Sunday, March 26, 2017

Elite 8 Day 2 Picking The Lines

Anytime Bill Self loses in the NCAA Tournament, the Bill Self #HotTakes fire out from the people in the media that you expect:
I've debunked these sorts of narratives before, and the way to analyze NCAA Tournament performance is to use Performance Against Seed Expectation. How has Self done? As a Kansas coach, he's been expected to win 37.4 games and has won 33. If we throw in his other coaching stops he's been expected to win 45.3 games and has won 43. In other words, he's won ever so slightly fewer games than expected against some extraordinarily good seeds. In 14 seasons he's had a 1 seed seven times and has never been below a 4 seed. That is remarkable.

So don't fall for these sorts of dumb narratives about coaches. The reason Self's tournament losses are always upsets is because he's always favored. The coach who has the most losses in upsets, or who loses the most in late NCAA Tournament rounds, is by definition a fantastic coach. You've got to get to those games to lose them.

Anyway, let's get to today's games:

Yesterday ATS: 2-0-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 31-28-3 (53%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Florida (-3.5) over South Carolina: Rather than breaking down match-ups, you really just have to ask yourself if you believe in South Carolina. Because South Carolina has played amazingly well for three games, but it kind of came out of nowhere:

Both Kansas and Xavier had been playing out of their minds for three games, and both regressed in their Elite 8 game. That doesn't mean South Carolina necessarily will regress too, but it's a reminder that "momentum" is not real, and a three game explosion is more than likely an anomaly. South Carolina's defense is excellent, of course, but the difference between a defense that gave up 0.93 PPP in SEC play and one that gave up 0.94 PPP in SEC play is not significant. Florida is the better team.

Kentucky (+2.5) over North Carolina: With two teams that play very high tempos and that score efficiently, this could be a very high scoring game unless John Calipari successfully slows the game down the way that he did against UCLA. I'm going with Kentucky here because I'm not exactly sure why North Carolina is supposed to be the better team. Statistically the two teams were almost exactly even this season. Also, as good as North Carolina's offense has been, a lot of their success has come from out-athleting teams - they led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage but were just 10th in the ACC in eFG% and 12th in FT%. If Kentucky can keep North Carolina contained on the glass (the Wildcats led the SEC in defensive rebounding percentage) then I like their chances to win.outright.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Elite 8 Day 1 Picking The Lines

Just as we all expected, the game of the night was Wisconsin/Florida rather than Kentucky/UCLA.

Of course, the media narrative on Kentucky/UCLA is all wrong:
The reality is that Kentucky allowed 1.15 PPP last night while allowing 1.17 PPP back on December 3rd. The difference was that there were 83 possessions on December 3rd compared to just 65 possessions last night. What Kentucky did was grind that game down to a halt, figuring that a half court game would benefit them more than UCLA, and it worked out.

To be fair, I'm not that sure we can expect long-time major television college basketball analysts to know the difference between what good defense and slow tempo looks like. But, sure, "the eye test" is a reliable metric, you guys.

Interestingly enough, this had been easily the highest tempo team that John Calipari has coached at Kentucky. Not only was 65 possessions the third slowest game that UCLA had played this season, but it was also the 3rd slowest game that Kentucky had played this season.

Yesterday ATS 2-2-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 29-28-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Gonzaga (-8) over Xavier: This spread seems large, yet Sagarin has it at 9 points and Pomeroy has it as 10. And, of course, Xavier's games with Edmond Sumner are still inflating their rating. Xavier has looked great so far this NCAA Tournament, of course, but they've also benefited from some outside shooting luck. What about the match-ups? Xavier certainly has the size to match Gonzaga defensively, but I worry about their ability to score. A big reason they've been able to score efficiently without Sumner has been their ability to get easy baskets off of offensive rebounds and in and around the paint, but Gonzaga's length and defensive tenacity forces opponents further away from the basket. Xavier is only a 34.9% three-point shooting team.

Oregon (+6.5) over Kansas: Kansas has played out of their minds for their three NCAA Tournament games, including probably their best performance of the entire season in the Sweet 16 against Purdue. Is it worth it to believe that they have radically improved over the last two weeks? Probably not. In the end, I don't think either of these defenses really matches up particularly well with the opposing offenses. Both teams shoot well from beyond the arc and neither defends the perimeter particularly well. Even without Chris Boucher, Oregon's interior defense is still fairly strong, and Kansas's lack of a true post scorer could limit them in the paint. The reason I'm picking Oregon here is because I like their chances of grinding this into a low-scoring game, and keeping it close late.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sweet 16 Day 2 Picking The Lines

It's going to take some time to process just what Kansas is doing this NCAA Tournament. They are scoring an ungodly 1.34 PPP over three games after scoring just 1.13 PPP in Big 12 play. Their best offensive efficiency in Big 12 play this season was 1.27 PPP while their worst offensive efficiency in the NCAA Tournament this far has been 1.28 PPP.

Before you say "momentum", if teams could carry "momentum" from game to game then this hot streak wouldn't have even happened, since Kansas had actually slid to a season-worst 10th in the Pomeroy ratings at the end of the regular season. This hot streak is unsustainable long term, of course, but there is no more "long term". As we saw with Villanova last season, it's not that unprecedented for a team to get really hot for six straight games. If Kansas keeps scoring like they've been scoring the last three games, they're going to be almost impossible for anybody to beat.

Let's get to today's games:

Yesterday ATS: 2-1-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 27-26-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Butler (+7.5) over North Carolina: North Carolina is the better team, but this is an awfully big spread considering how good Butler is. Rating systems like Sagarin and Pomeroy have the true line closer to 4 points. North Carolina likes to get easy baskets off of offensive rebounds and in transition, yet Butler is strong both on the defensive glass and with transition defense. I expect this game to be slower paced than North Carolina likes it, and for this game to be decided in the final minute.

Baylor (-3.5) over South Carolina: So do we really believe that South Carolina is suddenly as good as they've looked the last two games? Because it came out of nowhere, with them having gone 3-6 down the stretch of the season. Sindarius Thornwell is obviously a fantastic player, but South Carolina's offense as a whole is really ugly (1.00 PPP in SEC play). As strong as their defense is, their one weakness is on the defensive glass, where they were just 9th in SEC play. Baylor led the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. And so even if both teams struggle to find open shots, I expect Baylor's advantage in easy put-back baskets to be the difference here.

Kentucky (+1) over UCLA: With two blue chip programs, two teams playing at blur-fast tempos, and two squads with elite offenses, this is going to be the premier game of the night for television ratings. I like Kentucky here for two reasons, besides the fact that their defense is a lot better. The first is that Kentucky has always had a strong perimeter defense under John Calipari and this year is no different - they will be able to run UCLA's shooters off the three-point line better than most. Second of all, UCLA is the significantly weaker rebounding team. So to me, the only way UCLA wins is if they shoot significantly better from outside. 

Wisconsin (+1.5) over Florida: In contrast to the Kentucky/UCLA game it will be up against on television, expect a slow-tempo, defensive battle. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in defensive efficiency while Florida's defense was rated by Pomeroy as the 3rd best in the entire nation. I do think that Wisconsin has two advantages in this game. First of all, Florida's defense is best at preventing three-pointers, yet Wisconsin's offense tends to work inside-out and is not particularly dependent on outside shots. Second, Florida has struggled with defensive rebounding since losing John Egbunu, and Wisconsin is very strong on the offensive glass. Wisconsin is vulnerable to teams that can put them in foul trouble, but Florida just doesn't draw a lot of fouls, and they were just 9th in the SEC in offensive FTRate. In my opinion, Wisconsin is the slight favorite to win this game outright.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sweet 16 Day 1 Picking The Lines

This NCAA Tournament has lacked huge upsets and buzzer beaters, but it has been played at a really high level of basketball. In general, the sport is just getting better and better each year as the talent pool grows deeper, but the lack of upsets also played a role in keeping the big boys in more games.

And in the end, the high quality of basketball has just made this a really entertaining product. We don't need shocking upsets when we can watch powers like Kentucky/Wichita State and Wisconsin/Villanova trading punches at a high level for 40 minutes. And as we head into the penultimate weekend of the season, it's nothing but high quality of basketball ahead. And hey, who knows, maybe we'll still get a buzzer beater, too.

