Bracket Ladder for February 21, 2011

With every BCS team on the top two seed lines losing over the past week, it seems an opportune time to reassess the top two seed lines and whether they’re an accurate reflection of the best teams in the country. I’m starting to get a sense of how people size up teams – which is not to say that’s how I’m going to start sizing them up. It’s apparent that people seem to place a lot more emphasis on who you’ve lost to than who you’ve beaten. That’s the only explanation for Pitt being penalized seemingly entirely because they lost to Tennessee, admittedly on a neutral site. Never mind that by that logic, Kansas should be penalized for losing to Kansas State, or Texas should be penalized for losing to Nebraska AND USC, or Duke should be penalized for losing to Florida State. (Yeah, as you can probably guess, this process isn’t going to magically move Texas or Duke up to the top line. I’m getting disgusted enough with ESPN, especially Lunardi and Gottleib, that I may write an entire piece outside the Bracket Ladder framework just so Bleacher Report can see my grievances. I knew my opinions would differ from the “mainstream”, but I didn’t know the “mainstream” would be this delusional.)

The Tennessee loss may not have been enough to drop Pittsburgh from the king-of-the-hill position, but the St. John’s loss does raise serious questions about their resume. Pitt still has a gaudy collection of wins against good teams, but having two losses to teams outside the top four seed lines is a serious problem. It’s at this point that I begin to notice that Ohio State’s two losses are both road losses to very good teams, and while the Buckeyes may not have as gaudy a collection of wins as the Panthers, they do have a road nonconference blowout win over a very good Florida team. In the end, the relative standing between the two depended to a large extent on how high the teams that beat them rose as a result of their defeats. I’m still partial to Pitt, but the race is definitely tightening, and the Buckeyes could have easily returned to the king-of-the-hill spot had they beaten Purdue on the road. The rest of the top two seed lines remain unchanged, though I once again have serious misgivings about Kansas. The biggest change is my decision to move Florida (and Kentucky) back a seed line. A team with four losses outside the RPI Top 90 is not a top-three seed.

Because I started doing this VERY late, the only teams outside the tournament that I’ve listed are those necessary to figure out which teams should replace the teams that were at the tip of the bubble last Thursday, a good number of whom lost. Trust me, when we get a significant distance into the bubble, some of the teams on the ladder will be ugly as sin.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 20, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Syracuse-Villanova 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. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. 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 TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. 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. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

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

Read moreBracket Ladder for February 21, 2011

Bracket Ladder for February 17, 2011

We’re extending right up to the last at-large team today, and I’m starting to get a sense of what resumes feel like “NCAA teams”. There are pretty much, right now, 47 of them spread across 10 conferences, exactly enough to fill out the at-large field. You’re going to see some teams on the wrong side of the cutline on Monday, and the way I describe them will seem like a grisly sight: incapable of winning on the road, schedule strengths in the 90s or even out of the top 100, multiple bad if not atrocious losses, exceedingly lacking in wins with wins over teams in the 100-125 range of the RPI counting as “depth”… and yet, their nonconference record will remain superb with rarely more than five losses. As part of the purpose of Bracket Ladder is to show how great even the teams that miss the NCAAs are, I’ll make an effort to show the good in their resumes. I may even dip into what some call “NIT-ology” if only to show that, as bad as the teams we’ll see on Monday may look, it could be worse. (Given how wide the bubble is right now, if I extend all the way to the end of the “Probably outs” I could have most of the NIT field right there, with a little bit left over when you consider the NIT auto bid rule.)

Since the current ladder extends right up to the tip of the bubble, there are no more question mark seed floors. All teams with seed ranges listed have had their floors calculated, and all teams listed as “Probably in” or “Barely in” have a calculated worst-case scenario where they don’t make the tournament. The distinction between “Probably in” and “Barely in” is arbitrary and based on how probable a scenario where a team doesn’t make the tournament is. Generally, if it would take more than one or two major slip-ups to miss the NCAAs, you’re “probably in”, but if you could be left out after one or two slip-ups, you’re “barely in”. Also, the last four at-large teams are listed with an “f” superscript next to their seed on the left side to indicate they’d be playing in one of the new “First Four” games the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday. This has zero bearing on who they’d play in those First Four games, other than “one of the other three”, regardless of what seed I have them listed as; there isn’t enough information on how that’s determined, but it almost surely involves the same bracketing constraints as the rest of the bracket.

Meanwhile, I’ve also tried to start recalibrating the ladder with more focus on who you’ve played and how you’ve done against them based on where they stand on the ladder, and I think I’ve been successful for the first seven seed lines. On Monday I’ll introduce a simple yet powerful new tool for measuring performance down the stretch. Also still to come: auto bids (for the last four or five seed lines) and how all this might translate into an actual bracket. At some point I’m going to need to research some of the scenarios for how the Big East could play out for the sake of figuring out accurate seed ceilings.

As promised, a BracketBusters preview. The games involving Old Dominion and George Mason are covered in their respective entries on the ladder below. As for the others:

Kent State @ Drexel (Friday 9pm ET, ESPNU): In my view, Drexel has a surprisingly strong at-large profile, with only two non-RPI-Top-100 losses, a win over Old Dominion, and a road win over Louisville. As mid-majors go, the CAA is strong enough that that deserves a second look. Of course, Hofstra is Drexel’s only other RPI Top 100 win, they have a schedule strength in the 130s and an RPI of 81, and Kent State won’t help very much, since they have an even worse RPI than Hofstra or Drexel. The Golden Flashes have only one RPI Top 100 win, and Miami (OH) barely qualifies, but they won’t be sniffing the tournament even with a win.

Utah State @ St. Mary’s (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN2): This may be the highlight of BracketBusters. Already suffering, St. Mary’s at-large chances took a major hit with a loss to lowly San Diego. The Gaels desperately need to rebound and get another RPI Top 25 win to prove they’re still the same team that knocked off St. John’s on ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon, or winning the WCC tournament will be vital. And yet, they still don’t need this game more than Utah State. The Aggies, by far the highest RPI team I don’t have in the field, have, to put it simply, no middle ground. Their two losses are to BYU and Georgetown… and their best win, Long Beach State, only barely qualifies as an RPI Top 100 win. This game will completely define how good a team they are. Lose, and forget about at-large hopes with a loss to a team that’s bubbly themselves. Win, and at-large hopes are still a longshot, but you’ve beaten the one RPI 11-50 team you played on the road, so maybe with a tight loss in the WAC Final you can sneak in with other bubble carnage. If the Aggies do win out in conference, this one game could make multiple seed lines’ worth of difference.

Virginia Commonwealth @ Wichita State (Friday 7pm ET, ESPN2): The Shockers may be the Valley’s strongest at-large candidate, which isn’t saying much. Their winning straits aren’t as dire as Utah State’s, with a road win over Northern Iowa under their belts, but they also don’t have all their losses against 2-seeds, including a truly mystifying home loss to Southern Illinois. VCU is a more legit at-large candidate, not only in the CAA where they have a road win over Old Dominion, but even a home win over UCLA. But neither has an RPI over 30, and VCU has a few embarrassing losses. Wichita State has a good enoughg RPI to provide a substantial boost to VCU’s resume, though not a great one, and while a loss would hurt it wouldn’t put them back too far. Meanwhile, VCU would actually be the Shockers’ best RPI win, while still being their third-worst loss. Not that, as a win, it would put them in any bubble contention that serious, especially coming at home.

Missouri State @ Valparaiso (Saturday 5pm ET, ESPN2): Valpo has an interesting resume, with home wins over the Horizon’s other two strong teams for RPI Top 50 wins, and a road win over Oakland is good as well, but they have way too many bad losses, including one to atrocious Toledo. Missouri State might drag them closer to the cut line, but those bad losses will still weigh them down. The Bears don’t have too many total losses or bad losses, as well as road wins over the other two Valley contenders for RPI Top 100 wins, but their strength of schedule is still nose-holding. Valpo could bring them closer to the cutline as well, and if that were to happen I think the results could get very interesting.

Miami (OH) @ James Madison (Saturday Noon ET):James Madison doesn’t have an RPI Top 50 win, but they have enough Top 100 wins, especially Princeton and Marshall at home, to be interesting for at least the NIT conversation. They only have two horrible losses, but they are horrible, coming outside the top 200. Unfortunately, the Redhawks won’t appreciably give them much they don’t already have, and a loss could be disastrous. While not an at-large contender either, wins over Xavier and two other RPI Top 100 teams make Miami (OH)’s resume at least interesting, but likewise the Dukes won’t help them much. And that’s why this is one of the “leftover” games that didn’t make TV.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 16, 2011. This means it does not include any of Thursday’s games, including the Minnesota-Penn State game. (Yes, it’s also being released late enough that I should just include the Thursday games. That’s what working on this for virtually 16 hours straight will do to you.)

