shooting. They came into Saturday's Ohio State game the #1 ranked team in the nation in 2P%, 3P% and eFG% shooting. They have now declined to 3rd in 3P% shooting but still lead the nation in eFG% at 64.0%.

Is UCLA a good shooting team? Yep. And they will continue to stay ranked high, but that eFG% will almost certainly not stay at 64% all season long. I wrote about this last season with regards to Saint Mary's, another team that got off to a surprisingly hot start thanks to hot shooting and in spite of bad defense, which then faded as their shooting regressed.

I hear the criticism to that last paragraph: Saint Mary's regressed hardest on 3P% shooting, yet UCLA leads the nation in 2P% shooting. And that's true, but UCLA leads the nation in 2P% shooting largely because the lead the nation in two-point jump shooting (49.0%). UCLA is only 282nd in the nation in the percentage of shots attempted at the rim (31.4%).

Right now, UCLA has a 64.0 eFG%. How does that compare with the best shooting Division I team the past five seasons (you'll notice that our friends Notre Dame and Creighton are on there)?

2015-16: 58.7% (Indiana)
2014-15: 58.3% (Notre Dame)
2013-14: 58.9% (Creighton)
2012-13: 58.2% (Creighton)
2011-12: 58.0% (Missouri)

In other words, over the course of a season, statistics with a luck component will regress somewhat. Even if UCLA ends up the best shooting team in the nation, they're going to end up in the 58% range, not 64%. And that 6% can mean a lot when you are allowing 0.97 PPP. In fact, if you just take out UCLA's five games against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents (Nebraska, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Ohio State), UCLA is allowing 1.06 PPP. The fact is that UCLA is a jump shooting team that doesn't get a lot of rebounds and doesn't get to the line, so when those shots don't fall they are going to lose.

UCLA is a good team, and they're certainly a contender in the Pac-12, but if you're going to pick a team that is likely to regress, you want to pick a team that relies on hot jump shooting and does not rebound or play defense well. In other words, you choose UCLA.

UCLA currently sits 9th overall in the Pomeroy ratings, well ahead of the second best Pac-12 team (Arizona - 20th). Arizona also sits 16 spots down from UCLA in both the AP and Coaches Poll right now. But if Arizona can get back Allonzo Trier then they will improve. And so if we do believe that UCLA is likely to regress, then one can make a very strong argument that it is Arizona - not UCLA - that should be considered the Pac-12 favorite right now.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

W-12 BP68

Your eyes don't deceive you, this is my first bracket projection of the season. My current job simply does not allow me the time to do the extended previews that I used to do, and so I didn't feel confident projecting a bracket until a month or so of games had happened.

I hope to have time to knock out some blog posts soon to talk about some of these teams. UCLA in particular is a team with interesting underlying metrics. But that is for another time.

For now, remember that this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now:

1. DUKE (ACC)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. North Carolina
2. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
2. Virginia
2. GONZAGA (WCC)

3. UCLA (PAC-12)
3. Baylor
3. Louisville
3. Indiana

4. Creighton
4. West Virginia
4. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)
4. Arizona

5. Purdue
5. Butler
5. Florida
5. Xavier

6. Iowa State
6. Florida State
6. CINCINNATI (AAC)
6. Notre Dame

7. Saint Mary's
7. Oregon
7. Michigan
7. South Carolina

8. USC
8. Minnesota
8. Miami-Florida
8. Michigan St

9. Virginia Tech
9. Clemson
9. Ohio State
9. Texas Tech

10. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
10. Texas A&M
10. Arkansas
10. SMU

11. Syracuse
11. Oklahoma State
11. Rhode Island
11. Providence

12. Houston
12. Maryland
12. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)

13. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)
13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
13. FORT WAYNE (SUMMIT)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. MONMOUTH (MAAC)
14. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. SAM HOUSTON STATE (SOUTHLAND)
15. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
15. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
15. BELMONT (OVC)

16. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
16. LONG BEACH STATE (BIG WEST)
16. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. WAGNER (NEC)
16. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Temple, North Carolina St, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, VCU, Marquette, Seton Hall, Northwestern, Kansas St, Oklahoma, TCU, California, Colorado, Stanford

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
UCF, UConn, Memphis, Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Georgetown, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Northern Iowa, San Diego St, Arizona St, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, BYU

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
Tulsa, Georgia Tech, George Mason, George Washington, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, Nebraska, Penn St, Rutgers, UAB, Old Dominion, Rice, Charleston, Oakland, Iona, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Evansville, Illinois St, Loyola-Chicago, Boise St, Colorado St, New Mexico, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Chattanooga

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Overton Windows And The College Football Playoffs


Joseph P. Overton was a long time public policy expert at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and he's the namesake for a popular concept in policy wonkery known as the "Overton Window".

