NCAA Tournament 2013: Buying or Selling March Madness Hopefuls
As we near the midway point of the conference season, a lot of league races start to take shape and the Bracketologists get busy making their mock brackets.
But is it too soon?
In some leagues, you get an uneven road-home split in the first half of the schedule that leads to deceiving records.
Home-court advantage is no myth in college basketball. Stats guru Ken Pomeroy showed last season how much of an advantage has little to do with the venue, but it still exists.
"I don't think we make too much of home-court advantage," Pomeroy told me. "I think we make too much of Allen Fieldhouse has more of a home-court advantage than the United Spirit Arena. People may feel that there's a big difference from an arena to an arena. There's probably a difference, but it's really, really small."
Pomeroy's data taken over 10 years showed home court is worth about 3.76 points. He factors home court into his predictions for every game in combination with each team's efficiency numbers, and then the point spread is also influenced by the expected pace of the game.
For instance, North Carolina, who traditionally plays fast-paced, will have a wider spread than a team like Wisconsin that plays a much slower pace.
Looking at efficiency numbers often provides a clearer picture of a conference race than simply looking at the win-loss records, but the numbers do not factor in who is playing at home or on the road. (For a weekly look at efficiency numbers, check out John Gasaway's weekly "Tuesday Truths" at Basketball Prospectus.)
To see the influence of home and road games, I like to use a system I borrowed from David Moe, the son of legendary NBA coach Doug Moe. Moe's way of looking at the standings is simple. It rewards road wins and penalizes for home losses. A road win is worth one point, subtract a point for a home loss and home wins and road losses are worth zero.
Let's take a look at the six power conferences and see which teams we should buy, sell or wait and see.
Breaks in the Big Ten schedule happen as frequently as a Wisconsin up-tempo game. The Badgers have the closest thing with their remaining schedule. They play five of their final nine against teams with losing records in the league, and three of those games are at home.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has Illinois as one of the last four in. (Remember when the Illini were good and John Groce was a genius?)
Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 30 teams with losing conference records have made it, according to Lunardi's research. Connecticut was the only one last year.
The Illini have as good a nonconference resume as anyone, but then they went arctic cold and quit winning. They're not going to rack up enough wins to get to .500 and get in.
Jury's Still Out: Iowa
The top six teams are close to locks to make the tourney. Look for one team in the next tier to sneak in Illinois' place. Iowa fits the profile.
The Hawkeyes' overall record (14-8) is not awful, and they have five of their final nine at home. The only one of those home games against a team in the top six is against Minnesota. They also play winnable road games at Penn State and Nebraska.
Iowa fans, don't be the farm, but I'm saying there's a chance...
Big Ten Standings
If you were lucky enough to bet on Miami to win the ACC, go ahead and start dancing.
The Hurricanes could be as close to a lock to win their league as any team outside of their neighbor to the north Florida Gators.
Miami has won five ACC games on the road. The undefeated start is no fluke.
Maryland has yet to win on the road. The Terps' remaining schedule is relatively easy, but that could be a blessing and a curse. Their only chance left to get a real resume-building win is against Duke at home.
Jury's Still Out: Virginia
Lunardi has only four ACC teams in the tourney field with UNC in and Virginia as one of the first four out. The Cavaliers blew a good chance to get a road win on Sunday at Georgia Tech. Their only road win in conference play has been at Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers' strong start is a nice story, but I'm not buying them as a legitimate tourney team until they win a meaningful game on the road.
The Panthers have only two games left against ranked teams (at Pitt and at Marquette). They also own three road wins in conference play.
Jay Wright, you almost had me.
The Wildcats had a nice little run with back-to-back wins against Louisville and Syracuse, and they had that look of an up-and-comer. They followed those impressive wins with two duds: a loss at Notre Dame and a loss at home to Providence.
Lunardi has eight Big East teams in the tourney currently with Villanova as one of the last four in. Expect the Wildcats to fall off that line this week.
Jury's Still Out: Marquette
Don't start buying stock in Marquette just yet. The Golden Eagles were lucky enough to play five of their first seven at home, and they have only one league win on the road (at Pitt).
Sunday was a chance to show their legitimacy, and they got rolled by 19 at Louisville.
Big East Standings
Buy: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are only at plus-one with only one road win, but Saturday's win at Allen Fieldhouse wasn't just any road win. Wins at the Fieldhouse are so rare they should probably be worth two points.
OSU also has only one road game left against the top six (at Iowa State). Buy! Buy! Buy!
Sell: The bottom four
The only team out of that group that could maybe make a late-season push is Texas. The Longhorns get Myck Kabongo back on Feb. 13.
Jury's Still Out: Iowa State
The top six all have a good shot to get to the tourney; however, the Cyclones are the only one in that group that has a loss against one of the Big 12's bottom four (at Texas Tech), and they have only one road conference road win (at TCU).
Iowa State still has trips left to Texas and West Virginia, which could be considered must-wins if they slip up at home at some point.
Big 12 Standings
Lunardi currently has only four SEC teams in (Florida, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Missouri) with Alabama as one of the first eight out.
The Crimson Tide have some work to do, as they lost five nonconference games, but they overcame similar circumstances last season.
Alabama started 2-4 in the SEC and looked to be a team without much hope to make the NCAA tournament. The Crimson Tide ended up winning seven of their last 10 conference games to earn an NCAA bid and finish with a winning record in the SEC.
Alabama has only two games left against SEC teams on the positive side of the Moe standings—at Ole Miss and at Florida. That gives the Crimson Tide only two chances to get quality wins, but plenty of opportunities to rack up the W's.
The Razorbacks have two games left against Florida, two games left against Missouri and one game with Kentucky. Tough to see this team finishing with enough wins to get on the bubble.
Jury's Still Out: Missouri
The Tigers have yet to win on the road in the SEC. They have a good chance on Thursday against former Big 12 foe Texas A&M.
The Wildcats have five of their final nine at home and their only road game left against a team with a winning record in the league is at UCLA.
The Pac-12 is theirs to lose.
The Cardinal appear to be the Pac-12's hottest team with three straight wins, but they have only one conference road win (at Utah), and they play five more road games, including at Arizona, Oregon and Cal.
Jury's Still Out: Arizona State and Washington
The Sun Devils will play five of their last seven on the road. They have road wins against Washington State and Oregon State, but those aren't convincing enough to believe they're for real.
The Huskies, who beat ASU at home on Saturday, played five of their first seven on the road and were tied in the Moe standings with Arizona going into last Thursday night's games despite trailing Arizona by a game in the standings. That made Arizona's win at Washington on Thursday a significant one.
This team is either really streaky or has been a victim of its own schedule.