The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 17, 2017

Red, White, and Blue Ratings for Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Games

Saturday, March 18, 2017 NCAA Tournament Games

Team Team Red White Blue
West Virginia Notre Dame 6 4 1
Villanova Wisconsin 8 6 6
Gonzaga Northwestern 17 10 8
Florida St. Xavier 8 5 4
Butler Middle Tennessee 5 4 7
Arizona Saint Mary’s -2 -1 1
Florida Virginia 1 1 1
Purdue Iowa St. 1 2 1

 

Saturday’s TV Schedule

Time (EDT) Network Team vs. Team
12:10 PM CBS West Virginia vs. Notre Dame
2:40 PM CBS Villanova vs. Wisconsin
5:15 PM CBS Gonzaga vs. Northwestern
6:10 PM TNT Florida St. vs. Xavier
7:10 PM TBS Butler vs. Middle Tennessee
7:45 PM CBS Arizona vs. Saint Mary’s
8:40 PM TNT Florida vs. Virginia
9:40 PM TBS Purdue vs. Iowa St.

 

 

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February 17, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Preview For February 18-19, 2017

 

Games Scheduled for: Saturday, February 18, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Miami (Fla.) Clemson 3 5 5
North Carolina St. Notre Dame -7 -5 -4
Duke Wake Forest 9 11 10
Louisville Virginia Tech 14 14 15
Pittsburgh Florida St. -1 -5 -4
North Carolina Virginia 6 4 2
Cincinnati Tulsa 16 17 14
Houston SMU -1 1 -1
Baylor Kansas 2 2 7
Texas Kansas St. -1 1 2
West Virginia Texas Tech 14 12 9
Iowa St. TCU 8 8 4
Oklahoma St. Oklahoma 14 11 13
Seton Hall Villanova -7 -8 -5
Marquette Xavier 3 3 -1
Iowa Illinois 6 3 1
Purdue Michigan St. 13 13 8
Northwestern Rutgers 13 11 9
Ohio St. Nebraska 6 7 5
Wichita St. Northern Iowa 20 17 18
Oregon Colorado 12 15 18
Washington St. Arizona St. -2 -1 3
Washington Arizona -10 -10 -9
UCLA USC 12 12 9
Tennessee Missouri 14 12 15
Mississippi St. Florida -12 -11 -10
Alabama LSU 12 12 10
Texas A&M Auburn 4 4 8
Arkansas Ole Miss 7 7 5
Georgia Kentucky -7 -7 -4
Vanderbilt South Carolina -2 1 2
Gonzaga Pacific 34 27 29
BYU Saint Mary’s -3 -5 -5

 

Games Scheduled for: Sunday, February 19, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Georgia Tech Syracuse 1 -3 2
Butler DePaul 19 18 21
Creighton Georgetown 9 8 5
Wisconsin Maryland 7 8 4
Minnesota Michigan 4 1 6
Illinois St. Loyola (Chi.) 10 8 8
Oregon St. Utah -13 -10 -11

PiRate Ratings Top 25

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Villanova
  3. Kansas
  4. West Virginia
  5. Louisville
  6. North Carolina
  7. Florida
  8. Kentucky
  9. Virginia
  10. Duke
  11. Purdue
  12. Florida St.
  13. Baylor
  14. UCLA
  15. Wichita St.
  16. Oregon
  17. Saint Mary’s
  18. SMU
  19. Arizona
  20. Creighton
  21. Wisconsin
  22. Oklahoma St.
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Butler
  25. Notre Dame

 

ACC

  1. Louisville
  2. North Carolina
  3. Virginia
  4. Duke
  5. Florida St.
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Wake Forest
  8. Miami (Fla.)
  9. Clemson
  10. Syracuse
  11. Virginia Tech
  12. Georgia Tech
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. North Carolina St.
  15. Boston College

Big 12

  1. Kansas
  2. West Virginia
  3. Baylor
  4. Oklahoma St.
  5. Iowa St.
  6. TCU
  7. Kansas St.
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Texas

Big East

  1. Villanova
  2. Creighton
  3. Butler
  4. Marquette
  5. Xavier
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Providence
  8. Georgetown
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Big Ten

  1. Purdue
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Maryland
  4. Northwestern
  5. Minnesota
  6. Michigan
  7. Indiana
  8. Michigan St.
  9. Iowa
  10. Ohio St.
  11. Illinois
  12. Penn St.
  13. Nebraska
  14. Rutgers

Pac-12

  1. UCLA
  2. Oregon
  3. Arizona
  4. California
  5. Utah
  6. USC
  7. Colorado
  8. Stanford
  9. Washington
  10. Arizona St.
  11. Washington St.
  12. Oregon St.

SEC

  1. Florida
  2. Kentucky
  3. South Carolina
  4. Arkansas
  5. Tennessee
  6. Georgia
  7. Alabama
  8. Ole Miss
  9. Vanderbilt
  10. Texas A&M
  11. Auburn
  12. Mississippi St.
  13. Missouri
  14. LSU

Friday Night Games You Might Want To Watch

Don’t wait until Saturday to start following basketball games, because there are some interesting Friday night games this week.

Starting at 7 PM EST tonight, tune into ESPN2 to see Valparaiso visit Oakland in a battle of the top two teams in the Horizon League.  Alec Peters may be the best Mid-Major player you have not seen.  Peters averages 23.1 points per game and 10.7 rebounds a game for Valpo, and he is an excellent passer similar to Bill Walton in his UCLA days.

Earlier in the season, Oakland won by 12 at Valpo, never allowing the Crusaders to take a lead in the entire game.  Oakland guard Martez Walker put the game away in the opening minutes of the second half with a salvo of baskets while also being a force on the glass.

 

There are two important Ivy League games tonight.  Columbia visits Harvard in a game the Lions need to show they belong with the top three in the league.  Princeton, Harvard, and Yale are locks to make the four-team Ivy League Tournament, but Columbia still has work to do and has a weekend road set with Harvard and Dartmouth after losing at Penn and Princeton last weekend.  This game will be on ESPN3 at 7 PM EST.  Two more losses this weekend, and Columbia could be tied for fourth rather in fourth by two games over the lower division.

At 8 PM EST on ESPN3, Princeton visits Yale.  If the Tigers can get by the Bulldogs tonight, their chance of wrapping up the top seed in the Ivy League’s first ever tournament will be about 98%, since they already won at Harvard.  PU is riding an 11-game winning streak.

 

At 9 PM EST on ESPN2, Virginia Commonwealth visits Richmond in a big Atlantic 10 game.  VCU is in first place in the league, but the Rams need a resume boost to guarantee a possible at-large bid if they do not earn the automatic invitation.  Richmond has no signature wins, and the Spiders will have to run the table in the A-10 Tournament to get back to the Dance.

 

At 10 PM EST, California travels west across the Bay to take on Stanford at Maples Pavilion in a game that could move the Bears into safe at-large territory if they can take down their rival.  This game will air on FS1.  Coach Cuonzo Martin’s teams tend to become tougher defensively and gel as a team in the second half of the year, and this Bear team is 8-2 in its last 10 games with the two losses coming at Oregon and at Arizona.  Three weeks ago in Berkeley, 6-11 Ivan Rabb was unstoppable, hitting a couple of threes from the top of the key and getting some in-your-face baskets at the rim, as his 25 points destroyed the Cardinal.

 

Saturday’s Best Games

Kansas at Baylor 1 PM EST on CBS

Kentucky at Georgia 6 PM EST on ESPN

TCU at Iowa St. 6 PM EST on ESPNEWS

SMU at Houston 6 PM EST on ESPN2

Xavier at Marquette 8 PM EST on CBSSN

Virginia at North Carolina 8:15 PM EST on ESPN

USC at UCLA 10 PM EST on Pac-12 Network

Saint Mary’s at BYU 10 PM EST on ESPN2

 

Gonzaga 2017 vs. Wichita State 2014

Current undefeated and top-ranked Gonzaga reminds many fans of the 2014 Wichita State team that ran the table and earned the regular season number one ranking prior to entering NCAA Tournament action as the top seed.  That Shocker team beat only one top team that season, winning at Tennessee.  The Vols would go on to make the Sweet 16, before falling to Michigan by a bucket.

This year’s Gonzaga team has a slightly better schedule resume.  The Bulldogs own neutral court victories of Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona in an 8-day period just after Thanksgiving.  The Zags also swept top 20 Saint Mary’s by 23 and 10 points.

Let’s take a look at the Four Factors comparison between the two teams.

Effective Field Goal Percentage

Gonzaga has the clear advantage here.  The Bulldogs current EFG% is 58.1%.  Their regular FG% is 51.6%, and they are hitting 39% of their three-point attempts.  Defensively, GU gives up an EFG% of just 41.7%, for an EFG% margin of 16.4%, the best in the nation.

In 2014, Wichita State was quite good in this factor, but they were not as good as GU this year.  The Shockers’ EFG% was 52.6%, as there were games where they could not hit from outside 10 feet until the last 5-8 minutes of the second half.  Their defensive EFG% was very good at 44.6% for an EFG% margin of 8.0%.  It was not in the top 10 in the nation that year.

 

Turnover Rate

This factor is a wash between the two undefeated teams.  Gonzaga has a current TO rate of 13.8 and a defensive TO rate of 16.1 for a margin of 2.3%

Wichita State had a TO rate of 13.6 and a defensive TO rate of 16.3 for a margin of 2.7%.

 

Rebound Rate

This is where Wichita State had a major advantage.  The Shockers had an Offensive Rebound Rate of 35.0, which was very good, while their Defensive Rebound Rate was an excellent 26.0 for a Rebound Rate margin of 9.0%.  The Shockers did not have a dominant rebounder, but their three guards rebounded like power forwards.

 

Gonzaga has an Offensive Rebound Rate of 31.1 and a Defensive Rebound Rate of 27.0 for a Rebound Rate margin of 4.1.  The Bulldogs have won the battle of the boards in a large majority of their games thanks to the two-headed seven-foot dominators combining for 11 boards a game.  While the Bulldogs are quite good in this factor, Wichita State was dominant.

 

Free Throw Rate

This is the least important of the Four Factors, but it is still important just by being one of the four factors.  Gonzaga has one of the best FT Rate margins in the nation this year, and the reason is that opponents are forced to foul Gonzaga’s big dominating centers inside to prevent easy baskets.

GU’s offensive FT Rate is 22.9, and their defensive FT Rate is 15.3 for a FT Rate margin of 7.6%.  As good as this number is, 2014 Wichita State had one of the best FT Rates of all time.  Their Offensive FT Rate was 28.4, while their Defensive FT Rate was 18.8 for a FT Rate margin of 9.6%!

 

Other Factors

These factors were made under slightly different strengths of schedule.  Gonzaga’s current SOS averages about 2 points per game better than Wichita’s SOS from 2014.  This even includes Wichita’s game against Kentucky, which put an end to the undefeated season in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

The PiRate R+T ratings for both teams is a wash.  Gonzaga’s current R+T is 20.4, while Wichita State’s was 21.2.  Both teams received ample extra scoring opportunities due to superior rebounding and turnovers (with an emphasis on steals).

There is virtually no difference in quality depth, as both teams could go two deep at every position.

 

Wichita State’s Season Ended

The Shockers won their first NCAA Tournament game by 27 points over 16-seed Cal Poly.  Then they fell by 2 to Kentucky in the next round.  Kentucky won because Wichita State lacked the overall quickness to prevent numerous open shots by the Wildcats on both the perimeter and through penetration.  John Calipari adjusted well at halftime when Wichita State enjoyed a 6-point lead, and a 10-0 UK run in a three-minute stretch at the start of the second half gave Kentucky the lead.  Trailing by two with seven seconds left, Wichita State had a chance to tie or win the game, but Fred Van Vleet’s contested three-pointer from 21 feet out bricked off the backboard.

 

Gonzaga’s Vulnerability

It is difficult for some to understand that an undefeated team with a scoring margin of 23.8 points per game could really be vulnerable, but even the 1972 UCLA Bruins had a few liabilities.  Gonzaga is not unbeatable, as all college teams (even the UConn women’s team) can be defeated, even if it is not that likely.

A good pressure defense team can disrupt the Bulldogs enough to provide an opening to score some cheap baskets off steals and to force GU into foul trouble.  Florida almost had enough in the defensive tank to pull it off, but Gonzaga still won thanks to hot inside-outside shooting from Josh Perkins and Jonathan Williams, while the Bulldog defense stuck to the Gators like glue, forcing UF to shoot just 36.9% from the field and a pitiful 10.5% from behind the arc.

Gonzaga does not always put an opponent away once they have taken a double-digit lead.  They almost saw Iowa State come back from a 15-point halftime deficit and 18-point 2nd half deficit, as Iowa State’s Deonte Burton brought the Cyclones back to within a point with multiple chances to take the lead in the final minute.  ISU had a shot to win at the buzzer and could not get the shot off.  If GU does not help out on defense, a star player can possibly end the Bulldogs’ season in the Big Dance.

Our Take

We believe Gonzaga is clearly better than the 2014 Wichita State team.  If they enter the NCAA Tournament with a 33-0 record (which we believe is about 95% possible), they will obviously be a #1 seed.  The first game against a #16 seed should be no problem, and we cannot see any possible #8 or #9 seed finding a way to beat them two days later.

Once they get to the Sweet 16, there could be some teams capable of beating the Zags, but only if either Gonzaga lays a big egg or the opponent plays lights out.  The possible #4 or #5 seeds that could pose a problem for GU include West Virginia, Cincinnati, SMU, and South Carolina.  All four of these teams can force Gonzaga to turn the ball over and alter their offense to a point where they must shoot poor shots late in the shot clock.

If Gonzaga makes it to the Elite 8, there will be somebody like Louisville, Kentucky, Florida, Virginia, Duke, or North Carolina in their path.  All of these teams can beat Gonzaga half the time, so it would be considered a 50-50 game against any of these teams.

Looking at the Final Four if GU finally makes it to there, we actually do not think the other potential number one seeds are the teams likely to beat the Bulldogs.  Villanova, Kansas, and Baylor will not match up well with GU.  It will be another team, like one of the teams mentioned in the Elite 8 paragraph that will stop the undefeated streak–if it is stopped.

 

Since Indiana last blitzed the field in 1975-76 (and Rutgers made it to the Final Four undefeated), Indiana State in 1979, UNLV in 1991, and Kentucky in 2015, made it to the Final Four unbeaten, and none of the three won the title.

Indiana State was clearly not up to Michigan State’s talent level as Larry Bird could not beat Magic Johnson plus Greg Kelser plus 5 or 6 other really good Spartans.

UNLV met a really good Duke team that probably would not have beaten the Runnin’ Rebels more than 2 times out of 10.  However, the Blue Devils had been dealt a major black eye with the worst ever National Championship Game loss to UNLV the year before, and they came out punching.

Kentucky ran up against a much more poised and mature Wisconsin team, one in which the Badgers players had ma lot more NCAA Tournament experience.  UW played a smart game; they forced Kentucky to beat them by doing something other than one-on-one dribble drives and feeds when faced with double-teams.  The UK players did not come out punching, and their defense was subpar that night.

In Gonzaga’s favor, they are not a one-man team like Indiana State (Carl Nicks was good but not a star).  They will not face an opponent that has a grudge from losing by 30+ points the last time they played, but Florida and Arizona might know a little more about what it will take to win if there is a rematch in the Dance.  The Bulldogs are not an inexperienced team lacking maturity that will fall to a more experienced, more mature team, because Mark Few has too many mature players on this team for that to happen.

If Gonzaga loses in the NCAA Tournament, it will be because the other team has equal or superior talent and plays well enough with that talent to win.  Otherwise, GU will become the next undefeated national champion.

The PiRates say that Gonzaga has a 1 in 12 chance of going 39-0 and winning the national title and maybe a 1 in 11.8 chance of just winning the national title.  We believe they have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the Final Four.

February 15, 2017

The Best of the Best and Where They Might Be Vulnerable–2nd Edition

A month ago, we showed you a couple dozen top college basketball teams’ advanced statistics and then tried to examine through those stats where each team might be vulnerable.  We found vulnerability with every team to some extent, so it is obvious that there is no clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA Championship.  The days of UCLA having a 95% chance of winning the title have come and gone.  The team with the most chance of winning it all this year might have something like a 7-8% chance of winning it all, while up to 20 teams may have 4% chances of cutting down the nets at University of Phoenix Stadium in The Valley of the Sun.

In our second edition of the Best of the Best, we see only minor changes from before.  While we hope all of you regularly read our little project, we know this is not so.  Therefore, we will bring the newcomers up to speed on how we operate here on the PiRate ship.

First, we are math geeks.  We have linear and boolean algebra experts helping us out, and our founder is an amateur mathlete and a professional in baseball analytics.  Fret not; you do not have to know algebra to enjoy this site.  We have done all the calculations.  We will show you some of the formulas that we use to come to our conclusions, but it won’t be on the test.  You get an A+ if you just show up (maybe that’s why we don’t teach at Cal Tech or M.I.T.).

The PiRates are proponents of the Four Factors in basketball.  We have found that with a little different emphasis in each of the factors, this set of data can be applied to the NBA, College, High School, Middle School, and even the kids’ youth leagues (although if somebody is using Four Factors’ data to coach a 5th and 6th grade team, they need to reconsider why they are coaching at all).

The Four Factors can really be considered Eight Factors, because they can be used to rate teams’ offense and defense.  When you subtract the defensive factor from the offensive factor in each of the four stats, you get a Four Factors margin (just like when you subtract points per game allowed from points per game scored, you get scoring margin).

Here are the Four Factors.  If you just want this week’s results, skip down to “BEST OF THE BEST”

  1. Effective Shooting Percentage
  2. Turnover Rate
  3. Offensive Rebounding Rate
  4. Free Throw Rate

1. Effective Shooting Percentage: (FG+(0.5*3pt))/FGA

The difference between regular field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage is that you count all made three-pointers as 1.5 made field goals.  So, if a team hits 25 of 55 shots and makes 6 three-pointers, their EFG% is: (25+(6*.05))/55 which equals 50.9%.

The defensive equivalent uses the same formula, and the difference between the offensive and defensive EFG% is the EFG% margin.

2. Turnover Rate (TOV/100 Possessions not including offensive rebounds)

The TOV Rate is the number of turnovers committed per every 100 possessions (and forced per 100 possessions for the defensive factor).  You can accurately measure possessions in college basketball by using the following formula.

FGA+(.475*FTA)+TO-Off. Rebounds

However for TOV Rate, we remove the offensive rebounds because it skews the rate.  When a team gets an offensive rebound, they almost always get another shot attempt and do not hold the ball long enough to commit additional turnovers at the same rate that they do in a possession not involving an offensive rebound.

If a team commits 14 turnovers in a game in which they had 69 possessions but with 8 offensive rebounds, their TOV Rate for the game is: 14/61, which comes to 23%

3. Offensive Rebound Rate: (Off. Rebounds/(Off. Rebounds + Opponents’ Def. Rebounds)

This is basically the percentage of offensive rebounds a team retrieves off its own missed shots.  If a team has 35 total missed shots in a game where a rebound is then retrieved by one team or the other, and they finish with 8 offensive rebounds, their Offensive Rebound Rate is: 8/35, which comes to 22.9%.

The defensive counterpart to this is Defensive Rebound Rate.  If a team’s opponent has 38 total missed shots in a game where there were rebounds retrieved by one team or the other, and the opponent finished with 6 offensive rebounds, then the team’s defensive rebound rate is: 6/38, which comes to 15.8%.  The rebound rate margin would be: 22.9-15.8 or 7.1%.

If you count the two examples, in standard parlance the better rebounding team won the battle of the boards 40-33.

4. Free Throw Rate 

The basketball math experts disagree on how to calculate this rating.  Some believe that just getting fouled is all that matters, since each foul makes it one foul closer to an opposing player becoming disqualified.  Others believe that this rate should be the percentage of free throw attempts to field goal attempts.  Others say, it should be made free throws per field goal attempts.

We disagree with these beliefs.  These numbers can easily become skewed when a team plays enough close games with the lead in the final minutes.  Said team may not attempt another field goal, while the opponent fouls them on purpose to stop the clock and hope this team misses foul shots.