In short, the premise of the Overton Window is that on any given issue debate, humans narrow down the set of choices into reasonable options and unreasonable options. We create a range of plausible opinions within which we choose our own personal favorite. To take a political example, imagine the issue of abortion. There are a number of positions that we accept are reasonably held by people, and thus inside the Overton Window - say, that abortion should be legal in the first two trimesters but not the third, or that abortion should be banned except within the first trimester. In contrast, there are positions on abortion that we consider so ridiculous that we'd never spend a moment thinking about and thus are outside the Overton Window - say, that we should be able to kill 6 month old babies, or that any woman who gets an abortion for any reason whatsoever should be thrown in jail for life.

Over time, Overton Windows can shift, and the shifting of Overton Windows in public policy is an area of intense study. But whatever the Overton Window is at any given moment in time is the range of opinions that any normal person will be willing to consider thinking about. Anything outside that window will be dismissed without a moment of rational thought. We don't spend any time thinking about positions outside the Overton Window because they are so preposterous as to be laughable to even consider. 


College Football Rankings Are Dominated By Overton Windows
Imagine if you attempted to honestly try what a football pollster claims to do. Imagine if you tried to analyze dozens of different teams, then take into account all 12 or 13 games that each of them have played, then take into account the hundreds of games played by the teams on their schedules, then take into account home/road, then take into account the scores, then take into account how they looked playing, then take into account injuries, then take into account who finished stronger, then take into account....

It's exhausting even thinking about it. It's impossible. So instead what we do is make it simpler. We start with our generic AP Poll style rankings, and then consider tiebreakers. We all know how the AP Poll rankings work: Teams within each conference are ranked by number of losses, and teams with the same number of losses are broken up by head-to-head and, if not that, by strength of schedule. Then we mash the conferences together by how we view their strengths, so a 1-loss SEC team will be ahead of a 1-loss Big Ten team, and a 1-loss Big 12 team will be ahead of a 2-loss Big 12 team. And so on.

This season, we all considered the debate between 2-loss Penn State and 1-loss Washington as an argument within the Overton Window. But 2-loss Penn State vs 4-loss LSU? No, that is not allowed. Even though plenty of reputable computer rating systems have LSU ahead of Penn State, and there's a good chance that LSU would be favored in Vegas over Penn State on a neutral field, if you were to suggest to somebody arguing that we want to rank "The Four Best Teams" that LSU be considered ahead of Penn State, you would break their brain. The suggestion is outside the Overton Window, and thus beyond the pale to even discuss.

How Well Did The Rankings Correlate With The Computers?
The answer to this is the same as it was last season and will continue to be for the foreseeable future thanks to our tight Overton Windows. The five computer ratings are as follows:

1) AP Poll
2) FPI Strength of Record (measure of resume strength)
3) Massey Ratings (measure of resume strength)
4) Sagarin PREDICTOR (measure of team strength)
5) S&P (advanced measure of team strength)

In general, one would expect the Playoff Committee to basically track the AP Poll, for measures of resume strength to be closer than measures of team strength, and for the S&P to be the furthest off. The reason the S&P will be further off from the Playoff Rankings than the Sagarin PREDICTOR is because the PREDICTOR just looks at scores of games while the S&P looks to control for randomness within those scores, such as teams that have had a lot of turnover luck.

The Playoff Rankings line up with the AP Poll even more than it appears from that graph since the nature of a mean-squared calculation is that a few teams at the bottom of the Top 25 being four or five spots off throws the average. The Top 12 teams are all within one spot of the AP Poll, and the only difference in the Top 9 was Clemson and Ohio State being swapped, a distinction without a difference since they're going to play each other anyway.

In contrast, measures of resume strength (Massey and FPI Strength of Record) were off by an average of around five slots. The Sagarin PREDICTOR was off by an average of eight slots. And the S&P was off by a whopping 14 slots. And that's not just getting dragged down by the bottom of the Top 25. A full three teams in the Top 10 (Penn State, Wisconsin, and Colorado) are at least seven spots off their S&P ranking. That's huge.

