The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 18, 2011

Bracketbuster Preview and Conference Races

It’s Bracket Buster Weekend, and the folks at ESPN have an interesting slate of televised games.  Since the televised schedule for these games was released in late January, some of the teams involved have gone in the tank.  So, some of the games will not really matter.  However, there are a couple of really good games, and we believe in at least one and maybe two cases, both teams could earn at-large bids if they do not gain automatic bids.   


Today, we here at the PiRate Ratings will give you a preview of each televised game.  Following the preview, we will take our weekly look at each conference’s NCAA Tournament contenders and then present to you five bubble teams for comparison.


Last week we concentrated on the leagues that will send only their automatic bid winner to the Dance.  We reintroduced the PiRate Criteria formula, but we forgot one component.  So, here in a nutshell is the formula again.


1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin


2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0


3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0


4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0


5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin.

If Turnover margin is 0 or negative, then change the formula a little to this: [R + ({.2*S} + {1.2*T})] 

This is done so as not to penalize a team with negative turnover margin but a lot of steals per game.


Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

*** Completely eliminate *** from consideration all teams with a negative R+T


6. Schedule Strength

Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by and multiple it by 100.  For example, Team A with an SOS of .5252 has a schedule 7 points weaker than Team B with an SOS of .5921 ([(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7).

The Average SOS for teams in the top 40 is about .5880.  When you factor in the automatic bids from teams outside of the top 40, that number is about .5500.  So, take each teams SOS rating and take 100 times the difference from .5500 as the number for this item.


Example: if State U has a SOS of .5743, the difference is .0243; multiply by 100, and the result is 2.43 which rounds to 2.  If Tech has a SOS of .4878, the difference is -.0622; multiple by 100, and the result is -6.22 which rounds to -6.


7. Record Away From Home (road + neutral)

3 points for 75%+ winning percentage

2 points for 60-74% winning percentage

1 point for 51-59% winning percentage

0 points for 50% winning percentage

-2 points for less than 50% winning percentage



Let us take a look at the Bracket Buster. 


Friday, Feb. 18 (all times Eastern)
7 p.m. (ESPN2) – VCU (12-4/20-8) at Wichita State (13-3/22-5)


Team Virginia Commonwealth Wichita State
W-L 12-4/20-8 13-3/22-5
RPI 64 48
PPG Margin 4.7 12.2
FG% Margin -1.6 6.9
Reb Margin -3.5 9.3
TO Margin 3.9 -0.8
Stl/G 9.0 5.4
R+T 6.4 9.4
SOS .5124 .5215
Road W-L 9-6 8-4
PiRate # -3 9

Big Wins: VCU—UCLA       Wichita State—Virginia


VCU has lost three of their last five games, putting the Rams on the bad side of the bubble.


Wichita State lost narrowly to Connecticut and also lost to San Diego State and Missouri State.  The Shockers are on the middle of the bubble.  Their PiRate score of 9 shows they have a legitimate chance of advancing to the Sweet 16.



9 p.m. (ESPNU)—Kent State (8-3/17-8) at Drexel (9-7/17-9)

Team Kent State Drexel
W-L 8-3/17-8 9-7/17-9
RPI 94 81
PPG Margin 4.8 4.2
FG% Margin 2.9 1.6
Reb Margin 0.5 9.4
TO Margin 1.1 -1.8
Stl/G 8.1 4.0
R+T 2.6 8.0
SOS .4957 .5105
Road W-L 6-7 7-7
PiRate # -7 0


Big Wins: Kent—None          Drexel—Louisville, Old Dominion


Kent State’s best win was over #109 Iona.  We do not see any at-large bids going to team that have no top 100 wins.  Losses to Florida, UAB, and Cleveland State will not be good enough, and a road win in this game will do little to help.  Kent State must gain an automatic bid.  Their PiRate score of -7 puts them squarely within the parameters of the lesser post-season tournaments (NIT, College Insider Tournament {CIT}, or College Basketball Invitational {CBI}) .


