Ohio State has lost five of their last seven games, dropping them out of the Associated Press poll. Cincinnati, meanwhile, sits at #7 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll. Why then, do I have both with a roughly equal projected seed, as #4 and #5 seeds–a potential showdown that would set Ohio abuzz if Cincinnati actually got a chance at the Buckeyes in the tournament?
My philosophy with tournament projections is that I’d rather look at where teams might be in March, based not only on what they have done to date, but what remains ahead. Some teams have more opportunities ahead of them to get wins that impress the committee. Others have injuries or have won close games that affect how we project them to do going forward. To aid with this, I look at several projection systems, and also look at RPI Forecast to see what impact additional outcomes could have on the RPI that we know the committee will use and abuse.
Turning to Ohio State–you know what the Buckeyes were at this time last year? 17-5, and they would lose their next game as well. Ohio State was at one point 2-7 against teams that would be in the tournament, and last year I projected them to be seeded much higher than other brackets. They went on a tear, closed the season strong, and won the Big Ten tournament to climb all the way to a #2 seed. I don’t see that potential this year, but they’ve had two overtime losses during this stretch and absolutely have a chance to make a run. After tonight’s Iowa game, they could very well be favored in every remaining Big Ten regular season game, drawing their toughest matchups at home (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota).
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is an impressive 10-0 in the American Athletic Conference. They are also 5-0 in games decided by 5 points or less, so we could see them as a team that has overachieved in close games to date. The conference schedule is backloaded–5 of the last 8 games are against teams I have projected in the NCAA tournament. Yes, if they win almost all of those games and the conference tourney, they could be a very high seed. If they lose 3 to 4 games, though, the RPI will probably be closer to #17. Some of that is bad RPI scheduling luck that doesn’t impact how good they are (5 non-conference games that are really going to drag the RPI down, one of the reasons I hate it as a measure).
For the record, I set my seed projections without consulting others, or the polls. I compared them to the polling after finishing to see where there were differences, and why. Here are other teams where my seeding differs from current polls, and my quick thoughts on the reasons.
St. Louis (14th) vs. #6 seed: St. Louis has risen in the rankings, but the RPI outlook is much different. They lost the two best games on the schedule, and the best win is at Dayton, a team squarely on the bubble. Opportunity–or losses–await with two against VCU and the road game at Massachusetts.
Kentucky (16th) vs. #3 seed: Many of the brackets I have since viewed have Kentucky as a #5. I’ll bank on the young talent coming together and this team moving higher than where teams are currently projecting.
Wisconsin (25th) vs. #5 seed: Along with Ohio State, Wisconsin has dropped like a rock in the polls with the recent skid. If they right the ship, the profile will look much better, particularly with the strong non-conference results.
Oklahoma State (19th) vs. #7 seed: Oklahoma State is floundering. I’m not sure they will be one of the top three Big XII teams, and I am dropping their projection. They really needed that home win against Iowa State.
Massachusetts (35th) vs. #7 seed: Massachusetts is probably properly ranked by the polls, but is one of this year’s RPI creations, perfectly working the system. They could finish top 15 by getting a best win over either St. Louis or VCU at home. What they have is no really bad opponents pulling the RPI down. Yes, the committee will say the RPI is not determinative, and it is not, but it will still shape where they are seeded.
Arizona State (NR) vs. #9 seed: Arizona State has the opportunity to emerge as the 3rd best team (California will have something to say about that) in the Pac-12, with others faltering. They get an opportunity for a seed shifting win at home against rival Arizona, and home games against Stanford, California, and Oregon down the stretch to separate themselves.
SMU (31st) vs. #11 seed: SMU is the anti-UMASS when it comes to the vagaries of the RPI. The rankings are probably right here with Larry Brown’s squad. Unfortunately, they played six very weak non-conference opponents (who they bludgeoned by 22 points on average) that will pull the RPI down. Instead of being safely in, they will likely continue to be viewed as on the bubble . . . because of the RPI madness.
Baylor (37th) vs. Not Seeded: Baylor has gone into a tailspin, dropping to 2-6 in the Big XII. Yes, they can still make the tournament thanks to some early wins, but if they don’t win tonight in a big home spot against Kansas, it does not matter how good you think they might have the potential to be. They are not making the tournament at 7-11 in the Big XII, and that record would require winning more than half of their remaining games if they lose tonight (6 of those games against teams projected in the field).
Here are my full projections on seeding. For automatic bids that fall outside the seeding of at-larges, I went with the highest ranked team by Pomeroy, and used the projected RPI (this isn’t always the team currently leading the conference).