needs moar usage
It's the last day of February. Selection Sunday is 13 days away. While I constantly keep tabs on the Bracket Matrix throughout the winter, doing so now carries even more excitement because who is in the Matrix now might finally resemble who actually makes the field [Ed-M: and Michigan's in it!].
Mock brackets throughout most of January and February are so fluid that it's hard to put a ton of stock in them, other than to guage where exactly certain teams are on the pecking order at that moment in time. Now grabbing a spot in the Matrix means you could be a win or two away from netting an actual bid. As far as interest from the mock crowd goes, this is the time to be peaking. And while our Michigan Wolverines still have some work to do to get into the actual tournament they and their profile are grabbing people's attention at the right time. Let's take a look.
Right now, Michigan sits with 12 of 75 votes among the mock bracketology crowd. That number obviously is a low one but it represents major progress on two fronts. One, it's the most mock votes the Wolverines have had at any time this season. At the beginning of each of the last two weeks they had peaked with seven votes. For the first time on the campaign, Michigan has been elevated into the Matrix's final eight cut group, albeit in the eighth spot. The numbers may look bleak and small, but at least the Wolverines are trending in the right direction at the right time. The question is will there be enough season left and can Michigan win enough games and others lose enough during that point to make a major move?
A look deeper into the Matrix numbers reveals that Michigan may be a lot closer to the actual bracket than their measly 12-vote haul indicates. Let's break it down by the most recent straw poll. All told, there are 75 bracketologists that participate. However, only 28 of them have cast their ballots since the close of Saturday's action. Let's focus on those 28 ballots. The Wolverines grab 10 of their votes from those early voters, so they are running at about 35-percent support when it comes to the most recent exit poll. Should Michigan maintain that level of support with the remaining four dozen or so ballots, they would rise to about 27 votes. In the current Matrix, that high of a vote total would be good for third-from-last cut.
Even better, Michigan is really maxing out with more support among the early voters than a lot of the other teams ahead of them in the Final Eight Cut list. For example, currently Cleveland State, Colorado State and Wichita State are the first, second and third to last teams cut from the comprehensive Matrix. But they're still relying on support from mocks that have not updated to prop up their position in the pecking order. Of the 28 early voters this week, Cleveland State and Wichita have six votes apiece while Colorado State, fresh off one of the worst bubble losses of the weekend to Air Force, has just one vote. If the early voting is any indication, Michigan has passed all three of those teams. They're also faring better than Southern Miss, fifth-to-last cut, who had six votes from the early mocks and UTEP, sixth-to-last cut, who had just one. If voting form holds--a big IF obviously -- when the Matrix updates again (usually around dinner time every Monday night) expect Michigan to at least be a couple spots closer to the field than their current eight-from-last-cut Matrix position.
The only two teams within that Final Eight Cut group trending better than Michigan are Clemson--a team Michigan beat on the road three months ago, who netted 13 of 28 early votes and have a total of 22 votes altogether and Colorado, who like Michigan, has 12 total votes with almost all of them coming from the early voters. In that demographic, the Buffs grabbed 11 votes, one more than the Wolverines. The Tigers have a huge game at Duke this week, then close the season at home against Virginia Tech. I think an argument can be made on either side of the coin as to whether or not we should be cheering for or pulling against Clemson. As for Colorado, their surge comes on the heels of their electric second half Saturday night when they took down Texas, one of the marquee wins of the weekend. They travel to Iowa State on Wednesday and close at home over the weekend against Nebraska. They can't afford to lose either game. We are decidedly Cyclone and Cornhusker fans this week.
Outside of the final eight cut, there are a couple teams to look out for, which are trending at upwardly support but just a smidge beneath Michigan. Penn State received eight of their 11 total votes from the 28 early ballots and Baylor grabbed seven of their 10 from that same crowd. Both have major showdowns this week where wins could skyrocket them up the charts. The Nittany Lions--a team Michigan swept in two games this season--play host to Ohio State and travel to Minnesota. A 2-0 week would be a major statement and put them in position for an actual bid heading into the Big 10 Tournament. As for Baylor, they continued their inconsistent season over the weekend with a win over Texas A&M. They travel to Oklahoma State and host Texas to close the season. They need a 2-0 week as well, and if they pull that off, a bid might be back in their grasp when their league sectional begins. So, we should keep an eye on both PSU and Baylor and cheer against both this week. So, uh, Go Buc....eh, I cant say it, even if I mean it.
As for the teams currently perched inside the Matrix, there are a couple really shaky at large bids right now. Michigan is trending equally or better than both based on the early returns. One, of course, is Minnesota which Michigan defeated in glorious fashion on Saturday. The Gophers still have 45 total votes, good for a spot on the 11-line. But only six of 28 early voters have them in their field. That's four less than the Wolverines pulled in the early straw poll. They might tumble out of the Matrix during its next comprehensive update. So too might the Alabama Crimson Tide. They suffered a bad road loss to Ole Miss over the weekend, something akin to losing on the road to Iowa to make a Big 10 comparable. Like the Gophers, they're seeing their support hemmorage. They are on the 12-line with 42 votes, but they received the exact amount of support--10 votes--as Michigan in the early voting this go around.
What does all this mean? Well, not much. The Selection Committee doesnt really care what mock bracketologists have to say. But these folks put a ton of effort into it and, in the end, they're competing with one another to produce the most accurate facsimile of the eventual field. And among that crowd, Michigan right now is rising. When the Matrix does its next comprehensive update, depending on how many fresh votes it entails, don't be surprised to see Alabama and Minnesota fall out, Clemson and Colorado jump in to take their place and Michigan elevate as high as one of the final two teams cut from the Matrix. It might not be the best position to be in, but at least a clear path exists between and the field of 68.
One last note on the mock bracket crowd. Much has been made in the forums over the weekend about Lunardi finally putting us in his field. Since he hasnt formally published a new bracket at ESPN.com, his vote has not been updated in the Matrix. So, we can assume Michigan will at least pick up one more vote there. But, what I want to mention is something I've brought up numerous times. He is not the best bracketologist, just the most famous. The best, IMHE, is Bracketology 101. Not only have they proven more accurate than Joey Brackets in recent years, but they just put a lot more thought and foresight into their projections. And I swear Joey Brackets' updates throughout the winter are geared a little bit to put an extra highlight on upcoming televised games on the WWL. Just an observation I've made over time. B101 has no such biases. Anyway, Michigan has been one of their final four teams cut for two weeks running and they've mentioned several times that the Wolverines have been one of their most debated teams during the back half of February. It's worth pointing out the Michigan has been elevated into their field for the first time this season, projected as a 12-seed to play fellow 12-seed Colorado in one of the play-in games. Is it a good thing that the most accurate bracketologist has the Wolverines in their field with just 13 days to go until Selection Sunday? Yes, it is. Here is what they said about the Wolverines:
With no bid-stealers available, we had to pick from a group of teams with a lot of warts and a lot of work left to do. . . . . . Michigan made the cut, despite their loss at home to Wisconsin on Wednesday, because we think they have a decent chance to beat Michigan State at home this weekend and then win their first Big Ten tourney game.
So there you go. The best in the biz saying that Michigan might be just two wins away from the bid and they have a decent enough shot of pulling that off that they made their field. It's not the most ringing endorsement, but given the expectations we had when the season began, we'll take it. It should be a fun weeklong building up to the State game on Saturday and, of course, scoreboard watching in the interim.