Blind Resume: Which Bubble Teams Most Deserve 2017 NCAA Tournament Berths?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 11, 2017

There's a pretty good [Riley] LaChance that Vanderbilt will be in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
There's a pretty good [Riley] LaChance that Vanderbilt will be in the 2017 NCAA tournament.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

You didn't think we'd let you get all the way to Selection Sunday without some blind 2017 NCAA tournament resume comparisons, did you?

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, what follows is four side-by-side pictures of bubble teams' resumesexcept their identities are concealed until the end of each section. It's meant to help you compare them without the bias of knowing the names on their jerseys.

For the most part, these teams are among the consensus last five in or first five out. In other words, these are the exact resumes the selection committee has likely been arguing about for the past few days.

However, there may also be the occasional squad most think is comfortably in but might be dangerously close to the bubble. There also might be a team or two no one is talking about on the bubble or in the field, even though their resumes show they clearly belong in the discussion.

If you know who these squads are after one glance at their bios, congratulations. Clearly, you have seen the sun about as often as I have over the past month. But even for the most vitamin D-deficient and sleep-deprived bracketologists out there, it's a good exercise to compare teams head-to-head that maybe haven't been that close together in the projected field.

         

Blind Resume Comparison No. 1

Good Wins vs. Bad Losses
ResumeTeam ATeam B
Record20-1227-6
RPI5634
KenPom5456
SOS41121
NC SOS182145
vs. RPI Top 506-80-1
vs. RPI Top 1008-99-5
RPI Sub-100 Ls31
RPI Sub-200 Ls20
Sources: Warren Nolan & KenPom

It should be apparent from the overall records, as well as the records against the RPI Top 50, that Team A is from a major conference and Team B is not. But that doesn't change the fact there might be a decision to include one and not the other if Team B fails to win its conference tournament.

As far as KenPom.com is concerned, this is a dead heat. They're separated by an AdjEM (adjusted efficiency margin) of just 0.09 on a ranking scale on which the best team and worst team in the nation are more than 63 full points apart.

And even though Team A has six RPI Top 50 wins, RPI is decidedly in favor of the minor conference squad. There are four reasons for that: A) Only one of Team A's six great wins came away from home. B) Only one of them came against the RPI Top 25. It's important to remember that not all records against the RPI Top 50 are equal. C) Team B did work against opponents in the RPI 51-100 range and D) avoided suffering multiple RPI-crushing losses to teams outside the Top 200.

So which is better? A team that had some awful losses and occasionally capitalized on its plethora of opportunities by playing in a major conference or one from a minor conference that did what it could against its schedule and had a better nonconference SOS than the major conference team?

   

The Reveal

Providence is in some trouble.
Providence is in some trouble.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If all the "bad losses" talk got you thinking Team A is Syracuse, I've done my job. Team A is actually the Providence Friars, and Team B is the Nevada Wolf Pack.

The Friars lost games to Boston College, DePaul, St. John's and Ohio State before finishing in a four-way tie for third place in the Big East. Had they lost the tiebreakers and received the No. 6 seed in the BE tournament instead of the No. 3 seed, more people would be ready to accept they're smack dab on the bubble.

But this one is all about giving a shoutout to Nevada. The Wolf Pack only got one shot against the RPI Top 50, and it wasn't a fair one. Two of their three leading scorers were new transfers (Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline), and they opened the season on the road against Saint Mary'swhich was No. 3 on our preseason list of teams returning the most talent from last season. Play that game today on a neutral court, and Nevada has a good shot at winning.

The Wolf Pack should win the Mountain West tournament Saturday over Colorado State, but it will have a great case for a bid if it falls short.

   

Blind Resume Comparison No. 2

The Reminder to Schedule Aggressively
ResumeTeam ATeam B
Record19-1422-10
RPI4346
KenPom3645
SOS260
NC SOS1289
vs. RPI Top 506-85-8
vs. RPI Top 10011-1311-9
RPI Sub-100 Ls11
RPI Sub-200 Ls10
Sources: Warren Nolan & KenPom

The nonconference season was a lifetime ago. In many cases, rosters and role allocations have changed so much since November that you wouldn't even recognize these teams if they played against a version of themselves from four months ago.

