TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
The big reveal:
8. Michigan vs
Hypothetical second round opponent: #1 Duke.
Eight seed is way high, no?
Not exactly Kansas in terms of blase but you don't have to act like you've been there when you haven't. At least not much.
John Gasaway—AKA Big Ten Wonk—likes crusades. His last one was to obliterate rebound margin and seems to be going well. Not many use plain rebounds as a metric anymore, which is good because it makes no sense at all to do so.
Gasaway's latest horde of European knights with fuzzy ideas about salvation is aimed at the tournament seeding process:
I’m on the record as thinking that the mere distribution of wins — with due consideration for opponent, time, and place — can yield sufficient information to draw a line across the top quintile of D-I and tell the teams above this line, “You’re in!” But trying to do something as precise as sequencing an entire tournament field on an S-curve armed only with wins is a little like playing the piano while wearing oven mitts. It can be done, but the music would sound better if we freed up our fingers.
A few years ago I had a back-and-forth with Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog about something similar: I was purveying a resume-based results-only college football poll at the same time he was publishing a top 25 from Vegas oddsmakers that claimed it was more accurate. Those are two diametrically opposed methods. The BlogPoll is descriptive: We have this data and this is our best guess at which teams have the most impressive resumes. Vegas is predictive: we have this data and this is our best guess as to who the best teams are.
So do you want your national title picked based on an assessment of the season or the team? I had a viscerally negative reaction to seeing things like LSU at #5 six weeks into the 2006 season when they'd lost to Auburn and LSU and beaten ULL, Tulane, Mississippi State, and Arizona. They proceeded to win the rest of their games. So Vegas was right, except if LSU was a little better and options at the top a little worse you can imagine a scenario where Vegas takes a team like LSU over some luckbox like 2002 Ohio State. Right or not, that ain't right.
The Vegas poll is answering a different question than I want the people deciding who should play for the national championship asking. If there are two major conference undefeated teams and a one-loss team that's so clearly better than the two undefeated teams but has an inexplicable turnover-filled loss in a driving sleet-storm that happened because their quarterback got injured, picking the obviously better team obliterates college football. It's not about some ineffable combination of NFL draft picks and victory margin, it's about wins. If that has embarrassingly dumbed down nonconference schedules at least it's provided a reason to play the games, and a reason to have your heart in your throat when the other team is driving for the win no matter what your MOV is.
No one is going to claim that loosening the dominion of wins over a sport that lets various .500 major conference teams compete for its title "obliterates" anything, but I'm still leery of a world where Michigan's overtime against Iowa is mostly important because it can push Michigan's Kenpom rating up a spot. Gasaway explicitly states he's fine with using wins for tourney selection but that only mitigates the problem; any solid at-large team sees that effect since they're just worried about seeding, not getting over the line.
It would be pretty dumb to have some guy from Wisconsin at the line shooting two to win against Ohio State and have those free throws hardly matter at all. Would it be fair? Yes. Would it result in better seedings for the occasional very good minor conference team that gets thrust into a tough first round matchup and can't show their stuff? Yes. But I think it would make the season much less vital. Sometimes a little unfairness is the lesser evil.
Now, if Gasaway's just talking about alerting the committee to performance-aware metrics when they attempt to evaluate the case of Utah State, a team that's obliterating the WAC but has only played three games against teams with a Kenpom rating higher than 90(!)* and gone 1-2 against them, sure. The way in which the Aggies have acquired their record should be able to influence the committee to bump them a little bit. His endorsement of Bilas's tweet calling RPI a "joke" suggests he's more militant than that.
Once you start talking about tossing a 17-7, 7-7 Big Ten team probably headed for 19-9 and 9-9 (this is Illinois—their finish: @OSU, Iowa, @Purdue, Indiana) onto a line where a Sweet Sixteen bid would only be a mild surprise you lose me**. The Illini's strong nonconference performance should easily see them into the tournament but while I love Kenpom I'd take eighteen games of .500 basketball over his rating when evaluating seeds.
Maybe I've read him wrong.