Sunday ATS: 3-5-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 25-25-2 (50%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Oregon (+1.5) over Michigan: This is a fair line, as most computer ratings have a healthy Oregon as a slight favorite (Oregon, of course, is missing Chris Boucher). I don't think the Boucher absence will matter nearly as much as usual against Michigan, however, as the Wolverines are almost exclusively a perimeter shooting team. Oregon's perimeter defense is not great, but acceptable (7th in the Pac-12 in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio). Michigan has been playing remarkably well for the past couple of weeks, and maybe they will keep it up and Derrick Walton will continue his Kemba Walker impression, but if they don't then they don't particularly match up well with Oregon's weaknesses, and the Ducks are probably the better team.

Gonzaga (-3) over West Virginia: This line is small enough, particularly with the fact that Gonzaga shoots 73% at the free throw line if they need to lock up a game late, that I'd just pick whoever you think is going to win this game. West Virginia is a fantastic team as far as 4 seeds go. That said, Gonzaga is a strong 1 seed, and they have a team that is built to withstand Press Virginia. They have depth, experience, and savvy in a backcourt led by Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, and Josh Perkins, and they have the front court length and talent to protect the defensive glass. This West Virginia team is more capable of scoring efficiently in the half court than other recent vintages of Press Virginia have been, but still not good enough to win a controlled-style game against a team as good as the Zags.

Purdue (+5) over Kansas: I chose Purdue outright in my bracket and I'm going to stick with that pick here. Kansas had an incredible game against Michigan State, though the final score was deceptive as to how big the margin was for most of the 40 minutes. And overall, the Jayhawks came into the NCAA Tournament rated as easily the weakest 1 seed. As a match-up, Purdue's biggest problem is going to be staying in front of Frank Mason. But Kansas's front court size is a concern as well, against a Purdue front line that had its way with Iowa State. As good as Josh Jackson is, Caleb Swanigan is better.

Xavier (+7.5) over Arizona: Arizona is the better team, and Xavier's demolition of Florida State was probably a bit of a fluke, but this is an awfully large Vegas line. Xavier has a ton of length and size, and they will be able to match Arizona body-for-body inside, even if they don't have a big man quite as skilled as Lauri Markkanen. Offensively, Xavier passes the ball really well, and they have been surprisingly efficient offensively since losing point guard Edmond Sumner. A Xavier win would be an upset, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them play close enough to cover in a defeat.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 6 Picking The Lines

We had all hoped that the chalk-heavy first round meant that we would have some spectacular games in the second round, and we had a taste of that yesterday. Wisconsin/Villanova was the standout game, of course, but Gonzaga/Northwestern and a couple of other games were also excellent.

In a lot of ways, however, Saturday was just an appetizer for Sunday. Kentucky/Wichita State is the headliner, but Louisville/Michigan and Michigan State/Kansas are both high quality games between elite programs, and we have several other potentially really fun match-ups. Get ready to make a dent in your couch today.

Yesterday ATS: 4-4-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 22-20-2 (52%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Louisville (-3.5) over Michigan: If Michigan shoots the lights out like they did against Oklahoma State, obviously they can win this game, but if the shots aren't falling at above season average rates, they don't match up well against Louisville. The Cardinals are ferocious defensively in the paint and will make it difficult for Derrick Walton to be as effective as he usually is with the dribble drive. Louisville should also be able to take advantage of Michigan's small front line on the glass. Meanwhile, Louisville is vulnerable against teams that attack and draw contact (Louisville was dead last in the ACC in defensive FTRate), but Michigan is just not that style of team.

Kentucky (-4.5) over Wichita State: This is a potential Revenge Game for 8-seed Kentucky knocking off 1-seed Wichita State three seasons ago, although none of the regulars on Wichita State's roster actually played in that game. As good as Wichita State has been, I'm worried about Kentucky's length here. Wichita State is a 40% three-point shooting team, but Kentucky's perimeter defense is good at running teams off of the three-point line (as John Calipari teams almost always are).

Michigan State (+8) over Kansas: Both of these teams had uncharacteristically good performances and surprisingly large blowouts in their first round games. This is an awfully big spread, however, against a Michigan State team that has clearly been playing their best basketball of the season over the last month, with a fully healthy and dangerous Miles Bridges, and with the development of a really nice freshman crop. In addition, Michigan State's strong defensive rebounding is going to put pressure on Kansas to hit outside shots. The Jayhawks certainly can shoot well (40.6% on threes this season), but if the shots don't fall then this is a game that they can lose.

Arkansas (+11) over North Carolina: Even if Joel Berry plays, it's unlikely that he'll be 100%. If we believe this late season Arkansas spurt (they've risen from 59th to 38th in the Pomeroy ratings over the last five weeks) then this is too large of a spread even for a fully healthy Tar Heels roster. Arkansas doesn't have any match-up advantages, but they're a solid team and I'd be surprised if they get completely trucked.

Rhode Island (+5.5) over Oregon: Defensively, Rhode Island matches up well with Oregon. The Ducks were 2nd in the Pac-12 in 3PA/FGA ratio and hit threes at a 42% clip, yet Rhode Island led the Atlantic Ten in both defensive 3PA/FGA ratio and 3P% (whichever of those you choose to believe matters). If Oregon is not scoring particularly efficiently, and with a defense that has obviously taken a significant hit without Chris Boucher, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rhode Island wins this game outright.

Baylor (-6.5) over USC: USC has oddly been getting a lot of hype the last couple of days. I think it's because so many people really didn't see them play this season, being buried late at night and on the Pac-12 Network. And yes, they played well the last two games, but both games were decided in the final minute, and this is the same USC team that entered the NCAA Tournament having gone 2-9 vs KenPom Tier A/B teams since Christmas. Baylor's defense, and their length in particular, are a further difficulty level from either Providence or SMU. Baylor's elite rebounding (they led the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency) will challenge a USC team that was 10th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding rate.

South Carolina (+7.5) over Duke: I'm trying my best not to overreact to that tremendous South Carolina second half against Marquette, where they simply looked better than they've looked all season long. But my real match-up concern here is Duke's ability to handle South Carolina's pressure defense, which led the SEC in both steal and turnover rates. Duke, as talented as they are on offense, does not have a real point guard, and they will potentially struggle with turnovers. If the Blue Devils get hot behind the arc, however, I'm skeptical that South Carolina's offense will be able to repeat anything like the 1.29 PPP that they poured in against Marquette.

Cincinnati (+4) over UCLA: I picked Cincinnati to win this game outright, and so I'm going to stick with my pick here. There are three reasons for that. First of all, UCLA is overrated, as Pomeroy has this game basically a toss-up (though Sagarin has the spread closer to 4). Second, UCLA's dependence on outside shooting makes me nervous, particularly against a defense as long and athletic as Cincinnati. Third, Cincinnati is an elite offensive rebounding team (20th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage), which could pose problems for a UCLA front line that is tall but not particularly physical. The counter-argument, of course, is that UCLA has the ability to put up points in bunches in a way that Cincinnati does not. If the Bruins get hot behind the arc, they can obviously defeat anybody.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 5 Picking The Lines

People are complaining about how chalky the NCAA Tournament has been. It's the first year without a 13+ seed in the second round since 2007, and even the 12 seed that won (Middle Tennessee) was favored in Vegas. But despite that, we have had some really good basketball games, and the lack of upsets sets us up for some absolutely fantastic second round match-ups. First round upsets are all fun and games until you end up spending your Saturday or Sunday watching a 12 and 13 seed playing each other. This weekend will, instead, be packed with great match-ups.

There are no bad teams left. Every team tipping off today has a legitimate argument that they deserve to be here, and should expect to be competitive. Let's get to the match-ups:

Yesterday ATS: 9-6-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 18-16-2 (53%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

West Virginia (-2.5) over Notre Dame: Notre Dame's depth and front court size are going to be tested by Press Virginia. Matt Farrell has been perhaps the most improved player in the nation this season, and his ability to take care of the ball against relentless pressure will be key to the Irish potentially winning this game. One other advantage that Notre Dame has is their 79.5% free throw shooting considering how much West Virginia fouls. But aside from their match-up advantages, West Virginia has simply been the better team this season.

Villanova (-6) over Wisconsin: This game is an interesting contrast in styles. On one hand, Villanova is going to struggle to defend both Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes in the post, as they just don't have much big man depth after Darryl Reynolds. On the other hand, Villanova's wings are so explosive and athletic that I'm not sure how Wisconsin can defend all of them either. Villanova is also a team that is awfully efficient offensively, while Wisconsin is a team that can get into a rut when their outside shots aren't falling (they were falling, of course, in that Virginia Tech game). In the end, it's a tough call on this spread. I'm going with Villanova because they hit 79.2% at the free throw line this season, so if they're winning at all in the final minute I think they'll hit enough free throws to cover.

