Sunday, March 30, 2014

Elite 8 (Day 2) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

I talked about two things late last night on twitter that I want to repeat here for those of you who don't follow me there. First of all, I want to repeat just how silly these "can't win the big game" narratives are around coaches. I'm happy to see Bo Ryan shed that label, and eventually Sean Miller will shed his. Miller is now 0-3 in Elite 8 games over ten years of coaching, which as pretty damn impressive. Most coaches don't get to three Elite 8 games in their career. Don't create a narrative around a one-point overtime game. Bill Self and Jim Boeheim were other guys who "couldn't win in March" until they did.

When I said that on twitter last night, ESPN's John Gasaway retweeted me and added that comp to Bill Self, leading multiple Arizona fans to respond angrily that we were insulting Sean Miller. It's insulting a guy to compare him to a coach who has won ten straight conference titles and won a national title? We really shouldn't live in a sports analysis world where comparing a coach to Bill Self is an insult.

Second of all, the idea of a refereeing "controversy" at the end of the Wisconsin/Arizona game is dumb, for a few reasons. First of all, that charge call was correct - Nick Johnson used his forearm to push his defender out of the way to get an open lane to the basket (you can see it a lot easier from the behind-basket view than the live tv view). The attitude that "you have to swallow the whistle and let the kids decide the game" in the final 10 seconds is ridiculous. The rulebook doesn't say that the rules don't apply in the final ten seconds. When somebody fouls, they are "deciding the game" - they've chosen to foul. Should we let defenders just tackle shooters to prevent them from taking a buzzer beater?

The bigger controversy was that terrible out of bounds call. Leave aside that there should have been a whistle on Aaron Gordon for defending the pass from beyond the out-of-bounds line, but I've long been a proponent from "Jeff's Rule" - you get a 60 second shot clock on reviews, and after 60 seconds it's automatically "call stands". The purpose of review is not to get every single call perfect - every game would take 5 hours if we reviewed every close call all game. The purpose of review, if you recall the controversies in the late-1990s that led to the era of review, is to fix egregiously blown calls, particularly crucial ones late in games. Let the refs call the game, and if you think something is egregiously, obviously wrong, then use review to fix it. If you're spending 5 minutes and breaking out CSI "enhance" technology to try to figure out whose pinky was on the ball a split second after the other dude's pinky, just let the original call stand. Enough.

Anyway, let's talk about the rest of the Elite 8:

Elite 8 Day 1 ATS: 1-0-1
2014 Tournament ATS: 36-22-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

UConn (+5.5) over Michigan State: Michigan State is the better team, of course, but I'm a bit concerned about giving 5.5 points. What strikes me about this game is that it's likely going to be a three-point shooting contest. Both teams shoot the three well (UConn is at 39.4% for the season and Michigan State is 39.3%), and both defend the paint much better than they deny threes. And in the end, 3P% defense is basically luck, so if either of these teams happens to get hot then they'll likely win. I'd say that the most important player in this game is DeAndre Daniels. He is the one UConn big man who can match both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on both ends of the court, and he needs to stay out of foul trouble and he needs to play well. If he does, UConn can pull the upset.

Michigan (+2.5) over Kentucky: To me, this is the easiest call of all four Elite 8 games. Just a wild "public" overreaction to two fairly fluky Kentucky wins (for example, if Louisville hit anywhere near their season average on jump shots they would have won that Sweet 16 game easily). This isn't a situation like Dayton, where a team has shown a big progression over the last couple of months - the evidence that Kentucky "is back" is based on a two game sample size. A good rule of gambling is when a team has one or two high profile wins and all of the public jumps on their bandwagon, you want to fade the public.

Kentucky is actually a pretty good three-point defense, but not enough people are talking about the fact that Willie Cauley-Stein is probably not going to play. Michigan is not a team that just passes the ball around the perimeter - they attack the basket and generate a lot of their offense in the paint, with a variety of players who are effective at getting to the rim. They score in the paint and also use a collapsing defense to open up kick-outs to their three-point shooters. Alex Poythress is going to have to do his best Cauley-Stein impression or Kentucky is in trouble. Offensively, Kentucky generates most of their offense from rebounds and free throws (their OR% and FTRate were both over 45% against Louisville). Michigan is potentially vulnerable on the glass, though they've been better recently (obviously Jordan Morgan has to stay out of foul trouble or this becomes a bigger problem). Free throws are going to be an even tougher task for Kentucky, as Michigan was third best in the nation in defensive FTRate.

In the end, you want to be smart here and fade the public.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Elite 8 (Day 1) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Welp. My bracket is officially busted. Just a horrible game all around from Louisville - halfway through the second half they still had only hit two shots outside the paint, and they finished 13-for-23 at the line. I was beating the "Kentucky is underrated" drum all season long, but they've gone from underrated to overrated so quickly that my neck hurts. The big winner tonight is Michigan, as they'll go from being an underdog against Louisville to being favored over Kentucky.

Speaking of Michigan, they have been shooting out of their minds in the NCAA Tournament. They're 32-for-65 behind the arc so for in the NCAA Tournament. It got them past a Tennessee team tonight that beat them on the glass, shot better on two-pointers, forced more turnovers and had more blocks. Sometimes it just comes down to hitting shots.

I want to say briefly that the "Virginia was overrated" and "The ACC sucks" stuff related to the ACC being totally out of the NCAA Tournament is a bit ridiculous. Michigan State is one of the three or four best teams in the country right now, and Virginia took them down to the final possession. Don't draw large conclusions about coaches, teams or conferences by the results of a single-elimination tournament. Virginia is a great team that had a great season. And they were one shot in a 40 minute game away from being favored in an Elite 8 game.

Anyway, now that my bracket is busted all I have left are my against-the-spread picks. Let's get this done:

Sweet 16 Day 2 ATS: 2-1-1
2014 Tournament ATS: 35-22-3
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Dayton (+10) over Florida: Florida obviously is the better team and will very likely win this game, but this spread is just a bit too big. The computers do say the line should be 9-10 points, but Dayton is playing their best basketball of the season right now, and season-long computer ratings won't really take that into account.

So does Dayton have a potential match-up advantage? No, not really. I guess they're a little better at the free throw line. But realistically, the only way Dayton can win this game outright will be if they shoot significantly better.

Wisconsin (+3) over Arizona: Arizona will certainly pose a much tougher test for Wisconsin, who will struggle much more with an athletic, aggressive man-to-man defense than Baylor's soft zone. The Badgers definitely could struggle to score here. The biggest test for them will be fighting to a draw on the glass against the big Arizona front line. Frank Kaminsky has to stay out of foul trouble, or else Kaleb Tarczewski could go nuts.

That all said, this is a tough match-up for Arizona in a lot of ways. Arizona is a poor shooting team - they finished 9th in the Pac-12 in 3P% and 8th in eFG%. Their offense depends on transition offense and put backs. Wisconsin is not going to commit many turnovers, and they're not going to allow transition offense, so if the Badgers can fight to a draw on the glass then Arizona is going to struggle to score even worse than Wisconsin. The Badgers have a number of guys who can light it up from deep, while Arizona doesn't. And while Wisconsin is in trouble if Frank Kaminsky gets in foul trouble, Wisconsin was a much better team than Arizona this season both at drawing fouls and avoiding committing fouls, and Arizona's bench is arguably even thinner than Wisconsin's.

This is obviously the game of the day, and it could easily come down to the final possession. But in my opinion, Wisconsin is the favorite to win outright. Take the points.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sweet 16 (Day 2) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

It wasn't the most exciting set of first round games of the Sweet 16, though I do think we set up a really nice Arizona/Wisconsin match-up that should be an interesting contrast in styles. Dayton might have had their best performance of the NCAA Tournament so far, as they just keep getting better. Hard to imagine how big the party in the streets will be if they somehow stun Florida in the Elite 8.

But I think day two of the Sweet 16 is what most people are waiting for. Louisville/Kentucky is going to get massive tv ratings, but every game is great. No offense to Dayton/Stanford, but there's no Dayton/Stanford tonight. Let's get into it:

Sweet 16 Day 1 ATS: 3-1-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 33-21-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Tennessee (+2.5) over Michigan: Technically this will be an upset if Tennessee takes out Michigan, but not much of one. Pomeroy actually has Tennessee as the 1 point favorite while Sagarin has the game a toss-up. Don't be blinded by the seeds, as Michigan is a weak 2 seed and Tennessee is probably the strongest 11 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is now ranked one of the ten best teams in the country by both Sagarin and Pomeroy.

Now what about the individual match-ups? I think Tennessee matches up really well with Michigan. Their three-point defense is really good at running opponents off the arc (21st in the nation and 2nd in the SEC in 3PA/FGA defense, and their ability to crash the glass (4th in the nation in OR%) will be a test for a Michigan team that was below average in Big Ten play on both the offensive and defensive glass. In my opinion, Tennessee should be the favorite in this game. I would actually recommend the money line rather than the 2.5 points.