*[Iowa, the worst team in the Big Ten, is 82nd.]
**[To be clear, I'm not picking on Illinois because Gasaway is an Illinois grad. It's just that they're the Big Ten team with the goofiest-looking Kenpom rating given their record. Playing Texas, UNC, Maryland, Missouri, and Gonzaga in the nonconference will do that.]
[Also, think of the advantage lost in NCAA pools if people were fairly seeded based on Kenpom type metrics. Horror!]
With Indiana out of the way, Michigan has now reached a certain point in their season. Every game is The Most Important Game Of The Season until it's over, at which point it just makes the next one The New Most Important Game Of The Season. So, what will it take to make the NCAA Tournament? Let's look at the numbers in comparison to the last two Michigan teams.
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||5th||4th||1st|
|Big Ten Tourney Teams||7||5||???|
This team has a lot more in common with the 10-seed of 2009 than the squad that didn't even make the NIT last season, but it's still a bit worse. With a 3-2 close to the regular season (no small feat), the numbers should be approximately equal to the Tournament squad, though the Big Ten is much tougher this year than it has been in either of the past two seasons. However, the 2009 team had signature non-conference wins against UCLA (a 6-seed) and Duke (a 2-seed). This year's team has beaten Clemson, Harvard, and Oakland. All three are likely to make the tournament - assuming Harvard exacts revenge on Princeton for their only Ivy League loss - but not as top seeds.
Let's look at some teams from last year that 1) had similar profiles to 201-11 Michigan, and 2) made the tournament. For the purposes of this exercise, only at-large teams from strong conferences are relevant. I've plucked a couple comparable teams from last year's tourney field. For the most part, these were the lowest-seeded teams from their respective conferences.
|2010 NCAA Tournament|
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th|
|Conf Tourney Teams||6||7||8||5||4|
A couple notes:
- Georgia Tech was terrible in conference, but had good Kenpom and RPI numbers (they got into the tourney over 10-6 ACC Virginia Tech because the Hokies played a terrible non-conference schedule).
- MIssouri was by far the strongest team to Kenpom. They also had the fewest losses. However, they were one of only two teams to lose in the first round of their conference tournament.
- Louisville is the other first-round loser in their conference tournament. Their strength of schedule and decent finish in the Big East (a 16-team conference) got them in.
- Minnesota is probably the most comparable to Michigan this year. They have the most losses of any of these teams, but played their way into the tournament by reaching the Big 10 final.
- Florida played in the weakest conference of any of these teams, with the worst Kenpom and RPI numbers (taking strength of schedule into account). However, a winning record - and committee guilt about only three SEC teams getting in - helped them make the tournament.
Though they don't want to admit it--Tim Hardaway's epic coachspeak: "Make sure we take it one game at a time. The next game is the most important game."--the players are aware of the opportunity in front of them. The question becomes whether they'll rise to the challenge, as they did two years ago. or fold under the pressure. Here are a few other player quotes about looking to the Tournament:
- Stu Douglass, on whether the team has the tournament in the back of their minds: "We've said it out loud in the locker room. There's no hiding from it."
- Darius Morris, on the team's change after the MSU game: "From there on, we knew what kind of intensity we need to have."
- Darius Morris, on whether the team has talked about making the tournament: "You've gotta visualize your success before it can happen."
- Zack Novak, on watching other Big Ten games on TV: "If I'm watching, I kinda just watch as a fan... I think you usually know what team you need to win to help you out a little bit."
It seems like the team is determined to keep the NCAA Tournament run in the corner of their eye, but in order to achieve it, is focused on the old coaching cliche of "one game at a time."
What does it Mean?
