College Football 2017, Week 8: the top 15 matchups

An explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Borrowing this idea, I’ve created a utterly byzantine and truly enigmatic formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

I am excluding the game between The Citadel and Chattanooga this week, as that matchup looms over the rest of the slate to such an enormous degree that comparing it to the other games on the schedule is a wasted exercise.

Outside of that contest, here are the top 15 games for Week 7 that will take place on Saturday:

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Southern California Notre Dame 7:30 PM NBC 83.6
Oklahoma State Texas 12:00 PM ABC/ESPN3 82.9
Michigan Penn State 7:30 PM ABC/ESPN3 82.8
UCF Navy 3:30 PM CBS Sports Network 79.5
Iowa State Texas Tech 12:00 PM FS1/FS-Go 77.2
Louisville Florida State 12:00 PM ESPN 70.8
North Texas FAU 5:00 PM ESPN3 69.5
Wake Forest Georgia Tech 7:30 PM ESPNU 69.4
LSU Mississippi 7:15 PM ESPN 69.2
Arizona California 8:00 PM Pac-12 Network 68.6
Iowa Northwestern 12:00 PM ESPN2 66.5
USF Tulane 7:00 PM ESPN2 64.9
Eastern Washington Southern Utah 7:00 PM Eleven Sports 64.7
Oregon UCLA 4:00 PM Pac-12 Network 64.6
Oklahoma Kansas State 4:00 PM FOX/FS-Go 64.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– Southern California-Notre Dame will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra.

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Arizona-California and Oregon-UCLA will both be streamed on the Pac-12 Digital Network.

– The one FCS game to break into the top 15 this week, Eastern Washington-Southern Utah, will also be streamed on the Big Sky Digital Network.

– Of the fifteen highest-rated “TF” games on the board this week, Iowa State-Texas Tech (over/under of 68) is projected to be the highest-scoring. Other potential scorefests in the top 15 include Oregon-UCLA (over/under of 67.5), Eastern Washington-Southern Utah (66.5) and North Texas-FAU (66).

– The classic intersectional matchup between Southern California and Notre Dame has often been a bit streaky, but the two programs have split the last eight meetings. This is the 40th anniversary of one of the wilder team entrances in series history, the green jerseys/Trojan horse lunacy of 1977.

– Oklahoma State had a yards/play margin of +5.8 against Baylor, the largest such margin in any FBS game last week.

– Iowa State’s 20.5 yard field position margin advantage over Kansas was the biggest differential in that category for any FBS game last week.

– Arizona and California both ranked in the top 5 in “turnover luck” last week (the Golden Bears were #1 in that category). They play each other this week, so something has to give.

– Oregon has won six straight games against UCLA, including the 2011 Pac-12 title game. The Ducks have averaged 41.3 points per game over that stretch. Meanwhile, the average score of UCLA’s games this season is Opponent 40.5, Bruins 39.5.

– Eastern Washington’s last to trips to Cedar City, Utah have been adventurous. In 2014, the Eagles (then ranked 2nd in FCS) had to rally for a 42-30 victory. Two years before, the homestanding Thunderbirds upended a top-ranked EWU squad 30-27.

– USF is 6-0 for only the second time in program history. In 2007 the Bulls were ranked #2 in the country after six games, but USF lost its seventh game that season at Rutgers, 30-27.

– UCF is 5-0 for only the second time in program history, and the first time as an FBS team. The Knights have never started a season 6-0. Saturday’s game at Annapolis, a meeting between two teams with a combined record of 10-1, is the first time UCF has ever faced one of the service academies.

– Louisville and Florida State have met on the gridiron seventeen times, with the Seminoles winning fourteen of those contests. Before the Cardinals’ staggering 63-20 triumph over FSU last year (which catapulted Lamar Jackson to favored status for the Heisman Trophy, which he eventually won), Louisville’s previous largest margin of victory versus Florida State came in the first meeting in the series, a 41-14 decision in 1952.

The next season, Florida State beat Louisville 59-0.

– Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are playing for only the third time in the last ten years. Georgia Tech has won both of the most recent meetings, but the matchup before that came in the 2006 ACC title game, won by the Demon Deacons, 9-6. Sam Swank’s three field goals were all the scoring Wake Forest would need that afternoon.

– The most famous game in the history of the LSU-Mississippi series is, without question, the 1959 meeting. LSU was ranked #1; Mississippi, #3. The two teams had combined to allow only two touchdowns all season prior to the October 31 matchup. The Tigers won 7-3 on a legendary punt return touchdown by Billy Cannon, who subsequently won that year’s Heisman Trophy.

