Blind Resume: Which Bubble Teams Are Most Deserving of 2019 NCAA Tournament Bid?
Is it truly March Madness until we've done a few blind resume comparisons?
These teams, whom the committee might also be comparing head-to-head right now, all rest squarely on the bubble. Oftentimes, blind resumes intentionally use just a portion of the data in order to misrepresent a certain team's form—but, there will be no tricks or games here. The purpose of this exercise is to focus solely upon what the computer numbers have to say by stripping away the team names and proverbial eye tests.
Well, one comparison doesn't involve bubble teams, but that is for your health. Nine of 10 doctors strongly recommend not staring directly into this year's bubble for more than just a few minutes. Side effects may include confusion, nausea, headaches, blurry vision and the uncontrollable urge to throw things at walls.
Before diving in, here are the major quadrants that will be mentioned repeatedly:
Q1: home vs. NET top 30, neutral vs. NET top 50, road vs. NET top 75
Q2: home vs. NET 31-75, neutral vs. NET 51-100, road vs. NET 76-135
Q3: home vs. NET 76-160, neutral vs. NET 101-200, road vs. NET 136-240
Q4: home vs. NET 161-353, neutral vs. NET 201-353, road vs. NET 241-353
So. Many. Losses.
Team A: 16-16, NET: 37, KP: 28, SOS: 5, NCSOS: 16, 5-10 vs. Q1, 4-5 vs. Q2, 7-1 vs. Q3/Q4
Team B: 17-15, NET: 53, KP: 42, SOS: 52, NCSOS: 212, 6-9 vs. Q1, 2-6 vs. Q2, 9-0 vs. Q3/Q4
It's always important to warm up before you exercise, so we'll start with an easy one. If you don't immediately recognize both of these teams from their overall and Quadrant 1 records, you haven't been paying attention to the bubble.
While it's easy to know who Team A and Team B are, it has not been easy to determine which one is more worthy of a bid—or if either one even deserves to dance. There has been much griping about the total number of losses on both ledgers, but there are a bunch of quality wins keeping them afloat.
Both teams have won around 36 percent of their games played against the top two quadrants, which is similar to mid-major bubble teams Furman, Lipscomb and UNC Greensboro. Of course, the difficulty in comparing them is that these two teams went 9-for-24 and 8-for-23 against those groups while the other three teams each went 4-for-10.
Moreover, the Quadrant 1 wins for these teams are much more impressive. Team A beat North Carolina on a neutral court, defeated Kansas State on the road and scored home wins over Iowa State, Purdue and Kansas. Team B twice defeated Michigan State and had home wins over Wisconsin, Louisville and Marquette. Furman did have a great road win over Villanova, but the next-best victory among that mid-major trio was a road win over bubble-y TCU.
Team A played a much tougher schedule—especially nonconference—but it acquired a bad loss (vs. Radford). Is that the de facto tiebreaker that puts Texas (Team A) behind Indiana (Team B), or does the strength of schedule give the Longhorns the edge?
Team C: 19-13, NET: 35, KP: 30, SOS: 33, NCSOS: 116, 1-10 vs. Q1, 6-3 vs. Q2, 12-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Team D: 20-12, NET: 54, KP: 76, SOS: 58, NCSOS: 56, 1-8 vs. Q1, 2-3 vs. Q2, 17-1 vs. Q3/Q4
One of these two teams is Clemson, which infamously blew chance after chance at quality wins—frequently in heart-breaking fashion. The Tigers lost six games by either one or two points, and in most of those cases, they either missed a shot at the buzzer or watched an opponent drain the game-winner as time expired. A home win over Virginia Tech was their only Quadrant 1 win of the season.
But which resume is Clemson's, and which less-discussed, maybe-on-the-bubble team are we comparing with the Tigers here?
The two big differences separating these resumes are the KenPom rankings and the Quadrant 2 records. Though on the Q2 subject, let's be sure to note that Team D won six Q3 games against teams in the NET 76-105 range. None of Team C's 12 Q3/Q4 wins came against the top 105. And even three of its Q2 wins were road games against teams outside the NET top 110. In other words, the middle-tier records aren't as diverse as they appear.
One interesting note from a metric that is entirely meaningless this year: RPI thinks these teams are identical. Both Team C and Team D entered Friday with an RPI of 0.5649, tied for 58th place. So we would have spent a lot more time comparing Clemson (Team C) and Memphis (Team D) in previous years.
The two major problems for Memphis are that its best win (vs. UCF) wasn't that great and it only has one win away from home in 11 tries against the top three quadrants. But in terms of overall record, NET ranking, strength of schedule and Quadrant 1 record, these two sets of Tigers are more similar than most seem to realize.