Drexel is on the outside of the bubble, but they can work their way into the low rung by winning out.  The Dragons lost to Syracuse and George Mason.  Drexel shoots a poor 31.1% from behind the arc, but opponents shoot only 28%.  As you may know, we do not factor three-point percentage in the PiRate formula, as it has shown no positive relationship to advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday, Feb. 19
11 a.m. (ESPNU)—Hofstra (12-4/18-9) at Wright State (10-7/17-12) 

Team Hofstra Wright State
W-L 12-4/18-9 10-7/17-12
RPI 87 115
PPG Margin 1.2 2.7
FG% Margin 0.6 -3.0
Reb Margin -4.7 -3.8
TO Margin 2.2 3.9
Stl/G 6.7 6.3
R+T -1.2 [ELIMINATE] 2.1
SOS .5134 .5173
Road W-L 9-6 5-10
PiRate # -4 ELIMINATE -8


Big Wins: Hofstra—Drexel, George Mason               Wright State—Oakland, Butler


Hofstra has a negative R+T rating, so they would be considered easy first-round cannon fodder in the NCAA Tournament.  Of course, the PiRate Rating does not apply to regular season games, so they could easily beat Wright State tomorrow.


Wright State is not under consideration for an at-large bid, so this game is a dud.  It may be interesting, but both will have to win an automatic bid to get into the Dance.


1 p.m. (ESPNU)—Austin Peay (11-5/17-11) at Fairfield (14-2/21-5) 

Team Austin Peay Fairfield
W-L 11-5/17-11 14-2/21-5
RPI 132 101
PPG Margin 7.6 7.8
FG% Margin 3.6 4.2
Reb Margin 0.1 3.5
TO Margin 3.7 1.5
Stl/G 8.9 7.3
R+T 8.0 6.1
SOS .4821 .4465
Road W-L 9-8 11-3
PiRate # 1 -3


Big Wins: APSU—Morehead State               Fairfield—Vermont


Austin Peay was cruising at the first of conference play, but they have split their last 10 games.  They have no chance at garnering an at-large invitation, but they have a positive PiRate number.  Should they win the automatic bid, they could make their first round game very interesting.


Fairfield started 1-3 and has gone 20-2 since.  Their schedule is one of the weakest in the nation, and their gaudy numbers must be severely discounted.  The Stags are overwhelming favorites to win the MAAC Tournament and gain the automatic bid, but should they end up in the NIT, they have a chance to get to MSG.


3 p.m. (ESPNU)—Iona (11-5/17-10) at Liberty (13-3/19-9) 

Team Iona Liberty
W-L 11-5/17-10 13-3/19-9
RPI 112 131
PPG Margin 8.7 3.7
FG% Margin 2.5 0.4
Reb Margin 0.6 6.8
TO Margin 3.0 -0.9
Stl/G 7.5 7.0
R+T 6.0 7.1
SOS .4938 .4685
Road W-L 9-8 7-7
PiRate # 2 -6


Big Wins: Iona—Richmond               Liberty—None


Here are two more teams going nowhere unless they earn automatic bids.  Iona lost by six to Syracuse, so if the Gaels upset Fairfield to win the MAAC automatic bid, with their positive PiRate number, they could cause trouble for a higher-seeded opponent.


Liberty’s best win came against #170 UNC-Asheville.  They lost to Notre Dame by 21 and to George Mason by 30.  They will not be on the NIT’s radar if they fail to win the Big South’s automatic bid.


5 p.m. (ESPN2)—Missouri State (13-3/21-6) at Valparaiso (11-4/19-8)

Team Missouri State Valparaiso
W-L 13-3/21-6 11-4/19-8
RPI 49 54
PPG Margin 7.9 6.5
FG% Margin 2.5 6.3
Reb Margin 3.3 0.8
TO Margin 0.5 1.4
Stl/G 4.7 8.3
R+T 3.9 3.6
SOS .5121 .5308
Road W-L 7-5 9-6
PiRate # -1 2


Big Wins: MSU—Northern Iowa, Wichita State       Valpo—Oakland, Cleveland State, and Butler


This will be an interesting game.  Both teams are squarely on the bubble, and the winner should move up enough to be considered on the good side of the bubble. 


Missouri State plays smart basketball.  Their two best shooters take 23% of their shots.  A relatively low R+T rating and lower than average SOS give them a negative PiRate Rating.  Their only chance to advance to the weekend in the NCAA Tournament is a first round game with an opponent with a negative R+T rating.


Valparaiso goes nine-deep, and seven of the nine are competent rebounders.  They could scare a higher-seeded team in the opening round and possibly have a chance at an upset.  However, they don’t have a good enough rating to advance to the Sweet 16.  They still have work to do before they are guaranteed an at-large bid.


