Hoops Mailbag: Robinson vs. Irvin, Stretch Run, The Tech

Hoops Mailbag: Robinson vs. Irvin, Stretch Run, The Tech

Submitted by Ace on February 21st, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Irvin or Robinson?

Choosing between defense and offense. [Left: Campredon; right: Barron]

I put out a call for hoops mailbag questions over the weekend. A theme emerged:

With Duncan Robinson's semi-emergence on defense (feels weird saying that), why is Coach Beilein not inserting him into the clutch-time lineup for Zak Irvin? I live in constant fear of Irvin hero-ball and I just don't trust him to make shot these days, let alone the right decision.

I'd feel much more comfortable with a Walton-MAAR-Robinson-Wilson-Wagner lineup offensively at the end of the game, and if the defense only takes a small step back isn't it worth it?

Go Blue,

UM '15

The first two questions are slightly different from the third. To address those first: Zak Irvin is going to remain in the starting lineup. I agree with that choice because of the difference Irvin makes on defense. I disagree with the premise in the first question; the defense can get substantially worse—we all saw as much in January—and Irvin is a big reason why Michigan has improved on that end.

Irvin's versatility on defense is more important than people seem to think. He can do everything from stay in front of two-guards to play passable post defense; did we already forget about this? (And this? And this too?) Michigan doesn't have another wing (DJ Wilson, if you're inclined to count him, excluded) with anything resembling Irvin's combination of strength and quickness; his presence allows M to switch on defense without creating too many mismatches. He's one of Michigan's better on-the-ball defenders, too.

Robinson has made strides on defense; he's still far from a good defender. SI posted anonymous coach quotes today on several potential tourney teams. From the Michigan section, which was critical but fair:

If [senior guard Duncan] Robinson is in the game you want to attack him defensively. Everybody knows that.

Robinson hasn't been caught out of position as often as he was earlier in the season. He's still susceptible to being attacked off the dribble by quicker guards/wings and he doesn't have Irvin's strength to hold up when he's switched onto a post player. Yes, Robinson is the superior offensive player; Irvin, in my opinion, has as much of an edge on defense.

A straight-up comparison between the two isn't sufficient; this is, after all, a team sport. You can gameplan to hide a struggling offensive player, especially when the rest of the offense is clicking like Michigan's. Irvin, in fact, is playing a decreased role in the offense over the course of this slump. This mathematical approach isn't perfect, but Irvin averaged a 27% usage rate over M's first seven conference games, with a high mark of 32% (Maryland) and a low of 21% (Illinois). That average is down to 17% over M's last seven games, in which he's surpassed the 20% only three times, topping out at 24% in the Wisconsin win; he's gone as low at 8% in that span, using only five possessions in the MSU win. Walton and MAAR have been able to pick up the slack.

It's much more difficult to hide a weak defender; you don't get to choose what set the opposing team runs. Robinson has been such an effective offensive player this season in part because John Beilein can cherry-pick his matchup on both ends. Robinson wasn't nearly as efficient as a starter last year (107.7 ORating in B1G games) compared to what he's done as the sixth man this year (122.8 ORating in B1G); while correlation doesn't equal causation, I don't believe that's a coincidence.

If Irvin continues to take on big late-game possessions—I'll admit I cringed when he waved off Derrick Walton in a second-half late-clock situation at Minnesota—then I wouldn't mind seeing Beilein use Robinson over Irvin in certain late-game situations, as Christian suggests, especially if he can go offense-defense with his substitutions. Benching Irvin is a step too far; Michigan still has the best offensive efficiency in the conference with him playing 89% of the available minutes, and he's played a major role in the defensive improvement of the last month. Another stat of note: Robinson averages 22.3 minutes per game in Michigan's seven conference losses; he's at 17.6 in their seven conference wins.

[Hit THE JUMP for the path to the tourney, Minnesota technical explanation, and more.]