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. If a seed has an “f” superscript, that team would play in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday before playing games against teams in the main bracket. 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 TXX: Record against teams in the RPI Top 50 or 100. Wv≥: Number of wins against teams listed seven spots behind them or higher on the ladder. Lv≤: Number of losses against teams listed seven spots ahead of them or worse on the laddera. 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. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

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

Read moreBracket Ladder for February 17, 2011

Bracket Ladder for February 14, 2011

We’re going to move to a twice-weekly schedule this week, so tune in Thursday for a complete preview of BracketBusters. However, I will say right now that there may be no more than two BracketBuster teams that enter the event in the field. I’ve only determined 23 of the 37 at-larges (we’re extending to the 8th seed line today), but the next two seed lines may be lacking in any teams outside the BCS conferences and Mountain West – think the likes of Marquette, Michigan State, Arizona, Florida State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, and Penn State. The remaining six spots may include the likes of Marshall, Drexel, St. Mary’s, and George Mason, though.

Meanwhile, there really are no great teams this year. Kansas moves up to the overall #2 seed but still doesn’t have the deepest collection of wins. Duke has one RPI top 30 win and no true road wins in the top 60, and outside the Ladder they’re seriously being considered for a #1 seed. Florida has multiple atrocious losses and they’re on the #3 seed line; Wisconsin got propelled up to the third seed line by beating Ohio State mostly because the teams on the fourth line looked weak.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of JFebruary 13, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Syracuse-West Virginia 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. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

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 1 – 1 – 5
23-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 20 R/N: 9-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Road wins over West Virginia and Villanova are enough for Pitt to jump back to the overall top seed. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, they should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. (In fact, they’re pretty close to locking up a double-bye in MSG.) There’s always a good game in the Big East, and Pitt has a chance to prep for the Big East Tournament this week by avoiding Upset City against St. John’s (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 7
24-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 11 R/N: 10-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Kansas is more a beneficiary of losses by Ohio State and UConn than moving up because of anything they themselves did. Beating Missouri helps, but it still says a lot that a team with a grand total of two RPI Top 30 wins has the second-best profile in the country. The Morris Twins have no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March; they may need to win out to stay on the top seed line.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
24-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
So now that we don’t have to worry about Ohio State potentially going undefeated, how does their resume look now? Well, they have two very good wins, RPI-wise, over Purdue and Florida, the latter on the road, and their one loss is pretty respectable. But like Kansas, they have just those two wins over the RPI Top 30, and Wisconsin isn’t exactly Texas. I’m shocked that I heard Joe Lunardi this morning claiming Ohio State, even after losing, had the best overall resume; there is no chance I’m going to return them to the overall #1 seed. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue on Sunday (1pm ET, CBS) will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line.
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
19-5 RPI: 13 SOS: 16 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 6-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
It’s hard for me to keep defending the Huskies when they keep losing, especially to teams like St. John’s. All I can do is point to their lack of bad losses and their strength of schedule, not to mention beating Texas in Austin. They won’t have another shot at Pitt until the Big East Tournament, but if they don’t lose the rest of the way and beat all the best teams they could face in MSG, in the Big East, you still have to make a case for them, right? Georgetown (Wednesday 7pm ET, Big East Network) and Louisville (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN) won’t hurt them too much unless Notre Dame gets a big win; their biggest potential trap game to fall off the 1 seed line might be next week against Marquette.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – 8
23-2 RPI: 2 SOS: 14 R/N: 11-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that, especially since I’m not confident of Connecticut as a 1. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – 7
23-1 RPI: 5 SOS: 35 R/N: 13-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
The Aztecs improve their resume by sweeping the series against UNLV, but since it matches a win they already had, it’s not good enough to appreciably improve their standing. They don’t get another chance at an RPI Top 20 win until the rematch with BYU in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses. New Mexico (Wednesday 10:30pm ET, mtn.) is determined to repeat their BYU success, even if they have to go to San Diego to do it.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
19-4 RPI: 9 SOS: 23 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins, against the other three of the best four Big East teams, and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss; you can’t tell me they can’t possibly win a 1. If they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, it’ll be very difficult to argue against them. There is probably only one more chance for them to lose their unbeaten home record, when Villanova comes to town at the end of the month. For now, they take a week off before heading to West Virginia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS). Both games will help deepen their resume.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – 8
20-5 RPI: 3 SOS: 2 R/N: 10-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 8-5 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
And the verdict is, “Georgetown is most likely for real”. The Hoyas proved their bona fides against Syracuse and made sure to avoid a potential trap game against Marquette. St. John’s looks like the only truly concerning conference loss, and it seems like most teams have trouble against Steve Lavin’s club in NYC (though West Virginia at home is also head-scratching). The real test, though, may be travelling to UConn (Wednesday 7pm ET, Big East Network); a win there would consolidate their position, a loss likely permanently knocks them out of the top tier of Big East teams.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – 7
22-3 RPI: 8 SOS: 18 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Missouri moves into the RPI Top 30 to give Texas another win there, but it’s still a rather thin resume for people to consider moving the Longhorns to the 1 seed line just yet; the Big 12 just isn’t as deep as the Big East past the top two teams. USC is their only bad loss, but they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M remains the third best team in the conference, Missouri the next-best RPI team. The best they can hope for is to keep plugging away and hope the committee gives them credit for their record, and maybe prove the first Kansas game wasn’t a fluke in the Big 12 final. Fortunately their schedule the rest of the way is as weak as Ohio State’s; Oklahoma State (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN2) may be the best team they face before the Big 12 tournament.
3 Florida SEC #1 1 – 3 – 10
20-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 6 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 8-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Psst… Florida is starting to look like they’re not a mirage. They avenged their loss to South Carolina and deepened their resume against Tennessee. Now they don’t have another questionable opponent the rest of the way, save for LSU (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN), who, with an RPI outside the top 200, is a little too questionable for me to think they’d really give the Gators a challenge, even in Baton Rouge, so it’s off to the lock column with them. (Alabama might be questionable too, but the way they’ve been playing in conference play, maybe not.)
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – 9
23-2 RPI: 7 SOS: 37 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Adding a pelt against North Carolina was important; getting a road win over Miami (FL) may have been more important, representing Duke’s first road win over the RPI Top 100. But it’s not enough; their only chance to prove they can beat a tourney lock on the road may be the rematch with the Tar Heels in the regular season finale. And people talk about the Kyle Singlers as one of five contenders for the top line! It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s best hope for a #1 seed is probably to completely win out, beating North Carolina another two times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Wisconsin B10 #2 1 – 3 – ?
19-5 RPI: 18 SOS: 36 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
I’ll be honest, despite the Ohio State win I had misgivings about moving the Badgers up even a single seed line, and the only reason I moved them up two was because I wanted to punish Big East teams that lost. They can prove they deserve this lofty standing if they can repeat the Purdue win on the road (Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN), but if they lose expect them to fall back on Thursday.
4 Syracuse BST #5 1 – 4 – ?
20-6 RPI: 21 SOS: 25 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
One step forward, two steps back. After a flawless nonconference, Syracuse is looking disturbingly inconsistent in conference play. They’ve shown flashes of their early-season dominance, for example against UConn, but they’re having trouble proving that their three conference wins weren’t flukes (though admittedly beating St. John’s on the road is a tall order for most Big East teams). Beating West Virginia (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) helps, but Syracuse will have to make most of their case for a good seed in the Big East Tournament, as that’ll be their only shot at avenging the Pitt loss.
4 Louisville BST #6 1 – 4 – ?
19-6 RPI: 25 SOS: 34 R/N: 3-4 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Louisville’s week wasn’t as bad as Villanova’s (see below), as they picked up a big win over Syracuse, but losing to Notre Dame may have cost them against the Orange (and the Badgers) in the comparison. The win over UConn really looks very fluky, as all their road losses have come to teams with better RPIs than their next best road win over USF – including outside-the-top-100 Providence. But surely they can beat Cincinnati (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN), right? Or at least lessen the flukiness of the Connecticut win by beating them again at home (Friday 9pm ET, ESPN), right?
4 Villanova BST #7 1 – 4 – ?
19-6 RPI: 20 SOS: 27 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Losing to Pitt is acceptable, but losing to Rutgers in Jersey makes the Syracuse win look like more of a fluke, not less. Nova won’t get any chances to get a road win against a good team until Notre Dame and Pitt back-to-back at the end of the season, and it’s hard to see them doing that right now. Even another road game against Seton Hall (Tuesday 8pm ET, Big East Network) looks like a must-win right now. Villanova’s best chance to prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 4 – ?
16-8 RPI: 22 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 4-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
As it turns out, the Pitt loss keeps West Virginia from capitalizing on Villanova’s bad week. Now West Virginia’s season could be made or broken by three big games in ten days: on the road to Syracuse (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played), hosting Notre Dame (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS), and at Pitt (Thursday 2/24 9pm ET, ESPN). Losing to Syracuse is a bad harbringer for the rest of the games, and could make their final two home games against UConn and Louisville must-wins for a respectable seed.
5 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 5 – ?
17-7 RPI: 14 SOS: 10 R/N: 6-7 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 5-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 6
Kentucky beat Tennessee and lost to Vanderbilt, but it’s Wisconsin’s big win over Ohio State that knocks the Wildcats off their precarious top-four perch. The SEC turns out to have quite a bit of strength, but Kentucky will need to take advantage of that strength. They close the regular season hosting Florida and Vanderbilt and going on the road to Tennessee. Those games will not only determine Kentucky’s seed in the SEC Tournament, but their seed in the NCAAs as well. (Despite the question mark above, if they can avoid losing at Arkansas next week they should be pretty good for the top eight seed lines.)
5 Purdue B10 #3 Probably in
20-5 RPI: 10 SOS: 24 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Purdue got a needed pelt by knocking off Illinois on the road, showing their resume has some meat on those bones. Purdue has good RPI but a disturbing loss to Richmond, but two big home tests this week against the top two teams in the conference (Wisconsin Wednesday 6:30pm ET, BTN, Ohio State Sunday 1pm ET, CBS) could get them locked into the field.
5 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
15-10 RPI: 27 SOS: 3 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
How do you take two losses in one week and not suffer for it? When the two losses were on the road to Kentucky and Florida. It is still a concern that Tennessee hasn’t backed up their big wins. Tennessee has given the likes of Pitt and Villanova some of their very few losses… and they have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 70, against teams like College of Charleston and Oakland. Incidentially, only two of those bad losses have the Bruce Pearl suspension excuse, and only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the Vols managed to beat Vanderbilt at home and Georgia in Athens without their coach. Having missed two chances for big pelts, Tennessee will just have to play out the string. They host Georgia (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) hoping to halt the hard charge of an upstart, and then hope for revenge at Vanderbilt (Tuesday 2/22 9pm ET, ESPN).
5 Vanderbilt SEC #4 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 16 SOS: 13 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Kentucky is hardly Ohio State, but they do allow Vanderbilt to claim that the North Carolina win wasn’t more about the Tar Heels than the Commodores. Beating Georgia on the road (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) would consolidate Vandy’s position on the top five seed lines and the attendent bracketing benefits that provides.
6 Texas A&M B12 #3 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 31 SOS: 51 R/N: 6-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
A&M look worse in the comparison with the SEC teams this week upon further review. Colorado and Texas Tech don’t provide the resume spark the Aggies needed. The Aggies don’t have an RPI Top 25 win and don’t get another shot at Texas until the conference tournament. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, or Missouri is poison to the Aggies’ relative standing on Selection Sunday. A&M is squarely on the bubble until they are clear of all the land mines on their schedule.
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 26 SOS: 53 R/N: 4-6 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
Losses by teams below make Missouri look better in the comparison and prevent the Kansas loss from doing what little damage it might have done. That Missouri’s strength of schedule improved helps as well. But Missouri still needs to add depth to their resume, and their best chance to do that might be at the end of the season, with the home rematch with Kansas and the Big 12 Tournament.
6 Minnesota B10 #4 Probably in
17-8 RPI: 36 SOS: 28 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Minnesota missed a chance to make up ground with the loss to Illinois and it now looks like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue have formed a solid top tier in the Big Ten, leaving the Gophers behind. Minnesota’s best true road win is still against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. The Gophers are cursing themselves for losing to Michigan State, and Virginia and Indiana are very concerning. Minnesota probably would have been a 5 last week before losing to Ohio State (certainly forgivable) and Indiana (a no-no). Minnesota needed Iowa to break a four-game losing streak, and could use a win over Penn State (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN2) to escape the first round of the conference tournament and improve their road resume.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
18-6 RPI: 12 SOS: 5 R/N: 7-5 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
The Tar Heels couldn’t close out a huge win over rival Duke that could have locked them into the field. The real benefit may be the jump in UNC’s strength of schedule. The Heels have to feel good about their chances in the season-ending home rematch. Beating Clemson was good as well.
7 St. John’s BST #9 Probably in
15-9 RPI: 17 SOS: 1 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 5-7 Wv≥: 6 Lv≤: 5
Steve Lavin’s team picked up another massive pelt against UConn (ho-hum at this point) and dispatched Cincinnati to consolidate their position within the conference and make the West Virginia win look less like a fluke on their road resume. Both games add needed depth to their resume. The Johnnies can add another pelt to their road resume against Marquette (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPNU). Then will come the ultimate test of St. John’s home-court advantage: Pitt (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
7 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
18-7 RPI: 27 SOS: 30 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 2-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
One thing UNLV has going for them: they play well on the road. The Rebels don’t have many good wins, but combine their good road record with UC Santa Barbara being their only truly bad loss and they’re in pretty good shape. Being in the Mountain West, though, a single slip-up could kill them. All their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a loss, and after losing to San Diego State, they will need to be on their guard all the way to the conference tournament.
7 Illinois B10 #5 Probably in
16-9 RPI: 39 SOS: 21 R/N: 5-7 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 3-5 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Illinois is likely getting into the field after a big road win over Minnesota helps make home wins over North Carolina and the new giant-killers Wisconsin look less like flukes. Not that losses to Indiana, UIC, or recently to Northwestern aren’t still head-scratchers, but Illinois has proven now that they can be the real deal when push comes to shove. Games against the Michigan schools (Michigan Wednesday 8:30pm ET, BTN, @Michigan State Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN) will serve to help further deepen the resume in preparation for a big road trip to Columbus (Tuesday 2/22 7pm ET, ESPN).
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
19-6 RPI: 52 SOS: 108 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 2-6 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 1
Cincinnati is tough to read, as all their losses have come against the Big East’s top tier and they have a win over St. John’s under their belt, but Xavier is their only other win against the RPI Top 60. Clearly, the Bearcats will suffer because of their schedule. Failing to win the rematch against St. John’s doesn’t help matters. The Bearcats need to bounce back against Louisville (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) and show that the Bearcats aren’t just beneficiaries of a weak nonconference.
8 Old Dominion CAA #1 Barely in
20-6 RPI: 27 SOS: 62 R/N: 9-4 OOC: 9-2 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 5
Beating Virginia Commonwealth adds depth to Old Dominion’s resume, and helps them in the conference, but there’s still something lacking. Drawing Cleveland State in BracketBusters (Sunday 1pm ET, ESPN2) probably helps the Vikings, who don’t have and desperately need a single RPI Top 40, more than one RPI Top 80, or a road RPI Top 100 win, more than the Monarchs, though the Vikings will provide a much-needed RPI Top 40 win and won’t hurt them too much with a loss. The Monarchs will practice for that game by hosting Georgia State (Tuesday 7pm ET, CSS).
8 Temple A10 #1 Barely in
19-5 RPI: 33 SOS: 98 R/N: 8-5 OOC: 10-3 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Xavier has higher RPI and is getting more dap from the media, and they did beat Temple at home, but that happens to be the Musketeers’ best win; they don’t have a win of the caliber of Georgetown on their resume. I reserve the right to change my mind on this later, of course. They won’t meet again until the conference tournament, but in the meantime Temple can fend off challengers for A-10 positioning, starting with Richmond (Thursday 7pm ET, CBS CS).
8 UCLA PAC #1 Barely in
18-7 RPI: 35 SOS: 38 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 9-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
At long last, the first Pac-10 team on the ladder! We only had to go through, what, ten Big East teams to get to this point? A team with seven losses, a losing road/neutral record, and a losing record against good teams, and not only do wins over BYU and St. John’s propel them above their brethren, they might actually win the conference with only Arizona ahead of them at the moment! It would help, of course, if the Bruins could actually beat the Wildcats, which they’ll have another chance for in a couple of weeks.

