Oklahoma lost again tonight in the Big 12 tournament opener against rival Oklahoma State. That means the Sooners have lost 11 of their last 15 games heading into Selection Sunday. They’ve lost 8 of their last 10. Much of that time, the play has been uninspiring and they have not looked like a NCAA Tournament.
But I’m telling you right now that they are a stone cold lock for the NCAA Tournament. I think the only question is if they end up on the 8/9 line, where a team with their general profile would typically fall (if we had no idea of the ordering of their results) or if the poor recent form influences the committee to seed them down further.
Here’s a blind taste test of the bubble. You tell which of these 5 teams (out of 10) make the tournament. I’m not going to tell you the specific method yet (to try to hide obvious profiles) but assume that “A” teams are better than “B” teams, and home versus road matters.
Okay, so take your time. See if you can identify your 5, or at least rank order and group the ones that are tight. This is not an easy task. I didn’t give you any clear identifiers by putting a team like St. Mary’s on this comparison. These are all big conference teams with double digit losses.
Before we go further (the reveal will come after this paragraph), it’s important to know what the committee does and does not consider. They don’t look at recent record and weight the last 10 or 12 games more heavily. They look at the entire schedule and consider all games equally. You may disagree with that, but there’s plenty of rationale behind it, and the history of teams “on a roll” or “on a slide” shows that they are not strong factors in predicting the future, compared to knowing the entire body of work (significant player injuries aside). Just last year, Xavier lost 10 of 15 after a 13-2 start, that included a 6-game losing streak. They went from a high projected seed in early January to the bubble and getting in as an 11-seed, then went to the Elite Eight. That’s just a recent example.
So that chart doesn’t show you when those teams won those games. But it does show you home/road splits. “A” games against teams that are a consensus 6 seed or better right now. “B” games include all other games against teams in the Ken Pom Top 100, plus all additional losses (I didn’t want a chart masking the losses because it’s important for a team like Alabama, Arizona State, and others not to forget them all). So bad losses are included but “bad” wins are not. Now, those “B” games can range from tournament teams to teams barely in the Top 100, so there is some wiggle room there, but looking at it should give you a general sense of each team.
Here’s the identity of the teams. Top row: Oklahoma, Alabama, Syracuse, Arizona State, Oklahoma State. Bottom row: USC, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Baylor.
Now, we may disagree on some in the middle, depending on your preferences. It’s a pretty close call between some of these varieties.
But it seems pretty clear that Oklahoma is in. They have the most wins against the “A” teams, by beating Kansas, Texas Tech, TCU twice, and Wichita State. (Oklahoma State and Alabama are 2nd with 4 such wins). They are tied for the most overall quality wins. They did so while playing a large majority of those games in road/neutral situations (9 at home versus 15 road/neutral). That is in direct opposition to Alabama, who played more at home than road/neutral so far.
No team with an RPI as good as Oklahoma and as many top wins as Oklahoma has missed the tournament. According to Bart Torvik’s awesome comparison tool, nine out of the ten most similar resumes to Oklahoma this year made the tourney, and the average was a 9-seed. I checked the one that did not (Florida State in 2014) and they had a worse RPI, and beat one team seeded in the Top 6 seed lines by the committee.
So yeah, Oklahoma’s struggled lately and don’t look very good. They’ll get in because of what they did in December and January, and because they did just enough by beating Kansas State and not taking a bad loss to Iowa State at the end of the season. What they did, in total, is still above the other bubble teams.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has 4 top wins but is only 4-7 against the “B” type teams. That’s because they went 1-5 against Texas, Baylor, and Kansas State, three other teams considered close to the bubble. The Cowboys are behind Baylor right now, even after another win over Oklahoma. They are right on the cutline but behind the Bears. Things could fall their way (USC is no lock and probably now needs a run in the Pac-12 tourney, for example), but they may not get in without a 3rd win over Kansas.
(For the record, I have Arizona State out because all 9 of their “B” losses are to teams that won’t be in the tournament, and that’s an excessive amount. I would now put Notre Dame in after the rally, and Syracuse out, after seeing that their profiles are very similar except Notre Dame had more road games and Bonzi Colson is back. Notre Dame’s 9-12 is similar to Oklahoma State’s 8-13, but the Irish played 14 of those 21 on the road/neutral.)