Bracket Ladder for January 24, 2011

I decided to almost start over from scratch using a modified procedure, didn’t have much time on Sunday because of the NFL conference championship games, and spent a good chunk of Monday just trying to fix the coding errors from last week, so this probably shouldn’t be any further advanced from last week, but I decided I was determined to press on and complete the top four seed lines, and spent the next two hours getting increasingly frustrated at not finding a place to work. The blue colored bars on the right side don’t mean anything right now, but eventually they’ll look like the jumble of numbers you see in the explanation below, which I hope to further explain later. Also, the “good wins” and “bad losses” entries are still almost arbitrary, though approaching closer to a more meaningful, if (at the moment) not necessarily consistent, definition.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of January 23, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Notre Dame-Pitt game.

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 50. 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. The colored bar at the far right side of the team name is the most important element, containing most of the information you need to know. It is color-coded to reflect where each team is in the pecking order and what they have to play for, as follows:

Ovr. #1-4 Gold: Cannot fall below the #1 seed. Listed with the overall seeds (#1-4) the team could get.

Silver: Cannot fall below the #2 seed.

Bronze: Cannot fall below the #3 seed.

Purple: Cannot fall below the #4 seed.

Blue: Could earn a top-4 seed, or might not. Top-4 seeds receive protection in the bracket process to make sure they aren’t sent too far away from home, since they’ll be the top seed in their pod.

Green: A lock to make the tournament, but cannot receive a top-4 seed.

Yellow: “Probably in”. This color marks the start of the bubble.

Orange: On the tip of the bubble, could go either way. Listed as “Barely in” or “Barely out” based on what side of the cutline they fall in the order.

Red: “Probably out”, teams with a longshot chance to make the NCAA Tournament but are more likely going to the NIT (or worse). Teams in this range that are the highest-rated from their conference are listed as “Needs Auto”, to indicate they need the auto bid to get in but are currently listed in the field.