UConn (+1.5) over Iowa State: This is another peculiar line, though makes sense when you consider that Iowa State is an extremely "public" team this season. The spread fits Sagarin's numbers, though Pomeroy has UConn favored by a point. But of course, Iowa State is without Georges Niang. Iowa State managed to escape North Carolina, but they were powered by unsustainable 12-for-26 three-point shooting. The Cyclones are going to struggle to score against the big UConn defensive front line. They're not usually a strong shooting team, though obviously they proved against North Carolina that they can do it for 40 minutes.

Louisville (-4) over Kentucky: Kentucky is BAAAAAAACK. Okay, maybe not. Let's not overreact to Fred Van Vleet missing an open three-pointer at the buzzer. Kentucky was coming off an unimpressive 7 point win over Kansas State, which came after a 5-5 finish in their final ten games before the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is obviously a very strong 8 seed, but there's no evidence that they're on a Dayton-type run where they're improving drastically down the stretch.

Kentucky beat Louisville head to head back in December, but Louisville's 6-for-26 three-point shooting is unlikely to be repeated. The other key to that win for Kentucky was managing to only commit 11 turnovers against the aggressive Louisville defense. If they can do that again then they can win. But Kentucky was just 7th in the SEC in offensive turnover rate, so the Harrison twins are going to have to come up big to prevent easy transition buckets for Louisville.

Michigan State (-2) over Virginia: This spread is a fair line, I think. The computers would have this more of a toss-up, but Michigan State is obviously playing better ball now that they're fully healthy. The match-ups will be the key to this one. Michigan State's offense depends heavily on jump shooting, and they have a whole bunch of guys who can hit open shots. They led the entire Big Ten with 41.0% three-point shooting in conference play. This Virginia team, though, tends to pack in their defense, and they're not a great three-point defense. They led the ACC in 3P% defense, but were only 10th in 3PA/FGA defense, and the latter is a significantly better metric of three-point defense than the former.

Offensively, this Virginia team is probably the most underrated in the nation. They were the second best offense in the ACC this season, but because they play at a slow tempo they don't get any credit for it. We'll hear a lot from the announcers tonight about how great their defense is and how they "grind out wins", but you won't hear a word about their elite offense. They're a jump shooting team, though. They don't generate a lot of their offense in the paint, and they likely won't do it against a Michigan State team with so many defensive bigs. Michigan State is not a good three-point defense, so if Virginia gets hot, they can definitely win this. But with a spread this small, just pick the team you think is going to win. I think Michigan State is playing better right now, and Virginia does not have a clear match-up advantage. I give the Spartans the narrow edge.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014-15 Conference Previews

This post will contain, below, links to all of my 2014-15 conference previews. It will be pinned to the upper right corner of this page, so it can be easily referenced.

At the time this post is initially going live, most of the conferences below are not filled in yet. They will get filled over time. All of these previews, as well as my preseason BP68, should all be posted by April 14th at the latest. So stay tuned.

Anyway, here are a few notes:


1) Computer ratings are all through Selection Sunday. They include all conference tournament action, but do not include any postseason tournament action (NCAA, NIT, CBI or CIT). If you think I made a typo with one of these numbers, please let me know and I'll double check.

2) I try to do my best to include every important graduation, transfer (in and out), recruit, and otherwise returning player (such as players who missed the season with injury). I do a lot of research to try to capture this for well over 100 different teams that I end up breaking down, but in the end I'm inevitably going to miss somebody. So please let me know via comments, e-mails, tweets, etc.

3) As not all decisions about early entry to the NBA Draft are yet known, I inevitably have to make some guesses about some players. I will note that wherever possible in my previews. My next bracket projection will be posted the week of the NBA Draft, and I will make updates to that bracket with unexpected NBA Draft decisions, as well as any other recruit signings and transfers since my April bracket. After that, I'll have another bracket projection the week of Midnight Madness, and then the "W-17 BP68" will be out 17 weeks before Selection Sunday 2015. The cycle begins anew.

4) Leagues are broken down into the six major conferences, the mid-majors and the small conferences. Major conferences get their own blog post while the other leagues have to share. In major conferences I will rank the full league from top to bottom. For mid-majors I list the top several teams (more or less depending on each league). For the smaller conferences I will just pick a champion. Please do not be offended by where your league is placed. In the end, the arbitrary way I organize conferences says nothing about how many teams from that conference I will include in my preseason bracket projection.

5) For the smaller conferences I will include a lot of stats for each player (points per game, eFG%, etc). For the bigger conferences I'm going to assume that my readers know a lot more about who is who, and there will be a lot less of that. For major recruits, I will list their rankings from Scout and Rivals.


If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask. But without further ado, here are my complete 2014-15 conference previews:

American Athletic
America East
Atlantic Sun
Atlantic Ten
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big 12
Big West
Conference USA
Ivy League
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Ohio Valley
Patriot League
Sun Belt

Sweet 16 (Day 1) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

It's close to 48 hours before the Sweet 16 tips off, but I figured I'd do the "Open Thread + Picking The Lines" post early. Why so generous? Because I have no conference preview post to go with today. The next batch includes the Ohio Valley Conference, and a couple of OVC teams are still playing in tournaments, so it has to wait. So while the next batch of previews won't be posted until at least Friday, you can chew on my previews of the first four Sweet 16 games now.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

Day 6 ATS: 4-4-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 30-20-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Stanford (-3) over Dayton: A lot of your perception of this game has to be your perception of Dayton. They won 10 of their final 12 games prior to the NCAA Tournament, and have made the run to the Sweet 16. Are they really so much better than their overall computer numbers? I'm not sure they are. Let's keep in mind that both of their NCAA Tournament games came down to the final possession, and so they're the luckiest team in the Sweet 16. Stanford's size could be an issue for an undersized Dayton squad, and the Flyers have struggled to score even throughout this run (they're averaging just 0.93 PPP in the NCAA Tournament). Stanford is deservedly the favorite, and I wouldn't sweat the three point line.

Wisconsin (-3) over Baylor: There's far too much overreaction to Baylor's fluke win over Creighton. I don't mean a "fluke win" as saying that Creighton deserved to win - they didn't - but that margin of victory was entirely due to insane three-point luck. If both teams shot their season averages behind the arc, Baylor's 30 point victory would have dropped to 3. Baylor has held their two NCAA Tournament opponents to 0.90 PPP, which is great, but also a relatively small sample size. Their two opponents are shooting 56% on twos and 20% on threes. Remembering that the former is heavily impacted by defensive skill while the latter is almost entirely luck, I see evidence of a decent defense that has gotten really lucky. And keeping in mind that Baylor's five most recent pre-tourney opponents all scored at least 1.1 PPP (including TCU) and I'm very skeptical that Baylor's mediocre defense has turned the corner. Considering that Wisconsin does a good job denying three-pointers, Baylor is going to have to dominate the glass to win this game unless the Badgers go ice cold behind the arc. I'd bet against it.

Florida (-4.5) over UCLA: Florida has knocked UCLA out of the NCAA Tournament three times in the last eight seasons, including twice in the Final Four (including the 2006 title game), so UCLA fans are approaching this game with dread. To win this game, UCLA is going to have to force a whole lot of turnovers. It's possible, as this Florida team has struggled against all sorts of opponents when committing turnovers on more than 20% of possessions. But without those turnovers, UCLA's half court defense just is not that good, and Florida should light them up offensively. UCLA was able to absolutely overwhelm a tiny Stephen F. Austin squad with their size, but Florida shouldn't struggle too much there. UCLA taking out Florida would be a stunning upset, so I'd risk the 4.5 points.

San Diego State (+7.5) over Arizona: This is a massive spread, and feels like an overreaction to Arizona's crushing of Gonzaga. And Arizona definitely did crush Gonzaga - it wasn't the type of statistical fluke I was talking about with Baylor/Creighton. Arizona had 15 steals and 8 blocks while allowing only 16 made baskets. Aside from 1/16 and 2/15 games, that was the single most one-sided game I've seen in the entire tourney. An absolute annihilation. But it's just one game, and I'd trust Xavier Thames much more than any of the ball handlers on Gonzaga, With both of these teams significantly better defensively than offensively, this has the chance to be a low-scoring, physical game. With a spread this large, I'd definitely take the points and hope that we end up with an exciting end to the night of games.

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014-15 Preview: One-Bid Conferences, Part I

Southland Conference

It was a successful season for the Southland, if for no reason other than that it got a real NCAA Tournament victory (as opposed to a 16/16 win, which I don't think most conferences are particularly impressed with). Certainly VCU's late game collapse, and a mysterious foul on that Desmond Haymon four-point play, were big contributors to the upset win, but it's still a great, program-defining victory for the Lumberjacks. In fact, two other teams in the Southland won postseason games, though in smaller tournaments. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beat Northern Colorado in the CIT before falling to Pacific, and Sam Houston State beat Alabama State in the same tournament before falling to San Diego.

Let's start with that Stephen F. Austin team that dominated the league with a perfect 18-0 record (and an outstanding +0.22 PPP efficiency margin in conference play to go with it). How much do they lose? Two senior starters, led by Desmond Haymon (14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg), as well as sixth man DeShaunt Walker (11.7 ppg, 51.3 eFG%). They return starting point guard Trey Pinkney (3.0 ppg, 3.5 apg) and starting "center" (despite being only 6'6") Jacob Parker (14.2 ppg, 56.3 eFG%, 7.1 rpg). The fact that Stephen F. Austin was one of the shortest teams in the country was a problem once they ran into UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, though they do have some options for next season. 6'9" Tanner Clayton (2.9 ppg and 3.4 rpg in only 14.1 mpg) was useful off the bench after joining the team from a junior college a year ago, and he'll be back. They also add a new 6'6" Juco transfer in Clide Geffrard. So while Stephen F. Austin might not be quite as good, they'll definitely be in contention for a repeat title.