Gonzaga (-11) over Northwestern: This is a big spread, but it's a fair spread. The difference in this game, more than anything, is Gonzaga's ridiculous size and height. In the first round, Dererk Pardon was able to defend 7-footer Luke Kornet by using his physicality and shoving the skinny Kornet out of the way, but that isn't going to fly against the monstrous Przemek Karnowski. Without much in the way out of outside shooting (Northwestern was 13th in the Big Ten with 30.9% three-point shooting in conference play), I expect Gonzaga's ownership of the paint to deliver a victory.

Xavier (+6.5) over Florida State: Florida State is the better team, but not by much, and this game could easily go down to the final possession. Florida State is a massive team, but they're vulnerable to teams that are aggressive in the paint. Xavier, who led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate and FTRate, fit that bill. That said, if there's a quick whistle for both teams, Florida State has significantly more depth.

Butler (-3.5) over Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee was a one point favorite against Minnesota, so it wasn't even an "upset" when they crushed Minnesota (that final score was deceptively close, to be honest). This Middle Tennessee team is awfully good, and it's a shame that RPI obsession would've relegated them to the NIT had they failed to win the Conference USA tournament. But Butler is not short-handed Minnesota, and their ability to pass the ball and executive on offense will challenge a Middle Tennessee defense that is not particularly strong inside. With a spread this small I'd only take Middle Tennessee if you really think they're going to win, and I expect Butler to pull this one out.

Saint Mary's (+5) over Arizona: I chose Saint Mary's to win this game outright in my bracket. Offensively, they are one of the most efficient teams in the nation, and can light up the scoreboard with 40% three-point shooting. Defensively, they have enough size to hang with Arizona. Jock Landale vs Lauri Markkanen will be a hell of a match-up. Despite the Vegas line, most computer ratings have this game significantly closer - basically a toss-up. I'll take the points.

Virginia (+2) over Florida: This is an Elite 8 game in the 2nd round. The two teams are 8th and 9th in the Pomeroy ratings at the moment, and both are among the best defensive teams in the nation. Considering that Florida will likely not be getting as many baskets as they usually get off of turnovers, this game will likely come down to whether or not Florida hits their outside shots at a high rate. This is definitely a game to enjoy, but it's not really one where anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be favored. Personally, I just think Virginia is a slightly better team than an Egbunu-less Florida.

Purdue (PK) over Iowa State: I took Purdue in my bracket simply because I think they're a really tough match-up for Iowa State. The size that they bring with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas is going to be so hard for Iowa State to deal with. Outside of 6'8" freshman Solomon Young, Iowa State's only big man is 6'5" Deonte Burton. And defensively, I'm not sure that I buy that Iowa State will have big mismatches with Burton against defenders like Haas - if it is Burton and not Monte Morris who is Iowa State's primary playmaker then that is a huge problem for the Cyclones. Purdue's three-point defense is very strong as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 4 Picking The Lines

It was a relatively quiet Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament. There were no significant upsets, no buzzer beaters, and really just a handful of tough finishes against the spread.

But don't get down, because we have a second day coming up, and we all know that we never have a super crazy day both days of the Round of 64. Besides, even a weak day of the NCAA Tournament early rounds is still a great day of hoops.

Remember as we head into games involving teams like Oklahoma State and Wichita State which are "KenPom darlings" that nothing that happens in the NCAA Tournament justifies or disproves anything. On any given day, any team can beat any other team, and one result simply does not a sensible narrative make. When a 15 seed defeats a 2 seed, nobody says that this proves that the 15 seed should have been seeded higher or that the RPI sucks for having the 2 seed so high, so if Wichita State or Oklahoma State loses today it says literally nothing about how accurate the computer ratings are.

Yesterday ATS: 7-8-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 9-10-1 (47%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Oklahoma State (+2.5) over Michigan: I picked Oklahoma State to win this game outright. Oklahoma State has just been playing so well over the last month and has a point guard in Jawun Evans who can take over. Also, Oklahoma State's aggressive crashing of the glass will pose problems for a Michigan team that, despite a lot of height, doesn't really have a lot of "size" and can be out-muscled in the paint. Also, as a general rule of thumb, I like betting against teams that just pulled off miraculous conference tournament runs, as a form of statistical regression.

Baylor (-12.5) over New Mexico State: Statistically, Baylor is a hard team to figure out. New Mexico State relies heavily on second-chance points to score, and Baylor was just 201st in the nation in defensive rebounding rate, yet Baylor also led the Big 12 in defensive rebounding rate in conference play. Baylor has historically struggled at defensive rebounding under Scott Drew, but having watched them plenty this year I believe in the in-conference stats. The fact is that Baylor has played an inordinately large number of elite offensive rebounding teams. As good as New Mexico State's rebounding stats are, they've been inflated by playing in such a weak conference.

Seton Hall (+1) over Arkansas: For Arkansas to win this game, they need a huge performance from Moses Kingsley. Angel Delgado is a monster for Seton Hall, and if Kingsley gets in foul trouble then the Arkansas front line drops off in quality and size very quickly. Seton Hall's front line is very athletic and aggressive, and I don't know if Arkansas will be able to handle that. The Razorbacks were just 13th in the SEC in defensive rebounding rate.

Iona (+15) over Oregon: Flying across the country to play Oregon doesn't sound like fun, but at the same time it's hard to justify a 15 point spread. Sagarin has the spread at 16, but Pomeroy only has it at 13, and Chris Boucher is a massive loss. If Oregon covers, it'll likely be because Jordan Bell annihilated Iona on the glass. The Gaels had a miserable defensive rebounding performance in the MAAC title game, and so they'll need to clean that up.

Jacksonville State (+19.5) over Louisville: It's hard to totally justify a 19.5 point spread in a game that will likely be played at a slow tempo. Jacksonville State is a feisty team that both can get hot from outside and has a 7-footer who is a significant defensive presence. I wouldn't be completely shocked if Jacksonville State keeps this game competitive.

SMU (-6.5) over USC: This is a big spread, but if you believe the advanced metrics on SMU then the Mustangs are a good value here. In addition, SMU was 8th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and are going against a USC team that was 10th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage, despite a relatively tall front line. Jordan McLaughlin will be a match-up problem, but I'm skeptical that he's good enough to overcome SMU's overall talent advantage.

North Carolina (-26.5) over Texas Southern: Texas Southern is literally the shortest team in the nation (just one of their top six minute earners is over 6'4"), which might be a problem against a North Carolina team that has wings who are 6'8", and which led the ACC in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Obviously the backdoor cover is always an option in a game like this, but I'd be stunned if this isn't a rout.

Rhode Island (PK) over Creighton: Creighton hasn't dropped off too much without Mo Watson, but their offense has become more dependent on outside shooting. They hit 40% behind the arc this season, while finishing dead last in the Big East in both offensive rebounding and FTRate. Rhode Island's three-point defense led the Atlantic Ten, and they have a pair of athletic, aggressive front court players in Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. In general, Rhode Island suffered through some injuries this season, but they've been fully healthy and rolling for over a month now, and have a chance to really open some eyes in the NCAA Tournament.

UC Davis (+23.5) over Kansas: I don't have strong feelings about this line, as it's fair and will likely come down to how garbage time plays out. I'm a little uncomfortable with Kansas in general, though. They've had a lot of luck in close games this season (11-3 in games decided by six points or fewer), and thus are rated as easily the weakest of the 1 seeds. Josh Jackson will be back, but his suspension was for an ugly situation, and the team will have his controversy swirling over them. I wouldn't be shocked if they underperform in this NCAA Tournament.

Dayton (+6) over Wichita State: I picked Wichita State to win this game, and believe that they'll likely win, but at some point it's worth remembering that this is a really good Dayton team that is explosive offensively. There's a particular concern because of Dayton's ability to drive and draw contact - Wichita State is a deep roster, but they can be foul prone (181st in the nation in defensive FTRate). This game could come down to the final shot.

Duke (-20) over Troy: This line is bigger than the computers put it, but there's a reason for that (and not just pro-Duke bias in public perception). Duke has suffered through a lot of injuries this season, but we knew all along that they had the most talented roster in the nation, and they've really showed it down the stretch. They are a better team than the computers say that they are, and I expect them to roll over Troy.

Cincinnati (-3.5) over Kansas State: Usually, Bruce Weber teams are excellent at defensive rebounding, but that is not so this year. Kansas State was 9th in the Big 12, and 296th in the nation, in defensive rebounding percentage. Gary Clark could potentially have a field day, particularly if DJ Johnson gets into foul trouble. With a Vegas line this small, just pick the team that you expect to win.

