MBB: Continuing to make the case for an NCAA bid

Submitted by mfan_in_ohio on February 25th, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Since my part of the Worst State Ever was covered in a blizzard this morning, I had a chance to go ahead with more comparisons of Michigan to other bubble teams (previous comparisons included Virginia Tech and Butler).  Today I’ll look at two teams that ESPN has as a 10 seed, above the “last four in”, and another that is squarely on the bubble, a 12 seed in ESPN’s bracket.  Warning: this is long, and a product of me not having to work today.

First comparison: the Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Gonzaga is 19-9 and tied for first in the West Coast Conference with St. Mary’s (another bubble team).  I chose Gonzaga for a couple reasons: first, unlike St. Mary’s, their schedule strength is at least comparable to Michigan’s; second, they should now be above the last four in by virtue of their in last night at St. Mary’s.

A word on St. Mary’s: with three straight losses in the last 8 days (including RPI #317 San Diego), the Gaels’ resume has taken a big hit; Somehow, Joe Lunardi still has them as a 10 seed, but they are 3-6 against the top 100, with two of their three wins against the #63 and #99 teams.  Their lone big win was against St. John’s, which is a huge win, but it was also the first D-I game of the season for both teams.  With that record against good teams, and a loss to the  #317 team last week, I don’t see how they make the tournament without winning their conference tournament, especially since the loss to Gonzaga last night dropped them ten spots in the RPI.  Even if they make the WCC finals and lose to Gonzaga again, they’ll be in the mid-50’s RPI at best, with another loss on their resume.  Gonzaga, however, has enough top-100 wins that they should be able to sustain a loss in the conference tournament finals to St. Mary’s. 

Here are the wins and losses for each team.  The only common opponent is Illinois, who beat both Michigan and Gonzaga, though Michigan’s game was on the road and was much closer.  I again listed Gonzaga’s losses next to Michigan’s worst nine losses, which helps to make up for the difference in schedule difficulty.



Gonzaga                                      Michigan

RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

24       Xavier                                36       @ Michigan St.

51       vs. Marquette                    43       Harvard

56       @ St. Mary’s                       61       Oakland

57       Oklahoma St.                     62       @ Penn St.

83       vs. Baylor                           62       Penn St.

97       @ Portland                         65       @ Clemson

97       Portland                             98       Northwestern

107     IUPUI                                 111     Utah

121     San Francisco                     172     @ Iowa

162     Santa Clara                         172     Iowa

228     @ Pepperdine                    186     Indiana

228     Pepperdine                        250     Bowling Green

246     Lafayette                           252     Bryant

249     @ Wake Forest                   273     Gardner-Webb

278     @ Loyola Marymount          279     N.C. Central

278     Loyola Marymount              317     S.C. Upstate

315     San Diego

318     Eastern Washington

343     Southern



Gonzaga                                      Michigan

RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

                                                    1          Kansas

                                                    2          @ Ohio St.

                                                    2          Ohio St.

4          San Diego St.                   8          Purdue

10        @ Notre Dame                 13        @ Wisconsin

28        vs. Kansas St.                  13        Wisconsin

32        Memphis                          17        vs. Syracuse

38        vs. Illinois                       38        @ Illinois

56        St. Mary’s                         47        Minnesota

87        @ Washington St.             77        vs UTEP

121      @ San Francisco                98        @ Northwestern

162      @ Santa Clara                   186      @ Indiana

What stands out to me after doing this comparison is how equal these two resumes are.   Gonzaga has a win against a top 25 team in Xavier, but Michigan has more impressive road wins and better wins near the bottom of the top 100.  Gonzaga has three additional wins, but they played four more teams with an RPI above 200.  Each have three losses outside the RPI top 50 (none at home).  The real difference between these schedules is that Michigan played Kansas once and Ohio State twice, while Gonzaga played Eastern Washington, Southern, and Lafayette.  Also, Michigan’s losses were to better teams.

Next comparison: The Alabama Crimson Tide.  Alabama has an RPI of 78 (Michigan’s is 66) with a schedule strength of 139 (Michigan’s is 21).  They are 11-2 in the absolutely terrible SEC West, and 8-6 out of conference.  Bizarrely, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them above his last four in as a #10 seed.  It’s not just Lunardi, by the way; the Bracket Matrix shows that 36 of 68 brackets have Alabama in the field at the moment.  Here is the comparison between Michigan and Alabama, comparing Alabama’s 8 losses to Michigan’s 8 worst:


RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

16       Kentucky                           36       @ Michigan St.

29       @ Tennessee                     43       Harvard

73       Mississippi                         61       Oakland

105     Arkansas                            62       @ Penn St.

116     South Carolina                   62       Penn St.

120     Lipscomb                           65       @ Clemson

144     @ Mississippi St.                98       Northwestern

144     Mississippi St.                   111     Utah

205     @ LSU                               172     @ Iowa

205     LSU                                   172     Iowa

228     Pepperdine                       186     Indiana

231     SE Louisiana                      250     Bowling Green

255     Troy                                  252     Bryant

264     South Alabama                  273     Gardner-Webb

271     @ Auburn                          279     N.C. Central

271     Auburn                             317     S.C. Upstate

297     Alabama A&M

309     Florida A&M

328     Toledo



RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

                                                     1          Kansas

                                                     2          @ Ohio St.