And with so many people waiting until after the college football season ends before getting into college basketball, 98 percent of tournament resume conversations focus on what teams have done lately.

But the selection committee doesn't forget. In fact, it usually makes an example of at least one team that didn't bother to try during its first 13 games. Think South Carolina (NC SOS 300) last year or SMU (NC SOS 303) in 2014. Those teams appeared to have done enough for a bid, but the first seven weeks of those respective seasons caused them to miss the dance despite their winning at least 23 games.

Might Team B be in a similar boat on Selection Sunday?

It has a nice record against quality opponents and didn't suffer any terrible losses, but it also scheduled five NC home games against teams outside the RPI Top 275. Teams don't have to be like Long Beach State by scheduling true road games against six national championship contenders every year, but they are expected to know better than to dine on cream puffs.

Team A had the best NC SOS in the nation but took on a ton of losses in the process, going 2-6 in its eight NC games against the RPI Top 100. Yet it ended up with virtually the same RPI Top 50 record as Team B and had a comparable record against the RPI Top 100. Even though Team A suffered considerably more losses, don't be surprised if the selection committee rewards that aggressive scheduling.

  

The Reveal

Virginia Tech played a few too many laughers in November and December.
Virginia Tech played a few too many laughers in November and December.Peyton Williams/Getty Images

If you've paid any attention to the bubble in the past few weeks, you already know Team A is Vanderbilt. The Commodores could become the first 15-loss team to receive an at-large bid, assuming they suffer a defeat in the SEC tournament, and after a regular-season sweep of Florida, it's easy to like their chances.

Team B is Virginia Tech. Despite playing in the Wooden Legacy and winning a road game against Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Hokies ended up with an abysmal nonconference SOS. And it was one bucket that made a huge difference. If they had beaten Texas A&M instead of losing that game by three, they would have taken on UCLA in the Wooden Legacy championship game instead of facing Nebraska in the consolation showdown.

But the higher-ups at VT had to know that was a distinct possibility and should have scheduled better than Maine, VMI, Charleston Southern, The Citadel, Maryland-Eastern Shore, High Point and UMBC for its other games. It's tempting to give the Hokies a pass because of how well they fared in ACC play (11-7), but the committee may punish them for trying to tiptoe through November and December.

Blind Resume Comparison No. 3

RPI vs. KenPom
ResumeTeam ATeam B
Record19-1225-7
RPI5922
KenPom2950
SOS4064
NC SOS19282
vs. RPI Top 508-72-3
vs. RPI Top 1009-1010-5
RPI Sub-100 Ls22
RPI Sub-200 Ls01
Sources: Warren Nolan & KenPom

Despite the push in recent years to let metrics like KenPom play a bigger role than RPI in selecting and seeding the field, teams usually finish the season similarly by both standards. For instance, Virginia Tech (46 vs. 45) and Creighton (28 vs. 27) both opened Friday with RPI and KP ranks within one of each other. Until you venture well outside the Top 100, you're not going to find any teams separated by 40 or more spots.

But there are always a few teams that look great in one metric and bubbly in the other.

Team A is our KenPom darling, ranking No. 29 on the tempo-free site by blowing the doors off a bunch of bad teams. It won games against Western Carolina (RPI: 271), SIU Edwardsville (333) and Howard (337) by an average margin of 37 points. It won a total of nine games by at least a 22-point margin, even though only two of those nine opponents are anywhere near the projected field.

Team B also thrashed a few terrible opponents, but it only won four games by more than 17 points and got 14 of its wins by a margin of 11 points maximum. Team B also lost a game against KenPom No. 70 by an 18-point margin.

What's weird here is you would think that Team A would be the one way ahead in RPI based on the RPI Top 50 record. But that's not the case. Team A has eight RPI Top 50 wins yet doesn't even rank among the Top 50, which is a combination I can't recall ever happening before.