It should be a great day of college football. The primetime block of games looks particularly appetizing. Get all your chores done in the morning, grab your snacks, and spend the rest of the day and night on the couch…

College Football 2017, Week #4: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve created a somewhat byzantine and truly murky formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

On the surface, this week does not have a great slate of games, but sometimes the craziest weeks are the ones that on first look seem less than stellar.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 4. All of them are being played on Saturday, as has been the case for the last three weeks. There haven’t really been that many intriguing Thursday and Friday night games so far this season, though the Utah-Arizona game on Friday night could be worth watching.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Mississippi State Georgia 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN 81.2
TCU Oklahoma State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN 80.1
UCF Maryland 9/16, 3:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.8
Texas Tech Houston 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 79.6
Washington Colorado 9/16, 10:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 75.0
Wake Forest Appalachian State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.8
Samford Western Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.1
Toledo Miami (FL) 9/16, 3:30 pm ACC Regional Nets 71.8
Notre Dame Michigan State 9/16, 8:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 69.8
Duke North Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPNU 69.3
N.C. State Florida State 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 69.1
Michigan Purdue 9/16, 4:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 67.3
Arkansas State SMU 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.1
Florida Kentucky 9/16, 7:30 pm SEC Network 64.8
Cincinnati Navy 9/16, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network 63.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– The first five games on the list feature matchups between undefeated teams — including UCF, which has only played one game to this point in the season.

– Miami (FL) has also played only one game this year to date, and will host a Toledo squad that is averaging 46 points per game.

– This week, one FCS game sneaks into the top 15, and it’s a surprising one, a matchup between two offensive-minded teams in Samford and Western Carolina. The over/under is 74 for this Southern Conference clash.

– Other games in the top 15 that the oddsmakers think could be high-scoring include UCF-Maryland (over/under of 67), Texas Tech-Houston (71), Arkansas State-SMU (73), and TCU-Oklahoma State (68.5).

– Against Rice, Houston had a 22.5-yard edge in average field position for the game, the biggest advantage in that category for all of last week’s FBS matchups.

– Even though Georgia and Mississippi State were both charter members of the SEC (founded in 1932), there have only been 23 football games between the two schools. UGA leads the all-time series 17-6.

– After Saturday, there are no more scheduled meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan State until at least 2026. The two programs have met on the gridiron 78 times since 1897.

– This is the first time Duke and North Carolina have ever played each other in football in the month of September. The earliest date the schools had faced each other before this season was October 10 (a game played in 1925).

Other than an October 20 meeting in 2012, 77 of the previous 78 meetings had occurred in November.

– Saturday’s Cincinnati-Navy game is the first gridiron meeting between those two schools since 1956. They will meet more often in the future, now that both are football members of the American Athletic Conference.

In the last ten years, Navy has an overall record of 79-41. Cincinnati has an overall record of 78-41.

– Not part of the TF rating, but definitely part of the story: Kentucky is trying to end a 30-game losing streak against Florida.

It should be another great week. Saturday is just around the corner!

College Football 2017, Week #1: the top 15 matchups

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better.

I’m going to do the same thing (more or less) and rate the top 15 games of Week 1, excluding Newberry-The Citadel, because it wouldn’t be fair to compare that game with all the lesser gridiron battles.

Sometimes the high-profile contests really are the best games of the week, but often under-the-radar matchups are worth the attention of the viewing public. That includes FCS games.

I briefly explained this in a previously post, but basically I’ve created a super-secret formula (patent pending) to produce these game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

Of course, there are many games this week that are worth watching, because after all — they are college football games!

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games, see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 1 (Thursday through Monday):

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Alabama Florida State 9/2, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 86.73
North Carolina State South Carolina 9/2, 3:00 pm ESPN 84.20
Tennessee Georgia Tech 9/4, 8:00 pm ESPN 83.90
Virginia Tech West Virginia 9/3, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 83.55
Tulsa Oklahoma State 8/31, 7:30 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.68
Richmond Sam Houston State 9/1, 7:00 pm ESPN3 78.11
Colorado State Colorado 9/1, 8:00 pm Pac-12 Network 72.15
James Madison East Carolina 9/2, 6:00 pm ESPN3 68.44
Temple Notre Dame 9/2, 3:30 pm NBC 67.18
Kennesaw State Samford 8/31, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.95
Texas A&M UCLA 9/3, 7:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.60
Maryland Texas 9/2, 12:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 64.19
Eastern Washington Texas Tech 9/2, 4:00 pm FS Nets/FS-Go 64.03
South Carolina State Southern 9/3, 2:30 pm ESPN2 63.88
Navy Florida Atlantic 9/1, 7:00 pm ESPNU 63.79
  • Alabama-Florida State will be played in Atlanta, GA
  • Georgia Tech-Tennessee will also be played in Atlanta, GA
  • North Carolina State-South Carolina will be played in Charlotte, NC
  • Richmond-Sam Houston State will be played in Waco, TX
  • Colorado State-Colorado will be played in Denver, CO
  • Virginia Tech-West Virginia will be played in Landover, MD

Additional notes and observations:

– The top four games this week are all neutral-site Power 5 games. I think they would probably be more fun if played on a campus site, but money talks. At least these matchups will take place.

– It’s not surprising that Alabama-Florida State (a 1 vs. 3 matchup) tops the list, but watch out for North Carolina State-South Carolina. That should be a good game, and it is a bellwether contest for both programs.

