"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Bracketology: Bid Thieves in the Night

Brian Wardle is no stranger to unexpected March success
 Photo by Matt Dayhoff | Peoria Journal-Star

Conference tournaments kicked off last night, and there are an unusually high proportion of potential bid thieves lurking that could bust some bubbles in the next two weeks. Today we're going to focus on four leagues that could produce early bid thieves, particularly as a number of Big East teams are sitting squarely on the bubble and can ill afford a shrinking of the at-large bubble.

Missouri Valley Conference (March 7-10)

The Valley has two teams with potential at-large profiles in Indiana State and Drake. According to barttorvik.com nine of the ten most similar profiles to the Sycamores made the field, but eight of those were as automatic bids. However, Middle Tennessee did get an at-large in 2013 while eight of the nine were 11 or 12 seeds, putting them squarely on the bubble. ISU has solid metrics but a 1-3 Q1 record, a Q4 loss, and only one win over a potential at-large team in Drake are negatives to the profile. Drake might actually have the better at-large case of the two. They have a 3-1 Q1 record and wins over Nevada, Indiana State, and a sweep of Bradley. And while it might not matter, they scheduled well and have wins over Lipscomb, Oakland, and Akron teams that are all among the favorites to win their automatic bids. Comparing similar resume, five of the ten most similar made the NCAA field, but that includes three at-large bids, including 2019 Belmont and 2022 Davidson, and all of the teams that made the field did so as 10-12 seeds.

If both teams reach the final at Arch Madness, there's a good chance the MVC could get two bids. Both teams have profiles that tend to be included and they have both good enough records and good enough metrics to get the nod. It's not unthinkable to see the Valley getting three. If Bradley (NET 60) knocked both of them off, it's possible ISU and Drake could survive a Q2 loss. A three-bid Valley seems unlikely, but could be a killer for teams hoping to sneak into Dayton.

Sun Belt Conference (March 5-10)

The biggest shock on college basketball's opening night was James Madison's stunning win over Michigan State in East Lansing. Four months later and that win might carry the Dukes to an at-large bid. James Madison's most questionable number is their resume average of 67, but that is the product of wildly disparate 95 KPI/39 SOR rankings. Typically, SOR is considered the more important of the two, so it's possible the Selection Committee will place more weight on that number. In addition, so far James Madison has only lost to two teams all season, a road game at Southern Miss and two losses to Appalachian State, who also has a win over Auburn on their resume. A lot of the Dukes' resume is in Q4, which isn't good, but they are unblemished there and their 7-2 record in Q1-3 is very good. Seven of the ten most similar resumes made the field, including two at-large bids (2019 Belmont and 2022 Davidson) with all of the teams earning between 10-12 seeds.

The most likely candidate to steal that bid is Appalachian State, who already beat JMU twice. If it's Appalachian State, the Dukes continue to hold the argument of only losing to two teams all season. I have also looked closely at the App State resume, but with 5 losses outside the first two quadrants and every team sheet metric being outside the top-65, they just don't have enough of a case on their own.

West Coast Conference (March 7-11)

When Gonzaga won at Kentucky on February 10, it gave them a lifeline, but it was their first Q1 win and they still looked like a long shot to earn an at-large bid. But they've won all six games since, including a pair of Q1 road wins this week over San Francisco and St. Mary's, pushing them up to a 7-seed and a lock to make the NCAA field. St. Mary's had an even shakier start, beginning the season 3-5, but since December 1 they are 21-2 and similarly a 7-seed and certain to make the NCAA Tournament. While the Bulldogs and Gaels are in good shape to be included, no one else in the WCC is in the at-large mix, so anyone else winning the league would lead to a certain bid thief.

The most likely candidate here is San Francisco. The Dons already beat Gonzaga once this year and had a lead over St. Mary's with less than five minutes to play before fading down the stretch against St. Mary's on February 20. Santa Clara is another possible thief as they also beat Gonzaga and nearly rallied from a 24-point second half deficit at St. Mary's before losing by 5 in Moraga.

Here's the updated S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 9

SEC: 7

Big East: 6

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 3

Missouri Valley: 2

WCC: 2

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