The Heat Check CBB staff breaks down the biggest topics and takeaways from Saturday’s March Madness Bracket Reveal.
The NCAA on Saturday hosted its fifth annual March Madness Bracket Preview show, revealing the top 16 teams as it currently stands as of February 12.
Among the many topics discussed on the CBS show included the squads picked on the top four seed lines as well as how the tournament will proceed amid COVID-19. The Heat Check CBB staff conducted a quick roundtable with questions and answers based on Saturday’s segment.
—BRACKET PREVIEW: Predicting the 16 teams
—BRACKETOLOGY: Latest field of 68
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Q: What’s your biggest takeaway from the 16 selections in Saturday’s Bracket Preview?
Eli Boettger: Minus Oklahoma’s inclusion, I don’t know if the top 16 seeds were all that surprising. However, I was most interested in Dan Gavitt and Mitch Barnhart’s comments on how the tournament will proceed amid COVID-19. Gavitt said that he doesn’t expect teams will be eliminated from the tournament if players test positive. Instead, players will be isolated and the tournament will continue. This is a good sign for the integrity of the bracket, though it could get a little messy if a team is down a significant player or two. Then again, that’s been the story all season long.
Andy Dieckhoff: It would appear that the committee isn’t giving quite as much weight to “Star Power” as I have been, as evidence by Alabama (No. 53 in the Gold Star Guide) being on the 2-line ahead of Virginia, as predicted by the DPI Bracket math. Same goes for Andy Enfield and USC, who have the Guide’s No. 1-ranked star in Evan Mobley, but missed out on the Top 16. Time for a little recalibration! Considering that the bracket math currently accounts for teams’ DPI Grades and Gold Star ratings, which don’t calculate wins into their respective formulas, it’s probably worth leaning a little more heavily on the NET rankings and the Quadrant Performance scores if I’m trying to best replicate the Selection Committee’s thought process and final bracket.
Connor Hope: This is probably more confirmatory than surprising, but success against Q1 opponents seemed to play a significant factor. Oklahoma State is the only team with five or more Q1 wins to miss out on the Top 16. Four out of the eight teams with four Q1 wins are in, and they happen to be the four with the fewest opportunities (therefore having the best winning percentages). Of the remaining four teams, Virginia and Houston have winning records in Q1 games and Villanova, Michigan and Texas have zero non Q1 losses. Of the Top 16 teams in the NET to miss the Top 16 overall seeds, only USC has a winning record against Q1 opponents. If this trend continues through the rest of the at-large bid process, there are likely going to be a lot of mid-major teams disappointed in March, especially if they had Q1 games cancelled due to COVID protocol.
Lukas Harkins: The NCAA Tournament selection committee has always valued quality wins but this season that seems to be even more important. Oklahoma is the most obvious example, as the Sooners were outside of the Top 16 for most bracketologists heading into the day (my top No. 5 seed). They rank outside of the Top 16 in all major metrics and six of their total wins to date have fallen in Quadrant 4. With that said, though, OU is 4-5 in Q1 games and that includes victories over three others in the Bracket Preview (Alabama, Texas, West Virginia). The value given to quality wins should make bubble teams in the Big 12 and the Big Ten very happy while worrying some of the mid-majors that will not have those types of opportunities. It’s obviously important to have the best teams in the sport make the dance, but I’m not sure this is a positive development this year. There are so many potentially fun mid-majors or Mountain West teams that do not get the chance to play Top 30 teams all that often — this development to value quality wins this highly in an abnormal year for non-conference scheduling is worth noting and perhaps could hurt potential Cinderellas.
Brian Rauf: At the risk of beating a dead horse, it has to be Oklahoma, right? The committee was obviously swayed by their quality wins and valued that over metrics. That’s bad news for the Pac-12. Colorado and USC both warranted inclusion based on their NET and KenPom rankings but lacked quality wins. Both were left out and there may not be a path for them to crack the top group.
Q: Who do you expect to climb in and fall out of the Top 16?
EB: I expect Oklahoma, Florida State and Purdue to sneak into the conversation. Each of these teams have picked up high-end wins throughout the seasons and have a number of additional opportunities between now and Selection Sunday. I’m especially curious to see what happens with Loyola Chicago. If the Ramblers can run the table, Porter Moser’s team would be sitting with just three losses during the bracket reveal with a NET ranking and KenPom ranking presumably around 10th nationally. That has to be at least worthy of discussion, right?