Basketbullets: Adjusting The Defense, MAAR's Quiet Resurgence, GRIII Dunk Contest Preview

Basketbullets: Adjusting The Defense, MAAR's Quiet Resurgence, GRIII Dunk Contest Preview

Submitted by Ace on February 17th, 2017 at 4:32 PM


Before and after. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

At the 17:35 mark of the second half last night, Ethan Happ backed Moe Wagner down from just inside the three-point line all the way to the charge circle and hit a baby hook. That marked his ninth field goal in ten attempts; he had 20 points, five assists, no turnovers, and no fouls. Up to that point, Michigan had been content to let their big men try to handle Happ on their own, as they'd done much more successfully in the game in Madison. It wasn't working. John Beilein adjusted (thanks to UMHoops' Orion Sang for saving me the transcription work):

“We looked at our numbers last time that we played this — Northwestern just double-teamed him the whole game and it was a point per possession, and when we didn’t double team him last time it was 0.6. So we said we can have it in our package, but we’re not going to do it unless we need it. Not all of those were post-ups — he blew by Mo a couple times. Mo’s 21 points, I’m really happy about that. He’s got to improve his defense too, he got sloppy a few times. He’s just got to get better there. Happ is really good. Part of where Wisconsin is so successful with us and others is there’s just so little low-post game in college basketball. … It’s unique for people to guard.”

“(Happ’s) good. He missed some shots from four or five feet. He didn’t miss them this time. He’s a good player. But we weren’t going to change just to change knowing we had our package, and save it for the second half. Just save it for the second half and see if we need it.”

From that point forward, Happ went 1-for-3 from the field with one assist and three turnovers. He also committed five fouls, two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. His fourth foul came after Moe Wagner and Zak Irvin combined to force a miss; Happ was visibly frustrated after unnecessarily hacking Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman on the rebound.

Eric Coughlin of the Detroit News tweeted a useful chart displaying how Michigan's defensive adjustment—and Wisconsin abandoning the pick-and-roll—had an enormous impact on Happ's output: 

Mark Donnal looked overmatched in the first half; in the second, with some impressive help defense from Zak Irvin, he more than held his own. Irvin's offensive resurgence would've been for naught if Michigan didn't make, and execute, a mid-game scheme change on defense. It led to one of the most unexpected plays in recent memory:

My coverage of Donnal has been rather harsh at times; last night was his most encouraging game in a long time. Yes, he struggled to guard Happ one-on-one in the first half, but so did all of Michigan's big men; Jon Teske's disastrous two-minute stretch put a serious damper on the #FreeTeske movement. Donnal's seven minutes in the second half were impressive, even more so because he made a positive impact without taking a shot, which isn't exactly his norm. In addition to the block on Happ, he had a nice tipout offensive rebound and perhaps the most forceful blockout of his career:

If that's the version of Donnal we get going forward, there won't be any more controversy about who should back up Wagner.

[Hit THE JUMP for MAAR the quiet killer, updated bracket watch, and more.]

Basketbullets: Bubble Viewing Guide, Defending Happ, Transition Off Rebounds

Basketbullets: Bubble Viewing Guide, Defending Happ, Transition Off Rebounds

Submitted by Ace on February 15th, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Bracket Watch: Safely In For Now

Get pumped up for a tourney run? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

While they still have work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, Michigan made their way back into the vast majority of projected fields after their back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Indiana. The Wolverines are on 92 of the 110 brackets comprising the current Bracket Matrix (updated yesterday evening), putting them as an 11-seed and, critically, avoiding the First Four for now.

The projection for the remainder of the season has also improved. Following the Indiana win and Wisconsin's home loss to Northwestern (yes, that's a thing that really happened), KenPom's algorithm bumped Michigan from a slight underdog to a slight favorite in tomorrow night's game against the Badgers. With games at Rutgers and Nebraska still on the schedule, Michigan is the outright favorite in three of their last six games, and I'm still not sold on Minnesota being as tough an opponent as the numbers suggest.

Friendly neighborhood bracketologist CrislerSpidey ran the win probability numbers for the rest of the season a couple days ago. At that point, Michigan was more likely to finish with a winning conference record than a losing one, and the projections have become slightly more favorable since then:

Tomorrow night's game is, of course, a huge one for M's tourney chances. Wisconsin's offense has been in a statistical nosedive for the last five games, almost exactly coinciding with Michigan's (relative) defensive renaissance. They're vulnerable; Michigan played them close at the Kohl Center; it'd be a much-needed quality win.

[Hit THE JUMP for the bubble rooting guide, how to slow Ethan Happ, and more.]

Unverified Voracity Forgot About That Guy Already

Unverified Voracity Forgot About That Guy Already

Submitted by Brian on February 13th, 2017 at 12:55 PM

Bad things in East Lansing. This is going to be a bad week for Michigan State.