– The game between Richmond and Sam Houston State was originally supposed to have been played last Sunday in Huntsville, TX, but was postponed and relocated due to Hurricane Harvey. Because of that, I had to resubmit the game into my computer program that produces the Tingle Factor ratings, and as a result it lost two TF points. It is still easily in the top 15 this week, however.

– If Tulsa can successfully replace Dane Evans at quarterback, look out (and as the over/under is 70, bet the over).

– Colorado State-Colorado strikes me as underrated, but perhaps instinctively the algorithm knows the game is being carried on the Pac-12 Network, and that very few people will be able to actually watch the game.

– James Madison, the defending FCS champion, is currently a 1-point favorite over homestanding FBS opponent East Carolina.

– Another FCS vs. FBS matchup, Eastern Washington-Texas Tech, features an over/under of 87.

– Navy-FAU barely sneaked into the top 15, but the algorithm doesn’t know the potential fun of having a military school face off against Lane Kiffin and a team described by one observer as an “Island of Misfit Toys”. This game might actually be top 10 material.

– One contest not in the top 15 is Michigan-Florida, and given that the Gators may struggle to put 11 players on the field at the same time on Saturday, that seems reasonable. BYU-LSU also didn’t make the cut.

– Tennessee State-Georgia State isn’t in the top 15 either, but it might be worthwhile to watch a few minutes of that game (it’s on ESPN3), if only to see the wonder of Georgia State playing at Turner Field (!).

It’s time for college football. Life is good.

Any chance left for a regional bid?

That was a tough loss.  Not a whole lot else to say about it…

This was not a good year for The Citadel in terms of officiating when playing Elon, either.  The football game was an atrocity, of course, featuring a set of calls so bad that  presumably even the conference powers-that-be were embarrassed.  Then in hoops there was the mysterious shotclock situation at their place.  Last night the Bulldogs got hurt by a much-disputed balk call that resulted in two runs.  Memo to the SoCon:  you owe The Citadel more than one next year against the Phoenix.

Okay, first let me say that I don’t think the Bulldogs are getting in a regional, and I don’t think they have much of a shot at getting in a regional. However, it’s not completely out of the question. First, there are four teams still out there that could “steal” a bid, and obviously Bulldog fans want all of them to lose.

Texas Tech can still win the Big XII if it wins Saturday night and Sunday.  On Sunday there will be three other title games of consequence. Connecticut is in the Big East title game (against Dan McDonnell and Louisville), Southern Mississippi hosts Rice in the C-USA championship, and Louisiana-Monroe plays MTSU in the Sun Belt final. Supporters of The Citadel want TT, UConn, USM, and ULM to all go down to defeat.

It is true, I suppose, that Southern Mississippi has an outside shot at an at-large bid, but ultimately I think the committee will look at its mediocre resume and determine that the Golden Eagles have a chance to earn a bid by winning at home.  Win and they’re in; lose and they’re out.

[Edited on Sunday morning:  Texas Tech lost Saturday night to Texas A&M, 11-4, so the Red Raiders’ season is over.  That’s one less team that could steal a bid.]

After analyzing the contenders and pretenders, I’ve decided that there are 60 spots locked up out of the 64. That includes automatic bids. It isn’t as clear-cut as the hoops tourney usually is, but I’ve identified 15 teams that have a case for grabbing one of those four spots left. There are a few other teams I don’t think are in the mix, but I’ll list them too.

Here are the locks (in my opinion):

ACC: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami (FL), Boston College
SEC: LSU, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Arkansas
Big XII: Texas, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas
Pac-10: Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State
Big East: Louisville
SoCon: Elon, Georgia Southern
Southland: Texas State, Sam Houston State
Big West: UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly
Mountain West: TCU, Utah, San Diego State
C-USA: Rice, East Carolina
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky
Patriot: Army
MEAC:  Bethune-Cookman
Big South: Coastal Carolina
Ivy: Dartmouth
CAA: Georgia State
WCC: Gonzaga
MAC: Kent State
MAAC: Marist
NEC: Monmouth
Summit: Oral Roberts
OVC: Tennessee Tech
Atlantic 10: Xavier
Big 10: Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota
MVC: Wichita State
Champions of the following leagues: America East, Atlantic Sun, Horizon, SWAC, and the WAC.

That leaves 15 teams fighting for 4 spots (and there may not be 4, of course; odds are there won’t be): Oklahoma State, Baylor, Dallas Baptist, George Mason, Notre Dame, Western Carolina, Hawaii, San Diego, Rhode Island, Missouri State, Tulane, Eastern Illinois, Duke, Illinois, The Citadel

Those teams are listed in current RPI order, and yes, the Bulldogs are last among them (RPI as of Sunday at 77).

Also hoping, but it’s a distant hope, because I think these teams are out of luck: Stanford, Arizona, UC-Riverside, UCSB, BYU, New Mexico, Troy, Southeastern Louisiana, Auburn, Kentucky

George Mason has a nice record and RPI, and is probably going to get in the field. Baylor was terrible down the stretch but has a really good RPI. Oklahoma State didn’t make the Big XII tourney (9-16 conference record) but has a high RPI.