If Michigan goes 3-2 over their final five games - as we'll see, that's no guarantee - their numbers should be comparable to their tournament team of a couple years ago, or Minnesota last year. However, they're doing it in a much stronger Big Ten. It's Kenpom's #1 conference; the past two years it was 5th and 4th. Reaching .500 in conference should land them around 6th, and going 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament would likely be good enough to get into the tournament unless other results break against them, especially since there are three additional slots this year.
|Ohio State||24-1 (11-1)||1||3|
|Michigan State||14-10 (6-6)||48||48|
|Penn State||13-11 (6-7)||52||70|
That means your rooting interests are as follows:
- You want Michigan to win out (obviously). If they go better than 3-2 in their final five, I think they're a lock. Kempom predicts a win only in the season finale against Michigan State. He gives Michigan less than 25% chance of going 9-9 or better in conference (3-2 or better over the final 5 games).
- Cheer for all of Michigan's non-conference opponents. Bowling Green has a chance to win the MAC, Syracuse can win the Big East, UTEP can win Conference USA, Clemson can win the ACC(!), Harvard should win the Ivy League, and Oakland should win the Summit League. You want very badly for all of this to happen.
- In the Big Ten, cheer against the teams in Michigan's tier (see handy graphic at right), so the Wolverines finish as high in the standings as possible. This means pull against Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Penn State probably doesn't have a chance to make the tournament unless they win the Big Ten Tournament, but you still don't want them to finish ahead of Michigan.
- Also in the Big Ten, cheer against Purdue and Illinois, since those are the teams Michigan played once. When they play each other (as they did yesterday and will again on March 1st), you want Purdue to win, because of the above point.
Correction. The recruiting profile of Richard Ash brought up Jason Kates because he's the canonical recent example of a guy whose weight problems prevented him from becoming a player. In that post, I mentioned that Rivals had 'won' that evaluation since they issued two stars to Scout's four. I got that backwards. It was Scout that was skeptical and thus won.
The underbelly of disaster(!). Tim is taking in the official media bit of the tour (lunch!) and is tweeting brooding photos of empty stuff. Full post coming up later today; for those who can't wait UM Tailgate got in way early and already has the first of what will be dozens of galleries posted today. Swanky:
Meanwhile, Michigan has released this year's box-engorged seating capacity: 109,901, which puts it back in its rightful place as the largest in the country. Wikipedia was updated in nanoseconds:
Michigan Stadium's capacity will drop next year when the seats and aisles are widened but should still check in #1.
Beam me up. I can't control when I get the weird photoshops of recently graduated players, but here's this:
His people are Patriots. Thanks to Corey Ray.
Also in graphic stuff, TRSaunders expands his library of MS Paint crazy photo stuff with Cam Gordon.
Raid your own stadium. Tickets for the Big Chill are all but officially sold out as Michigan holds back the last few blocks for incoming freshmen. Unless you head to Michigan State's ticket department, that is. Buy away. Plot in the message board thread.
In graphic form. A poster named BlueMonster threw this chart up on Rivals. It speaks for itself:
Steele can be wobbly on certain things but not wobbly enough to get Michigan out of the overall cellar when they're so far behind the nearest competitor, especially since Steele's evaluation of Michigan's starters is significantly more veteran than the actual lineup will be.
Interesting to note that UConn, which had a rep as a very veteran outfit, comes in towards the bottom of the list. Penn State, meanwhile, checked in next to Michigan at just below average on the Steele experience ranking but is well up the rankings here. Everything else looks to be about what you'd expect, with that Notre Dame game looming large as an opportunity to start off in a non-flailing fashion.
Expansion of the other variety. Everyone else has an opinion, so I should too: the NCAA has announced that the four play-in games will be contested in two groups: everyone who used to be a 16 seed plays for two spots and the last four at-large teams will play for the other two. So everyone gets slid down one more notch and the three teams that are added have to play for a spot with the team that would have been the last at-large in a 65-team tournament.
I was against any sort of expansion from the start and still think 68 is goofy, but if they're going to do it this is the best way. The 16 seeds are invariably weak opponents and bidding another one goodbye is not going to make anyone shed a tear. While the occasional interesting team finds itself a 15 seed, usually the worst 15 seed is no threat against the best 2. Meanwhile, having the last few at-large bids face off against each other will reduce the "what about X" complaining every year because X will have an opportunity to play Y, settling the argument on the court. More of those third place Mountain West or A-10 teams will get the opportunity to prove themselves better than Clemson or Minnesota.