Let’s say Florida leads South Carolina, Alabama. Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee by a few points in every game as the clock reaches 2 minutes.  These other teams foul the Gators’ players on purpose in hopes that the shots will be missed, and they can come down the floor and hit buckets to win the game or force overtime.

At the same time, Kentucky plays these same five teams and leads by 20 with 2 minutes to play.  These opponents do not need to foul at this point, as the reserves are ready to come in and try to get in the scorebook.  Are we to believe that Florida is a more effective free throw shooting team, simply because their opponents can still win in the final 2 minutes, so they will purposely foul, while there would be no use in fouling Kentucky with the Wildcats up 20.

So, what is the answer?  We must admit that there is no way to fully eliminate the intentional fouling in multiple close games, but at least we reduce it as much as possible.  And, we use made free throws to at least show that it is important to make them, especially in those close games.

We go with: (FT/100 Possessionsand this time we include offensive rebounds, because defenses frequently foul following an offensive rebound.

If a team makes 17 foul shots in a game in which they had 71 possessions, their Free Throw Rate is 17/71, which is 23.9%.

 

Now What

We take the stats (offense and defense) for each team we evaluate.  We have an algorithm (formula) that we use that gives different weight to each of the factors.  The weights differ depending on whether it is NBA, NCAA, High School, Middle School, or Youth.  Turnover margin matters less in the NBA than it does in college, and it matters more the lower you go down, until by the time you reach the 5th and 6th grade, it is the most important factor of all (so if you coach 5th and 6th grade basketball, you should do what you can to force as many turnovers as possible and then create the fastest offense you can have so as not to commit too many turnovers–think about a 10-second offense).

Now, you should have picked up on the apparent weaknesses of the Four Factors for college basketball.  By now, you have probably thought that Gonzaga’s stats might look a lot better than Wisconsin’s stats, because the Bulldogs play a much weaker conference schedule than the Badgers.  We use the strengths of schedule for every team to adjust their factors to a point where we hope we have found a happy midpoint to show what each teams’ stats might be against average competition.

Also, think about a team that plays 18 home games, 4 neutral site games, and 9 road games, versus another team that plays 14  home games, 3 neutral site games, and 14 road games.  We adjust for this as well.

As a point of fact, we treat schedule strength and ability to win away from home (nobody plays at home in the Big Dance) as importantly as a good horse handicapper treats class in a horse race.  The mid-major and low-major teams are like claiming and allowance horses, while the power leagues are like stakes-racing horses.  North Carolina is the horse that runs in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, while Cal State Bakersfield is still a maiden until it wins its small track maiden claiming race at WAC Downs.  We know which horse is going to finish ahead of the other as long as it does not throw his jockey.  The stakes horse finishes 20 lengths ahead.

R+T

The last component in our best of the best look is something we trademarked at the PiRate Ratings.  R+T is a combination of rebounding, turnovers, and steals.  It reveals how many extra shooting opportunities a team might have against any type of opponent.  To have a really good R+T number, a team must be equally competent in rebounding, forcing turnovers while not committing many, and by getting steals.

The formula is: (Rebound Margin * 2) + (Steals per Game * 0.5) + (6 – Opponents’ Steals per Game) + (Turnover Margin)

If a team has an R+T rating better than 20, then they can overcome a cold shooting night and still win an NCAA Tournament game over a team with an R+T rating below 10.  If a team has an R+T rating in the 28-35 range, they will be very difficult to beat if they also come from a power conference and wins consistently away from home.  If you find a team from one of the top leagues with an R+T over 28 and said team wins 75% of its games away from home, you have a team that frequently wins four games and makes the Final Four.

To the contrary, if you find a team that looks really good on paper, and they have a gaudy won-loss record, but their R+T rating is under 8, watch out.  All it takes is one cold shooting night or one hot shooting night from the opponent. and this team can go home.

And, if you find a power league team with a negative R+T rating, give great consideration toward picking the Cinderella underdog to pull off the upset in the Big Dance.  A majority of the higher seed power conference teams with negative R+T ratings actually lose in their first tournament game.  It does not happen that often, but ask Georgetown fans about Florida Gulf Coast and Virginia Commonwealth.  Ask Vanderbilt fans about Siena, Richmond, and Murray State.  Ask Purdue fans about Arkansas-Little Rock.  In all these cases, the favorite had a lousy R+T rating, while the underdog had decent or even very good R+T ratings.  The low R+T teams can win in the regular season against lesser-quality teams, but in the Big Dance, that stuff doesn’t cut it.  It is vital to get extra scoring opportunities while limiting them to your opponents.

Now it’s time for the reveal.

BEST OF THE BEST

We look at 28 teams this week.  As before, we have selected three mid-major teams as possible upset winners in an opening game if they get the right draw.  We do not include #1 Gonzaga as a mid-major.

We are listing these teams alphabetically.  The first four columns have already been adjusted using our algorithm.

Team FG TO OR FT SOS R+T Road  W-L% Poss/G
Arizona 3.3 0.1 1.1 1.0 57.8 18.3 75.00 66.9
Baylor 4.7 -0.4 1.4 0.3 61.7 17.3 72.73 65.6
Butler 1.8 1.0 0.1 0.2 60.4 9.4 66.67 67.7
Cincinnati 5.0 1.0 0.7 0.0 54.9 18.0 70.00 67.1
Creighton 5.6 0.5 -0.7 0.2 57.3 4.2 90.91 72.9
Duke 4.1 0.4 0.7 0.7 58.5 15.1 63.64 70.7
Florida 3.3 1.1 0.5 0.8 59.4 13.3 77.78 71.5
Florida St. 4.4 0.8 0.3 0.1 58.8 13.4 50.00 73.4
Gonzaga 8.5 0.5 0.6 0.7 54.3 20.1 100.00 70.9
Kansas 4.2 0.2 0.7 0.1 59.9 12.1 83.33 72.6
Kentucky 3.2 1.1 0.9 0.4 60.2 17.7 72.73 76.6
Louisville 3.7 1.0 1.2 0.1 61.0 19.9 66.67 69.6
Middle Tenn. 3.1 1.0 0.9 -0.3 50.9 16.3 84.62 66.3
North Carolina 2.1 0.8 2.6 0.6 59.1 31.6 61.54 74.2
Notre Dame 3.2 0.7 -0.4 0.3 58.1 5.2 54.55 68.7
Oklahoma St. 0.7 0.8 0.9 0.1 59.6 13.4 58.33 73.9
Oregon 5.2 0.6 0.7 0.5 58.4 15.6 63.64 69.6
Purdue 5.5 -0.3 1.3 0.8 56.6 18.0 72.73 71.2
SMU 3.9 0.5 2.2 0.7 54.0 26.7 63.64 63.7
South Carolina 2.4 1.3 0.5 -0.2 56.8 11.4 70.00 71.4
St. Mary’s 5.8 -0.2 2.0 0.3 54.0 20.7 90.00 60.4
UCLA 6.7 0.0 0.0 0.3 52.5 10.3 83.33 75.2
UNC-Wilm. 2.0 1.3 0.6 -0.3 50.2 12.4 73.33 72.7
Villanova 5.2 0.4 0.4 0.9 57.9 13.9 85.71 65.8
Virginia 5.3 1.1 0.9 -0.2 59.8 17.0 66.67 61.8
West Virginia 2.6 2.7 0.7 0.2 55.4 20.9 63.64 73.9
Wichita St. 5.5 1.0 1.5 0.5 49.8 23.6 75.00 70.5
Wisconsin 3.3 0.8 1.8 0.4 54.1 22.4 72.73 65.9

Vulnerabilities

Arizona: The Wildcats do not have the look of a Final Four contender at this point.  They do not have a glaring weakness, but their strengths lack muscle.  Their TO and OR numbers would be adequate if they had a better EFG% margin, but teams with their resume seldom win four games in the NCAA Tournament.  They do have a decent road win-loss record, and it includes a win at Pauley Pavilion.

Baylor: The Bears are very vulnerable to pressure defenses, as their game against West Virginia showed.  BU turns the ball over just a little too much and then does not force many turnovers on their defensive end.  A strong schedule predicts that they should slide through to the Sweet 16, but after that point, any pressure defense from a quality team is going to make the going tough for BU.

Butler: In December and early January, it looked like this Bulldog edition could contend for a deep run in the Dance.  Now, it looks more like Butler could be a team to watch out for an opening game upset.  They might handle pressure defenses better than most other tournament teams, but the Bulldogs lack enough rebounding strength and do not shine in the EFG% department.  It may be a stretch for this team to make the Sweet 16, and it is 50-50 as of now whether they can get to the Round of 32 if they fall to a 5-seed.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats are somewhat of a mystery.  They looked like an Elite 8 team and Final Four contender until they took a trip to Dallas, where SMU stopped the UC offense and won an ugly contest.  It’s a good bet that the Bearcats and Mustangs will meet again in the AAC Championship Game.  If Cinti enters the Big Dance playing at their peak, then the Bearcats should move on to the Sweet 16 with a chance to advance past that if they get a good draw and do not have to face a North Carolina, Villanova, Florida, or Oregon, teams with the right type of offense to hurt the Bearcats.

Creighton: This one is cut and dry.  The Blue Jays look like a team that will lose its first game in the NCAA Tournament.  They do not rebound the ball well enough to advance, and their R+T is the lowest of the 28 teams we have featured today.  We expect Creighton to go home quickly in the Dance, and a team like Monmouth, Wichita State, Middle Tennessee, or Bucknell could possibly dominate them in the Round of 64.

Duke: Coach K is back on the sideline, and there is going to be some silent gossip going around that he might be thinking about retiring.  So, his players might pick up on this and play the best they can play.  It won’t take much for this team to move into the Final Four discussion.  Duke is a better version of Arizona this season.  The Blue Devils’ numbers are just enough better to move from a Sweet 16 to an Elite 8 and better team.  The one thing that bothers us is that Duke has not always been sharp away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Florida: A month ago, we considered Florida a two and out team at best.  The Gators have started to turn things around this year, and their numbers are improving as the season continues.  They are not West Virginia when it comes to pressure defense, but they are better than most of the rest in that regard.  A dominant rebounding team may give the Gators fits.  An exceptional record away from home and a tough schedule indicates that the Gators are a force to be reckoned with and a Final Four contender this year.

Florida St: The Seminoles have begun to swoon a bit, and with every successive road game in the ACC, they look more vulnerable than the previous game.  Winning big at home and then losing on the road does not lead to a lot of success in the NCAA Tournament.  However, a few well-timed ACC road wins and a run in the ACC Tournament could give FSU a resume not that different than that of Duke..

Gonzaga: In case you didn’t know, technically a West Coast Conference team has won the NCAA Championship before.  When San Francisco won back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956, they were a member of the California Basketball Association, which would be renamed the West Coast Athletic Conference in 1957.  This Bulldog team is different from others that did not make the Final Four, namely they are quite strong defending in the paint and then preventing offensive rebounds.  Opponents do not shoot the ball with much success against the GU defense, while the Bulldogs have a strong shooting offense.  However, they have yet to face a really quality pressure defense, and they could be somewhat vulnerable to a West Virginia, Florida, or even a South Carolina.

Kansas: This is not Bill Self’s best Kansas team, but if you watch this Jayhawk team play, you can see a winning attitude, where KU seems to find a way to win games.  A strong schedule and very successful road record tells us that Self definitely has a Final Four contender.  We think that the Jayhawks will meet their match in an Elite 8 matchup, because teams with this resume seldom get lucky more than once, and KU may need a little luck against other power teams.

Kentucky:  Don’t underestimate John Calipari’s ability to get a bunch of 5-star players to play cohesively as a team.  It isn’t easy.  The Wildcats could easily become a group of future first round picks that do not hustle, and even let up so as not to suffer an injury just before the draft.  Then again, this team has had bouts of inconsistency.  When the players are on their game, there are few teams (maybe no other teams) that can match up with them on talent alone.  When they are acting like they have ADHD, they are vulnerable even to mediocre .500 teams.  We won’t dismiss, Cal’s kids, because their resume says they have Final Four numbers.  They also have the fastest pace of any team that will be in the Dance, and they could wear opponents down.

Louisville: A little dissension can become a lot of dissension in a hurry, and recent troubles involving players on this team could come back to hurt the Cardinals.  UL looked like a team headed to Spring Break in their loss to Virginia when not at full strength.  When they are on their game, they are the best team in the Commonwealth, and that says they are a Final Four contender.

Middle Tennessee: The top mid-major team will not be overlooked this year, when they trounced Michigan State in the opening game last year.  The Blue Raiders are a better team in 2017 than they were in 2016, so it is not unthinkable to say they are a sweet 16 contender.  Their pressure man-to-man defense creates a lot of turnovers with easy scoring opportunities thanks to some quick perimeter players.  Their big liability is their schedule strength, as it is too low for a team to think about advancing past the sweet 16.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels looked like the best team by far back before New Year’s.  They still look like one of the best, but their EFG% margin has fallen a bit too much, while their incredible rebounding prowess has weakened a little.  We are not saying that UNC is doomed to lose in a big upset, but we are saying they could fall in a mild upset, but not until the Elite 8 round.  If we had to choose one team with the absolute best resume of a national champion, North Carolina would be surely be one of those teams in the discussion thanks to the Heels owning the best R+T rating; they are the only team with an R+T in excess of 28.  It will take a team that can shoot lights out from outside and put up a good fight inside to beat UNC, but there are a half-dozen or so teams this year that can do it.

Notre Dame: For the same reason as Creighton, we do not see a deep run for the Fighting Irish this year.  They cannot hold their own on the backboards, and they do not dominate teams in the field goal department.  and, they are not a team capable of forcing a lot of turnovers.  Their current R+T is the second worst in this field.  They do not look like a sweet 16 team.

Oklahoma St.: Brad Underwood was not supposed to get the Cowboys to the Dance in year one in Stillwater.  We’re not sure this OSU team could beat Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin team from last year, but the Cowboys have improved their resume the most in the last month.  If they continue to improve, then they will be a dangerous team in mid-March.  When Underwood gets his type of player on campus, watch out!

Oregon: Which Oregon team will show up in March–The team that beat Arizona by a million points, or the team that blew a 19-point lead to UCLA?   If basketball were all about shooting and defending the shot with no rebounding or turnovers, the Ducks would be a national title contender.  Still, this team would not surprise us if they cruise to the sweet 16 and survive to the elite 8 like last year.

Purdue: In past years, Gene Keady coaching tree members have under-performed in the NCAA Tournament, and they all share something in common.  These coaches stress half-court defense and prefer not to pressure the ball and play in the passing lanes.  They train their players to play smart and not take many chances, trying to win a game one possession at a time.  These coaches should have become football coaches.  In the NCAA Tournament, a team needs to have a way to get extra shooting opportunities, when they run up against an opponent that can shoot better than they can.  Purdue has its best chance in a long time to break that bad streak this year, not because the Boilermakers can force a lot of turnovers (which they cannot).  PU is such a dominating rebounding team that they can get those extra chances by taking multiple shots per possession.  We think PU has its best shot to get past the first weekend to the sweet 16 and maybe elite 8.  Still, the Boilermakers are not in the same class with the final four contenders.

SMU: Tim Jankovich served as an assistant under multiple NCAA Tournament coaches including two that have championship rings–Bill Self and Larry Brown.  Jankovich has a sleeper in Dallas this year.  SMU excels in all four phases of the game.  A schedule that is on the lower side of strength when compared to ACC, Big 12, and SEC teams, and a road record that is not indicative of winning 4 NCAA Tournament games probably foretells an exit in the Sweet 16 or round of 32.

South Carolina: Just getting to the NCAA Tournament after a long drought should be enough for Gamecock fans this year.  USC does not possess a Final Four resume, and it is debatable if what they have is strong enough to predict a sweet 16 appearance.  Their R+T is 11.0, which is okay in the first game and better than average for a second game, but the entire range of data puts them in the same boat as Arizona.

St. Mary’s: In a typical year, the Gaels might be considered the darling of the best of the rest conferences.  SMC has advanced to the sweet 16 before, and it would not be a major shock if they do so again this year with an incredible defense, a decent group of rebounders, and a tough road team.  Like Gonzaga, they do not have an overwhelmingly strong schedule.

UCLA: The Bruins can shoot an opponent out of a gym in two minutes, but other than that, they do not shine in the other departments.  They play better on the road than they do at home, and they play at a pace that can cause a lot of problems for teams that do not have a lot of depth or conditioning.  However, in the Big Dance, most teams have ample supplies of both as well as competent defenses.  Because UCLA cannot rebound or force turnovers well enough, this does not look like their year.  A run to the sweet 16 could be bumpy, and if they sons of Westwood make it that far, they should be an underdog in that game.

UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks are starting to fade, and now it is only a 50-50 chance they will win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament and earn a spot in the NCAA field.  A month ago, they were on par with Middle Tennessee as the top mid-Major threat.  This is the one team in this field that is hurt by fouling too much, and it comes because the players are getting hurt when opponents break their pressure defense.  Still, UNCW could recover and be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.  They have the confidence.

Villanova: The last team to repeat as National Champions was Duke in 1992 and 1993.  Before that, you have to go back to UCLA in 1967-68-69-70-71-72-and 73.  The Wildcats could be the next one to do it, because this team is even better than last year’s champion.  VU wins on the road against quality competition, and while they are not exceptionally strong in the R+T department, they are adequate.  The Wildcats will have trouble with a Kentucky, West Virginia, or even against a Middle Tennessee or Wichita St.  However, we expect VU to be in the elite 8 with a chance to make it back to the Final Four.

Virginia: Teams that play like Virginia seldom win the NCAA Tournament.  They always seem to run up against a team that can score on a couple of cheap baskets, and they cannot make up the difference in the remaining amount of time.  UVA has good numbers in all but their free throw rate.  The Cavaliers have played a tough schedule, but we do not believe they can win four games against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.  We expect the Cavs to be put out as early as the second game and most likely in the sweet 16.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are going to embarrass their early round opponents, possibly winning their first two games by a combined 50 points.  Then, they are going to run into trouble in either the sweet 16 or elite 8, when they face a team that does not wilt to their defensive pressure and one that can dominate them on the glass.  WVU’s biggest liability is that they don’t shoot the ball all that well.  They can still beat an average team while having an awful shooting night, because they can get 10 extra good shooting opportunities.  A team like Kentucky or North Carolina will turn the tables and embarrass the Mountaineers.

Wichita St.: The Shockers shocked the world with a Final Four trip and then shocked the world the following year by going undefeated in the regular season with a team that looked like it could contend for the title.  WSU ran up against an underrated Kentucky team that advanced to the national title game.  This year’s team is somewhere in between those two teams from their past.  Coach Greg Marshall has a team with no apparent weakness.  The only fly in the ointment is that this team has played a weak slate, and it is going to come back to haunt them when they face a power conference opponent like Duke or Baylor.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are the Midwest version of Arizona this year.  They have decent numbers in all respects, and they have played well on the road.  However, the Big Ten is definitely down this year.  We do not see a repeat of a couple years ago for the Badgers.  UW is no better than a sweet 16 team for now.

 

 

February 6, 2017

The Pirate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Report For February 6, 2017

In the height of the Vietnam War, a slogan went around the nation that became a bumper sticker and was emblazoned on t-shirts. It went, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” The slogan became so popular that it became a movie starring Tony Curtis and a cast of popular actors and actors from the late 1960’s.

Suppose they gave a 68-team tournament and 50 teams not deserving of the honor accepted invitations? While the former slogan led to a funny movie, the latter slogan will lead to a diluted NCAA Tournament this season. Back in the 1960’s, there was no set number of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, or as this writer remembers it, “The UCLA Invitational.” The tournament would invite 22, 23, 24, or 25 teams in those days, depending on how many they felt deserved the invitations. You had automatic qualifiers from the major conferences of the day, which numbered about 17, and then there were about 50 independent teams.

In some years, just five independents had resumes worthy of playing in the tournament. In others, a dozen teams were worthy, but the NCAA maxed out the number at 25, so only eight of the dozen received bids.

The best conferences, by virtue of their won-loss record in the most previous tournaments, received byes in advance of the tournament selection, meaning they began in the Sweet 16. The ACC, Big Ten, Big Eight, SEC, and Pac-8 (AAWU) basically retained byes every year, whereas the Southwest Conference, Missouri Valley, Southern, Middle Atlantic and other strong conferences of the day had to begin in an opening round (play-in) to make the Sweet 16.

