Those who do not learn from history did so because they used to sit in history classes and scribble March Madness brackets in their notebook instead. Well, at least that’s what I did in college during my Modern European History class. But where was I?
Heading into Championship Week, I was alone on an island saying that Virginia would be the choice. Michigan and Kansas both had double-digit Top 50 wins, but were 23-7 and 23-8 respectively heading into conference tourney week. They were also, though, ranked 8th and 10th in the AP Poll.
Virginia? Sure, they won the ACC regular season at 16-2, but because of the imbalanced schedules, only had 3 Top 50 wins and an RPI outside the top 10.
By Selection Sunday, Virginia had completed the ACC double by beating Duke in the final, added two more Top 50 wins, and were ranked 3rd in the final AP poll. Michigan and Kansas both lost again. Still, most had Virginia outside the 1-line. I noted in my final release just an hour before the selection show that Lunardi and Palm finally moved Virginia up to the 2-line after beating Duke. Sound familiar?
Well, Michigan State is playing the role of Virginia this year, with all the teams ranked lower in the polls but with all those top wins, being the same type everyone is picking to get the 1-seed. I’d say upwards of 75 percent of the bracket projections have Kansas as the final 1-seed.
I was relying on a little common sense to rule the committee in my Virginia call four years ago. The goal is to put the best four teams on the first line. That means taking into account losses as well as wins. My logic was that they could take teams that didn’t win their conference tourney but had a lot of big wins (and accompanying losses), or they could take a team that AP voters thought was one of the three best in the country, who had just won both the regular season and conference title in a major conference.
Well, here’s what people that are projecting a team like Kansas are saying. Disregard those four home losses! Sure, one of them was to a team who won’t be in the tourney (Oklahoma State), and one is to a team that is only even in the bubble discussion because they beat Kansas (Washington) and another would be on the bubble but for beating Kansas (Arizona State). None are at this time a top 30 team, yet Kansas lost to all of them in Lawrence or Kansas City.
It’s not eye test, it’s using all available facts. Top 4 teams don’t lose that many games to those types of teams at home. (Seth Burn takes into account all games and the odds a bubble team would win each, in his WAB rankings–Michigan State is 4th overall and Kansas is 7th right now based on both wins and losses against their respective schedules.)
Meanwhile, the Committee not taking Michigan State as a 1-seed, if they win out to win the Big Ten title, would be them saying: “Yeah, you were a top 2 team in the polls to start the year, you are still a top 2 team in the polls, and sure you went 31-3 while playing Duke and North Carolina non-conference and winning both the Big Ten regular season and tourney titles, but the Big Ten was down.”
So let’s talk about that. Joe Lunardi sent this tweet response yesterday:
Is that true, though? Well, if they don’t matter, then the committee’s selections at the top are strangely a lot like the polls.
I went back through the last 16 years, and whether they rely on it or not, or it just reflects conventional wisdom, the final AP Poll is more predictive of who will be the 1 and 2 seeds than just looking at the RPI or RPI Top 50 wins. Yes, after that, RPI and Top 50 wins tend to control and the rankings don’t seem important. But they do seem quite relevant at the top.
All but three #1 Seeds (out of 64) were ranked in the top 5 in the Final AP Poll. The two that were 6th (Duke 2004 and North Carolina 2017) were both #1 in the RPI and won the ACC regular season title by two games, but lost in the conference tourney and dropped in the polls. Washington in 2005 was the only real outlier, ranked 8th in the AP poll.
Thirty-one of 32 teams who were ranked Top 2 were a #1 seed (It was Michigan State in 2016 who was a 2-seed, but the RPI was 11, and they won the Big Ten title right up against Selection Sunday, which won’t be an issue this year).
Meanwhile, 10 teams have been ranked outside the Top 5 in the RPI and gotten a 1-seed, while only 75 percent of the teams in the Top 4 in RPI were selected as 1-seeds. Most of those others were in the top 8, and none were outside the top 10. I’m projecting that Michigan State will be in the Top 8 in RPI if they win the Big Ten tourney, and will also likely add two more top wins, to get to 5.
Here are the teams that Michigan State would join in becoming a 1-seed while having the fewest Top 50 (or now, Tier 1) wins:
- 2011 Duke (5 RPI, 6-2, top 50, 30-4, ranked 3rd in AP)
- 2014 Virginia (9 RPI, 5-4 top 50, 28-6, ranked 3rd in AP)
- 2016 North Carolina (5 RPI, 5-5 top 50, 28-6, ranked 3rd in AP)
- 2013 Gonzaga (6 RPI, 6-2 top 50, 30-2, ranked 1st in AP)
- 2011 Kansas (1 RPI, 6-2 top 50, 30-2, ranked 2nd in AP)
- 2014 Wichita State (4 RPI, 3-0 top 50, 33-0, ranked 2nd in AP)
- 2017 Gonzaga (6 RPI, 5-0 top 50, 32-1, ranked 2nd in AP)
Michigan State would be in line with that group in Top 50 wins, overall record, and RPI if they win the Big Ten tournament.
Meanwhile, only three of the 64 1-seeds since 2002 had 7 losses. None had 8 losses or more. Those three were:
- Virginia 2016, 26-7 (ranked 4th in AP, 3rd in RPI)
- North Carolina 2017, 27-7 (ranked 6th in AP, 1st in RPI)
- Michigan State 2012, 27-7 (ranked 5th in AP, 2nd in RPI)
That’s a smaller group, and Kansas and North Carolina would both have to improve their ranking to be similar. Kansas is just one more loss from hitting 7, while North Carolina already has lost that many and would need to win out to match those three.
Here’s my quick estimate of the chase for the #1 seeds, excluding Virginia and Villanova, who would both need major collapses, with my odds based on likelihood of finishing with a certain record, and winning the conference tourney.
The top four on this list are likely in as a 1-seed if they do win out, so my Michigan State estimate is based on their higher chances of winning the Big Ten. The bottom three on this list definitely need help. I think Cincinnati is out of the #1 seed conversation with the loss to Wichita State at home.
There’s still plenty to play for but I’ll be out on an island that Michigan State is the most likely choice, then followed by Duke (and not Kansas).