Bracket Ladder for January 18, 2011

Due to time constraints and how early in the season it is, this is pretty much just a demonstration of the demonstration of the concept. I just picked out the teams on the top three seed lines – that was as far as I got in about four and a half hours – so this is just a bunch of capsules of the top 12 teams, and because a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday I can’t even begin to assess where teams might end up standing in the long term. All these teams, with the possible exception of the very bottom team, have a reasonable chance to end up a 1 seed, so consider this your “1 seed bubble”. The “Featured” stuff next to each team is meaningless now, but I’ll explain their purpose next week. Also, the “good wins” and “bad losses” entries are almost arbitrary. They’re supposed to represent wins to teams ahead of or on the same level as yourself, and conversely losses to teams behind or on the same level as yourself, but this early in the season the definition of “same level” probably needs to be tightened; “same color” (which will eventually tie in to the “Featured” thing) obviously won’t work since all these teams would have the same color.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of January 17, 2011. This means this does NOT include Tuesday’s games, including Alabama’s upset of Kentucky.

How to read the chart: Teams are listed in order of my assessment of their strength based on the criteria established by the selection committee. The large gray number to the left is the team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament if the teams were seeded strictly according to the list order. Teams may receive a higher or lower seed because of bracketing principles. The code at the right side of each team name represents the team’s conference and a running count of the number of teams that conference has in all tournaments. The row beneath the team name packs in a whole bunch of information. In order: The team’s record is on the far left in bold. RPI: Rating Percentage Index rank. SOS: Strength of Schedule rank. R/N: Record in road and neutral-site games. OOC: Record in games outside the conference. RPI T50: Record against teams in the RPI Top 25. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams with the same or better color (more on this later). Lv≤: Number of losses against teams with the same or worse color.

