RotoWire Bracketology 3.0: Bubble Talk

RotoWire Bracketology 3.0: Bubble Talk

This article is part of our RotoWire Bracketology series.

For a live-updated bracket throughout the week check out our RotoWire Bracketology page.

I talked about the uselessness of the NET a couple weeks ago and the problem remains. Despite a lot of numbers that don't make sense, partly because of the pandemic, it remains the most useful metric to analyze and compare teams, mainly because it was created by the NCAA. 

The most recent stat I've noticed that seems completely off is Strength of Schedule (via WarrenNolan). Even though most teams in the Big Ten only played five or six non-conference games, SOS seems to be strangely varied throughout the conference. Maryland has the No. 13 SOS, while Michigan State's is at 103 (132 prior to Michigan game). It's a bit weird considering MSU has two more games against Q1/Q2 competition. With a neutral-court game against Gonzaga in the mix, Iowa's SOS is supposedly 97.

Even weirder is that St. Mary's has the No. 2 SOS and it's the main reason they are No. 65 in NET. Even though they've played 11 of 21 games against Q3/Q4 competition, games against Gonzaga, BYU and San Diego State are enough to push theirs to one of the hardest schedules in the country, at least according to the NET.

And this is the stat the committee is supposed to use? Okay.

As for me, I try to focus on KenPom and Strength of Record when comparing teams on the bubble, though it's hard to avoid NET since that's how Quadrants are built. While KenPom is a predictive metric, it's at least transparent, whereas no one knows what composes the NET. Strength of Record is what I think should be the most worthwhile stat this season because of the pandemic. It ranks teams based on what they've done given the schedule they've played. Makes sense, right?

Xavier (NET 53, KenPom 56, SOR 43)
The Big East is weird because almost every team has at least one bad loss. The Musketeers don't have a ton of things in their favor outside of no Q3/Q4 losses. However, they've played just three Q1 games, which is odd for a Big East team and they're just 4-4 in Q2. If they lose at Marquette on Saturday, they may get the boot. I also wonder if they're considered safer than a team like Michigan State because they haven't played as many games (Xavier is 13-6, MSU is 14-11).

Georgia Tech (NET 38, KenPom 30, SOR 40)
The Yellow Jackets are living off advanced metrics because most bubble teams wouldn't be in the conversation with two Q3 losses. While those losses were in November, the committee looks at entire resumes and doesn't put more emphasis on recent results. If they can grab a win or two in the ACC tournament, they could be set, mainly because it looks like their second game would come against either Virginia Tech or Louisville.

VCU (NET 35, KenPom 50, SOR 39)
VCU plays Dayton on Friday (before article submission), so their tournament fate could be decided as you read this. The Rams need to beat Dayton and probably need to make the Atlantic 10 Championship to have a chance as an at-large team. If not, they have two really bad losses that could be too much to overcome.

Colorado State (NET 41, KenPom 60, SOR 51)
The Rams have a better case than a lot of teams, but they scored 33 points in their most difficult non-conference game (at St. Mary's). That may be enough to burst their bubble if they don't make the MWC title game.

Boise State (NET 45, KenPom 57, SOR 59)
A lot of the non-power conference teams need to make their conference tournament championships because that's how you overcome bad losses. The Broncos lost at home to a bad Fresno State team in their final regular season game, which put their NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.

Michigan State (NET 74, KenPom 61, SOR 38)
If you remove the 30-point loss to Rutgers in MSU's first game back from a COVID pause, they'd be 10-to-15 spots higher in the metrics (they dropped 12 spots in KenPom following that loss). If you go by the metrics, it's a bit of a mess because while they have good wins and no really bad losses, they've also been blown out a few times. Unless the Spartans can beat Michigan on Sunday, their fate will likely be in the hands of the committee, which is never a good thing. Another thing in MSU's favor is it's 4-2 in Q2 games, something a lot of bubble teams can't say.

Wichita State (NET 63, KenPom 71, SOR 33)
If the Shockers didn't lose by 20 points to Memphis a month ago, they'd probably be 10 spots higher in the metrics. They don't have any bad losses, but in a mostly bad AAC, they don't have many opportunities for good wins outside of Houston. Their hope will be to beat either Houston or Memphis in the conference tournament, which would boost their resume a good amount.

Drake (NET 42, KenPom 53, SOR 49)
Once the most profitable team to bet on in college basketball, the only good thing about Drake's resume is the 24 wins. Otherwise, the Bulldogs have two bad losses and if they lose to anyone other than Loyola-Chicago in the conference tournament, they could be in trouble.

THE CUT

Saint Louis (NET 40, KenPom 40, SOR 60)
The Billikens were anointed A10 favorite after beating LSU early in the season and then COVID hit and they played one game in January. They're 6-4 in conference play, which keeps them out of the Big Dance, but a conference tourney run could change that.

Seton Hall (NET 57, KenPom 49, SOR 53)
I'd like to see Sandro Mamukelashvili in the tournament, but the Pirates are 13-11 in a mediocre Big East and don't have a lot of positive numbers. They're a combined 6-10 in Q1/Q2 games and a home loss to Providence is in Q3.

SMU (NET 54, KenPom 51, SOR 42)
Is SMU good? No one really knows. The Mustangs have played 15 games and three of their losses are to Houston and Memphis. Considering they're on pause again and don't have another regular-season game scheduled, it'd be a surprise if they got an at-large bid.

Utah State (NET 48, KenPom 46, SOR 75)
The Aggies have been in the conversation most of the season, but they have two Q3 losses and are 3-5 in Q1/Q2. There are some brackets that have them in, but I don't see it. 

Syracuse (NET 51, KenPom 55, SOR 45)
The Orange were a late add, but they're known for making late-season runs so I couldn't keep them out. With no more regular-season games, they'll  need to win a couple in the ACC tourney. Their worst stat is that a road game at N.C. State is considered their best win, better than home wins against Clemson, UNC and VT, according to the NET.

Duke (NET 58, KenPom 38, SOR 74)
The Blue Devils have been an interesting journey in bracketology over the last month. At 7-8, they were considered out and done for. Then they won four straight, namely a home win against a ho-hum Virginia team. After two more losses, they're "definitely out," according to some. Their path is kind of why bracketology isn't worth it early in the season. Even then, it doesn't make sense that people thought they should've been in the tournament after beating a bunch of mediocre ACC teams, but that's part of the brand.

The big discussion for a couple weeks was Duke versus Michigan State even though the only thing in Duke's favor was advanced metrics. And while committee doesn't use head-to-head games when deciding between bubble teams, the home loss to Michigan State could loom large come Selection Sunday.

Duke's best chance to make the NCAA tournament will be to beat North Carolina and then make the ACC tourney final. The ball is in their court.

Metrics prior to games on Friday, Mar. 5.

For a live-updated bracket throughout the week check out our RotoWire Bracketology page.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Zdroik
Adam, a 2019, 2018 and 2017 Finalist for FSWA Soccer Writer of the Year, is RotoWire's assistant soccer editor. He also runs RotoWire's Bracketology, as well as writes on other various college basketball content. He has previously worked at ESPN and Sporting Kansas City, and he is a former Streak for the Cash winner and Michigan State graduate.
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