1 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 3
3 – 4 – 4
4 – 4 – 5
5 – 6 – 7
Probably In
Barely In
Probably Out
1 Pittsburgh BST #1 Featured
19-1 RPI: 5 SOS: 26 R/N: 6-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 1
Despite the overall SOS slipping, Texas made a huge leap in the RPI this week, giving Pitt a fourth RPI Top 20 win, and Tennessee also moved into the Top 20, making the Panthers’ loss to them more palatable. So despite Pitt’s only game since the last update coming to lowly DePaul, I’ve moved them into the overall #1 spot. Monday’s game against Notre Dame (7pm ET, ESPN, already played) 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
16-2 RPI: 4 SOS: 15 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
Syracuse’s loss to Villanova means there’s no more debate on the #2 team from the Big East. In fact, looked at anew after their RPI leapfrogged Pitt’s, the Kemba Walkers looked like a surprisingly plausible contender for Pitt’s spot. The Tennessee win certainly helps UConn’s case – that’s a team Pitt couldn’t beat – but what impressed me about UConn, looked at anew, was their better strength of schedule, the fact both of their losses are better than Pitt’s one loss, and a better depth of wins. Still, it was hard to get past the fact Pitt has already beaten the Huskies.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 Featured
20-0 RPI: 6 SOS: 54 R/N: 6-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
Ohio State doesn’t slip because of anything inherent to them; I said last week that I was committed to putting them overall #1 just because they were the best undefeated team. Kansas and San Diego State haven’t impressed me with the quality of their wins; the Sullingers has at least beaten multiple RPI Top 40 teams. The quality of their resume, and of the Big Ten overall, is such that Tuesday’s game against Purdue (9pm ET, ESPN), one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced so far, may be close to a must-win to get a #1 seed (and the road rematch more so), since I doubt there will be a better team on the rest of their schedule.
1 Syracuse BST #3 Featured
18-2 RPI: 9 SOS: 21 R/N: 5-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
The Villanova loss certainly hurts but Nova, like Pitt, is in the RPI Top 10, and they have still beaten better teams than the teams below them. In fact, the comparison to UConn is still fairly close, and losing to them February 2 won’t hurt their overall profile that much. Down the road, though, they can’t keep racking up losses down the stretch and expect to remain a top seed, especially in the Big East. Losing either of these two games, let alone both, probably cost them overall #1.
2 Kansas B12 #1 Featured
18-1 RPI: 2 SOS: 14 R/N: 7-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 3-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Kansas’ best wins improved this week, giving them four top 50 wins, so the Jayhawks move up despite losing. But they still have a lot to prove if they want to sniff the #1 seed line. Fortunately, the Big 12 might not be as bad as I thought. Texas shot up the RPI with the win over the Morris Twins, so avenging that loss might pay dividends, Texas A&M is still strong, and Missouri has a surprisingly good resume. Still, they’ll be in for a fight to preserve a top two seed.
2 BYU MWC #1 Featured
18-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 19 R/N: 9-1 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
All the factors favoring BYU over San Diego State last week still apply this week, but this time the loss to UCLA costs them in the comparison with Kansas. (Don’t count out the chances of the Mountain West teams staying this high, either; they’re doing gerbonkers in the conference RPI.) Now, however, comes the game between the two this Wednesday in Provo (10pm ET, CBS CS). The winner takes control of the Mountain West, stays on the 2-seed line, and has a shot at the 1. The loser likely falls behind Duke and still has a very good chance to get back to or even stay on the 2-seed line, but will have this game define their ability to play against Top 20 opposition for the rest of the season.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 Featured
18-0 RPI: 3 SOS: 39 R/N: 11-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
See BYU above; it pretty much tells the story. I can’t tease out these top Mountain West teams until after the BYU game, which the Aztecs need to prove they deserve their unbeaten record. The concern for the Aztecs is simply an iffy strength of schedule and only two RPI Top 40 wins, no RPI Top 20.
2 Duke ACC #1 Featured
18-1 RPI: 10 SOS: 57 R/N: 7-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The Florida State loss is still Duke’s only true road game against a team in the RPI Top 99, and their strength of schedule has gotten worse, leaving Duke open to a hard charge from Texas for their 2 seed spot (see below). Duke has quite a few pelts (though no true prizes), a flawless nonconference, and a good road/neutral record, and might have edged out San Diego State on the ladder if it weren’t for the fact the Aztecs 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. Fortunately, ACC RPIs improved this week and #49 Miami (FL) joins #24 North Carolina, #35 Boston College, and Florida State in the top 50 of the RPI. This week is huge for the Coach K’s; first, they host Boston College to add another Top 50 pelt and maintain control of the ACC (Thursday 8pm ET, ACC Network), then comes a huge game at St. John’s (Sunday 1pm ET, CBS) that might still be a must-win to keep 1 seed hopes alive, as Duke needs to prove they can beat tourney teams in true road games. 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, and a third (in Miami) to really make the committee scratch their heads. Another loss to UNC or BC in the ACC Tournament would leave Duke with an uphill climb indeed for their title defense.
3 Texas B12 #2 Featured
16-3 RPI: 15 SOS: 29 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
The Longhorns shot up the RPI this week because of wins over Texas A&M and Kansas, and suddenly have a rather impressive resume. The USC loss is inexcusable, but their other two losses are to 1 seeds, and they now boast two RPI Top 20 and five RPI Top 30 wins, four of them at road/neutral sites. That’s the same number of wins as they have against the RPI Top 100, but Texas has sent a clear message that they’re a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12, and maybe even a contender for the conference title. A 1 seed suddenly looks very plausible.
3 Notre Dame BST #4 Featured
16-4 RPI: 11 SOS: 12 R/N: 3-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame avenged the Marquette loss in South Bend and benefits from upsets to the other 3 seeds from last week but still 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. After hoping to escape Pitt alive on Monday (7pm ET, ESPN, already played), 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. 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 Villanova BST #5 Featured
17-2 RPI: 7 SOS: 29 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
The win over Syracuse looks like a fluke when the Wildcats don’t have any other wins against RPI Top 30 teams, or road wins against the RPI Top 125… but they do have only two losses, both to respectable opposition. Time will tell if the Wildcats simply caught the ‘Cuse reeling from the Pitt loss, or haven’t had enough opportunities against good opposition. The best opponent they face this week is Georgetown (Saturday 12pm ET, ESPN), but the real test will come February 5 against West Virginia.
3 West Virginia BST #6 Featured
13-5 RPI: 14 SOS: 6 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 5
West Virginia had a huge opportunity ahead of them and they squandered it with a loss to Marshall, and are racking up a collection of disturbing losses. At this point the main thing they have going for them compared to the 4-seeds is their great strength of schedule. They don’t face a team truly worth worrying about until Villanova February 5.
4 Texas A&M B12 #3 Featured
16-2 RPI: 17 SOS: 56 R/N: 4-2 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
An iffy strength of schedule, an iffy loss to Boston College, and no outstanding pelts hold Texas A&M back, but they’re still a two-loss team with neither loss being disastrous. They have a chance to move into the top three seeds next week against Texas (Monday 1/31 9pm ET, ESPN), avenging one of their losses and giving them a much better pelt than they’ve garnered so far in the process.
4 Georgetown BST #7 Featured
14-5 RPI: 8 SOS: 4 R/N: 8-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 4-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Yes, you read that correctly: seven, count ’em, seven Big East teams in the top four protected seeds! Every year I see people praising the Big East for putting so many teams in the tournament and think that’s easier to do when you have 16 teams, but to put nearly half of the conference in the protected seeds? Having so many teams arguably makes that more impressive! Georgetown has good wins, respectable losses, and a very strong strength of schedule, but got kind of got unlucky starting conference play with some of the best teams in the conference – Temple is still their iffiest loss. They’re up to four RPI Top 50 wins, but the dropoff still comes fast, and they still have no wins in the RPI Top 25. This week’s games against St. John’s (Wednesday 7pm ET, Big East Network) and Villanova (Saturday 12pm ET, ESPN) should show whether Georgetown really is who we thought they were.
4 Missouri B12 #4 Featured
16-3 RPI: 29 SOS: 77 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Missouri is like Texas A&M lite: a pretty bad strength of schedule and a bad Colorado loss, but a pretty decent win to Vanderbilt, backed up by a win over Illinois, and the other two losses being to the two teams immediately ahead of them keep them in the protected seeds. It helps that, compared to some of the teams below them, the Colorado loss isn’t that bad. They take the week off before a big chance to prove they deserve this lofty position against Texas (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPNU).
4 Kentucky SEC #1 Featured
15-4 RPI: 13 SOS: 23 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 3-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
One atrocious loss, and the only thing keeping Kentucky in the protected seeds is the inconsistency of Tennessee and St. John’s. Coach Calipari’s One-and-Done All-Stars have good wins but not the best collection of them, and will probably need some work to keep their SEC lead. Put the Alabama loss in the rear view mirror and focus on avenging the earlier loss to Georgia (Saturday 4pm ET, ESPN).

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