The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 12, 2018

Selection Committee Got It Right–Only Because The Criteria Was Wrong

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee is under fire today for how teams like Oklahoma, Arizona State,  and Syracuse made the tournament, while teams like Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee State, and USC did not.

Don’t blame this Committee.  They did not create the criteria that they use to select the teams.  You wouldn’t blame a jury if the judge orders them not to consider the most convincing evidence in a trial, and it produces the opposite verdict.

We are hearing interesting rumors that Louisville and USC received punitive treatment due to the impending FBI probe, but we do not buy into this rumor.

The reality is that Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Syracuse are in the field, and USC, Saint Mary’s, and Middle Tennessee are not.

The PiRate Bracket Gurus correctly picked 67 of the 68 teams, missing on USC versus Syracuse.  They don’t want to make this sound like sour grapes here, and they are not responsible in the least for our comments, but we find it a laughing joke that the Trojans did not make the tournament, while Arizona State did make the tournament.

Again, it is not the Committee’s fault that the most convincing evidence that would show the superior team was not admissible in this case.  USC finished in 2nd place in the Pac-12, while Arizona State finished tied for 8th place, with only three teams below the Sun Devils in the standings.  USC bested ASU by four games in the conference standings!

How can a team finish 22.2% better in the majority part of an identical schedule than another team and see the weaker team make the tournament, while they did not?  This is why March Madness is more mad due to inferior selection criteria.

We repeat a comparison we made earlier this season.  Take the NFL Playoffs.  Let’s say that during the first month of the season, The New York Giants beat Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh and lead the NFC East at 4-0, while The Eagles are 2-2, with victories over Washington and Tampa Bay.

At this point in the season, the Giants are the best team in the NFL, while Philly is in the bottom half.  Now, from this point on, the Giants finish 5-7 for a 9-7 record.  The Eagles go 9-3 for an 11-5 record.

So, in the playoffs, the Giants are selected by the NFL Selection Committee due to their Quadrant 1 NFL wins in September, while the Eagles have to go to the Bert Bell Playoff Bowl in Miami (Google It–There really was a bowl game in the NFL).

If the NFL stages its playoffs this way, the league would be the laughingstock of sports.  The playoffs would be a big joke.  Yet, in college basketball, the public is brainwashed into believing that this giant tournament of mostly mediocrity is can’t miss entertainment.

The PiRates can easily miss seeing almost all these games where one or more of the combatants fared so poorly in the regular season that in decades past, their coaches might have been fired or put on a hot seat.

Allowing the 8th best team in a rather weak conference to have a chance to play for the national championship is par for the course in this everybody gets a trophy society.  When it comes down to it, neither USC nor Arizona State should have been invited to the NCAA Tournament.  Likewise, no team that did not win a conference championship should have been invited.  There are 32 conferences.  There should be 32 teams invited to the tournament, the 32 champions.

Before you say, “Hey Bucakroo, you cannot be serious about including Radford but not Duke,” let us preface that we favor just the 32 conference champions, but we also would favor handicapping the tournament so that the top 10 conference champions would receive byes to the Sweet 16, while the other 22 conference champions would have to compete in a play-in tournament to narrow from 22 to 12 to 6.  The 6 play-in winners would fill out the Sweet 16.

This is exactly how the NCAA Tournament used to be conducted.  Back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, six to eight conference champions received automatic byes to the Sweet 16, while 14 to 18 other conference champions (and top Independents) were forced to play-in to the Sweet 16.  The bye conferences were determined by the past 5 years results in prior NCAA Tournaments.

Four plus decades ago, over half of the division 1 teams in the East were independents, playing in a loosely-knit organization called the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference).  Prior to 1975, the ECAC was guaranteed two spots in the NCAA Tournament, while other Independents from the South, Midwest, and West could only be selected as at-large entries if and when the NCAA determined they were worthy.

Usually, 24 teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament.  There were eight teams that received byes and 16 teams that played into the Sweet 16.  On the third Saturday of March, the play-in games were played on neutral sites.  Then, on the following Thursday night (Friday night until 1968), the Sweet 16 Round was played, and the Elite 8 Round was played on Saturday.  There were regional consolation games to give each region four total games.