Trying to pick the second best team in the Southland this past season isn't totally obvious, but I guess we'll have to go with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. They didn't finish second highest rated in Sagarin or Pomeroy, but they were second in efficiency margin in conference play. That was due to significantly improved play over the course of the season, as their Pomeroy rating climbed over 100 places from New Year's Day to the end of the season. The big change was on the defensive side of the ball, where a defense that was getting roasted all throughout conference play ended up finishing second in the Southland with only 0.98 PPP allowed. And they should be even better next season. They lose a pair of starters, including leading rebounder Zane Knowles (7.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg), but they do return leading scorer John Jordan (14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.3 apg). They also have a nice core of freshmen and sophomores, including Rashawn Thomas (10.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) on the inside and Jake Kocher (5.7 ppg and 1.4 spg in only 17.2 mpg) on the outside. Also look for better play out of 6'6" Jeff Beverly, who was their top 2013 recruit, and Brandon Pye, who was 36-for-70 behind the arc.

According to the computers, the second best team in the league was Sam Houston State. They lose only one starter to graduation (James Thomas - 8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), though they also lose sixth man Terrance Motley (8.5 ppg, 53.9 eFG%, 4.3 rpg). They return leading scorer Jabari Peters (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg) and sharpshooter Paul Baxter (9.1 ppg, 41.7 3P%, 58.8 eFG%), as well as leading rebounder Michael Holyfield (6.5 ppg, 63.8 FG%, 6.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg). They don't have any significant transfers or recruits coming in, but it's reasonable to expect that the natural progression of these young players should make the team even better next season.

The one other Southland team near the top of the conference was Northwestern State, who were the only other team eligible for next year's Southland tournament to finish with a positive efficiency margin in conference play (Oral Roberts also did but is heading back to the Summit next season, and Incarnate Word achieved the same feat but is postseason ineligible as they transition to Division I). Northwestern State is going through a year of transition, though, losing do-everything star DeQuan Hicks (15.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg) and two other starters. The offense will be turned over to Jalan West (19.4 ppg, 40.4 3P%, 6.4 apg, 2.5 spg) and to rising-sophomore Zikiteran Woodley (13.9 ppg, 63.8 eFG%, 4.6 rpg). Their top incoming recruit is 6'11" Reggie Kissoonial.

It's a long way back to the rest of the conference, and so I think it's reasonable to project that next year's champion will come from these top four teams. Like I said, I think Northwestern State is in a year of transition, so that narrows it down to Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State. Certainly I don't think you can go wrong with any of those three teams, but I don't see how I can go against Stephen F. Austin. They have serious losses, but not significantly worse than their top competitors, and the gap between them and the field was pretty significant this past season. It will take a significant improvement from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Sam Houston State to catch them. The safest pick is Stephen F. Austin.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

It's been a rough.... many years for SWAC basketball. It's been the worst conference in college basketball for years, and an automatic entrant into the 16/16 play-in games. But this year they reached a new low by turning their conference tournament into a farce due to the fact that four of the ten teams were ineligible for the postseason. They elected to go with a tournament where ineligible teams could play, and the team that got furthest would earn the auto bid. This not only made things wildly unfair for the teams on Southern's side of the bracket (since Southern was far and away the best team but was also ineligible for the postseason) but also created the insane possibility of the title game being played by ineligible teams, and the auto bid going to whichever of the two semifinal losers was seeded higher. That would have been wildly embarrassing. Luckily for the league, the ineligible teams went down early, and Texas Southern won the auto bid on the court in the SWAC title game, led by SWAC Player of the Year Aaric Murray. The SWAC postseason went the way you'd expect, with Texas Southern losing by 12 to Cal Poly in the 16/16 play-in game and with Alabama State being smoked by Sam Houston State in the CIT.

Let's start with that Texas Southern team, since they were the league's NCAA Tournament representative, after all. It's going to be an uphill battle to get back, though. Of their eight man rotation, six were seniors, including star Aaric Murray, who led the team in points (21.6 per game), rebounds (7.5 per game) and blocks (2.5 per game). Their top returner is starting point guard Madarius Gibbs (9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg, 54.9 eFG%). The other returner from the regular rotation is Jose Rodriguez (11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg). After that, this roster is really hard to figure out. Mike Davis has had a slew of Juco players and transfers coming in and out, but there aren't any signed for next year who seem particularly impressive. So at this point, I don't see how I can project Texas Southern to repeat.

It's not a certainty that Southern will be eligible again for next season, as it's related to academic issues that they still need to fully resolve, but for the sake of this preview we'll assume that they will get this straightened out by next March. And Southern certainly was the best team in the conference during the season, by a wide margin. Southern had a dominant +0.14 PPP in conference play, including a very impressive 0.86 PPP allowed on defense. Their defense ranked 68th in the nation in Pomeroy, which makes it the only SWAC offense or defense ranked anywhere near the Top 100. They do lose three starters to graduation, led by Malcolm Miller (12.7 ppg, 39.0 3P%, 5.2 rpg). But they do return their leading scorer (Calvin Godfrey - 13.1 per game) and starting point guard Trelun Banks (8.7 ppg, 3.3 apg). Their key incoming player is a transfer: 6'10" Keith Davis from Texas A&M. He never scored much (1.1 ppg over 11.2 mpg in three seasons), but he's an athletic big body who should be one of the more athletic players in the conference. They have a few Jucos and high school recruits coming in, led by 6'9" high schooler Damontre McFarland. Southern probably ends up returning more than any other team in the SWAC, so they'll obviously be in contention for the title again next season.

Once Southern was announced as ineligible for the postseason, the top contender to Texas Southern in the SWAC was Alabama State.  They weren't quite as good as their record (8-3 in conference games decided by six points or less or in overtime), but they were also the youngest team in the conference, without a single senior on the entire roster. Their most important player is point guard Jamel Waters (14.1 ppg, 6.1 apg), but their most important skill is offensive rebounding, where they led the conference. Maurice Strong and Luther Page both averaged well over two offensive rebounds per game. To reach the next level next season, they're going to have to improve defensively, and they're going to need a shooter to help spread the floor (they were a putrid 28.0% behind the arc for the season).

Jackson State is a team to keep an eye on for next season. They were better than their 7-11 record in conference play (only outscored by 0.01 PPP), and they return three of their five starters. They lose their leading rebounder Brandon West (12.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg), though who based on this incident seems like a bit of a knucklehead. They lose leading scorer Julysses Nobles (15.6 ppg), but he was more of a volume scorer than anything (29.8 3P%, 43.2 eFG%). They have a nice inside-outside combo for the future in Javeres Brent (8.9 ppg, 34.8 3P%) and 6'8" Treshawn Bolden (5.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg), both of whom were freshmen his past season. Jackson State also adds Raeford Worsham, who averaged 6.4 points per game as a freshman with Arkansas State in 2012-13, and who will be eligible to play in games after the fall semester ends. They might not win the SWAC next season, but they should be in contention for the next few seasons with that core.

The only other SWAC team that was in the Top 300 of either the Pomeroy or Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings was Alabama A&M, but their starting lineup was made of five seniors, so it's hard to see them not taking a step back. If there's one sleeper it's an Arkansas-Pine Bluff team that loses only one senior from their rotation and might potentially start four seniors next season. They have a very good scorer by SWAC standards in Marcel Mosley (13.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 37.6 3P%, 52.2 eFG%), who unfortunately missed the SWAC tournament with a broken jaw. That wasn't the only injury Arkansas-Pine Bluff dealt with, including a torn ACL for DeAndre McIntyre (5.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg). If they can get healthy next season, they can contend.

In the end, Southern and Alabama State look to be the most talented teams in the SWAC for next season, with Jackson State the best of the rest. There doesn't look to be the type of, uh, "dominant" team that might actually be able to avoid a 16/16 play-in game in the NCAA Tournament, but maybe the SWAC can at least put on a conference tournament that isn't a farce. In the end, I like how young this Alabama State team is in a league with so many teams losing so much. They're going to have to play better defensively, but if they do then they will have the edge on a Southern team that has to replace several key players. In my opinion, Alabama State is the pick.

Summit League

It feels like North Dakota State and South Dakota State have taken turns putting together really strong, senior-laden teams in the Summit League over the past few seasons. This past season it was North Dakota State that dominated the league by 0.16 PPP in conference play, beating Notre Dame, Delaware and Towson (and nearly beating Southern Miss) en route to a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Once there they took down 5 seed Oklahoma, and then played very competitively against 4 seed San Diego State (the final score is not indicative of how close that game was for most of the second half). The only other teams in the league to win a postseason game were IPFW and Nebraska-Omaha, who both won did their damage in the CIT. The league does get stronger with the return of Oral Roberts, however.

