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Miscellany

NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Why a Team That Lost at Home to Mercer and Temple Has a Better Outlook Than You Might Think

We’ve got six weeks of conference play left – and that means there is plenty of time for teams to play their ways onto and off the bubble.

There are some teams that we might have called a lock three weeks ago (Illinois) that are from being a lock, and we’ve got other teams we weren’t even putting on our radar that have played themselves into great position (Texas A&M).

I’ve identified five bubble teams that all have very different profiles – and different outlooks.

Note: The rankings displayed are based on the SevenOvertimes system – a ranking system that was presented at the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The key feature of the SevenOvertimes system is that it does not look at game outcomes or wins and losses when ranking teams – it examines the play-by-play data from each game to create a Cumulative Win Probability (CWP). The CWP from each game is a measure of how much of the game each team won. The CWP is then averaged across all of a team’s games to create a unique rating for each team.

1) Great Record, Easy Schedule (Seth Greenberg Watch): Utah State
Conference: WAC
Mascot: Aggies
SevenOT Rank: #57
Overall Record: (15-2)
Conference Record: (5-1)
SOS: #319

Despite losing by 13 points at New Mexico State last night, Utah State still has an outside shot at an at-large bid if they can maintain their stellar record.
Their biggest problem is their strength of schedule – which I have #319 (out of 347 Division 1 teams).
They’ve racked up wins against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (#333), Nicholls State (#337), UC Davis (#241), Utah Valley (#252), Seattle (#185), and Idaho St (#182). Their two “good” wins were at Santa Clara (#57) and at home against Weber State (#93).

Despite the easy schedule, winning that many games is not an easy accomplishment for any school. However, this level of success is nothing new to the Aggies – this senior class has a shot at winning 100 games.

2) Difficult SOS, Misleading Record (Tom Izzo Watch): Alabama
Conference: SEC
Mascot: Crimson Tide
SevenOT Rank: #65
Overall Record: (9-6)
Conference Record: (2-1)
SOS: #32

Anthony Grant’s squad played a respectable non-conference schedule: Oregon State (#49) and Villanova (#101) – both in MSG, at Cincy (#19), Home vs. Dayton (#69), and at Grant’s old program – VCU (#10).
The only real cupcake Alabama faced was a Lamar team ranked 343rd.
The problem was that they hit a rough patch – losing 5 of 6 in December – including two home losses to Mercer (#227) and Tulane (#112).
As of now, the Crimson Tide may regret their difficult schedule – as they are currently on the outside of the bubble looking in – but with the SEC being as down as it is, Alabama’s difficult scheduling may give them a much-needed boost. They’ve got 15 games left on their schedule (plus atleast one SEC tourney game), and it is likely they will favored or only a small underdog in all of them except the March 2nd game at Florida.

One reason Alabama is as high as they are – despite the bad losses is that most of their wins have been very comfortable (only the games against Oregon State and Tennessee were close). The next lowest CWP win was a 77.3% against S Dakota State and an 83.5% against Villanova on a neutral court. What’s worth looking at are the two games against Mercer (12/22, first chart below) and Tulane (12/30, 2nd chart below) – dramatic losses that had to be painful for the Alabama faithful.

3) Great Home Team, Sloppy Road/Neutral Team (Mike Anderson Watch): Saint Mary’s
Conference: WCC
Mascot: Gaels
SevenOT Rank: #82
Overall Record: (13-4)
Conference Record: (3-1)
SOS: #103

The Gaels needed a miracle from Matthew Dellavadova on Wednesday night (Link) to beat a solid BYU team, and despite the win – the game showed their problems on the road. They were down 20-4 8 minutes into the game, and 34-27 at the half. Because they were down so much for most of the game – and playing on the road at a solid BYU team – Saint Mary’s only picked up a 25.2% Cumulative Win Probablity – which is typical for most losses. You can see the wild swing in the second half of the game in the image below.

As they get further into conference play, Randy Bennett’s squad will be tested on their home court. Even though they are undefeated at McKeon Pavilion (9-0) this year, their best win was a one-point miracle-win over Harvard (#110).

They still have visits from Gonzaga (#5) and BYU (#37) left on their schedule. Saint Mary’s will need to win atleast one of those – and remain solid on the road – to play their way back onto the bubble.

4) Token Mid-Major (Jim Larranaga Watch): Charlotte
Conference: A-10
Mascot: 49ers
SevenOT Rank: #51
Overall Record: (15-2)
Conference Record: (3-0)
SOS: #277

Charlotte’s profile is similar to Utah State’s – excellent record, iffy schedule, and sitting comfortable on the wrong side of the bubble. Losing at Miami (#8) isn’t that big of a deal, but losing by 29 is. Even with that, they don’t have another “bad” loss on the schedule – they lost by 3 to Florida State (at home) in game where they had a CWP of 41.5% – meaning it was a close game throughout and they had a bit of a bad luck. The most glaring omission from their resume is a quality win – a 9 point (91% CWP) win over La Salle (#64) is the best, and the only other win over a top 150 team is a close one (39% CWP) at Davidson (#127). This team will be consistently challenged in the A-10, but if they can continue to win at home and upset one of the top teams in the A-10 (Butler, VCU, Temple) – they’ll have a chance at stealing a bid in March.

Charlotte isn’t having trouble scoring – they are 150th in the nation at 69.2 points per game. What’s interesting is that they are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. They are making 3-pointers at a clip of 26.7% which ranks them 338th in the country – only four other teams in the SevenOT Top 100 are also in the NCAA Bottom 50 in 3pt percentage.

5) Senior-laden School Having a Banner Year, but Better Win Their Conference Tournament (Tommy Amaker Watch): Middle Tennessee
Conference: Sun Belt
Mascot: Blue Raiders
SevenOT Rank: #53
Overall Record: (14-4)
Conference Record: (6-1)
SOS: #277

Kermit Davis’ team finds itself in a situation very similar to the one it was in this time last year. The Blue Raiders were 17-2 and on a roll this time last year. After losing to a close game (CWP 24.8%) to a good Vanderbilt squad (#9 in 2012), they lost three of their next eight and found themselves in the NIT despite their outstanding record of 25-6. I have them predicted to be 26-5 entering the Sun Belt Tournament, and if they lose their opener like they did last year, they will find themselves at 26-6 and in the NIT again.

Middle Tennessee has an extraordinarily balanced team – 9 players average more than 10 minutes per game, and 11 average more than 8.5. Only three other teams feature the same balance in Minutes (10 players >10 mpg) and Scoring (Leading Scorer <14 ppg) and are ranked as high as the Blue Raiders.

 

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