Duke would be the eighth team out of the ACC. Illinois would be the fourth team out of the Big 10. Neither have good RPIs, but both have quality wins (especially Duke). Notre Dame would be the second team out of the Big East, and I could see a “northern” at-large bid being awarded (UConn may be playing for ND’s spot).

Dallas Baptist is a mystery team, an independent with an RPI in the top 40. Missouri State finished first in the regular season in the MVC. I think Hawaii is done after losing Saturday night to Fresno State in a tourney elimination game (the WAC tourney is being played in Honolulu; I’m guessing the WAC will now be a one-bid league). Tulane would be the third team out of C-USA (if Southern Miss doesn’t steal a bid) but doesn’t have a whole lot else to offer, a situation not dissimilar to that of Rhode Island.

San Diego has a poor overall record and didn’t fare well against the RPI top 100 (8-17). Western Carolina has a better record than USD, but only went 11-19 against the top 100. Eastern Illinois has a nice record but didn’t play anybody. The Citadel is 7-4 against the top 50, 15-12 against the top 100 (both marks comparing favorably to most of the bubble teams), but has a low RPI and several bad losses.

So there you have it.  The Citadel is one of the 15.  Depending on the bids that are “stolen” tomorrow, the Bulldogs have about a 1-in-4 chance of getting in, in my opinion.  It’s not much, but it’s better than a 0-for-4 chance.

Also, one caveat:  the committee almost always has one or two what-were-they-thinking selections, so if a “lock” doesn’t make the field, or some team I haven’t even mentioned does, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

The selection show is Monday at 12:30 pm ET, on ESPN.

SoCon tourney “flip” is a flop

Well, I’m disappointed The Citadel lost its tourney opener today to Appalachian State, obviously, but what I wanted to write about doesn’t have much to do with today’s game, but rather the conference tournament as a whole.  It’s a topic that features the SoCon, but it could apply to any conference tournament.  This is going to take a bit of explaining, also, so please bear with me while I outline what I think is a serious flaw in the conference tournament format.

The Southern Conference tournament has two distinct four-team pools (at least, they should be distinct).  One team from each of those pools survives to play on Sunday in a single-game championship.  In other words, it’s possible for a team to go undefeated in its pool, and play a one-loss team for the title, lose the title game, and thus finish with just one loss but no championship.  This is done for television (SportSouth will televise the title game on Sunday).

Now, we’ve all seen this one-game-for-all-the-marbles deal before.  The College World Series did this for over a decade, and nobody really liked the idea of a team in a double-elimination tournament not winning the title despite only losing one game, especially when there were no other undefeated teams.  It happened occasionally, too (Texas did not lose until it fell to one-loss Wichita State in the 1989 final, in only the second year of the single-game championship format; the very next year one-loss Georgia beat previously undefeated Oklahoma State for the crown).

The NCAA has now changed to a best-of-three series for the title, which I think everyone likes.  The current setup is exactly what the college baseball championship should be.  However, what I want to emphasize is that even in its imperfect single-game state, the College World Series bracket was not set up the way the Southern Conference bracket is this year.

Essentially, the league is “flipping” two teams in the bracket for Saturday’s play.  This concept can be confusing, so much so that the conference initially released a bracket .pdf that was incorrect.  It’s now been fixed, and you can see it here.  Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier describes the “flipping” of the bracket:

There are two four-team brackets — Cid, App State, Davidson and GSU in one, and Elon, Furman, C of C and WCU in the other. On day three (Saturday), however, the bracket is flipped, with the 2-0 team from each bracket sent to the other.
If The Cid, for example, wins its first two games in bracket one, it will be off Friday and sent to bracket two for its third game on Saturday. This keeps one team from playing another three times in the tournament. It also means two teams from the same bracket could meet in the finals.

The next-to-last sentence explains the rationale for the “flip” — but the last sentence exposes the problem with it.  Let me give an example:

Let’s say that Appalachian State follows up its win over The Citadel by beating Georgia Southern, and then (after the flip) beats Elon on Saturday in the early afternoon game to advance to the championship game on Sunday.  The Mountaineers would be undefeated, and would have beaten the top three seeds in the tourney.  However, what happens if the opponent in the title game on Sunday were to be The Citadel or Georgia Southern?  That would mean that Appalachian State would have to beat one of those teams twice without losing to win the championship.

In other words, say in that scenario Georgia Southern beats Appy.  They would both have one loss (to each other) but GSU would be the champs and the Mountaineers would be out of luck.  Avoiding a potential third game between the two schools by employing the “flip” would thus prove detrimental to the Mountaineers.

The difference between flipping and not flipping the teams is this:  if you have a one-loss team and an undefeated team, and they come from completely separate pools, then at least you could make the argument that the one-loss team came from a stronger pool, so it winning the title against an undefeated team from the other pool isn’t quite as unfair.  You really don’t even have to make that argument; the fact that the two pools are distinct from one another makes things at least somewhat equitable (in theory).  You certainly don’t have to worry about a situation where two teams beat each other, but one gets an edge because it lost in a double-elimination situation before a one-shot title game.