Nothing definitive has been released yet save for MSU's statement that three players and one staffer are under investigation for sexual assault; people seem to be expecting something very bad. Bad enough that point and laugh rivalry stuff is inappropriate.


Solomon aftermath. Georgia fired its DL coach, Tracy Rocker, in the immediate aftermath of Signing Day. A Scout article asserted Rocker got in an argument with Aubrey Solomon's mom in an attempt to offer up an explanation, and recriminations ensued. Jeff Sentrell of Dawgnation* interviewed Sabrina Caldwell to get her side of things, and I have some bad news for Teddy Greenstein:

She said a big reason why Georgia didn’t sign her son centered on coaching decisions and not anything specific in their recruiting relationship.

Caldwell said they were affected by the scholarship that was no longer there for 4-star Texas RB and longtime UGA commit Toneil Carter.

Adding to the confusion: SEC All-Freshman kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was not extended a scholarship offer despite what he did to win games for the Bulldogs last season.

She said that was not her family’s fight but that it was a factor into how they perceived UGA.

“We were concerned with the scholarship issues of those not either receiving (them) or getting it pulled and again (this was) not our fight but it played a factor,” she said.

Michigan won that recruitment in part because it looked like the more stable and straightforward program a year after forcibly decommitting multiple kids late in the cycle. While there was something Michigan needed to get fixed (as I said at the time), fix it they did, and next year's Erik Swenson Is Thriving Despite Being Done Wrong article will have the same impact this year's did: nil.

Caldwell's comments caused some introspection at Georgia-focused Get The Picture. It sounds familiar to anyone who read "Pick Up The Damn Phone" last year:

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of angst that cropped up in the comments following my post about Jeff Sentell’s interview with Aubrey Solomon’s mother.  It’s hard to let go of a gauzy, romantic image that you’re invested in, and for many, the ideal of a football program that doesn’t stoop to making business decisions when it comes to roster management is a powerful one.  (As powerful as the ideal that student-athletes are already more than fairly compensated for the privilege of playing.  But I digress.)

Anyway, whatever else one might say about the Process, romantic it ain’t.  Kirby is being paid to win.  In his mind that includes pushing roster management aggressively.  The issues with Carter and Blankenship arose because Smart was at the edge, numbers-wise, with the 2017 class before the four underclassmen stepped up to announce they were staying.  That decision — and would any of us have preferred that they leave for the NFL? — meant that Smart had to do a lot of re-jiggering on the fly.

I’m not defending the way the Carter situation was handled.  Smart botched that by not stepping up and telling the kid himself.  But he’s being paid to put together the best roster he can and that’s what he’s trying to do.

For what it's worth, I believe that recruits' publicly stated reasons why they chose school X are almost always post-hoc backfilling after a decision has been made. Georgia wasn't the choice but Rodrigo Blankenship isn't the reason why.

Also: GTP mentions that 100% above-board Mark Richt often slogged through SEC seasons with 70-some scholarship players. That's the choice the current system gives you: nobly waste resources or push the envelope with the detrimental effects to the croots. That's a dumb system.

Michigan is navigating it better than they did last year, and Georgia will probably follow suit.

*[Despite the fact that it sounds like a dot blogspot, Dawgnation is an Atlanta Journal-Constitution-owned UGA site roughly equivalent to a single-team Land Of 10, which is also an AJC property. IE: they got the journalisms.]

The haves split from the other haves. Also spotted on GTP is this article from Jon Wilner detailing the coming revenue split even amongst the Power 5 conferences:

Fiscal year 2015 school distributions (all figures confirmed):

SEC: $32.7 million
Big Ten: $32.4 million
Pac-12: $25.1 million

Fiscal year 2016 school distributions

SEC: $40 million (confirmed)
Big Ten: $35 million (approximate)
Pac-12: $27 million (approximate)

That looks bad … that is bad … but it’s about to get much worse for the Pac-12.

Remember: The Big Ten’s new Tier 1 deal begins in 2017-18, and it’s also a whopper, averaging $440 million per year.

Which brings us to …

Fiscal year 2017-18 school distributions …

Big Ten: $45 million (estimate)
SEC: $43 million (estimate)
Pac-12: $31 million (estimate)

This is an even bigger gap than it looks because most SEC athletic departments run close to the bare minimum number of sports to qualify as D-I and Big Ten and Pac-12 schools carry up to 12 additional teams under that revenue umbrella.