LH: Even with the importance of quality wins being evident this season, I think that Missouri is the most likely to fall out of the Top 16. The Tigers are a brilliant 4-1 in Q1A games this season and have a sparkling record. It is easy to see why their resume belongs in the Top 16 right now. Their SOR (fourth) and KPI (eighth) are great, but quality metrics indicate a potential dropoff as they are sub-35 in all of the BPI, KenPom and Sagarin.
As far as climbing in, I think I might look towards USC? The Trojans do not have the same level of quality wins that some of the Big 12/Big Ten teams have but they could simply dominate the Pac-12. Houston hasn’t played a rigorous schedule but they are a No. 2 seed at 17-2 and with strong metric rankings. The Trojans are a slight step behind the Cougars in metrics but are Top 20 basically across the board and boast a similarly strong overall record at 16-3.
AD: I think I’m with Lukas. I like USC as the favorite to climb in, even if it feels strange having positive opinions about anything to do with the Pac-12. (Note: Yes, I’m probably a bit biased because of my familiarity with Evan Mobley from my work with the Gradebook.) But for real, this team is good and I’m not sure what kind of resistance they’re really going to run into down the stretch. So long as they don’t make a habit of losing bad games (see: Oregon State) they should be able to secure a top-four seed. Mitch Barnhart indicated they were right on the cusp today, too. That said, I think the absolute ceiling is a three-seed, given the relative strengths of other power conferences such as the Big Ten and Big XII, both of which expect to deliver multiple entries into the final top 16.
Oklahoma is the team I’d expect to fall out, given their current computer rankings (outside of the top 16 in all but one of the considered metrics, including the NET itself). They have some tough matchups coming up against WVU and Texas, but it’s worth noting that the Sooners will have a pretty soft landing, finishing off the regular season with Iowa State, Kansas State, and a series against Cade Cunningham and OSU. Not really sure what to make of their seeding now, though, to be honest. Still a little jarred from the fact that they were included in today’s reveal!
CH: I am going to go a different direction and say the Texas Longhorns. As much as I will admit that Shaka Smart has changed my mind about his team this season, their struggles lately have been consistent and don’t seem to be ending. They finish the season with road games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech and home games against Kansas and West Virginia, which is bound to lead to more losses.
BR: I expect Oklahoma and Missouri to fall out with Florida State and potentially Loyola Chicago relaxing them. Both the Sooners and Tigers have been inconsistent while FSU’s ceiling is sky high. I’m including the Ramblers for fun but, as Eli mentioned, they should win out and rank in the top 10 on most metrics. I don’t think either Pac-12 team will be able to hold serve without suffering a bad loss, and I don’t think anyone else with a chance to reach the top 16 will suddenly catch fire.
Q: During the reveal, CBS broke down the bracket into Regions 1 through 4. Think the NCAA will be a bit more creative with region names?
EB: I was certain that the regions would be named during Saturday’s reveal but it appears the NCAA is still waiting to make a decision. My guess is that the regions will still be named after corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola or Buick but I’m open to just about anything that commemorates Indiana legends or the college basketball’s late heroes.
AD: As I’ve mentioned a couple times in the past few weeks on Twitter, I’d like to see the NCAA use the brackets as a kind of memorial for some of the coaches that we’ve lost over the last year. It has been a pretty rough year from that aspect, with the basketball community losing legends and rising stars alike. A collective show of respect and recognition on the sport’s biggest stage could be really special, if handled correctly. I won’t pretend to be the person who knows how to handle it correctly, but there are a lot of smart people out there. I’m confident someone could do this idea justice … if the NCAA is willing to sacrifice a potential jackpot in naming rights fees.
LH: I’m not sure that “creative” is the right word. I do not believe that they will be numbered regions and they will have some name attached to them, but I’m not super optimistic about seeing exciting and/or sentimental region titles. As Eli indicates, it might just be corporate sponsors that are featured in the four corners of everyone’s printed sheets next month.
BR: Yes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold them to corporate sponsors but I really like Andy’s idea of naming them after legendary coaches that passed away this year — John Cheney, Lute Olson, Eddie Sutton and John Thompson.
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