Joe Cook from 1-3-1 Sports is a good friend of mine, a friend of the blog, a Michigan grad and fan, and a bracketologist that you need to know. Since starting his NCAA Tournament projections in the 2011-12 season, Joe has been one of the best bracketologists (who project both which teams gets in and what seed they will receive) anywhere in the world – hands down (and forget about Lunardi and Palm, as you’ll see below).
Today, Joe has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Maize & Go Blue about Michigan’s chances of Dancing later this month with just one more regular season game to go, how the Selection Committee works, Michigan fans’ rooting interests down the stretch, and much more.
Q: Joe, let’s get right to the people’s question: What needs to happen for Michigan to make the field of 68 on March 13? Do the Wolverines still control their own destiny?
Answering this question has become a little tricky with Iowa’s recent slide. The Hawkeyes have lost four in a row, and holding court against them in Ann Arbor will no longer carry the weight we thought it would two weeks ago. It’s hard for me to sit here and say that a win on Saturday night locks up an at-large bid for Michigan, because that’s misleading.
In the hypothetical scenario where UM beats Iowa and loses in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, they would ruin the one pristine portion of their resume remaining – no bad losses. If we see this unfold, I believe Michigan is roughly a coin flip to make the field on Selection Sunday. If it happens that Michigan loses to the Hawkeyes, and wins one game in the B10 Tournament before bowing out, I believe they’ll have about a 1 in 4 chance of making the field. In any scenario where Michigan wins at least two more games, they will not be left out of the tournament. Similarly, in the event that Michigan loses two straight to close the season, they can make plans to host some NIT games.
|Michigan’s NCAA Tournament scenarios
||Beat Iowa and win 1st Big Ten Tournament game
||Beat Iowa, lose 1st Big Ten Tournament game
||Lose to Iowa, win 1st Big Ten Tournament game
||Lose to Iowa and 1st Big Ten Tournament game
Q: As it stands today, where does Michigan land in your projections? What are the chances John Beilein’s squad will have to play an extra game in Dayton?
I currently have the Wolverines as an 11-seed and one of my last four at-large teams in the field, slotted for a play-in game against Cincinnati. Piggybacking off of my answer above, I believe that the only scenario that is likely to put Michigan in Dayton on Selection Sunday is the one where they beat the Hawkeyes and lose in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. My hunch is that the Wolverines will be on the outside looking in if they only garner one more mediocre win. Lose twice in a row, and they’ll be in Ann Arbor; win twice or more, and they shouldn’t have to deal with the extra game.
Q: Who are the four or five teams that Michigan fans should really be pulling for down the stretch and the four or five teams that Michigan would really like to see flounder late?
Down the stretch, Michigan fans really need to pull for any team that Johnny B. and company have played already, as this will improve their RPI and SOS. In particular, Michigan fans should root for NC State, Penn State, Texas, and Maryland.
NC State (116) and Penn State (111) closing the season well could potentially boost their RPIs into the top 100, giving Michigan three more “solid” wins on their tournament team sheet. Texas finishing strong could show the committee that Michigan is capable of beating a top 25 team on a neutral court (though they need to forget the part where this was in November and Michigan had Caris LeVert for this particular game). If Maryland can climb their way up to a 2-seed come Selection Sunday, that would “add” a win over a true powerhouse to Michigan’s resume.
Furthermore, cheering for teams like St. Mary’s and Wichita State to win their conference tournaments to avoid bid stealing is also important. In terms of teams to cheer against, it would help Michigan most to see fellow bubble teams struggle. This list is chock-full of mid-majors, including St. Bonaventure, Butler, VCU, Tulsa, and Temple.
Q: The Big Ten has clearly been one of the top, if not the best, conferences in college basketball for a couple years running, but this season we’ve heard all sorts of conjecture and debate about which conference is king. Based on your bracketology and your formulas, what conference do you see getting the most teams into the NCAA Tournament and which conference do you think has everyone else looking up to it this year? How many teams do you expect the Big Ten to get in?
I honestly believe this is the most balanced I’ve seen power conferences spread since I’ve started my bracketology work. In my most recent bracket, released today (Friday, March 4th), there are seven teams apiece coming from the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the Pac-12… how’s that for balance!? Barring some miraculous conference tournament run by an underdog, I don’t see any of these conferences getting any more than seven in the final field, so I think a three- or four-way tie is the most likely scenario. With six locks to make the tournament (Michigan State, Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, and Wisconsin), Michigan will be the deciding factor on whether or not the Big Ten can get half of its teams in the field.