Michigan State (+2.5) over Miami-Florida: Michigan State is a freshman-heavy team, with freshmen making up four of the eight players in their regular rotation. Unsurprisingly, they've gotten better as the season has gone along, particularly after Miles Bridges got fully healthy. I picked them in my bracket simply because I think they're the better team right now.

Kentucky (-20) over Northern Kentucky: I don't have strong feelings about this spread. I chose Kentucky simply because the Wildcats have tended to out-athlete inferior opponents and run them off the court this season, rather than just letting them hang around.

Marquette (+1.5) over South Carolina: I chose Marquette to win this game in my bracket. South Carolina is a team with an ugly offense that has been in a slow fade for months, having gone just 3-7 vs Pomeroy Tier A/B opponents since January 20th. As a rule of thumb, I always like to bet against teams that are significantly over-seeded, and no team is more over-seeded in this year's bracket than South Carolina.

Kent State (+18.5) over UCLA: UCLA has become a very "public" team this season, so it's not surprising that the Vegas line is a 2-3 points away from where the computers have it. That said, there are no obvious mis-matches in this game aside from UCLA just being a better team, so I don't have strong opinions on this spread, other than just fading the public.

Day 3 Picking The Lines

In the First Four games I went 0-2 on 16/16 games and 2-0 on 11/11 games. I could probably craft some kind of small sample size narrative out of that if I really wanted to.

Anyway, the appetizers are over and the main course is here. The best sporting event in the world is getting ready to tip off with 16 games. Let's do this.

(on the off chance that you haven't finished your bracket yet, you can find my full bracket breakdown here)

Yesterday ATS: 1-1-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 2-2-0
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

Notre Dame (-6.5) over Princeton: As good as this Princeton team is, Notre Dame is a bad match-up for them. The Irish are very well coached, and will be prepared for the Princeton offense. At the same time, they are not dependent on the turnovers and free throws that Princeton is so good at taking away. Bonzie Colson also seems like a massive mismatch considering the Princeton front line.

Virginia (-7.5) over UNC Wilmington: Virginia is not a team that tends to play down to its competition. Their defensive pressure is so fierce, particularly against a small team that doesn't hit outside shots particularly well. UNC Wilmington did get some easy baskets by leading the Colonial in defensive turnover rate, but Virginia is always solid with the ball.

Winthrop (+11) over Butler: The line is very fair in this game and I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. Butler is obviously very likely to win, but Winthrop is a team that can be pesky, particularly on the defensive end. Butler does not have a particularly formidable front line as far as power teams go, and Winthrop has a strong defensive interior presence in 6'8" Xavier Cooks. I wouldn't be surprised if this game is very competitive at halftime.

South Dakota State (+22.5) at Gonzaga: South Dakota State obviously isn't winning this game, but it will be fascinating to watch Mike Daum play against the huge Gonzaga front court. His athleticism and range will make him a difficult defensive match-up, as I'm not quite sure who Przemek Karnowski is going to be able to defend on this roster. South Dakota State got blown off the court by California and Wichita State back in non-conference play, but their level of play is so much higher now than it was a few months ago. They are an awfully difficult 16 seed, as far as potential 16 seed draws go.

West Virginia (-14) over Bucknell: Bucknell is a team that has struggled with turnovers and which has an undersized front line that doesn't rebound well. That makes West Virginia's frenetic press and offensive rebounding attack a nightmare match-up. I'd be stunned if Bucknell made a serious run at winning this game.

East Tennessee State (+10.5) over Florida: East Tennessee State is just an awfully dangerous 13 seed, having won at Mississippi State and nearly taking out Tennessee. Their ability to create fast break opportunities and draw contact could test a short-handed Florida front line that has been missing John Egbunu for close to a month. With the superb senior TJ Cromer as primary playmaker, East Tennessee State is built like a classic March Cinderella.

Middle Tennessee (-1) over Minnesota: I picked this 12/5 "upset" in my bracket, as much as an upset as it would be for a really good Middle Tennessee team to beat a Minnesota team that just lost Akeem Springs to a season-ending injury. Middle Tennessee picked up some "bad" losses, as mid-majors tend to do through random chance, but they're an awfully impressive 6-1 vs Pomeroy Tier A/B opponents, including a road win at Ole Miss and a 23 point smoking of Vanderbilt. They are so balanced and steady on both sides of the ball, and I worry about Minnesota's ability to score consistently against any kind of decent defense.

Vanderbilt (-2) over Northwestern: Vanderbilt is a tough match-up for Northwestern in two key ways. First, Luke Kornet is going to be a hassle for a Northwestern front line that gets pretty small after Dererk Pardon. Second, Vanderbilt's tendency to launch tons of three-pointers and to score in bunches presents a problem for a Northwestern team that likes to grind out low-scoring games. The Wildcats were just 12th in tempo and 9th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play. If Northwestern wins this game, it'll likely be because Vanderbilt's outside shots aren't falling.

Xavier (+2) over Maryland: Xavier isn't the Top 20 team that they were with Edmond Sumner, but they've righted the ship over the last couple of weeks and are playing solid basketball. Maryland, of course, had yet another season where luck in close games led them to finish higher in the standings than where their statistical peripherals said that they were. My biggest concern for Maryland in this game is their front line holding off a Xavier team that led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate and FTRate in conference play.

Villanova (-26.5) over Mount St. Mary's: It's hard to have strong feelings about a game with a spread like this. Villanova could dominate most of the game and Mount St. Mary's could backdoor cover. The reason I'm choosing Villanova is because they have a history of not fooling around with inferior opponents, and because I think they'll come out motivated to look good considering how disrespected they've been in the media heading into the Tournament. They're perhaps the best team in the tourney and they are the defending national champs, yet you basically never hear about them.

Saint Mary's (-4.5) over VCU: VCU can still force turnovers and score easy baskets, but it's not the #HAVOC of old. These days they get more of their easy buckets from second chance opportunities than off of their defensive pressure, with a couple of ferocious big men in Mo Allie-Cox and Justin Tillman. But Saint Mary's has a ton of front court talent and actually led the nation in defensive rebounding rate. None of VCU's top seven minute earners are over 6'7", which will make Jock Landale a match-up problem.

Vermont (+10) over Purdue: Vermont is perhaps the most dangerous of the 12/13 seeds, and I expect them to give Purdue trouble. And that is particularly because Vermont's three-point defense is so good, and because their front line is fairly big and strong as far as America East teams go. Purdue should win, but don't be surprised if Vermont keeps this one very competitive into the second half.

Florida State (-12) over Florida Gulf Coast: On Selection Sunday, it was odd to see the CBS folks talking about Florida Gulf Coast like this is the Andy Enfield team. But this is a very different team these days. They're no longer #DunkCity, they're now the team playing at the 261st fastest tempo in the nation, and which led the Atlantic Sun in defensive efficiency in conference play. The problem is that Florida Gulf Coast depends on offensive rebounding for offense, as they were dead last in the Atlantic Sun in 3P% shooting. Florida State's defensive rebounding isn't good, but they have a massive size advantage, and should get plenty of offensive rebounds themselves. Without a rebounding advantage, I don't see how FGCU competes in this game.

Wisconsin (-5.5) over Virginia Tech: A lot of this game will come down to what you believe three-point defense is. Virginia Tech, of course, depends heavily on the three, as they were 3rd in the ACC in 3PA/FGA rate and hit them at a 41.4% clip in conference play. Wisconsin opponents shot 38% behind the arc this season, which puts them 305th in the nation. Modern analytics generally has found that 3P% defense is almost entirely luck, and that the real measure of three-point defense is 3PA/FGA rate, and Wisconsin was 4th best in the Big Ten there. My regular readers, of course, know that I'm with the analytic orthodoxy here. And if Virginia Tech isn't pouring in threes, they will get annihilated on the boards, and just don't have a defense capable of stopping an efficient offense like Wisconsin has. I'll take the Badgers.

Arizona (-17) over North Dakota: Being a foul-prone team, as North Dakota is, is never a good sign against an Arizona team with a vast athleticism advantage and which also hit 75.8% at the line as a team this season. Also, North Dakota's defense was strongest in its ability to force turnovers, and as a general rule I'm skeptical of high defensive turnover rates from small leagues against elite major conference talent.