8 Georgia SEC #5 Barely in
17-7 RPI: 42 SOS: 40 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 2-7 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
All of Georgia’s seven losses have come against teams in the top 35 in the RPI; it’s a rarity to have no bad losses this far down. So what’s the problem? They can’t win any of those games against good opposition. They have a home win over Kentucky, which sort of shows they have more than just consistency, but their only other RPI Top 60 win is against UAB. Worse, Ole Miss is not only their best road win, it’s their only other RPI Top 90 win. If Georgia can pick up a few more pelts they’ll be in better shape. The good news is they’ll have chances in the SEC; they face the Tennessee schools this week (Vanderbilt Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU, @Tennessee Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) and head to Gainesville after that (Thursday 2/24 7pm ET, ESPN). The bad news is, can they get the wins they need against the SEC’s top teams?

Bracket Ladder for February 7, 2011

Thanks to my decision to switch the process over to Opera (Chrome would work best if it didn’t blank the screen for a few seconds every time I switch tabs), we’ve extended the ladder by not one, not two, but THREE seed lines! We’re also seeing the first hints of what I call seed range, explained below. Teams with good seeds have their seed ranges listed, and one lucky team can start talking about their colors changing as their seed floor closes in. Teams I didn’t calculate seed ranges for are listed with a question mark for their seed floor. Everyone south of the top four seed lines is listed as “Probably in”, taking a cue from ESPN’s “bubble watch”, not because I’ve calculated seed floors that far down, which I haven’t. (To be frank, I could conceivably extend the “Probably in” line further up, not down – see how wide a net I cast below.) One team is listed as “Barely in” to flag serious problems with their resume.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of February 6, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Pitt-West Virginia 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. Numbers inside the boxes for silver through green indicate the seed range a team could receive. The first number is the seed ceiling, the best seed that could result from a reasonable best-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team, the middle number is the current seed based on the current position in the bracket ladder, and the last number is the seed floor, the worst seed that could result from a reasonable worst-case scenario for the rest of the season and the committee’s assessment of the team. The seed ceiling could increase or seed floor decrease in extraordinary circumstances.

