Eh, I'm fine with it. Not getting Detroit over an MSU team with two wins over tourney teams and two double-digit Ls to Michigan, neither at Crisler, is annoying. But other than that I'm not trading draws with them. Michigan pulled the weakest #1 and weakest #2. Gonzaga's a strong #4 and that's usually good since there's a better shot they take down the 1 before the E8. In this case the 1 is so weak that Kenpom favors Gonzaga in a hypothetical matchup. That's bad, but emphasizes how good the draw otherwise is.
And all of these hypothetical regional matchups would be happening in Los Angeles, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from anyone in the region. Flip M into MSU's slot and they're staring down Kenpom #3 Duke and #9 Kansas… in Omaha. I'll take #7 UNC and #8 Gonzaga in a building that might slant to Michigan given the cosmopolitan nature of the fanbase over a roiling pit of Jayhawk partisans. Also, Izzo is 1-11 versus Duke.
Meanwhile, the first round. Michigan got the top 14 and top 6. The first probably won't matter—M has been installed as a 12 point favorite. Montana has five games against major conference opponents this year. They beat Pitt in OT, lost by 13 to PSU, lost by 16 to Stanford, and lost by three at Washington. All of those were on the road, naturally. They're 0-1 in Kenpom "A" games—the PSU outing—and 1-6 in "B" games, which include the aforementioned losses plus Ls against nonconference mid-majors Santa Barbara and Georgia State (a 15 seed) plus a 1-2 record in road games against the three toughest Big Sky opponents.
Despite that they're #71 in Kenpom, better than the other 14s by a fair distance. This is because they've hamblasted a bunch of Big Sky teams en route to a 16-2 conference record. When the difficulty level steps up they haven't been able to hang.
Montana plays a couple of 6'8" posts with no stretch ability and relies on their point guard for 27% of their shots; Synergy has them in the 14th percentile at catch and shoot and 16th on the off the dribble jumpers that Michigan has been very good at forcing. With all due respect to the Grizzlies, this isn't the picture of a 14-3 upset, especially against Michigan.
Rob Gray and his unfortunate hairstyle
The hypothetical second round. While Houston's had an impressive season boy do they look like the team you'd pick out for Michigan to play in round two. Let us run down the ways. Houston…
- Relies on a high-usage point guard. Rob Gray is at 29% usage; his efficiency relies on TO avoidance and getting to the line. 50% of his threes are unassisted. He's 6'1" and not super athletic. That's the profile of a heavily-relied-upon guy that X can turn into a potato.
- Is transition-dependent. Houston was #13 nationally in transition eFG; Synergy has them in the 91st percentile. They're only slightly above average in % of transition shots, but the upper reaches there are populated largely by teams that aren't any good and are just trying to get a shot up before the defense can get set.
- Relies on threes. Average number go up; 34th in hitting them. Michigan is top ten at preventing three launches. Two Houston players are Just Shooters and don't threaten much when you run them off the line.
- Lets you shoot threes. They're 195th in allowing them. 3PT D is good at 43rd but how much is luck, how much is real, etc.
The one thing that stands out on Houston's resume that's bad for Michigan is that their defense is massively foul-prone. Michigan is unlikely to take as much advantage of that as your average team.
In the "remains to be seen" category: Houston pounds the boards—17th—despite not having anyone taller than 6'8" on the floor. Houston is in fact tiny. Three different 6'6"-6'7" guys get about 75% of their minutes at the 4 and 5. Michigan has done very well at keeping the opposition off the boards and probably should in a hypothetical second-round matchup, but the sheer weirdness of Houston's approach here might give them avenues that Michigan isn't used to dealing with.
The other second round. Kenpom gives San Diego State a 34% chance at the upset of Houston and the Aztecs are an entirely different challenge. They're huge (18th nationally in height), three-averse, and frequently use a 2-3 zone. They have what might be the strangest three-game stretch in the country: a win against Gonzaga bracketed by losses to Cal (at home!) and Wyoming.