Then, the Final Four was played the following Thursday night with a consolation game and National Championship Game played on Saturday afternoon.  Starting in 1973, the Final Four moved to its present Saturday afternoon-Monday night format.

The explanation that the tournament became huge when it moved to 64 and then 68 teams is not actual fact.  The tournament was already big before it began to expand.  It would have continued to gain fan support if it had stayed exactly the same, and it is our opinion that it would be even bigger than it is today had it remained a tournament of conference champions.

With today’s format, a lot of really fantastic marquee games never happen.  The so-called media darling long shots that pull off a first round upset or sneak into the Sweet 16 eventually get blown out by a power conference team, giving the power conference team somewhat of a breather to the next round.  With 32 first round games, there are going to be a handful of upsets when a power team either overlooks the smaller school or comes out flat, while the other team plays the game of its lives.

The 1927 New York Yankees occasionally had an off day and lost to the Washington Senators (8 times that year).  They even lost a game to the St. Louis Browns.  There is always that odd day or night where things just don’t go the way they should 99% of the time.  It actually hurts the tournament when a #2 seed loses to a #15 seed, because the #15 seed isn’t going anywhere, while the #2 seed could have given the public a really incredible Elite 8 game against a #1 seed.

With that in mind, the PiRates have two separate ideas that would make the NCAA Basketball Tournament much better than it is now.  It would still give the Radford’s a real chance to compete for the title, and it would eliminate the ridiculous, human-error-laced, Selection Committee trying to create a reason why the 12-6 number two team from a power conference stays home, while the 8-10 number eight place (tied for 8th) team from that same conference makes the field.

Option A: Split Division 1 into D1 Large and D1 Small.  D1 Large would be the top 16 conferences, while D1 Small would be the bottom 16 conferences.

Conduct separate 16-team playoffs in the same manner that the NBA now uses.  4 rounds of best of 7 playoffs with the higher-ranked team getting home court advantage.  This option allows the home town fans a chance to see their team play on its home court, whereas only a handful of fans can afford to travel all over the map to watch them play in far away outposts.  How many Buffalo Bulls fans will make the trip to Boise, Idaho?

You could add a twist to the playoff formats and incorporate the relegation and promotion rules from soccer, where the conference of the Small Champion is promoted to Large, and the conference with the weakest-rated Large Champion being relegated to Small.

Imagine a Final Four with Arizona playing Kansas in a best of 7, and Virginia playing Michigan State in a best of 7.  What would the TV ratings be on these series rather than seeing a Sweet 16 game between one of these powers and a long shot low-major team that will lose by 20+ in the Sweet 16?  The two series would dwarf the ratings of today’s earlier rounds where teams are forced to play in the mornings and afternoons of weekdays.

Option B would be to revert back to how the tournament was conducted in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Take the 22 weakest conferences and send their champions to a 22 to 12 to 6 play-in.  Send the other 10 top conference champions expressly to the Sweet 16.

Sure, teams like North Carolina, Villanova, and Michigan would not be in the tournament, but then neither would be 8-10 Arizona State or 8-10 Syracuse.  Villanova, Michigan, Purdue, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and USC among others would give the 16-team (like it was when it was great) NIT a great group of teams, so great that they could return to playing all 15 games at Madison Square Garden.

Most of you reading this today are wondering what our schedule will be for the NCAA Tournament.  Usually, today is the day we release our annual Bracketnomics report showing what back-tested data has been successful in isolating past NCAA Tournament winners.

The PiRates have made some sweeping changes this year, as advanced metrics have made our past bracket-picking criteria somewhat obsolete.  We still have our exceptional R+T weighted rating, and it still represents a huge chunk of what works for us, but we have dropped a lot of the other former data.  With advanced metrics like true shooting% and a better way to compare teams based on strength of schedule, we will be releasing an all-inclusive, somewhat explanatory reveal Tuesday afternoon.

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