There were many years when top 10 teams did not get into the NCAA Tournament, and even a year where the arguably number two team did not get in. Only the conference champions made the NCAA Tournament of that time, and a number two team many times was good enough to be a Final Four contender but had to settle for the NIT or nothing at all.

In 1971, Southern Cal went 24-2 with multiple future NBA stars on their roster. Unfortunately, the two Trojan losses came to number one UCLA. USC stayed home in the postseason as a top 5 team.

The NCAA Tournaments in those days had its share of blowout games, especially when UCLA played their Sweet 16 game. The old PCAA or WCAC (two leagues that no longer exist) provided fodder for the Bruins. Frequently, the opponent would stall in the pre-shot clock days, but it did not matter, as the Bruins would win 50-39 over a lightweight that never had a chance.

What can we take from the current and the past and plan something better for the future? The 1971 USC’s should not have been punished for being the possible second best team in the nation and not having a postseason to continue playing. However, inviting a team that finished in the bottom half of their league standings to the tournament is just as wrong. Why invite a team that goes 7-11 in league play and finishes the regular season at 19-14? This team doesn’t even deserve to be in the NIT.

There are roughly 20 teams every year that really deserve to be on the national stage when the title is on the line. Sure, you have your upsets, but when a #15 upsets a #2, all that has done has removed a really good team from the later part of the tournament. The #15 almost always goes down by a large number in the next game.

And, yes, a George Mason, Butler, and Virginia Commonwealth makes a deep run every five or so years. So, there are some good low-major teams that occasionally deserve to be on display.

How best can the fans and teams be serviced so that the really good teams do not have to go through a gauntlet of low-major opponents, but at the same time, have a system in place that allows the low majors to compete?

We at the PiRate Ratings have been toying with an idea for a couple of years, refining it a little each year. Here is how we believe the tournament could be changed to make it more exciting for the low major teams, while at the same allows the major conference teams to face off without having to go through a low-major opponent first.

Here’s how we would do it, and it would add four additional teams to bring the total to 72:

Divide the NCAA Tournament into two brackets
1. An upper bracket with the 24 best teams from the major conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). The national champion has come from teams in these conferences every year since UNLV won in 1990.

2. A lower bracket that includes the 25 conference champions from the remaining conferences plus the 23 best remaining teams, regardless of their conference.

3. The upper bracket 24 would play one round to reduce to 12 teams, each seeded 1-2-3 in one of the four regionals

4. The lower bracket 48 would be seeded into 4, 12-team sections or subregionals to the upper bracket regionals. The top four teams in each subregion would receive byes to the second round, while the 5-12 teams in the four regions would play in the first round.

5. The four regions would go from 12 to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1.

6. The winners of the four regions would then join the 12 upper bracket winners to make the Sweet 16.

7. Each region would have one “cinderella” and three power conference teams remaining.

8. The power 24 would have to win five times to become the national champion, while the other 48 would have to win seven or eight games depending on seed, but at least four of these teams would now make the Sweet 16 every year and win three or four tournament games.

Let’s use some pretend teams as an example for the 2019-20 season.
Let’s say that Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 and enters the Big Dance at 30-4. They are seeded #1 in the Midwest Regionals in Kansas City. At the same time, Virginia finished in fourth place in the ACC with an overall 26-8. They are seeded #6 in the Midwest. Oklahoma State and Virginia would face off, and the winner would advance to the Sweet 16. The #2 and #5 teams and #3 and #4 teams would play in this same region in a triple header. The other three regions would do the same #1 vs. #6, #2 vs. #5, and #3 vs. #4.

A week earlier, the lower bracket would start play. Let’s say your team is the Summit League champion South Dakota who finished the regular season as probably the best low major team with an overall record of 31-3. They are seeded number one in the lower bracket Midwest Sub-region. They get a bye, while #5 seed Northern Iowa (25-9) plays #12 seed UT-Arlington (an upset winner in the conference tournament and just 14-18 overall). Northern Iowa then trounces UTA and advances to play South Dakota. South Dakota proceeds to beat Northern Iowa. They follow it up with two more victories over mid-majors to win the Midwest Sub-region and advance to the Sweet 16. They face Oklahoma St. in the next round.

We have heard other possibilities like moving the top 8 conferences into a super league with the top 16 teams from this group facing off in playoffs similar to the NBA playoffs. How would you like a best of 7 North Carolina-Kansas finals instead of one game? Might a 7-game series between these two teams or Kentucky vs. Villanova, UCLA vs. Duke, or any other series final between dynasty schools shatter all types of viewer records?

Back to the present–the above is just a pipe dream, but sometimes the dreamers create something incredible for the world. Let’s look at the 2017 NCAA Tournament contenders. Conference Championship Fortnight is fast approaching.
ONE BID LEAGUES

America East
Vermont 10-0/20-5
Stony Brook 8-2/13-10
UMBC 7-3/16-7

The Vermont winning streak has now stretched to a dozen games following two double-digit victories during the week. The Catamounts close with four home games, one road game against a weak conference foe, and one road game against UMBC. If they win out to improve to 29-5 by Selection Sunday, it would not be a push to see the Catamounts seeded as high as 11. They have no major wins, but they competed against teams that will be in the Dance.

Atlantic Sun
Florida Gulf Coast 8-1/19-6
Lipscomb 7-2/15-11
South Carolina St. 5-4/15-11
North Florida 5-4/10-16
Kennesaw St. 5-4/11-14

The top two teams have pulled away from the pack with a couple of really good weeks of actions. FGCU has won five games in a row, while Lipscomb’s winning streak is now four games. FGCU has the best defense in the league, while Lipscomb has the best offense. The Eagles have been here before and even made the Sweet 16 under former coach Andy Enfield. As for the Bisons, they have made the NIT and CIT in the past, but the last time they played for a chance to win the national title was win they were the Duke of the NAIA.

Big Sky
Weber St. 9-1/14-7
Eastern Washington 8-3/16-8
North Dakota 8-3/13-8
Idaho 7-4/12-10

Weber St. has now won 12 of 13 games, and if they keep winning and earn the automatic bid, the Wildcats may be able to avoid having to begin in Dayton. Weber St. leads the nation in 3-point percentage at 43.1%, and they don’t lead by taking a conservative amount of bombs. They make almost 10 per game. Senior guard Jeremy Senglin has hit close to half of his three-pointer, and he leads the Wildcats with a 21-point average. A weak rebounding frontcourt will doom WSU against the big boys, and you can never fully count on three-point shooting to carry you through a conference tournament, so keep an eye on the other contenders in this league.

It counts as just one win, but Eastern Washington comes off an historic record-breaking night. The Eagles met Portland State Saturday and played a triple overtime affair that ended with a 130-124 victory. Teammates Jacob Wiley and Bogdan Bliznyuk did something that may never again be replicated: they both scored 45 points in the game, while combining for 27 rebounds. They also both played 53 of a possible 55 minutes, and EWU could be vulnerable in the second half of their next game at North Dakota on Thursday. Second place will be on the line.

Big South
Winthrop 10-2/18-5
UNC-Asheville 10-2/18-7
Liberty 10-2/15-10

What was once an automatic given that UNC-Asheville would win the conference in both the regular season and the postseason conference tournament has now become anything but that. This is the best three-team race in the low-major conferences, and there is no clear choice as to which team is best. UNCA still has home games with the other two contenders, so the Bulldogs may have a slight advantage for the top seed. In this league, the number one seed gets to play at home throughout the tournament.

Big West
UC-Davis 6-2/14-9
UC-Irvine 6-3/13-12
Cal State Northridge 6-4/10-13
Hawaii 5-4/11-11 is ineligible

No Big West team has played consistently enough to make much noise in the Big Dance this year. UC-Davis lost to a 6-win Cal Poly team last week. Irvine has dropped three games in a row. Northridge fell at home to a Hawaii team that all of a sudden looks like the best team in the league but one that cannot compete for the bid due to ineligibility. Senior guard Noah Allen has been hot as of late, scoring at a better than 23 points per game clip in the most previous seven contests.

Colonial
UNC-Wilmington 10-2/21-4
College of Charleston 10-2/19-6
Elon 7-5/15-10
Towson 7-5/15-10
William & Mary 7-5/13-10

A couple weeks ago, UNCW was close to earning a spot on the bubble if they needed an at-large invitation to the Dance. However, the Seahawks have hit a rough patch, losing by 18 at William and Mary, and then dropping a home game to Charleston due to a late defensive lapse that allowed Charleston to get a basket and foul shot at the end to win the game.

Now, this has become a definite one-bid league. Neither Wilmington nor Charleston can improve their resumes enough to move into contention to become a bubble team. In fact, neither co-leader can be considered a heavy favorite to win the conference tournament, because there is some quality in the next group of teams, as William and Mary’s domination of Wilmington proves.

Conference USA
Middle Tennessee 10-1/20-4
Louisiana Tech 8-3/16-8
Old Dominion 7-4/14-9
UAB 7-4/14-10

Middle Tennessee was in the same, or even better, boat as UNCW. If the Blue Raiders had won out in the regular season, there would have been a fair chance that they could have still gotten into the field of 68 if they had been upset in the CUSA Championship Game. Losing to UTEP has basically popped MTSU’s bubble. If they want another chance to upset a big team like they did last year when they raced past Michigan State, they will have to win the conference tournament.

This year, there is a lot of quality talent all the way down to the 10th place team, so the conference tournament is going to be quite interesting. Keep and eye on two teams well back in the pack that could gel into winning units in March. Marshall tends to wear teams down in the second halves of games, and they could take advantage of their helter-skelter philosophy against an inferior conditioned opponent in the semifinals and finals of the tournament. Western Kentucky has under-performed to date, and the Hilltoppers could decide to put it together when they arrive in Birmingham for the conference tourney.

Horizon
Valparaiso 9-2/19-5
Green Bay 9-3/15-9
Oakland 8-4/18-7

Here is one more league where the leader was positioning for at-large contention, but like the previous two conference leaders, Valpo went down hard at Green Bay on Saturday, losing by 17 points. If the Crusaders win out from here but lose in the Horizon League Championship Game, they would be 28-6 with one win over a team that was in the top 25 (Rhode Island) at the time they played. A case could be made for Valpo, but we believe politics would send a power conference team into the Dance ahead of the Crusaders.

Ivy
Princeton 5-0/12-6
Yale 5-1/13-6
Harvard 4-2/12-7
Columbia 4-2/10-9

Mark it down–the four top teams above have basically already clinched the four spots in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra in Philadelphia. There is still time for the two-loss teams to catch Princeton for the top seed, but it really matters very little how the four teams will be seeded on a neutral floor that will not have the home team Penn Quakers present. The winner of the automatic bid should be a quick out this year, as none of the Ivy League teams have exceptional and experienced talent. Harvard has the most talent, but their top two players are inconsistent freshmen.

Metro Atlantic
Monmouth 11-2/19-5
Iona 9-4/16-8
Saint Peter’s 8-5/12-11
Canisius 7-6/14-10
Siena 7-6/10-14

This year’s Monmouth team is a little less talented overall than the one that deserved to be an at-large team last year. However, the 2017 Hawks may get the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament as the MAAC champion, when last year’s team was capable of winning a game or two or three. This year’s team would have to be hitting on all cylinders to win a game.

The path to the Dance is not a simple one for Coach King Rice and his team. Their old nemesis, Iona, is playing the best basketball of any league team at this time, and Monmouth still has to pay a visit to New Rochelle, where Monmouth ended a long Gael home winning streak last year. Iona then won at Monmouth and beat Monmouth again in the MAAC Tournament finals.

St. Peter’s has given Monmouth fits this year. The Peacocks bested Monmouth by 10 in Jersey City, and they almost completed the sweep before losing in OT at Monmouth Friday night.

Mid-American
Akron 9-1/19-4
Ohio 6-4/14-7
Ball St. 6-4/14-8
Northern Illinois 6-4/14-9
4 others at 5-5

Akron is the favorite to win the conference tournament, but the Zips are only marginal favorites in a league where teams from just off the lead tend to win the conference tournament. The team nobody wants to see in its bracket is Central Michigan, because if the Chippewas are hot, they can shoot teams out of the gym in a matter of a couple minutes. No other Division I team in recent memory has had two 5-9 guards in the starting lineup. Also, no other DI has had a player averaging over 30 points per game and another at more than 20 per game. In CMU’s case, the two 5-9 guards are the two high scorers in question. Marcus Keene tops 30 points per game, while Braylon Rayson tops 20. Keene has the lone 50-point game in NCAA play this year.

Mideastern Athletic
North Carolina Central 7-1/16-6
Morgan St. 7-2/10-12
Norfolk St. 7-2/10-13
Savannah St. 7-3/10-13 is ineligible

UNC-Central and Norfolk St. continued to extend lengthy winning streaks last week, with UNCC’s hitting seven games and NSU’s reaching six. We believe that UNC-Central has the capability of pulling off a major upset in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the conference tournament and move up to a #15 or even #14 seed. The Eagles play tough half-court defense; they hold their own on the boards for a team that is more of a ball-hawking defense. Most of all, they have held their own against power conference teams, winning at Missouri and almost winning at Ohio State and LSU.

Mountain West
Boise St. 8-3/15-7
Nevada 7-3/18-5
Colorado St. 7-4/15-9
New Mexico 7-5/14-10

Leon Rice is a poor man’s Mark Few. The Boise State coach has made the Broncos a consistent big winner in his seven years in The Potato Republic. Had the Broncos been able to hold onto a lead against Oregon earlier in the season, they could be on the bubble, as they did beat SMU in the pre-conference schedule.

Nevada was 16-3 a couple weeks ago, which included a double-digit win at Boise State, but the Wolfpack have cooled off in the last fortnight. Coach Eric Musselman does not look like a former NBA head coach due to his height (5-7) and his weight (150), but he makes up for it with his brain (Einsteinian). When Musselman left assistant positions at Arizona State and LSU, the teams regressed quite a bit from the way they were when he was there. In just a year and a half in the biggest little town in America, the biggest little coach has proven that he is ready for a big contract reward at a big power conference school.

Northeast
Mount St. Mary’s 10-2/12-13
St. Francis PA 8-4/11-12
Fairleigh Dickinson 8-4/10-13
Long Island 7-5/14-11

It will be close to a miracle if the eventual champion of this league avoids an opening round game in Dayton. At the moment, the top of the league is swooning, while the middle of the pack is gaining. It should make for an excellent conference tournament that is up for grabs, but it also should make for a quick exit for the eventual champion when the center jump circle logo changes from NEC to NCAA. Although the tournament is played at the higher seeded home courts, the home court advantanges in this league are not all that advantageous.

Ohio Valley
Belmont 11-0/17-4
Morehead St. 7-3/11-12
UT-Martin 7-4/17-9
Jacksonville St. 7-4/15-11
Murray St. 6-4/12-12

Belmont has run away with the regular season race, as the Bruins have a commanding 3 1/2 game lead in their division. The Bruins have won 13 games in a row, and their four losses are to Vanderbilt, Florida, Rhode Island, and Middle Tennessee. Belmont cannot get in as an at-large team, as they have not beaten a top 50 team. The Bruins have outscored their conference foes by more than 13 points per game, so it will take either a monumental effort by a rival or a total collapse by the Bruins (and maybe both) for another team to get the automatic bid. The Bruins know how to get to the Dance; they have been there seven times in the last 11 years. One of these years, they are going to upset somebody with their hot inside-outside shooting. Belmont has led both Duke and Virginia in the second half of NCAA Tournament games, and they have won at North Carolina, so they will not feel intimidated in the Dance.

Patriot
Bucknell 10-1/18-6
Boston 8-4/13-11
Navy 8-4/13-11
Lehigh 7-5/13-10

Like Belmont, Bucknell has been the dominant team in their league. Additionally, the Bison have two NCAA first round wins (Arkansas and Kansas) in this century. This year, Bucknell has wins at Vanderbilt and at home against Richmond, but that is not enough to merit at-large consideration.

Lehigh beat Bucknell in Lewisburg, so the home court advantage that goes to the top seed is not that strong. In fact, Bucknell has been the top seed five times in the last six years and only twice won the conference tournament. Overall, the top seed has won just half of the conference tournaments in this century.

Southern
Furman 9-2/16-8
East Tennessee St. 8-2/18-5
Chattanooga 8-3/17-6
UNC-Greensboro 8-4/17-8

This league is undervalued this year. The top four contenders all have enough talent to get past a higher-seed in the Round of 64, and it would not be a major surprise if the SoCon representative sneaks into the Sweet 16.

ETSU has the resume of the team with the most chance of winning in the Big Dance, as the Buccaneers have no real weaknesses. Coach Steve Forbes, a former assistant to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, has his team playing with the same hustle that made the Volunteers an SEC power during his time in Knoxville. ETSU has a nice rebounding advantage over their opponents, but the key to their exceptional defense and fast break comes from the pressure defense that allows the Bucs to steal eight passes a night.

Chattanooga has not yet played up to its potential, as former star Casey Jones has not returned to the form that made him the best player in the league prior to a season-ending injury last year. At the time, Jones had an unbelievable 6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. This year, he has more turnovers than assists.

Southland
Sam Houston St. 8-3/17-7
New Orleans 8-3/13-9
Stephen F. Austin 7-4/12-11
Lamar 6-4/14-9

The co-leader can hear footsteps. With Brad Brownell no longer lurking on the sidelines at SF Austin, it appeared that somebody else would win the SLC for a change. When SFA began the season at 1-2 in league play and 6-9 overall, the Lumberjacks were dismissed as a rebuilding team with a new coach that needed seasoning.

Since then, SFA is 6-2, and all of a sudden the Lumberjacks are just one game behind the top two. The top two must still play the Lumberjacks before the SLC Tournament begins, so the top seed is definitely up for grabs.

Southwestern Athletic
Texas Southern 9-1/13-10
Southern 6-4/10-13
Alcorn St. 7-3/10-11 is ineligible
Under former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, Texas Southern has won either the regular season or SWAC tournament four consecutive years, so it should come as no surprise that the Tigers are the class of the league once again this year. TSU is 0-6 in NCAA Tournament history, and unless they receive a ticket to Dayton to play in the Opening Round, they are likely to fall to 0-7, if they make it back this year.

Summit
North Dakota St. 7-3/15-8
Denver 7-4/15-9
South Dakota 7-4/16-10
Omaha 6-5/13-11
Fort Wayne 5-5/16-8

North Dakota State has come back to the pack with successive losses. The most recent one was at home to South Dakota in a game that was not close following an 18-0 USD run in the first half. This should be an entertaining conference tournament, and current fifth place team Fort Wayne has shown that this league has merit. They are mediocre in league play, but the Mastodons beat Indiana out of conference. This could be the league with the best overall home court advantage in college basketball.

Sun Belt
Arkansas St. 8-2/17-6
Georgia St. 8-2/15-7
Georgia Southern 8-2/15-8
UT-Arlington 7-3/17-6
Texas St. 6-4/13-9
Coastal Carolina 6-4/11-12

Georgia State and Arkansas State have long winning streaks (7 & 6 respectively), but the two teams are only slight favorites to make it to the final round of the SBC Tournament. The SBC Tournament will take place in New Orleans, and it will be a truly neutral site. UTA has the big non-conference win, as the Mavericks’ 14-point win at St. Mary’s might look really good if the Gaels beat Gonzaga in Moraga this weekend.

Western Athletic
New Mexico St. 8-0/22-2
Cal State Bakersfield 6-1/15-7
Grand Canyon 4-3/15-9 is ineligible as a transitioning team to D1.

Just how good is New Mexico State? The Aggies have very little competition in the WAC this year, and NMSU could easily run the table to the Big Dance. At 30-2, their resume would have very little to elevate the Aggies up to a single-digit seed. They did trounce Arizona State in Tempe, but that is not a big deal this year. The Aggies will get a shot in the arm soon when guard Sidy N’Dir returns to action following a ligament tear early this year. If N’Dir can return close to form, NMSU could be a dangerous dark horse against an unsuspecting higher seed.

ONE OR TWO BID LEAGUE
Missouri Valley
The Missouri Valley Conference comes in as a split decision this week among our gurus. Of the 12 participating contributors, six had the MVC as a one-bid league, while six had two teams making the Dance.

