I still haven’t filled out a bracket despite scouring over tons of data, predictions, and analysis. I know minutiae about style components, match ups, and expectations that I wouldn’t otherwise bother learning. But it’s March and understanding and evaluation are imperative until it’s all tossed out the window when I actually do fill out a bracket.
Such an understanding, however, had myself and Jason curious as to some of these evaluative properties. You hear RPI and BPI, Pomeroy and Sagarin, numbers that are used to rate every team in the tournament (or otherwise). Often the most controversial is the RPI which is also the one that the selection committee seems to put the most weight in. Now selecting this field is no easy task. It’s rather thankless and if you’re looking to be congratulated for your work, then you need a different job. Subjective roles are rarely rewarded.
And yet as I looked through this bracket, trying to find rhyme or reason for possible outcomes, I kept coming back to the Colorado-Pittsburgh game. First, how the hell did Colorado stand a chance even as the higher seed? Second, how the hell was Pitt a nine seed? Jason had the same questions stemming from his thorough scouting report of the Panthers.
The easiest way to answer this was by revisiting that controversial number: RPI. Colorado’s RPI is 35. Pittsburgh’s RPI is 39. I suppose that quantifies our 8-9 matchup, but why did everything about their performance resume (KenPom) suggest this was such a lopsided game? Why did Vegas open this at -6.5 with a Panther favorite? Well, that’s because KenPom has these two rated as the 64th and 18th best teams in the land, respectively. Not so 8-9 anymore, is it?
This, of course, got us thinking and developing towards a holistic view of the tournament, its seeds, and how that marries up in a relationship of RPI and KenPom ratings. Here’s what that looks like:
|Cal Poly 16||16||173||205||-32|
|Oklahoma St. 9||9||22||44||-22|
|Michigan St. 4||4||10||17||-7|
|Ohio St. 6||6||19||24||-5|
|Mount St. Mary’s 16||16||190||194||-4|
|North Carolina 6||6||26||26||0|
|Wichita St. 1||1||5||4||1|
|New Mexico St. 13||13||72||71||1|
|Arizona St. 10||10||47||45||2|
|Saint Louis 5||5||34||31||3|
|Texas Southern 16||16||237||231||6|
|San Diego St. 4||4||21||14||7|
|Stephen F. Austin 12||12||59||52||7|
|North Carolina Central 14||14||78||68||10|
|North Carolina St. 12||12||66||55||11|
|Iowa St. 3||3||23||7||16|
|New Mexico 7||7||28||12||16|
|George Washington 9||9||46||29||17|
|Saint Joseph’s 10||10||49||32||17|
|North Dakota St. 12||12||55||33||22|
|Kansas St. 9||9||44||20||24|
|Weber St. 16||16||169||144||25|
|Louisiana Lafayette 14||14||115||89||26|
|Eastern Kentucky 15||15||129||99||30|
|Coastal Carolina 16||16||232||189||43|
|Western Michigan 14||14||113||69||44|
What we find is that quite a few of these teams appear to be appropriately seeded but some of the young teen seeds are over- and underseeded. The lower seeds (Colorado, UMass) have smaller RPIs and bigger KenPoms and vice versa. By subtracting, we can recognize the difference in the ratings and subsequent evaluation.
What the chart suggests, when look at its oles, is that Iowa and Western Michigan are the most inappropriately seeded teams in the field. The Hawkeyes seemingly perform better than what their RPI and/or the committee is willing to give them credit for. Meanwhile, the WMU Broncos are perceived as better than their play suggests (tough for a 14 seed). Perhaps WMU isn’t our best example but what about #9 Kansas State? They’re RPI of 24 is consistent with that of
Now I don’t intend this as a critic of the selection committee’s job but rather as a means by which we can recognize where there might be some favorable match ups. We could bring the conversation back to our CU-Pitt game where we see an overvalued team (Colorado) taking on an undervalued team (Pitt). There are obviously a ton of factors that play into, A) making your picks, B) Why these teams were pitted against one another, and C) What’s actually going to happen. But in anticipation of the dance, and with $1 billion on the line, understanding some opportunities where the committee might have been short sighted can’t hurt.
Here are a handful of other games and teams to keep an eye on in the tournament’s opening rounds and beyond.
Games to watch/pick:
- (#11 Iowa vs. #11 Tennessee) vs. #6 UMass – I’ve broken this into the Play-In game and subsequent second round game because they go hand in hand. The Play-In projects to be a pretty tight ball game between high majors. Both teams have a huge gap between their RPI and KP scores (-37 and -29, respectively). Thus, as both of these teams play better than their RPI represents – or at least are capable of such – it could very well spell trouble for #6 UMass in whomever they were to face. The Minutemen seem to be one of the more overvalued teams (+29).
- #8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh – This was obviously central to this data compilation but it’s worth noting that it is the second round game featuring the second biggest discrepancy. The Buffs at +29 and the Panthers at -21 leaves us believing that Colorado, despite being the higher seed, really stands little chance.
- #5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard – In their opening round game, the Crimson are facing the appropriately seeded (+3) Mick Cronins despite what he’d have you know about conspiracies against him. We note Harvard, here, however, because they seem to be relatively underseeded (-13) in a favorable 12-5 matchup. Neither team will benefit from being in Spokane and Harvard managed to knock of #3 New Mexico just one season ago.
- #12 Xavier vs. #12 NC State – This game is in the books and basically poopoos on everything we just discussed. Xavier was arguably one of the more underseeded teams (-9) while the WolfPack – by just about every imaginable standard – weren’t only over seeded but rather uninvited (+11). Naturally, in Tuesdays play-in game, the WolfPack beat Xavier, 74-59. Good luck, everyone.
Teams to keep an eye on:
- #3 Iowa Sate – RPI suggests their gaudy three seed while their production suggests something more along the five-line. They could be ripe to be picked off.
- #7 New Mexico – Their RPI would have them closer to the 3 or 4 line. Their KP score, however, would have them ranked – well – at right about a seven. Don’t but too much into the Lobo hype. #Pac12hoops
- #4 Louisville – Your’e probably sick of hearing about this now but, by our model, all that’s been said about the Cardinals is pretty accurate. Even their RPI, however, begs that they be rated higher than the four seed they received. Their KenPom score has them rated second in the country. Good night, and good luck.
As we move forward in this tournament, let’s revisit this list to see just how the over and underseeded teams are doing.