Q: I don’t want you to give away all of your prized secrets and formulas, but can you give us an idea of what your models take into account when projecting the field and their seed lines?
In years past, I was relatively busy with credentialing tasks related to furthering my career as an actuary, so I didn’t have as much time to watch college basketball as I would have liked. In those days, I used some simple linear regression models involving RPI, SOS, KenPom, etc. to develop a baseline for projecting the seeding of teams. Now that I’m at a point where I have a little more free time, I’ve used it to add in a lot more of my own “eye test” to really balance the qualitative analysis of a team with the quantitative analysis. Nonetheless, I want to make it clear that as a bracketologist, I’m not seeding teams based on my own personal judgment of the team’s merits; rather, my goal involves trying to go inside the minds of the committee members to attempt to analyze the teams the way the committee has in the past.
Q: Speaking of Committee members, from your research and experience, what does the Selection Committee factor into their decisions when filling out the bracket? And if you could, would you change anything about that process?
When you take a look at the list of the people who make up the Selection Committee, you’ll realize that they are some busy folks who probably don’t watch that much college basketball. Thus, it’s totally understandable for them to rely heavily on rating metrics to analyze and distinguish the teams they’ve had little exposure to during the season. That being said, I believe the committee is a dinosaur in that they still rely way too much on the outmoded rating system that is the RPI rankings. Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, and Kenneth Massey have all come up with ranking and rating systems for college basketball that are far more nuanced and indicative of the quality of a team; it would be nice if the committee focused more on these metrics.
Q: Obviously there are many factors that the Selection Committee weighs when deciding the field, but what would you say is the single best indicator of whether a team will make the Tournament? And what do you think should be the best indicator?
I believe the single best indicator of whether or not a team will make the tournament is whether or not they win their conference tournament. All jokes aside, including a degree from Ohio State, the single best indicator, unfortunately and without a doubt, is a team’s RPI ranking. The general rule of thumb is that a team outside the RPI top-60 should not be considered for an at-large bid. It is noteworthy that Michigan is currently ranked 58th in the RPI rankings. In a perfect world, the selection process would be one big eye test, where a group of unbiased college basketball aficionados gather together and hash it out to determine the NCAA Tournament field.
Q: We’ll be going head-to-head in our bracket picks again this year, but I want a little bit of an advantage after you’ve beaten me the past two years, so can you tell us one or two teams that you are really looking to perform well later this month?
I’m still looking forward to those rounds of golf you are now indebted to me! This year, I’m going to be doing a rather in-depth statistical analysis to create a model for projecting a team’s tournament success. This model will be based on factors that are correlated to the success of past tournament teams. The model is near completion, but some final tweaking needs to be performed before I input this year’s information. Thus, I’ll be relying solely on the basketball I’ve watched this year to make my picks.
I believe Kansas will be a tough out, despite Bill Self’s occasional ineptitude in March. Oklahoma’s offense built around Buddy Hield is explosive, but Lon Kruger’s 16-16 record in the NCAA Tournament makes me shy away from wholeheartedly suggesting the Sooners. I think that if the bracket shakes out right, North Carolina and Michigan State could make it a rematch of the 2009 championship game, and I doubt the Spartans would get completely housed this time around.
Q: We all see Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm on TV as we get closer and closer to Selection Sunday, and I think too many people take these guys’ word as gold because they have such a large platform, but just how good are the national bracketologists and how well have your projections matched up with theirs in the past? Are there are any national pundits that seem to stand out as doing very well or very poorly when compared to the Bracket Matrix?
In the bracketologist rankings on the Bracket Matrix website, in terms of the bracket veterans (bracketologists who have been releasing projections for three or more years), Lunardi is ranked 36th of 89 and Jerry Palm is ranked 56th of 89 in terms of accuracy. As for how my projections stack up…I’ll just say they stack up very well. The Bracket Matrix website aggregates the projections of all the bracketologists across the internet, and creates composite projections, while also ranking the bracketologists for accuracy. The blurb at the top of the rankings page explains the scoring and ranking process. Looking at the results, I have been the second most accurate bracketologist over the past four years, and the most accurate over the past three years. If this year goes as planned, I’ll be able to move into the top overall spot in the rankings and never look back!