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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Bracketology: Bubble Bath

Seton Hall is trying to box Butler out of the bubble
 Photo by Michelle Pemberton | IndyStar

With March less than a week away, the bubble actually looks pretty strong this year. The final spots are filled with teams who have quality wins, competitive metrics, and viable claims to the final bids. Today we're going to dig in a bit deeper on some of the teams fighting for those last spots and talk about why they landed where we have them. We're going to look at teams in 4 different groups. The last four byes are teams that would currently earn at-large bids but not have to play in Dayton. The last four in are the final four teams to make the field and would have to go to Dayton for play-in games. The first four out are the teams right on the edge of being in but have a fatal flaw keeping them out. The next four out are the teams that are close enough to still be in the mix, but need to do some work to get back into the field.

A few things to consider. First, our methodology uses the highest NET ranking in a conference to determine autobids. As a result, we don't have teams like South Florida or Richmond in our field, which allows a couple more at-large teams in. Second, when it comes to selection, resume metrics are typically king. The lowest ever resume average to make the field was 56.5 by 2022 Rutgers. Other than that, no team has made it in with lower than 52.5. Finally, let's look at a couple recent tweets that guide us toward historical selection and what the Selection Committee chair is saying currently.

These comments largely reaffirm things bracketologists are aware of, but it's worth noting on the bubble if you aren't .500 or better in Q1-3 or you have a sub-300 NCSOS and mediocre conference record, a bid is less likely unless you have some really strong ammo to prop up your case.

Last Four Byes

Nebraska: The win over Purdue is doing a lot of work here, but they do have four wins over teams comfortably in the field. The Huskers biggest problems are their 3-7 road/neutral record and their #321 non-conference strength of schedule. They have nothing but landmines left on the schedule (Minnesota, at Ohio State, Rutgers, at Michigan), so they would be advised to win out because if they find themselves in the last four in discussion, their NCSOS could keep them out.

Virginia: The Cavaliers show up as the last 10-seed and are really helped by their resume metric average of 32. That's a hard number to leave out, but they fall this far because every loss they've taken is by double-digits with a staggering 21.3 point average margin of defeat. They seem likely to make the field, but their weak predictive metrics will likely push them close to the cut line. 

Providence: The Friars Q1-3 record of 8-9 isn't ideal, but 3 wins over protected seeds (Marquette, Creighton, Wisconsin) and 5 Q1 wins really stands out. Their resume and predictive averages are both in the 40s, which make them a solid bet for inclusion. They avoid Dayton for now.

Utah: I'm not sure anyone benefited more from Washington State's sweep of Arizona than Utah. It gave them another Q1 win and like Providence, their resume and predictive averages are both in the 40s but they also have a winning Q1-3 record.

Providence and Seton Hall are scrambling after a bouncing bid
 Photo by Vincent Carchietta | USA Today Sports

Last Four In

Seton Hall: Everything about Seton Hall's resume is fine. They have two excellent wins over UConn and Marquette. They are 5-5 in Q1 with a 9-9 record in Q1-3. Their NCSOS of #241 isn't great, but could certainly be worse. This is easily a team that could fall out of the field, but for now they have just enough to be in Dayton.

Drake: There's been a lot of talk about Indiana State as an at-large candidate, but I think Drake is the more likely Missouri Valley team to get in as an at-large, and as we use NET for automatic bids, we have them in the mix here instead of ISU. Drake's 41.0 resume average is good enough for selection, and while they have three Q3 losses, they are 5-2 against the first two quadrants and 13-5 against Q1-3. They also have a winning record away from home (8-5). The closer I look at Drake, the more they remind me of 2019 Belmont who got in with a similar resume. In fact, according to T-Rank, 2019 Belmont is the most similar resume to this Drake team. Put the Bulldogs in.

Gonzaga: This is a difficult team to put in. First, their resume average is 58.5, which would be a new low, and they don't have the big wins that 2022 Rutgers had. So why do they get in? The Kentucky win helps a lot, but Gonzaga's #24 NCSOS also helps a lot. This team scheduled tough and their intent was to play an even tougher schedule. In Maui, they ended up with Syracuse and UCLA, both teams that came into the year with NCAA aspirations and came up short. It's not Gonzaga's fault, and they did win those games. They also beat USC on a neutral court, who was projected to be the Pac-12 champs but have been unpredictably bad. The Kentucky road win gives them a marquee win few teams on the bubble have matched with only one loss outside Q1. I think they likely need to win out until the WCC Tournament final to stay here, but for now they are in.