Not only is paying the players the correct thing to do from a moral, ethical, and free market standpoint; it is a Very Good Thing for the Big Ten as it tries to be good at football. And there can be absolutely no argument that the money is there. As of 2011 the Big Ten's payout was 23 million. By 2018 there will be 22 million dollars a year that did not exist just a few years ago. Half of that is sufficient to pay the revenue sports athletes 100k a year.

In bubble news. (Not that bubble.) Disney CEO and therefore ESPN CEO Bill Iger:

Disney CEO Bob Iger thinks there are too many ads on TV, and he's exploring whether Disney's ESPN and ABC channels should reduce the amount of commercials.

“In general there is probably too much commercial interruption in television,” Iger said during Disney's quarterly earnings call Tuesday, especially when TV is competing with new digital upstarts like Netflix, some of whom don't have ads at all.

Iger said Disney would evaluate the amount of ads aired within programs for its ESPN and ABC TV channels, though he did not say that any cuts to the so-called ad load were looming.

My eyes pop out of my head when my mother voluntarily turns on cable TV programming with ads in it. (It's always HGTV, and they're always building tiny houses for some damn reason.) Live sports has long been the last bulwark against that kind of thing because there are no alternatives, but my God last year was brutal. The number of three-and-outs both preceded and followed by commercial breaks seemed to go up exponentially. At some point you have to balance out the money  you're making now with the money your losing down the road by making your product worse, and it's especially grating when the people actually comprising the product are not even compensated.

In bubble news. (That bubble.) Michigan's moved out of the last four in on Lunardi's bracketology. They are one spot behind... Michigan State? The hell?

I mostly look at Kenpom so that's jarring. There MSU is 54th; Michigan 31st. Metrics that are not margin aware, like RPI, have that ranking inversed. MSU is #41 in RPI; Michigan is 61st. MSU's main accomplishment in the eyes of RPI is to have lost to a bunch of good teams.

Insert general scheduling lament here.

The little details. Good rostering continues:

Michigan picks up another longsnapper, Matt Baldeck. Baldeck is making the Threet transfer: enrolling early and then transferring after his first semester. As a walk-on. Who was at Ole Miss.

Etc.: Freddy Canteen transfers to ND, which will be interesting. I expected him to land at a smaller school. Indiana takes from Quinn and Holdin' The Rope. More croot profiles: Brad Robbins, JaRaymond Hall. Not a banner year in the Big Ten.

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Submitted by Ace on February 10th, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!

Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.

As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:

Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.

Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.

[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]

Basketbullets: At Least There's Walton

Basketbullets: At Least There's Walton

Submitted by Ace on February 6th, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Bracket Watch: The Other Bracket Looms

it us. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The outlook is grim. After everyone but Derrick Walton sleepwalked their way to a loss against a mediocre Ohio State team, Michigan is 14-9 (4-6 B1G) and out of the projected NCAA tournament field. The Wolverines have to climb out of an increasingly big hole and they may have already missed their chance; KenPom says they've played the easiest conference schedule of any Big Ten team so far, and that's about to change in a major way:

Michigan only has three home games left; of those, a more confident and rested Michigan State squad is by far the most beatable. The Wolverines have yet to win a road game this season; they'll need to take at least two, and quite possibly as many as all five left on the docket, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They're 79th in RPI. I had to edit the second sentence of this post multiple times before it was family-friendly.

If they lose tomorrow night, NIT bracket-watching begins in earnest.

[After THE JUMP: Some good news! Really! Also some bad news.]

Basketbullets: DJ's Versatility, Irvin At The Rim, Walton The Specialist

Basketbullets: DJ's Versatility, Irvin At The Rim, Walton The Specialist

Submitted by Ace on January 25th, 2017 at 11:56 AM

DJ Versatile, Part One

Illinois couldn't keep DJ Wilson off the glass. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

In Michigan's seven conference games, DJ Wilson is second on the team in scoring, first in rebounding, third in assists, and first in blocks. The efficiency numbers look even better than the counting stats: Wilson leads the Big Ten in O-Rating, ranks third in 2P%, 3P%, and eFG%, has the second-lowest turnover rate, and is top-25 in offensive rebound and block rates. Over the course of the season, he's gone from being most notable for his short shorts to being the most important—and perhaps outright best—player on the Wolverines.