5 p.m. (ESPNU)—Vermont (13-2/22-5) at Charleston (12-2/19-7) 

Team Vermont College of Charleston
W-L 13-2/22-5 13-2/20-7
RPI 74 77
PPG Margin 7.6 7.8
FG% Margin 6.8 3.6
Reb Margin 6.2 -0.4
TO Margin 0.9 0.9
Stl/G 5.4 6.4
R+T 7.4 1.0
SOS .4693 .4885
Road W-L 10-4 10-6
PiRate # 0 -5


Big Wins: Vermont—Iona                  C of C—Coastal Carolina, Tennessee


This is the best Vermont team since the Catamounts upset Syracuse in the opening round of the 2005 tourney.  Still, with a PiRate rating of 0, they would have to face a higher-seeded team with a negative R+T Rating to have a shot at an upset this year.  Additionally, they are far back on the bubble and will most likely need to earn the automatic bid to get there.


College of Charleston is much in the same boat as Vermont, but whereas the Catamounts are the prohibitive favorite to secure the America East’s automatic bid, C of C is not even a small favorite to win the Southern Conference’s bid because North Division co-leader Chattanooga is hosting the SoCon Tournament.


7 p.m. (ESPN2)—George Mason (14-2/22-5) at Northern Iowa (10-6/19-9)

Team George Mason Northern Iowa
W-L 14-2/22-5 10-6/19-9
RPI 20 79
PPG Margin 13.0 4.0
FG% Margin 7.7 -1.2
Reb Margin 3.0 -0.3
TO Margin 2.6 2.3
Stl/G 6.9 4.8
R+T 7.3 2.3
SOS .5470 .5146
Road W-L 9-5 7-7
PiRate # 13 -8


Big Wins: GMU—Harvard, Duquesne, Drexel, James Madison, Hofstra, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth                                   Northern Iowa—New Mexico, Wichita State, and Missouri State


Could George Mason do it again?  The Patriots made a surprise run to the 2006 Final Four by upsetting Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut.  This year’s team could be better than that team.  With a 13 PiRate Rating, they have the numbers to get to the Sweet 16 and have a shot at the Elite Eight, and even another Final Four possibility.


Northern Iowa is not the team they were a year ago when they upset Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.  This team is likely not to earn an at-large bid and will be third choice at best to win the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis.


9 p.m. (ESPN2)—Utah State (12-1/24-3) at Saint Mary’s (10-2/22-5)

Team Utah State Saint Mary’s
W-L 12-1/24-3 10-2/22-5
RPI 25 39
PPG Margin 13.9 15.3
FG% Margin 8.4 6.2
Reb Margin 8.9 5.6
TO Margin 2.0 2.2
Stl/G 4.5 7.0
R+T 11.1 9.3
SOS .5075 .5086
Road W-L 8-3 9-5
PiRate # 15 11


Big Wins: USU—Long Beach State              SMU—St. John’s, Long Beach State, and Gonzaga.


If you only plan on watching one Bracketbuster game, this is the one to watch.  Both teams are above the bubble; they are both close to lock status.  This game will be all about seeding.  The winner should find themselves a favorite in the opening round of the Big Dance.


Utah State lost at BYU by six and lost at Georgetown.  They don’t really have a big signature win this year, and this game gives them that opportunity.  The Aggies have balanced scoring with seven different players capable of leading the way.  Their 15 PiRate Rating indicate they are a strong contender for the Sweet 16 and even beyond.


Saint Mary’s was not too far from doing what Butler did last year.  This team was not supposed to be nearly as good as that one, but the Gaels find themselves in control in the WCC.  They rarely have an off-night shooting, and they can light up the scoreboard.    Their 11 PiRate Rating gives them a shot at returning to the Sweet 16.


11 p.m. (ESPN2)—Montana (11-3/19-7) at Long Beach State (11-2/16-10)

Team Montana Long Beach State
W-L 11-3/19-7 11-2/16-10
RPI 109 100
PPG Margin 8.5 9.0
FG% Margin 7.9 0.4
Reb Margin 2.3 2.9
TO Margin 1.1 -1.6
Stl/G 6.7 6.1
R+T 4.1 2.2
SOS .4635 .5109
Road W-L 6-6 8-8
PiRate # -3 -3


Big Wins: Montana—UCLA              LBSU—None


This is another game where neither team has any chance of earning an at-large bid, while both teams are the favorites to win their respective league’s post-season tournament and automatic bid.