Wichita St. 11-1/21-4
Illinois St. 11-1/19-5

If you looked at the scoreboard late Saturday night or Sunday, and you saw the score of the rematch between Wichita State and Illinois State, you might be thinking we are crazy that ISU is still in the discussion. If you didn’t see the result, Wichita embarrassed the Redbirds to the tune of a 86-45 pasting. The Shockers opened an early second half 30-point lead and then extended it to 40 with 2:41 remaining in the game.

So how can Illinois State still be in the discussion? First of all, margin of victory does not count, which is why you will see that Clemson is still a Bubble team after losing by even more to Florida State yesterday. Second, ISU is still tied for first in a league that has had a recent Final Four participant and undefeated number one team entering the NCAA Tournament. And, should the two teams keep winning and meet for a rubber match in the finals of Arch Madness, the loser of that game would definitely be in the mix. Finally, there just are not a lot of great middle of the pack teams in the major conferences this year. It is a lean year, so the MVC has a good chance at sending two teams to the Field of 68.

MULTIPLE BID LEAGUES
American Athletic
In
Cincinnati 10-0/21-2
SMU 10-1/20-4

Contending
Houston 7-4/16-7
Memphis 7-4/17-7

Atlantic 10
In
Dayton 8-2/17-5
VCU 8-2/18-5

Contending
Richmond 8-3/14-9
Rhode Island 7-3/15-7

Atlantic Coast
In
North Carolina 9-2/21-4
Florida St. 8-3/20-4
Louisville 7-3/19-4
Virginia 7-3/17-5
Syracuse 7-4/15-9
Duke 6-4/18-5
Notre Dame 6-5/17-7
Virginia Tech 5-5/16-6
Miami 5-5/15-7
Clemson 3-7/13-9

Contending
Wake Forest 5-6/14-9
Georgia Tech 5-6/13-10
North Carolina St. 3-8/14-10

Big 12
In
Kansas 8-2/20-3
Baylor 7-3/20-3
West Virginia 6-4/18-5
Iowa St. 6-4/14-8
TCU 5-5/16-7
Kansas St. 5-5/16-7
Oklahoma St. 4-6/15-8

Contending
Texas Tech 4-6/16-7

Big East
In
Villanova 9-2/22-2
Xavier 7-3/17-6
Creighton 7-4/20-4
Butler 7-4/18-5
Marquette 6-5/15-8

Contending
Seton Hall 4-6/14-8
Georgetown 4-7/13-11

Big Ten
In
Wisconsin 9-1/20-3
Maryland 8-2/20-3
Purdue 8-3/19-5
Northwestern 7-3/18-5
Michigan St. 6-4/14-9
Minnesota 4-6/16-7
Indiana 5-6/15-9

Contending
Michigan 4-6/14-9
Illinois 3-8/13-11

Pacific 12
In
Oregon 10-1/21-3
Arizona 10-1/21-3
UCLA 8-3/21-3
USC 7-4/20-4
California 8-3/17-6

Contending
Utah 6-5/16-8

Southeastern
In
South Carolina 9-1/19-4
Florida 8-2/18-5
Kentucky 8-2/18-5
Arkansas 6-4/17-6

Contending
Alabama 6-4/13-9
Tennessee 5-5/13-10
Auburn 4-6/15-8
Georgia 4-6/13-10

Here is the consensus field of 68 from our Gurus

Seed Team Conf.
1 Villanova B E
1 Gonzaga WCC
1 Kansas B12
1 Baylor B12
2 Louisville ACC
2 North Carolina ACC
2 Florida St. ACC
2 Oregon P12
3 Arizona P12
3 Kentucky SEC
3 Virginia ACC
3 West Virginia B12
4 UCLA P12
4 Wisconsin BTen
4 Cincinnati AAC
4 Florida SEC
5 Butler B E
5 Creighton B E
5 Duke ACC
5 Purdue BTen
6 Maryland BTen
6 South Carolina SEC
6 St. Mary’s WCC
6 Xavier B E
7 Notre Dame ACC
7 Northwestern BTen
7 SMU AAC
7 USC P12
8 Virginia Tech ACC
8 Iowa St. B12
8 Dayton A10
8 Minnesota BTen
9 VCU A10
9 Michigan St. BTen
9 Oklahoma St. B12
9 Marquette B E
10 Kansas St. B12
10 Middle Tennessee CUSA
10 TCU B12
10 Indiana BTen
11 Clemson ACC
11 Wichita St. MVC
11 Miami ACC
11 UNC-Wilmington CAA
12 Arkansas SEC
12 New Mexico St. WAC
12 California P12
12 Nevada MWC
12 Akron MAC
12 Vermont AEast
13 Monmouth MAAC
13 Valparaiso Horiz
13 Illinois St. MVC
13 Syracuse ACC
14 Belmont OVC
14 Princeton Ivy
14 Florida Gulf Coast ASun
14 Arkansas St. SBC
15 Bucknell Pat
15 East Tennessee St. Sou
15 Winthrop BSth
15 North Dakota St. Summ
16 Texas Southern SWAC
16 Sam Houston St. SLC
16 Weber St. BSky
16 UC-Davis BWst
16 UNC-Central MEAC
16 Mount St. Mary’s NEC

The Last 8 In

TCU

Indiana

Clemson

Miami

Arkansas

California

Illinois St.

Syracuse

 

First Four Out

Seton Hall

Michigan

Wake Forest 

Texas Tech

 

Dayton Bound

Arkansas vs. Miami

California vs. Clemson

Weber St. vs. Mount St. Mary’s

UNC-Central vs. UC-Davis

January 31, 2017

The Pirate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Report For January 31, 2017

The end of January means the NCAA Tournament Bracketology report begins to get serious. Many teams have now played themselves into the Dance short of pulling a 1964 Philadelphia Phillies collapse. Many teams now know that their only hope is to win their conference tournament. They may have actually already thrown in the towel until then.

Then, you have about 30 to 40 teams that are in the hoops Twilight Zone as the Ground Hog prepares for his big day. These three dozen or so teams are the infamous Bubblers. From this group, about a dozen will receive invitations, while the rest will have to make due with the NIT. Of course, with every 11-20 team that gets hot for four days and becomes quick-exit fodder for a high seed, one of those bubbles will pop.

As for our Gurus, we have made some major changes. Because not all of our Gurus from last season returned this year, and because we decided to stop including seven bracketologists due to ridiculous brackets (like including two Ivy League teams in last year’s bracket), we have reduced our numbers to just 11 Gurus this week. However, we are attempting to include five more nationally renowned Gurus,  a quintet of rather accurate Bracketologists, as soon as next week. One new Guru has already agreed to join us, and his bracketology ratings are included in this report.

Once again, the Guru Composite shows 22 conferences that will send just one team to the tournament. That leaves 46 teams from among the remaining 10 leagues, so that means 36 at-large teams will be needed if the one-bid leagues stay consistent. As of this week, there are 54 teams competing for those 36 spots, meaning 18 will be disappointed. This number of disappointments will go up as surprise conference champions emerge from the 10 top leagues.

ONE-BID LEAGUES
American East
At 8-0/18-5, Vermont has lapped the field with road wins over Stony Brook 6-2/11-10, New Hampshire 5-3/14-8, and Albany 4-4/13-10, three of the next four teams. The Catamounts also beat UMBC 5-3/14-7, but it was at home. The Retrievers host Vermont on Sunday, February 12. Vermont has a 14.3 points per game scoring margin in A-East play.

Atlantic Sun
Two teams have pulled away from the pack in the last two weeks. Florida Gulf Coast 7-1/18-6 and Lipscomb 6-2/14-11 have shown they are the class of the league this year. The always competitive FGCU won at Lipscomb in early January, and the two play on Thursday, February 9, in Fort Myers. FGCU has won 11 of their last 12 games.

Big Sky
After a 2-6 start, Weber State has won 10 of 11 games to improve to 7-1/12-7. The Wildcats are heavy favorites to earn what should be a number 16 seed and possible demotion to Dayton in the opening round. Top contenders include North Dakota 7-3/12-8 and Eastern Washington 6-3/14-8.

Big South
The race is wide open with three co-leaders at the moment. Winthrop 8-2/16-5, UNC-Asheville 8-2/16-7, and Liberty 8-2/13-10 are two games clear of the field, but the hot team in the league at the end of Janaury is High Point 6-4/12-10. The Panthers own a five-game winning streak that includes a comeback overtime win at Winthrop.

Big West
An off year in the league makes for excellent parity, as five teams could still win the regular season title. UC-Davis 5-1/13-8 has the lead, but it is precarious. Hot on the Aggies’ heels are UC-Irvine 6-2/13-11, Cal State Northridge 5-3/9-12, Long Beach State 4-3/9-14, and UC Riverside 4-3/6-12. Long Beach State is our choice to become the eventual representative, but the Gurus go with the top team at the time of their reports, so UC Davis will be the team listed in our report.

Colonial Athletic
UNC-Wilmington 9-1/20-3 proved they could be defeated in league play last week, as William & Mary 6-4/12-9 rode the arms of Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon to shoot the Seahawks out of Kaplan Arena. Other top contenders in the CAA include College of Charleston 8-2/17-6, Elon 6-4/14-9, and Northeastern 6-4/13-9. Still, it will be a major surprise if UNCW doesn’t threepeat in the CAA Tournament.

Conference USA
It is now a near metaphysical certitude that Middle Tennessee State 9-0/19-3 is the top mid-major team in the land this year (this statement is true only if you consider the Missouri Valley and West Coast Conferences to be Power Conferences with multiple bids forthcoming from both leagues). The Blue Raiders have double digit wins over three top contenders, UAB 7-2/14-8, Louisiana Tech 6-3/14-8, and Marshall 6-3/13-9. MTSU has yet to play Old Dominion 6-3/13-8. Kermit Davis’s squad faces a three-game road gauntlet in the second half of the month against Western Kentucky, Marshall, and UAB, one of whom is sure to give the Blue Raiders a loss. If Middle runs the table and then wins the CUSA Tournament, at 31-3, they would have to be favored to make it to the Sweet 16 a year after trouncing Michigan State in the Round of 64.

Horizon
Valparaiso won the regular season title a year ago but suffered an upset in the conference tournament and had to make do with the NIT. This year, the Crusaders 8-1/18-4 have a new coach in Matt Lotich, but they still have the top player in the league in Alex Peters, who averages 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. Valpo’s path to the top seed will not be easy, though, as Green Bay 7-3/13-9 and Oakland 6-4/16-7 get to host the Crusaders in February. Oakland previously won at Valpo.

Ivy
With the inaugural Ivy League Tournament just 39 days away, it’s all about finishing in the top four, since the first Ivy League tourney will have just four participants. If you ask us, and since you are reading this, you have in essence asked us, the four teams that will make it to the Palestra on March 11 have already been determined. Princeton 3-0/10-6, Harvard 3-1/11-6, Yale 3-1/11-6, and Columbia 3-1/9-8 were the top four teams last year, and they appear to be so again. None of this quartet appears to be talented enough to get past the Round of 64.

Metro Atlantic
They don’t have the resume they had last year when they felt they were jilted by the Big Guys that look out for the Big Guys, but Monmouth 10-2/18-5 is starting to look like a prohibitive favorite in the MAAC. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 15 points per game in their eight game winning streak. Iona 8-4/15-8 and St. Peter’s 8-4/12-10 are the top two contenders.

Mid-American
With each passing week, Akron 8-0/18-3 distances themselves from the rest of the league. The Zips have opened up a three-game lead over the pack in the MAC, with a pair of 6-10 dominators inside in Kwan Cheatham, Jr. and Isaiah Johnson teaming to average 28 points and 15 rebounds per game. Akron is not an at-large candidate at this point, as the Zips have no Top 100 wins along with a nasty loss to Youngstown State, who rates below #250. Additionally, even though they have run the table in the first half of the conference schedule, the Zips are not blowing opponents away. So, keep an eye on four teams all with 5-3 conference marks (Ohio, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois). The MAC Tournament is usually chock full of upsets, and if we had to pick a team today, we would go with EMU.

Mideastern Athletic
Four teams have moved to the top of the pack, and the quartet is red hot with a combined 20-game winning streak. The second half of the 2017 MEAC race promises to be about as exciting as a low-major conference race can be, and if you have access to this league’s televised games, you will be entertained with some exciting basketball.

Morgan State 7-1/10-11 has a great inside/outside presence teaming for 42 points per game in wing man Tiwian Kendley and post man Philip Carr. The Bears are led by former Cal head coach Todd Bozeman with former Michigan head coach Brian Ellerbe as his top assistant. MSU may not have the talent to compete for a Sweet 16 bid, but the Bears will not be an easy out if they make the round of 64.

The remaining hot teams in the MEAC include UNC-Central 6-1/15-6, Savannah State 7-2/10-12, and Norfolk State 6-2/9-13. Savannah State games are some of the most exciting on the hardwoods in America. There is a good chance that one team will top 100 points when the Tigers play, but it could be SSU or the opposition.

Mountain West
Any chance for mulitple bids from the MWC crashed and burned in the last week as the top contenders suffered losses. It makes for a wide open regular season race as well as a wide open conference tournament with all the marbles up for grabs. Nevada 7-2/18-4 has led all the way, but the Wolf Pack have no signature wins that can get them into the Dance, as their lone game against a top 50 opponent was an 18-point loss to Saint Mary’s. Boise State 6-3/13-7 has a win over SMU, but the Broncos are not close to the Bubble. Five other teams have the talent to eeke through a three-day marathon and earn the automatic bid.

Northeast
In the last three weeks, Mount St. Mary’s 9-1/11-12 has emerged as the clear choice to win the regular season title and the favorite to earn the lone bid. Bryant 5-5/8-15 is well back in the pack, but the Bulldogs already have a win over MSM and plays the Mountaineers a second time Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.

Ohio Valley
Like their CUSA Counterpart in the same Metropolitan Area (MTSU), Belmont 10-0/16-4 is pulling away from the field like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. The Bruins own a 12-game winning streak. They put that streak on the line Thursday night, when the Bruins venture to Murrary, Kentucky, to take on West Division co-leader Murray State 6-3/12-11. Belmont beat the other co-leader Southeast Missouri 6-3/11-13 by double digits and own a 13.4 ppg scoring margin in OVC play.

Patriot
Bucknell 9-1/17-6 is the favorite but not overwhelming favorite to win the Patriot League’s lone bid this year. Even though the top seed gets to host every game in the postseason tournament, Bucknell’s long league loss came at home to Lehigh 6-4/12-9. Besides these two teams, five other teams have the talent to win the tournament. Navy and Boston U are tied for second at 7-3/12-10, with Loyola (MD), Holy Cross, and Colgate tied at 5-5 in league play. If a team other than Bucknell wins the conference tournament, they better be prepared for a trip to Dayton.

Southern
This league is on a mini-upswing, but no team has an at-large shot this year. East Tennessee 7-2/17-5, Furman 7-2/14-8, UNC-Greensboro 7-3/16-7, and Chattanooga 6-3/15-6 could all be formidbale underdogs in the Round of 64.

Southland
For Sam Houston 7-2/16-6, the sum of their whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Bearkats have raced to the top of the league with a seven-game winning streak even though the team lacks a go-to star. Instead, they play a stifling tough defense and rarely give up a second shot to the opponents on a possession. SHSU has pulled even with New Orleans 7-2/12-8 in the standings, which includes a win at Lakefront Arena in NO over the Privateers.

Southwestern Athletic
Five lopsided losses to top 50 teams means that Texas Southern 8-1/12-10 is not likely to challenge a #1 or 2 seed in the Round of 64, but if the Tigers can earn the automatic bid, they should be able to avoid an opening round game in Dayton. Alcorn State 6-3/9-11 has won four games in a row. The Braves lost to TSU at home on a buzzer-beater, and that is all that has kept ASU out of a first place tie in the SWAC.

Summit
They may be the third place team in the league at the present time, but Fort Wayne 5-4/16-7 has the big out of conference win over Indiana. The Mastodons get the teams ahead of them in the standings in Forth Wayne in February, and it would not surprise us if FW moved to the top in time to secure the number one seed. Don’t expect North Dakota State 7-1/15-6, and South Dakota 6-3/15-9 to lay down and cede first place to the Mastodons. The Bison and Coyotes are tough teams, and they won’t wither when they go to Hilliard Gates Sports Center in February.

Sun Belt
How about a six-team race where the best resume belongs to the fourth place team. Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State lead the way with 7-2 SBC records. UT-Arlington 6-3/16-6 is tied for fourth with Texas State 6-3/13-8. UTA has that nice resume with a 14-point win over Saint Mary’s. It is not enought to propel the Mavericks into the Bubble picture.

Western Athletic
A 19-game winning streak and a perfect 7-0 record in league play is not enough to push New Mexico State 7-0/21-2 into the Bubble talk. Our own opinion is that the Aggies deserve equal billing with Wichita State at this juncture. Neither team has a bad loss, and neither team has a top 50 win.

The Aggies are 1-1 against the next 50 teams (a win and loss against rival New Mexico), while Wichita State is still winless to team number 100. NMSU presents some matchup issues for opponents, so if the Agiiges get into the Dance, they could be a hot underdog in the Round of 64.
Cal State Bakersfield 5-1/14-7 is the principal contender to NMSU, but in this league the Roadrunners are almost like the Washington Generals and not a true contender. The lack of competition is what will hurt NMSU’s seeding if they run the table and enter the Dance at 30-2.

MULTIPLE BID LEAGUES
American Athletic
Cincinnati 8-0/19-2 is a sure thing now after beating Xavier and padding its resume. Can the Bearcats contend for the Final Four? Cinti dominates in everything but foul shooting, but in the NCAA Tournament, referees tend to call fewer fouls, and this will help UC in two ways–they won’t take as many foul shots, and they will be able to get away with increased physical play, where they can exploit finesse teams.

SMU 8-1/18-4 should receive an at-large bid if the Mustangs do not win the AAC Tournament. SMU has six top 100 wins and no losses outside of the top 100.

Memphis 6-3/16-6 and Houston 6-4/15-7 are squarely on the Bubble, while Tulsa 6-2/12-8 has moved into position to earn a Bubble spot if the Golden Hurricane can go 2-2 in their four future games against the top two teams.

Atlantic 10
Dayton 6-2/15-5 and VCU 6-2/16-5 would be in the Dance if the season ended today, but the two teams are not locks for the Tournament yet. In fact, neither is in first place in the A-10, as Richmond 7-2/13-8 has stormed to the top by a half-game. The Spiders were never in their game at Dayton earlier this year, losing by 16, and they have yet to face VCU, so it is likely that VCU or Dayton will eventually take the top two seeds.

A three-way tie at 5-3 for fourth place exists between LaSalle, Rhode Island, and St. Bonaventure. Rhode Island has a win against Cincinnati, and the Rams have been in the top 25 this year. They could still work their way back into at-large status.

Atlantic Coast
Figuring out the possible number of ACC teams headed Dancing this year has almost become a cottage industry. At one time, many pundits believed 11 teams would earn invitations to the Tournament. We never agreed with that number, and now the so-called experts are coming around to our belief that the ACC will send eight or nine to the tourney.

Seven teams are basically sure things at this point. North Carolina 7-2/19-4, Virginia 6-2/16-4, Florida St. 6-3/18-4, Louisville 6-3/18-4, Notre Dame 6-4/17-6, and Duke 5-4/17-5 are locks at this point. Virginia Tech 5-4/16-5 is in short of a major collapse. Six other ACC teams are still alive, but we believe that at most, three of the six will be happy in Mid-March. Those six teams are: Georgia Tech 5-4/13-8, Syracuse 5-4/13-9, Miami 4-4/14-6, North Carolina St. 3-6/14-8, Wake Forest 3-6/12-9, and Clemson 2-6/12-8. We do not see an ACC team getting an at-large bid with a conference record weaker than 8-10 or with more than 13 overall losses by Selection Sunday.

Big 12
The Big 12 was supposed to blitz the SEC Saturday in the 10-game challenge. Forecasters called for eight and even nine wins out of the 10 games, but when the dust cleared Saturday night, the leagues finished in a 5-5 standoff. Surprisingly, those five winning SEC teams did not include Kentucky.