Wilson bounced back from a scoreless foul-out against Wisconsin with a complete, dominant outing against Illinois: 19 points (6/8 2P, 1/2 3P, 4/6 FT), six rebounds (five offensive), five assists, no turnovers, a block, and two fouls in 39 minutes. Illini coach John Groce was duly impressed:

“I thought they beat us up on the glass, and obviously DJ Wilson spearheaded that. I thought he was absolutely terrific today. To be honest with you, he was pretty good in game one, too, when you look at his stat line. Today, he hurt us on the glass. Assuming that none of his five assists contributed to threes, he basically produced 29 points minimum for their team with his assists and his scoring.* That’s right at probably half of their production. That’s his energy level on the backboard, his willingness to make the extra pass, make his team better. I just thought he was absolutely terrific in the game. Thought he was a real, real difference.”

Let's start with Wilson's work on the boards. He grabbed six offensive rebounds for the second time this season (Iowa); excluding those two games, however, he hadn't surpassed two since the second game of the season. After the game, John Beilein mentioned he's been hammering home a specific coaching point with Wilson:

He can really shoot, but he’s got to understand, if we’re going to win, if he wants to play at another level, he’s got to mix it up inside. And he’s very receptive to that coaching, but the habit is to drift out. And getting in there, that’s where he gets stuff.

Wilson played with more aggression against Illinois and reaped the rewards. Incidentally, the threat of his outside shot is part of what makes him such a dangerous offensive rebounder. Take his first-half tip-slam, for example. Wilson is parked in the near-side corner while Zak Irvin and Moe Wagner run a high pick-and-roll. With Irvin a legitimate threat to drive and Wilson a legitimate threat on a catch-and-shoot, Wilson's defender, Leron Black—who's Illinois' best rebounder—ends up stuck in no-man's land. Black keeps his eyes on Irvin while shuffling back towards Wilson, except Wilson recognizes the opportunity and sneaks down the baseline:

That wasn't the only time Illinois had trouble picking up Wilson when he crashed from the perimeter:

If you feel like you've seen this before, Glenn Robinson III's putbacks came in similar fashion. Wilson is much bigger; he's also a better outside shooter. After this performance, he should be the second man hitting the boards much more often.

*Two of Wilson's assists did, in fact, contribute to three-pointers, so you can increment that up to 31 points produced.

[Hit THE JUMP for more DJ, a surprising Zak Irvin stat, and more.]

Basketbullets: Bracket Watch, X Emerging, Dakich's Surprise

Basketbullets: Bracket Watch, X Emerging, Dakich's Surprise

Submitted by Ace on January 10th, 2017 at 4:48 PM

Bracket Watch: Getting Late Early

Regarding NCAA hopes, Michigan is backed into a corner. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

After taking only one of three winnable games to start Big Ten play, Michigan has put themselves squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, and it will be difficult to recover from many more slip-ups.

Michigan is one of the last four at-large teams to make the field in the Bracket Matrix, which is updated as of last night. Of the 28 brackets that were updated yesterday, the Wolverines make only 11. As SI's Michael Beller points out in his first edition of Bubble Watch, they've left themselves with little room for error:

Michigan (11–5, 1–2) is in a similar spot [as Northwestern], without the pent-up frustration of never having made the tournament. The Wolverines did their best work to date out of conference, knocking off SMU and Marquette. But they’ve already lost to Iowa and Maryland in league play and are just 2–4 against likely or potential at-large teams. Michigan is not going to be the brand of team that can afford too many losses to teams without at-large hopes, which may end up describing both of their opponents this week, Illinois (11–5, 1–2) and Nebraska (9–7, 3–1). 

That home game against Nebraska is as close to a must-win as you'll get at this point in the year. In addition to tomorrow night's game in Champaign, Michigan gets Illinois at Crisler next Saturday, and a sweep of the Illini would be of significant help; they're the last at-large team in the field on the Bracket Matrix.

Michigan needs to turn it around now because their conference schedule is brutally backloaded. They're favored on KenPom in five of their next eight games and underdogs in five of their last seven; incidentally, five of the next eight are at home and five of the last seven are on the road. Because of the number of coin-flip (or close) games, KenPom currently projects Michigan to finish 9-9 in conference, which would likely put them right on the bubble with a little work to do in the conference tournament. As esteemed Maize Rager and numbers-cruncher Crisler Spidey points out, however, 8-10 is currently more likely than 10-8:

Yikes. 9-9 is now the median at 21%, and 8-10 is more likely than 10-8. Remember what I just said about exceeding expectations? That's because these are the current expectations. The Wolverines have a huge week coming up with a road game against fellow "First Four Out" team Illinois, followed by a home game against conference wild card Nebraska. I really think they need to win both to stay alive. Kenpom claims they have a 38.2% chance of winning both. There have certainly been flashes of greatness from this Michigan team, but they have yet to piece it all together for 40 minutes since the 2k Classic. Now would be an excellent time for the proverbial light to go on.