Iowa State (-6.5) over Nevada: Like the Wisconsin/Virginia Tech game above, this game comes down to what you believe three-point defense is. Nevada held opponents to 30.7% three-point shooting, which was 15th best in the nation, but they were just 7th in the Mountain West in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio. Iowa State is an outside shooting team that I expect will get a lot of open shots. The Cyclones are vulnerable to big teams that can get after the glass, but Nevada is not that kind of team.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 2 Picking The Lines

There's always something just a little weird and unsatisfying about First Four games. They are fun to watch, and both of the games last night were at least entertaining, but the stakes just don't feel the same. I know that it's official an "NCAA Tournament victory", but it doesn't feel that way.

Regardless, we have one more night with a couple of games before the real fun starts tomorrow at noon.

Also, remember that my full NCAA Tournament previews game by game are all posted here. Use that to guide your bracket picking.

Let's get to the games:

Yesterday ATS: 1-1-0
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

North Carolina Central (-3.5) over UC Davis: North Carolina Central is, from a raw talent perspective, just a better team than UC Davis. And computer ratings aside, North Carolina Central went out and repeatedly played major conference teams competitively, including winning at Missouri and nearly winning at Ohio State. UC Davis only played California, and they got smoked. In addition, UC Davis was a team that depended heavily on FT shooting, leading the Big West in FTRate. That is a dependency that tends to lead to a higher-than-normal homecourt advantage, and UC Davis was 9-0 at home versus 5-9 on the road.

USC (-2.5) over Providence: Generally with a spread as small as 2.5 points I just pick the team I think will win. Providence was an ugly 5-9 team away from home this season, and is a decent all-around team that just doesn't excel anywhere. USC has a player in Jordan McLaughlin who can dominate the ball and who I trust more than any other player in this game. I don't have any strong feelings about picking this game, but Providence simply does not have an obvious match-up advantage, so I'll take USC.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Well Did The Computers Predict The Field?

This is my annual post where I break down the computer numbers of the bubble teams. Three ratings are included this year:

RPI (naturally)
BPI Strength of Record (a measure of resume strength)
Pomeroy (a measure of team strength)

Average Rating Error is the root squared mean of the difference between each team's seed and where the team's seed would be if ranked strictly by the rating system (looking at 1-11 seeds only).

Below that is listed the ten lowest-rated at-large teams and the ten highest-rated non-NCAA Tournament teams in each computer system.

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).

Average Rating Error:
1.59 - BPI SOR
2.21 - RPI
2.66 - Pomeroy

RPI

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

33. Illinois State (1)
45. UT-Arlington (6)
49. Monmouth (4)
52. Georgia (2)
53. California (1)
54. Houston (2)
58. Akron (7)
60. Belmont (7)
62. Charleston (5)
64. Illinois (2)

Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
61. Marquette (10)
57. Kansas St (11)
56. Providence (11)
51. Northwestern (8)
50. Michigan State (9)
48. Virginia Tech (9)
44. Seton Hall (9)
43. South Carolina (7)
42. Miami-Florida (8)
41. USC (11)


  BPI Strength of Record

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

45. Illinois State (1)
51. Clemson (2)
53. TCU (4)
54. Georgia (2)
55. Monmouth (4)
57. Indiana (3)
58. Syracuse (1)
59. Pittsburgh (-)
60. Illinois (2)
61. UT-Arlington (6)


Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
52. Vanderbilt (9)
48. Michigan State (9)
46. Marquette (10)
44. Providence (11)
43. USC (11)
42. VCU (10)
41. Dayton (7)
40. South Carolina (7)
37. Kansas State (11)
36. Wake Forest (11)


Pomeroy

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

34. Clemson (2)
41. TCU (4)
42. Indiana (3)
46. Texas Tech (-)
47. Utah (3)
49. Houston (2)
50. Syracuse (1)
51. Illinois State (1)
54. Alabama (3)
57. Georgia (2)


Ten lowest rated teams to earn an at-large (seed given):
61. USC (11)
56. Providence (11)
53. Seton Hall (9)
52. VCU (10)
45. Maryland (6)
44. Virginia Tech (9)
43. Michigan State (9)
40. Xavier (11)
39. Northwestern (8)
38. Arkansas (8)


--------------------------------

Remember, we're judging resumes here
In order to deny the power that RPI has over the Selection Committee, it's often pointed out that some highly rated RPI teams get left out. This year, for example, RPI #33 Illinois State got left out. Last year, four RPI Top 40 teams got left out (#30 St. Bonaventure, #34 Akron, #38 Saint Mary's, and #39 Princeton). The year before there were also four RPI Top 40 teams left out (#29 Colorado State, #34 Temple, #45 Tulsa, and #46 Old Dominion).

Remember that we're judging resume strength here, and even the Selection Committee is aware that the RPI is a horrible measure of that. The RPI ranking itself has never been the primary seeding mechanism, and so it's not a shock that BPI Strength of Resume correlates better with NCAA Tournament seed than RPI.

That said, it was surprising to me just how close the BPI Strength of Resume was to seed. Just one team outside the Top 50 earned an at-large bid, while just one team inside the Top 50 was denied. Looking at the Average Rating Error, it's clear that BPI Strength of Record was far, far more accurate than RPI.

The RPI Is Screwing Mid-Majors As Badly As Ever
You might have noticed something above. Notice how all of those RPI Top 40 teams that got left out were mid-majors? In fact, in the nine years that I've been doing these "How Well Did The Computers Predict The Field" posts, 16 teams from the RPI Top 40 have been denied, and all of them have been from outside the Power 6 conferences. Why? Because the bracket is dominated by RPI peripherals.

RPI Top 50 and RPI Top 100 wins have and will continue to dominate the process. Not only is this unfair to mid-majors who cannot get RPI Top 50 opponents on their homecourt, but by using RPI Top 50 wins as a counting stat rather than as a rate stat, mid-majors are penalized twice (why exactly is a 6-8 record vs the RPI Top 50 seen as profoundly more impressive than a 3-4 record vs the RPI Top 50?).
Winning on the road at decent mid-majors is very hard, and you don't get rewarded for it. Mid-majors like Illinois State are forced to play those games, and so Illinois State suffered "bad" losses, all away from home and against decent mid-majors (San Francisco, Tulsa, and Murray State). Major conference teams avoid those games like the plague.

Syracuse was able to pile up RPI Top 50 home wins over the likes of Wake Forest and Miami-Florida. Illinois State would've been in the bracket easily if they could have ever gotten back-end RPI Top 50 teams like Wake Forest and Miami-Florida to show up on their home court. The system isn't fair, and we know that it isn't fair, but it's going to continue until the Selection Committee is willing to admit the problem.

Worst Bracket Mistakes
Once we understand that we're measuring resumes here, it's clear that the biggest snub was not Syracuse (the team that ESPN was trying hard to push), but Illinois State. Syracuse had its 6 RPI Top 50 wins only, and the rest of its resume was not even particularly close to at-large worthy. It's also clear that mid-majors like Monmouth and UT-Arlington deserved actual consideration. I threw UT-Arlington into my bracket because I thought that the Selection Committee would be under pressure to add a goofy mid-major rather than using the last spot on a thoroughly mediocre Kansas State resume, and UT-Arlington's resume scratched a lot of typical Selection Committee itches, but it was not to be. They had no time for mid-majors this year.

You want to know how badly the Selection Committee hated mid-majors this year? Even by Strength of Record, if we ignore how good a team was, Wichita State showed up 30th in the BPI SOR ratings. This means that they deserved an 8 seed even if we completely and utterly disregarded how good they are.  Yet they got a 10 seed. Once again: The idea that the advanced analytical models are actually being used in the Selection Committee room is utter garbage.

An underrated bracket mistake is Vanderbilt, who had the weakest resume in the at-large field according to BPI yet earned a 9 seed. Why? Because of a non-conference strength of schedule and an overall strength of schedule ranked #1 in the nation by RPI. The problem is that Pomeroy rated their strength of schedule just 33rd in non-conference play and 17th overall. Vanderbilt did a great job manipulating their RPI SOS with lots of games against the likes of Bucknell, Belmont, and Chattanooga. I've written before about how coaches can easily manipulate this very key metric. The RPI doesn't just screw up the bracket because of RPI Top 50/100 wins, but also because of RPI SOS. It's a virus in the system that infects everything.

Day 1 Picking The Lines

This is Day 1 of my daily "Picking The Lines" posts. Remember that gambling is for fun only, and this is really just a blogging gimmick to talk about each game. Never bet significant sums of money on sporting events.