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 Ohio State B10 #1 1 – 1 – 4
24-0 RPI: 3 SOS: 36 R/N: 8-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
Florida and Purdue both look better this week, which is just enough to put Ohio State on the overall #1 seed line. But let’s be clear: If Ohio State doesn’t go undefeated, they cannot get the overall #1 seed, and might not even get into the Midwest Regional. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue later on will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line. The good news for the Jared Sullingers is that they have a pretty good chance to go unbeaten; Wisconsin is on the same seed line as the Boilermakers, and the road test against them this week (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN) stands up there with the Purdue road rematch as one of the few chances the Buckeyes have for losing the rest of the way.
1 Pittsburgh BST #1 1 – 1 – 6
21-2 RPI: 6 SOS: 20 R/N: 7-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Pitt slips from overall #1 mostly because Ohio State’s opposition looked better this week. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, they should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. There’s always a good game in the Big East, and Pitt can consolidate their position this week with road trips to rivals West Virginia (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) and Villanova (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN).
1 Connecticut BST #2 1 – 1 – 6
18-4 RPI: 10 SOS: 13 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 6-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
I’ve been hearing Doug Gottleib on ESPN recently, claiming the following teams are the only ones with a realistic shot at a one: Ohio State, Kansas, Pitt, Duke, and Texas. I will be criticizing him all the way down to Duke, but for now allow me to point out that UConn’s wins match up well with Pitt’s, and even with a loss to Syracuse none of their losses are horrible (though some wins against conference teams better than Villanova would be nice). They won’t have another shot at Pitt until the Big East Tournament, but if they don’t lose the rest of the way and beat all the best teams they could face in MSG, in the Big East, how can you argue there isn’t a case to be made for them? Avoiding a trap game against St. John’s (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN) would be a start.
1 Kansas B12 #1 1 – 1 – 7
20-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 8-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Despite the Syracuse loss, I just didn’t see much reason to jump Kansas ahead of the Kemba Walkers – the Jayhawks just don’t have the wins. The Jayhawks still need more good wins if they want to stay up here, but the Big 12 should provide sufficient opposition. The Texas loss still haunts them, but the Morris Twins get another shot to improve their resume against Missouri (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played), and then comes no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March.
2 BYU MWC #1 1 – 2 – ?
21-2 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 10-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 7-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU completed the sweep against UNLV, which could have been a big land mine. BYU has two very concerning losses on their resume, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 1 – 2 – ?
21-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 33 R/N: 12-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Colorado State represents San Diego State’s best road win by a significant margin. BYU isn’t a terrible loss, but the Aztecs won’t get another chance against a team in the RPI Top 40 until the rematch in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses. A road trip to UNLV (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS CS) could be a trap game.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 1 – 2 – 6
19-4 RPI: 9 SOS: 23 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins, against the other three of the best four Big East teams, and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss; you can’t tell me they can’t possibly win a 1. If they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, it’ll be very difficult to argue against them. There are probably only two more chances for them to lose their unbeaten home record; Louisville (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) is one of them.
2 Georgetown BST #4 1 – 2 – ?
18-5 RPI: 5 SOS: 2 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Georgetown is mostly here, ahead of teams like Texas and Duke, because of their wins in the 20s, strength of schedule, and road/neutral record. Their iffy start to Big East play still haunts them, they don’t have a win better than Villanova, and they still have a questionable loss to Temple, but they also have only two home losses and one of them is to Pitt. They could go on a tear and dominate the rest of the way (though no matter what it will probably take a deep run in the Big East tournament to get a 1 seed), or utterly collapse with good teams on their schedule. We’ll learn a lot about them, and whether the Villanova win was a fluke, Wednesday against Syracuse (7pm ET, ESPN), but they also have to survive a trap game against Marquette (1pm ET, ESPN). The real test, though, may be travelling to UConn (Wednesday 2/16 7pm ET, Big East Network); a win there would consolidate their position, a loss likely permanently knocks them out of the top tier of Big East teams.
3 Texas B12 #2 1 – 3 – ?
20-3 RPI: 7 SOS: 18 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 7-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
I still have trouble moving Texas up the board. Kansas and North Carolina are good road wins, but the Longhorns don’t have any other wins against the RPI Top 30; Texas A&M took too much of a tumble losing to Baylor. USC is their only bad loss, but they still don’t have a deep enough resume to overcome it and not much hope to improve it, as A&M remains the third best team in the conference, Missouri the next-best RPI team. The best they can hope for is to keep plugging away and hope the committee gives them credit for their record, and maybe prove the first Kansas game wasn’t a fluke in the Big 12 final.
3 Florida SEC #1 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 14 SOS: 5 R/N: 7-2 OOC: 11-3 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
How do you overcome four horrible, horrible losses to get a top three seed, one of them just last week? Have a fantastic strength of schedule, win most of your road games, and win most of your games against good opposition, then beat Kentucky and Vanderbilt for the top 20 wins your resume was lacking and take command of the SEC. I’ll be the first to admit this is probably too high, especially with the wins coming on the road, and Florida has a lower ceiling AND floor than other teams surrounding them, which is why I have them as “Probably in” on the third seed line. Just a loss to South Carolina (Wednesday 8pm ET, SEC Network) could irredeemably tar them as inconsistent, and Tennessee (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) may be crucial to show they’re not a mirage, even though it’s another home game. They won’t be able to truly answer the critics until they go to Lexington for their last game in February.
3 Duke ACC #1 1 – 3 – ?
21-2 RPI: 8 SOS: 58 R/N: 8-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Earth to Mr. Gottleib: Duke doesn’t have a win against the RPI Top 30, only one in the top 40, no true road wins in the RPI top 75, none of the teams they’ve played have been outplaying their RPI, they have a loss to a bubblicious Florida State team, and they’re mired in the weak ACC, and you talk about them as a 1 seed? As it happens, North Carolina is now in the top 20 so Duke can win a pelt when they come to town (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network), and that will certainly help, but it won’t give them a good road win; their only chance for that may be the rematch in the regular season finale. It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke’s best hope for a #1 seed is probably to completely win out, beating North Carolina three times along the way, and hope for teams currently on the top two lines to lose.
3 Syracuse BST #5 1 – 3 – ?
20-4 RPI: 18 SOS: 32 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Syracuse had to get off the schnide, and they got together for a big win at UConn, one of their best wins of the season. Now we need to figure out what kind of team they are. Once you get past Notre Dame and UConn, the quality of their wins take several large skips, and they have to live with losses to Marquette and especially Seton Hall for the rest of the year. Beating Georgetown (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN) would be a big help, as would picking up wins at Louisville (Saturday noon ET, ESPN) and at home to West Virginia (Monday 2/14 7pm ET, ESPN), but Syracuse will have to make most of their case for a good seed in the Big East Tournament, as that’ll be their only shot at avenging the Pitt loss.
4 Villanova BST #6 1 – 4 – ?
19-4 RPI: 12 SOS: 26 R/N: 5-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
West Virginia is up there with Syracuse as Villanova’s best wins, and it helps legitimize the Syracuse win. But Syracuse will continue to look like a fluke until Nova can beat another team in the top 100 of the RPI on the road. Nova gets a chance to improve their resume dramatically if they can upset Pitt at home (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN), but they won’t get any chances to get a road win against a good team until Notre Dame and Pitt back-to-back at the end of the season. Not to discount the value, or trap game potential, of road games against Rutgers (Wednesday 8pm ET, Big East Network) or Seton Hall (Tuesday 2/15 8pm ET, Big East Network), of course, but Villanova’s best chance to prove their bona fides might be at MSG.
4 Louisville BST #7 1 – 4 – ?
18-5 RPI: 26 SOS: 39 R/N: 3-3 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
The Georgetown loss, not reflected in last week’s ladder, turns out to be enough for the Villanova loss to be the tiebreaker with the Wildcats. But Louisville can continue to prove their bona fides with more wins in the Big East, and they have a heck of a duo this week, with a trip to South Bend (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPNU) and a visit from Syracuse (Saturday Noon ET, ESPN). Winning those two might be enough for a return trip to the 3 seed line. Louisville has a similar problem to Villanova, as the Connecticut win looks slightly fluky, but it does raise the possibility that the Cardinals could pull another road upset against the Golden Domers.
4 West Virginia BST #8 1 – 4 – ?