Yikes, indeed.

[Hit THE JUMP for some less depressing stuff, I promise.]

Seth's Bracket Assist Widget

Seth's Bracket Assist Widget

Submitted by Seth on March 16th, 2016 at 3:40 PM


You will probably have to create your own copy but then you can type in any two teams and make a comparison. Thank you to Kenpom for the data and helpful Google Sheets script writers for helping me calculate distances. Drive times are calculated as 1.3 minutes per mile.

To get a copy:

Follow this link and play around with it on google sheets.


  1. Follow this link to the spreadsheet.
  2. Go to "File" and "download as". Choose a format and the rest is up to you.

To use it just put the two teams you're trying to compare and the round (it will return wonky stuff if those two teams aren't able to meet there). It'll show you things like Off and Def rank on Kenpom and a win confidence based on a factor of the average 1 seed will be 100% to beat an average 16 seed. It'll also bring up the site of the game and, new this year, the distance for each team in driving hours. Last it'll show any injuries I knew about when I made it last night.


Jimmystats: Bracketology Week

Jimmystats: Bracketology Week

Submitted by Seth on March 17th, 2015 at 1:12 PM

Howdy bracketeers! Annual bracket building post is annual, though my predictions last year wound up pretty bad. First the tools and how to use them.

Kenpom. The all-knowing. This year's best team not invited was #45 Florida. The worst team in is #250 Hampton. I had to know, so I looked up the worst team in the history of Kenpom (since 2002) to be invited to the Dance. It's Mississippi Valley State, the 298th team in 2008.

In fact there's a pretty enormous drop-off from most of the 16 seeds and the MEAC and SWAC entrants, who had an average Pyth of 0.296 (i.e. they'd win less than 30% of their games vs. an average opponent). For reference, the worst Big Ten teams in that span (2003-2005 Penn State) were .361, .334, and .341 respectively. In fact I only found six power conference teams—2013 TCU, 2008 Oregon State, 2012 Utah, 2013 Mississippi State, 2012 BC and 2011 Wake Forest—who've ever been worse than the average MEAC or SWAC champion. I get the part about giving the top seeds basically a bye, but the tournament can find more deserving small schools than whoever won a conference tournament whose competition level is below that of many high school leagues.

For what it's worth, Kentucky this year is the best team in the history of Kenpom. The only two in sniffing distance were 2008 Kansas and 2013 Louisville.

Seth's Annual Matchup Maker. This lets you set a chaos factor and match any two opponents, immediately seeing where the game will be played and any relevant injuries. You just input the teams and the round. Front page looks thus:


FiveThirtyEight. Lots of tools on there, as well as important articles about how, for example, pre-season rankings matter despite plucky things that occurred after.

The Power Rank. Listeners to Brian's weekly roundtable on WTKA know Ed Feng. Ed creates this:


(right is zoomed)

…interactive chart using his win probabilities so you can see how stupid your picks are relative to each other. Run around the circle to make sure you haven't picked a dead in the water first round upset, but I think he's best at end game. This year you can see Kentucky is in a league of its own, then Zona, Duke, Nova, Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Virginia are a clear second tier.

Bracket Science Bracketmaster. Peter Tiernan is getting better at monetizing his comprehensive bracket database, which is unfortunate because I really liked to use the Bracketmaster for patterns, like what kind of team does Wisconsin usually lose to in the tourney, has this coach been to the Dance before, and things that super hardcore NCAA basketball fans know and I don't know offhand because I was off the wagon for a time. If you don't mind paying (there are far worse people you can give money to than Tiernan) you can get all the goodies, but the free stuff is great for narratives, for example if you want to track how Big Ten teams have fared since 2005 vs other Power Confs:


WSJ's Blind Comparison. The Wall Street Journal's blindfold bracket is your bias check, though this year they didn't do, opting instead for a slider-based bracket generator using things like "defense wins championships!"

Disclaimer: You will be wrong.