So let's say that we were truly ranking teams by how good they were? If we really wanted the "Four Best Teams"? The S&P and Sagarin both say that USC and LSU had as good of a case at Penn State. If we care about best resumes? Well, the Massey ratings have USC in and both Penn State and Clemson out.

Why Wasn't Oklahoma A Playoff Contender, Exactly?

Most media coverage is focusing on Penn State getting left out for Washington, and rightly so. Penn State is out of the playoffs because they played a couple of competitive non-conference games and lost one (on the road), while Washington played three cupcakes and got to the finish line with only one loss. If Penn State had played three cupcakes in non-conference play then they'd have been in over Washington.

But what about Oklahoma? The Sooners are outside the Overton Window why, exactly? The answer is: Two losses. But they have two losses because they lost to Ohio State in non-conference play. Had that Ohio State game been replaced with Rutgers, Oklahoma would have gone 11-1, won the Big 12 title, and been basically a lock for the Playoff Top Four. Even with Ohio State being replaced by Rutgers, Oklahoma's strength of schedule still would have been ahead of 1-loss Washington.

Let's go even further: Why wasn't USC a contender? Three losses, of course. But one of those losses was to Alabama. Take that out and suddenly they're 10-2 with wins over Washington and Colorado and two very tough road losses (Stanford and Utah).

And why wasn't LSU a contender? Four losses, of course. But, again, one was to Wisconsin in non-conference play and another was by 5 points at Auburn. One bounce of the football against Auburn and replace Wisconsin with a cupacke, and LSU is 10-2 out of the SEC West and would have had a hell of a case to pass Washington for that fourth spot.

But if you sat through ESPN's four hour selection show (and God help you if you did), you wouldn't have heard a single person suggest Oklahoma or USC or LSU, because "number of losses" trumps all and pushed those teams out of the Overton Window of acceptable opinions.

How Do You Design A Schedule To Make The Playoffs?

1) Be in a Power 5 league
2) Schedule only cupcakes in non-conference play
3) Lose at most one game in conference play

If you do those three things then you're a near certainty to get in. Nobody is ever going to rank a 1-loss team behind a 2-loss team from the same conference. In fact, it has literally never happened in any of the three College Football Playoff seasons that a team was ranked behind a team from the same conference with more losses. Never. Once.

Ohio State didn't get in because they beat Oklahoma - they got in because they lost one fewer game than Penn State. One of the biggest breaks the Buckeyes got was not having to play in the Big Ten title game and having to risk a loss to Wisconsin that would have knocked them out of the playoffs. They had their one loss, and so they were locked into the playoffs by sitting home on the couch.

There might not be another area of sports commentary with an Overton Window as tight as college football polling. "Number of losses" has such a complete chokehold over the sport that it suffocates all other debate. And until that changes it harms the sport, since any team with national title hopes has a strong incentive to schedule nothing but cupcakes, and invitations to conference title games are punishments rather than rewards. Don't we want more competitive games to watch?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Michigan Is One Of The Four Best Teams, But They Cannot Be Allowed In The Playoffs. Here Is Why:


Ohio State and Michigan came into yesterday's game with a single loss apiece. Besides the normal interest sports fans have in a Michigan/Ohio State game, it was assumed that a playoff spot was on the line. And it showed up in the tv ratings:
The fact is that, in a loss, Michigan impressed. The game effectively was a draw, on the road at Ohio State. In overtime, the game literally came down to a 50/50 call, the 4th down scramble by JT Barrett that could have gone either way. It was so close that whatever call was made on the field necessarily had to stand on review. Had officials ruled Barrett an inch short, Michigan would have won. But they did not, and Ohio State won on the next play. It's literally as close as a game can get.

And the computer ratings recognize that. Michigan's ratings in metrics like the S&P and Sagarin all rose slightly after yesterday's games. And naturally, this is leading commentators to declare that Michigan should not be punished for a loss, and that as one of the four best teams in the nation they must be allowed into the playoffs. Here's a smattering:
Is Michigan one of the four best teams in the country? Probably.

The most accurate ratings for college football (and the ratings that most closely match the Vegas lines) are the S&P and Sagarin, and they both have Michigan safely in the Top 4. While there might be some rating you can find somewhere with Michigan outside the Top 4, it's safe to say that there's a general consensus in the computer models that Michigan is one of the four best teams:

But even though Michigan is one of the four "best" teams, they cannot be allowed in the playoffs.

Why? Because at the end of a season, teams must be rewarded for wins and losses, not for how good they are.

