Past precedents are never guarantees of the NCAA Tournament selection and seeding process. They can, however, be a solid tool for projections.
With the selection committee set to announce its top 16 at the Bracket Preview this weekend, it is officially crunch time for bracketology. Yet, with only a month remaining until Selection Sunday, there are still several resumes that are tricky to place amidst the field and/or bubble conversation. Historical precedent is far from the be-all-end-all in these cases, but it might be worth taking a peek into the past to determine how the committee might approach such teams.
The following metrics are listed on team sheets for the NCAA Tournament selection committee: NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), Strength of Record (SOR), Kevin Pauga Index (KPI), KenPom, Sagarin, and Basketball Power Index (BPI). The NET is a standalone NCAA-created metric developed from the Krabby Patty’s secret formula that is a mix of efficiency and results-based numbers. SOR and KPI are resume metrics while KenPom/Sagarin/BPI form quality, or predictive, metrics.
First off, shouts to Bart Torvik for the sensational “similar resumes” tool on his website. While some of the comparisons below required a bit more deep digging to determine their fit, Torvik’s algorithm is extremely helpful with determining notable team sheet equivalents. His tool takes into account different statistics than what is on the selection committee’s team sheets but the results are often similar.
Due to the limited availability of historical end-of-season metric rankings, the comparisons and analyses below are shrunk to only team sheets from 2016 to the present. Now, without any further ado, let’s dive into what we can learn from recent history with regard to this season’s trickiest team sheets to evaluate.
The Wisconsin/Providence conundrum
Wisconsin and Providence are the two most important teams to look for during the Bracket Preview. The Badgers and Friars both have the pure resumes (SOR, KPI, and quadrant records) to land as high as the No. 2 seed line at this point in the year. However, their quality metrics would indicate teams more likely to be projected along with the No. 8-10 seeds. The chasm between their resume and quality team sheet numbers is enormous, which leads to a wide spectrum of potential seed results if Selection Sunday was this weekend.
Wisconsin and Providence have relatively similar overall team sheet profiles and fit alongside the same resume comparison as a result. Last season’s version of Oklahoma State similarly dominated in resume metrics without being well-liked by efficiency standards. Those Cowboys also posted an excellent record in Q1+2 games, just like the Badgers and Friars.
The 2021 Oklahoma State team landed a No. 4 seed and that is the precedent to know.
If Wisconsin or Providence end up on the No. 3 line or higher at the Bracket Preview, that will be very good news for teams reliant on resume metrics whereas it would be bad news for those betting more on their efficiency marks.
Miami, Davidson take the argument to the bubble
While Providence/Wisconsin epitomizes the resume vs. quality metrics argument near the top of the S-curve, Miami is displaying the importance around the bubble. The Hurricanes rank outside of the top 60 in both NET and quality metrics while boasting strong resume metrics. They have also proven capable of beating good teams while exhibiting an 8-5 record in Q1+2 games. A pair of head-scratching Quad-3 losses are holding back their resume.
Our team sheet comparison for Miami is the 2019 version of St. John’s. While not a perfect match due to SJU having a lower resume average than Miami, they fit rather nicely. The Red Storm similarly performed well against good teams — albeit with a worse winning percentage — and suffered a pair of bad losses.
The 2019 St. John’s squad earned an at-large bid but as a First Four team for its efforts. It is important to note, though, that the Red Storm had a slightly worse resume than Miami has right now. The Hurricanes should be in a slightly better position than the First Four, as evidenced by a No. 10 seed in our most recent bracketology field.
Davidson is in a similar position to Miami, although without the number of quality wins. While the Hurricanes are 8-5 in Q1+2, the Wildcats are only 4-4. As you would expect, this likely places Davidson closer to the cutline and hands the Wildcats a different comparison point. Wichita State of 2021 is a strong comparison with similar results essentially across the board. The Shockers had slightly worse metrics compared to the Wildcats but they are comparable; their Q1+2 combined records are even while the Shockers had one more bad loss.
All things considered, Davidson has an ever-so-slightly better resume right now than Wichita State did a year ago. The Shockers wound up earning a First Four bid, just like the aforementioned 2019 St. John’s team, and the Wildcats are drawing closer to the same fate – or perhaps worse – following their loss to Rhode Island over this past weekend. An elite winning percentage only carried Wichita State so far, and the case could be the same with Davidson.
Houston is the Spider-Man meme
Houston’s resume is right up there with the most challenging to place right now due to the lack of recent historical comparisons. The Cougars are extremely well-liked by efficiency metrics, ranking in the top 10 across the board in the NET, BPI, KenPom, and Sagarin. However, they also are only 1-3 in Quad-1 games and their resume metrics sit outside of the top 20. Everything indicates that they should earn a No. 6 seed or better based off metrics, but how high is their ceiling?
Bart Torvik’s No. 1 “similar resume” for 2022 Houston is … 2021 Houston. I didn’t want to use this comparison and searched for others in recent history that could be better examples, but this is as close as it gets. The fact is that Houston’s 2022 resume looks at its 2021 resume like the Spider-Man meme.