15-7 RPI: 17 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 5-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
The Mountaineers couldn’t get the job done against Villanova. Not too horrible, and it was on the road, but still a missed opportunity that Bob Huggins’ squad will be licking their wounds over. Losing to Pitt (Monday 7pm ET, ESPN, already played) should hurt them even less, though a loss is a loss, and if West Virginia keeps racking up too many of them they could find themselves playing the first day of the Big East tournament. It doesn’t really get any easier. DePaul (Saturday 4pm ET, Big East Network) is basically a practice game for the three big games in ten days that follow, which could make or break West Virginia’s season.
4 Kentucky SEC #2 1 – 4 – ?
16-6 RPI: 12 SOS: 10 R/N: 6-6 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 5
Florida benefitted more from beating Kentucky than Kentucky suffered, and other teams suffered their own losses, but Ole Miss is a very concerning loss. The SEC turns out to have quite a bit of strength, but Kentucky will need to take advantage of that strength, starting this week against the Tennessee schools (Tennessee Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN, @Vanderbilt Saturday 1pm ET, CBS).
5 Purdue B10 #2 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 11 SOS: 21 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 1-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
Minnesota gave Purdue something they desperately needed: a win against a team in the RPI Top 50, just in time for Michigan State to fall out of it. Purdue has good RPI but a disturbing loss to Richmond, and despite four chances hasn’t shown they can beat a team better than Valpo or Michigan on the road. They’ll get a fifth chance against Illinois (Sunday 1pm ET, CBS).
5 Texas A&M B12 #3 Probably in
16-5 RPI: 35 SOS: 43 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Three weeks ago, Texas A&M had a respectable loss to Boston College. That was it. Combine that with a decent win over Missouri and the Aggies had to feel good about their standing. Losses to Texas are understandable, but Nebraska and Baylor? The Aggies don’t have an RPI Top 25 win and don’t get another shot at Texas until the conference tournament. At this point, any loss to a team that isn’t Kansas, Texas, or Missouri is poison to the Aggies’ relative standing on Selection Sunday. A&M is squarely on the bubble until they are clear of all the land mines on their schedule.
5 Tennessee SEC #3 Probably in
15-8 RPI: 22 SOS: 3 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 10-5 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 7
Tennessee’s problem can be summed up in one word: consistency. Tennessee has given the likes of Pitt and Villanova some of their very few losses… and they have a whopping five losses against teams outside the RPI Top 70, against teams like College of Charleston and Oakland. Incidentially, only two of those bad losses have the Bruce Pearl suspension excuse, and only the two worst ones (Arkansas and Charlotte) were road games; the Vols managed to beat Vanderbilt at home and Georgia in Athens without their coach. Their fate will turn on how they do against the good teams in their own conference. Pearl comes back just in time for the Vols to stare down the meatgrinder of the SEC schedule, taking on Kentucky (Tuesday 9pm ET, ESPN) and Florida (Saturday 6pm ET, ESPN) in succession.
5 Wisconsin B10 #3 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 20 SOS: 44 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 10-2 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 4
Concerning losses and a lack of top-notch ones hold the Badgers back at the moment. Avenging the Michigan State loss was a must with the Spartans’ recent struggles, but at the moment the Badgers only barely are holding on to the 5-seed line, which will have consequences come Selection Sunday. A win over Ohio State at home (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN) would greatly improve their standing, but is rather unlikely and would look like a major fluke.
6 Vanderbilt SEC #4 Probably in
16-6 RPI: 19 SOS: 19 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Vanderbilt and Wisconsin have rather similar resumes. Vandy is largely propelled by an old win over North Carolina; otherwise, they would have no wins in the RPI Top 30 and two in the Top 50, which is bad news with two losses outside the Top 100. Still, they have a good overall outlook, and have some important tests this week. Surging Alabama (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN2) is not to be ignored, and Kentucky (Saturday 1pm ET, CBS) would make the UNC win not look like a fluke from a time when the Tar Heels were significantly worse.
6 Minnesota B10 #4 Probably in
16-7 RPI: 27 SOS: 24 R/N: 5-5 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 3-4 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 5
Wins over Purdue, North Carolina, and West Virginia are good, but Minnesota’s best true road win is against Michigan, and the dropoff comes fast. The Gophers are cursing themselves for losing to Michigan State, and Virginia and Indiana are very concerning. Minnesota probably would have been a 5 last week before losing to Ohio State (certainly forgivable) and Indiana (a no-no). Minnesota’s now on a three-game losing streak and entered the day tied with Michigan State and Penn State for fifth in the conference standings; sixth and below has to play the first round of the conference tournament. Beating Illinois (Thursday 9pm ET, ESPN) would mean beating a better team and catching up to them in the standings, not to mention adding a win over a team better than Michigan, and then nothing eventful happens until a chance to improve their road resume a week later against Penn State.
6 North Carolina ACC #2 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 16 SOS: 17 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 10-4 RPI T50: 2-4 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 4
The ACC may not be quite so bad as we thought, as the Tar Heels, a year removed from NIT runner-up-dom, make the best non-Duke team in the conference respectable. Boston College and Florida State were needed pelts to add depth to their resume and make the Kentucky win look less like a fluke. But now Duke (Wednesday 9pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network) is salivating for a chance to give themselves a much-needed Top 30 win against their archrival. Both teams desperately need this game, and when you stir that in with college basketball’s biggest rivalry, it makes for must-see TV.
6 Missouri B12 #4 Probably in
17-5 RPI: 30 SOS: 71 R/N: 4-5 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 4-4 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Missouri avenged the Colorado loss but it won’t remove the sting from their resume, and they just took another questionable loss to Oklahoma State, nearly falling out of the 6 seed line. Missouri has a decent collection of wins, but the depth leaves much to be desired. Will losing to Kansas (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN, already played) be enough to drop them a seed? It certainly wastes a chance for a marquee win.
7 St. John’s BST #9 Probably in
13-9 RPI: 21 SOS: 1 R/N: 5-6 OOC: 8-4 RPI T50: 4-7 Wv≥: 4 Lv≤: 5
St. John’s has the same problem as Tennessee: fantastic wins, atrocious losses. The Johnnies have more quality wins and better losses outside the really bad ones to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, but they also have NO depth to their wins. After their four good wins, their next best wins are over the likes of Northwestern, Providence, Rutgers. Steve Lavin’s squad needs wins, and luckily they’re in the Big East, where such wins are easy to come by. In fact, their first game in nearly a week will be a chance at the sort of overachieving win the Johnnies specialize in: UConn (Thursday 7pm ET, ESPN). However, Cincinnati (Sunday Noon ET, Big East Network) and Marquette (Tuesday 2/15 9pm ET, ESPNU) may actually be more important, as the Johnnies need to prove they can do more than overachieve, and can beat teams other than West Virginia on the road.
7 UNLV MWC #3 Probably in
17-6 RPI: 28 SOS: 37 R/N: 8-3 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 2-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
One thing UNLV has going for them: they play well on the road. The Rebels don’t have many good wins, but combine their good road record with UC Santa Barbara being their only truly bad loss and they’re in pretty good shape. Being in the Mountain West, though, a single slip-up could kill them. All their remaining games would cause at least a seed’s worth of damage with a win, but their long-term prospects probably hinge on the game against San Diego State (Saturday 8pm ET, CBS CS). An upset there will make a huge difference on Selection Sunday.
7 Cincinnati BST #10 Probably in
18-5 RPI: 37 SOS: 97 R/N: 5-4 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 2-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 0
Cincinnati is tough to read, as all their losses have come against the Big East’s top tier and they have a win over St. John’s under their belt, but Xavier is their only other win against the RPI Top 60. Clearly, the Bearcats will suffer because of their schedule. Winning the rematch against Steve Lavin’s club (Sunday Noon ET, Big East Network) will make sure that if the Big East does somehow find itself with only nine bids, it will certainly be Cincinnati. That’ll be followed by a visit from Louisville (Wednesday 2/16 7pm ET, ESPN2) that will be a big opportunity to show that the Bearcats aren’t just beneficiaries of a weak nonconference. But Cincinnati can’t afford many bad losses either, so the game against DePaul (Tuesday 7pm ET, ESPN2) before all that is pretty important as well.
7 Old Dominion CAA #1 Barely in
18-6 RPI: 29 SOS: 56 R/N: 7-4 OOC: 9-2 RPI T50: 2-3 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 5
Old Dominion puts itself a cut above the other contenders for this spot with wins over RPI Top 25 teams George Mason and Xavier, a great record on the road (even if against questionable opposition), and only one truly disreputable loss, but their resume still lacks depth or truly quality wins. Mason just avenged the loss Old Dominion stuck on them when they were the home team, a game Dominion would have done well to win if only to improve their own conference standing. Drawing Cleveland State in BracketBusters (Sunday 2/20 1pm ET, ESPN2) probably helps the Vikings, who don’t have and desperately need a single RPI Top 50, more than one RPI Top 80, or a road RPI Top 100 win, more than the Monarchs, though the Vikings will provide a much-needed RPI Top 40 win and won’t hurt them too much with a loss. Until then, Old Dominion’s biggest challenge will come against Virginia Commonwealth (Saturday 2pm ET, ESPN2), their other national TV game of the month.