Flipping teams like this isn’t a bad idea for a true double-elimination tournament.  In fact, in that situation it’s probably a good thing.  When there is already an inherent flaw in a format, however, trying to get even cuter with the bracketing just serves to exponentially increase the chances of having an unjust resolution to the tournament.

Bubbling Basketball, 3/2/09

With two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, there is still a fairly large group of bubble teams, but the potential at-large pool has become more defined.  My current groups of eight:

Group 1:  Connecticut, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke

I have three Big East teams in the top five of my S-curve, but it is unlikely that conference winds up with three #1 seeds.  UConn and Pitt still have to play again in the regular season (at Pitt), and then the Big East tournament will have a culling effect of sorts.  Memphis is also a strong candidate for a #1 seed.  Oklahoma may not win the Big XII regular season after losing two games due to Blake Griffin’s concussion, but I don’t think that is going to cost the Sooners much, if anything, in terms of grabbing a #1.

Group 2:  Kansas, Wake Forest, Washington, Missouri, Villanova, LSU, Purdue, Marquette

Kansas and Missouri both being on the 3 line after this weekend’s blowout win for the Jayhawks gave me pause, but that’s just the way it is.  Washington has made a strong push, with nine wins in its last twelve games (six of its last seven).  LSU is going to run away with the SEC regular season title, and even in a bad year for that league, it’s hard to see the Bayou Bengals not being rewarded with a top 16 seed.  If LSU chokes in the SEC tourney, though, that could change.

Marquette stays where it is, and will continue to do so, until it is demonstrated that Marquette is significantly affected by the season-ending injury to Dominic James.  I think it’s almost certain that his injury will have a negative effect on the team’s performance over time, but losing a competitive game to Louisville doesn’t really make it obvious.

Group 3:  Xavier, Florida State, UCLA, Clemson, Illinois, Butler, Gonzaga, Utah

I think you have to rate Florida State ahead of Clemson at this point.  The Tigers are only 6-6 in their last 12 games, which includes a loss at Virginia and a home loss to Virginia Tech, in addition to the sweep at the hands of the Seminoles.  Butler has eleven “true” road wins, including a victory at Xavier.  In other respects its profile does not really scream “6 seed”, though.

Gonzaga is going to play USC Upstate and its 290 RPI before beginning play in the WCC tournament.  It will be the sixth time Mark Few’s men have played a team with a current RPI of 276 or worse.  Four of those are conference games against Loyola-Marymount and Pepperdine.  Two other teams in the WCC also have RPIs below 200.  Keep that in mind, but not to hold against Gonzaga.   Just wait until we get to the bubble teams and one league in particular…

Group 4:  Arizona State, Syracuse, West Virginia, California, Dayton, Boston College, Tennessee, Texas

Most of these teams can just about book their tournament reservations at this point.  Syracuse is essentially a lock, and the rest probably need just one more win.  You could make a good argument that ASU and the ‘Cuse should be rated ahead of Utah.  Tennessee separated itself from the other SEC bubblers with its win on Sunday against Florida (completing a sweep of the Gators), thanks in large part to separating itself from its league brethren before the season started with its strong non-conference schedule.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Brigham Young, Ohio State, UNLV, Creighton, Minnesota, Texas A&M, South Carolina

Ah, here is where the fun really starts…

Wisconsin played a very good schedule (currently rated sixth nationally).  Its biggest non-conference scalp came at Virginia Tech, which will come in handy, along with sweeps of Michigan and Penn State and a victory over Ohio State.  The Badgers next play Minnesota, and need to win to avoid being swept by the Gophers.  A win in Minneapolis won’t be easy, but if Wisconsin gets it and beats Indiana in its home finale, it should be set.  Even a loss to Minnesota won’t be fatal, although the Badgers may want to win a game or two in the Big 10 tourney just to be safe.  The average RPI of the teams Wisconsin has defeated is 104, which is a very impressive number.

BYU is 8-3 on the road this season, and also has a neutral-site victory over Utah State.  None of the road victories was a really good one, but on the other hand, BYU played a representative schedule and only has one serious flaw on its resume, a sweep at the hands of UNLV.  There are worse teams to have been swept by, though.  I’m not overly enthused by the Cougars’ profile, but they’ve done what they needed to do, which is why the RPI is 22, and BYU will make the NCAAs unless it badly stumbles down the stretch.  I will give BYU credit for not scheduling a lot of games against 200+ RPI teams.

Ohio State beat Butler at home, Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and Miami (FL) on the road (where it got lucky, frankly).  Those results and no bad losses will go a long way to getting an at-large bid, but the Buckeyes are only 8-8 in the Big 10 (including getting thumped over the weekend by Purdue) and probably need two more wins.  As it happens, they close with games at Iowa and home to Northwestern.

UNLV has the aforementioned sweep of BYU, a win over Utah, and most importantly, a win at Louisville.  The Rebels have also lost at Colorado State and at TCU, and as a result find themselves in fifth place in the Mountain West.  I think UNLV has the profile to get an at-large bid and become team #3 ouf of the MWC, but it needs to win its last two (including at San Diego State, which would get the Rebels at least a tie for 4th in the league), and then not fall apart at the Mountain West tournament, particularly since that tournament is in Vegas this year.