Houston earned a No. 2 seed last season, so that feels like a good place to start as a potential ceiling for this year’s version right now. With the Bracket Preview approaching, though, I would not anticipate seeing the Cougars that high. They might not have a Quad-3 loss like last season but they also do not have as many quality wins and are rated lower by resume metrics. It feels likely that Houston is featured in the Bracket Preview but as a No. 3 or 4 seed.
If they are not featured at all, that is bad news for teams holding onto stronger quality metrics.
Iowa, UNC test the limits of quality metrics
Speaking of teams relying on metrics over results, look no further than Iowa and North Carolina. These two teams are a combined 0-12 in Quad-1 games this season, which is heavily limiting their seeding ceilings. If they continue to lack those quality wins further into the season, they will quickly become very nervous bubble teams. As it stands, our most recent bracketology has both the Tar Heels and Hawkeyes sitting on double-digit seed lines.
Iowa is perhaps the more volatile of the two when it comes to seeding. The Hawkeyes rate in the top 20 across the NET and quality metrics, but their lack of quality wins is dragging down their resume metrics. There is a 27-spot gap between their resume and predictive metrics at this point. Their resume comparison is not perfect but last season’s Syracuse team fits some extent.
The Hawkeyes have much better NET and Quality metrics than ‘Cuse did last season, but their resume metrics and overall quadrant records are similar. Expect Iowa to be safer right now than Syracuse was last season, but for reference, the latter earned a pure No. 11 seed (not First Four).
North Carolina earns the exact same comparison to 2021 Syracuse and this fits a little bit better. Their metrics are more similar across the board, and their quadrant records are pretty comparable as well. While UNC rates better than last year’s ‘Cuse by not having any losses outside of Quad-1, they lack that strong win that the latter had. It is reasonable to expect that the Tar Heels could be in a similar position as the 2021 Orange: right on the cutline.
Oklahoma and the value of opportunities
Bubble teams from the nation’s best conferences are always among the trickiest to figure out because of their sheer number of opportunities for quality wins. Oklahoma is a perfect example of that this season. The Sooners are only 14-11 overall but 17 of their games played have been in Q1/2 games. Comparing them to mid-majors like Davidson or Murray State in the same seed areas is nearly impossible. Oklahoma has seven Q1+2 wins, which is great, but at some point winning percentage in those games has to matter.
Our team sheet comparison right now is to that of last season’s Maryland team. Those Terps did not have a Quad-3 loss, which the Sooners currently have, but they similarly struggled against quality competition. Maryland went 7-13 (.350) in Q1+2 games while Oklahoma is currently 7-10 (.412). The Terps had better resume metrics, though, so the comparison is pretty even.
Maryland was awarded a No. 10 seed for its regular-season efforts. Oklahoma is similarly in position for a No. 9-11 seed right now. As is the case with the Big 12, though, more opportunities loom and the Sooners could rise or fall drastically from this point forward.
How far can Alabama’s elite wins go?
Alabama is an example of a team with ample opportunities that has made the most of them. While the Crimson Tide have a couple of head-scratching Quad-3 losses, they have been able to overcome those with an excellent 10-7 record in Q1+2 games and superb metrics.
When it comes to examining their seed, it is worth wondering how much the committee will truly dive into the quality of those Quad-1 wins. Alabama doesn’t have “normal” Quad-1 wins; they hold victories over Gonzaga, Houston, LSU, Tennessee, and Baylor – all of which are currently projected to land top 4 seeds in our projected field.
The best comparison that I could find was 2016 Texas. The Longhorns were not as strong as the Crimson Tide this year in terms of Quad-1 winning percentage, but they also had one fewer Quad-3 loss. In terms of their “elite wins,” Texas beat North Carolina, Iowa State West Virginia (twice), Baylor, and Oklahoma that year – all of which earned No. 4 seeds or better.
Texas earned a No. 6 seed. Alabama is currently projected as a No. 5.
Oregon, Dayton, Rutgers and bad losses
While having elite quality wins outweighs bad losses for teams already positioned to make the field (Alabama), that might not be the case on the bubble. Dayton, Oregon and Rutgers are all teams currently on the outskirts of the bubble conversation with at least two Quad-1 wins each but three combined Q3+4 losses. Those bad defeats could prove to be problematic when it comes to cross-referencing them against other teams with similar metrics.
Dayton and Oregon most closely resemble last year’s Mississippi team from a team sheet perspective. Both the Flyers and Ducks have three Q3+4 losses and are rated better in quality metrics than they are by efficiency metrics. Much of the same applies to the 2021 Rebels.
The 2021 Mississippi team did not make the NCAA Tournament (No. 1 seed to the NIT). Oregon and Dayton are in similar positions in our most recent bracketology field as two of the first 12 teams out.
Rutgers, conversely, has better resume metrics than quality metrics, making its comparison team sheet a tad different. Last season’s Arizona State team is perhaps most applicable due to their strong Q1+2 record of 11-6 (Rutgers is 7-6 this year but with more Quad-1 wins) and similar bad losses. Arizona State reached the Big Dance as a First Four competitor but Rutgers still has work to do to put its resume in that positioning. The Scarlet Knights’ NET and quality metrics are currently quite a bit behind where ASU’s numbers were a year ago.
If Rutgers can improve its efficiency down the stretch, it might find itself back in the projected field. Overcoming those bad losses, though, is a challenge even for a team with five Quad-1 wins.