As always, the Vegas lines used will be the VegasInsider consensus line at the time the post goes live on the blog.

Anyway, it's time to get this tournament started. Join in the comments section on these posts daily to talk about the games as they happen, or tweet at me.

Let's get to the games:

2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)

New Orleans (-1.5) over Mount St. Mary's: You have to be a gambling degenerate to actually throw real money on a 16/16 play-in game. That said, with a spread this small I'm just going to pick whoever I think is going to win the game. New Orleans isn't just the team higher rated in the computers, but they're a more athletic team, with the ability to apply a lot of defensive pressure and to get to the line in a way that Mount St. Mary's simply can't.

Kansas State (PK) over Wake Forest: Kansas State is a team that I didn't think deserved a spot in the NCAA Tournament due to a very mediocre non-conference strength of schedule, conference W-L record, and RPI Top 50/100 records. That said, they are better than their resume, suffering from a little bit of bad luck in close games. Also, the Big 12 was just ridiculously strong, with no opportunities for easy victories. Both of these teams have mismatches, from Kansas State's pressure defense to Wake Forest's John Collins inside, but when all else fails I give the coaching advantage to Bruce Weber. Criticize Weber's recruiting all you want, but he's one of the best game coaches that you'll find in Division I basketball.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Complete 2017 NCAA Tournament Analysis

Below, you will find links to my bracket breakdown. I choose the winner of each game, by region and then in the Final Four itself. Don't expect a breakdown of each game, but rather some larger observations about what to watch out for, what to focus on in your bracket pool, and where I would recommend taking risks and chances.

Look for the picks against the spread each day on the blog.  I will be picking each game against the VegasInsider consensus line spread.


Complete Final Four Analysis

My Picks:

2. Duke over 1. Gonzaga
1. North Carolina over 4. Purdue

2. Duke over 1. North Carolina

Don't get too cute: Want to pick a 10 seed to the Sweet 16 or a 4 seed to the Final Four? Have some fun, particularly when you are in a pool with a lot of contenders or where upsets are rewarded. But I generally recommend staying away from low seeds for your title game teams, because you really risk having your bracket blow up in your face during the opening weekend. The fact is that the Final Four is likely to be heavy on 1 and 2 seeds, so don't fight it. If some 11 seed makes the Final Four, the odds are that you aren't going to get lucky enough to pick that team anyway.

Look for balance: In general when picking Final Four teams, look for teams that are in the Top 20 of both Pomeroy offensive and defensive efficiency, or at least something right around there. While some unbalanced teams have managed to get through to a championship by being incredible on one side of the ball, history says that you want to pick balanced teams, as they are less likely to be undone by a single thing going wrong. An example team that I would stay away from, for example, is UCLA.

Bracket difficulty matters: When two teams you are deciding between seem like relatively equal opponents, look to see who had the easier path to get there. Which team is more likely to get taken out early? In my bracket, that led me to stay away from Villanova, who are likely going to have to face two very difficult opponents (Wisconsin and then either Florida or Virginia) before they even get to an Elite 8 game. In contrast, North Carolina and Duke were given total cakewalks to the Elite 8. It's not a coincidence that those are the two teams I have in my title game.

Who is the best team?: Gonzaga is #1 in most metrics, though it's fair to assign a slightly larger statistical uncertainty to them than to a team that has faced a more consistently difficult schedule. Villanova is the defending champs and might just be the best team in the nation, though as I said earlier their bracket is a nightmare. The most talented roster of all, and the team that is finally humming at the level that we were expecting all season long, is Duke. There is such a ridiculous amount of talent and athleticism there that I was leaning toward taking them as my national champion pick even before the brackets were released. The fact that they have a relatively soft path to the Elite 8 and that the 1 seed in their bracket has a greater than 50% chance of failing to make the Elite 8 in most computer models seals it for me. Duke is my pick.

Complete West Region Analysis

My Picks:
1. Gonzaga over 16. South Dakota State
9. Vanderbilt over 8. Northwestern
5. Notre Dame over 12. Princeton
4. West Virginia over 13. Bucknell
11. Xavier over 6. Maryland
3. Florida State over 14. Florida Gulf Coast
7. Saint Mary's over 10. VCU
2. Arizona over 15. North Dakota

1. Gonzaga over 9. Vanderbilt
4. West Virginia over 5. Notre Dame
3. Florida State over 11. Xavier
7. Saint Mary's over 2. Arizona

1. Gonzaga over 4. West Virginia
3. Florida State over 7. Saint Mary's

1. Gonzaga over 3. Florida State

Breakdown:

The West is unbalanced: The 1 and 4 seeds in the West are in the Top 5 of the Pomeroy ratings while the 2 and 3 seeds are 20th and 19th, respectively. This is the best Gonzaga team we've ever seen, and they annihilated a solid WCC by an obscene 0.37 PPP. At the same time, this West Virginia team was more than just "Press Virginia", as they proved to be able to keep up their offensive efficiency in conference play in ways that they weren't the past couple of seasons. If you want to take West Virginia to your Final Four, by all means go with that.

Notre Dame was handed a brutal draw: Princeton is one of the best teams to ever come out of the Ivy League, and will be a handful in the first round, and that's before the Irish can get to Pomeroy #5 in the second round and Pomeroy #1 in the Sweet 16. They've played really good basketball over the last month, but that draw is a nightmare if you want to pick the Irish to go far.

Saint Mary's is a great Sweet 16 sleeper: The thought when Arizona got Allonzo Trier back was that the team would get significantly better. Oddly, they've actually performed slightly worse (statistically) with him than without him. Even if you believe that the computers are slightly underrating Arizona, they are still a borderline Top 20 team at best in most computer ratings, and thus a very weak 2 seed. Throw in a relatively soft 10 seed in VCU and Saint Mary's is perfectly positioned for a Sweet 16 run if they can hit their open shots.

Xavier has righted the ship: It's not surprising that Xavier tailed off after losing Edmond Sumner, but they do seem to have righted the ship over the last week or two. They're not the borderline Top 20 team they were with Sumner, but they're still a Top 40 team in the Pomeroy, the BPI, and Sagarin, and are facing a weak 6 seed in Maryland. Vegas has opened the line with Maryland as 2 point favorites, but I find that it's generally a good bet to take lower seeds in toss-up games. That said, Florida State is a tough 3 seed, and so unless your bracket pool offers large bonuses for picking upsets I wouldn't get too greedy in picking Xavier to go far.

Complete Midwest Region Analysis

My Picks:
16. North Carolina Central over 16. UC Davis

1. Kansas over 16. North Carolina Central
9. Michigan State over 8. Miami-Florida
5. Iowa State over 12. Nevada
4. Purdue over 13. Vermont
11. Rhode Island over 6. Creighton
3. Oregon over 14. Iona
10. Oklahoma State over 7. Michigan
2. Louisville over 15. Jacksonville State

1. Kansas over 9. Michigan State
4. Purdue over 5. Iowa State
3. Oregon over 11. Rhode Island
10. Oklahoma State over 2. Louisville

4. Purdue over 1. Kansas
10. Oklahoma State over 3. Oregon

4. Purdue over 10. Oklahoma State


Breakdown:

The Midwest is a good region in which to pick an upset: Stay away from the weakest 1 seed, and the weakest 1 seed statistically is Kansas. Oregon would be an acceptable 3 seed if they were healthy, but they have lost crucial defensive big man Chris Boucher. The 6 seed Creighton is also missing a key player in Mo Watson. At the same time, Oklahoma State is a ridiculously strong 10 seed, and Michigan State is a 9 seed with some elite top end talent and which has survived a gauntlet of a schedule. You are not going to win a large bracket pool by picking 1 and 2 seeds to the Final Four, so if you want to go with an upset Final Four team I'd do it in the Midwest.

Stay away from Creighton: It has been impressive the way that Creighton has held the ship together without Mo Watson, but the fact is that they haven't been quite as good as they were with him. Their computer ratings have been slowly fading over the last two months, when they've been just 8-9 overall. Their saving grace has been outside shooting, as they've hit 40% behind the arc for the season, but Rhode Island led the Atlantic Ten in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio.

Purdue is a really tough match-up for Iowa State: Purdue has a ton of size, and I'm not entirely sure how Iowa State is going to deal with that. Freshman Solomon Young is 6'8" and has come on and played a lot of minutes over the last month, but he's no match for Caleb Swanigan or Isaac Haas. Iowa State's only hope is hitting a ton of outside shots, but Purdue is one of the better three-point defensive teams in the nation.