Creighton has won ten straight games and heads into the Missouri Valley tournament with the #2 seed (losing a tiebreaker after tying for the regular season title).  The Blue Jays don’t have a win on their resume that will make you stand up and take notice, but one thing Creighton apparently did was try to figure out what other mid-majors might be good this season, and then proceeded to schedule them.  In addition to the Bracketbusters game against George Mason, Creighton has also played Dayton, New Mexico, Arkansas-Little Rock, Oral Roberts, and St. Joseph’s, winning all of those games with the exception of a last-second lost to UALR.  I would like the profile a little better without the losses to Wichita State and Drake, but 25 wins while playing in the nation’s ninth-rated conference is worth serious consideration when doling out at-large bids.

Minnesota has a neutral-site win over Louisville, a win at Wisconsin, and a win over Illinois in one of the Big 10’s notorious “first to 40 wins” contests.  The Gophers are only 5-7 in their last twelve and really need a couple of wins down the stretch to feel secure.  They have two home games remaining, both of serious bubble interest, as they play Wisconsin and Michigan.  The Gophers are the quintessential major-conference bubble team.

Texas A&M has excellent computer numbers (RPI of 35).  The Aggies have a neutral-site win over LSU and home wins over Texas and Arizona.  The problem for A&M is that it is only 7-7 in a Big XII that no one is favorably comparing to the ACC or Big East.  Texas A&M is building momentum, though, with four straight wins, and it figures to be five after a game at Colorado on Wednesday.  The Aggies finish the regular season with a home game against Missouri and a chance to play its way into the NCAAs.

Before getting to South Carolina, let’s review Group 6, which has six teams, and then the rest of the hopefuls which as of right now aren’t in my tournament projections:

Group 6:  Oklahoma State, Miami (FL), Arizona, Maryland, Florida, Michigan

Also hoping:  Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, Providence, Rhode Island, Utah State, Georgetown, Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Davidson, Siena, New Mexico, UAB, San Diego State

Oklahoma State is a lot like Texas A&M; I have a hard time separating them.  They split two meetings.  Oklahoma State has a one-game lead over A&M in the conference standings.  The Aggies beat LSU and Arizona; the Cowboys have neutral-site wins over Siena and Rhode Island.  Both beat Texas.  Okie State has won five straight and finishes with Kansas State at home and Oklahoma in Norman.

Miami (FL) and Arizona are similar in that they need to take care of business.  The Hurricanes have two very winnable games to get to 8-8 in the ACC; then Miami probably needs to win a game in the ACC tournament.  Arizona is 8-8 in the Pac-10 and is poised to get the fifth bid from that league, but needs to beat Stanford and either Cal or its first-round opponent in the Pac-10 tournament (which may in fact be Cal).

Maryland and Michigan have some similarities as well.  Both have played difficult schedules.  Both have major out of conference victories (North Carolina and Michigan State for the Terps; Duke and UCLA for the Wolverines).  Of course, Maryland beat Michigan earlier in the season, which is another solid OOC victory for the  Terps.  Maryland is 7-7 in ACC play; Michigan is 8-9 in the Big 10, with a game at Minnesota left to conclude its regular season.  I think Maryland needs to finish 8-8 in conference, and possibly (but not necessarily) win an ACC tourney game.  Michigan might be good to go if it can get that win against Minnesota (which would have the added benefit of hurting the chances of another bubble team).  Otherwise, the Wolverines may have to do some damage in the Big 10 tournament.

South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky — let’s look at the SEC bubblers, shall we?

Earlier I noted that Gonzaga had played six teams with RPIs of 276 or worse.  Four of them are in the Bulldogs’ league, which means Gonzaga had no control over the scheduling of those games.  Because of these games, the average RPI of the teams Gonzaga has beaten this season is 160.

The average RPI of the teams Florida has defeated is 179.  Kentucky?  173.  South Carolina?  172.

Florida has actually played seven teams with RPIs worse than 276, all as part of its non-conference slate.  The Gators have 21 wins, but has beaten only two teams in the top 75 of the RPI — Washington (in Kansas City) and South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have not much more heft to their resume, with a sweep of Kentucky to go with a win over Florida and a victory at Baylor, all as part of a schedule not much stronger than that of the Gators.

Kentucky has swept Tennessee and beaten the Gators, and has a neutral-site win over West Virginia.  Kentucky also has six wins against teams with RPIs of 299 or worse, dragging down its computer numbers, which are also affected by home losses to Mississippi State and (especially) VMI.

Just to give you an idea of how the SEC teams compare with other teams in terms of scheduling wins, the average RPI of the teams defeated by some of their fellow major conference bubblers:

Michigan – 133, Arizona – 139, Miami (FL) – 139, Oklahoma State – 148, Texas A&M – 143, Minnesota – 142, Maryland – 146, Virginia Tech – 150, Cincinnati – 152, Georgetown – 110, Notre Dame – 167, Providence – 165, Penn State – 170

It’s rather striking when looked at that way.  It shows why Georgetown is still a bubbler despite all its losses, why Penn State has work to do (despite road wins over Michigan State and Illinois), and why Notre Dame is essentially done, especially after losing at home by 17 to Villanova.  Georgetown got its win over Villanova, and Providence still has a game to play against the Wildcats.