How does this affect the Big 12’s NCAA Tournament outlook? We have reduced the number of expected representatives by one this week, reducing the number from eight to seven. Kansas 7-1/19-2 moved into a comfortable top-seed position with its win at Kentucky. Baylor 7-1/20-1 stayed on the top line with their big comeback win at Ole Miss. West Virginia 5-3/17-4 held on to edge Texas A&M at home and stay in contention for a number two or three seed. Five teams will compete for the other four likely at-large bids, with one probably facing some disappointment. Iowa St. 5-3/13-7 and Kansas St. 4-4/15-6 are the top contenders, so it is more than likely going to come down to two teams from among Texas Tech 3-5/15-6, TCU 3-5/14-7, and Oklahoma St. 3-6/14-8, and one of these teams could be facing an opening round game in Dayton.

Big East
We added a sixth team to the Big East riches as the ACC and Big 12 lost teams. The league that produced the 2016 champion might have three teams with Final Four potential and five teams with Sweet 16 talent. Start with the reigning national champs, Villanova 7-2/20-2. Also close to sure things are Butler 7-3/18-4 and Creighton 6-3/19-3. Xavier 5-3/15-6 and Marquette 5-4/14-7 are in good shape but still have work to do to become locks.

Three more teams, Providence 4-6/14-9, St. John’s 4-6/10-13, and Seton Hall 3-5/13-7, still have NCAA Tourney aspirations, while Georgetown 3-6/12-10 has not been completely eliminated.

Big Ten
The Big Ten took a big hit in the football season with the league losing out in the Playoff race and performing poorly in the bowls. The great fans in the Upper Midwest hoped that basketball season would give the league a chance to redeem itself for the poor results on the gridiron, but there are few teams in this league that look like they are headed to the Sweet 16.

One of those teams that does look Sweet 16 secure is Wisconsin 7-1/18-3, currently tied for first in the league with Maryland 7-1/19-2. The Terps’ nasty losses to Pittsburgh and Nebraska leave a little doubt in the mind of our Gurus and thus cannot be considered a Sweet 16 lock. They will be dancing for sure though.

We are moving Northwestern 7-2/18-4 into the safely in the Tournament status. Maybe it is a year for long Chicago curses to be broken, as the Wildcats look certain to break through with their first ever NCAA Tournament bid, leaving no room for doubt. Joining NU in near lock status is Purdue 6-3/17-5.

Six more teams are competing for what we believe to be four more bids. If the season ended today, Michigan St. 5-4/13-9, Indiana 4-5/14-8, Michigan 4-5/14-8, and Minnesota 3-6/15-7 would get the four at-large bids, while Illinois 3-6/13-9 and Ohio St. 3-6/13-9 would be on the outside looking in. Iowa, Penn St., and Nebraska are actually ahead of Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State in the conference standings at 4-5, but their resumes are not tourney-worthy at this time.

Missouri Valley
There is not a consensus among all the Gurus here, but a majority of six Gurus say two MVC teams will get bids.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written before we had all 11 Guru results submitted. At the time there were 7 Guru reports available, it looked like the Shockers would be in their Field, but the final four Gurus omitted WSU in their brackets.

Illinois State 10-0/18-4 has a one-game edge on Wichita St. 9-1/19-4, but the Redbirds win over the Shockers came in Bloomington-Normal. The two teams meet again in Wichita this Saturday in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 8PM EST. If you are a rabid basketball fan, be sure to tune into this game to see two aggressive defenses battle it out. We believe there will be a third match between these two Valley behemoths at Arch Madness in early March. The loser should still get into the Field of 68 if they have no other conference losses or maybe one additional loss.

Keep an eye on Loyola of Chicago 6-4/16-7. Maybe, it is a year meant to be for Chicagoans. The Ramblers have been to just one NCAA Tournament since legendary coach George Ireland had a dynasty in the 1960s. We’re not saying this current cache of Ramblers is to be compared to the Leslie Hunter and Vic Rouse teams, but this is Loyola’s best team since the Alfredrick Hughes and Andre Moore team scared the Pat Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas for 30 minutes plus in the 1985 Sweet 16.

Pac-12
Arizona 9-0/20-2 marched through Los Angeles, sweeping USC and UCLA like General Sherman marched through Georgia. The Wildcats are clearly the second best team in the West, and they can solidify a hold on a two-seed if they go to Oregon 8-1/19-3 this Saturday night and take care of the Ducks. The game will be televised on ESPN at 4 PM EST, and it should be as exciting as the Kansas-Kentucky game was this past Saturday.

UCLA 6-3/19-3 has dropped back-to-back games to Arizona and USC 5-4/18-4, as the Wildcats and Trojans exploited the Bruins’ defensive liabilities and softness in the paint. As for the Trojans, Andy Enfield’s team has a slight bubble advantage over Utah and California, both 6-3/15-6. The league should get four teams minimum, but we do not see all six of these squads going Dancing. The bottom half of this league is really week this year, and it is going to hurt strengths of schedule if any contender loses to one of the bottom six.

Southeastern
At the start of the season, the SEC was considered just a two-bid league this year. Then, eventually, it became a three-bid league, and now it is most likely a four-bid league. Could a fifth bid be forthcoming before the bids go live? It is highly possible as seven or eight teams are still in contention for the fourth bid, and a fifth bid would not be out of the ordinary.

Start with Kentucky and South Carolina, both 7-1/17-4. The Wildcats have the better overall resume, but the Gamecocks are not that far behind. Add sure thing Florida 6-2/16-5 as team number three.

After that, there is a logjam vying for the fourth bid, but first among equals goes to Arkansas 5-3/16-5. The Razorbacks left the Big 12-SEC Challenge with their tails between their legs, and the 28-point loss to Oklahoma State certainly dimmed their rising star. It has allowed teams like Alabama 6-2/13-7, Georgia, 4-4/13-8, Mississippi State 4-4/13-7, and Tennessee 4-4/12-9 to move into contention to be in contention. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the league by many publications, so kudos go to Coach Rick Barnes, who should compete with USC coach Frank Martin for Coach of the Year honors. If Tennessee had held onto leads in the final 30 seconds against Oregon in Hawaii and North Carolina at the Dean Dome, the Vols would be at the top of the Bubble and looking like a seed high enough to avoid playing in Dayton.

West Coast
Gonzaga 10-0/22-0 deserves its number one ranking. The Bulldogs have not fatten up just on cream puffs. Included in their 22 wins are neutral site victories over Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Iowa State, as well as wins at home over St. Mary’s and Akron, all current top 50 teams. They have gone 15-0 against teams rated under 100, but their average margin of victory in those wins has been 30 points per game. You would expect a number one team to beat a lower-ranked team by 30 points.

St. Mary’s 9-1/19-2 belongs in the field on its own merits. The Gaels have defeated Dayton at Dayton and have a 6-2 record against top 100 teams. One of those two losses is a defeat at Gonzaga, and SMC still has a home date with the Bulldogs to try to even the score.

Brigham Young 7-3/16-7 is not in contention for an at-large bid at this time, but the Cougars still have a chance to make some noise, as they have home dates against the top two teams in the month of February (as well as a return trip to Gonzaga in the regular season finale.) BYU hosts Gonzaga Thursday night at 11 PM EST in a game that will air on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK’s BRACKETOLOGY GURU REPORT

Seed Team Conf.
1 Baylor B12
1 Kansas B12
1 Villanova B E
1 Gonzaga WCC
2 Louisville ACC
2 Arizona P12
2 North Carolina ACC
2 Kentucky SEC
3 Virginia ACC
3 Florida State ACC
3 Butler B E
3 Oregon P12
4 West Virginia B12
4 UCLA P12
4 Wisconsin BTen
4 Cincinnati AAC
5 Maryland BTen
5 Duke ACC
5 Creighton B E
5 Florida SEC
6 Notre Dame ACC
6 Purdue BTen
6 South Carolina SEC
6 St. Mary’s (CA) WCC
7 Southern Methodist AAC
7 Xavier B E
7 Northwestern BTen
7 USC P12
8 Virginia Tech ACC
8 Minnesota BTen
8 Dayton A10
8 Marquette B E
9 Michigan State BTen
9 Iowa State B12
9 Arkansas SEC
9 Virginia Commonwealth A10
10 Middle Tennessee CUSA
10 Kansas State B12
10 NC-Wilmington CAA
10 Illinois State MVC
11 Clemson ACC
11 Miami (FLA.) ACC
11 Oklahoma State B12
11 Georgia Tech ACC
12 Indiana BTen
12 TCU B12
12 Michigan BTen
12 Texas Tech B12
12 Nevada MWC
12 Valparaiso Hor
13 Akron MAC
13 New Mexico State WAC
13 Vermont AEast
13 Monmouth MAAC
14 Belmont OVC
14 Florida Gulf Coast ASun
14 E. Tennessee State Sou
14 Georgia Southern SBC
15 Winthrop BSth
15 Bucknell Pat
15 Princeton Ivy
15 North Dakota State Summ
16 Sam Houston State SLC
16 Texas Southern SWAC
16 Weber State BSky
16 North Carolina Central MEAC
16 Mount St. Mary’s NEC
16 UC Irvine BWest

First Four Participants

12-Seeds: Texas Tech, Michigan, TCU, Indiana (last 4 in)

16-Seeds: UC-Irvine, Mount St. Mary’s, UNC-Central, and Weber St.

First Four Out

69 Seton Hall

70 Wichita St.

71 Tennessee

72 Richmond

Next Four Out

73 California

74 Georgetown

75 Wake Forest

76 Utah

The Bubble Contenders

North Carolina St.

Houston

Memphis

Rhode Island

Providence

Illinois

Ohio St.

Georgia

Alabama

 

 

January 23, 2017

The Pirate Ratings Bracketology Gurus Report For January 23, 2017

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 4:34 pm

Welcome to our first 32 Bracketology Gurus report of the 2016-17 college basketball season. So as not to be incorrect, we would love to present our first 32 Bracketology Gurus report, but in truth, this will be a 17 Bracketology Gurus report, since we never received anything from the other 15 gurus.

Our 17 Gurus agree on one thing: 22 leagues will send just one representative, their conference tournament champion to the Big Dance, while ten leagues will send two or more teams to the 68-team party. The Gurus agree that as of today, the West Coast and Missouri Valley Conferences will send two teams to the Dance.

In recent weeks, the ACC and Big 12 have seen their prospective invitees dwindle to more legitimate numbers. At one time, some of the Gurus believed 11 ACC teams and eight Big 12 teams would receive bids. Those numbers have decreased to nine for the ACC and seven for the Big 12. The SEC has doubled from two to four, while the Big East and Big Ten both picked up an invitation.

Let’s break it down by conference first and show you who would be Dancing today if the NCAA Tournament began. This report accounts for all games played by Sunday, January 22.

One Bid Leagues (winner of conference tournament will get the bid)
Regular season champion is guaranteed an NIT bid if not in the NCAA Tournament

America East
Vermont 6-0/16-5 owns an eight-game winning streak, which includes wins over two of the top contenders (at New Hampshire 4-2/13-7 and UMBC 4-2/13-6). It does not include a win over Stony Brook 5-1/10-9, and the Catamounts visit the Seawolves this Saturday.

Atlantic Sun
The top four teams have separated themselves from the bottom four teams, and any of the top quartet could earn the automatic bid. Perennial contender Florida Gulf Coast 4-1/15-6, South Carolina Upstate 4-1/14-8, and North Florida 4-1/9-13 remain tied at the top with Lipscomb 3-2/11-11 right there. SC Upstate has a leg up on the top seed with a road win against FGCU, but any of the top four could move ahead of the pack to at least secure an automatic NIT bid if another team wins the conference tournament.

Big Sky
Weber State is the Duke of this league, and the Wildcats once again find themselves in first place with a 5-1/10-7 mark. The contested race includes top contenders North Dakota 6-2/11-7, Eastern Washington 5-2/13-7, Montana 5-3/10-11, and Portland State 4-3/13-7. The representative of this league has not found success in recent years, and the best team in the last 10 years (Montana in 2013) lost to Syracuse by 44 points in the Round of 64. Don’t expect an upset coming forth this year either.

Big South
Winthrop 7-1/15-4 has taken command in the regular season race having just swept its top rivals UNC-Asheville 6-2/14-7 and Liberty 6-2/11-10. The Eagles have now won 10 of 11 games. Earlier in the year, Winthrop stayed within shouting distance at Florida State, won at Illinois, and kept it close at Dayton for about 25 minutes. The Eagles are capable of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64.

Big West
An eight-game winning streak has propelled UC-Irvine 6-0/13-9 to the front of the pack with UC Davis in second at 4-1/12-8. Don’t lose track of Long Beach State, even with the 49ers at 3-3/8-14. Five of LBSU’s losses have come on the road against Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, and Kansas. The 49ers have wins over Oregon State and Colorado State.

Colonial Athletic
It would be a shame if UNCW 8-0/19-2 does not win the automatic bid from this league, because Kevin Keatts has a team capable of sneaking into the Sweet 16 this year. If the Seahawks were to get a rematch with Duke this year, UNCW’s winning might not even be an upset. College of Charleston 7-1/16-5 is a formidable challenger in this league, and the Cougars lost to UNCW by just six points even though they connected on just 29% of their shots in that game.

Conference USA
What was just said about UNCW goes double for Middle Tennessee 7-0/17-3 in this league. The Blue Raiders actually beat UNCW in November, and they also pulled off their upset in last year’s tournament. MTSU has enough talent to become the next Mid-Major to make it to the Sweet 16 and if the brackets were really nice, Coach Kermit Davis could sneak this team into the Elite 8. Louisiana Tech 6-1/14-6 has a chance to take over the top spot in the league this week, but the Bulldogs will have to do it on the road with trips to UAB 5-2/12-8 and to Middle. Marshall 5-2/12-8 is the hardest team to match up with on short notice like would happen in the conference tournament, as the Thundering Herd use the “7 seconds or less” principle of pace. A fatigued team not accustomed to playing at this pace could find the going tough if playing for the third consecutive day.

Horizon
Having the top player in the league with no real number two in the picture makes Valparaiso 6-1/16-4 the overwhelming favorite to avoid the upset bug this year after falling in the conference semis last year and having to settle for a trip to the NIT finals. The Crusaders have non-conference wins over Alabama, BYU, and Rhode Island, with two of their four losses coming at Oregon and Kentucky. Star big man Alec Peters chose to stay for his senior year rather than declare for the NBA Draft, and Peters currently averages 24 and 11 for Valpo. Don’t think Peters has padded his stats against the weak sisters of the poor. Against Alabama, BYU, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Kentucky, he scored 24, 24, 26, 27, and 23 points respectively. He also tallied 40 points and 27 rebounds in Valpo’s wins over top league contenders Green Bay 5-2/11-8 and Oakland 5-3/15-6.

Ivy
The last holdout in sponsoring a postseason tournament, the Ivy League will send its top four teams to the Palestra in Philadelphia this March to decide the NCAA automatic qualifier. The home town Penn Quakers do not figure to be part of the quartet, so it will be a truly neutral affair. Princeton 3-0/10-6 and Harvard 2-0/10-5 will almost assuredly be there, while Yale 2-1/10-6 will most likely be there. The final participant should come from whoever emerges from a three-team dogfight between Columbia 1-1/7-8, Cornell 1-1/5-12, and Brown 1-2/10-9. Expect a Princeton-Harvard championship game.

Metro Atlantic
With early season losses to Rider and St. Peter’s (2nd in the MAAC at 6-3/10-9), it looked like Monmouth 8-2/16-5 was suffering a hangover from their 2106 conference tournament loss to Iona, a team that became a really fierce rival last year in the image of the Red Sox and Yankees. Coach King Rice has the Hawks moving on all cylinders since those two stubbings of the toes, and Monmouth has reeled off six wins in a row by an average score of 84-69. Iona 5-4/12-8 is back in the pack this year.

Mid-American
When a team from the MAC is 6-0 in conference play and 16-3 overall with two of the losses to top 10 teams Creighton and Gonzaga, you might think said team would be considered an at-large invitee if it fell in the conference tournament. However, Akron is not bubble-worthy at this point in time. The Zips have a nine-game winning streak, but the Zips are 10-0 at home and just 2-3 on the road this year. They are the class of the league, but there are teams that can upset them in the conference tournament, such as Ohio, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois, all 4-2 in league play. Akron was in this position last year and suffered an upset loss to eventual conference champion Buffalo. The Zips will be loaded for bear in March this year.

Mideastern Athletic
In recent years, the MEAC has been underrated by the seedmeisters. Forced to appear in Dayton in the opening round, and almost always given a #15 or #16 seed, the MEAC has done better than forecast in the Big Dance, including one of the biggest upsets in the 21st Century. This year, the MEAC race is tightly contested between nine teams within one game of each other in the loss column. The best shot at avoiding a 16-seed comes from UNC-Central 3-1/12-6, the only team with an overall winning record. Out of the MEAC, the Eagles performed admirably in close losses at Ohio State and LSU, and they whipped Missouri in Columbia.

Mountain West
Almost every season, the MWC conference race goes down to the wire with many teams still in contention in the final weeks. This year is more of the same, as eight of the 11 teams are bunched up within two games of each other. The current contenders in the lead or within a game are Nevada 5-2/16-4, Boise State 5-2/12-6, Fresno State 5-3/13-7, New Mexico 5-3/12-8, Colorado State 4-3/12-8. Recent top team San Diego State started slowly this year and appeared to be out of the race, but the Aztecs are approaching their peak. SDSU is 3-3/11-7 and cannot be overlooked. As a whole, the league has no big wins over a top 25 team, and thus it is to be a one-bid league this year.

Northeast
When Wagner upset Connecticut to open the season, it looked like the NEC could have a team capable of competing in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Since that big win, the Seahawks have gone 7-10 and just 4-4 in NEC action. Instead, the three teams most frequently in the lead in this conference in the past have ascended to the top of the league standings. Mount St. Mary’s 7-1/9-12 and Fairleigh Dickinson 7-1/9-10 lead Long Island U 6-2/13-8. No other team has a winning league mark at this time. MSM has the upper hand at this time, as the Mountaineers defeated FDU and LIU. It is a strong possibility that the winner of this league will head to Dayton as part of the First Four.

Ohio Valley
Two teams have dominated this league like Ohio State and Michigan dominated Big Ten football for more than a decade, and they currently lead their respective divisions yet again this season. In the East, Belmont 7-0/13-4 has outscored its last nine foes by an average of 80-67. The Bruins four losses came at Vanderbilt to open their season, against Florida in a so-called neutral site game in the Sunshine State, at then #23 Rhode Island, and at home to the top mid-major in the nation in Middle Tennessee. Belmont has come close before, including a last-second loss to Duke in the Big Dance, but Coach Rick Byrd has pulled off some incredible road upsets in the past including wins at Marquette, North Carolina, Stanford, Cincinnati, and Alabama. Additionally, the Bruins went to Cameron Indoor Stadium and lost to Duke by a point. In the West, Murray State 5-2/11-10 leads UT-Martin and SEMO by a game.

Patriot
Bucknell has been the dominant team in this league this century, and the Bison are on top again this year with a 7-1/15-6 slate. Keep an eye on Navy. The Middies have won five games in a row and sit in a tie for second at 5-3/10-10. Lehigh 5-3/11-8 hung the lone conference loss on Bucknell.

Southern
Two hot teams have begun to create distance from the rest of the league. UNC-Greensboro 7-1/16-5 has won six consecutive games, while Chattanooga 6-1/15-4 has won five in a row. There is a shelf at 5-2 in league play where two more teams have separated from the remainder of the league. Furman 12-8 and East Tennessee State 15-5 have nights when they can beat UNCG and UC, but the top seed will probably be decided on February 2, when UNCG heads to Chattanooga.

Southland
New Orleans has fielded some mighty good basketball teams in the past with some outstanding coaches (Ron Greene, Butch Van Breda Kolff, Benny Dees, Tim Floyd) that would go on to big time universities or who had come from big time programs. After Hurricane Katrina decimated the Crescent City, UNO struggled and even de-emphasized the sport for three seasons. Mark Slessinger came on board when the Privateers came back to D1 and re-joined the SLC. With Stephen F. Austin on the decline after a brief dominance, UNO is on top of the league with a 6-1/11-7 record. Perennial contender Sam Houston 6-2/15-6 won at UNO and might be the team to beat this year.