So despite the 6 vs 11 thing, I think I'd rather see Houston. San Diego State is not overly dependent on their PG (21% usage), doesn't run that well, runs a long-ass zone, and has a big Duncan Robinson matchup problem in Malik Pope. Pope is a diverse and athletic 6'10" four who can face up on or post Robinson and might be able to clobber him on the boards. Duncan's come a long way but I'm not real happy when the opposition rolls in with a 4 who's their biggest-usage guy.
But what about UNC? The Tarheels did clobber Michigan early in the year, thanks in large part to a 15 minute stretch spanning halftime during which Michigan got three buckets. This team is not that team. Eli Brooks played 18 minutes; Zavier Simpson played one minute more than Ibi Watson did. Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers both got their first real minutes against a real team—and on the road.
I would not expect Michigan to win that game, and that's fine. Michigan earned a three, got a three, and got what's actually the perfect Kenpom matchup at that point in the bracket: the #7 overall team vs the #10 overall team. But I don't think the first game is at all representative of what you should expect. UNC starts three seniors and two juniors coming off a national championship. Michigan had no idea who their point guard was or, frankly, what shape their ass was at that juncture.
UNC poses a bunch of matchup issues and Michigan will have to play their best game of the year to beat them. Even so I expect that to be tooth and nail. Should they be so fortunate to make the Elite Eight that game will feel like a breath of fresh air.
Don't even think about it. It will be UNC. Lipscomb? No. A 9-9 SEC team? No. Providence? No, even though their coach is Bunk Moreland. The Tarheels got a gift draw to the Sweet 16.
or big boy cool glasses [Campredon]
TIME TO PUT ON THE BIG BOY PANTS. It took a typical committee injustice to prevent Penn State from getting the Kenpom booby prize this year. They're the second-best team left out of the field, one slot behind St. Mary's. And they're a four-seed in the NIT. Same goes for Nebraska, which turned a (soft) 13-5 conference record into a 5 seed in that same tournament.
This is in part because both teams scheduled like garbage in the nonconference. Aside from their mandated Big Ten-ACC challenge games, this is what those two teams took on amongst power conferences and other actually good teams:
- Penn State: Pitt, Texas A&M.
- Nebraska: Creighton, Kansas, BC, St John's.
Nebraska deserves a little sympathy for coming up just short against those two tourney teams but the rest was dreck. This goes for the rest of the conference, too. The Big Ten's NCSOS markers per the NCAA's reckoning:
- Ohio State: 32
- Purdue: 71
- Wisconsin: 92
- Maryland: 141
- Illinois: 169
- Indiana: 201
- Iowa: 203
- MSU: 217
- Minnesota: 244
- Michigan: 259
- PSU: 265
- Nebraska: 274
- Northwestern: 306
- Rutger: 333
There are about 350 D-I basketball teams. Just five Big Ten teams were in the top half, and two just barely. I know the committee head basically laughed this metric off earlier this year, since the RPI is about 75% SOS all of that crap got lumped into actual RPI numbers and diced into quadrants and what not. It got batted back and forth as the league went through its conference schedule.
The league's scheduling has real impacts you can see when better ranking systems survey the landscape, like Seth Burns's implied pythag:
Pythag has a lot more respect for the Big 10 than the RPI has, and it shows here with the Big 10 getting three teams on the top two seed lines. Surprisingly (to me anyway), the ACC would only get one.
In a WAB (or Implied Pythag) world, Nebraska would be safely in. Ditto for St. Mary’s. Marquette and Middle Tennessee would be the last teams in, while Oklahoma State would be the first team out.
Nebraska's an 8. That's what they deserved. Oh and MSU's a 1 and Michigan a 2. But because our conference has its collective head up its Izzo, none of that came to pass. Nobody even thought about Nebraska as an at large because the collected weight of RPI boat anchors moved a top 30 Kenpom team (Penn State) out of the top 75 in RPI. And moved a top 50 Kenpom team (Maryland) almost out of same.
Hell, you don't need to even put on the Big Boy Pants. Just stop scheduling SWAC and MEAC teams, which are 8 points worse than the ASun. We'll see if next year's committee really dusts the RPI. If so, hooray. If not the league should fine any team that ends up with an NCSOS under 200.