It also shows why the SEC resumes are less than the sum of their parts.  Florida and Kentucky face each other in what some are calling a “play-in” game; I would suggest it should be called a “play-out” game, with the winner still having work to do in the SEC tourney.

Rhode Island has played a lot of “close but no cigar” games, including a three-point loss at Duke, a one-point loss at Providence, and a two-point loss to Xavier.  The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games and will get a look from the committee if they go deep in the A-10 tournament.  If you don’t take into account the close losses, though, URI’s profile isn’t quite good enough, and I’m not sure you should take into account close losses.

As to what the committee will do if St. Mary’s makes the WCC final and loses to Gonzaga, I really don’t know.  I suspect the Gaels, with a healthy Patty Mills, are at-large quality.  The resume doesn’t really bear that out, however.

I don’t think the remaining non-BCS candidates have much of a shot at an at-large bid.  Of the group, I like Davidson the best, but I don’t think Stephen Curry and crew can absorb another loss, even if it would be to one of the better SoCon teams, like The Citadel or the College of Charleston.  UAB had a chance to make a statement against Memphis; instead, Memphis made the statement.  The Blazers do have a win over Arizona, but have not really been dominant against the non-Memphis C-USA teams.

Siena’s loss on Friday to Niagara probably torpedoed any at-large hopes.  New Mexico, San Diego State, and Utah State all have less-than-imposing resumes with little to offer in the way of significant non-conference wins.  Utah State does have a win over Utah, and probably has the best shot of an at-large among the western non-BCS schools.

There is still a lot of action remaining in the regular season.  Not unlike the weather, if there is something you don’t like concerning the bubble picture, just wait — things will change.

Bubbling Basketball, 2/23/09

Every season about this time I start to take a look at how the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is shaping up, and begin to project the bracket, just like numerous other lost souls, some of whom get paid to do so.  It’s probably a pointless exercise, because A) it’s still too early, and B) it’s not really possible to replicate the selection committee.  Kyle Whelliston at The Mid-Majority made this point in a chat about ten days ago, and he’s absolutely right.  As he says, individual projecting “involves one person trying to simulate the groupthink brain processes of ten people”.

Even if you took a bunch of projections and combined them, it’s not quite the same thing, because it doesn’t account for the interaction between people sitting together in one room and developing a consensus.  It also doesn’t account for the nuts and bolts of the process, which involves a lot of voting on teams, grouping of teams, etc.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to guess at what the brackets might look like on Selection Sunday, though…

Before I get into specifics for this year’s tournament, I want to address the notion that various teams are “locks” for the tournament.  To me, a “lock” is a team that could lose every game the rest of the season and still make the NCAAs.  In other words, there aren’t a lot of locks at this point.  Nothing is more ridiculous than to assert a team is a lock in your brackets, then to take lock status away from that team and put it back in the mix of teams competing for at-large berths, all because it lost a game or two.

ESPN.com did just that this past week with Butler, which had been a “lock” in that site’s version of “Bubble Watch” for about a month.  Once Butler dropped games to Loyola of Chicago and UW-Milwaukee, though, the Bulldogs were “de-locked”.  Butler is now again a “lock” on ESPN.com after beating Davidson on Saturday.  Truthfully, Butler won’t be a lock until (or if) it wins the Horizon League tournament.

On this site, you won’t see any team called a lock unless it really is one.  Sipping on some Paul Masson somewhere in the great beyond, I think Orson Welles approves of this notion.

I’m not going to play the assign-a-team-a-regional game today.  I’m going to simply break down the prospective field by groups of eight:

Group 1:  Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Connecticut, North Carolina, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke, Louisville

I don’t think the committee is going to penalize Oklahoma too much for losing a close game at Texas in which Blake Griffin was a non-factor due to injury.  As of right now, though, Pittsburgh almost has to be the number 1 overall seed.

Group 2:  Villanova, Kansas, Missouri, Clemson, Wake Forest, Purdue, Washington, Marquette

I think Washington will grab a top-16 seed if it wins the Pac-10 regular season title outright.  It would also help the selection committee when assigning teams to regionals.  There is a distinct lack of western options when it comes to highly seeded teams.

Group 3:  Arizona State, Xavier, UCLA, Utah, Florida State, Illinois, West Virginia, LSU

I don’t know what the committee will do with Utah or LSU in terms of seeding.  I know LSU has a gaudy SEC record, but this season that’s not the most impressive of accomplishments.  Utah has done similar work in the Mountain West — and of course, beat LSU earlier this season by 30 points.  I think LSU is a 6 seed-type, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers wind up with a 4.