Bracket Ladder for January 31, 2011

As if last week’s seven Big East teams on the top four seed lines wasn’t absurd enough, this week Big East teams take eight of those top seed lines, with St. John’s not far behind and Cincinnati and Marquette potentially appearing later as well! This week’s process went much smoother; I just did some tweaking of last week’s ladder last night, ending it with all four seed lines pretty much set, and thought I could spend most of today extending the ladder downwards… and instead spent it waiting for Internet Explorer to finish refreshing the pages and finding out the ladder changed more than I thought yesterday. And then I was detained after one of my classes for about 15 minutes, already after Georgetown-Louisville, and then IE took forever even when it wasn’t loading any pages… God willing, we’ll actually extend the ladder again next week, and even put it out before any of Monday’s games finish! (I actually find this enjoyable, when I can get IE to stop acting up on me!) “Good wins” and “bad losses” now include the seven teams directly behind you on the ladder for wins and the seven teams directly ahead of you for losses (guesstimated for teams on the 3 and 4 seed lines). Nominally, the committee is constantly comparing you in groups of eight, so this statistic will include any teams you might be directly compared with by the committee.

This edition of the Bracket Ladder is complete through the games of January 30, 2011. This means it does not include any of Monday’s games, including the Georgetown-Louisville 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
20-2 RPI: 7 SOS: 23 R/N: 7-1 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
As I said last week, the Notre Dame loss is hardly calamitous for Pitt. Despite Ohio State remaining unbeaten, Pitt barely holds them off for the overall #1 seed by continuing to have more good wins. Unless they have a collapse of the caliber Syracuse is now having, they should be pretty safe for a #1 seed, especially if they win the Big East. Losing to Cincinnati (Saturday 6pm ET, Big East Network) would help the Bearcats more than it would hurt the Panthers.
1 Ohio State B10 #1 Featured
22-0 RPI: 3 SOS: 43 R/N: 7-0 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 5-0 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 0
The Purdue win gives the Buckeyes the quality win they needed, but they still have problems coming out ahead of Pitt and UConn. Let’s be clear: If Ohio State doesn’t go undefeated, they cannot get the overall #1 seed, and might not even get into the Midwest Regional. People keep praising the Big Ten for being equal at the top with the Big East, but the problem is those teams don’t have the RPI necessary to make it into the top four seed lines like the Big East schools. The road rematch with Purdue later on will be critically important just to stay on the 1 seed line. Ohio State has an important game this week as well, as they head to Minnesota (Sunday 2pm ET, ESPN) to take on a team that might be even better than Purdue, if the RPI doesn’t show it.
1 Connecticut BST #2 Featured
17-3 RPI: 6 SOS: 7 R/N: 6-2 OOC: 12-0 RPI T50: 6-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Louisville constitutes a marginally bad loss that could hurt the Kemba Walkers mightily down the road, but it helped the Cardinals more than it hurt the Huskies. UConn still boasts an impressive collection of wins and their SOS picked up a notch, enough to just barely avoid a hard charge from Kansas. Reeling Syracuse (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN) comes next, a game that doesn’t look as impressive now as it would have a week or two ago, then trying to fend off the Seton Hall spoilers (Saturday 7pm ET, ESPNU).
1 Kansas B12 #1 Featured
20-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 9 R/N: 8-0 OOC: 15-0 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
Syracuse lost, BYU lost, San Diego State lost, but Kansas didn’t lose and they move onto the 1 seed line as a result. In fact, with UConn’s loss they might well have moved up another spot. The Jayhawks still need more good wins if they want to stay up here, but the Big 12 should provide sufficient opposition. The Texas loss still haunts them, but the Morris Twins get another shot to improve their resume against Missouri in a week (Monday 2/7 9pm ET, ESPN), and then comes no other shots at quality wins (or any quality road wins) until Texas A&M and the road rematch with Missouri in March.
2 BYU MWC #1 Featured
19-1 RPI: 1 SOS: 11 R/N: 9-2 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 6-1 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
BYU could have benefitted from the Syracuse losses to make it onto the top line, but the stumble in the Pit keeps that from happening. BYU now has two very concerning losses on their resume, but they also have multiple RPI Top 25 wins, which is fairly impressive for a mid-major. That said, the Jimmer Fredettes probably need to win out to remain remotely this high, including reasserting their primacy over the Aztecs in San Diego late in the year. They could still appear and even finish on the top seed line if they can do that. Will the NCAA give them a top seed in that case? Of course not! They’ll disrespect the Mountain West too much.
2 San Diego State MWC #2 Featured
19-1 RPI: 4 SOS: 37 R/N: 11-1 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 3-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 1
San Diego State benefitted from losses by Syracuse and Duke and remains one spot behind BYU. The Cougars aren’t a terrible loss, but the Aztecs won’t get another chance against a team in the RPI Top 40 until the rematch in San Diego. That could mean a difference of a couple of spots in the seeding. They’re probably getting a top four seed either way… assuming they don’t take any non-BYU losses.
2 Notre Dame BST #3 Featured
17-4 RPI: 8 SOS: 8 R/N: 4-4 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 7-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
The Golden Domers played only one game this week, but they obliterated their “no true road wins” problem in a big way. That’s far better than the way Duke handled a similar problem (see below). Now Notre Dame has three RPI Top 10 wins and only Marquette as a truly questionable loss, and look like they’ll be scary come March. If they win out, especially if they win at UConn in the regular season finale, a 1 seed might be a possibility.
2 Georgetown BST #4 Featured
16-5 RPI: 5 SOS: 3 R/N: 9-3 OOC: 11-1 RPI T50: 6-5 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 5
Georgetown’s iffy start to conference play seems a long time ago, as the Hoyas pick up a huge win over Villanova, their first in the RPI Top 20, and avenge the St. John’s loss. The West virginia and St. John’s losses are still iffy, and the Temple loss very questionable, but the schedule and road/neutral records are fantastic and the quality of their wins seems downright deep. Georgetown could move up even further with the win tonight against Louisville.
3 Texas B12 #2 Featured
18-3 RPI: 10 SOS: 18 R/N: 6-2 OOC: 12-3 RPI T50: 6-2 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 2
Texas spent the week deepening their resume, picking up wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri. But that’s nothing compared to the challenge they now face against Texas A&M (Monday 9pm ET, ESPN). Texas already beat A&M at home, but a road win could put the USC loss almost entirely in the rear view and propel them onto the top two seed lines.
3 Duke ACC #1 Featured
19-2 RPI: 12 SOS: 63 R/N: 7-3 OOC: 13-1 RPI T50: 5-1 Wv≥: 0 Lv≤: 2
Two things happened on Sunday that might not have been too horrible for Duke on their own, but were calamitous taken together: Duke lost to St. John’s, wasting one of their few chances to beat a good team on the road, and Michigan State, by playing lowly Indiana, fell out of the RPI Top 35. Now Duke doesn’t have any truly impressive wins, two moderately acceptable losses, and probably won’t have another chance to get a win against a team in the Top 35 the rest of the season. It’s looking like Duke has too questionable a schedule, and a conference, to justify their preseason #1 ranking. Duke can probably kiss a 1 seed goodbye, and winning their remaining conference road games could make a critical difference for how easy their road to a repeat is, especially Miami (FL) on February 13 and North Carolina in the regular season finale.
3 Syracuse BST #5 Featured
18-4 RPI: 22 SOS: 32 R/N: 5-2 OOC: 13-0 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
Suddenly Syracuse going 18-0 to start the season seems a long time ago, as the Orange take one heck of a tumble and are basically in the middle of the pack with the Big East teams below. Jim Boeheim has never had a five-game losing streak in his Syracuse tenure, but it suddenly looks like the Orange will face an uphill struggle to snap this skid against UConn (Wednesday 7pm ET, ESPN).
3 Louisville BST #6 Featured
17-4 RPI: 23 SOS: 33 R/N: 3-2 OOC: 11-2 RPI T50: 5-2 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 4
Louisville was being hailed in the polls as one of the top 10 teams in the country despite only one win in the RPI Top 30 and especially coming off a questionable loss to Providence. Two wins over West Virginia and UConn later, and the Cardinals have the quality wins to justify the respect given to them by the national media. Now Louisville looks like a team that can beat other good teams and has a string of top-notch wins that manages to outweigh their losses to Drexel and the Friars. Louisville took a step back against Georgetown, but it might not hurt them too much and in the Big East, a potential good win is always right around the corner (like Notre Dame next week).
4 Villanova BST #7 Featured
17-4 RPI: 14 SOS: 28 R/N: 5-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 3
The loss to Georgetown is respectable; the loss to Providence less so, though the Friars have taken down other Big East teams in this area. On the other hand, the win over Louisville suddenly became a second Top 25 win, making the Syracuse win look a bit less like a fluke, but the Wildcats can really improve their resume by beating West Virginia (Saturday noon ET, ESPN).
4 West Virginia BST #8 Featured
14-6 RPI: 13 SOS: 4 R/N: 6-5 OOC: 9-3 RPI T50: 5-3 Wv≥: 3 Lv≤: 3
West Virginia took a tentative step forward with a win over Cincinnati, and then lost to Louisville that helped the Cardinals more than it hurt the Mountaineers but still sent them back to the 4 seeds. The Villanova game (Saturday noon ET, ESPN) could be for a return trip to the 3 seed line.
4 Texas A&M B12 #3 Featured
16-3 RPI: 16 SOS: 47 R/N: 4-3 OOC: 12-1 RPI T50: 4-2 Wv≥: 1 Lv≤: 2
A loss to Nebraska doesn’t sink the Aggies lower because of other teams losing, strength of schedule improving, and just how head-scratching the resumes start getting once you hit the 6 seeds. They may still have a chance to move into the top three seeds if they beat Texas (Monday 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 Kentucky SEC #1 Featured
16-4 RPI: 11 SOS: 16 R/N: 6-4 OOC: 12-2 RPI T50: 4-3 Wv≥: 2 Lv≤: 3
Kentucky managed to avenge their loss to Georgia and saw Missouri lose to keep them on the 4 line. (Missouri still isn’t far behind them – it was Texas, after all.) This week will come a chance to improve their resume considerably if they can beat Florida (Saturday 9pm ET, ESPN).