First of all, we all know who the best team in college football is. It's Alabama, and it's not that close. But if we wanted to give the title to the best team, we'd just halt the season right now and hand the trophy to Alabama. Alabama was the best team in the country two seasons ago, and they got knocked off in the playoffs by Ohio State. On any given day, anybody can beat anybody, and the whole point of having a playoffs is to add excitement by increasing the odds that an unlikely team wins the national title.

More importantly, if we rank teams by how good they are rather than by wins and losses, games would stop mattering. Why on Earth would anybody but Big Ten fans give a shit whether Michigan or Ohio State won that overtime? No matter whether that JT Barrett 4th down run was ruled a first down or not, both Michigan and Ohio State were going to end up in the Top 3 of the Sagarin and S&P ratings. So why would any non-Big Ten fans care about whether it was converted? Michigan fans complain that they had bad luck - and they're right! - but that's the point of playing the games. There is random luck, and it leads to unpredictability, and it forces us to watch and care.

To use a college basketball example: Imagine any game that comes down to a buzzer beating shot. Don't you want to care if that shot goes in? Because the Pomeroy ratings don't - not by any measurable amount. But it matters for their resume, and as long as the Selection Committee judges teams by their resume and not by how good they are, we are all going to care about whether that shot goes on in or not.


"Wait a second!" cries the Michigan fan reading this piece. "We have three wins over Top 10 teams! Our resume is still worthy of Top 4!"

While this argument isn't necessarily false, it's a poor one. Despite how common we hear television commentators (and Selection Committee Chair Kirby Hocutt) talk about metrics like "Top 10 wins" or "Record vs the Top 25", these are lousy metrics for four big reasons:

1) They are wholly arbitrary. Why care about Top 10 wins when we could care about Top 15? Top 25? Top 35? Fans are always going to set the line somewhere convenient for their team.
2) They necessarily only look at a fraction of a team's resume. Why only look at three games when we can look at all twelve?
3) The correlation between where teams are ranked in the Playoff Rankings and how good they are is a bit tenuous.
4) They do not take home/road into account.

As far as Michigan goes this season, #4 is a major factor. All three of their "Top Ten wins" came at home. Take their win over Penn State, for example, According to the Sagarin ratings, a home game against Penn State (AP #8) is equivalent to a road game against North Carolina (AP not receiving votes). Somehow that "Top 10 win" seems a wee bit less impressive when it sounds like a win over 8-4 North Carolina.

Say what you will about ESPN's FPI, but it's a decent rating system, and ESPN is nice enough to put out a "strength of record" metric. It asks a simple question: What are the odds that an average Top 25 team would equal or better your record against your schedule? Here is where that stands at the moment:

In other words, an average Top 25 team would have a 4% chance of going 11-1 or 12-0 against Ohio State's schedule, but a 96% chance of going 10-2 or worse. Clearly, if you look at resumes, Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson are our three playoffs locks (assuming Clemson avoids an ACC title game loss), with Wisconsin, Washington, and Colorado fighting it out for the fourth spot. Michigan is way back at 8th, and there's no realistic scenario where they can get back to the Top Four.

Sure, we can choose to rank teams by how good they are rather than by how impressive their wins and losses are, but if we do that then we would never have a reason to watch a game like Michigan/Ohio State yesterday. And I enjoyed caring about who won that game.

If you want to give the national title to the best team, just give it to Alabama right now. But if we're going to do a proper playoff system, where the four most deserving teams get in, then we have to leave out at least one of the four "best" teams. We have to leave out Michigan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Carson Wentz, And "Moneyball" Confirmation Bias


The NFL is an insular sports league, and it responded as one would expect to hearing that the Cleveland Browns had hired one of the guys from the movie "Moneyball" to be their new President. We were deluged with content from establishment writers asking whether "Moneyball" could work in the NFL (here, here, here, here, and here, among countless others).

As one would expect, the mocking from NFL old timers was swift and brutal. Brian Billick declared it impossible to analyze the NFL with numbers:

Bill Polian dismissed the entire concept of finding an undervalued player:

Leave aside the fact that "Moneyball" is a vague term that nobody has ever really defined, and that nearly every NFL team already has an analytics department, because the narrative was set: We had our new front in the culture war between "old school know-how" and "new school nerds". All we needed was a proxy fight - a specific player or game or statistic that this debate could hinge upon. It appears that we've found one in Carson Wentz.