Let's begin with that North Dakota State team that impressed so much all season long. They're going to have a lot of turnover, as star Taylor Braun (17.6 ppg, 39.6 3P%, 5.5 rpg, 3.8 apg) graduates, as well as Marshall Bjorklund (13.2 ppg, 62.9 FG%, 4.2 rpg) and TrayVonn Wright (11.4 ppg, 54.9 eFG%, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg). But don't think this Bisons team is going away. They return a pair of starters (Kory Brown and Lawrence Alexander), and have a couple of talented young players ready to grow into bigger roles in Carlin Dupree (3.0 ppg in only 7.8 mpg) and 6'8" Chris Kading (2.7 ppg and 2.6 rpg in only 15.5 mpg). They also have new talented players coming in. 6'6" AJ Jacobson, who was a North Dakota Mr. Basketball, took a redshirt season and will still have four years of eligibility left. They also have a full recruiting class coming in, though none are getting a lot of hype. The Bison will have to take a step back next season, but they won't be going away as long as Saul Phillips is there.

Like their rivals, South Dakota State loses three starters, including star Jordan Dykstra, who led the team in points (16.0 per game) and rebounds (7.6 per game) while also hitting 40.2% of his threes. A key returner is Jake Bittle (8.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.8 spg), who missed most of non-conference play but who made the team much better after his return. Their best player next year will probably be 6'9" rising-senior Cody Larson (13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg). A young player to look to improve in extended minutes is 6'2" Anders Broman, who had 3.9 ppg and 1.0 apg in only 14.3 mpg as a true freshman. Their top incoming recruit is 6'9" Ian Theisen. They didn't have a real point guard on the roster, but they add one in Wisconsin transfer George Marshall, who averaged 4.1 ppg and 1.0 apg as a freshman in 2012-13.

Despite South Dakota State rating as the second best team in the conference, the 2 seed in the Summit tournament actually went (via tiebreaker) to IPFW. The Mastodons (the most underrated team nickname in college basketball) succeeded with some very nice shooting. They hit 38.4% of their threes, and their 55.3 eFG% as a team was 10th best in the nation. They do lose three players from their regular eight man rotation: their leading scorer (Luis Jacobo - 15.2 per game), their starting point guard (Pierre Bland - 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game) and maybe their best all-around shooter (Michael Kibiloski - 40.6 3P%, 60.1 eFG%). They do return a really nice front court pair of 6'9" Steve Forbes (12.1 ppg and 5.3 rpg) and 6'7" Joe Reed (7.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg), as well as a superb young scorer in Mo Evans (9.4 ppg, 43.7 3P%, 59.0 eFG% and 1.3 spg as a true freshman). They also add 6'3" Max Landis, who averaged 8.6 ppg and 1.4 apg over two seasons at Gardner Webb. They should be a very similar team again next season, and in the mix once again.

Denver was unlucky to finish in the standings where they did (their +0.07 PPP in conference play was better than IPFW's +0.03 PPP), and they only lose one senior from their regular rotation, but it's star Chris Udofia (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.3 bpg). Still, they return a whole slew of nice outside shooters, led by Brett Olson (14.5 ppg, 43.9 3P%, 90.2 FT%). They also have a nice do-everything player in rising-senior Cam Griffin (8.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg). They also should get back 6'5" forward Dorian Butler from their 2013 recruiting class, who I believe took a redshirt year (though I can't find confirmation on that). Their top recruit appears to be 6'3" Jake Pemberton.

Oral Roberts is in a bit of a transition year, and not just because they're changing conferences. They lose star Shawn Glover (21.3 ppg, 52.0 eFG%, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg), but their seven top minute earners after him were either freshmen or sophomores. The best of that bunch from this past season was Korey Billbury (15.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.5 apg). They need more size, but 6'9" recruit AJ Owens should help with that. Oral Roberts might not win the Summit title next season, but they're going to be in the mix for the foreseeable future.

Nebraska-Omaha played really well in their first season in the Summit, but they're not eligible to play in the postseason for a couple more seasons. And that might seem confusing, since they played in the CIT this season, but the CBI and CIT are not technically run in the NCAA, and thus don't count. But Nebraska-Omaha cannot play in the Summit tournament or the NCAA Tournament or NIT until they complete their transition to Division I.

The Summit is a fun league to watch. The league was among the top four leagues in the entire nation in 2P%, 3P%, FT%, eFG% and overall offensive efficiency in conference play. Lots of players can score, and there are a lot of good coaches. I don't think anybody from this league is going to challenge for an at-large bid next season, but there are a whole bunch of teams that can earn a 12 or 13 seed and win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. In my opinion, North Dakota State is probably going to be in a bit too much of a rebuilding mode to repeat. South Dakota State is going through rebuilding of their own, though they could be better next season. IPFW is a concern because they clearly weren't as good as their record last season. And I think Oral Roberts will still be a year away from having a conference-winning core. In my opinion, the favorite is a Denver team that was a lot better than their record and that returns almost everybody. Plus, their high altitude gives them a great homecourt advantage. In my opinion, Denver is the pick.

 Sun Belt Conference

The story in the Sun Belt this past season was Georgia State dominating the league. They finished five games clear of second place... and second placed Western Kentucky is off to Conference USA. But it was the third placed team, Louisiana-Lafayette, who stunned Georgia State in overtime of the Sun Belt title game and who were able to make a respectable go of it against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64. Georgia State's consolation was the NIT, where they went out in the opening round to Clemson.

The good news for Georgia State is that Ryan Harrow, who seems like he's been around forever, has one more year of eligibility left. He was second on the team in points (17.8 per game) and assists (4.2 per game). They do lose their best outside shooter (Manny Atkins - 14.4 ppg, 43.3 3P%) and their leader in assists (Devonta White - 11.6 ppg, 4.3 apg), but the rest of the regular rotation returns, led by 6'9" Curtis Washington (7.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and leading-scorer RJ Hunter (18.3 ppg, 39.7 3P%, 56.1 eFG%). A young player likely to see expanded minutes is 6'6" Markus Crider (3.0 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 17.1 mpg). Their offense might not be quite as fearsome next season without a guy like Atkins (they scored 1.15 PPP in conference play), but they should be a contender to repeat their regular season title.

Louisiana-Lafayette finished the season very strong. After a 12-9 start to the season (including 3-5 in conference play), they won 11 of their final 13 games head into Selection Sunday. Their success was built around the scoring of Elfrid Payton (19.2 ppg, 8.8 FTAs per game, 6.0 rpg, 5.9 apg, 2.3 apg) and 6'9" Shawn Long inside (18.6 ppg, 53.1 eFG%, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg), and those two players return, though they do lose a pair of starters, led by Bryant Mbamalu (12.3 ppg, 37.1 3P%, 4.3 rpg). They do return a very efficient scorer in Xavian Rimmer (8.8 ppg, 44.4 3P%, 58.6 eFG%), and should get back Kasey Shepherd (8.2 ppg, 51.2 3P%, 66.5 eFG%), who was lost for the season in late January with a torn meniscus. With a relatively thin bench, the Ragin' Cajuns will need to find some talent from their incoming recruiting class, but their starting lineup should be as good as any team in the conference.

The only other Sun Belt team (not including departing Western Kentucky) to finish in the Top 200 of Pomeroy or Sagarin PREDICTOR was Arkansas State, but their five top minute earners were all seniors, so they'll inevitably take a step back. But in a year where the Sun Belt was clearly down, there just weren't any other teams really in the class of Georgia State or Louisiana-Lafayette. Is there a sleeper that can make a run to the top next season? Honestly... not really. Even South Alabama's Pomeroy experience rating in the graph above is deceptive. The Jaguars lose two starters, including star Augustine Rubit (17.0 ppg and 9.4 rpg), but grade as young because six of the eleven players who earned at least six minutes per game were freshmen. They might be good in a couple of years, but it seems awfully unlikely that they'll be at the level of Georgia State or Louisiana-Lafayette next season.

So to me, the Sun Belt is going to be a fairly straightforward battle next year between Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Georgia State was better this past season, but Louisiana-Lafayette finished the season looking a lot better, and they return more of their lineup. They even get back a key player who missed the stretch run with injury. So while Georgia State might end up being the media's preseason favorite, I'm going to give the narrow edge to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Western Athletic Conference

Enough requiems for the Big East. We need one for the WAC, which has been harmed by realignment more than any other league. They were absolutely gutted. There were as many teams in the 2013-14 WAC that were also in the 2012-13 WAC as were in the 2012-13 Great West conference. We entered the season believing New Mexico State was the only team that wasn't terrible, and while Utah Valley wildly exceeded expectations (and actually stole the 1 seed in the WAC tourney with some luck in close games and a tiebreaker), the gap between New Mexico State and the rest of the league was still larger than the gap between the best and second best team in any other league (at least according to the Pomeroy ratings). The efficiency margins validated the computers, with New Mexico State dominating the league by 0.21 PPP, while Utah Valley only outscored competition by 0.06 PPP. How did they end up tied in the standings? New Mexico State went 1-4 in games decided by six points or less, while Utah Valley went 5-0.