The Artist Formerly Known As Big Ten Wonk dislikes this, calling it "dumb":
I realize many pundits are fine with this today, but wait until they see it in action with actual team names inserted into these brackets. Inevitably a five-seed will lose to a 12 that emerged from a play-in game and we’ll hear all the usual talk about the “advantage” and “momentum” the 12 had from playing already. And as for talk of 10-seeds being in play-in games, mark me down as absolutely terrified. I’m already on the record as thinking that tournament seeding has far too little to do with reality. (And note that today’s decision only raises the stakes that will be riding on a team’s seed.)
Now, if you’re talking about a team seeded as high as a 10, there’s a good chance that said team is way better than the selection committee could have realized. To require a team that good to win an extra game while every year the 64th-best team in the field is guaranteed a comparatively easy six-win path is antithetical to what’s made the NCAA tournament the best postseason spectacle in major American team sports. We’ve trusted the tournament’s outcomes precisely to the extent that the courts have been neutral, the brackets have been balanced, and the opportunities have been equal.
I think that's an anticipation about talking heads doing the thing where they have a fierce disagreement over a petty issue because of Stephen A Smith and not an actual argument that this will be a factor, but even so I must dissent from Gasaway's dissent. A case where the second to last at large spot is actually a 10 seed will be exceedingly rare. The equivalent would be the last at large in the current tourney being a 10, which I'm pretty sure has never happened. Meanwhile, the 64th-best team has earned something (the auto-bid) the last teams in have not. It's not entirely fair but if it keeps a bunch of small teams from getting shuffled to "TruTV" in favor of major conference mediocrities, I'm in favor of it. Seeds are mostly guesses and a small conference team that won its championship and avoided the play-in has proven itself better than a subset of college basketball; major conference teams that finish seventh have not done this.
The committee did the best possible job given they had to assemble a 68-team tournament and include a cable channel no one's even heard of.
Leader for real. Now that the World Cup is over it can be said: ESPN has shed its Mark Shapiro skin and has returned to something that people can both love and hate instead of just the latter. Not once during the 2010 tournament did I pine for the Univision that I had in HD in 2006 but not 2010, and this is despite the fact that Univision is such terrific fun that I would occasionally flip on replays of games I'd already watched just to hear someone's head explode because of Diego Forlan. Also, 30 for 30 is an unqualified success, the sort of original programming that ESPN always should have done instead of "I'd Do Anything" or literally everything else Shapiro ever came up with. (His latest trick: running Six Flags into the ground.)
Everything from the play by play to the studio crew was fantastic—even Alexi Lalas was genuinely fun when he ribbed the English. My only complaint was the time spent showing replays when action was going on, and that wasn't even ESPN's fault since FIFA controls the feed. There has never been a greater turnaround between consecutive broadcasts of a single event. Last year we were stuck with Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa.
Why can't they do this for other sports? Well, if you took ESPN's top four college football announce teams (PBP: Musberger, McDonough, Franklin, ?) they would probably come close to the four excellent teams put together for the World Cup. When you get to #8 it's Pam Ward, and by #12 it's that awful Rod Gilmore/Trevor Matich color pairing that had a combined IQ approximately the equal of tapioca pudding that went 12-20 in 15 years as as boxer. Plus ESPN had the pick of any English announcers they wanted. If you could put together an All-Star roster of college football from ESPN, CBS, Fox, and, uh, NBC… well… you'd get Verne Lundquist. Never mind.
Initial NCAA impressions. If you're like me and have gotten tired of EA's consistently lame NCAA franchise, I suggest you check out GameShark folks Bill Abner and Todd Brakke's "Nut and Feisty Weasel," where they'll be posting their annual stream of consciousness reviews of the latest edition. These are always unvarnished and far more useful than any review ever is.
The first impression, as always, is promising. This is something that I don't know if an NCAA game has ever managed before:
John Clay had 88 yards on 20 carries. He was hard as hell to tackle. Michigan? I shut that team down with impunity. I had a chance late to get the ball back against Wisky and they marched 30 yards to nail the coffin shut.