During the 2016 NFL Draft, the Browns had the second overall pick, and they made the decision to trade down, and to grab a slew of picks (a first, second, and third round pick in 2016 plus a first and second round pick in 2017). This sort of move is an obvious one for an analytics-heavy team to do, as research has shown that trading down in the NFL Draft tends to be beneficial (see here and here). After all, the draft is a crapshoot, and so giving yourself five shots at a good prospect is generally better than putting all of your eggs in one basket. But the media pressed DePodesta on the move, and his safe, corporate answer on resisting the temptation to draft a quarterback just because one is available at #2 turned into "DePodesta thinks Carson Wentz sucks", basically.

And now that Carson Wentz has had a nice two first starts to his career, the final judgment is in: Moneyball has failed in the NFL.

Now, let's not forget how much hype there was for quarterbacks like Vince Young, Mark Sanchez, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, and numerous other guys early in their careers who later turned into laughingstocks. Let's assume for one moment that all of the Carson Wentz hype ends up being right, and he ends up as a Hall of Famer: Does this mean anything? No.

The NFL Draft is, for the most part, a crapshoot. In fact, everybody who has tried to find "skill" in drafting has failed to find any. Study after study finds that all teams and general managers will, in the long run, draft no better than random chance. In the same way that anybody who sits down at a roulette wheel can win on their first few spins, some teams and general managers will have hot streaks in the Draft, but the roulette wheel will eventually turn against you, as will the Draft. It is why the media crowning general managers because they hit on one or two guys in a Draft is so pointless - it's the logical equivalent of crowning a guy for hitting on "red" three times in a row at a roulette wheel.

So has DePodesta found a way to do slightly better than random chance in the NFL Draft? Maybe? But it will be five or six years minimum before we can even start asking a question like that, and realistically we will need more than a decade of data to answer it with any confidence.

But never mind that, because old school scouts just "knew" that Carson Wentz was a sure thing, until those damned protractors and calculators got in the way. You see, when DePodesta took over the Browns, they brought on a bunch of new scouts (as new team management generally does), and allowed some of their old scouts to have their contracts expire and move on. DePodesta was even nice enough to let these guys go early, to not leave them on as lame ducks through the Draft. This was covered as utter non-news at the time (here and here for examples). When DePodesta traded down, nobody mentioned the scouts being a factor: It was simple analytics orthodoxy to trade down and grab more picks.

Now I don't know if you've heard, but Carson Wentz had two good games, and that has brought out everybody's favorite #AnonymousScout to tell you that he knew all along that Wentz was a sure-fire hit. In fact, DePodesta fired those old scouts because they were so high on that Wentz guy that the "analytics" hated... or something. CBS's Jason La Canfora laid it on thick:

Get that? They fired "experienced", "old school" scouts, general managers, and personnel directors. A bunch of savvy veterans that lived and breathed football. Old-timers who had been through the wars over the years, who had seen everything that there was to see in the sport, and who just knew deep down in their guts how to land a great quarterback. You know, the guys who used first round picks on Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden.

Even assuming these scouts are telling what they perceive the truth to be, what they are experiencing is confirmation bias. We are all bombarded with information throughout our day, most of which we cannot hope to process, and so our brains choose to process what they want to process. And so we end up remembering events that fit into narratives we want to believe, and fail to remember events that don't. Scouts all remember those guys that they "knew" were going to be good who ended up being good, and fail to remember the guys they "knew" were going to be good who ended up busting. As I pointed out above, nobody in the NFL has really demonstrated the long term ability to draft better than random chance.

So if Carson Wentz continues to play well, expect to continue seeing the bashing of Paul DePodesta and of "draft analytics". But don't expect to see any bashing of "old school scouting" because everybody passed on Russell Wilson for two rounds or Antonio Brown for five rounds. And don't expect to see any bashing of the New England Patriots because in the 5th round of the 2000 Draft they passed on Tom Brady to grab Jeff Marriott, a lineman out of Missouri who never played a down in a regular season NFL game (what idiots, amirite?). Because those latter two narratives are not narratives that anybody in the press is interested in.

Bashing "Moneyball" in the NFL? The media is very interested in that narrative.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Glockner's Book And The State Of Analytics


If you haven't read it yet, I recommend reading Andy Glockner's book inside the NBA and the analytics world. It's a good overview of the current state of analytics at the NBA, college, and prep levels.