Oklahoma State is a crazy dangerous 10 seed: The Cowboys are 24th in Pomeroy, and have been playing their best basketball over the past couple of months due to the emergence of Jawun Evans as perhaps the best point guard in the nation. Their defense is bad, but their path ahead is not particularly difficult as far as 10 seed draws go, particularly with Oregon losing Chris Boucher.

If you want a more conventional Final Four team, take Louisville: If you're in a bracket competition with hundreds of contenders or more, then you need to pick some goofy Final Four teams. If you're in a bracket competition with just a few friends then you might want to avoid an Elite 8 with a 4 and 10 seed in it. So if you want a more conventional Final Four team out of the Midwest, I would recommend taking Louisville. They have to survive that difficult Oklahoma State game, but after that they have a soft and short-handed 3 seed as their toughest possible Sweet 16 opponent, and are in the region with the weakest 1 seed. Louisville is much more balanced than some of Rick Pitino's other recent teams have been, and they were 4th in the ACC in offensive efficiency despite lacking a go-to playmaker like Russ Smith or Peyton Siva. Louisville is the highest Pomeroy-rated team in the Midwest, so you can't go too wrong by taking them.

Complete South Region Analysis

My Picks:
11. Kansas State over 11. Wake Forest

1. North Carolina over 16. Texas Southern
9. Seton Hall over 8. Arkansas
12. Middle Tennessee over 5. Minnesota
4. Butler over 13. Winthrop
6. Cincinnati over 11. Kansas State
3. UCLA over 14. Kent state
10. Wichita State over 7. Dayton
2. Kentucky over 15. Northern Kentucky

1. North Carolina over 9. Seton Hall
4. Butler over 12. Middle Tennessee
6. Cincinnati over 3. UCLA
2. Kentucky over 10. Wichita State

1. North Carolina over 4. Butler
2. Kentucky over 6. Cincinnati

1. North Carolina over 2. Kentucky

Breakdown:

North Carolina was handed a gift draw: This seems to happen every year, but the overall #1 seed earns the Region of Death while the least deserving 1 seed earns the Region of Life. Obviously Kentucky is a tough potential Elite 8 match-up, but North Carolina has as easy of a path to the Elite 8 as any team could ask for. The media will tell you that the South is the toughest region because it has three huge #brand names as 1-3 seeds, but that's not the proper way to judge a region.

How do you deal with Wichita State?: I honestly don't know the answer to this one. Wichita State is obviously a ridiculously strong 10 seed, as they are 8th in Pomeroy, but the fact is that part of that is due to dominating athletically inferior opponents. They were 0-4 against Pomeroy Tier A opponents, and only one of the four games was particularly close. This Kentucky team is as good as any in the country, and so they have to be favored in that second round game. The real shame here is that the Selection Committee forced those two teams to play so early.

It's not just North Carolina with a soft draw: Butler got an easy draw, too. Winthrop is a much softer opponent than Middle Tennessee, and even if Minnesota gets through they were probably the weakest 5 seed in any region even before the Akeem Springs injury. Butler will probably run into a brick wall when they play North Carolina, but I would feel pretty good taking them to the Sweet 16.

Stay away from UCLA: One of my annual recommendations is to stay away from teams depending on outside shooting and which are weak defensively. Teams like that look great when the shots are going in, but it just takes one day of cold shooting for it all to go up in smoke in a one-and-done tournament. For all the hype, UCLA is just 18th in the Pomeroy ratings. The only two defenses they've seen all season long as strong as Cincinnati have been Kentucky and Michigan, and UCLA happened to shoot the lights out in both of those games (53% total on three-pointers). Cincinnati has a strong perimeter defense and will test UCLA in the paint.

Complete East Region Analysis

My Picks:
16. New Orleans over 16. Mount St. Mary's
11. USC over 11. Providence

1. Villanova over 16. New Orleans
8. Wisconsin over 9. Virginia Tech
5. Virginia over 12. UNC Wilmington
4. Florida over 13. East Tennessee St
6. SMU over 11. USC
3. Baylor over 14. New Mexico State
10. Marquette over 7. South Carolina
2. Duke over 15. Troy

1. Villanova over 8. Wisconsin
5. Virginia over 4. Florida
3. Baylor over 6. SMU
2. Duke over 10. Marquette

1. Villanova over 5. Virginia
2. Duke over 3. Baylor

2. Duke over 1. Villanova

Breakdown:

This is the Region Of Death: It's become an annual tradition that the overall #1 seed earns the Region of Death. I'm not exactly sure what the point of the overall #1 seed designation is if you're going to give them arguably the Big Ten's best team as your 8 seed, two Top 10 Pomeroy teams in the 4/5 game, and the most talented roster in the nation as your 2 seed. Villanova might be the best team in the country, but it's awfully hard to pick them through to the Final Four simply because their schedule is so brutal compared to what a team like North Carolina gets to see.

Don't fall for the 12/13 seed hype: UNC-Wilmington and East Tennessee State are both popular upset picks, but the fact is that neither is higher than 60th in Pomeroy, and both struggled against major conference opposition this season. With two truly elite teams in Virginia and Florida there, I'd recommend taking chalk.

SMU is a tough team to figure out: They've gotten into a groove in conference play, but just how good was the AAC this season, exactly? Is it possible that part of SMU's dominance was simply due to the lack of top end athleticism in the league (aside from Cincinnati)? The fact that they only basically play six players is a concern against an opponent as physical and big as Baylor that is going to grind on them and wear them out. As good as SMU's computer numbers are, the personnel edge has to go to Baylor there.

Run away from South Carolina: Always stay away from the wildly over-seeded team, and no team was more over-seeded in this year's bracket than South Carolina. They are 3-7 vs Pomeroy Tier A/B opponents since January 20th, with their top winning in that stretch coming at Mississippi State. They defend well, but their offense is ugly, as they shot just 33.4% on three-pointers and were dead last in the SEC in 2P% in conference play. Unless they utterly dominate the glass, they're going to lose to Marquette.

Go with the most talented roster: And that is Duke. Now that Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, in particular, are healthy and playing well, Duke has the most talented roster in the nation. They have played as well as any team over the last month and a half. And even if you think that Villanova is a slightly stronger team than Duke, the fact is that Duke has a significantly easier path to the Elite 8, with Baylor being the only team that is really going to scare them. So unless you think Villanova is the significantly better team, you should take Duke to the Final Four.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

FINAL BP68

The most controversial pick in my bracket is going to be UT-Arlington in over Kansas State. I've detailed just why Syracuse should not be in this bracket, but I think that UT-Arlington will be rewarded for a very difficult non-conference strength of schedule. Illinois State is the "mid-major resume" that many are focusing on, but the fact is that UT-Arlington played a significantly tougher non-conference schedule and has the better premier win (at Saint Mary's). The bad losses, historically, just don't matter much. There's a history of the Selection Committee making a statement about non-conference strength of schedules, and if they do this season then they'll reward UT-Arlington (non-conference RPI SOS of 38) and punish Kansas State (non-conference RPI SOS of 228).

Other than the bubble, the public discussion always focuses on the 1 seeds. To me, it's between Kentucky and Duke. I understand that North Carolina won the ACC regular season title while Duke was 5th, but the fact is that the ACC schedule is very unbalanced (and North Carolina had a much softer schedule than Duke). Duke/Kentucky is a 50/50 pick, and I went with the better wins and better league with Duke. If it's Kentucky, I won't complain.

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. Kansas
1. GONZAGA (WCC)
1. DUKE (ACC)

2. KENTUCKY (SEC)
2. North Carolina
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. Baylor

3. Oregon
3. Louisville
3. UCLA
3. Florida State

4. Butler
4. West Virginia
4. Notre Dame
4. Florida

5. IOWA STATE (BIG 12)
5. Virginia
5. SMU (AAC)
5. Purdue

6. MICHIGAN (BIG TEN)
6. Wisconsin
6. Minnesota
6. Cincinnati

7. Maryland
7. Creighton
7. Saint Mary's
7. Arkansas

8. Vanderbilt
8. Michigan State
8. Oklahoma State
8. WICHITA STATE (MVC)

9. South Carolina
9. Northwestern
9. Virginia Tech
9. RHODE ISLAND (ATLANTIC TEN)

10. Dayton
10. VCU
10. Miami FL
10. Xavier

11. Wake Forest
11. Seton Hall
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
11. USC
11. Providence

12. Marquette
12. UT-Arlington
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)

13. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
13. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
13. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)

14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
14. IONA (MAAC)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. NORTHERN KENTUCKY (HORIZON)

15. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
15. KENT STATE (MAC)
15. TROY (SUN BELT)
15. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUMMIT)

16. NORTH DAKOTA (BIG SKY)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)
16. JACKSONVILLE STATE (OVC)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. UC-DAVIS (BIG WEST)

If I missed somebody on the bubble, these are the most likely teams:
Syracuse, Kansas State, Illinois State, California

Other more distant possibilities - that could possibly get a bid but probably shouldn't:
Houston, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, TCU, Alabama, Georgia, BYU

Saturday, March 11, 2017

D-1 BP68

Down to the final 36 hours of Championship Week, the bubble is coming very clearly into view. At this point, realistically, there are 7 teams fighting for 5 spots. For now I have slid Kansas State into the bracket and Illinois State out, but I wouldn't totally count Illinois State out yet. The real concern for them is further bid stealing, with the Atlantic Ten looming as a possibility there.

