Coming Tuesday: The correct way to measure which teams are hot heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Last Four In
Trying to predict how a group of people will vote is not a scientific process. This is why I no longer make an official bracket prediction myself. But I think a few things factored into the committees final decision.
1) Every year the committee likes to single out a team and punish that team for a poor non-conference strength of schedule, and Colorado had a non-conference strength of schedule ranked 300+ this year. That is exactly what happened in 2007 when Syracuse was left out (for not scheduling enough quality road games), and I am convinced that is what happened with Colorado this year. For a long time we thought Cincinnati would be singled out this year, but they won enough games late to avoid the bubble discussion, and the punishment fell to Colorado.
Is it right to leave a team out for a poor NCSOS? On the one hand, if the short-term goal is to pick the 37 best at large teams, then clearly that is the wrong criteria. But part of the NCAA committee’s goal is a long-term goal. They want to encourage teams to schedule quality opponents so that the process of evaluating and comparing teams is easier. Perhaps leaving Colorado out makes the field “worse” today, but in the long-run, we get a better product when teams schedule quality opponents.
We also saw a record number of teams in the field with 14 losses this year, proving that the committee continues to put more emphasis on quality of opponents rather than quantity of wins.
2) RPI top 50 wins are not everything. UAB won just one game against the RPI top 50, but the committee put a lot of weight on wins against teams ranked 51-100.
Wins against the RPI 1-100:
UAB = 10
VCU = 8
Colorado = 8
Virginia Tech = 8
Boston College = 7
Alabama = 5
St. Mary’s = 3
Harvard = 3
This does not mean I think the committee made the right decision. But if you go back historically, it is not unprecedented. In 2005, UAB had zero wins against the RPI top 50, lost in the second round of the CUSA tournament, and still qualified for the NCAA tournament field. This has happened before.
3) Richmond was not a lock. Various bracket projections are going to count Richmond as a correct pick, but if Richmond loses to Dayton on Sunday, I think the committee swaps Richmond out and puts Dayton on the 12 seed line. I don’t know this for sure, but I think the committee tries to minimize changes to the bracket on the last day, and I think this was their easy choice. The committee chair said on CBS that the ACC tournament final was irrelevant to the decision to give Duke a No. 1 seed, which confirms for me that they would have made the easiest possible last minute decision.
4) The biggest snub of all on Sunday probably had nothing to do with the NCAA. Maryland was not invited to the NIT despite having the 36th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation.
I know the tendency is to see the bracket and look ahead. But I think it is important to salute all the teams that won championships or earned NCAA bids with their fine play in the last week. For the UConn Huskies to win five games in five days is nothing short of miraculous. The log5 odds said they had just a 2% chance of winning the Big East tournament title when the tournament opened. In fact, their current odds of making it to the Final Four are a much healthier 7.2%. In other words, what Connecticut did was more rare than making the Final Four, and much more special. And as Kemba Walker’s mom, who had been shown on camera all week, hugged Kemba after the title game, you certainly did not have to tell her to celebrate the moment.
Similarly for a team like Penn St. that upset Wisconsin and Michigan St., perhaps the first week of the NCAA tournament will bring more joy. But for the four Penn St. senior starters who came so close to the NCAA tournament two years ago, just making the NCAA field is a tremendous accomplishment.
For Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and his buzzer-beater to beat Arizona, and for Princeton’s Douglas Davis and his buzzer-beater to beat Harvard, these are the moments to be overcome with joy. Only four teams will make it to the Final Four in three weeks. Only one team will win a NCAA title. But along the way, there are numerous champions.
5 Games in 5 Days
How was Connecticut able to win five games in five days? They were relentless at taking the ball to the basket. Take a look at Connecticut’s free throw rate this year. (Free throw rate measures the percentage of free throw attempts per field goal attempt.)
November and December: 42.0
January to end of regular season: 27.7
Big East Tournament: 47.1
This was not simply Connecticut having big leads and their opponents fouling late in the game. Connecticut was extremely aggressive at driving the ball inside in the Big East tournament. Will they keep it going and reach the Final Four? My gut tells me they will not. And it is not just because they are 17th in the Pomeroy Rankings. Butler was similarly situated and made a deep run last year.
But I think it will be very hard for Connecticut not to have an emotional letdown after a tournament like this. I think the fatigue will be more mental than physical. UConn is going to go back home and hear how fantastic they played, and I think it will be very hard to focus on preparing for a first and second round opponent. And that lack of mental focus could be costly. But if Kemba Walker keeps getting into the lane at will, Jeremy Lamb keeps making killer floaters, and Alex Oriakhi hustles for rebounds like he did in New York, anything can happen.
What was in the water in the ACC tournament?
If you have never looked at Ken Pomeroy’s win probability charts, look at what happened in the top half of the ACC tournament bracket:
Miami vs Virginia
North Carolina vs Miami
These were two tremendous comebacks. (The win probability chart for North Carolina vs Clemson was equally crazy, but that chart is not up yet.) Note: You may need to use Mozilla-Firefox to view these charts.
Similarly, we all thought Alabama’s comeback win against Georgia might put them ahead of the Bulldogs, but that was not the case. But the win probability chart still looks crazy on paper: Alabama vs Georgia
The same thing could be said for the Michigan comeback against Illinois: Michigan vs Illinois. It seemed significant at the time, but ultimately, both teams ended up in an 8-9 game in the NCAA tournament. I think the key to the Michigan comeback was that Michigan forward Jordan Morgan got in foul trouble and had to leave the game. Morgan is not a threat to shoot the three, so with Morgan in the game, Illinois forward Mike Tisdale was sagging into the paint and double-teaming whatever Michigan players tried to take the ball inside. But with Morgan out, Michigan put five shooters on the floor, and Tisdale had to step out to defend the three point line. That allowed Michigan to use penetration and cuts to more effectively get the ball to the basket.
TNT and TBS
Poor Charles Barkley. Kenny Smith and Barkley are phenomenal when providing post-game commentary at midnight. But I don’t think Charles was quite ready to be in studio at noon on a Sunday.
Read more: http://basketball.realgm.com/article/212166/Yet_Another_College_Basketball_Column_(Post_Selection_Edition)#ixzz1GZTeQrbM
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