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STL March Madness Bracketology: Unveiling the Top 16

We project the Top-16 ahead of the NCAA Tournament Committee’s announcement

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Orlando Practice Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Selection Show may be my favorite non-sporting event sporting event of the calendar year. The excitement that comes with unveiling the bracket is unparalleled. But for the second year in a row, Christmas will come early. Last year, the NCAA Tournament Committee broke from tradition and unveiled something of a pre-bracket, announcing who the top 16 seeds would be if the season were to end that day. It was a practice that was criticized by many, but welcomed by more. I find the exercise beneficial as it highlights some of the criteria the committee will weigh most heavily come March 11th. Will the committee continue to utilize RPI, or will the rely more on advanced stats like Ken Pomeroy? How will the use of the quadrant system impact the evaluation of teams? Will the committee be affected by recency bias or will they take a look at the whole season? All those questions will be answered and more when CBS broadcasts the unveiling at 12:30 on Sunday. In the meantime, here’s a look at what I think the bracket may look like

South Regional

1. Virginia Cavaliers
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs

3. Cincinnati Bearcats
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders

East Regional

1. Villanova Wildcats
4. Texas A&M Aggies

3. North Carolina Tar Heels
2. Kansas Jayhawks

Midwest Regional

1. Purdue Boilermakers
4. West Virginia Mountaineers

3. Clemson Tigers
2. Auburn Tigers

West Regional

1. Xavier Musketeers
4. Tennessee Volunteers

3. Duke Blue Devils
2. Michigan State Spartans

Bracket Thoughts

  • Virginia vs. Villanova - Despite Virginia’s OT loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday night, I still have the Hoos as the top overall seed. Villanova is a very good team and very much in consideration for this spot, but the resumes just lean to Virginia. Not only are the Hoos still number one in both KenPom and the RPI, their quality wins are unmatched. Let’s compare the two:
    Virginia: 7-1 KenPom A games, 8-1 KenPom B games, 0 bad losses; 7-1 RPI Quad 1, 5-1 RPI Quad 2
    Villanova: 5-1 KenPom A games, 9-0 KenPom B Games, 1 bad loss; 9-1 RPI Quad 1, 4-1 RPI Quad 2
    The only measure where Villanova bests the Hoos is their nine RPI Quad 1 wins, but even a further examination of that measure reveals Virginia to still have an advantage. Sure, the Wildcats might have volume, but Virginia has the advantage in quality. Of Villanova’s nine Quad 1 wins, only two came against team ranked in the top 13 of RPI. Virginia, by comparison has four wins against teams in the top 9 including two away from Charlottesville. Advantage Hoos.
  • The curious case of Michigan State - If poll dynamics hold, Michigan State could find itself the number one team in the land when the AP Poll is released on Monday. We’ve seen it before, lose and you fall, win and you rise. Villanova, Virginia, and Purdue all lost while the Spartans were undefeated on the week (including a win over Purdue), so poll precedent would say Michigan State takes over at the top. The Spartans could even find themselves announced as a top seed in Sunday’s announcement, but to be honest, I had a hard time making them even a two seed in my rankings. Their resume just doesn’t hold up against teams rated around them. Sure a 24-3 record is gaudy, but there isn’t a lot of meat on that bone. Their 14 RPI bears that out. On the year they have only four KenPom A wins (12 teams have more) and three RPI Quad 1 wins (26 teams have more). Before beating Purdue on Saturday their only Quad 1 wins were a neutral win over North Carolina and a road win over Maryland. They may lead the pack based on record and reputation, but their resume is not exactly top seed worthy if you ask me.
  • ACC reigns - The ACC leads all conferences with four teams in these rankings, followed closely by the Big 12 and the SEC with three teams apiece. The SEC has been surprising this year, especially considering that none of those teams are named Kentucky or Florida. Noticeably absent from this top 16 is a representative from the Pac 12. Arizona probably has the best chance at cracking a top seed in the tournament, but at 20-6 and playing in a weak league overall, they had to make their hay in the non-conference and missed that chance.
  • What to watch for - As I mentioned in the open, this exercise gives us a chance to go behind the scenes and get a glimpse into what the committee is thinking. I’ll be looking for how they utilize RPI. If Michigan State is ranked low or Rhode Island is ranked at all, we’ll know that they have not moved on from using that metric. However if teams like Purdue, Cincinnati, and Gonzaga who fare much better in KenPom as opposed to RPI get higher marks, then perhaps its sign the committee is expanding its usage

It all kicks off at 12:30 ET on CBS. Check back and see how we did, and as always Go Hoos!