Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into Selection Sunday

We went a long way toward filling up the Tournament field on Saturday. We had 13 automatic bids handed out, and several other at-large spots were filled up when teams like Memphis and Utah State took care of business in their conference tournaments. Right now we've got 56 teams locked into the field, with four others that are definitely safe, and three others that are (in my opinion) safe. That leaves five bubble spots open. Should Dayton steal the A-10 automatic bid tomorrow then we'll only have four bubble spots open.

Before I say anything else, let me post that bubble, as it stands heading into Selection Sunday:

Tournament locks (56 teams):
Boston University, Duke, North Carolina, Belmont, Temple, Xavier, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Northern Colorado, UNC-Asheville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, UC-Santa Barbara, George Mason, Old Dominion, Memphis, Butler, Princeton, St. Peter's, Akron, Hampton, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV, LIU, Morehead State, Arizona, Washington, Bucknell, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Wofford, UT-San Antonio, Alabama State, Oakland, Arkansas-LR, Gonzaga, Utah State

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (4):
ACC, A-10, Big Ten, SEC

Teams that look safe (4):
Richmond, Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (2):
Illinois, UCLA

The Bubble (10 teams for 6 bids):
Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Harvard, USC, Georgia, Saint Mary's

Best of the rest (3):
Boston College, Missouri State, Alabama

Longshots (2):
Cleveland State, New Mexico

Right now I'm being a little generous and am leaving 10 teams on that bubble fighting for those five spots. I've seen a lot of writers from big media sites shrink the bubble closer than this, but I'm leaving it wide because I think it's not right to be so certain this year. This year's bubble is a little unique in that we've got such a bizarre combination of resumes. How do we compare, for example, Colorado and Harvard? The strength of one team's resume is the weakness of the other. See this post for specific examples of this, with numbers. I'm going to spend several hours on Selection Sunday going through these resumes with a fine toothed comb, trying to figure out exactly what I think the final field will be.

Obviously there aren't a lot of bubble games happening on Selection Sunday. We've only got four games being played at all, and the UNC/Duke and Florida/Kentucky have zero bubble implications. There are two games that have at least some bubble implications, and those are listed below:

Dayton vs Richmond (1PM, CBS): This is a very straightforward game. Richmond is safe and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what. Dayton has no chance at an at-large bid. Therefore, a Dayton win will steal an at-large bid from somebody. Richmond will have the Hokie, Buffalo, Seminole and Gael nations behind them in spirit, among others.
#1 Ohio State vs Penn State (3:30PM, CBS): Slim pickings for bubble games on Selection Sunday, so I'm listing this game. Realistically, Penn State is in the NCAA Tournament. But they're not a lock yet, so a win over Ohio State would be the clincher. Ohio State is likely playing for the #1 overall seed. Of course, it really doesn't matter. I've seen a lot of people on television throwing stats at me lately about how dramatically important a 1 seed is, and how they're something like twice as likely to win the National Championship as 2 seeds. Well no kidding, they tend to be better teams. The actual path difficulty is not that much different on average, and when you consider the standard deviations on this stuff (for example, 2 seeds can play 10 seeds in the second round, and do so quite often, and all bets are off beyond that round), the random noise on Final Four path difficulty is far beyond the average difference in path difficulty between a 1 and 2 seed.

The idea that the same team is twice as likely to win a National Championship just because they get moved arbitrarily from a 2 seed to a 1 seed is laughable. It's even sillier with the concept of a #1 overall seed, since in no way does it guarantee the weakest 2 seed or 4 seed on the S-Curve since teams are moved around for geographic reasons. Last season Kansas was #1 overall and was handed what I viewed as the toughest top-to-bottom region in many years. Syracuse was last of the #1 seeds and was given (again, in my opinion) the weakest of the four regions. And besides, what's the difference between the weakest 8 seed and the second weakest 8 seed anyway? So this game really is irrelevant for Ohio State's Tournament chances. It's only about the glory of holding that Big Ten tournament trophy and cutting down the nets.


Sam said...

I'm not sure what happened, but it looks like there's a mistake. "Michigan" is listed in both "Teams that look safe" and "teams in the tournament, for now". I don't have the energy to figure out if you left someone out by accidentally typing Michigan twice, or if you intended to have them at one level and the other was just...left over from a previous Bubble Watch?

Jeff said...

Thanks for finding that. I moved Michigan up a line and forgot to delete them from the other. That's what I get for writing so many posts at 1 in the morning... haha.