As a general rule of thumb, it's hard to go wrong with a book that gets a behind-the-scenes look at basketball. When you follow sports on a daily basis, you are bombarded with the mind-numbing beat reporting, full of its vapid "What motivated you to come up big today?" questions. When you get an insider's book you instead learn about stories like Nick U'Ren's invention of the Golden State Warriors "death lineup" and how it turned the tide in the 2015 NBA Finals, which Andy goes into in depth in the final chapter.

One issue you're always going to have with a book focusing on "Here is the state of the world now" is that the book reads differently depending on when you consume it. It was a bit disconcerting reading Andy talk about the high expectations for the Cavs in 2015-16 about a week after the Cavs won the 2016 title. If I have one criticism of this book it's one that is probably unavoidable on a topic like this, which is a general lack of structure. It feels more like a series of long vignettes than a single book, though that's fine for me, as I could read the book chapter by chapter.

Here are a few conclusions that I had about the topics covered in the book:

Analytics is everywhere and nowhere
The debate over whether you need analytics to build a team is long over in professional sports. Every NBA team has analytics staff. Some teams use it more than others, of course, but the stupid dualism of "stats vs scouts" only exists in the minds of terrible sportswriting dinosaurs.

That said, most advances are happening behind closed doors. The early part of this century, where analytics was developing rapidly in the open Internet, are long gone. Anybody who comes up with a real advance these days is quickly snapped up by a front office and his/her work becomes proprietary. As Andy admits repeatedly throughout the book, teams simply were not willing to tell him about their newest analytics. It's a competitive advantage to keep it secret.

Analytics is in every facet of the game
It's become a bit of a narrative at this point that "the next realm for analytics is injury prevention", but there's no question that teams are looking for any advantage that they can get in whatever aspect of the game is possible. For example, Andy spends a large chunk of his book covering P3, a firm that does advanced training and biometrics. They are capable of watching the way players jump to tell that they are putting more weight on their right knee than their left knee, tracing that back to overcompensating from an old injury, and predict/prevent the way that will cause a future injury. Andy also goes in depth into the advanced video and biometric analysis, some of it with P3 as well, that allowed Kyle Korver to become such a deadly three-point weapon.

One of the more annoying media stereotypes of "analytics" is that it's just a bunch of dudes calculating WAR and whining about who got left out of the Hall of Fame. The fact is that "analytics" really just means "objective analysis". It means that you are interpreting data, whatever that data is. Measuring the force on various joints of a player's body while he jumps is data that can be analyzed and used to create a better, healthier player. That is "analytics", too.

Analytics is far more entrenched at the pro level
NBA teams have huge front office staffs, often managed by folks who never played the sport. It's thus natural that it's front offices that have embraced analytics before coaches and players. As Andy mentions, the last frontier of analytics acceptance is players and (unsurprising since so many of them were recently elite players) coaches.

College programs, far more than the NBA, are dictatorships ruled over by a single coach with significantly smaller staffs. It's natural that modern analytics just are not nearly as entrenched at that level. Andy discusses coaches like Buzz Williams and Steve Wojciechowski that are using modern analytics like SportVU to inform their development styles, but they are few and far between. Andy even mentions a subscription to Ken Pomeroy's website as a mountain too high for a large number of college coaches.

One of the most misused terms is "Moneyball", which the media often seems to interpret as "acquiring baseball players with high on-base percentages". If the term has any meaning, it refers to finding market inefficiencies, wherever they are. And to that end, modern analytics seems to be a far larger market inefficiency at the college level than the pro level. College coaches: take note.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Previewing The 2016 NBA Draft

Ellenson (left) and Bentil (right) are two of the prospects I'm high on this year.
What's that? I'm actually blogging! I know... weird.

But my new job has had me quite busy, and I haven't had the time for offseason blogging, which is a bit of a luxury. But my NBA Draft Preview has become an annual tradition. Last year's is here.

As always, I'm only going to comment on college players. I don't have educated opinions on the European players, and unless you're Fran Fraschilla then you don't have one either.

Also, as always, I've broken down players into three categories: Guys invited to the Green Room, guys certain to be drafted but who weren't invited to the Green Room, and borderline second round/undrafted guys. Let's do this:


Green Room Guys:


Underrated:

Henry Ellenson - I've actually seen some projections that don't even have Ellenson going in the Lottery. One of the things to remember is that most NBA writers don't really watch much college basketball, and when they do watch it tends to be Duke, Kentucky, and a couple other blue chip programs. Ellenson was stuck on a miserably bad Marquette team that you weren't watching unless you were a fan of them or a team that they were playing, or unless they really love college hoops. In other words, you've got a whole bunch of NBA Draft writers who never saw Ellenson play in a full game. The fact is that Ellenson would be considered a much better prospect if he had played on Kentucky.

