You again! Thanks for stopping by the bracket bunker. Please sit, there’s much to discuss. Something extraordinary has happened in the time since we last spoke. Have a look at the disclaimers and the projections and then we’ll dive in.
The Usual Disclaimers
- This is what I think the committee would do given what we know about each team. I do not necessarily agree with the committee’s projected evaluations of these teams. ( I cannot stress that enough this week)
- My bracketology does not aim to predict what will happen; it is a simulation of what would happen if the season ended today.
- Asterisks in the graphic denote conference champions (determined by whoever has the fewest losses in conference play, with NET as a tiebreaker).
- Projections made based on NET data entering Monday but win-loss records entering Tuesday
- Please feel free to @ me on Twitter but keep all of this in mind when you do.
I spend a not-insignificant amount of time in the bracketing process staring at a spreadsheet, cussing teams out under my breath. I’ve dedicated many of these columns to talking about how much the bubble sucks. But this week is different.
The bubble is really, really good.
The first seven teams out in last week’s projections went a combined 9-1 in the last week. Cincinnati, Virginia, Utah State, Georgetown, Richmond, and Arizona State all went out and played like teams who knew their seasons were on the line (Minnesota did not). The last two teams in from last week, Mississippi State and Alabama, notched important quadrant 1 wins on Saturday.
The bar is being raised. Bend your knees even just a little bit, and you might find yourself playing limbo. Just ask Stanford.
So how do you make sense of it all? You rely on your principles. Let me show you what that looks like. Today, you are going to learn how to think like a bracketologist.
There are three main overarching principles that I use to evaluate teams: capability, opportunity, and consistency. Just about everything I need to evaluate those three principles can be found on a team sheet:
Every team has a team sheet, updated daily. These things are behemoths, so it’s important to know what information to look for. Open this link in a new tab. It’s time for some case studies.
Case 1: Alabama (page 36)
Capability: Alabama is absolutely capable of performing at a high level. Their NET (36) in conjunction with their SOS (5) would normally be good enough to safely put them in the tournament. They have two quad 1 wins against tournament teams. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not they’re capable of beating a good team away from home, but the Georgia win keeps them in the conversation.
Opportunity: The Crimson Tide had 6 chances to win what I call a Q1A game, a game in the upper half of quadrant 1. They went 0-6. I’m not sure they deserve to make it. They did not take advantage of their several opportunities.
Consistency: They’re not terribly consistent but they’re consistent enough. They only have one bad loss (a Q3 or Q4 loss), but I don’t love the fact that they’re 1-2 in Q2B games. I’d feel better if one of those were a win.
Case 2: Richmond (page 45)
Capability: 45th in NET is bubble territory. Pairing that with 84th in SOS puts the Spiders in NIT 1-seed territory. Their predictive metrics (BPI, POM, SAG) tell me that this is not a tournament team. However, they have two quad 1 wins, both against tournament teams, both away from home. The numbers cast doubt on their capability, but those two performances prove them wrong.
Opportunity: Mid-majors have to take advantage of the opportunities given to them. The Spiders succeeded in doing so. They went 4-5 in Q1 and Q2 games, and none of those four wins are slouches.
Consistency: Richmond only has 1 truly bad loss, but that changes if Saint Louis drops out of the top 75 in NET. They’re 7-2 on the road and 1-2 on neutral court, which is slightly less impressive given the opponents in those games, but the fact that two of those eight nonhome wins are against tournament teams tells me I can’t just chalk up their good road record to a bad strength of schedule. Richmond is pretty consistent.
Case 3: Cincinnati (page 51)
Capability: 51st in NET is iffy, but 24th in SOS is reassuring. And capability aside, I respect the Bearcats for being 33rd in non-conference SOS. They have two Q1 wins against tournament teams, one of them away from home. On top of that, their stellar predictive metrics tell me that the Bearcats are a very capable team. They tell me they’re a tournament team.
Opportunity: Did the Bearcats truly take advantage of their opportunities? I’m on the fence. They didn’t win either of their Q1A games, but they only had two chances. They have two strong Q1 wins, but they should really be winning at either Memphis or UConn. 2-5 in Q1 games is fine. 8-5 in Q1 and Q2 games is excellent. BUT! Those eight wins are what I call “backloaded”–both Q1 wins are in the bottom half, and all six Q2 wins are in the bottom half. But then again, they didn’t have any opportunities for Q2A wins, so can I fault them? I’m not sure.
Consistency: Three bad losses? THREE? How are you gonna go 6-0 in Q2 games but 6-3 in Q3? Make it make sense. Colgate at home? Bowling Green? Tulane?! And you needed overtime for half of the Q3 games you did win? Listen, if you’re going have that many confusingly bad results on your resume, at least give me some confusingly good ones. Three bad losses. Three! That’s three strikes!
Alabama is capable at first glance, but I’m still concerned if they’re capable of winning against quality opposition away from home. They had six opportunities for a Q1A win and failed every single time.
Richmond took advantage of the opportunities presented to them. The numbers have doubts about their capability but they have two nonhome wins against tournament teams under their belt. They did lose at Alabama, though…
I want to believe the numbers that tell me how good Cincinnati is. I want to see Jarron Cumberland in the tournament again. But with two very good wins and three terrible losses, I’m not sure I can do it.
Richmond makes the tournament. I can tell ‘Bama that they didn’t make the tournament because they failed to pick up a quality non-home win despite several opportunities. I can tell Cincy that they didn’t win enough of their Q1 games for me to overlook the three Q3 losses. I cannot tell Richmond that they didn’t make the tournament because the metrics told me they weren’t good enough. They told me they were good enough when they beat Rhode Island and Wisconsin away from home. They deserve this.