Miscellany

What the Tournament Would Look Like If We Only Looked at the Best Wins

I am going to warn you up front that this is a non-sensical exercise. Still, I hear people talking about who this team has beaten, or another team’s easy schedule. For example, Cincinnati has played in the Big East, but played a very easy non-conference schedule, and just got their best win over Louisville. How does that win compare to others? Is that really a bad “best win” compared to the rest of the country?

So again, I’m not endorsing this as the method of how we should pick the at-large selections. In fact, the opposite, I think we need to look at the whole picture, good wins, bad losses. But I thought I would take a quick look at what the field would look like if we just went by the best win.

I’m going to use Sagarin’s current ratings in USA Today to go down the list of quality wins, starting with #1 Ohio State. Now, I’m not putting a team in because they are rated highly in Sagarin; I’m only putting them in once they beat another team rated highly. So let’s start.

Wisconsin beat Ohio State. They are in. Texas and Kansas State get in for wins over Kansas. Tennessee and Notre Dame get in because of wins over Pittsburgh. St. John’s and Florida State because of Duke. Pittsburgh, Connecticut and USC are in with wins over Texas. BYU gets in for beating San Diego State, while UCLA and New Mexico get in with the win over BYU. Finally, Ohio State, West Virginia, Richmond and Minnesota get in for a win against Purdue.

We’ve looked at victories over the top 8 teams, the top 2 seeds in a regional, and we have 17 teams. But with auto bids (and I’ll assign a conference’s auto bid to the first team in from each league), we have only 9 at-large spots filled. 28 more to go. The only one who is not at least on the bubble now is 13-12 USC, but hey, they beat Texas, so they must have some potential.

So let’s pick up with wins over the next 8 teams on Sagarin’s ratings, who would approximate the #3 and #4 seeds. For brevity, I’ll list the team(s), with the team they beat to qualify in parentheses.

Temple (Georgetown); Kentucky, Syracuse, Marquette (Notre Dame); UNLV, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State (Wisconsin); Villanova, Georgetown, Louisville, Seton Hall (Syracuse); Providence, Rutgers (Villanova); Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and Duke (North Carolina). All teams that beat Connecticut were already in.

That’s 18 more at-larges, mostly from the Big East and Big Ten, thanks to the opportunities to gain wins over multiple top ranked teams. We still have 10 more at-large spots, even if we tried to reward teams for beating the top 16.

North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida are in with wins over #17 Kentucky. That gets us to 32 at-larges, with 5 remaining. Drexel and Cincinnati are in with the win over #18 Louisville, so at least measuring by Sagarin, there are the Bearcats with a single win good enough to be among the top 37 teams. That’s one more at-large, four left.

Missouri, South Carolina, and Arkansas get in with the win over #19 Vanderbilt. The SEC is starting to get a bunch of bad teams in by getting single victories over conference rivals. #20 Florida brings in Central Florida, Jacksonville, and Mississippi State. And there’s your last at-large in the “who did you beat” tournament. (and I just realized that Florida has some really bad losses combined with a ton of close wins and overtime wins, and Lunardi has them as a #3 seed–mentally noted).

So let’s review. Kansas, San Diego State and Arizona are out; sure they have gaudy records, but they haven’t beat another team likely to be seeded highly in the tournament yet. George Mason and pretty much all the teams in mid-major conferences competing in this weekend’s Bracket Busters are out. Several other teams that I had in last week in my projections don’t make it. And lots of mediocre teams from the SEC, Big East and Big Ten are in.

What was the point of all this? Well, besides proving yet again that I am disturbed, it’s that if we went by who has landmark wins, wins against elite teams, we wouldn’t be able to fill the at-large entries anyway. Some teams are going to get in without a “signature win”. And, going just by your single best result probably isn’t the best way to pick a field.

[photo via Getty]

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