Ellenson is a risky pick, of course, but he has the potential to be a real star in the NBA. He is a true 6'11" in shoes and he's fantastically athletic, able to physically dominate both ends of the court. He didn't hit three-pointers at a great clip this past season (29%), but he has confidence in his jump shot and has a solid mid-range jumper (41% this past season). If he can eventually expand his range to the three-point line, which is a reasonable projection, he'll become a nightmare to defend on the wings.

Domantas Sabonis - Sabonis could have come out after his freshman year and been drafted. What you want to see in a guy who came back for his sophomore season is improvement, particularly in areas where he was weaker as a freshman. And Sabonis absolutely improved in a big way (This is also true for Jakob Poeltl, by the way, but of the two I'm giving the "underrated" edge to Sabonis).

Sabonis was already a monster rebounder and athlete, but he became a significantly more complete player a sophomore. He became a significantly better defender, both on the perimeter and in the paint. Offensively he became a better passer and a much more confident shooter. As a freshman, only 28% of his shots were jumpers, and only 6% were from beyond 10 feet. As a sophomore, 47% of his shots were jumpers, with a full 21% beyond 10 feet (the latter at a very respectable 46.9 eFG%). You have to figure that he will eventually become one of the most physical players in the NBA. And now that his offensive game is progressing nicely, he has NBA All-Star potential.


Overrated:

Buddy Hield - As a college player, Hield was actually underrated until his senior season. He was an analytics darling, and he was a deserved NPOY as a senior. But I've seen mock drafts with Hield going as high as #3 overall, and most mocks have him in the Top 5. It is just awfully hard for a senior to justify a Top 5 pick, and in particular one who didn't really improve that much from year to year aside from his three-point shooting taking a big jump between his junior and senior seasons.

An additional concern with Hield's NBA potential is that he did most of his damage by chucking up long jumpers. A full half of his shots taken were threes, and most of those were taken off the dribble. By all means, the NBA has room for three-point sharpshooters, but Hield is not your traditional "stand in the corner and hit spot-up three-pointers when we pass it to you" guy, and even if he was... is that really worth a Top 5 pick? I haven't seen evidence that Hield is going to be able to score at the rim against NBA paint defenders, and he's not an elite defender. I just don't see where the upside is here.

Skal Labissiere - Obviously Labissiere is a raw talent freak. There's a reason that he was so hyped coming out of high school, and why he's still likely to be a Lottery pick. But it matters how badly he struggled as a freshman. Offensively, he just didn't have the ability to create offense against power conference quality opponents, and he lacked any post moves. Most of his scoring came on 5-12 foot jump shots. And defensively he's just a disaster. He blocked a reasonable number of shots, but blocks and steals can be deceptive stats when you have players who take a lot of risks. Labissiere's 7.6 fouls/40 minutes were second highest in the SEC, and John Calipari rarely trusted him to defend quality big men. Obviously Labissiere has a high ceiling, and he might pay off down the road, but he has a very low floor. Things could go south to the point that he's playing in Europe in four years.


Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:


Underrated:

Ben Bentil - In my opinion, it was Bentil and not Kris Dunn who was Providence's best player this past season. And in my opinion it is Bentil and not Kris Dunn who is Providence's best NBA prospect. Bentil improved dramatically year over year, going from a defense/rebound guy to Providence's go-to scorer. He even showed flashes of a nice three-point stroke late in the season. He'll probably be a wing in the NBA, but he has the quickness and athleticism to defend other wings.  To me, the fact that most mock drafts don't even have Bentil as a first round pick is ridiculous. I think that you can justify a Lottery pick on him.

Deandre' Bembry - It's hard to get a great read on Bembry because there are holes in his game. He's not a good outside shooter yet, for example. But despite the fact that opponents knew that, Bembry was still a fantastically efficient offensive player, both in creating his own shots and setting up his teammates. If he can develop that outside shot, he's the type of wing that you can run a lot of your offense through. He might even be a point guard in the NBA. And defensively, he doesn't put up elite stats, but he was probably the best defensive player on a strong Saint Joseph's team. You're not drafting him for his defense, but he's not going to hurt you there either.

