It’s almost May, which means it’s time for endless speculation about who will make the NCAA tournament. We’ve analyzed tournament resumes and have put together our best guess as to what the tournament would look like if the season ended today.
If you want to check out the selection criteria, you can always check out the NCAA handbook online for exact language, but the Cliffs Notes version is:
- Strength of Schedule Index based on a team’s 10 highest-rated contests (two games against the same team counts as twice)
- Results against team based on the RPI
- Head-to-head competition
- Results based on common opponents
- Significant wins and losses
- Locations of contests
For all of the selections, we used the RPI and SOS Index that were calculated on LaxPower (rankings as of 4/16/12). Keep in Mind that the NCAA tournament has 16 teams with only the top 8 teams seeded.
Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s get started.
Summary of teams
Here is a summary of the tournament resumes for some of the top teams in the RPI and some teams that will likely win their conference and get an AQ. This data was used to help determine which teams get at-large bids and how teams would be seeded.
Let’s assume the following teams win their conferences. In all cases, we determined the winner by the conference leader in the standings. In case of a tie in conference standings we used RPI as a tiebreaker to predict future winners.
America East – Stony Brook
Big East – Notre Dame
Colonial – Massachusetts
ECAC – Loyola
Ivy League – Cornell
MAAC – Siena
Patriot – Lehigh
First team out: Syracuse
Next team out: Princeton
Third Team out: Fairfield
If we actually seeded the 16 teams, we’d see the 16 teams falling in this order:
5. North Carolina
6. Johns Hopkins
8. Notre Dame
11. Penn State
15. Stony Brook
Of course, as we know, the NCAA doesn’t operate on straight seeding. The first 8 teams are seeded, but they are paired with opponents based on factors like geography, avoiding conference alignments, etc. We took a stab at how we’d seed the field given these teams. Here are the match-ups we came up with:
1. Virginia vs. Siena
2. Loyola vs. Stony Brook
3. Maryland vs. Denver
4. Duke vs. Lehigh
5. North Carolina vs. Villanova
6. Johns Hopkins vs. Cornell
7. UMass vs. Colgate
8. Notre Dame vs. Penn State
Here’s a brief explanation of why teams were seeded where they were, why some were selected and why some were left out:
- UMass is undefeated. Why are they a seven seed? We know putting UMass at #7 is going to be controversial and we know we’ll probably hear it from UMass fans, but when you look at some of the key selection criteria for the NCAA tournament, the Minutemen fall a bit flat. They have played only three teams with a winning record and have the lowest strength of schedule of any of the seeded teams. In fact, only Siena has a lower SOS of the teams we put in the tournament. Further, they have no wins against any teams in the top 10 RPI. Typically the selection committee weighs SOS very heavily and there is a chance that UMass could fall even lower. If for some reason the selection committee weighs win/loss record more this year they could be higher, but history tells us that the committee very much favors a strong SOS. We think UMass has to run the table to be seeded and if they drop a game before the end of the season they’ll likely end up unseeded.
- Why is Loyola #2 and Virginia #1? The top seed was really tough to pick, because you have an undefeated Loyola team going against a very good Virginia squad for that slot. But when it came down to it, Virginia had the #3 RPI and #4 SOS with top 10 wins over Maryland, Cornell, and North Carolina. Loyola has an unblemished record and a win over Duke, but their #23 SOS was what prevented them from being in the top seed.
- Why were Syracuse and Princeton left out? Syracuse is right on the bubble as the first team out. They have a great SOS, playing the third toughest schedule in the country. The problem is, they haven’t beaten any teams ranked high in the RPI. They have a win against Princeton, a solid team with the #17 RPI, but outside of that they have only one other win against a team with a winning record (St. John’s). Princeton is in a similar situation to Syracuse, with only two wins against teams with winning records and only one in the top 20 RPI (Villanova). They only have a #24 SOS and #17 RPI and the problem for Princeton is Syracuse beat them head-to-head. If they battle for that last spot, ‘Cuse comes out on top.