Ole Miss: The Rebels resume average of 30.0 is one that virtually guarantees inclusion for a high major team, their 12-8 Q1-3 record is solid, but their #332 NCSOS and sub-300 conference record (considering the McClelland comments above) are flashing red warning lights. For now, the resume average and lack of bad losses keep Ole Miss in, but as their resume average continues to drop (it was 17.5 a month ago) the idea of leaving them out gets easier to stomach. I don't think they'll be in on Selection Sunday, and their resume average (74.5 is the worst among at-large teams) is what drags them to Dayton, but for now they survive.

Ole Miss is blocking Texas A&M's path to an NCAA bid

Photo by Hayden Carroll | Ole Miss Athletics

First Four Out

Wake Forest: Steve Forbes won't like it, but the Demon Deacons have a lot to dislike. Home wins over Florida and Virginia just aren't enough to get them in. Compare them to Seton Hall who has two wins over protected seeds and barely makes the cut and it's pretty clear why the Deacs get left out despite their strong predictive averages. It's true that 8 of their 9 losses are by single-digits, while 14 of their 17 wins are by double-digits, but the wins they do have aren't good enough and there just aren't enough of them. Beat Duke today and we can revisit this, but for now they haven't beat anyone close to the field away from home and don't have a true marquee win to show they belong.

Oregon: The Ducks have quietly moved back into NCAA consideration. Washington State's win over Arizona pushed their resume average to a more respectable 52.0 while they are the only team to beat the Cougars in Pullman. But while they are 13-7 in Q1-3, the Wazzu win is the only one over a team in the field and they don't have any more such games until the Pac-12 Tournament. This might be as high as the Ducks can fly.

Butler: The Butler resume average of 55.5 isn't as bad as 2022 Rutgers or the Gonzaga team we have in, but it certainly isn't good. The real fatal flaw though is their 9-11 record against Q1-3. No team has ever made the field at more than one game below .500 in those games, and while Butler has two awesome road wins, it's just not enough to break precedent for. They likely need to go 3-1 down the stretch to get in (at Seton Hall, St. John's, at DePaul, Xavier).

Texas A&M: My expectation is their exclusion would lead to a long research project from Buzz Williams explaining why they deserved to be in. Their 6-5 record against Q1 opponents, two wins over protected seeds, and #21 NCSOS would all be solid talking points. But their 10-11 record vs Q1-3 and 60.0 resume average is similarly problematic. On their best days, Texas A&M is very good, but on the whole they are very average, and teams that are very average on the whole go to the NIT.

Wake needs to do more than shoot over non-tourney teams to get in
 Photo by Walt Unks | Winston-Salem Journal

Next Four Out

Colorado: The Buffalos aren't necessarily bad, but nothing about their resume demands inclusion. They beat Wazzu at home, but it's their only win over the field. They are 10-9 in Q1-3, but with a resume average of 53.5 and few compelling wins, there's no reason to say "pick us."

Villanova: The Wildcats have wins away from home over North Carolina and Creighton, which is fantastic. Their problem is they don't do as well in the rest of their home town, where they have three Q3 losses. They have a 57.0 resume average and are 11-11 against Q1-3. Two really good wins just aren't enough to offset the bad.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies have some nice wins, but 9-11 against Q1-3 with a 61.0 resume average just isn't good enough.

Iowa: Wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State have moved the Hawkeyes from nowhere close to worth talking about. 10-11 against Q1-3 with a 61.5 resume average is also not good enough, but if they can finish 3-1 (at Illinois, Penn State, at Northwestern, Illinois) it would push their Q1-3 over .500, give them another big win over Illinois, and likely get their resume average to a respectable level. Don't count them out yet.

Here's the full S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 9


Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

Big East: 5

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 3

Missouri Valley: 2

WCC: 2

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