Montana has come from behind to race past Northern Colorado and Weber State to take command in the Big Sky Conference race.  Their schedule is exceptionally weak.  Ten of the Grizzlies’ wins have come against teams ranked #250 or worse in the RPI.


Long Beach State has five double figure scorers.  Five of their 10 losses came to teams that could be in the Big Dance (San Diego State, Washington, Utah State, North Carolina, and Saint Mary’s).  With a negative PiRate Rating, their only shot at playing two games in the NCAA Tournament would be to face an opening round opponent with a negative R+T Rating.


Sunday, Feb. 20
1 p.m. (ESPN2)—Cleveland State (12-4/23-5) at Old Dominion (12-4/21-6)


Team Cleveland State Old Dominion
W-L 12-4/23-5 12-4/21-6
RPI 34 31
PPG Margin 9.3 6.7
FG% Margin 3.4 2.4
Reb Margin 0.9 11.1
TO Margin 2.7 -0.7
Stl/G 7.5 7.0
R+T 5.8 11.7
SOS .5165 .5460
Road W-L 9-4 9-4
PiRate # 4 9


Big Wins: CSU—Kent State, Valparaiso                   ODU—Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, Dayton, George Mason, Hofstra, James Madison, and VCU


Here we have two teams that appear to be in great shape for an at-large bid should they fail to win the automatic bid from their conference.


You will want to watch this Sunday game, because Cleveland State plays a pressure-type game similar to Marquette when Al McGuire was head coach.  The Vikings’ star is Norris Cole, who can shoot, drive, pass, and play defense better than most others.


Old Dominion has played the equivalent schedule of a major conference team.  Short of a major collapse, the Monarchs are close to a lock for an at-large bid.  Their only liability is weak outside shooting.  However, they are among the best rebounding teams in the nation, and they don’t allow many open shots.  Expect a low-scoring, but high-action game.


The Who’s In Game


America East:  (1)—The conference tournament champion will get the lone bid.  Vermont is too far down the list to steal an at-large bid from a major conference.  However, the Catamounts should win this automatic bid.



Atlantic 10: (2 or 3)—Xavier and Temple should get bids, and if another team wins the league tournament, three invitations could be extended. 

BUBBLE—Dayton and Richmond


Atlantic Coast: (3-6)—Duke and North Carolina are sure things, but after that there is a logjam.  At least one other ACC team will get a bid, and Boston College is the leader of the pack.  For this week’s story, we will consider the Eagles in and not on the bubble.

BUBBLE—Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami


Atlantic Sun: (1)—There is a remote possibility that Belmont could enter the conversation for an at-large bid should the Bruins win out but come up a game short in the conference tournament, but for now, we believe only one team will represent the A-Sun.  If Belmont does not win the automatic bid, it will be a major upset.



Big 12: (5-7)—The top two teams have been dominating, while the rest of the pack has been beating each other up.  Kansas, Texas, and Texas A&M are locks, while Missouri and Kansas State are in good shape.

BUBBLE—Oklahoma State and Baylor


Big East: (9-11)—The Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden could actually be more potent than one or two of the NCAA Regionals.  At least nine teams must be considered realistic contenders for a Final Four spot.  Those nine shoo-ins for a bid are: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Connecticut, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, and Louisville. 

BUBBLE—Cincinnati and Marquette


Big Sky: (1)—There is no chance for an at-large invitation from this conference.  Montana is the top team in the league, but the Grizzlies are not strong favorites.


Big South: (1)—Coastal Carolina is a bit too far back in the RPI ratings to move onto the bubble, but the Chanticleers are overwhelming favorites to win the automatic bid.


Big Ten: (4-8)—The second most powerful conference to the Big East, this conference could land as many as eight teams in the NCAA Tournament.  Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois are in as of today.  The four bubble teams’ schedules are among the strongest of all bubble teams.

BUBBLE—Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State, and Michigan


 Big West: (1)—Long Beach State is too far back to make up enough ground; their bubble will burst if the 49ers do not win the conference tournament in nearby Anaheim.


Colonial: (2 or 3)—George Mason and Old Dominion are both near-locks, and we have them in the field.  If another team pulls off the upset in the conference tournament, this league will have three representatives.  Virginia Commonwealth has a chance to move onto the bubble, especially if they win at Wichita State tonight.


Conference USA: (2-5)—UAB and Memphis have earned a spot in the Dance if they continue to play at their same pace.  Three other teams are on the bubble with legitimate shots at playing their way into the at-large group.