Southwestern Athletic
Texas Southern 6-0/10-9 may be the only team in this league that could avoid playing in Dayton in the opening round of the tournament. Still, the Tigers would most assuredly be a 16-seed. This league has the two weakest teams in D1 basketball in Mississippi Valley and Alabama A&M, both of whom are being outscored by close to 20 points per game.

Summit
This league shows promise every year as usually one or more members beat a power conference team. This year’s major upset belongs to Ft. Wayne, as the Mastodons, with their high-octane offense, knocked off Indiana. However FW is just 3-4 in league play and 14-7 overall, proving that the Summit is one tough league. North Dakota State is the current top tomato with a 6-1/14-6 record, two games ahead of Denver and South Dakota.

Sunbelt
Eight of the 12 teams in the SBC have reasonable chances to win the conference tournament, and this league features a host of playing styles that should make the tournament quite interesting. You like fast-paced racehorse basketball? Then, follow UL-Lafayette 3-3/13-6 and Troy 2-4/10-10. Texas State 3-3/10-8 controls the pace and rarely challenges the tempo. But, if you like to go with the top contenders, look at Georgia Southern 6-0/13-6 winners of seven consecutive games in which the Eagles have averaged better than 85 points per game. Four teams are tied for second at 4-2–UT-Arlington, Georgia State, Arkansas State, and Coastal Carolina.

Western Athletic
New Mexico State 5-0/18-2 has been in the Final Four in the past, so it should come as no surprise that the Aggies are once again in control in the WAC race. Coach Paul Weir is a successful recruiter and knows how to get his players to play tough defense. You would think Weir was destined for the big time, but he may be a lifer at NMSU. Because Grand Canyon is not eligible as a transitioning team, the only real rival the Aggies might have is from Cal State Bakersfield 3-1/12-7. The Roadrunners lost by just five points at NMSU and get to host the Aggies on February 9.

Multiple Bid Leagues

American
Cincinnati 7-0/17-2 has a win at Iowa State as well as losses to Rhode Island and Butler. The Bearcats are close to becoming a lock for the Dance. In AAC play, UC enjoys a scoring margin of more than 12 points and holds opponents to 58.4 points per game. The Cinti defense is outstanding, limiting opponents to 36% shooting and enjoying hefty rebounding and turnover margins. They will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament and must be considered a possible Elite 8 team.

SMU 7-1/17-4 may not be the best shooting or ball-handling team in the nation, but few teams can match the Mustangs on the glass, where they enjoy an enormous rebounding edge. They are gathering offensive rebounds on 41% of their missed shots, and a 40% shooting team can be as effective as a 50% shooting team when they can rebound the ball on two out of every five missed shots.

Memphis 5-2/15-5 is not far away from getting into the at-large conversation. Give Coach Tubby Smith credit. He has taken Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Texas Tech to the Big Dance, so taking a great program like Memphis would come as no surprise.

Atlantic Coast
The ACC may not get 11 teams in the Dance like once thought possible, but nine teams would not be a reach. The Three co-leaders, North Carolina 6-1/18-3, Florida State 6-1/18-2, and Notre Dame 6-1/17-3 are locks to make it into the tournament. It is close to lock status for Virginia 5-2/15-3 and Louisville 4-3/16-4. It is a good bet that Virginia Tech 4-3/15-4 and Duke 3-3/15-4 will be there as well. There could should be two additional invitations, which will come from a pool of Wake Forest 3-4/12-7, Georgia Tech 3-4/11-8, Syracuse 3-4/11-9, Miami 2-4/12-6, and NC State 2-5/13-7. However, current last place team Clemson 1-6/11-8 has enough talent to do what Virginia did in 1976 when the Cavs finished last in the ACC and then won the conference tournament.

Atlantic 10
This league is a near lock for at least two bids if not three or four. It will depend on what happens in the second half of the conference schedule. Dayton 6-1/15-4 should finish strong enough to avoid having to play an opponent on their home floor in the opening round. Virginia Commonwealth 5-2/15-5 has one signature win, but it is a home victory over Middle Tennessee. The Rams need to finish strong to earn an at-large bid.

LaSalle 5-2/11-6 has been to one NCAA Tournament in a quarter century, but Coach John Giannini has his best offensive squad in his 13 years in Philadelphia and best overall since he was at Maine in the 1990’s.

Three other contenders for an at-large bid should any of the trio go on an extended winning streak include Richmond 5-2/11-8, St. Bonaventure 4-2/12-6, and Rhode Island 4-2/12-6. URI was in good shape until a swoon sent them on a 6-6 mark before turning things around.

Big East
Reigning National Champion Villanova 7-1/19-1 is very much alive as a repeat possibility this year. The Wildcats are 4-1 against the top 25, and they outscore opponents by an average of 16.5 points per game. VU is just one of four sure things for the Dance and as many as six teams if teams number five and six can stay in contention.

Butler 6-2/17-3, Creighton 5-2/18-2, and Xavier 4-3/14-5 are locks for Dance invitations, while Marquette 4-3/13-6 and Seton Hall 3-4/13-6 are top contenders for the Bubble. Providence 3-5/13-8 is a team to watch in the Big East Tournament, as they have enough talent to get to the championship game.

Big Ten
This league usually gets six to eight teams in the Dance, and this year should be no different. However, this league has been a big disappointment in this century, as no team has won the thing this century (the century began in 2001 and not 2000). Co-leaders Maryland 5-1/17-2 and Wisconsin 5-1/16-3 are locks, as is Purdue 5-2/16-4.

This is where it gets interesting. Northwestern has NEVER been to the NCAA Tournament! The Wildcats would be in if the season ended today, and their 5-2/16-4 record includes wins over Dayton and Ohio State. NU needs to pad the resume a little more to break through their glass ceiling, and a home win over Maryland or Indiana might be enough if the Wildcats finish 11-7 or better in league play.

Indiana 4-3/14-6 and Michigan State 4-3/12-8 have not yet earned for sure invitations. As for Minnesota 3-4/15-5 and Michigan 3-4/13-7, neither has done enough to earn a bid at this point.
Ohio State 2-5/12-8 sits in 13th place in the league, but the Buckeyes are dangerous enough to get on a role and win the conference tournament.

Big 12
Kansas 7-0/18-1 keeps dominating this league. Bill Self is the sixth KU head coach to dominate in this league, and the Jayhawks could easily be primed to win the whole ball of wax for the first time since 2008.

Baylor 6-1/18-1 could give the league more than one team in the Final Four, but the Bears must show they can hold onto the ball against quality pressure defenses.

Speaking of handling the ball, Kansas State 4-3/15-4 showed West (Press) Virginia 4-3/15-4 it can handle the havoc, but the Mountaineers will get a chance to solidify their lock status when they host Kansas Tuesday night in what should be can’t-miss action if you are a gym rat.

Iowa State 4-3/12-6, TCU 3-4/14-5, and Texas Tech 3-4/14-5 compete for what could be two or three additional bids. Okahoma State was once firmly in this pack, but the Cowboys are now just 1-6 in the league and will have to win the conference tournament to make the Dance.

Missouri Valley
What was once considered a two-bid league only if Wichita State 7-1/17-4 finished with no more than one or two conference losses and then lost in the Championship Round of Arch Madness has now moved into the two-bid league even if the Shockers finish second in the league race and lose in the Championship Round.

Illinois State 8-0/16-4 has won nine straight games, which includes a 14-point pasting over the Shockers. The Redbirds would earn the keys to lock up their at-large bid if they beat Wichita State in Wichita, or else they might have to beat them in St. Louis in March. For now, we go with two MVC teams.

Pac-12
UCLA discovered there’s more to the game than just shooting. Arizona 7-0/18-2 showed the Bruins 6-2/19-2 that a quality defense and equally strong fastbreaking offense can dominate, even on the road. The Wildcats completed the massacre of the City of Angels after previously smashing USC 4-4/17-4.

It is Oregon 7-0/18-2 that is a Final Four contender. The Ducks began the year 2-2 and have now won 16 games in a row, most of them by lopsided margins. The two co-leaders finally face off February 4 in their only regular season meeting, and the game will be played in Eugene, where OU has won 38 straight games, the last loss coming at the hands of Arizona in 2015.

Even with the losses, the LA schools figure to be in the Dance. Whether Utah 5-2/14-5 and/or California 5-3/14-6 can find that invitation in their mailbox is still to be determined. Anywhere between four and six bids will go to Pac-12 teams. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has not seen a member team cut the nets in this century.

Southeastern
Kentucky 7-0/17-2 could run through six opponents and easily take the National Title, but they could just as easily go down in an upset loss as early as the Round of 32. That’s what you get with an inexperienced, young team with incredible talent. The Wildcats can run like the former teams of Adolph Rupp, but Rupp liked to have experienced upperclassmen in his starting lineup. John Calipari usually fields a team that could pass for Harry Lancaster’s freshmen teams under Rupp.
South Carolina 5-1/15-4 and Florida 5-2/14-5 are good bets to continue winning enough to get at-large bids, while Arkansas 4-3/15-4 is getting to that point. If all three teams do not get into the tournament, at least two of the three should.

Alabama 4-2/11-7 has just enough talent and a fabulous coach in Avery Johnson to sneak into the Dance, but it will most likely take a 9-3 finish in league play and at least a visit to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the Crimson Tide to get that bid.

Georgia 4-3/12-7 most likely has a date with the NIT after losing a most controversial game to Texas A&M on Saturday. Aside from the terrible clock malfunction, it sure looked like the Bulldogs scored in enough time to get the win that was taken from them. Teams have missed out on the tournament by one controversial loss before.

West Coast
With Arizona looking like a Final Four team more and more each day, it really makes this year’s Gonzaga team 7-0/19-0 like a legitimate Final Four team. The Bulldogs once again face fierce competition from rival St. Mary’s 7-1/17-2, and the Gaels have a resume worthy of receiving an at-large bid, even if they lose thrice to the Zags.

BYU 6-2/15-6 lurks back in third place, and the Cougars have the talent to upset both of the big two ahead of them in the standings.

The Guru’s Seeding Conensus
1: Villanova, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Kansas
2: Baylor, Florida St., North Carolina, Virginia
3: West Virginia, Louisville, Wisconsin, Arizona
4: Butler, Duke, UCLA, Purdue
5: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Creighton, Oregon
6: Florida, SMU, St. Mary’s, Iowa St.
7: South Carolina, Kansas St., Xavier, Northwestern
8: Marquette, Indiana, Wichita St., TCU
9: Illinois St., Maryland, Dayton, Middle Tennessee
10: Michigan St., Virginia Tech, Arkansas, USC
11: Seton Hall, UNC-Wilmington, Utah, Texas Tech
12: Minnesota, Wake Forest, Virginia Commonwealth, California, Akron, Nevada
13: Chattanooga, Vermont, Monmouth, Valparaiso
14: Winthrop, Belmont, New Mexico St., Georgia Southern
15: North Dakota St., Bucknell, Florida Gulf Coast, Princeton
16: Texas Southern, Weber St., UNC-Central, New Orleans, UC-Irvine, Mount St. Mary’s

The Last 4 In & Headed to Dayton
68 California
67 Minnesota
66 Virginia Commonwealth
65 Wake Forest

The First 8 Out
69 Miami (Fla)
70 Rhode Island
71 Georgia
72 Clemson
73 Michigan
74 Houston
75 Syracuse
76 Pittsburgh

The 4 Weakest Automatic Teams & Headed to Dayton
UC-Irvine, New Orleans, UNC-Central, Mount St. Mary’s

Lowest Seed Seen as Capable of Winning the National Championship
5 Seed (Oregon)

Lowest Seed in Sweet 16
13 Seed (Monmouth)

Highest Seed Eliminated Before Sweet 16
4 Seed (UCLA & Purdue)

January 16, 2017

The Best of the Best and Where They Might Be Vulnerable

Every year about this time, a group of anywhere from a half dozen to 30 college basketball teams rank as possible national title contenders.  In some years, only a handful of teams have reasonable title aspirations.  In some years, there are no clear cut favorites, and many teams could become Cinderella’s with the perfect fit for the glass slipper.

There has been a bit of a paradigm shift in college basketball the last two seasons.  It wasn’t much of a change, but lowering the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds has done a world of good for the game.  The 14% less time per possession has led to 8-12 more possessions per game for each team.  Teams that three years ago averaged 65 possessions per game are today pushing the ball to the tune of 80 possessions per game.

Contrary to what may have been predicted, offensive efficiency has not gone down.  It has gone up, because the layup and dunk off a fast break when the attacking team has a number’s advantage has led to more points per possession.  The offensive increase has once again made college basketball as exciting as it was in its hey days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Also contrary to belief, the increased pace has not created a new UCLA dynasty in the men’s game like U Conn has done with the women’s side.  There are more than enough quality athletes throughout the nation and the world to make 100 teams competitive enough to win an NCAA Tournament game and 25 teams strong enough to reel off six consecutive wins after March 10.

We are not saying that the following 25 teams are the best 25 in the nation.  We have taken a sampling of the top teams from power conferences, the two or three current leaders from among the leagues just shy of being a power conference, as well as a couple of teams from mid-major conferences.

Today’s first look at the contenders will concentrate on showing you how the Four Factors and some of our own PiRate Ratings criteria can isolate where a contender might be vulnerable come NCAA Tournament time.  When it comes time for the teams to have one shining moment, the game changes a little.

In the past, teams that got to the Dance by beating opponents at the foul line sometimes floundered in the tournament, because officials let the players have a little more leeway before blowing their whistles.

Additionally, some teams that went 28-4 in the regular season but did so by running opponents out of the gym or holding onto the ball in a slower-paced offense found that quality opponents like they faced in the Dance did not succumb to their methods of operation.

Likewise, some full court pressure teams that entered the Dance with large scoring margin advantages (often padded by beating poor teams by 40 points), found that quality ball-control teams did not turn the ball over and allow these teams to score in transition.  These pressing teams had little half-court offense and quickly fell to teams that turned the ball over 10 times per game.

Today, we look at 25 chosen teams to tell you where they can exploit other quality teams, and also where they are vulnerable.  As you will see in this first look, there are no teams today that are not totally vulnerable in some way.  Thus, there is no clear-cut favorite to cut down the nets in Phoenix on April 3.  In point of fact, as we see it today, there are a couple dozen quality teams capable of making the Final Four, and yet all of these teams have an Achilles’ Heel and could lose before the Sweet 16 commences.

Before we get into the meat of this report, there could be a few readers not totally familiar with the Four Factors in basketball.  It is not rocket science.  The Four Factors (applies to both offense and defense) are:

  1. Field Goal Efficiency
  2. Turnover Rate
  3. Offensive Reboundin Rate
  4. Free Throw Rate

Field Goal Efficiency: [FGM+(3ptM * 0.5)]/FGA

Where FGM is field goals made; 3ptM is three-pointers made; and FGA is field goals attempted.  If your favorite team attempted 60 shots in a game and made 28 of these shots with 8 coming as three-pointers, then their FG Efficiency is [28+(8*0.5)]/60 which equals .533 or 53.3%

The difference between the offensive FG efficiency and the defensive FG efficiency is the FG efficiency margin.  This is by far the most important contributory part to winning in basketball, which is obvious, since the object of the game is to put the ball in the basket and score points, while limiting the opponents from putting the ball in the basket.

Turnover Rate:  TOV/100 Possessions figured as:  [TOV/(FGA+(FTA*0.475)+TOV]*100 and expressed as a percentage

This is a simple metric.  All it seeks to discover is how many turnovers does a team commit for every 1oo possessions.  There is a small adjustment in what qualifies as a possession for this metric as opposed to actual possessions.  Offensive rebounds are not factored into the possession counting here, as once a team secures an offensive rebound, they have already attempted a shot without committing a turnover.  The chance for a turnover after this is limited and can skew the real rate at which a team turns the ball over or forces their opponent to turn the ball over.

If your team committed 14 turnovers in a game in which they took 60 field goal attempts and 25 free throw attempts, their turnover rate for that game was: [14/(60+(25*.475)+14]*10o which comes to: 16.3%

Offensive Rebounding Rate: [OR/(OR+ Opponents’ DR)]*100, 

Where OR is offensive rebounds and DR is defensive rebounds.

If your team had 12 offensive rebounds, and their opponent had 32 defensive rebounds, your team’s offensive rebounding rate was: [12/(12+32)] * 100 which is 27.3%

Obviously, the compliment to this is defensive rebounding rate, which is the same formula applied to the opponents’ rebounding.

Free Throw Rate: FTM/100 Possessions or (FTM/[FGA+(FTA*0.475)-OR+TOV]) *100

There is a difference of opinion on how the expert analytics gurus figure this metric.  Some simple use FTA/FGA.  Some prefer FTM/FGA.  We have heard arguments in favor of both of these metrics, but we really liked a paper written by The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective’s John Ezekowitz, who argued for the metric we chose above in his February 21, 2011, paper entitled Re-examining The Four Factors: The Case For Free Throws Made Per 100 Possessions.

Putting It All Together

The key to the four factors is finding an algorithm in which the results of each team can be turned into some form of a rating or to produce a spread for a game between teams.  What good is it to know that Team A has X, Y, Z, and W rates in the four factors, and their opponent has a little better X and Z, and weaker Y and W rates.  So, where does that get us?  Only when the Four Factors can be turned into a rating of some sort is the data useful to the fan.

The PiRates tried for a few years to come up with an accurate rating from the Four Factors.  Our original mistake was assuming the different factors would not affect the college game any different than it does the NBA, where the numbers were determined to be 40% FG efficiency, 25% turnover rate, 20% offensive rebounding rate, and 15% free throw rate.

This did not make for an accurate rating when applied to college teams and uses to compare them in a point spread sort of way.  Whereas the NBA teams basically play equal schedules in terms of strengths of opponents (once enough games had been played), this cannot be said of the college game, where one team’s schedule could be as much as 20 points per game stronger than another team’s schedule.  Also, in the NBA, every team plays 41 home games and 41 road games.  The top college teams might schedule 19 home games, 3 neutral games, and just 9 road games.

We also realized that not all turnovers are the same.  A steal is worth more than any other type of turnover, because the ball remains live, and the defense frequently finds itself with a 2 on 1 or 3 on 2 fast break opportunity following a high percentage of their steals.  In the college game, more full court pressure can lead to steals that produce a lot of easy baskets, whereas in the NBA, this is a rare occurrence.

After much trial and error, we came up with three separate algorithms that when back-tested in past seasons produced acceptable predictive results.

Now, we can take a look at these 25 teams and make some assumptions based on their four factors data to date.  We can add some PiRate Rating data (like our unique R+T formula) to polish our beliefs.

The numbers you see below are our Blue Rating Scores for each of the Four Factors plus the Strength of Schedule score, the R+T rating, and the teams rating in true road and neutral games (neutral games when a team plays in another gym in their area against an out of town team does not count–like Kansas playing a Big East team in Kansas City).

AAC

Cincinnati: FG 6.4  TO 0.8  OR 0.6  FT 0.2  SOS 56.1  R+T 18.4 Rd W-L 4-2

The Bearcats do not excel in any one factor, but they are better than average in all factors.  Their SOS is good but not great, and their R+T rating is very good.  They will benefit from having extra scoring opportunities.  Cinti will run into trouble against big muscle teams from the power conferences, and they will struggle against teams that play choking man to man defense.  However, this team has enough talent to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance.

ACC

Virginia: FG 12.0   TO 4.7   OR 4.3   FT -1.2   SOS 59.6   R+T 16.2   Rd W-L 6-1

The Cavaliers are going to be a tough out for any opponent in the NCAA Tournament.  Their style of defense will destroy teams that cannot shoot from the perimeter, and the Cavs will also exploit teams that do not have excellent passers.  To beat UVa, you must be able to pass the ball quick enough from the strong side to the weak side and then penetrate their interior defense for either an open look inside or a pass to a wide open three-point shooter.  Virginia will not beat itself.  Wisconsin and Arizona could be trouble for the Cavs, whereas Virginia could be a tough out for a team like Florida.