- Fairfield is 10-2, why are they out? Fairfield has a good RPI (#13) and good record at 10-2. Their two losses are nothing to be embarrassed about (to Colgate and Loyola) but they still don’t have any wins to hang their hat on. The Stags have the #33 SOS and have not beaten a team in the top 20 RPI.
- How’d you decide that Notre Dame is seeded and Cornell is not? This was a tight one for seeding, but in the end it came down to strength of schedule (do you see a theme here, yet?). Notre Dame has the #19 SOS and Cornell is down at #37. Also, Cornell has no top 10 RPI wins, where Notre Dame has one (Duke). Many people may look at the rankings and ask how the No. 3 team in the country doesn’t get a home game in the NCAA tournament, but keep in mind that the polls are people’s opinions. Cornell may very well be a top 5 team, but there are certain selection criteria for the NCAA tournament, and their low SOS has hurt them.
- Maryland/Duke/Hopkins/Carolina: Flip a coin or roll some dice, because this section gets tricky. Keep in mind that strength of schedule is big. It’s not everything, but its big. Maryland has a high RPI and SOS (#4/#4) and quality wins. The Terps have three top 15 wins (Hopkins, Duke, and Villanova). We were considering them or Duke for the third spot, and Duke has a lower RPI but higher SOS than Maryland (although not by much either way). In the end, Maryland beat Duke in a head-to-head match-up. Carolina is nestled at #5 because while they have the #1 SOS, their RPI is down at #10. They have two great wins – Maryland and Hopkins – which is why they are a spot above the Blue Jays. Hopkins has wins against four top 20 RPI ranked teams, but only one in the top 15 (#3 Virginia, #16 Syracuse, #17 Princeton, #19 Towson). With only one top 15 win and a SOS lower than Maryland, Duke, and Carolina, they found themselves as the #6 seed.
- The rest of the teams: There are definitely some quality resumes from the rest of the teams in the field, especially when you look at Penn State and Lehigh. Penn State may have even snuck into the top 8 had they had one or two fewer losses. The Nitanny Lions have a #11 RPI and #6 SOS and a win over Notre Dame. They were very close to being seeded, as was Lehigh, who was held back by their #32 SOS. If Lehigh had a better SOS, they’d neck-and-neck for a seed with Notre Dame.
By the way, could you imagine the second round match-ups if seeds were to hold in this scenario? Virginia-Notre Dame, Maryland-Hopkins, Duke-Carolina and Loyola-UMass (guaranteeing one of them is in the final four). Wow! Of course, what are the odds of the seeds holding?
This will all change in the next two weeks
One thing to keep in mind, these seedings are as of today. There are a LOT of big games coming up. Here are some things to watch for as we get closer to the NCAA tournament.
- If Hopkins wins out (meaning they beat Loyola), then look for Hopkins to leap frog several of the ACC schools and maybe land a #2 or #3 seed. If Loyola wins out (with a win over Hopkins) they’ll likely solidify a #1 spot instead of Virginia. Circle April 28 on your calendars – this is a huge game with huge playoff implications. .
- Villanova, Syracuse and Denver are all fighting for the last two spots. All of them have big games coming up:
- Syracuse: @ Notre Dame (#6 RPI) and the Big East Tournament
- Villanova: vs. Notre Dame (#6 RPI) and the Big East Tournament
- Denver: vs. Fairfield (#13 RPI), Duke (#7 RPI) and the ECAC Tournament
- If Villanova can’t get another quality win, Princeton can play their way in with a win over Cornell. Otherwise, Princeton will need to win the IVY League tournament to get in.
- If UMass ends up dropping one of its last two games it could end up looking at an unseeded position.
- Whoever wins the ACC Tournament will be seeded no lower than #2. Virginia and Maryland are top 5 RPI teams and Duke and Carolina in the top 10 – two wins of that quality would be big additions to a resume.
- Fairfield has a case as the last team in with wins over Denver and Ohio State if Villanova doesn’t beat Notre Dame.
- Cornell doesn’t have an opportunity to improve their resume to the point where they will get a seed.
- Villanova, Denver and Colgate better hope there aren’t a lot of tournament upsets or they could be out.
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