In the end, New Mexico State took care of business in the WAC tournament and took San Diego State into overtime in the NCAA Tournament. Utah Valley earned the auto bid to the NIT, where they were easily dispatched by California in the opening round. No other team in the WAC played in a postseason tournament. So the question heading forward is twofold. First, can New Mexico State keep up or improve on their quality of play so that the league can continue to earn respectable NCAA Tournament seeds and have a real shot to win games? Second, can any other team get anywhere close to the Top 100 in the computers and have a real chance to make this more than a one-team league.

Let's start with New Mexico State and their gigantic front line. Of their three huge big men (all 6'10" or larger), one graduates: Renaldo Dixon (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg). They also lose their best outside shooter (Kevin Aronis - 7.6 ppg, 43.7 3P%, 61.5 eFG%). But they return four of five starters, including 7'5" Sim Bhullar (10.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.4 bpg) and 6'10" Tshilidzi Nephawe (11.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and leading scorer Daniel Mullings (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.9 bpg). One big question mark is KC Ross-Miller (8.3 ppg, 52.1 eFG%, 3.5 apg), who missed the WAC and NCAA tournaments with a team suspension. It remains to be seen if he will be able to return to the team next season. One key player to keep an eye on is Ian Baker, who missed the first half of the season while waiting to become eligible but finished his freshman season very strong (3.9 ppg and 1.1 apg in only 14.3 mpg). By the way, you think the WAC is sick of Sim Bhullar already? Well he has a younger brother - 7'3" Tanveer Bhullar, who should play for New Mexico State next season. I wouldn't expect to see those two on the court at the same time, but between the two of them opponents should be dealing with overwhelming size for almost all 40 minutes of the game. In other words, I don't think New Mexico State is going anywhere. They might be even better next season.

What about that surprising Utah Valley team? They weren't anywhere close to as good as New Mexico State, but they did sneak into the Top 200 of the Pomeroy ratings by the end of the season, which is very impressive considering their preseason expectations. Is there reason to believe that this is a sign for future success? Unfortunately, I don't think so. Dick Hunsaker has been in charge of Utah Valley for over a decade, and there's no clear upward trend. And even inside their team stats (aside from things like the luck in close games), their peripherals point toward "fluke season". For example, they were 5th in the nation in FT% defense, and they led the WAC in 3P% defense despite only being 4th in 3PA/FGA defense. Throw in the fact that they lose three starters, including their leading scorer and assist man (Holton Hunsaker - 14.2 ppg and 4.2 apg) and their leading rebounder (Ben Aird - 11.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg), and it's hard to see how Utah Valley closes the gap with New Mexico State next season.

Who else can compete with New Mexico State? Well, the computers have Cal State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon as the next best teams, though Grand Canyon is ineligible for the postseason as they transition to DI and Cal State Bakersfield loses three starters, including do-everything star Isaiah Grayson (17.0 ppg, 49.7 3P%, 61.3 eFG%, 3.9 apg, 1.4 spg). I guess if I had to pick the most likely team to challenge Utah Valley for second place I'd take Seattle. They lose a pair of starters, but have one more year of star Isiah Umipig (19.5 ppg, 3.6 apg). They also return their leading rebounder, 6'11" Jack Crook (5.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg). They also should get two key players back from injury: Deshaun Sunderhaus (10.6 ppg, 57.7 FG%, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) should return after missing the second half of the season with a torn ACL, while Emerson Murray (6.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 apg) should return after missing close to half the season due to injury. They also add a point guard in Manroop Clair, who averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 assists in 11.5 minutes per game as a freshman at Hawaii.

But while Seattle might pass Utah Valley as the second best team in the WAC, the gap to New Mexico State should continue to be gigantic. The fact that New Mexico State has so much size (by Pomeroy's "effective height" metric they've been the tallest team in the country two straight seasons and will likely make it a third straight next season) just emphasizes physically what is true in talent: New Mexico State is the class of the WAC. If another program rises up to become decent, Seattle remains the best bet. I like what Cameron Dollar has done there, even with the down 2013-14 season. But for 2014-15, New Mexico State is the heavy favorite.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 6 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

One of the more amusing things in media coverage is that way that we judge coaches basically on things out of their control. If Georgetown can hit a couple of extra open jump shots last season, Florida Gulf Coast goes down in the Round of 64 and nobody even considers Andy Enfield a viable major conference head coach. Yet he gets two fluke wins, and suddenly not only is he USC head coach but everybody in the media calls it a better hire than UCLA's hire of Steve Alford, who is the far, far more accomplished head coach.

We saw that last night with Dayton, where they had their second straight final possession tourney win. If Archie Miller should be in line for a high major job, why is it that he becomes less desirable because Devin Oliver missed the front end of a one-and-one late? Why does he suddenly become much more desirable because Tyler Ennis missed a buzzer beater by a fraction of an inch that was an easier shot than the buzzer beater he hit earlier in the season to beat Pitt? If Archie Miller deserves a job, judging it on the results of one or two close games is dumb. I understand that this is how morons on message boards and who do sportswriting at a lot of major outlets think, but athletic directors need to be smarter. Though often you get the sense that they aren't.

This poor thinking is not unique to sports, by the way. We see the over-reacting to small sample sizes statistically inseparable from randomness in all areas of life. There are plenty of books about this bias in the world of business, if you want to check them out on Amazon.

Well, I went only 5-3 against the spread yesterday, but came within a few seconds of 7-1. The Oregon and Michigan State beats, within minutes of each other, were brutal. I'm not sure which was worse, though I'd lean toward Harvard hitting a meaningless layup in the final second to cost Michigan State the cover. Particularly since I took MSU-7.5 when some casinos had it at MSU-7. Sigh. This is why you don't gamble more than a few bucks at a time for fun, people. Don't try to make your living this way. Don't do that to yourself.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

Yesterday ATS: 5-3-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 26-16-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Kansas (-6) over Stanford: Stanford is a solid team, but I don't think they're built to beat Kansas. They do not force a lot of turnovers and don't draw a lot of fouls, which are the two ways to really take advantage of Kansas's weaknesses. The Jayhawks are certainly the better team, and they should win. The one caveat here is that this Stanford team has a lot of size. Without Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are vulnerable to big front lines, but the Cardinal are not a team that tends to take advantage of their size. They don't have a premier paint scorer and they don't get after the offensive glass. Kansas should win.

Kentucky (+4.5) over Wichita State: I have to admit, this spread is larger than I expected. I thought it would be closer to two. Wichita State's thumping of Cal Poly seemed to impress people, though I'm not sure why it necessarily should. Certainly the concern for Kentucky is going to be scoring, as Wichita State plays a very sound defense that tends to limit second opportunities and easy baskets. At the same time, Wichita State is not a team that has outside shooters, and Willie Cauley-Stein could make this one very interesting. I picked Wichita State to win this game in my bracket, and I do think that's the right pick, but don't be shocked if Kentucky pulls the upset.

North Carolina (+1.5) over Iowa State: This would be a fair line if Iowa State was healthy. But they're not. Georges Niang is (in my opinion) Iowa State's second best and second most important player after DeAndre Kane. Iowa State also suddenly only has a six man rotation in a game that is likely to be played at an awfully high tempo. As the weakest 3 seed, Iowa State was a dicey Sweet 16 pick to begin with, but with Georges Niang done for the season, North Carolina has the be the favorite to win this game outright.

Tennessee (-8) over Mercer: Tennessee, as an 11 seed, will not only be a big favorite in both the Round of 64 and the Round of 32, but they'll likely only be something like a two point underdog against the 2 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16. It's hard to really call them a Cinderella since they're not really upsetting anybody. As for this game, Tennessee is substantially more athletic and physical, and their strong three-point defense should limit Mercer's one real weapon. It would be stunning if Mercer somehow won this game.

UCLA (-9) over Stephen F. Austin: The biggest concern I have in this game is size. UCLA is a massive team, and while they don't always take advantage of it (neither Kyle Anderson or the Wear Twins ever score much out of a traditional post set), this is still just a massive gap. Jordan Adams is only one inch shorter than the tallest guy in Stephen F. Austin's primary six man rotation. The Lumberjacks did stun VCU in the last round, but they also got really lucky (a VCU collapse plus a couple of dicey referee calls late) just to get to overtime. And UCLA is even better than VCU.

Creighton (-3) over Baylor: Baylor is going to struggle to keep up offensively. The one area Creighton is strong defensively is defensive rebounding, which will take away a key part of Baylor's scoring. The only consistent, effective scorer from the perimeter that Baylor has is Brady Heslip, but Heslip isn't going to outscore Creighton's outside shooters. The only way Creighton loses this game will be if they break down in the paint and get completely out-physical'd.

Virginia (-6) over Memphis: I really like Virginia here. Memphis is a team that is sloppy and undisciplined offensively, and they're going to get eaten alive by this great Cavaliers defense. Also, people forget that this Virginia team can score (the second best offense in the ACC), so there's not much of a risk of this being a 45-42 slog. If Memphis won this it would probably be the most surprising upset of the tourney thus far aside from Mercer over Duke.