1 Ohio State B10 #1 Featured
18-0 RPI: 8 SOS: 61 R/N: 5-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 2-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
I’m going to be honest with you. I’m only putting Ohio State at the top because otherwise I’d be putting a team that has lost there. Kansas and San Diego State haven’t impressed me with the quality of their wins; Ohio State has at least beaten a team in the RPI Top 20. Their strength of schedule overall isn’t great, so objectively they should probably be far lower, but at this fairly early stage there’s a lot of volatility and not much data to go on. Saturday’s game at Illinois (Saturday noon ET, CBS) is their best chance for a loss before my next update, and while it’ll improve their SoS profile it won’t improve their long-term prospects all that much. That won’t come until they play Purdue next week. Both games aren’t must-wins, but they’re better-wins because it wouldn’t take much of a collapse for them to shoot through the floor.
1 Pittsburgh BST #1 Featured
18-1 RPI: 5 SOS: 18 R/N: 5-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 1
Pittsburgh has only three wins against teams in the RPI Top 40… but what great wins they are, against fellow contenders for the top few seed lines, helping to vault them ahead of the likes of Syracuse, UConn, and Georgetown. The Tennessee loss came to a team outside the RPI Top 25, but I’ll let that slide since it was on a neutral site and the 4th best team by RPI they’ve played so far, almost on par with some teams’ best wins. Monday’s game against Notre Dame (7pm ET, ESPN) won’t hurt them too much if they lose, but if they win expect them to stay in the #1 seed discussion for most of February at least.
1 Connecticut BST #2 Featured
15-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 12 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 11-0 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
Syracuse and UConn, I found, was a case of splitting hairs. (Yes, I have three Big East teams on my top seed line that would be the top three teams if it weren’t for my commitment to have an unbeaten team overall #1. Don’t expect three Big East teams to be your #1 seeds come March, though, once conference play gets going.) I chose UConn over the ‘Cuse pretty much solely because of UConn’s strength of schedule. Syracuse beat Notre Dame and UConn didn’t, but Syracuse was at home and UConn went to South Bend. They won’t settle it on the court until February 2, but until then if UConn can beat the team that foiled Pitt, Tennessee in the only game Bruce Pearl will coach in January (Saturday 2pm ET, CBS), they can improve their case for moving up further should Pitt lose one or two more times.
1 Syracuse BST #3 Featured
18-1 RPI: 3 SOS: 22 R/N: 5-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Syracuse would be my overall #1 had they beaten Pitt, but they still beat teams in the RPI Top 20, something Kansas and San Diego State can’t say. They have a week to stew before facing another big challenge in Villanova (Saturday noon ET, ESPN), but if they want to really improve their chances of ending up with a #1 the February 2 game against UConn is their best near-term bet.
2 BYU MWC #1 Featured
17-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 15 R/N: 8-1 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The next three form another “tier” like the Big East teams that was hard to tease out between them. For BYU, a better strength of schedule and one more RPI Top 40 win than San Diego State outweighed a rather concerning loss to RPI #53 UCLA that could really drag them down in the long run. (Don’t count out the chances of the Mountain West teams staying this high, either; they’re doing gerbonkers in the conference RPI.) Of course, that’ll all be (mostly) irrelevant once they play each other; the first engagement is next Wednesday the 26th (10pm ET, CBS CS), and this week BYU will get two tuneups against relatively weak conference opposition, though Colorado State (Saturday 9pm ET, mtn.) could be a real trap game.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 Featured
17-0 RPI: 2 SOS: 27 R/N: 11-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
See BYU above; it pretty much tells the story, with the Aztecs’ only game this week being Wednesday hosting Air Force (10pm ET). I can’t tease out these top Mountain West teams until next week. The concern for the Aztecs is simply an iffy strength of schedule and only two RPI Top 40 wins, no RPI Top 20.
2 Kansas B12 #1 Featured
18-0 RPI: 1 SOS: 17 R/N: 7-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 2-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
Kansas’ problem is that they’ve only faced two teams in the RPI Top 50 and one in the RPI Top 40. They have more to prove if we’re going to anoint them in any way. Texas (Saturday 4pm ET, CBS) is normally good for a good win, but while they’ll help they’re only 40th in the RPI. Texas A&M is the only opponent that would appreciably improve Kansas’ standing, and that game isn’t until March and is at home. Despite their #1 RPI right now, if they don’t go undefeated, they’ll be very lucky to get a #1 or even #2 seed – and unless their only loss is to A&M, maybe Missouri, good luck getting a top four.
2 Duke ACC #1 Featured
16-1 RPI: 10 SOS: 49 R/N: 5-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The loss to a bubbly Florida State team and the fact that was the only team in the RPI Top 150 they’d played in a true road game, plus an iffy strength of schedule, almost had me drop Duke to the 3 seed. Duke has quite a few pelts (though no true prizes), a flawless nonconference, and compared to my 3 seeds a good road/neutral record, and might have edged out Kansas on the ladder if it weren’t for the fact the Jayhawks are, you know, unbeaten. A 1 seed is still possible, but if the ACC is anything like it was last year a slip to the 3 or below is more likely, especially if the Florida State loss is a portent of things to come. #32 North Carolina and #36 Boston College are the only other teams in the top 60 of the RPI in the ACC, meaning the January 30 game at St. John’s becomes huge, possibly a must-win to keep 1 seed hopes alive. Luckily Duke avoids having to go to Boston, but it could take just two more losses (St. John’s and North Carolina in Chapel Hill) for Duke to be mired in the middle of the pack come Selection Sunday. Another loss to UNC or BC in the ACC Tournament would leave Duke with an uphill climb indeed for their title defense.
3 Kentucky SEC #1 Featured
14-3 RPI: 12 SOS: 24 R/N: 5-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
The 3 seeds form another tier, and Kentucky and West Virginia in particular are a case of splitting hairs. Kentucky doesn’t have any major challenges before Georgia in a couple of weeks, so they just need to keep winning. (Which apparently they didn’t, but more on that next week.)
3 West Virginia BST #4 Featured
12-4 RPI: 9 SOS: 5 R/N: 5-3 OOC: 9-2 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 4
The Mountaineers have momentum on their side after winning against Purdue. Over the next few weeks they have a chance to earn wins against teams tough enough to test them, but not as tough as the top teams in the Big East. They don’t face a team truly worth worrying about until Villanova February 5.
3 Notre Dame BST #5 Featured
14-4 RPI: 13 SOS: 11 R/N: 3-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Notre Dame slips behind Kentucky and West Virginia, despite having better losses and better wins than either of them, thanks largely to the fact they have not won a single true road game. That means the Marquette loss could be an ugly portent of what might happen to the Irish once they enter conference play. Notre Dame’s better strength of schedule than Kentucky is trumped by the Wildcats beating the Irish head-to-head on a neutral site. Half of Notre Dame’s remaining road games are against teams ahead of them on the ladder. After hoping to escape Pitt alive on Monday (7pm ET, ESPN), Notre Dame may oddly find itself in a must-win at DePaul on February 3. A loss there may well have people in South Bend talking NIT. That assumes they survive this week’s home tests, neither of which are gimmes… it’s unlikely conference play will expose the Golden Domers as a bunch of poseurs, but it can’t be left out of the realm of possibility.
3 Georgetown BST #6 Featured
13-5 RPI: 7 SOS: 2 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 3
At this point, Georgetown has good wins, respectable losses, and a very strong strength of schedule. But probably the only reason I include them here instead of Villanova or Texas A&M is because their resume is good enough to at least challenge that of Notre Dame. If it weren’t running late as I was writing this Georgetown would probably show as slipping to the 4 or below. The Hoyas kind of got unlucky starting conference play with some of the best teams in the conference – Temple is still their iffiest loss – but they have only three RPI Top 50 wins and the dropoff comes fast, and no wins in the RPI Top 25. After the Seton Hall game comes no games until St. John’s and Villanova next week, which should show whether Georgetown really is who we thought they were.

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