"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Should Sub-.500 Teams Get At-Large Bids?

Seth Davis stirred up controversy this week when he asserted teams with conference records below .500 should not be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. If you aren't a subscriber to The Athletic, first of all, you should be. It's a great site. But the gist was if you have a losing conference record, including conference tournament games, you don't go to the tourney. This would eliminate virtually all teams that go below .500 in league play & half of the teams that reach .500.

My initial reaction was disagreement. Consider 2011 UConn that went 9-9 in the Big East; they would've been one single-elimination slip from losing an opportunity to win the National Championship, a feat they actually accomplished. The more I thought about it, the more I considered this year's bubble. Teams like Oklahoma, Seton Hall, Ohio State, & others would likely be eliminated from at-large consideration by this. All of these teams have multiple wins over teams projected to be in the field. They deserve a chance, right?

I looked back at 10 years of Tournaments to see how teams that would've been rendered ineligible performed. Last year 7 high-majors with losing conference records got in after 16 in the previous 9 years combined (never more than 2 in a single season until 2018). Those teams went a combined 16-23 in the Tournament. 60.9% of the teams (14/23) failed to win their Thursday/Friday games. Only 4 reached the Sweet 16 & only 2 went further than that; Florida State made the Elite Eight in 2018 while Syracuse reached a Final Four in 2016. Is it really worth giving bids to the same tired teams when 82.6% of them will be gone before the first weekend is over?

The reason teams in high-major leagues have those multiple wins over projected tourney teams is simply a product of opportunity. Teams like Penn State, South Carolina, Illinois, Oklahoma State, & Pittsburgh all have multiple wins over projected tournament teams but aren't in the bubble mix because their overall record simply isn't good enough. So at what point do we draw the line? Yes, high-major bubble teams have quality wins the smaller leagues can't match, but so do high-major doormats. Simply being in that type of league will afford you opportunities, both in & out of conference play, that smaller schools are incredibly hard pressed to match.

Consider Murray State in 2015. They were 27-4 with a 25-game winning streak & lost the conference title game by 1-point to a Belmont team playing on its home court. Instead of seeing that team, basketball fans got to watch an Oklahoma State & Texas, both teams that finished below .500 in conference play, lose their opening games.

The first weekend of the tournament is about David versus Goliath. People get excited for the schools like Loyola-Chicago, FGCU Dunk City, UMBC, & other small schools that have etched their names in the history books. Granted, in the second & third weekends fans do generally want to see the elite players & programs, but would leaving out the dregs of the high-major leagues prevent that when the vast majority of those teams are gone by the first Sunday? I decided to do a blind resume with 8 teams, but instead of showing record by quadrant, I'm going to use winning percentages in Q1/2 & total "bad" losses in Q3. All of these teams are undefeated in Q4.

Team NET Pom Record Q1 WP Q2 WP Q3 Ls Reveal
A 33 39 22-6 0.333 0.400 1 Utah State
B 37 27 15-13 0.333 0.571 2 Texas
C 43 31 17-11 0.111 0.500 0 Clemson
D 46 47 22-6 0.400 0.333 1 Lipscomb
E 47 57 22-6 0.167 1.000 2 Furman
F 49 33 18-10 0.364 0.667 1 Ohio State
G 50 58 22-4 0.667 0.750 2 Belmont
H 64 62 16-11 0.333 0.778 3 Seton Hall

What I feel this reveals is that given opportunities, all of these teams can win Quadrant 1 & 2 games. All of them are vulnerable to bad losses (some more than others). If you highlight the "Reveal" column the team names are there. I'm sure it's obvious which teams are from high-majors & mid-majors by the record, but the computer rankings, the ability to win games given opportunities, & minimizing bad losses.

I'm not sure how far this should be extended. The Screen the Screener podcast suggested this go to dominant teams in their leagues with 0-2 losses. Would that include sub-200 NET teams like Norfolk State & Prairie View A&M? I feel like that's a bit too close to giving leagues two autobids each, so perhaps a NET cutoff of 100 should also be incorporated. I do think this is worth serious consideration. Honestly, I would much rather see Murray State (currently not in the Next 8 Out on BracketMatrix.com) in the field than an Oklahoma team that looks secure (currently a 9-seed despite a 5-10 league record).

One last note before the S-Curve...I don't expect to have as many updates next week. I will try for one mid-week but beyond that should be back with regular updates leading into and through the conference tournaments.

1-Seeds: 1-VIRGINIA, 2-GONZAGA, 3-Duke, 4-Kentucky
2-Seeds: 8-Tennessee, 7-Michigan, 6-MICHIGAN STATE, 5-North Carolina
3-Seeds: 9-HOUSTON, 10-Kansas, 11-MARQUETTE, 12-Purdue
4-Seeds: 16-NEVADA, 15-Iowa State, 14-Texas Tech, 13-LSU
5-Seeds: 17-Virginia Tech, 18-Wisconsin, 19-Florida State, 20-Mississippi State
6-Seeds: 24-BUFFALO, 23-Villanova, 22-KANSAS STATE, 21-Maryland
7-Seeds: 25-WOFFORD, 26-Iowa, 27-Cincinnati, 28-Louisville
8-Seeds: 32-Mississippi, 31-St. John's, 30-Baylor, 29-WASHINGTON
9-Seeds: 33-BELMONT, 34-VCU, 35-Auburn, 36-Utah State
10-Seeds: 40-Texas, 39-Florida, 38-Ohio State, 37-Syracuse
11-Seeds: 41-Oklahoma, 42-Tcu, 43-LIPSCOMB, 44-Alabama
12-Seeds: 50-Ucf/49-UNC Greensboro, 48-NC State/47-Arizona State, 46-Minnesota, 45-Seton Hall

Last Four Byes: TCU, Alabama, Seton Hall, Minnesota
Last Four In: Arizona State, NC State, UNC Greensboro, UCF
First Four Out: Clemson, Temple, Furman, Murray State
Next Four Out: Nebraska, Creighton, St. Mary's, Georgetown

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