BUBBLE—Southern Mississippi, UTEP, and Marshall


Horizon: (1-3)—We are rather confident that at least two teams will earn bids from the Horizon League, but we have two of them listed as bubble teams for now.  Cleveland State is ranked high enough to be ahead of the bubble for now.

BUBBLE—Butler and Valparaiso


IVY: (1 or 2)The Ivy League has never sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament, but there is a very outside chance that it could happen this year.  There is no conference tournament, so the regular season champion gets the automatic bid.  Princeton (9-0) leads Harvard (9-1) and Yale (5-3).  The Tigers play at Yale and Brown, while Harvard plays at Cornell and Columbia this weekend.  Yale hosts Penn tomorrow night after facing Princeton tonight.  The number two team needs to be at least 11-3 to be a serious contender for an at-large bid.

BUBBLE—Harvard/Princeton whichever finishes second


MAAC:(1)—Fairfield is not in contention for an at-large bid, so the Stags will have to win the conference tournament to get into the Dance.


MAC: (1)—This once proud conference has joined the field of also-rans.  No MAC team ranks in the top 90 in the RPI ratings.  Miami (Ohio), Kent State, and Buffalo are the top three contenders for the automatic bid.


MEAC: (1)—Morgan State is not a sure thing this year, not even the top favorite.  Hampton is playing well enough to avoid a First Four game.


Missouri Valley: (1 or 2)—The MVC is a tad bit down this season.  The conference tournament champion could be the only team to emerge with a bid, if it is the regular season champion and if the numbers two and three teams lose before reaching the championship round.  Wichita State appears to be the favorite for now, but that could change.

BUBBLE—Missouri State and Northern Iowa


Mountain West: (3-5)—Not only could the MWC earn five bids, two teams could be number one or two seeds!  BYU and San Diego State have proven themselves this season.  They are currently number two and three respectively in the RPI Ratings.  UNLV is maybe the lowest-ranked team in the near-lock range.  The bubble aligns just behind the Rebels.

BUBBLE—Colorado State and New Mexico


Northeast: (1)—Long Island is ranked #98 in the RPI, but that is too low to qualify for bubble status.  The Blackbirds will only go dancing if they win the conference tournament.


Ohio Valley: (1)—Murray State and Morehead State are tied at 12-4.  Morehead has won eight games in a row, including an impressive win at rival Eastern Kentucky.  The Eagles’ big man, Kenneth Faried, averages 17.5 points and 14.3 rebounds per game.


Pac-10: (2-4)—Arizona is the only sure thing, but for this week’s list, we will include UCLA as well.  This league still has a long way to go to regain its lost prestige.

BUBBLE—Washington and Washington State


Patriot: (1)—Bucknell is the favorite over American, but it is not by much. 


Southeastern: (4-6)—There is no dominant team in the SEC this year, and the conference tournament should be almost as entertaining as the Big East Tournament.  Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Tennessee are in.  One or two more could work their way in.

BUBBLE—Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss


Southern: (1)—There is no Stephen Curry-led Davidson teams in the league this year.  Chattanooga must be considered the slight favorite, because the Mocs host the SoCon Tournament.  Western Carolina, College of Charleston, Wofford, and Furman are the top contenders.


Southland: (1)—This is the most open race for the lone automatic bid.  The SLC sends the top eight teams to its conference tournament, and there is not much difference in the top eight.  Draw one out of a hat.


SWAC: (1)—This league has become a regular in the play-in round, and with it now expanded to the First Four, you can expect to see the SWAC representative in Dayton again this season.  Texas Southern and Jackson State are the only two teams with won-loss records above .500.


Summit: (1)—Oakland is the highest-rated team not on our bubble.  At #73, we just do not believe the Golden Grizzlies can lose another game and have a shot at an at-large bid.


Sunbelt: (1)—Florida Atlantic represents the SBC’s only chance to avoid a #15 or #16 seed.  This league is suffering through an off year.


West Coast: (1 or 2)—Saint Mary’s is a lock for an at-large bid.  If they should happen to lose in the WCC Tournament, this league will send two teams. 



WAC: (1 or 2)—Utah State is in the same boat as Saint Mary’s, but it will be a much bigger upset if the Aggies do not waltz through their conference tournament and earn the automatic bid.


According to our math, we have 57 spots going to automatic bids and locks for at-large bids.  That leaves 11 spots for upset conference tournament winners and the bubble.

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