Gonzaga (+7) over Arizona: Arizona is happy that Oklahoma State was taken down in the Round of 64, but Gonzaga isn't that much easier of an opponent. The Zags were quietly a very good team this year, held back by a poor schedule more than anything. This is a game that could really be a grind, as both teams are built around a strong defense, and neither team has a lot of shooters (we've seen Kevin Pangos go nuts before, but it's inconsistent with him). Sam Dower did not see much of the ball against Oklahoma State, but I don't think that can be the strategy here. The Zags need to focus on getting the ball inside and getting Arizona's thin front line in foul trouble. Arizona has an outstanding starting lineup, but their bench falls off very quickly. If Aaron Gordon gets in foul trouble early, Gonzaga can definitely win this game outright.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 5 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Well, I hope you didn't pin your child's college on my bets yesterday. A 7-9 day, my first bad day of the tourney thus far.

Of all the bad losses, I think the worst is Stephen F. Austin over VCU. Stephen F. Austin is the team that everybody in your pool who didn't watch a college basketball game all season told you was "really underrated" and picked - the secretary who picks teams by their mascots is going to be gloating on Monday. And even with VCU's late collapse, they still would have won without the phantom foul on the Desmond Haymon three-pointer. Oh well. As I pointed out on twitter, VCU still has some tourney karma to pay back after their crazy Final Four run, so this is going toward evening back out that account.

One thing that really stood out to me from yesterday is Duke losing... again. In recent memory they've gone down to three big double-digit seed underdogs (VCU, Lehigh and Mercer). Over the last ten seasons, they've won 18 NCAA Tournament games, when their seeds projected around 26. What's interesting about this is that this is a substantially larger sample size of Tournament failure than we have for other coaches who are known as "Can't win in March" guys (Jamie Dixon, John Thompson III, Steve Alford, Bo Ryan, etc).

Yet Coach K used to be the most dominant NCAA Tournament coach since John Wooden. He has won four national titles, and his streak of 17 Sweet Sixteens in 21 seasons (from 1986 through 2006) is the most impressive streak of tourney success in the modern era. Did Coach K forget something? He doesn't know how to coach in March anymore? His style has dramatically changed from a "win in March" style to a "losing in March" style?

No. This goes back to what I wrote preseason about the myth of Steve Alford being a tourney failure. Our narratives about tourney success are often based on the results of two or three close games over a decade. It's just a puny, insignificant sample size. We now have a much larger sample size of failure by Coach K, but we know that he has won in the past. Let's apply this logic to other coaches. The idea that certain coaches "always win in March" or "can't win in March" is, in general, nonsense. And even if it did exist, we don't have a large enough sample size even on a guy like John Thompson III to come to that kind of conclusion. So don't fall for the hype. Judge coaches on the full sample size of games. Don't believe that they become possessed by magical "winning"/"losing" powers in March.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

Yesterday ATS: 7-9-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 21-13-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Florida (-5.5) over Pittsburgh: There are going to be a lot of people tempted to pick Pittsburgh here after they destroyed Colorado while Florida struggled with Albany. But don't overreact to a single game like that. Obviously Pitt is a very strong 8 seed, but Colorado was the second worst at-large team in the NCAA Tournament by the computers (only NC State was worse), and this is still the same Florida team that went 21-0 against SEC opponents this season. My concern with Pitt is that this is likely going to turn into a jump shooting game, and Florida has much better shooters. The one area Florida has to potentially worry about is rebounding, particularly if Patric Young gets in foul trouble. But most likely he won't, and Florida should win.

Louisville (-9) over Saint Louis: Saint Louis managed to get here through an epic, disastrous collapse by the weakest at-large team in the Field of 68. I don't think there's any team in the Round of 32 that should feel worse about how they got here. The Jordair Jett/Russ Smith  match-up should be a fascinating one, but also a worrying one for Saint Louis. In important, tight games, Jett has been the do-everything playmaker for Saint Louis, but Russ Smith might be the best perimeter defender in the nation. Smith is the better player, and he should outplay Jett head-to-head. Saint Louis tends not to win games if Jett doesn't outplay his man.

Michigan (-5) over Texas: Both of these teams have distinct match-up advantages over the other. Texas is a dominant rebounding team, and offensive putbacks are a big source of their scoring. Michigan, particularly since the loss of Mitch McGary, has not been a strong rebounding team. That said, the Texas perimeter defense is mediocre (9th in the Big 12 in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio), and Michigan's offense should light them up. The one thing that stands out to me is that down the stretch Texas has not had the rebounding gaps that they had back in January and early February. They were actually out-rebounded by Baylor and Arizona State in their last two games, leading to the big loss to Baylor and nearly losing to an inferior Arizona State team. I think teams have been adjusting to Texas, and I think Jordan Morgan is the star for the Wolverines as they make the Sweet 16.

San Diego State (-3) over North Dakota State: North Dakota State is a good team, and the upset of Oklahoma certainly was no shocker, but they're facing another level of defense here. North Dakota State struggled at times with Oklahoma's athleticism, but they won by shooting significantly better (a 58.8 eFG% vs a 41.1 eFG% for the Sooners). San Diego State's defense should clamp down much better on North Dakota State's shooters, and they should be able to take the victory here.

Syracuse (-7) over Dayton: When breaking down Syracuse games, you always want to see how the opponent matches up with a zone. Can they shoot over the top? Do they pass the ball well or have a player who is built to break down the zone? Dayton does have some good shooters, but they're not point guards - they rely on a drive-and-kick. I'm not sure that they have the playmakers to generate those chances, though. They lack a really good ball handler, and they were just 10th in the Atlantic Ten in assist rate. Dayton is certainly playing good basketball right now, but I'll be pretty surprised if they take out Syracuse.

Oregon (+5) over Wisconsin: If Oregon wins this game, we'll know why. Wisconsin has struggled defensively against quick perimeter players, and Oregon has a slew of them. Compared to the slow, slogging American University Princeton offense, Wisconsin is facing the polar opposite type of team here. That said, Wisconsin is the better team, and should be able to take advantage of Oregon's mediocre defense and penchant to commit a lot of fouls. Wisconsin is the favorite and deservedly so, but I'll take the points.

Michigan State (-7.5) over Harvard: This game pick basically comes down to what you think of Michigan State. If you go by their performance during the season, this spread is too high. Pomeroy has the spread at 3 points and Sagarin has it at 5. But if you believe that Michigan State is hitting its stride, and that they're now fully healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, then you think the computers underrate them. I picked Michigan State to the Final Four for this reason, so I have to stick with my logic.

UConn (+4) over Villanova: It's tough to pick a winner in this game. Villanova is a team very dependent on hitting threes, and if they go cold they can lose to anybody, but if they get hot they're practically unbeatable (they're 18-1 when shooting better than 34.5% on threes, with the one loss coming in Creighton's record-setting shooting night). And against a UConn team with a substantially better paint defense than perimeter defense, Villanova is going to be even more dependent on outside shooting. Basically, this game will come down to whether Villanova shoots threes well or not. And in a situation like that, the safer pick is to take the points.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 4 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

There are a few too many narratives going on about the Louisville game. Louisville struggled against an inferior team. Manhattan is not Cal Poly - they are a team that started the season thinking potential at-large bid. In the end, Louisville recovered and came up 9.5 points short of covering the spread. You know what other team recovered late but still ended up exactly 9.5 points short of covering the spread? Florida. But they played a significant weaker opponent, so it didn't look like they might lose, and so there isn't the same angst about them.

In the end, I went 10-4-2 against the spread yesterday, with some luck going both ways. I still can't understand how NC State blew things against St. Louis. At the same time, I got lucky with the UConn and Michigan State covers. This kind of luck evens out over the long run.

Let's get to Friday's games and hope for a day as good as Thursday.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

Yesterday ATS: 10-4-2
2014 Tournament ATS: 14-4-2
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Duke (-12.5) over Mercer: This is a reasonably fair line, but this a game where Duke can really blow the doors off an opponent. This is a trendy upset pick, but I'm not sure why. Duke scores on everybody, and the one part of their defense that is working pretty well is preventing threes, which are the most important part of Mercer's offense. Could be a rout.

Nebraska (+3.5) over Baylor: Baylor does match up well with Nebraska, I think. Nebraska is not built to take advantage of Baylor's weaknesses (such as poor defensive rebounding). And certainly Nebraska is a team that can shoot themselves out of a game... but what stands out to me with this spread is that as good as Baylor has been over the month, Nebraska has been just as good. I think this is going to be a really tight one, and easily could come down to the final possession. I feel like taking the points is the safer bet.

New Mexico (-3) over Stanford: I'm concerned about Stanford's lack of depth in this game. Also, against Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, you either need a monster front line of your own or you need to be strong offensively on the perimeter, and Stanford is neither of those. The Cardinal rely on getting in the paint and scoring from there, but that's going to be difficult unless New Mexico's front line gets in foul trouble.

Weber State (+20) over Arizona: The dreaded 1-16 betting line. As always, I advise laying off these lines. I'll give Weber State a shot at getting hot in this game, though. They have shooters all over their lineup, and hit 41.7% behind the arc in conference play. Arizona's perimeter defense is good, of course, so let's not take seriously the idea of Weber State winning this game, but I can see them shooting well enough to make Arizona sweat this game like Florida sweat out their game yesterday.