North Carolina: FG 6.4  TO 3.7   OR 17.4   FT 7.7   SOS 58.9   R+T 33.6   Rd W-L 7-3

The Tar Heels have the look of a Final Four team.  However, they have some small vulnerabilities.  First, they are not the best shooting team in Chapel Hill history, in fact far from it.  They do make up for this by being the best offensive rebounding team in college basketball.  They are not that shabby in the turnover department either, and thus, they have the best R+T rating in many years.  By the time the season moves into March, UNC will either be unbeatable and peaking at the right time or a major disappointment due to fatigue and injuries.  This is one team we cannot see losing prior to the Sweet 16, as they will be a 1 or 2 seed and no 15 or 16 seed can compete with them, with only a slim chance that a 7 or 8 seed can keep a game within single digits.

The team that beats UNC will be the team that can muscle their way under the basket and make the rebounding part of the equation only a minor Tar Heel victory.  Said team will also have to force the Heels into a few more turnovers than normal and produce some quick points off those turnovers.  West Virginia and Kentucky are the teams that will give UNC fits, while a great shooting team like UCLA or Gonzaga will find that they must do more than shoot lights out to beat this team.

Florida St.: FG 11.2   TO 2.8   OR 2.5   FT 2.4   SOS 58.6   R+T 15.6   Rd W-L 4-2

The Seminoles are going to be a tough match-up for teams outside the ACC that have never played against them.  Their style of play will lead to large victories in the early rounds of the tournament, but once FSU faces stiff competition, their inconsistent style of play will hurt their chances.  There will be many teams with a resume similar to theirs from amongst the power leagues.  FSU will be more like a poor man’s Kentucky.  They might win by 20-30 in the opening game, and they might make it to the Sweet 16 by way of a double digit win in their next game, but once they get to the Sweet 16, the Seminoles should be a quick out against a quality opponent like Villanova, Kansas, or Oregon.

Louisville: FG 6.5   TO 4.8  OR 7.9   FT 1.7   SOS 62.9   R+T 20.3   Rd W-L 5-2

Don’t dismiss this edition of Cardinals.  Rick Pitino knows how to coach in March, and there is enough talent at the Yum Center to guide UL to the Final Four.  The Cards have played a tough schedule to date and pulling off numbers like their current Four Factors against the opposition they have faced is a sign of a top 10 team.  In most years, these numbers would be the best in the nation, and even in a year where there are many great teams, these numbers stick out as among the best.

To beat the Cards, it is going to take a team that can shut off their inside game and force UL to beat them from the perimeter.  Not many teams can do this, but there are some potential teams out there that can send the Cards home, such as Virginia from their own league, Oregon, and Purdue.

Notre Dame: FG 8.5   TO 4.0   OR 0.2   FT 3.8   SOS 56.3   R+T 11.2   Rd W-L 5-2

The Fighting Irish have been consistently good for several years but with also a consistent liability.  Notre Dame has not been a dominant rebounding team since Digger Phelps retired.  While, the Irish have numbers strong enough to indicate they are Sweet 16 worthy, they do not have the dominating inside game that will get them to Phoenix.  A host of quality teams are out there that can hit the glass and limit ND to one shot per possession, and the Irish are bound to face one of them if they make it to the Sweet 16.  Baylor, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Kentucky could send Mike Brey’s bunch home to Indiana.  On the other hand, Notre Dame could be a tough opponent for UCLA, Villanova, or Maryland.

Big 12

West Virginia: FG 7.2    TO 16.0   OR 5.8   FT 5.1   SOS 53.7   R+T 27.2   Rd W-L 5-2

The jury is still out on this team, even though our PiRate Blue metrics say that Coach Bob Huggins has the currently top team in the land.  Huggie Bear’s Mountaineers have to prove they can sustain these fat metric ratings against the top teams.  WVU’s SOS is rather low for a Power Conference team, and they have yet to face Kansas or any tough team on enemy hardwood.  Their toughest road game to date came against Texas Tech, and they flunked that exam.

If WVU can keep their TO rate at astronomically high numbers and also maintain their better than average rebound rate, they are capable of making it to Phoenix.  Whereas many pressing teams eventually run into a team that does not fret the pressure and actually exploits it for points, WVU is more than your typical on the line/up the line gimmick defense.  This team can win by dominating on the glass, getting the ball inside for easy baskets, hitting the three, and playing strong half-court defense.  Once again, until they play Kansas a couple times, Kansas State on the road, as well as road trips to Iowa State and Baylor, it is too early to make a logical call on this team.

Baylor: FG 11.1   TO -0.2   OR 9.5   FT 8.1   SOS 61.8   R+T 20.5   Rd W-L 6-1

 

Scott Drew has been to the Elite 8 before, and this Baylor team looks like his next Elite 8 club.  Until the Bears face a team that can force the issue and pressure the ball, they look like a favorite to advance in each round.  As West Virginia showed, Baylor is not equipped to handle crazy pressure.  Other teams that might exploit this weakness include Virginia, Butler, Kentucky, and Florida.  And, if a mid-major like UNC-Wilmington or Middle Tennessee meets the Bears in the round of 32, Baylor will have to bring their A-game to avoid a major upset loss.

Kansas: FG 11.2   TO 1.7   OR 6.2  FT 0.1   SOS 59.1   R+T 16.4   Rd W-L  4-1

The Jayhawks have been flying under the radar if that is possible, but now that KU has ascended to the top of the charts, they will be on the center stage every game they occupy the penthouse.  Bill Self always has a contender in Lawrence, so this should come as no surprise when we say that the Jayhawks have the right stuff to make it all the way to the Final Four.  They can shoot the ball with the best of them, and they can defend the ball with the best of them.  They are not world-beaters anywhere else, but their other metrics are quite strong.  And, they have produced these numbers against a very good schedule.  KU has another big bonus, something they had when they won the title back in 1988.  With a star like Frank Mason III, teams will have to concentrate and dedicate another defender to stop this star.  That might work against some teams, but KU has five or six other players that can carry the team, so it is impossible to really double up on Mason.  If you are old enough to remember 1988, this reminds us of Danny Manning.

Big East

Villanova: FG 12.1   TO 1.6   OR 4.1    FT 9.6   SOS 61.1    R+T 16.1    Rd W-L 8-1

The Wildcats have proven so far this year to be good enough to repeat as National Champions, and in point of fact, at this point in the season compared to last year, they are a better team.  The rub is that so are about 30 other dominating teams.  VU has been putting teams away by getting their regulars into foul trouble from making quick moves to the basket.  Unlike other teams with very high FT rates, they are less likely to suffer from how the game is called differently in the Big Dance, because officials will blow their whistles on drives to the basket that produce contact.

Considering ‘Nova has put up these gaudy numbers against A+ competition, and they have an 8-1 record away from Philly, they are more than capable of making it back to Phoenix.  But, as Alabama just found out in football, getting back to the title game and winning it, are in different universes.  Villanova wants no part of North Carolina in a rematch.

Creighton: FG 12.5   TO 2.7   OR -3.4   FT 2.7    SOS 58.8   R+T 7.3    Rd W-L 7-0

Every year, one or two highly-rated teams gets sent home from the Dance early by a mid-major team that can exploit the power team’s weakness.  Creighton has the resume of a power team that could be susceptible to an early round loss.  Their negative rebounding rate might be covered up by other assets during the regular season, but come tournament time, just about every opponent they might face will be able to exploit this poor metric.  If their TO rate was really good, they could overcome this liability, but this is not the case, as the Blue Jays are just average or a little below in this department as well.  Their R+T rating is too low to make it to the Elite 8, and the Sweet 16 is their ceiling.  If they make it to the Sweet 16, teams like Baylor, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Kentucky can beat them by double digits.

Butler: FG 6.5   TO 5.1   OR 0.1   FT 2.1   SOS 61.3  R+T 10.0   Rd W-L 5-3

When Butler made back-to-back appearances in the National Championship Game, their Four Factors numbers were consistently good but not outstanding in any category.  This Butler team has somewhat inconsistent numbers compared to those Bulldog teams, but at the same time, they are stronger in the turnover rates and have played a much tougher schedule to date than those teams that won five tournament games.

Butler is probably a little too inconsistent this year to win five games and make it to the championship.  They might be better equipped to beat a North Carolina or Kansas than the 2010 and 2011 teams, but this Bulldog edition could easily stub its toe right out of the gates and not get a chance to upset teams like the 2010 and 2011 teams did (Syracuse, Kansas State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, and Florida).

Big Ten

The Big Ten has been able to make it to the Final Four multiple times in recent years, but no league team has cut down the nets since Michigan State in 2000 (Maryland was in the ACC when they won in 2002).  There are a couple teams this year capable of giving it a good try.

Wisconsin: FG 8.9  TO 3.9  OR 15.9   FT 2.6    SOS 52.7  R+T 28.8   Rd W-L 4-3

The Badgers have played a rather weak schedule to date, and that could send their current numbers much lower once the better Big Ten opponents have been faced away from Madison.  With Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, and Nigel Hayes, the Badgers have a trio of quality players good enough to carry them to the Final Four.  In past years, overall team speed was an issue with this team, but the Badgers have quickness, finesse, and power this year.  UW has been much, much better at home than away from home, and a lot of teams that go 18-0 at home and 9-6 away from home leave the Dance early.  A quality team that is headed to the Elite 8 usually wins 70% or more of its games away from home, and UW is just 4-3 at this point.  Of course, those three losses came to Creighton, North Carolina, and Purdue.  Recent road wins against Marquette and Indiana could be an indication that UW is on the verge of breaking out and becoming a serious contender.

Maryland: FG 6.1  TO 0.5   OR 3.4  FT 7.5  SOS 56.4   R+T 8.8  Rd W-L 6-0

An aside: Back in the days when only one team per conference went to the NCAA Tournament, Maryland had a team that was good enough to win the national championship but was just a couple points away from getting a chance to play in it.  The 1974 Terrapins went 23-5.  Their five losses represent the best five-loss team in history.  Loss number one came at the hands of #1 UCLA in Pauley Pavillion to open the season (Bruins had won more than 70 consecutive games), in a game in which the officiating was very generous to the Bruins and yet UM lost by just one point and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer.  Loss number two came at North Carolina State, who had won 35 of its previous 36 games (lone loss to UCLA) and who would be the eventual national champs.  This loss was a six-point loss, and the Terps led this game into the second half before a Wolf Pack rally won it for the home team.  Loss number three came on the road against #4 North Carolina, yet another contest where UM had a chance to win until late in the second half.  The Terps only home loss came against NC State, who by now would not lose again until the following season.  This loss to the Pack was another close affair with UM losing by six after leading in the second half.  You can probably guess where loss number five came.  Once again, NC State topped UM in the ACC Championship Game in what is probably the best every ACC Title game.  State won by a score of 103-100 in overtime.  Maryland’s 23 wins were mostly lopsided affairs.  Even the two other contests against North Carolina were not close, as the Terps won by 11 in College Park and by 20 in Greensboro in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

What has that got to do with this year’s Terp team?  Nothing, except this year’s UM team will be in the Big Dance even if they do not win the Big Ten Tournament or the regular season title.  However, this year’s UM team is primed to be an early round upset loser, because it is nowhere near as talented as that 1974 team that featured John Lucas, Tom McMillen, and Len Elmore.  That UM team out-shot quality opposition by 11%, out-rebounded them by 11 per game, and outscored them by 17 points per game.

Purdue: FG 10.1  TO -0.7  OR 10.5  FT 8.3   SOS 55.9  R+T 19.7   Rd W-L 5-2

We could give another history lesson on this Big Ten team.  Purdue has been to the Final Four twice before, but both times, it was with teams that played an entirely different style of basketball from this team and from all the teams during the Gene Keady era.

We have a lot of respect for Coach Keady and his successful disciples, including current Boilermaker coach Matt Painter.  However, history has not been kind to the “Keady system” in NCAA Tournament history.  Purdue never made it to the Final Four with all the highly-ranked teams of the 1980’s and 1990’s and seldom made it past the second game.  Case in point, last year, the Boilermakers left the Dance immediately, losing to Arkansas-Little Rock in their first game.

Why is it that Purdue has under-performed so consistently for so many years?  Coach Keady and his disciples strongly advocate an intelligent offensive half-court set and tough man-to-man defense to prevent good shots.  That works well in the regular season, as teams like this routinely play smart ball and beat all the teams they are supposed to beat, and even upset some better teams.  But, when you get into the second week of March, the opposition is usually as good as you at shooting and preventing good shots.  Games are more frequently decided by which team gets more opportunities to shoot.  Thus rebounding and turnover margin play significantly more important roles than they do in the regular season.  Purdue has not been a consistently tough team on the boards, and they do not pressure the passing lanes.

This year’s Boilermaker squad is one of the best rebounding teams in Mackey Arena in a long time, but once again, PU is stinking it up in the turnover rate metric.  The rebounding strength could get Painter’s squad past the first game and maybe even into the Sweet 16, but when the Boilermakers run into a team like Butler, Kentucky, or Florida, or even a Mid-major like UNC-Wilmington or Middle Tennessee, they are going to have a tough time advancing.  And, should they find West Virginia in their bracket…..

Pac-12

UCLA: FG 14.2   TO 0.3   OR -1.0   FT 3.2   SOS 53.4   R+T 10.0   Rd W-L 8-1

This might be the most exciting team to watch, but this UCLA team suffers from the same issues that Purdue suffers from as stated above.  When the Bruins are hot, they can put any team away, and their win at Kentucky showed this.  However, they will run into defenses that can slow them down when they get to March, and the Bruins do not have what it takes to get additional scoring chances through rebounding and turnover margin.  Additionally, the Bruins have played a lot of cupcakes this year, and a lot of their shooting stats have been aided by playing weak defensive teams.  Until they are ousted thought, Lonzo Ball and company promise to give the fan his or her money’s worth.

Oregon: FG 10.2   TO 3.0   OR 7.5   FT 6.5   SOS 57.1   R+T 19.5   Rd W-L 5-2

The Ducks could be a contender for the Final Four.  After a slow start, Oregon has now won 14 consecutive games and looks like the team the pundits expected they would be this season.  The Ducks have a really tough closing stretch in the regular season with seven consecutive tough games between February 4 and 25.  Included in this slate is a three-game stretch against Arizona, UCLA, and USC, with the latter two on the road.  If Oregon can come through this three-week stretch without injuries or undue fatigue, this team can repeat its performance of last year and maybe make it one round past what it did last year.  That would mean they make it to Phoenix.

Arizona: FG  8.3  TO 0.6   OR 7.3   FT 10.4   SOS 58.1   R+T 20.2   Rd W-L 5-2

At first glance, Arizona’s numbers don’t look much different than Oregon’s above.  Look a little closer.  This is a team that relies a bit too much on free throw rate and is vulnerable against a team that can pressure the ball and force turnovers.  Arizona wants no part of West Virginia, but they could fall prey to a lesser pressure team or a team that turns the ball over less than 10 times a game like Virginia.  In their loss to Gonzaga, the Wildcats turned the ball over nine times in the first half and didn’t shoot well, and Gonzaga pulled out to a double digit lead.  Arizona did get to the foul line several times, but they missed too many foul shots to get back in the game.  This is likely to happen to them in an NCAA Sweet 16 game if UA makes it that far.

SEC

Kentucky: FG  9.1  TO 6.7   OR 7.4   FT 4.7   SOS 61.1   R+T 22.3   Rd W-L 6-1

This is always a tough team to figure out.  Annually, John Calipari recruits the top talent in the nation to Lexington, and Kentucky has better talent than every team on its schedule.  However, that talent is almost always freshmen, and even five McDonald’s All-Americans as college freshmen are bound to play a bit inconsistently.  On any given night, these future NBA stars are liable to blow out an average team by 30 to 40 points.  On any given night, these future NBA stars are liable to fiddle around and allow a mediocre team to stay in contention.

In Kentucky’s favor, these freshmen will have 33 to 35 games of experience by the time the NCAA Tournament begins, and the Wildcats will have a 1 or 2 seed, able to get to the Sweet 16 just by showing up.  Once at the Sweet 16, this team will have the talent and tools to keep winning, but they will still be just raw enough to lay an egg and go home with a disappointing loss.

It will take a muscle team to beat Kentucky, one that can throw its weight around on the glass, make their fouls count more like unnecessary roughness penalties in football, and has the ability to outscore the Wildcats from behind the arc.

Florida: FG 3.1  TO 6.6  OR 1.7   FT 8.9   SOS 63.0   R+T 11.4   Rd W-L 8-3

Here is a really interesting team.  At first glance, this Florida team looks like many of the Florida teams under former coach Billy Donovan.  The Gators’ ball-hawking defense tends to lead to more scoring opportunities for the orange and blue than for their opponents.  However, the really good Gator teams under Donovan played incredible half-court defense.  This Gator team is a bit weak defending inside, and that will be their downfall in March.  The Gators are adequate but not great shooting the ball, and when they don’t force a turnover, they are not great at stopping the ball from going through the opponents’ basket.

One thing in UF’s favor is their schedule has prepared them to play top-flight teams.  Outside of the league Florida played Seton Hall, Miami, Gonzaga, Florida State, and Duke.

South Carolina: FG 7.8   TO 4.9   OR 4.6   FT -5.4   SOS 56.2   R+T 13.9   Rd W-L 4-2

You have to look at South Carolina’s statistics a bit differently than just viewing their numbers.  This is a tale of two teams.  There is the USC team that is 11-0 when its best player, Sindarius Thornwell has been healthy enough to play, and there is the USC team that is 3-3 when Thornwell has not played.

The bad news for SEC teams is that Thornwell is close to 100% well again, and the Gamecocks are 4-0 in the league because of it.  A healthy Thornwell is a threat to record a triple double or score 20 points and pull down a dozen boards, while playing exemplary defense.

If the Gamecocks stay healthy this year, they look like a near lock to make the Dance, and once they get there, we have faith in Coach Frank Martin that they will play multiple games.  USC’s defense is tournament worthy, and they have just enough offense to pull away in the second half.  Their major liability is at the foul line, where they commit more than an average number of fouls.  However, this stat suffered considerably during Thornwell’s absence.  Since his return, the Gamecocks have a much better showing.

The Rest

Gonzaga: FG 15.6  TO 1.6   OR  2.6  FT 5.6   SOS 55.9  R+T 16.9   Rd W-L 7-0

Gonzaga faces a similar task that Wichita State faced in 2014, when they went 34-0 in the regular season.  The Bulldogs are the last undefeated team standing at 17-0, and the way they dominated St. Mary’s Saturday night, many sports professionals are calling for an undefeated regular season.  They still have to go to St. Mary’s, and they have to play at BYU, so they could still lose one or two regular season games this year.

Gonzaga has been a number one seed before as well as the top-ranked team in the nation, and things did not go all that well for the Bulldogs.  In 2013, the Zags entered NCAA Tournament play with a 31-2 record.  They almost became the first number one seed to lose to a 16-seed, when they had to hold on to narrowly edge Southern University in the Round of 64.  Then, GU fell in the Round of 32 to Wichita State, and the Shockers rolled to the Final Four from there.

Might things be different this year for Mark Few’s squad?  Gonzaga looks a lot like UCLA.  They are not quite as good shooting the ball, but they are a tad better defending the ball.  They are considerably better on the boards, but by the time the Dance begins to tap, their strength of schedule will have dropped to a point where they may not be ready to face a quality team in the Sweet 16.  The Kyle Wiltjer Gonzaga team that made it to the Elite 8 was more equipped for the tournament than this year’s squad, so we believe Gonzaga will fall in the Sweet 16 round.

Nevada: FG 5.4   TO -1.8   OR 3.5   FT 9.8   SOS 52.3   R+T 8.0   Rd W-L 8-3

If you consider Gonzaga not to be a mid-major, then Nevada is the best non Power Conference team in the West this year, but the Wolfpack are a paper tiger.  They do not have the numbers to be a serious contender like some former Mountain West Conference teams in the past.  Their low R+T number coming from a below average schedule strength means Nevada is likely to exit the Dance quickly and by double digits.  We wanted to include them here today so you can compare them to the two mid-majors most likely to advance to the second weekend this year.

UNC-Wilmington: FG 3.8   TO 7.1   OR 3.7   FT -2.0  SOS 51.2   R+T 12.9  Rd W-L 9-2

UNCW gave Duke a big scare last year in the Round of 64, and this year’s team is better, capable of making a run to the Sweet 16.  Coach Kevin Keatts is a Rick Pitino disciple, and we would not be shocked to see Keatts taking over a big time program sooner rather than later.  He has all the tools to be a star on the big stage, and his team plays like it deserves a shot on basketball’s Broadway.