Group 4:  Texas, Gonzaga, California, Syracuse, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Dayton

Distinguishing between the bubblicious SEC teams is not easy.  Kentucky has swept Tennessee and may deserve to be in this group;  it can move to this level by winning at South Carolina or at Florida (the Wildcats also have a home game against LSU, so it’s all in front of them).  The Vols played a much tougher non-conference schedule than its fellow SEC East contenders and will presumably be rewarded for it.  Florida has 21 wins, but the average RPI of the teams it has beaten is 176.  Of course, South Carolina’s average RPI victory is 179, while Kentucky’s is 169.  LSU?  173.  (Tennessee’s is 125.)

You get the idea.  This is not a banner season for the SEC.  This is highlighted by Gonzaga’s average RPI win being 155, better than any of the SEC contenders save Tennessee, despite the Bulldogs playing in the WCC (and having also played a non-conference game against Texas Southern of the SWAC).  Comparing the SEC numbers with those of standard-bearers for the Big East and ACC is even more instructive.  Pittsburgh has beaten teams with an average RPI of 100; North Carolina’s number is 96.  Honestly, I think the SEC teams could each be a group below where I’ve listed them.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Ohio State, Butler, Kentucky, Boston College, UNLV, Arizona, Minnesota

I like UNLV’s resume a little more than some people.  Vegas has some tough road losses to overcome (Colorado State, Wyoming, TCU), but also has road wins over Louisville and BYU (the latter completing a sweep).  Minnesota also has a win over Louisville, but needs to win a couple more games down the stretch. 

Group 6 (six teams):  Brigham Young, Penn State, Utah State, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Temple

The remaining 19 bids go to small-conference automatic qualifiers.  One-bid leagues, in my estimation:  MAAC, Southern, Missouri Valley, Colonial, Big South, Big West, MEAC, SWAC, Ivy, Sun Belt, Northeast, America East, Summit, Southland, Atlantic Sun, Patriot, Big West, MAC, Ohio Valley

I don’t think Davidson has enough juice to warrant an at-large bid, no matter how much Stephen Curry’s injury is taken into consideration by the selection committee.  Creighton is making a strong push late in the season, and has a win against Dayton, so the Blue Jays may have a chance at an at-large, if needed.  Siena played a great schedule, but didn’t beat anyone on it.  None of the other sixteen conferences listed has a serious at-large candidate.

Other teams still in the mix include Michigan, Cincinnati, Miami (FL), UAB, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, St. Mary’s, Southern California, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Providence.  That doesn’t mean other schools couldn’t make last-minute runs into the at-large pool, obviously.

Starting around Group 3, you have a lot of teams that haven’t really separated themselves from the field.  It would be surprising, but not completely shocking, for a team from Group 3 to ultimately miss the tournament.  You could make good arguments against all the teams in Groups 5 and 6.  Utah State is in a bit of a tenuous position, because one loss could be enough to end its at-large chances, and of course to need an at-large bid in the first place it would have to lose at least one game (in its conference tournament).  Maryland jumped into the prospective field with its overtime win over North Carolina, giving it two wins over top-6 RPI teams.  The Terps still have work to do.   Of course, you could say that about a lot of teams.

A few other notes:

  • While I’m not overly impressed with Butler’s profile, the Bulldogs have eleven road wins this season — not eleven road/neutral wins, mind you, but eleven “true” road wins.  That currently leads the nation, and is the kind of thing that can differentiate a team (in other words, it’s easier for the committee to justify its selection/seeding).
  • Right now I have only four Big XII schools in the tournament in my projections.  I suspect when the dust settles that the Big XII will wind up with five teams in the tourney, but some team has to make a move.  The best candidate to do so is probably Oklahoma State, which has the computer numbers but not the wins. 
  • Tennessee and Georgetown rank 1-2 in strength of schedule (as of today).  The Volunteers have a slightly better record, and have performed a little better over the last twelve games (6-6 versus 4-8).  The Hoyas still have an opportunity to make the field, despite all their losses, but they have to start winning games.  Louisville comes to town on Monday night.
  • Speaking of big games for at-large consideration, Temple plays at Dayton on Saturday.   It’s possible that the Owls need to win that game to garner at-large consideration.
  • UAB has its shot to make a statement on Thursday night, at home against Memphis.  Right now the Blazers’ resume has a gift-wrapped road win over Arizona and very little else. 
  • I think the SWAC champ can be pencilled in for the play-in game, which is not exactly news, but that league is taking being the lowest-rated conference to a new level; no team has an RPI better than 206, and seven of the ten teams in the conference have RPIs of 294 or worse.  Against Division I competition, the SWAC is 5-96.
  • St. Mary’s is probably an NCAA-caliber team, but I don’t know what the selection committee will think of the Gaels, given both the injury status of Patty Mills and the fact St. Mary’s hasn’t really beaten any team of consequence other than Utah State.  My guess is that the Gaels need to win the WCC tourney.
  • Memphis has to be a serious candidate for a 1 seed; among other things, the Tigers have the longest current winning streak in the country, at 18 games.  The next longest current winning streak is 10, by none other than…The Citadel (which, alas, is not a candidate for an at-large bid).