Tennessee (-4.5) over UMass: If anything, this spread should be larger. Tennessee was the significantly better team this season. They also have a match-up advantage in that they aggressively go after the offensive glass, while UMass was a below-average defensive rebounding team in the Atlantic Ten. If UMass wins this game, it'll be the second-most surprising upset of the tourney so far (after Dayton over Ohio State).

Creighton (-14) over Louisiana-Lafayette: Louisiana-Lafayette was the fifth best defense... in the Sun Belt. Creighton should light them up. I always feel better with these 12-16 point spreads when the score should be high. Creighton could easily have 50 points at halftime in this game.

Eastern Kentucky (+14) over Kansas: Looking for a 2/15 game that could prettaaay, prettaaay interesting on Friday? Look at this game. Eastern Kentucky plays an aggressive, feisty perimeter defense that could give the Kansas ball handlers some trouble. We all know that Kansas is always a Naadir Tharpe stinker from losing to a fairly mediocre team. They're not likely to lose here, but don't be surprised if this one is pretty close.

Oklahoma State (-3) over Gonzaga: It's possible that Sam Dower goes for 25 points against this undersized Oklahoma State front line and wins this game, but this year's Gonzaga team hasn't really been able to take advantage of smaller opponents like they could the last couple of years. This year's team is more of a defense-first, low-scoring team. In my opinion, this Oklahoma State team is awfully good, maybe one of the 15 best teams in the nation. They should win this game and give Arizona a really tough game in the next round.

George Washington (+3) over Memphis: Well, I picked George Washington to win this game outright, so I have to take the points. Read my reasoning here.

Wichita State (-16) over Cal Poly: In games with a spread this big, you need a reason why the underdog can potentially keep the game close. But what would be the reason Cal Poly can keep this game close? Where is their match-up advantage? What's the "Cal Poly pulled Wichita State into the final minute because [/something]" headline?

Providence (+4) over North Carolina: North Carolina is the favorite, and deservedly so. I took them in my bracket. But as you see in my breakdown, I view this as almost a toss-up game. If this is a physical game with a lot of free throws, which it very well might, Providence has a substantial FT% advantage (78.1% vs 62.5%). The Friars can definitely win this game outright.

VCU (-6.5) over Stephen F. Austin: Everybody you know who never saw Stephen F. Austin play this year is telling you that they're underrated. As I mentioned on twitter yesterday, and it's basically a tautology, but if everybody tells you that a team is "underrated", they're almost certainly overrated. I explain here just why I expect a romp here.

Virginia (-21) over Coastal Carolina: As always, please remember, lay off 1/16 games. This is a fair line. But while in other years you'd say Virginia's lack of scoring is a problem for a spread this large, the reality is that Virginia had the second best offense in the ACC this season. They definitely can score, and I think they'll be motivated to come out aggressive after the lack of respect they've gotten all week.

Kentucky (-6) over Kansas State: It's weird to have a Kentucky team that's underrated, but here we are. And one of the big concerns is that Kansas State is much better at home. They won two games on the road all season long, and they came over Texas Tech and TCU. Kansas State failed to crack 1.00 PPP in Big 12 play five times this season, and all five times came on the road. Considering that the way to exploit this Kentucky team is to score efficiently against their inconsistent defense, and Kentucky is the clear favorite.

Iowa State (-8) over NC Central: This is a fair line. Iowa State is the weakest 3 seed and NC Central might be the strongest 14 seed. But 8 points is a pretty small spread, particularly when Iowa State loves to push pace and play high scoring games. I'm also a little bit concerned by the fact that NC Central is a defense-first team that isn't great offensively. Iowa State could go on a 12-0 spurt and NC Central won't have the firepower to get back in the game.

Tulsa (+8.5) over UCLA: Other than the 1/16 games, there's no game where I have a worse feel the spread than this one. This seems like too large of a spread, but at the same time Tulsa doesn't really have the personnel to defend a guy like Kyle Anderson. And as I've made clear, I don't believe in the "[/so and so Coach] can't win in March" narratives. So my recommendation is to lay off.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 3 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

4-0 against the spread! As all people who pay money to "tout" services know, this means I'm guaranteed to go 67-0.*

*This is a joke. Please do not expect my gambling picks to finance your retirement.

The first day of the NCAA Tournament is here. The first day of spring is here. Let's do this. And remember that if you haven't filled out your bracket yet, my full Tournament breakdown is here.

Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

2014 Tournament ATS: 4-0-0
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Dayton (+6.5) over Ohio State: Ohio State is deservedly the favorite here. I think they're going to win. But this has "low scoring slog" written all over it. Ohio State's last six games have all been decided by eight points or less, and their only win away from home by more than nine points all season was that Marquette debacle where the Golden Eagles had an eFG% so bad (19.8%) that they were one of only two Division I teams all season long to fail to break 20% in eFG% (UMass-Lowell, back on January 26th, was the other). The odds of Ohio State blowing Dayton off the floor just seem awfully low.

American University (+13.5) over Wisconsin: I'm taking the points here for similar reasons to the Ohio State game: American University is good at grinding games down and keeping scores low. It's not often that Wisconsin faces an opponent that is significantly slower tempo than they are. It's been almost two months since an opponent scored more than 62 points against American, and in their last game they held Boston University to 36 points... the same Boston University team that just scored 33 points in the first half against Illinois in the NIT first round last night. Wisconsin should win this game relatively easy (don't buy the upset hype), but that's a big spread for Wisconsin to cover at this tempo.

Pittsburgh (-6.5) over Colorado: This is a big spread... but at the same time, this Colorado just isn't good. After NC State, they're rated the worst at-large team by the computers. Colorado doesn't have any real match-up advantages, so there's no reason to expect an upset. I suppose the argument for Colorado here is if you believe Pitt's late-regular season swoon was real, and their strong ACC tourney performance was something of a fluke.

Cincinnati (-3) over Harvard: Harvard definitely has a real chance to win this game. The gap between these two teams really isn't that big. Harvard is a very strong 12 seed. The problem is, with a spread this small, you have to believe this is basically a toss-up game to take Harvard. There's a chance Harvard is just going to get out-athleted, and they haven't beaten a team all season close to the skill and athletic level of Cincinnati. I'd give the points.

Syracuse (-13) over Western Michigan: This has been a bizarrely popular upset pick. Syracuse is substantially better and has every match-up advantage. This game should be an absolute romp. Western Michigan was well below average in MAC play in turnover rate and assist rate - they're going to get eaten alive by the Syracuse zone.

BYU (+5.5) over Oregon: Oregon is the favorite here, but that spread is too big. I broke down all the match-ups for this game here, and basically just ended up choosing Oregon because of the Kyle Collinsworth injury. With a healthy Collinsworth, this would be a toss-up game.

Albany (+21.5) over Florida: I always avoid laying off 1/16 games unless you really have a strong feeling or have a degenerate need to bet on every game. Florida can absolutely dominate this game, and then Albany can score a few points against the scrubs and get a backdoor cover. Albany obviously doesn't have a chance of winning this game, but for the sake of this preview I'll take the points.

Michigan State (-14) over Delaware: This is a pretty fair line, but Delaware is a pretty bad defense, so there's no reason Michigan State won't score 80 or 90 points here. This is why, unlike a game like Wisconsin/American that is likely to be low scoring, I'm not so concerned about the big spread.

UConn (-5) over Saint Joseph's: While pretty much every AAC team was overrated this year, Louisville was the one elite team that got the respect it deserved. The one AAC team that might have been underrated was UConn. They were as good as Cincinnati and significantly better than Memphis or SMU, but you wouldn't have known that from media coverage. I think UConn has the match-up advantages all over the place here: they're more athletic, they're bigger, and they should control the glass. St Joe's is the better jump shooting team, but if you're taking St Joe's you're counting on them to have a strong shooting day. It's a pretty big risk. UConn is the safer pick.

Michigan (-15) over Wofford: This Wofford team is easily the worst 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There have been plenty of 16 seeds over the years better than this Wofford squad, so treat this mentally like a 1/16 game. Are you concerned about 15 points? Particularly not against a Wofford team that struggles to score.

NC State (+3) over Saint Louis: I'd feel better taking Xavier here, but NC State should still be viewed as the favorite. Saint Louis was overrated all season long, and they have particularly struggled down the stretch. Their offense is just not good at all (outside the Top 10 in the A-10 in turnover rate, 3P%, OR% and total offensive efficiency). TJ Warren has been held below 20 points just four times all season long. Saint Louis is going to have to find scoring from someone to win this game.

North Dakota State (+3) over Oklahoma: This is one of the toughest picks of the day. I talked in my West Region Preview about how even this game was. I ended up giving the Oklahoma the edge, but only the very narrow edge. This is definitely a game that could come down to the final possession. So in the end, I'll take the points, even if there are only three of them.

Villanova (-16.5) over Milwaukee: Milwaukee is a "happy to be here" team. They were 7-9 in Horizon League play and below the conference average in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The only way they cover this spread is if Villanova, as a team that relies heavily on threes, goes ice cold.

Texas (-2) over Arizona State: I talked in my Midwest Region Preview why I viewed Texas a pretty solid preview here. Jordan Bachynski is a really good big man, but he's going to need to have the game of his life to somehow match the three quality Texas bigs. The Longhorns should dominate the glass.