                                                     2          Ohio St.

                                                     8          Purdue

8          @ Purdue                        13        @ Wisconsin

22        @ Vanderbilt                   13        Wisconsin

57        vs. Oklahoma St.              17        vs. Syracuse

99        vs. Seton Hall                   38        @ Illinois

105      @ Arkansas                       47        Minnesota

119      vs. St. Peter’s                  77        vs UTEP

143      @ Providence                   98        @ Northwestern

162      vs. Iowa                           186      @ Indiana

This just doesn’t make any sense to me.  There is simply no good reason to rank Alabama ahead of Michigan.  Four losses outside the top 100, another at #99.  A loss to Iowa, who Michigan beat twice.  This is simply an example of someone overrating one or two “marquee” wins and ignoring the overall resume.  The biggest marquee win, by the way, is over a Kentucky team that is 1-6 on the road in the SEC (Kentucky also lost road games to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Arkansas, and only managed to beat S. Carolina).   Their biggest out-of-conference win is at home against mighty Lipscomb. This is not a tournament team, and the SEC is not worthy of having six teams make the tournament.

Last comparison: the UAB Blazers.  UAB has an RPI of 34 and SOS of 55.  They are 19-7 overall, 9-4 in Conference USA.  They are 7-6 against the RPI top 100, but 0-5 against the top 50.  Lunardi has them as a 12 seed and one of the last four in.

RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

58       VCU                                  36       @ Michigan St.

59       @ Marshall                        43       Harvard

59       Marshall                            61       Oakland

69       @ UCF                               62       @ Penn St.

69       UCF                                   62       Penn St.

77       UTEP                                 65       @ Clemson

80       Kent St.                            98       Northwestern

105     @ Arkansas                       111     Utah

132     @ E. Carolina                    172     @ Iowa

147     George Washington          172     Iowa

173     Rice                                  186     Indiana

201     SMU                                   250     Bowling Green

221     Middle Tenn. St.               252     Bryant

240     @ Tulane                           273     Gardner-Webb

255     @ Troy                              279     N.C. Central

264     South Alabama                  317     S.C. Upstate

297     Alabama A&M

307     SE Missouri St.

336     Jacksonville St.



RPI     Team                                RPI     Team

                                                     1          Kansas

                                                     2          @ Ohio St.

                                                     2          Ohio St.

                                                     8          Purdue

                                                    13        @ Wisconsin

5          @ Duke                            13        Wisconsin

32        @ Memphis                      17        vs. Syracuse

32        Memphis                          38        @ Illinois

39        @ Georgia                        47        Minnesota

40        Southern Miss                  77        vs UTEP

91        @ Tulsa                            98        @ Northwestern

150      @ Arizona St.                  186      @ Indiana

The way I have this listed makes it look like this comparison is pretty even, maybe with UAB having a slight advantage.  However, I did compare their losses to Michigan’s 7 worst losses, so that distorts things a little.  Michigan is 2-9 against the top 50, compared to 0-5 for UAB.  Michigan is 5-2 against the RPI 51-100, compared to 7-1 for UAB.  The difference in schedule strength makes comparisons difficult, since seven of Michigan’s games are against the top 20, compared to only one for UAB.  However, they have about the same number of games against teams ranked 26-100.  Against those teams, Michigan is 7-4, and UAB is 7-5, with Michigan having better wins and UAB having better losses when going by RPI.  However, the RPI numbers in Conference USA are a little inflated, as #40 Southern Miss is not on the bubble at all, whereas #38 Illinois is fairly safely in the tournament unless they implode in the next two weeks.  UAB only has one win over a team anywhere near the tournament (VCU, in Lunardi’s “next four out”).  Among Michigan’s wins are the win at MSU (in the tournament), against Harvard (in if they beat Princeton, and currently about a 13 seed), and at Clemson, who is equivalent to VCU in bubble status.  Based on better wins, the comparison should go to Michigan.

Again, the point of these comparisons is not to suggest that Michigan belongs in the NCAA field.  However, it does show how close Michigan is, not just to a team that is on the bubble, but to a team that may be above the last four in.  The bubble is so large and so fluid at this point that two good wins (like beating Minnesota and MSU) or a single not-so-good loss (like BC losing to Miami (YTM)) can move a team up or down 5 to 10 spots in the famed S-curve.  We don't need to (and really can't) match the record of the 2008-09 team, we just need a few more good wins.  If Michigan wins their last two, a win in the BTT quarterfinals should be enough to get to the NCAA tournament.