UNCW’s biggest liability is their negative FT rate.  This has come about because the Seahawks commit a lot of fouls with their pressure defense.  We tend to believe that some of this has been because they have played a lot of games on the road, where the officials whistled them for more fouls than they would have received had they been at home.  When the NCAA Tournament begins, a lot of the plays in which they might have been whistled for a foul in the regular season will no longer draw a foul call.

UNCW is the poor man’s West Virginia, and they could easily be this year’s Stephen F. Austin.  Beware if your favorite big time program makes the Tournament and they draw this team, and your team is like Purdue, Baylor, UCLA, Arizona, or Creighton.  The Seahawk press can produce a quick burst of points and put your team behind the eight ball.

Middle Tennessee: FG 3.7  TO 5.0  OR 7.4  FT -2.5  SOS 56.3  R+T 17.5  Rd W-L 8-1

If you like UNCW’s chances, then you’ll love Middle Tennessee’s chances this year.  This is the CUSA team that upset Michigan State in last year’s tournament, and this year’s Blue Raider squad is maybe 10 points better than last year’s group.  Middle Tennessee actually played UNCW over the Thanksgiving holiday and beat the Seahawks by five.  The Blue Raiders went on the road to Ole Miss and destroyed the Rebels in the first half with a 29-point halftime lead before coasting to a 15-point win.  They repeated the performance against SEC neighbor Vanderbilt winning by 23 and never being challenged.

The Blue Raiders could have 30 wins when the NCAA Tournament begins, and it would not surprise us if they receive a seed as high as 9 or 10.  Of course, this would mean they would play a 1 or 2 seed in the Round of 32 should they win their first game.  The Blue Raiders’ fans should root for your team to draw a team like Purdue, Notre Dame, Creighton, Butler, or Maryland in the first game and not someone like West Virginia, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon, or Kentucky.  Of course, these teams are most likely to be encountered after the opening game, which means the Blue Raiders should be a hot pick in the Round of 64.

We did not include the 25 best teams in this presentation.  There are many other quality teams like Indiana, Duke, Miami, TCU, Xavier, Akron, Illinois State, California, Utah, USC, and New Mexico State.

We hope you enjoyed this piece and learned a little about how the Four Factors has been part of the new analytical study of basketball.

Coming Friday: We take our next stab at the Field of 68, and if we can get our gurus to send us the information in time, we will debut our annual Bracketology Guru report.  Shout out to the Gurus that have not done so–please return the email we sent you to tell us if you plan to participate this year.  If we do not have enough information to debut our guru composite, we will attempt to select 68 teams ourselves.

January 13, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Preview For January 14-15, 2017

PiRate Red-White-Blue Spreads For The Weekend

Games Scheduled for: Saturday, January 14, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Clemson Virginia -1 -4 -6
Louisville Duke 4 1 4
Pittsburgh Miami (Fla.) 5 1 7
North Carolina Florida St. 9 8 3
Virginia Tech Notre Dame 6 -1 -1
Syracuse Boston College 8 14 9
Kansas Oklahoma St. 10 13 14
Texas West Virginia -16 -15 -6
Kansas St. Baylor 1 -4 -9
TCU Iowa St. 2 -1 3
Oklahoma Texas Tech 6 -4 -2
Georgetown Connecticut 15 8 9
Providence Seton Hall -3 -1 -1
St. John’s Villanova -4 -15 -16
Butler Xavier 3 4 8
Marquette DePaul 19 17 13
Penn St. Minnesota 2 -4 -4
Michigan Nebraska 1 9 1
Illinois Maryland 1 1 6
California Washington St. 13 17 19
Utah UCLA -11 -8 -1
Stanford Washington 2 4 10
Oregon Oregon St. 27 26 26
Florida Georgia 11 12 10
Mississippi St. Texas A&M 3 -1 -6
LSU Alabama 7 -2 -3
Kentucky Auburn 23 24 23
Arkansas Missouri 15 16 15
South Carolina Ole Miss 9 8 6
Vanderbilt Tennessee -1 2 6
         
Games Scheduled for: Sunday, January 15, 2017
Home Visitor Red White Blue
North Carolina St. Georgia Tech 14 11 14
Indiana Rutgers 16 18 19
Ohio St. Michigan St. 4 2 -4
Northwestern Iowa 1 6 8
Colorado USC 1 -1 4

 

The PiRate Top 25 For January 13, 2017

  1. West Virginia
  2. Kansas
  3. Kentucky
  4. Villanova
  5. Virginia
  6. North Carolina
  7. Gonzaga
  8. UCLA
  9. Florida St.
  10. Baylor
  11. St. Mary’s
  12. Wisconsin
  13. Louisville
  14. Duke
  15. Butler
  16. Arizona
  17. Florida
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Creighton
  20. Oregon
  21. Notre Dame
  22. Purdue
  23. Xavier
  24. Wichita St.
  25. Iowa St.

ACC

  1. Virginia
  2. North Carolina
  3. Florida St.
  4. Louisville
  5. Duke
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Clemson
  8. Virginia Tech
  9. Miami (Fla)
  10. Wake Forest
  11. Pittsburgh
  12. Syracuse
  13. North Carolina St.
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Boston College

Big East

  1. Villanova
  2. Butler
  3. Creighton
  4. Xavier
  5. Seton Hall
  6. Marquette
  7. Providence
  8. Georgetown
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Big Ten

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Purdue
  3. Minnesota
  4. Michigan St.
  5. Indiana
  6. Northwestern
  7. Michigan
  8. Maryland
  9. Ohio St.
  10. Iowa
  11. Illinois
  12. Penn St.
  13. Nebraska
  14. Rutgers

Big 12

  1. West Virginia
  2. Kansas
  3. Baylor
  4. Iowa St.
  5. Kansas St.
  6. Texas Tech
  7. Oklahoma St.
  8. TCU
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Texas

Pac-12

  1. UCLA
  2. Arizona
  3. Oregon
  4. California
  5. USC
  6. Utah
  7. Colorado
  8. Stanford
  9. Washington
  10. Arizona St.
  11. Washington St.
  12. Oregon St.

SEC

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. South Carolina
  4. Georgia
  5. Arkansas
  6. Alabama
  7. Texas A&M
  8. Vanderbilt
  9. Tennessee
  10. Ole Miss
  11. Mississippi St.
  12. Auburn
  13. LSU
  14. Missouri

Games To Watch This Weekend Because They Will Be Fun To Watch

Best 3 Saturday

Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s   (ESPN2 at 10 PM EST)

Butler vs. Xavier   (Fox Sports 1 at 2 PM EST)

Clemson vs. Virginia  (WatchESPN at 12:00 PM EST)

Best of The Rest

Louisville vs. Duke   (ESPN at 12:00 PM EST)

North Carolina vs. Florida St.  (ESPN at 2 PM EST)

Kansas St. vs. Baylor   (ESPNU at 4:30 PM EST)

Utah vs. UCLA   (Pac-12 Network at 6 PM EST)

Princeton vs. Yale   (ESPN3 at 8 PM EST)

Coming Next Week–We take the top national contenders and break down what area of the game an opponent must master in order to beat each one.  We’ll use our Four Factors Algorithms to analyze where each of the top teams might have an Achilles Heel, and maybe which teams have no apparent weakness.

December 29, 2016

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Preview For December 29, 2016

Welcome to the PiRate Ratings’ return to college basketball coverage.  There are changes in the numbers this season, and we are excited to debut our annual Red-White-and-Blue Ratings for the 2016-17 college basketball season.

First, we have tweaked our Blue formula algorithm this year by giving a little more emphasis to true shooting percentage and the complimentary defensive metric in limiting shooting percentage.  In recent seasons, turnover margin has begun to mean a little bit less than it did a decade ago, and there are fewer truly dominant rebounding teams out there.  So, the college game for the time being is all about making shots and preventing the other team from making shots.  It sounds silly, as that should be all that matters (hitting baskets and stopping the other team from making them), but turnovers and rebounds gives teams more opportunities to take shots and make shots, while reducing the number of opportunities teams give to their opponents.  Rebounding and turnover rates are still vital, as we merely reduced the percentage of the total contribution by a couple basis points.

Next up, we plan on totally revising our NCAA  Tournament Bracketology data this season.  Our old formula has been performing with mediocre results in recent years, and we have decided to go 80% Four Factors and 20% PiRate Criteria this season and see what happens.  The R+T factor will still be part of our presentation, as it is still very effective at weeding out pretenders from contenders.

Until the Big Dance, we will concentrate our efforts on conference games and big non-conference games between teams from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC.  Because we have to input the stats for every team for every game, it is not possible to do this for every Division I game.  But, because all we need for our ratings are the current updated stats, we can always rate any game, thus, if we want to rate a Missouri Valley Conference big game, we can add it to the slate.

Additionally, following the New Year’s, expect our chosen selections to run just one day a week, most likely Friday, and it will include that weekend’s games.  We will also provide commentary on the entire division, as we tend to receive a lot of readership when we report on the low-major and mid-major conferences.

Let’s get started with this week’s pre-New Year’s report.

PiRate Top 10

thru games of 12/28/16

  1. Villanova
  2. Virginia
  3. Duke
  4. West Virginia
  5. Kansas
  6. Baylor
  7. North Carolina
  8. Louisville
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Kentucky

ACC

  1. Virginia
  2. Duke
  3. North Carolina
  4. Louisville
  5. Florida St.
  6. Clemson
  7. Notre Dame
  8. Miami
  9. Virginia Tech
  10. Syracuse
  11. Wake Forest
  12. Pittsburgh
  13. North Carolina St.
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Boston College

This league is so loaded this year that #13 North Carolina State is strong enough to compete for the SEC Championship.  Only the bottom two are considered out of the running for an NCAA  Tournament bid.

Big East

  1. Villanova
  2. Butler
  3. Xavier
  4. Creighton
  5. Marquette
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Georgetown
  8. Providence
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Until they lose, reigning national champion Villanova rules the roost in the league and nationally.  The Wildcats had a close one last night against the cellar dweller, but one game does not knock them off their perch, as long as it is a win.  As of today, it looks like five teams would make the Dance.

Big Ten

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Purdue
  3. Michigan
  4. Indiana
  5. Northwestern
  6. Ohio St.
  7. Maryland
  8. Minnesota
  9. Michigan St.
  10. Iowa
  11. Illinois
  12. Nebraska
  13. Penn St.
  14. Rutgers

It looks like Northwestern is in line to finally make it to the Big Dance.  A strong 12-2 start for the Wildcats needs only a winning conference record and one conference tournament win to get that elusive bid.

Big 12

  1. West Virginia
  2. Kansas
  3. Baylor
  4. Texas Tech
  5. Kansas St.
  6. Iowa St.
  7. TCU
  8. Oklahoma St.
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Texas

Yes, the Longhorns and Sooners bring up the rear as conference play is set to begin.  The other 8 teams look to be NCAA Tournament bound as of today with the top 3 teams the equal of the top three in the ACC.

Pac-12

  1. UCLA
  2. Arizona
  3. Oregon
  4. USC
  5. Colorado
  6. California
  7. Utah
  8. Stanford
  9. Washington
  10. Arizona St.
  11. Oregon St.
  12. Washington St.

Even with UCLA’s last second loss at Oregon, the Bruins stay atop the Pac-12 standings.  This league looks like a 4 or 5-bid league as of now.

SEC

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. South Carolina
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arkansas
  6. Georgia
  7. Ole Miss
  8. Alabama
  9. Tennessee
  10. Vanderbilt
  11. Auburn
  12. LSU
  13. Mississippi St.
  14. Missouri

Kentucky and Florida rank well ahead of the other dozen in this league this year.  South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Georgia sit on a separate shelf above the remaining eight teams.  This could be as little as a two-bid league but no more than a four-bid league as of now.

Low and Mid-Major Teams in the mix for at-large bids

It is getting more difficult to label Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s as Mid-Major teams.  The two WCC powers are both in our top 25 teams this week.

Cincinnati out of the American Conference is really a power team, even though the AAC has lost some prestige.  SMU is in the same boat, but the Mustangs need to do a little more work to be a for sure at-large team this year.

Wichita State has earned the same privilege as Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.  The Shockers belong in the list of at-large possibles.

The only real low-major team in consideration for a possible at-large bid would be UNC-Wilmington from the Colonial Athletic Association.  UNCW has the talent to get to the Sweet 16, and they scared the daylights out of Duke in the NCAA Tournament last year.

This Week’s Selections

Normally, this would be a list for Saturday/Sunday games, but due to the New Year’s Holiday, we are beginning with a list of Thursday games.  Once again, we will concentrate only on the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC conference games, as well as any games among highly ranked teams.

Each Rating is derived from the Four Factors with separate algorithmic equations.  An explanation of the Four Factors follows below.

Games Scheduled for: Thursday, December 29, 2016
Home Visitor Red White Blue
Texas A&M Tennessee 8 11 9
Auburn Georgia 1 2 -3
Ole Miss Kentucky -12 -7 -8
LSU Vanderbilt 2 5 -3
Arkansas Florida -1 -4 -7
St. John’s Butler -6 -8 -11
Gonzaga Pepperdine 25 24 28
Loyola Marymount Saint Mary’s -10 -11 -14

The Four Factors in basketball are:

  1. Effective Field Goal Percentage
  2. Turnover Rate
  3. Offensive Rebounding Rate
  4. Free Throw Rate

These factors apply to both offense and defense, so in effect each team has Eight Factors.

Effective Field Goal Percentage

[FG +(0.5*3pt)]/FGA (expressed as a percentage)

Where FG is field goals made, 3pt is 3-point shots made, and FGA is field goal attempts

If a team makes 25 of 55 field goals and sinks 6 three-pointers, their EFG% is:

[25+(0.5*6)]/55 = 50.9% or 50.9

Turnover Rate

TOV/[FGA+(0.475*FTA)+TOV] (expressed as a percentage)

Where TOV is turnovers, FGA is Field Goal Attempts, and FTA is Free Throw Attempts

If a team commits 12 turnovers, takes 55 field goal attempts and 23 free throw attempts, their turnover rate is:

12/[55+(.475*23)+12]=15.4%

Offensive Rebounding %

OR/(OR+Opponents DR) (expressed as a percentage)

Where OR is offensive rebounds and DR is defensive rebounds

If a team gets 8 offensive rebounds, and their opponents get 26 defensive rebounds, their Offensive Rebounding % is:

8/(8+26) = 23.5%

Free Throw Rate

Basketball analytics gurus differ on how to rate this stat.  We align with those that favor free throws made per 100 possessions.

FT/[FGA+(0.475*FTA)+TOV-OR] (expressed as a percentage)

Where FT is Free throws made, FGA is field goal attempts, TOV is turnovers, and OR is offensive rebounds

If a team made 17 out of 23 free throw attempts with 55 field goal attempts, 12 turnovers, and 8 offensive rebounds, their FT Rate is:

17/[55+(0.475*23)+12-8] = 24.3%

The Red, White, and Blue Ratings use these statistics (both offensively and defensively) for the first 8 parts of the equation.  Part Number 9 is Strength of Schedule, and each rating adjusts a little differently for this.  Part Number 10 is Home Court Advantage (as well as occasional away from home disadvantage for teams that play much worse away from home than at home).

These 10 parts are then put through three separate algorithms to come up with three different ratings.  The difference in the ratings is the spread for the game.

 

April 4, 2016

NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship By The Numbers

PiRate Ratings For National Championship Game

Team Team Red White Blue
North Carolina Villanova 1 1 4

Red Rating–Uses an algorithm based on the Four Factors statistics adjusted to strength of schedule

White Rating–The Red Rating with comparative scores added to the algorithm

Blue Rating–An independent rating using an algorithm that does not include any of the Four Factors.

 

Four Factor Statistics

Four Factors    
North Carolina Offense vs. Villanova Defense    
Stat UNC-O Vill-D
EFG% 52.6 46.5
Reb Rate 40.6 29.0
TO Rate 15.3 20.7
FT * 22.1 16.6

 

Villanova Offense vs. North Carolina Defense    
Stat Vill-O UNC-D
EFG% 55.8 47.7
Reb Rate 28.6 30.2
TO Rate 16.3 18.4
FT * 22.2 18.1

 

Explanation of 4-Factors

EFG% = Effective Field Goal %.   [FG+(3pt * 1.5)]/FGA

Reb Rate = Percentage of offensive rebounds off missed shots.  (100* off. reb)/(off. reb + opp def. reb)

TO Rate=Turnovers committed (or forced for defense) per 100 Possessions

FT * = Free Throws Made per 100 Possessions

 

PiRate Criteria

PiRate Criteria UNC Vill.
Scoring Margin 13.2 14.7
FG% Diff 7.1 7.9
Reb Marg. 8.5 1.9
TO Marg. 2.1 2.9
R + T 22.8 10.5
Road W-L 18-5 19-4
SOS 57.74 58.54
Poss/G 70.2 67.5
Win Strk 1 12 9
Win Strk 2 10 7

Scoring Margin = Offense points per game minus opponents points per game

FG% Diff =Difference in offensive FG% and opponents FG%

Reb. Margin = Team rebounds per game minus opponents rebounds per game

TO Margin = Opponents turnovers per game minus team’s turnovers per game

R + T = PiRate Rating’s own invention to estimate additional scoring chances per game over the average team.  The formula is: (Rebound Margin * 2) + (Steals per Game * 0.5) + (6 – Opponents’ Steals per Game) + (Turnover Margin)

An R+T over 20.0 is dominating.  15.0-19.9 is excellent.  10.0-14.9 is very good.  7.0-9.9 is good. 5.0-6.9 is fair.  0-4.9 is not good. Any negative R+T is bad.  These ratings apply to the NCAA Tournament.  Negative R+T rated teams almost always lose in the first game of the Tournament.

Road W-L is the teams record in Away and Neutral Games

SOS is strength of schedule as determined by CBS Sports Ratings and multiplied by 100

Poss/G is number of possessions per game

Win Strk 1 & 2 are the teams’ two best winning streaks

 

Player Comparisons By Position

Point Guard PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3pt% FT% Ast/TO
UNC–Berry II 12.6 3.4 3.8 1.5 44.2 36.8 86.4 2.49
VU–Arcidiacono 12.4 2.9 4.3 1.4 43.9 38.9 83.3 2.83
                 
Shooting Guard PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3pt% FT% Ast/TO
UNC–Paige 12.3 2.5 3.7 1.2 39.8 34.8 77.5 2.98
VU–Brunson 9.7 1.8 2.6 0.7 45.5 38.1 77.9 1.39
                 
Small Forward PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3pt% FT% TO/MP
UNC–Jackson 12.3 3.9 2.8 0.6 46.8 27.6 68.1 3.63%
VU–Hart 15.5 6.7 1.9 1.2 51.5 35.8 75.2 5.26%
                 
Power Forward PPG RPG APG BPG FG% 3pt% FT% TO/MP
UNC–Meeks 9.4 5.9 1.1 1.1 56.3 0.0 67.8 6.69%
VU–Jenkins 13.6 3.9 2.2 0.4 45.6 38.4 85.3 4.40%
                 
Center PPG RPG APG BPG FG% 3pt% FT% TO/MP
UNC–Johnson 17.0 10.5 1.5 1.5 61.4 0.0 78.5 6.42%
VU–Ochefu 10.1 7.6 1.7 1.5 62.3 0.0 68.8 5.76%
                 
Bench Big PPG RPG APG BPG FG% 3pt% FT% TO/MP
UNC–Hicks 9.1 4.6 0.7 0.6 61.6 0.0 75.6 6.54%
VU–Reynolds 3.7 4.6 0.4 0.5 64.9 0.0 72.3 4.15%
                 
Bench Swing PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3pt% FT% TO/MP
UNC–Pinson 4.6 3.3 2.9 0.6 40.4 29.0 67.2 6.67%
VU–Bridges 6.5 3.2 0.9 1.1 51.8 29.9 78.7 3.01%
                 
Bench Guard PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3pt% FT% Ast/TO
UNC–Britt 5.5 1.5 1.8 0.7 38.7 32.9 80.0 2.06
VU–Booth 6.7 2.1 2.2 0.7 35.3 30.6 86.6 1.52
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