Overrated:

Damian Jones - Jones is listed as a 7-footer, which automatically bumps him in most people's minds, but he's not Jakob Poeltl-sized. In fact, at the official NBA Draft combine, he was only measured at a quarter of an inch taller than Henry Ellenson, with one extra inch of wingspan. And Jones is nowhere near the athlete or scorer than Ellenson is. And for a "big guy", Jones isn't an elite rebounder or post defender either. Most mock drafts have him as a first round pick, yet it's hard not to think that he'd be considered a borderline undrafted guy if he was a single inch shorter. And considering the fact that Jones played three years at Vanderbilt and didn't display much year-over-year improvement, I'm not sure why anybody would expect a large improvement in the NBA.

Cheick Diallo - Diallo is, of course, a similar situation to Skal Labissiere. Both had some questionable academic situations coming into college, and both found themselves significant disappointments as freshmen at major programs. But while Labissiere at least occasionally found himself useful for a few minutes at a time off the bench, Diallo basically was taken out of the Kansas regular rotation late in the season. In their seven Big 12 tournament + NCAA Tournament games, Diallo played more than a single minute in a game just once, and it came in their first round blowout of Austin Peay.

What was the problem with Diallo this season? He just wasn't really good at much of anything. Offensively he was a mess, unable to create or shoot. Defensively he did rebound and block shots well, but his aggressiveness often got out of hand, and he was foul prone. Bill Self simply felt that Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg gave him a better chance to win.

Everybody Else:


Underrated:
 
Perry Ellis - There's a chance that some clever team will take Ellis early in the second round, but it's not even a guarantee that he'll get drafted at all. And to me, that's nuts. Ellis is hardly a sexy pick, in large part because even as a freshman he already looked like he was 30 years old. Ellis is no athletic monster either. But he is fantastically efficient, on both ends of the court, and he did it at the highest level of college basketball. Ellis is never going to make an NBA All-Star team, but he's also a guy who could end up playing in the NBA for a decade. Considering how many second round picks never even play in the NBA, that's just great second round value.

If you're a GM, nobody in the press is going to laud you for picking Ellis. He's going to be seen as a boring pick with no upside. But he's just good at absolutely everything that you need a guy to be good at in a basketball game, and you're never going to regret putting him on the court.

Fred VanVleet - Obviously the observation that Wichita State utterly fell apart this past season when VanVleet was hurt is a relatively small sample size (only six games where he was hurt/limited), but the fact is that VanVleet was the primary playmaker on a Wichita State program that was Top 10 in Pomeroy the past three seasons. VanVleet and Ron Baker are both being treated as similar prospects (likely late second round guys), but that confuses me. VanVleet is the better dribbler, the better passer, the better shooter, and probably the better defender as well. VanVleet has the potential to be a an above average starting NBA point guard. It's hard for me to see Ron Baker ever starting for a decent NBA team.

Overrated:

Kay Felder -This pains me, because I like to see "unknown" guys from smaller schools make it big in the NBA. But I'm not sure what the precedent is in the modern NBA is for a 5'9" guy who can't shoot the ball real well being an effective NBA player. Felder is a great playmaker, and he led the entire nation with a 50.0% assist rate this past season, but the fact is that NBA teams aren't going to help defend a guy who can't really shoot and who is never going to be able to finish at the rim against NBA defenders.

Isaiah Whitehead - Whitehead had his best stretch of play of his career during the Big East tournament, which caused him to shoot up media "draft boards" and which led him to leave college early to go pro. He was also, of course, a big prospect out of high school. But you can't judge a guy on a handful of games, and there are a number of red flags with Whitehead. One is that he absolutely killed the locker room as a freshman at Seton Hall. The veteran players couldn't deal with him, and it led to the transfers out of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina. When Whitehead got hurt, Seton Hall actually played their best ball of the season. Whitehead was a much more effective player as a sophomore, in large part because he got to dominate the ball and play hero ball. But he's just not good enough to play hero ball as an NBA player. He's going to have to be able to accept being a complementary piece.

In addition, Whitehead is just not an efficient scorer. He hit two-pointers at a 38% clip as a freshman and a 39% clip as a sophomore, which is awful. That's because he forces a lot of terrible shots. So while Whitehead put up good counting stats as a sophomore, he just was not an efficient player. And if you think he's going to handle well being stuck deep on the bench for a couple of years in the NBA, I'll refer you back to his freshman year at Seton Hall. With guys like Perry Ellis, Fred VanVleet, and Demetrius Jackson likely available in the mid-to-late second round, I don't see why you'd spend a pick on a guy like Whitehead.