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).

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.

Bracket Ladder: A new approach to bracketology

One of the most common arguments against a playoff in college football is that it would turn college football into college basketball, where – allegedly – the regular season is completely meaningless.

This is complete bullshit. If you’re going to use the “meaningless regular season” line, college basketball is not the place to use it. (That would be the NBA and NHL, which push more than half their teams into the postseason.)

There are about 347 teams in Division I college basketball. Only 65 get to play in the NCAA Tournament, or 18.7%. By contrast, major league baseball puts 26 2/3% of its teams in its postseason – even counting the NIT, college basketball is nearly as selective, putting 27.95% of its teams in the postseason. But college basketball’s regular season is far more meaningful than baseball’s because its teams only play 30 or so games. We can get a rough estimate of how meaningful the regular season is by taking the reciprocal of the selectiveness percentage and dividing it by the number of games. By that measure, college basketball’s regular season is more meaningful than that of the NFL.

(Incidentially, college football, if it adopted a 11/5 playoff, would still only put 13 1/3% of its teams in the playoffs and have a far more meaningful regular season than any other major sport. Right now, its meaningfullness index number is 5, which means it’s too meaningful because its number is over 1.)

So why does this perception of the meaningless college basketball regular season persist? Undoubtedly, a lot of it has to do with the subjectivity of the process, and its cousin, the unbalanced schedules played by college basketball conferences. In the pros, you know exactly the impact a given game will have on a given team’s chances to make the playoffs. You can’t know that for certain in college basketball. What’s at stake for Kansas entering today’s game? Are they already locked into a #1 seed? Are they in trouble of sinking to a #2 or #3? Are they going to get an ideally situated region, or can they? We don’t know.

The fast-growing field of “bracketology” (a neologism invented out of whole cloth by ESPN) could help answer these questions and help us know exactly what to expect out of a given game. Unfortunately, most bracketologists post little more than their reckoning of where the field stands right now, not how close all the teams are to each other. So we know that North Carolina is (for example, since I’m writing this during 2008’s March Madness!) the second #1 seed. Could they rise up to the overall #1? Could they fall? How far could they fall, and how soon? We don’t know. The closest most bracketologists come, if you’re lucky, is a “bubble watch” feature tracking only whether teams are in or out of the field, not how high they are if they’re in. Often, even that only contains vague descriptions. Seeds matter too – almost all of the national championships in the modern era have gone to the top three seeds. Say what you will about Joe Lunardi and his tendency to get way more play than his accuracy would indicate, but if you’re willing to pay for ESPN Insider, he’ll give you percentage chances for every possibility you could care about. That’s way more than most bracketologists.

If. You’re willing to pay for ESPN Insider. (And the subscription to ESPN the Magazine Insider requires.)

Over the next two months, leading up to Selection Sunday, I’m thinking I’m going to run my own bracketology project, showing the information college basketball fans really want to know: what’s at stake. I’ll tell you exactly who has a shot at the overall #1 seed, the range of seeds a team could get, whether a team’s in or could still be out or if they’re on the bubble or if they’re out but could still be in, using color-coded bars and all the information you could ever need. You’ll get to see exactly where your team is on a ladder extending from 1 to 64 and beyond, and how far they could climb or fall

I’m going to make an effort to use the same information the selection committee uses, but the NCAA seems to be more tight-lipped about what info the selection committee uses than I recall them being in the past. (Is the committee really using game scores now?) So I’m going to use the same information I use for my Golden Bowl selection process, courtesy of CBSSports.com’s RPI Breakdown pages: record, RPI, strength of schedule, out-of-conference record, road/neutral record, record in the last 12 games, record against other teams in consideration, quality of wins and losses. (I’m okay with using injury info and the like.) However, this is not an effort to attempt to predict what the selection committee will do, because the purpose is to demonstrate the format. Rather, this is a record of what I would do if I were on (or rather, were) the selection committee.

I’m spending today and tomorrow going through each team’s resume and forming an initial ranking. I hope to have a first, rough sketch of where I see the field by 5 PM PT Tuesday. And we’ll see where we go from there.

Belated remarks on BYU going independent in football

The biggest loser in the Not-So-Great Conference Shakeup of 2010 may be the Mountain West, who got screwed through no real fault of their own whatsoever.

Yay, the Pac-10 may singlehandedly destroy the Big 12! We could wind up with the Kansas schools or even more, and then the BCS would HAVE to let us in to the party! Oh wait, they called off the dogs – well, at least we got Boise State out of the deal, although now that’s a wash because the Pac-10 is adding Utah to complement Colorado and become the Pac-12. Oh well, at least it’s a wash…

…except BYU has just lost its biggest link to the Mountain West and wants to go independent in football and join the WAC in other sports! But wait, we’re adding Nevada and Fresno State to effectively destroy the WAC! But wait, BYU is STILL leaving, only they’re joining the West Coast Conference in other sports instead of the WAC! Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!!

(Incidentially, the one underplayed angle in all this is the surely-salivating-to-ESPN-execs-tongues prospect of regular BYU-Gonzaga games in the West Coast Conference. Though BYU is rarely if ever the best team in the Mountain West, it is one of the Mountain West’s stronger teams in basketball, and Gonzaga has to like the prospect of having a legitimate playing partner other than St. Mary’s.)

The Mountain West is left with 10 teams, one more than before, but only two BCS-caliber programs instead of the present three: TCU and Boise State. Nevada and Fresno State are good teams in football, by non-Boise WAC standards, but at best they’re on the level of an Air Force: they’ll sneak into the Top 25 sometimes, but they’ll rarely make true national headlines. (Air Force knocking off BYU being an exception.) That won’t help the Mountain West’s case for becoming a BCS conference or dissolving the system. In fact, BYU’s move by itself could make the system stronger than ever, especially if they get a BCS auto bid (which could be a smarter move than you might think precisely for that reason).

But why would BYU make the move? Notre Dame is under heavy pressure to join a conference at some point, so BYU is bucking the trend by leaving one. Of course they weren’t getting much help getting into the BCS by staying in the Mountain West. But the big thing BYU is banking on is its status as the Mormon university. They are banking on becoming the new Notre Dame, Notre Dame West, with every game getting national coverage and a truly national following. They want to leverage their BYU network and turn it into a national powerhouse. (It’s unlikely any football games would air on BYU TV, but the mtn. deal prevents even non-football sports from airing on BYU TV.)

The success of BYU’s declaration of independence depends heavily on whether or not BYU can put together a schedule at least as good as what they had in the Mountain West, and the outlook is staggering. If you’re going to set yourselves up to be the new Notre Dame or Notre Dame West, it makes sense to set up a rivalry with the real Notre Dame. Throw in Texas, Oregon State, and Utah, and that’s four games against teams in BCS conferences, with an eye for more. Good luck getting that in the Mountain West. And BYU has signed a deal with ESPN, which means the full ESPN hype machine will be in full effect and BYU games will regularly be on a platform with wider availability than Versus. All that’s left is recruiting.

If BYU can continue to recruit and play at the same level that they have been in the Mountain West, and regularly play in BCS games, independence will suddenly look like a viable prospect and Notre Dame can start saying “I told you so”. This could be the move that ultimately sets up the next great conference shakeup and finishes off the Big 12. The Pac-10 and Big 10 are too tightly-knit to lose any teams to independence, but they and the SEC may be the only reasonably invulnerable conferences, and even then Nebraska and Penn State have to consider the possibility (though the Big Ten Network revenues may be too much to resist).

(USC will definitely be tempted if probation and Lane Kiffin don’t prevent the program from maintaining its Carroll-era heights, especially compared to the rest of the Pac-10 – and if a team that lost its upperclassmen and can’t go to a bowl is still ranked in the polls and that ranking is warranted, I guarantee USC will win a national championship the first year off probation.)