Against UM my DE Cam Heyward was UNBLOCKABLE. He was KILLING whoever the Michigan RT is. 3 sacks, multiple pressures, etc. In years past this would raise a quick red flag. This is a potential pattern that could really kill the game because before--something like this simply meant...the AI blocking sucks.
Against Wisky? Heyward was as non factor. And believe me...I tried.
Abner is an OSU fan, unfortunately. Let's hope the game's projection for Mark Huyge is pessimistic.
Etc.: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia get the 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours. Fine by me; at least Pittsburgh is drivable. Boston fans are complaining about the FF's long absence from their neck of the woods—by 2014 it will be a decade—and I would have some sympathy if the Detroit FF was the first time in forever that the perpetually-screwed CCHA had gotten to host one. Rivals ranks Michigan a job-saving #41.
He emerged from a local ten-year-old's He-Man rerun last Wednesday and is in the midst of a series of hilarious foibles in which he adapts to the modern world. He will master his strength, get the girl, and go to college. There will be a short-lived spinoff show at Purdue, Louisville, Tennessee, or another place that looks kindly on men wielding swords longer than themselves.
No, Michigan is not involved, but who cares? Carvajal's hair should be in the running for Name of the Year.
Good work there. You know that vandalism that took place in Michigan Stadium? Yeah…
It's not exactly earth-shattering. The turf should be fixed for the spring game, at which point it's getting replaced anyway. It did give Orson a chance to continue his campaign against the area media, at least.
Guh. 96 team NCAA tournament reaches DEFCON 2:
"I said from Day 1 that I would support the decision that came out of the (NCAA's) Board of Directors, which ostensibly is linked back to the presidents (in) the conferences," Delany said. "And if that's where it ends up, I support that."
Asked how he expects the expansion issue to play out, he said, "It's probable."
Won't someone think about the children? Is anyone going to care about any first round game at this point? What is the point of folding the NIT into the NCAA tournament? What is the NCAA's problem with a reasonable playoff field in either basketball or football? Is this the most roundly-despised inevitable idea in history?
The latest from spring. Inside Michigan Football translated into a non-browser-crippling format by anonymous heroes of the internet:
Maybe? No. But you keep waving your gums around. Jack Swarbrick had to open his mouth about conference affiliation. Hubbub ensued, and I pretty much dismissed it. But he keeps talking about it and every time he drops something it seems slightly more plausible than before. The latest tiny step towards plausibility comes from a KC Star article in which the Notre Dame AD elaborates on his previous comments:
“The traditional model, where a conference had a fixed fee media rights deal, if you added somebody you sliced the pie a little thinner,” Swarbrick said. “When you’re dealing with equity in a network ... it’s a situation we haven’t had before.”
At this rate he will elaborate ND right into the Big Ten by the 23rd century. He also said stuff about the Big East being an "extraordinary" partner and so forth and so on. I peg the chances of ND joining the Big Ten in the near future at 1.5%, up from 1%. Points to Mike Dearmond, the author, for deploying "tizzy" in his article.
The worst Final Four ever… and Butler. I guess it would have been more frustrating if Ekpe Udoh and Baylor had made it, but Michigan State, West Virginia, and Duke suck pretty hard because they are Michigan's primary rival, the school that Michigan yoinked its current coach from, and Duke.
Here's where I point out that Udoh's coach hired John Wall's AAU coach in the hopes of landing him and falls on the Calipari end of the dirtiness scale.
Etc.: UMHoops scouts Cody Zeller and Yogi Farrell. Georgia president Michael Adams is the guy who attempted to kill the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" nickname and appears to be spectacularly corrupt to boot. Naturally, the NCAA is considering him in their search to find Myles Brand's replacement.
SOMEONE HIRED TIM FLOYD. IT MAKES A GREGG DOYEL COLUMN LOOK SANE. RUN.
In Beilein's best season at WVU they played themselves into the tourney going 7-3 to close reg season then made BE final. Just sayin'...
