Often, you’ll hear people bemoan the quality of the bubble teams as we head into Selection Sunday. Well, I’m going to go opposite here and say that this year’s class has several teams that would have made it in years past, but will miss out in 2018. You could legitimately see several teams that have racked up lots of wins, or have beaten high-quality opponents on the road (see NC State, Washington, and Oklahoma State) missing out.
I posted my overall bracket projection yesterday, but today I’m going to go deeper on the bubble teams. I took every team that was seeded between 9th and 12th in the Bracket Matrix, and other teams on the outside who have a plausible case. I then ran their projected final record (including likely conference tournament matchups, awarding wins to the higher power-rated teams), to see how their profile compares to past tournament candidates. For the projected mid-major 12-seeds, I ran it as if they lost in the final. I did that last year as well in this post, using a database of all teams in the RPI Top 100 from 2011 to 2017. It compares teams by overall record, RPI rank, record vs Top 25, record vs Top 50, and overall games played against the Top 25 and Top 50 (this helps identify teams from similar conferences).
Here are the results:
I’ve color-coded it so that you can see who would get in the last 12 spots. A couple of notes on this. These percentages are not the estimate, so those with 100% aren’t locks. This is the estimated percentage if the team hits those records and projected RPI. If a team had a 5-game losing streak, and underperforms expectations, they could still miss the field.
That said, the SEC teams (Missouri, Arkansas, and Alabama) are locks if they just continue to play about the same. You might be surprised by Houston, who most have right on the bubble. Their comps are a lot of teams from the old Atlantic-10 and MWC when both were about the 7th-best conference, and Houston should be in great shape. If they beat Cincinnati at home, they will almost certainly be in.
Virginia Tech saw its prospects increase dramatically with the win at Virginia. Syracuse and Louisville are also in position to get an at-large, even though Syracuse is projected out (major conference teams with RPI inside the top 50 and multiple top 50 wins don’t miss the tournament).
People are sleeping on Temple’s profile and how the committee will view it. I’m not as bullish on St. Bonaventure as these numbers would suggest, because a couple of the top 50 wins are to Buffalo and Vermont and not teams in the at-large mix. Middle Tennessee is a legitimate at-large candidate if they don’t win the Conference USA Tourney.
And here are the less favored bubble teams. Notre Dame is a true wildcard–if Bonzie Colson returns and they show something in the ACC Tournament. Kansas State has an RPI problem. NC State has a bigger RPI problem, yet most people have them in. I think that’s optimistic because so many other teams have added top wins and don’t have the RPI so low (Remember Syracuse last year, they had more big wins and a similar RPI and missed). I discussed Nebraska in-depth and think they desperately need some big wins in the Big Ten tourney and likely need to get to the final to change the outcome.