If Texas decides the outlook is right, they could jump to independence in a heartbeat (just look at how much more money it makes in all sports than the next non-Big 10, non-SEC, non-Notre Dame school), with Oklahoma following (though the Big 12 could stay together after all if enough other teams follow suit). Other teams that were once both independent and powerhouses before the 90s shakeup – Florida State, Miami (FL) – could bolt as well, which is bad news for the ACC. With ten members, the ACC could stay alive, if not taken very seriously and looking like the new Big East (though Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and a few others are good teams), but the Big 12 would be down to eight pissed-off members, who might start looking at other conferences or at independence themselves.

But that’s trying to predict the unpredictable. Right now the future involves the impending destruction of the WAC, which is down to six teams and couldn’t even field a conference if Hawaii leaves. If the WAC can keep Hawaii in the fold they will try to replenish their numbers, probably with potential playing partners for Louisiana Tech from Conference USA and possibly the Sun Belt, but if it can’t a lot depends on what the Mountain West decides to do next, and whether they want to go straight to a football championship game or wait for better options than the WAC’s castoffs (like the Kansas schools should BYU’s defection eventually cause the Big 12 to implode).

If they do decide to go for a championship game, they will and should take Utah State and New Mexico State (the former is already rumored to be Mountain West-bound). Both, along with MWC-bound Nevada, are among the WAC’s best teams in basketball (when all is said and done the Mountain West’s new lineup would have had five teams in the NCAA Tournament last year), New Mexico State brings New Mexico’s in-state rival in-house, and while Utah State’s potential playing partners are both gone it does re-establish the Mountain West’s foothold in the sizable Utah market. That leaves Idaho, San Jose State, and Louisiana Tech. LA Tech likely joins Conference USA; Idaho and San Jose State, two of the worst college football programs in the nation, may have no choice but to go to FCS or shutter their football programs entirely. Perhaps the Big Sky or Summit League will take Idaho (although most of the Summit’s schools don’t play football so if Idaho keeps the football program the Big Sky may be the only option). The Big West may be the only geographic and cultural fit for San Jose State, and most if not all of their schools don’t play football, so their football program may be screwed unless they or Idaho want to go to the Great West.

Then begins the process of keeping a close eye on how BYU does financially and athletically over the next decade, as the future of college football may lie in their hands.

Belated Notes on the NCAA Tournament’s New Contract

I know my already slow posting pace has become even slower recently. The reasons for that will come out in due time. But I did want to make some notes on the NCAA Tournament signing a new long-term deal with CBS and Turner a few weeks back, and the tournament expanding, for the moment, to only 68 teams. That’s a relief… for now.

Early round games will be broadcast on CBS, TBS, TNT, and… truTV? All of the proposed bidders had fourth channels that weren’t going to be as good as the others; ESPN had the best package with ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN Classic in a pinch or if ESPN was really committed to killing sports on ABC – although given the justification for not putting games on CBS College Sports, ABC Family would have been more likely than Classic or the U (although ESPN apparently didn’t think the U’s limited distribution was a factor). (Fox had FX, Fox Sports Net, and… Fox News? Fox Soccer Channel, in a pinch? Alternately, the Fox College Sports channels? Comcast/NBC had Versus, Universal Sports, and… Comcast SportsNet, or CNBC, or MSNBC?) But CBS and Turner could have used CBS College Sports and even if it didn’t reach as many people, at least it would have fit (and helped further distribution for the network). Heck, they could have even dipped into their existing team-up for the CW, though I don’t know how healthy that network is at the moment.

(Although ESPN had the best package of networks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the biggest call for a 96-team field came from their corner, and that this demand helped kill their chances. ESPN is really crowded with sports events on its schedule; among other things, on the first weekend of the tournament the Nationwide Series race would likely have to be pushed back to 11 AM ET or earlier to accommodate both men’s and women’s tournaments. The major obstacles, especially for ESPNU, are the wrestling championships, which could be moved to another weekend, and the NIT, especially the second round. I wouldn’t be surprised if ESPN wanted to kill the NIT to free up space for tournament games, even if those games would need to be replaced in the main tournament. For the same reason, unless the NIT died I can’t see ESPN not putting first round games on ABC, as it needs one-channel wiggle room and games aren’t being put on the News, and if that’s the case I can’t see them not putting the rest of the tournament on ABC either. Except…)

Needless to say I’m not pleased with CBS and Turner alternating coverage of the Final Four. I had a problem with one LCS being on broadcast and one not, and I have a problem with the Final Four only being on broadcast in alternate years, which doesn’t even make sense to me, unless Turner wanted some Final Fours if it was going to get in to the early rounds. And it was one thing for ABC (and NBC, and CBS) to show regular season college football but for the National Championship to be on cable, but it’s quite another for CBS to show early rounds of the NCAA Tournament but for the championship to be on cable.

But more than that is the problem I have with the Final Four and national championship moving to cable at all. It’s a trend following on from the move of the BCS to ESPN, and the parties involved don’t see any pushback because TBS is nationally available, but this would set a really bad precedent. I don’t know this for certain, but unlike the BCS, the NCAA is a legitimate sanctioning body, and if Congress allowed this to stand it would likely open the floodgates for any championship, right up to the World Series and Super Bowl, to move to cable, and sports to all but abandon broadcast. ESPN may not like losing the tournament but they have to be salivating for Turner to win the argument. It might actually help an ESPN competitor like Versus to have more high-rated sporting events available, but if none takes advantage this would effectively give ESPN a monopoly on all of sports, with a few scraps left for Turner.

It’s interesting, though, that this alternation only starts in 2016 – after ESPN’s current BCS contract ends. Is this a sign that if the sports landscape becomes more broadcast-friendly, CBS might take the Elite Eight and Final Four back? Or that CBS and Turner might be hoping that by 2016, cable will have advanced to the point that a Congress that was reluctant now might be more forgiving? Or that the TV landscape will go all to hell, everyone will be watching on the Internet anyway, and it’ll be a non-issue? If being on CBS will “bring more ratings in the early years”, why not the later ones?

Will Turner start showing regular-season college basketball games? Will this be the end of staggered start times? I imagine the play-in games will move to Turner as well?

The NCAA Tournament “will have one look, but there will be separate branding” – so much for my hopes of Turner adopting consistent graphics across all sports, and on the other hand, is CBS planning on another graphics shake-up? Was the new graphics on the NFL last year a preview of further changes? Will CBS and Turner have different studio teams, and will there be one, two, or four studio teams?

I’m seeing several different theories as to why ESPN lost. One theory is that they’re saving up for an Olympic bid, but another is that ESPN is starting a new conservative bidding strategy as a result of increased interest from Disney bosses. That would mean a conservative Olympic bid as well, as well as a real opening for an ESPN competitor to swoop in.

Oh, and quit whining about Dick Vitale not being able to call a Final Four; I doubt ABC would be willing to put that sort of bombast to such a large and diverse audience on broadcast. He would have called the first two rounds only, since CBS’ B, C, and D color commentators already work for ESPN (though he might have bumped out Bill Raftery for the C spot – ESPN would face revolt if they didn’t hire Gus Johnson and there’s a reason CBS never paired him and Raft, so Dickie V wouldn’t have bumped out Len Elmore). I would have expected Brent Musberger, Bob Knight, and maybe Jay Bilas calling the Final Four – I know Knight is bombastic himself, but think of him as the new Billy Packer. I could see the other Sweet 16/Elite Eight teams being Brad Nessler/Jay Bilas, Sean McDonough/Bill Raftery, and Gus Johnson/Len Elmore, with Mike Patrick/Dick Vitale, Dave O’Brien/Steve Lavin, Mike Tirico/Hubie Brown, and Mike Breen/Mark Jackson/Jeff Van Gundy rounding out the first two round teams, with John Saunders, Hubert Davis, and Digger Phelps manning the studio.

On CBS and Turner, if I were to guess what they’ll do, is take the present teams, remove Dick Enberg who’s done with CBS apparently, add Marv Albert/Reggie Miller (and demote either Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery to the first two rounds only, with Verne Lundquist and either Bilas or Raft becoming the new B team, and Johnson/Elmore rounding out the Sweet 16/Elite Eight teams) and replace Dan Bonner with Doug Collins as Kevin Harlan’s partner for NBA synergy (as with my last two ESPN teams), throw out the Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel team, and replace Mike Gminski as Tim Brando’s partner with Dan Bonner, Bilas, or Raftery, with the remainder going to Dick Stockton. (After Brando’s infamous performance one or two years ago when he lucked into a Gus Johnson situation and throughly blew it, I wouldn’t be surprised if CBS/Turner kept Dedes instead of Brando. I know the blogosphere hates Stockton, but he works TNT NBA games in the playoffs and is a big name.) Ian Eagle stays only because he already does some NBA playoff work for TNT; he’d be the first to go if it weren’t for that. You’re left with Nantz/Kellogg, Lundquist/Bilas, Albert/Miller, Johnson/Elmore, Harlan/Collins, Stockton/Raftery, Eagle/Spanarkel, Brando/Bonner (I could leave Spanarkel, Wenzel, or Gminski with Brando with Eagle getting Bonner, Bilas, or Raft).