Manhattan (+16.5) over Louisville: This spread is just too big. It's honestly a big disconcerting just how popular Louisville has become with the public, and it's safer to bet against them until the lines normalize. This Manhattan team is no crap squad out of the SWAC - they actually started the season with hopes of maybe competing for an at-large bid. They didn't quite get there, and they're realistically going to lose this game, but this is the type of spread you expect to see on a 2/15 game. That's not what this is.

San Diego State (-7) over New Mexico State: This is a pretty fair line, so I'd probably advise laying off this game altogether. I have to pick all 67 games against the spread, though, so I need to pick a side. I'll let you read my West Region Preview for my reasoning on why San Diego State is favored. I feel confident enough that I'll risk the points.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 2 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Well, a 2-0 start against the spread... even if I missed NC State beating Xavier outright. Oh well. It feels like every year the worst team in the Field of 68 ends up winning some games. Maybe there's extra motivation?

Don't forget, the VCU team that made the Final Four a few years ago was also the worst team to make the NCAA Tournament that year, before getting insanely ridiculously hot shooting the ball for two weeks.... not sure I see that in NC State's future, though.

I do still think you should take NC State over Saint Louis in your bracket. The Billikens are overrated and fading, and are primed to be picked off by whichever 12 seed they get. Remember that if you haven't filled out your bracket yet, my full Tournament breakdown is here.

We've got one more night of the First Four before the the real NCAA Tournament gets underway. Please join me in the comments below for a discussion or catch me on twitter. Below are my picks against the spread:

2014 Tournament ATS: 2-0-0
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Cal Poly (-3.5) over Texas Southern: Cal Poly is obviously the better team here. Even if you'd never heard of these two teams, all you need to know is that Texas Southern is from the SWAC. Also, Texas Southern is a team that relies heavily on foul shooting differentials (they led the SWAC in both offensive and defensive FTRate), which is a skill set that tends to make you better at home and worse away from home (due to the different referee bias). They were only 5-4 on the road in conference play (compared to 7-2 at home) and four of those five road wins came against teams outside the Pomeroy Top 320.

Tennessee (+1.5) over Iowa: I was pretty stunned by this Vegas line. Obviously Iowa is a much better team than their resume (somewhere around the 20-25th best team in the country), but Tennessee is even better, and that's pretty universal across the computer ratings. And Tennessee opened up as a 2 or 2.5 point favorite just about everywhere before the line swung hard in Iowa's favor, for no apparent reason (no injuries or suspensions). I explained in my Midwest region breakdown why even if Tennessee and Iowa are equal on paper, I think Tennessee's personnel match up better.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Well Did The Computers Predict The Field?

This is my annual post where I break down the RPI/Sagarin/Pomeroy numbers of the bubble teams. Below I listed the ten lowest-rated at-large teams and the ten highest-rated non-NCAA Tournament teams. Keep in mind that I am only considering at-large eligible teams, and am not listing automatic bid winners.

My commentary on these numbers is at the bottom of this post.

Note that all of these numbers are as of Monday morning (i.e. they include all of the results up through Selection Sunday but do not include any post-Selection Sunday tournaments... even though a few have already tipped off as I'm typing this).


Ten highest rated teams to miss the Tournament (NIT seed given):

33. Southern Miss (3)
38. Louisiana Tech (5)
49. Missouri (2)
50. Minnesota (1)
53. SMU (1)
54. Florida State (1)
57. Belmont (5)
58. Green Bay (4)
59. Iona (6)
61. Saint Mary's (4)

Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
56. Iowa (11)
55. NC State (12)
51. Kansas State (9)
48. Nebraska (11)
47. Xavier (12)
45. Oklahoma State (9)
44. Arizona State (10)
43. Dayton (11)
42. Tennessee (11)
41. Stanford (10)

Sagarin PURE_ELO

Ten highest rated teams to miss the Tournament (NIT seed given):

42. Green Bay (4)
43. Southern Miss (3)
47. SMU (1)
51. Florida State (1)
53. Toledo (6)
57. Louisiana Tech (3)
58. Minnesota (1)
59. Utah (5)
60. St. John's (1)
61. Georgetown (4)

Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
63. NC State (12)
56. Tennessee (11)
55. Nebraska (11)
52. Stanford (10)
50. Iowa (11)
49. Arizona State (10)
46. Dayton (11)
45. Oklahoma State (9)
44. Xavier (12)
41. Memphis (8)
39. Colorado (8)


Ten highest rated teams to miss the Tournament (NIT seed given):

32. Louisiana Tech (3)
35. SMU (1)
36. Arkansas (3)
39. Utah (5)
41. Florida State (1)
43. Saint John's (1)
48. West Virginia (5)
49. Maryland (-)
51. Minnesota (1)
53. Clemson (3)

Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
73. NC State (12)
60. Saint Joseph's (10)
58. Colorado (8)
55. Nebraska (11)
52. George Washington (9)
50. UMass (6)
47. Providence (11)
46. Xavier (12)
45. Memphis (8)
44. BYU (10)


Ten highest rated teams to miss the Tournament (NIT seed given):

32. SMU (1)
35. Louisiana Tech (3)
36. Utah (5)
38. St. John's (1)
41. Florida State (1)
43. Maryland (-)
51. Clemson (3)
54. Georgetown (4)
56. Illinois (2)
57. Minnesota (1)

Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
66. NC State (12)
64. Colorado (8)
53. Dayton (11)
52. UMass (6)
50. BYU (10)
49. Saint Joseph's (10)
48. Nebraska (11)
47. Arizona State (10)
46. George Washington (9)
45. Memphis (8)


How did the computers do?
In general, we see the same results every year. The RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO, as measures of resume quality, are always pretty close to the final Selection Committee results. The Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings, as measures of team quality, are pretty far off. As I've said to the point of boredom over the last week, this is the way the brackets are always made. You are rewarded for your resume, not how good you are.

For example, UMass is one of the five or six worst teams in as an at-large bid, but they earned their 6 seed (23rd in RPI, 28th in Sagarin PURE_ELO). And Utah was better than more than a dozen at-large teams, yet they in no way deserved an at-large bid (59th in Sagarin PURE_ELO, 80th in RPI).

Now, what about whether RPI or Sagarin PURE_ELO is more accurate? As always, those two metrics are pretty close. The Sagarin PURE_ELO is a much more accurate measure, but the Selection Committee itself uses the RPI, because they are apparently clueless to the fact that it's a horrible metric that is 20 years out-of-date and easily gamed.

Anyway, historically the Sagarin PURE_ELO has actually been a slightly better predictor of seed on Selection Sunday than the RPI because the Selection Committee has actually proven decent at seeing through badly screwed-up RPIs. And that was probably the case this year again, depending on how you look at it:

A pair of teams in the RPI Top 40 missed out on the Tournament, while none in the Sagarin PURE_ELO Top 40 (this is consistent with past results, where PURE_ELO Top 40 teams very rarely miss out). Ten teams outside the RPI Top 40 got in as at-larges, as well as ten teams outside the Sagarin PURE_ELO, though the Sagarin PURE_ELO did have a team outside the Top 60 get in (NC State) while the RPI didn't. Though I'm not quite sure what to make of that NC State bid, which was just an inexplicable, bad decision by the Selection Committee's part.

Interestingly, the team near the tail end of the at-large pot that was most mis-seeded relative to the RPI was #51 Kansas State earning a 9 seed, which was more in line with their Sagarin PURE_ELO (40th). Kansas State seems like another example of the Selection Committee seeing through a screwed up RPI (Bruce Weber did a bad job of scheduling, and screwed up his team's RPI) to give a proper seed. Another good example not included here is RPI #17 Kentucky earning an 8 seed, which is in line with their Sagarin PURE_ELO (#33).

So as usual, the Selection Committee did a good job of rating teams by resumes and accomplishments rather than how good they are, and they did a pretty good job of seeing through screwed up RPIs like Kansas State and Kentucky. They weren't perfect, but all in all they were pretty good.

Which Selection Committee decisions were most inexplicable?
Like I said above, the Selection Committee actually did a pretty good job this year. The few errors were pretty minor. The biggest error was obviously letting NC State into the field. No matter what logic you want to use on picking teams, there's no way to justify NC State getting in over a team like SMU. And I understand why SMU was left out (the Selection Committee likes to crucify one team very visibly each season that had a horrible non-conference strength of schedule as a warning to future teams), but if you need to have them out for that reason then take a team like Green Bay or Florida State that was more deserving than NC State.

As far as seedings, there really were no teams significantly off where they should be. The worst, honestly, was New Mexico being a 7 seed when they really deserved something like a 4 (14th in Sagarin PURE_ELO, 12th in RPI). But there's no other team that you can really argue is off by more than a seed line or two.

So while the Selection Committee does a terrible job of lying when they go on tv and say they're taking "the 36 best teams" when they're clearly not, and it's obviously disconcerting that the people on the Selection Committee don't seem to comprehend the fact that "best resumes" and "best teams" are not two perfectly overlapping lists, they appear by accident to get the brackets done pretty well each year. And this year was a very good job. Don't let it be said I don't compliment the Selection Committee when they deserve it.