Team E: 22-7, NET: 42, KP: 54, SOS: 188, NCSOS: 268, 1-5 vs. Q1, 3-1 vs. Q2, 18-1 vs. Q3/Q4
Team F: 25-5, NET: 46, KP: 53, SOS: 196, NCSOS: 75, 2-2 vs. Q1, 3-1 vs. Q2, 20-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Team G: 23-7, NET: 48, KP: 52, SOS: 213, NCSOS: 62, 2-3 vs. Q1, 1-3 vs. Q2, 20-1 vs. Q3/Q4
Team H: 26-6, NET: 60, KP: 81, SOS: 104, NCSOS: 124, 2-6 vs. Q1, 2-0 vs. Q2, 22-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Of all team comparison debates, this might be the most important.
Everyone keeps grouping these four teams together in their arguments that mid-major teams deserve more of a shot at the NCAA tournament. But even with this year's weak bubble, finding four spots just isn't realistic.
We need to decide on one mid-major team to rally around. Otherwise, they'll all get left out like they did in 2016 when Monmouth, Saint Mary's, Hofstra, San Diego State, Saint Bonaventure, BYU and Valparaiso all went to the NIT while teams like Syracuse and Tulsa backed into the Big Dance with questionable resumes.
So, which of these pups most deserves a shot at the big dogs?
The metrics are similar for all four teams. Team H is behind the pack in both NET and KenPom, but it played the toughest schedule and did not suffer a single loss against the bottom three quadrants—which balances things out. The other most noteworthy difference is that Team E is the only one without two Quadrant 1 wins, but its lone Q1 victory was the best of the bunch, by far.
Despite the two bad losses, Team F seems to have the best resume: It has the fewest overall losses despite a solid nonconference schedule and it went 5-3 against the top two quadrants while the other three each went 4-6. (Team G is now 3-6 because its home win over Vermont temporarily dropped to Q3 with the Catamounts at No. 76 in the NET.)
That's why I have Belmont (Team F) in the projected field with Furman (Team E), Lipscomb (Team G) and UNC Greensboro (Team H) on the outside looking in.
If there is room for two teams, UNC Greensboro is probably the most deserving. Five of its six losses came against the NET top 15, and three of those games were highly competitive.
Although it doesn't seem likely, what the committee should do is pit Indiana and Texas against UNCG and Belmont in the First Four.
Team I: 19-13, NET: 39, KP: 43, SOS: 31, NCSOS: 145, 4-9 vs. Q1, 8-1 vs. Q2, 7-3 vs. Q3/Q4
Team J: 22-9, NET: 63, KP: 62, SOS: 69, NCSOS: 46, 3-3 vs. Q1, 8-2 vs. Q2, 10-4 vs. Q3/Q4
These resumes are both disgusting, yet most bracketologists have both teams making it into the field.
They each fared quite well against Quadrant 2, which the fans have a tendency to overlook—honing in on the great wins and the terrible losses instead. But eight wins with a winning percentage of 80 or better is rather impressive.
That said, there are some seriously crooked numbers in the bad losses column for these teams. Not only are there too many Q3/Q4 losses, but each team has two Q4 losses as well. Team I had embarrassing home losses to Stephen F. Austin (KenPom No. 311) and Texas Southern (KP No. 215) while Team J had more-acceptable-but-still-dreadful home losses to Princeton (KP No. 178) and Washington State (KP No. 211).
And the great wins aren't that great for either squad. Team J's best win was a neutral-site game against Mississippi State. And Team I's best victory was a home game against Texas Tech when the Red Raiders were clearly at their lowest point of the season.
Even with four more losses, all the metrics say Baylor (Team I) is a better tournament candidate than Arizona State (Team J). But are the Bears as safely in the field as so many seem to believe?
They stormed into the mix as a projected No. 7 or No. 8 seed in early February, but they have lost seven of their last 11 games with Makai Mason at less than 100 percent. They're lucky there aren't many bubble teams making an overwhelming case for a bid this year.
Team K: 30-3, NET: 2, KP: 2, SOS: 47, NCSOS: 66, 4-3 vs. Q1, 6-0 vs. Q2, 20-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Team L: 29-2, NET: 4, KP: 13, SOS: 41, NCSOS: 119, 5-2 vs. Q1, 9-0 vs. Q2, 15-0 vs. Q3/Q4
After dealing with all those bad losses, we need a break from the bubble. So, here are two teams who deserve to be in the race for a No. 1 seed and who the NET suggests are two of the four best in the country. They both played top-50 schedules, won a handful of Quadrant 1 games and completely avoided losses outside that group.
So why is Team K usually projected two seed lines better than Team L?
Based on this bird's eye view, if anything, Team L should be getting that preferential treatment. It has a better winning percentage against Quadrant 1 and, thus far, has four more wins against the top two quadrants. It might get three more before the selection show. Aside from KenPom ranking, there's not much to justify Team K being ahead.