February 25th, 2011 at 9:01 PM ^

Actually we can match the 2008-09 squad's record.  They were 19-12 regular season and 1-1 in BTT.  We can do exactly that.  We wouldn't have the top end quality wins but i think we'd have more top 50 wins and will end up playing a comparable schedule.  With the expanded field, and the fact that we got a 10 seed that year, I think 3-1 to end the season would be plenty.


February 26th, 2011 at 12:12 PM ^

I meant the marquee wins over Duke and UCLA.  I think both finished in the top 25 (not sure about UCLA).  However, I agree that, with the Big Ten's strength this year, 9-9 in conference and 1-1 in the tournament (beating Illinois and losing to OSU) should be enough.


February 26th, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

I'm basically going to take the teams that ESPN has and make a few changes. 

Remove Alabama; they don't have the resume, and the SEC isn't good enough.  Take out Butler or Milwaukee; just one Horizon team should make it.  Also, why does ESPN have both Horizon teams on the same side of the same region?  I also think that only one WCC school should make it after how St. Mary's has done to finish the season.  If Gonzaga beats them again in the WCC tournament, they should be out.  I would also take out Virginia Tech (unless they beat Duke tonight), as their 8-5 conference record is very misleading.  They have only played one game against UNC or Duke (lost a close game to UNC), and they have three bad losses.  Their best road win is at #100 N.C.St.  I'm a little shaky on Colorado St., but I'd leave them in, as they have a top 25 road win and beat #40 Southern Miss at a neutral site.  They've played about as many top 25 games as Michigan but actually won one on the road.  That gets them in, I think, even with two bad losses.

In their place, I would put the winner of the Minnesota-Michigan game as one of the last teams in right now.  If it's Minnesota, I think they might lose that spot in the next couple weeks, but their conference schedule has left them with winnable games to get to 9-9.  Even if they only get to 8-10, a couple wins in the BTT would give them a solid case, given that they have three top-20 wins, two at a neutral site (North Carolina and West Virginia).  Michigan needs to win three more games, but if one is today, and I had to set the field then, an 8-9 record in conference and 8 top 100 wins against only one bad loss is enough for me.  I would also include Boston College, who has struggled lately, but has a win over #26 Texas A&M, swept fellow bubble team Maryland, and beat Virginia Tech. They are very similar right now to Michigan, but their best win is a little better.  Last, I would put in Nebraska, who has two bad losses, but two very good wins (including against Texas), and is 6-7 against the top 100.  Their record away from home is terrible, but at least they pulled off two big home wins.  Alabama has two big wins as well, but four losses outside the top 100, and fewer top 100 wins.

A number of the other outside-the-bubble teams (Wichita St. and VCU) are struggling today, and so a road win over Minnesota would give Michigan a huge chance to make a jump up to or near the field.


EDIT: With Nebraska losing today to Iowa State, they definitely drop off the bubble (third bad loss), so I'd probably put St. Mary's back in.  The bubble teams are having a bad day, with Nebraska, Wichita St., and VCU all going down already, and Memphis in big trouble at UTEP.


February 26th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

..but I definitely admire your enthusiasm and love for the University of Michigan.  I like the work you are doing, but your work is based on logic and doing the right thing.  Logic and doing the right thing only work for about 50 of the bids at best.  Bubble teams fall beneath the line where logic gives way to dogma.

The problem I see is the autobids for winners of small conferences.  The system is set up so that in any given year, about 14 teams that have no business playing in the tournament do, and two or three will spring massive upsets in the first round, thus "justifying" their selection. The notion that champions of small conferences "deserve" to play for the championship is mere dogma.  It makes for a lot of cute, fluffy first-round stories, but it also prevents the tournament from actually selecting the best 64 (or 65, or 68, etc) teams.

I think smaller conferences should have a play-in during the week that the big conferences are having their championship tournaments.  If they want to have a tournament to determine their champions, they can do it a week earler.  The champions of the small conferences could have a 16-team field, playing down to four spots.  Then, at least the best 60 teams will be represented in the tournament instead of somewhere around the best 50.  And the four who make it in can say they earned it.

 It won't ever happen, though.  The NCAA appears to be set up so that Wofford's vote counts just as much as Duke's.  Since there are more small teams in D-1 basketball than there are major conference teams, the smaller conferences are going to win any votes that pit one against the other.

Maybe the bigger conferences should be put in a seperate division.  I would propose the BCS conferences, plus the MAC, WAC, CUSA, Horizon, WCC, and MWC.  I'm sure I may be missing one or two, but you get the idea.  

The conference suggestion begs a question from detractors: "What about George Mason?"

My answer: It's better to have one deserving team in twenty years get left out than around ten every year.