The insinuation, of course, is that it may be possible for this Michigan team to make a similar run to sneak into the NCAA tournament themselves. Although Dylan himself isn't exactly sold on that idea, let's look at what this Michigan team has in common with those Mountaineers.
West Virginia 2005
The Mountaineers, led by Mike Gansey, Tyrone Sally, and Kevin Pittsnogle (pictured at right), finished the regular season with an 18-9 record, 8-8 in the Big East. They won 7 of their final 10 regular season games. In the Big East Tournament, they were the #8 seed, and ran through #9 Providence, #1 Boston College, and #4 Villanova before falling to Syracuse in the tournament final. They were 21-10 going into the NCAA tournament. They were awarded a #7 seed in the West Regional, and managed to make the Elite Eight, where they lost to Louisville in overtime.
For the sake of prediction we'll go with Ken Pomeroy's projections over the final five games. Kenpom gives Michigan wins over Penn State, Illinois, and Minnesota at home and road losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
In that scenario, the Wolverines would finish the regular season with a 16-14 record, 9-9 in the Big Ten. They would have won 6 of their final 10 regular season games. They would be about the #7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, facing off against #10 Iowa (the same 7/10 matchup as in last season's Big Ten Tournament). To reach the tournament final, they would have to beat Iowa, then the #2 seed (still up in the air at this point, but Ohio State if the season ended today), and the #3 or #6 seed (Purdue or Northwestern, respectively, if the season ended today). Falling in the tournament final, they would finish with a 19-15 record going into tournament selection.
Though both teams would end their season on a run of sorts, the "Last 10" metric for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is not available this season. Michigan's theoretical 6-4 mark over the final 10 regular season games (plus a 3-1 record in the Big Ten Tournament) probably wouldn't be the most impressive mark, anyway.
A key difference between the teams is their respective overall records. Though both would finish with a .500 mark in conference, the Mountaineers only dropped one game to a non-big East team, though it was a terrible Marshall squad. Michigan, on the other hand, struggled mightily outside the league. They've lost to Marquette, Alabama, Boston College, Utah, and Kansas.
jamiemac of Just Cover and the MGoPodcast points out that a strong close to the regular season would give the Wolverines a similar resume to the 2000 Wisconsin Badgers, who finished the season 16-12, but nabbed an 8-seed based on a strong run to end the year, and ended up making the Final Four. Of course, this Michigan team is almost certainly not Final Four material, but getting into the tournament is possible.
Can it be Done?
Michigan would need to finish the year much stronger than West Virginia did if they want to get into the NCAA Tournament. Like I've been saying for quite some time, the NIT is a much more realistic goal at this point. However, it's actually not impossible for the Wolverines to make the Big Dance. It's just a tall, tall task, especially for a team that has struggled with consistency through the entire year and doesn't seem to be making a final push. Edging by Iowa in overtime does not inspire confidence.
The most obvious way for Michigan to make the NCAA tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament and get the conference's automatic bid. That requires a hot streak, of course, but the rest of the regular season won't play as big a role (of course, the better the record in the regular season, the higher the seed in the B10 Tourney, and the easier the path to a tournament championship). 3-point shooting teams always have a chance in single-elimination format, as long as they get hot from the field.
Without crunching any numbers, Michigan's only other likely chance to get into the NCAA tournament is to lose only one of the road games left (though a road win over Ohio State or Michigan State is highly unlikely), and make it to the tournament final. That would give them a winning record in the conference, with a 17-13 regular season mark. Adding the 3 victories from the Big Ten tournament would give a 20-14 record, with a number of quality wins at the end of the year. Sweeping the regular season games and making it to the tournament final would make the Wolverines a near-lock for the tournament, at 21-13 and an 11-7 mark in the Big Ten.
HOWEVA, all of these scenarios are pipe dreams. The realistic best-case scenario for the Wolverines is to go 3-2 to close out the regular season, take a victory or two in the Big Ten Tournament, and finish their year with a strong run in the NIT.