Gonzaga (Team K) does have a neutral-site victory over full-strength Duke, though. And two of its three losses were against other candidates for a No. 1 seed (North Carolina and Tennessee). Prior to its loss to Saint Mary's in the WCC championship, it was a strong candidate for the No. 1 overall seed.
But Houston (Team L) deserves more credit than it is getting. The Cougars have home wins over LSU and Cincinnati as well as road wins over Cincinnati and UCF. They have also won home games against Utah State and Temple—each of which is barely outside the NET top 30, so those could be Q1 wins in a day or two.
Houston was a No. 3 seed in the top 16 reveal in early February, and that was before either of the wins over Cincinnati. But most of us are still projecting the Cougars for the same spot as five weeks ago. If they win the AAC tournament, why shouldn't they be a No. 2 seed, at least?
Terrible Nonconference Schedules
Team M: 22-11, NET: 33, KP: 32, SOS: 171, NCSOS: 353, 3-9 vs. Q1, 6-0 vs. Q2, 13-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Team O: 22-10, NET: 41, KP: 39, SOS: 97, NCSOS: 304, 4-9 vs. Q1, 7-0 vs. Q2, 11-1 vs. Q3/Q4
Similar to the first comparison between Texas and Indiana, Team M is identifiable with a quick glance at their resume. We have spent just about the entire season complaining about North Carolina State's nonconference strength of schedule, which ranks dead last in the nation at No. 353. In between wins over Auburn and Penn State and a loss to Wisconsin, the Wolfpack feasted on eight terrible opponents at home.
But all that focus on NC State's NCSOS has allowed Team O to skate by without many mentioning its joke of a schedule.
Like North Carolina State, Team O knew it was going to have a brutal conference schedule and decided to take it easy with the rest of the slate. More than half of its nonconference schedule was Q4 home games against UMKC, Green Bay, Alabama State, Western Carolina, Savannah State and Bryant. And it did not play a true road game.
Iowa (Team O) went 11-0 against that schedule, but at what cost? A home win over Iowa State was the only noteworthy result, and its only truly impressive win in Big Ten play was a home game against Michigan. The Hawkeyes got some Quadrant 1 road wins over Indiana and Penn State, but they went 0-6 against Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland.
Because they managed to win 10 Big Ten games in spite of that—and in spite of a home loss to Rutgers two weeks ago—it probably won't matter. Iowa is likely to be in the NCAA tournament. But it's hard to understand how the Bracket Matrix has this nonconference chicken safely in as a No. 8 seed while everyone questions NC State's credentials. Either they're both safely in or they're both in trouble.
The Gator Dilemma
Florida: 18-14, NET: 32, KP: 29, SOS: 42, NCSOS: 135, 3-11 vs. Q1, 4-1 vs. Q2, 11-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Team P: 18-14, NET: 70, KP: 64, SOS: 51, NCSOS: 165, 4-8 vs. Q1, 5-4 vs. Q2, 9-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Team Q: 19-13, NET: 82, KP: 86, SOS: 81, NCSOS: 249, 5-6 vs. Q1, 6-5 vs. Q2, 8-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Note: Florida upset LSU in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday and likely punched its ticket to the Big Dance. However, we're leaving this comparison in here with numbers and records from Friday morning so you can get a sense of how badly the Gators needed that win and how close Team P is to the at-large conversation.
Let's not even try to hide the main identity this time: Florida is the story here.
The Gators have three Quadrant 1 wins, but the overtime game at LSU is the only one worth bragging about. (Road wins over Alabama and Arkansas were nice, but they don't move the needle.) Aside from that, this resume is primarily missed opportunities. They entered Friday's game against LSU with a 1-9 record against the NET top 20, and they suffered unideal home losses against South Carolina and Georgia.
Somehow, though, the metrics have adored this team all season long.
That's nothing new from one of the metrics. In 2014-15, Florida went 16-17 and still finished 34th on KenPom. This year, the Gators were given a lot of credit for their 32-point win over North Florida, 34-point win over Butler and 18-point win at Alabama. They were already a top-40 team before each of those games, and they jumped at least six more spots in the rankings after each of those blowouts.
But it appears the NET is drinking the Gator-ade, too, as its ranking is nearly identical on both lists.
What if the committee focuses more on quadrant results than NET rankings, though? Both Team P and Team Q were better than Florida in marquee games. Florida went 7-12 against the top two quadrants. Team P is 9-12 while Team Q is 11-11.
It's just too bad Xavier (Team P) and Georgetown (Team Q) suffered blowout losses about as often as they got blowout wins. Entering Friday, the year-to-date scoring margins were +1.4 for Xavier, +1.6 for Georgetown and +4.9 for Florida. Evidently, that's enough for Florida to rank 40-50 spots higher in the NET.
I don't believe Xavier or Georgetown belongs in the tournament, but there's clearly an argument to be made that Florida doesn't belong, either.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.