Bubble Thoughts on Selection Sunday

Let’s start at the top and the #1 overall seed.  While not all that important, it is fun to try and guess who the committee thinks is deserving of the #1 overall seed.  Yesterday afternoon, it was announced that the committee had decided on 1 #1 seed and had 5 other teams in contention for the other 3 #1 seeds.  Since this was done before Indiana’s loss in the Big 10 tournament, there’s a good chance the one team already selected at that point was IU, who was second in both polls coming into the week and playing some of its best basketball of the season coming down the stretch.  I suppose it’s possible that IU could be selected #1 overall after yesterday’s loss, but the committee has most likely re-seeded after yesterday’s results.  So I think there are really only 2 candidates for #1 overall, Gonzaga and Louisville.  Gonzaga’s main argument for being #1 overall is their 30-2 record and being ranked #1 in both polls.  Louisville has come on strong as of late, winning 10 in a row and capturing the Big East championships.  Historically, the top 2 seed lines correlate well with the top of the AP and ESPN poll rankings.  There certainly seems to be a consensus forming in the media overnight that Louisville should be ranked #1 at this point.  Putting them in that slot in even 1 of the 2 polls boosts them to #1 overall in the S-Curve rankings, so I will have them #1 overall in the final bracket.

As far as the other #1 seeds go, as I said the seedings generally correlate well with the poll rankings.  With Gonzaga and Kansas already having high rankings coming into the week and winning their conference tournaments, I think both of those teams will secure #1 seeds.  And Indiana shouldn’t fall too far after losing to Wisconsin.  So I have Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Indiana as the #1 seeds.  While I have these teams as my #1 seeds, I would not be surprised to see Miami as a #1 seed if they win the ACC tournament today, although I have no idea which team they would supplant at the top.  The committee is already at work seeding and bracketing the tournament, so they may not have time to put together alternate scenarios for Miami’s seeding depending on today’s results.

Speaking of scenarios, I don’t see too many alternate scenarios for the committee to consider for today.  With Miami looking like a #1 or #2 seed and UNC around a #6 seed, there probably won’t be scenarios attached to the ACC result today.  Similarly, it’s doubtful that the committee will create scenarios for the Big 10 tournament final between Ohio State and Wisconsin.  Ohio State looks to be solid as a #2 seed, and I doubt they would move up to a #1 if they win today.  I currently have Wisconsin as a #5 seed, there may be a chance that the committee will have Wisconsin move up to a #4 seed if they win, and perhaps trade seeds with Michigan, who I have as a #4 currently.  I’ll consider this possibility as the day goes on.

Another possible scenario is for the Atlantic 10 championship.  I currently have Saint Louis as a #5 seed and VCU as a #6 seed.  I think it’s highly probable that the committee will switch those seeds if VCU wins today.

The last scenario to consider is for the SEC championship.  I currently have Ole Miss as my 34th at-large team.  Given that a loss to Florida should not significantly hurt their resume, I’ll have them in the final bracket.  Since conference champions cannot play in the first round games in Dayton, it is an open question whether the committee would consider alternate scenarios given whether Ole Miss wins today.  I’m leaning towards thinking they will not, so I am going to move Ole Miss out of the first four.  It is possible for the committee to create an alternate scenario for Ole Miss based on today’s result, either switching them with another SEC team in the first 4 games, or leaving them out of the tourney altogether if they lose.  I think the Rebels are the most interesting team to watch today.

As I ran the final rankings last night, I noticed several close calls for seed lines between teams, for instance I have Belmont as the last #8 seed while Notre Dame is just behind them as the first #9 seed.  In year’s past, I haven’t tinkered with the seeds but with some of these close calls that go against the consensus I’ll make some small adjustments to the seeds.

Finally, for the last teams in, there are 2 selections where I am going against the consensus.  For one, I have Kentucky pretty solidly in the field.  I know there has been a consensus forming against them, but one of the reasons I have them in is their strong conference record.  Now, I’ve heard many media commentators say that conference record plays no part in the selection process.  That’s not quite true.  While the committee will not compare conference records between 2 teams in different conferences, they have said in the past (though not recently) that they need a good reason to jump one team ahead of another and take the team that placed lower in the conference standings.  Two reasons can be non-conference performance and unbalanced conference scheduling.  With regards to the SEC, Missouri finished 6th in the conference, but due to their strong non-conference play, especially beating VCU and Illinois, they can be taken over the teams above them in the standings, like Alabama.  However, I think it’s going to be hard to take a team like Tennessee over Kentucky, given that their resumes aren’t all that different.  Another factor why Kentucky seems to be disfavored among the media is the loss of Nerlens Noel, however, the Wildcats got their biggest win of the season, against Florida, without him.  I see the Wildcats getting in today.

Villanova is another team where I disagree with the consensus.  The Wildcats seemingly became a lock after beating St. John’s in the Big East tournament.  However, that one game should not have moved them from bubble to lock.  Similarly, losing to Louisville doesn’t do great damage to their resume.  I think they were on the bubble coming into the week and remain so now.  I’ll have them out, but just barely behind Boise State for the last berth.  I can certainly see them getting a berth, however.

Also there’s Middle Tennessee State.  I’ve had them solidly in the field all week, now sitting as a #10 seed.  The problem when dealing with unusual resumes like the Blue Raiders’, is that a math model for ranking the teams doesn’t work well when processing something it hasn’t seen before.  And MTSU’s resume, with a non-conference SOS of 5th, while only playing 4 teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, is very unusual.  It’s an open question what the committee will do with them.  Will the committee favor their NC SOS and their 28-5 record?  Or will they leave them out based on their 1-3 record against RPI top 100 teams?  Based on last year’s selection of Iona to the big dance, my model has MTSU in the field.

We’re only about 4 hours away from the selections, I’ll have my final bracket posted by the end of the Big 10 championship.

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