The three predictive metrics featured on bracketology team sheets (KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI) have released their preseason rankings. How do those averages project the 2023 NCAA Tournament field to look?
The 2022-23 college basketball season is nearly here. And while teams are yet to take the court for any actual action, preseason rankings are running rampant. The AP Top 25 is out, as are coaches and media rankings for respective conferences. None of those matter to NCAA Tournament resumes, though.
KenPom, BPI and Sagarin are the three predictive – or “quality” – metrics that the committee sees on its team sheets in March. They have also already released their preseason rankings. Thus, we can create an “analytical composite bracket” based on how computers view teams in the preseason.
The methodology for this analytical composite bracket is simple. The bracket below is derived from a straight average of the three quality metrics. Each team was ranked 1-363 on that average, then auto-bids were determined by the highest rated for each conference. At-larges and seeding reflect the averages as well.
This bracket is not a prediction. It is also not a representation of my opinions. For lack of a better term, it is a “starting point” in analytics for each squad.
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Takeaways from analytical expectations
1. Computers love the depth of the Big Ten
A prevailing thought this offseason has been that a down season is on the horizon for the Big Ten. Yet, computer projections indicate a potential nine-bid league with Maryland – a tenth team – sitting as the first team out. It is worth mentioning that three of the nine inclusions were among the last seven teams in the field, but analytics are still giving the conference plenty of preseason love. The Big Ten’s nine projected bids lead all conferences.
Indiana, the league’s preseason favorite, earned a No. 3 seed as the 10th-highest-rated team in the country. Iowa (No. 5 seed), Ohio State (No. 6 seed), and Purdue (No. 6 seed) followed closely behind.
2. Analytic outcasts stay that way
North Carolina and Creighton landed at No. 1 and No. 9 in the preseason AP top 25 for this campaign. However, computer consensus is not nearly as high on their respective potential. The Tar Heels and Bluejays were far from analytic darlings last season, having both finished the regular-season outside of the KenPom top 35. Those lower finishes compared to their fellow highly-touted peers for this year led to worse opening analytic expectations.
Additionally, Providence was the biggest analytic enigma last season. The Friars won the Big East regular-season title and reached the Sweet 16…yet still finished 32nd on KenPom. Now, they enter this season on the outside looking in based on computer composite.
3. Big East is projected to have a down season
Creighton and Providence are not the only Big East programs with reasonable gripes about preseason computer rankings. One could argue that the entire conference is disrespected in this projected field. Creighton, the league’s favorite, earned just a No. 5 seed. That would be tied for the lowest top-seeded Big East team in the 21st century. Only five teams are projected to receive bids.
Not shown in the projected field above are the rankings of the non-tournament teams. Providence falls as the second team out, but it is the only one even close to the field. Seton Hall and Marquette are the 12th and 22nd teams out, respectively. Butler, who many believe could have a bounce-back campaign under Thad Matta, is the lowest-rated Big East team at 87th nationally (41st team out).
4. Where is the Mountain West?
San Diego State is prominently placed as a projected No. 5 seed…but where is the rest of the Mountain West? The conference placed four teams in the Big Dance a year ago, but only earns one bid based on preseason computer projections. Furthermore, the other potential at-large contenders aren’t anywhere near the analytic field.
Computers view Boise State, Wyoming and Utah State as the next most-likely Mountain West teams to dance after SDSU. None of them are among the first 30 teams out. Colorado State, who landed a No. 6 seed last season, is ranked 98th nationally – well outside the projected field.
5. Mid-major at-large hopefuls have poor starting spots
Will a league outside of the top 10 earn multiple bids? If preseason computer rankings are any indication, it would take a lot of work even for a mid-major darling to make it happen. UAB, the highest-rated team outside of the top 10 leagues, is 62nd nationally; this would place it as the 15th team out if not for the automatic bid.
According to the computers, the next highest-rated middies to watch are Drake (71st), North Texas (82nd), Furman (83rd) and Toledo (84th).
6. Texas eying its first No. 1 seed since 2003?
Texas is beloved by preseason metrics, earning a No. 1 seed in the composite field. The Longhorns come in as the No. 2 overall team in both KenPom and BPI. They are not as well-respected by Sagarin (No. 12), but their average still placed them ahead of the defending national champions and the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
Computers have set sky-high expectations for Chris Beard’s second season in Austin.
7. Virginia poised for a bounce-back year
Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament last season, but the computers are not expecting a repeat performance. KenPom especially loves the Cavaliers, placing them at No. 5 in the preseason rankings, but they are also top 25 in BPI and Sagarin. As a result, Tony Bennett’s team is an early projected No. 4 seed. Hopes are high for a return to national prominence; remember, they won the national championship in 2019.