With a number of 1 seeds going down in their conference tournaments, the 1 seed line is opening up. I feel increasingly confident that Kentucky will earn a 1 seed if they win the SEC tournament, sliding 7-loss North Carolina down to the 2 seed line. Oregon will get some 1 seed hype if they win the Pac-12 tournament, though in my opinion the Pac-12 resumes across the board are being overrated by the media. To me, Gonzaga really should stay on the 1 line.

Five more teams were eliminated from at-large contention since Wednesday: Boise State, Colorado, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Utah. That leaves 12 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

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

1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. Kansas
1. GONZAGA (WCC)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)

2. North Carolina
2. DUKE (ACC)
2. Louisville
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

3. Baylor
3. Oregon
3. UCLA
3. WEST VIRGINIA (BIG 12)

4. Florida State
4. Florida
4. Butler
4. Notre Dame

5. Purdue
5. Virginia
5. CINCINNATI (AAC)
5. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)

6. Minnesota
6. SMU
6. Iowa State
6. Creighton

7. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Maryland
7. Arkansas
7. Michigan

8. Saint Mary's
8. Oklahoma State
8. Michigan State
8. South Carolina

9. Northwestern
9. Vanderbilt
9. Virginia Tech
9. Xavier

10. Miami FL
10. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
10. Dayton
10. Seton Hall

11. Wake Forest
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
11. Rhode Island
11. USC
11. Providence

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

13. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
13. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
13. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
13. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)

14. AKRON (MAC)
14. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
14. IONA (MAAC)
14. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (WAC)

15. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. NORTHERN KENTUCKY (HORIZON)
15. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
15. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUMMIT)

16. JACKSONVILLE STATE (OVC)
16. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)
16. NORTH DAKOTA (BIG SKY)
16. NEW ORLEANS (SOUTHLAND)
16. MOUNT ST MARY'S (NEC)
16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Illinois State, California

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Syracuse

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Illinois, Iowa, Georgia

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, Houston, Indiana, TCU, Alabama, BYU

Thursday, March 09, 2017

D-3 BP68

As we head into the two most important days of the season for the bubble, it's worth having a little discussion about the final few spots.

For the time being, there are really only four spots up for grabs, but that can change for multiple reasons. Teams on the bubble can win or lose, of course, but we can also have bid stealers, either because a team steals an auto-bid in a major conference, or because a team like Kansas State or Illinois goes on a run in their conference tournament.

And that brings me to Illinois State, which is clinging onto the last projected spot right now. In the end, I expect Illinois State to end up (unfortunately) missing the NCAA Tournament. The power of the RPI is too strong. I just don't know at this point which team is going to jump up and grab that spot. But the odds are that somebody will.

There is a push for Syracuse to earn an at-large bid due to 6 RPI Top 50 wins, but even that RPI metric can't save them, I don't think. There's a bit of a fluke that, for example, their win over Monmouth counts as an RPI Top 50 win (for now). They are just 8-9 vs the RPI Top 100 and 12-13 vs the RPI Top 200, which really would be unprecedented. And, of course, an RPI of 84 would be unprecedented as well. Outside of RPI Top 50 wins, what other metric even suggests that Syracuse should be in the conversation?

With Syracuse dropping out of the bracket, Rhode Island slips back in. Meanwhile, we had three changes in auto bids due to tournament upsets. Northern Kentucky won the Horizon (replacing Green Bay), Iona won the MAAC (replacing Monmouth), and South Dakota State won the Summit (replacing South Dakota).

Just three teams were eliminated from at-large contention since Sunday: Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State. That leaves 17 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid, but expect at least half a dozen of those to be eliminated over the next three days.

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

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

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

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

4. Florida State
4. PURDUE (BIG TEN)
4. Butler
4. Virginia

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

6. Notre Dame
6. South Carolina
6. Iowa State
6. Wisconsin

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

8. VCU
8. Saint Mary's
8. Arkansas
8. Michigan State

9. Miami FL
9. Virginia Tech
9. Michigan
9. Marquette

10. Northwestern
10. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
10. Vanderbilt
10. Providence

11. Wake Forest
11. Seton Hall
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
11. Xavier
11. USC

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

13. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
13. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
13. AKRON (MAC)
13. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)

14. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
14. IONA (MAAC)
14. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
14. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (WAC)

15. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)
15. NORTHERN KENTUCKY (HORIZON)
15. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUMMIT)

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

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Syracuse, California

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Illinois, Iowa,  Kansas State, Georgia

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Indiana, TCU, Utah, Mississippi

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, Boise St, Colorado, Alabama, Tennessee, BYU

Sunday, March 05, 2017

W-1 BP68

Every year we hear how terrible the bubble is. "This is the worst bubble ever" is an annual narrative. In reality, of course, the bubble strength is relatively similar year over year. That said, it can vary from week to week, and the bubble certainly got stronger over the last week.

Over the last few days, teams like Northwestern and Marquette picked up the wins that really firmed up their at-large spots, while teams like Seton Hall and Vanderbilt got the wins that shot them from outside the bracket into it. In fact, the bracket got so much tougher over the last few days that Rhode Island dropped out of the projected bracket despite winning every game they played this week.

In all, three at-large slots changed over the last week, with Providence, Seton Hall, and Vanderbilt coming in. California, Rhode Island, and TCU drop out.

In addition 11 teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Auburn, Colorado St, Georgetown, Nebraska, Penn St, Pittsburgh, St. Bonaventure, St. John's, Stanford, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. That leaves just 20 teams not in the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Over the next week, I'd expect the bubble to shrink by at least half. Generally on Selection Sunday there are only around four slots really up for grabs, with maybe 8-10 teams seriously in the mix. The question is whether we see stolen bids during Championship Week, or if the bubble teams struggle and bracket entry difficulty eases up a bit.

In addition to the at-large teams, there were four changes to the projected auto bids. One, of course, is no longer a projection: Jacksonville State is in as the OVC champ, replacing the pre-tournament favorite Belmont. In addition, new auto-bid favorites are Winthrop from the Big South (replacing UNC-Ashville), Green Bay from the Horizon (replacing Valparaiso), and South Dakota from the Summit (replacing North Dakota State).

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

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

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

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

4. Florida State
4. PURDUE (BIG TEN)
4. Butler
4. Virginia

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

6. Notre Dame
6. Iowa State
6. South Carolina
6. Oklahoma State

7. Wisconsin
7. Saint Mary's
7. DAYTON (ATLANTIC TEN)
7. Maryland

8. Creighton
8. VCU
8. Arkansas
8. Michigan State

9. Northwestern
9. Miami FL
9. Michigan
9. Marquette

10. Virginia Tech
10. WICHITA STATE (MVC)
10. Vanderbilt
10. Wake Forest

11. Providence
11. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (CONFERENCE USA)
11. Illinois State
11. Seton Hall
11. Xavier

12. Syracuse
12. USC
12. UNC-WILMINGTON (COLONIAL)
12. NEVADA (MOUNTAIN WEST)
12. MONMOUTH (MAAC)

13. TEXAS-ARLINGTON (SUN BELT)
13. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
13. PRINCETON (IVY LEAGUE)
13. AKRON (MAC)

14. EAST TENNESSEE ST (SOCON)
14. BUCKNELL (PATRIOT)
14. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
14. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (WAC)

15. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. SOUTH DAKOTA (SUMMIT)
15. GREEN BAY (HORIZON)
15. TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)

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

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Houston, Rhode Island, California

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Illinois, Iowa,  Kansas State, Georgia

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Indiana, TCU, Utah, Mississippi, BYU

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Ohio St, Boise St, Colorado, Alabama, Tennessee