  

The Reveal

Are we sure Marquette is getting in?
Are we sure Marquette is getting in?Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Team A is Marquette, which is our second bubbly team out of the Big East. In addition to the middling RPI, the Golden Eagles got both of their wins against Creighton and Xavier after those teams lost their starting point guards to torn ACLs. And one of their other Top 50 wins might not be one by Sunday, as Georgia is right on the cut line.

Team B is Virginia Commonwealth, which has been outside the Top 40 on KenPom since its back-to-back losses to Illinois and Georgia Tech in early December. The Rams also picked up a hideous loss to Fordham in overtime, which could make things interesting, in spite of their RPI.

A ton of wins against mediocre teams are buoying them. Beating the likes of George Mason, George Washington, Richmond and St. Bonaventure is expected, but VCU's RPI looks great because it went 7-0 against those teams in the RPI 80-105 range. Dissect their schedule a little bit, though, and you'll find the Rams went 3-0 at home and 0-4 away from home against the RPI Top 65.

If VCU fails to win the Atlantic 10 tournament, it could be in trouble.

  

Blind Resume Comparison No. 4

The Forgotten Squad
ResumeTeam ATeam B
Record20-1326-6
RPI6932
KenPom7849
SOS68122
NC SOS70148
vs. RPI Top 502-101-2
vs. RPI Top 1003-132-4
RPI Sub-100 Ls02
RPI Sub-200 Ls01
Sources: Warren Nolan & KenPom

There are a bunch of fun directions to go with the blind resume game, but it's almost mandatory that you loop in at least one team no one is talking about for an at-large bid and compare it to one of the last teams in or first teams out.

As you can probably surmise from the overall record and RPI, Team B is one everyone agrees is on the bubble. But what if Team B had played as many games against the RPI Top 50 as Team A?

It's the oft-asked but impossible-to-answer question of how a team would have fared in a different conference. If the ACC traded Clemson to the WCC for Gonzaga, maybe they'd both be in the projected field as No. 6 seeds instead of one as a No. 1 and one as a potential No. 4 in the NIT.

The selection committee cannot operate in those hypotheticals, though. These teams did what they did against the opponents they faced, and they're the resumes you have to evaluate.

But, pray tell, why hasn't Team A been prominent in the bubble conversation? We've got teams in the projected field with losses to RPI sub-200 teams like Boston College, DePaul, Fordham, Missouri, UTEP and Murray State, but we can't shed a little light on a team with two quality wins and no losses outside the RPI Top 100?

I appreciate that Team A's RPI and KenPom rankings aren't the greatest, but if you're not including every above-.500 team in the RPI Top 100 in your initial bucket of candidates when trying to project the field, you're not doing it right.

  

The Reveal

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy hopes the selection committee takes a hard look at his team's resume.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy hopes the selection committee takes a hard look at his team's resume.Patrick Murphy-Racey/Getty Images

Team B is Illinois Statethe bubbliest team of the week. Since the Redbirds lost to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game last Sunday, they have been sweating bullets while watching other bubble teams kick them from last team in to first team out and back again.

In the end, though, we're talking about a team that got smashed twice by Wichita State and only won one game against the RPI Top 85 and two games against the RPI Top 130. If you think switching from RPI to KenPom is going to help get some of these little guys into the field, just know that Illinois State's RPI is the only thing keeping it in the conversation.

Team A is Ole Miss. The Rebels won games against South Carolina and at Vanderbilt and didn't lose a single one to a team outside the KenPom Top 70.

As of Friday, not a single one of the 114 projections on Bracket Matrix had Ole Miss in the field, and it's impossible to imagine anyone will be adding the Rebels after their SEC quarterfinal loss to Arkansas. But the committee always throws us a curveball. Only one person projected Tulsa last year. Three got N.C. State in 2014. Seven somehow got Iona in 2012.

In a year when we're debating whether to include teams such as Providence and Syracuse, who scheduled poorly and suffered awful losses, maybe both get left out in favor of a team like the Ole Miss Rebels, who didn't have any losses that raised red flags.

  

Stats are courtesy of WarrenNolan.comKenPom.com and Sports Reference and are current through the start of play Friday. Win-loss records only include games played against Division I opponents.

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report.

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