Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21 Update: Iowa State's and Oklahoma's Diverging Paths

For years the Big 12 Conference has been well-represented in the NCAA tournament. 50% or more of its teams have been selected for the tournament in 13 out of the 17 years of the Big 12's existence.  It has been 8 years since fewer than 6 teams were selected to go to the tournament, including the most recent two years since the Big 12 has been shrunk from twelve members to ten members.

The S-Factor today shows only four Big 12 teams in the tournament: Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.  Given the conference's history one would speculate that this estimate is probably too low, and that surely Oklahoma and Iowa State would be offered invitations to the big dance also, like Charlie Creme says.  I think this is half true.  I believe that Iowa State is likely going to be out of the tournament, but Oklahoma will be in.  Here's why.

Oklahoma had a big gutsy win against Texas on Pack the Place Pink Night at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman on Wednesday.  As a Sooner fan, I'm still on an adrenaline high from the win.  The Sooners had no business even being competitive, what with star guard and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg out with a concussion, and yet they pulled out the win in dramatic fashion, with Morgan Hook scoring the team's final three points and Texas not getting a fast break layup off in time before the final buzzer sounded.

On the same night as Oklahoma's big win, Iowa State went down to Waco and laid a turd, losing by 38 points.  No one expected a Cyclones win, but the apathy with which they played was surprising. 

Now Iowa State is at 6-8 in conference (tied with TCU) and Oklahoma is at 7-7.  For Oklahoma, three out of the remaining four games are against the bottom four teams in the conference (the other one is at Baylor).  It is very likely that Oklahoma will be 9-9 or 10-8 in conference play when the regular season concludes on March 3.  With Iowa State, it's a completely different story.  Three out of the remaining four games for Iowa State are against the top four teams in the conference (the other one is at Kansas, a team the Cyclones beat by only 3 points last weekend at home in Ames).  It is very likely that Iowa State will be 7-11, and 8-10 is impossible unless they can beat either Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor, teams the Cyclones are 0-3 against this year. 

So let's say that Iowa State manages to achieve an 8-10 record for the 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament.  Would that be enough to get them in the NCAA tournament?

In the 17 year history of the Big 12 Conference, there have been 21 teams that have finished with a record of one game under .500 (7-9 or 8-10).  Only 8 of those teams have been offered tournament bids (38%).  But, six out of the last seven teams that finished one game under .500 in the conference has made it to the tournament, the lone exception since 2006 being the 2012 snub of 8-10 Oklahoma State.  That would be great for Iowa State then, right?

Well, the reason that the NCAA selection committee felt such generosity for mediocre Big 12 teams in years past is because that since 2008 the Big 12 has been the toughest conference in the country in terms of RPI.  Before this season, one could make a strong argument that 8-10 in the Big 12 was equivalent to, let's say, 11-7 in the PAC-12; on any given night, a pretty good team could easily lose to an overperforming eleventh place team. (Imagine removing the bottom half of the ACC and replacing it with, like, six TCUs). 

This year though, the Big 12 is fourth in RPI.  Of the five teams that have gone one game under .500 in a season that the Big 12 has been ranked fourth or worse, zero of them have received tournament berths.  Even getting to .500 is no automatic path to the Big Dance in years where the Big 12 is down: only one of the four teams that went .500 in conference play in a year that the Big 12 was fourth or worse in RPI has received a tournament bid (Oklahoma, 2005).  And if Iowa State finishes 7-11? No team 2 games below .500 in conference has ever received an at-large tournament berth in the Big 12. 

What about Oklahoma's chances this year?  9-9 in the Big 12 (or 8-8 in the old Big 12) has been good enough for a berth 59% of the time, though it's been 100% of the time since 2006 and only 30% of the time before then.  And teams going one game above .500 (10-8 or 9-7) have missed out on the tournament only twice since 1997: once in 2006 when the selection committee decided to snub Marsha Sharp in her last season at Texas Tech for some reason, and once for Missouri in 2003 when the Big 12 was the fifth strongest conference.  Both of those teams had 14 losses and RPI's over 60.      
This is why I believe that barring a very surprising last four games, Iowa State is out and Oklahoma is in.  Hopefully S-Factor will catch up to this prediction before the season is out :)


Now in:
Bowling Green (Bowling Green and Central Michigan have now split wins and lead the conference, but I'm giving the automatic to Bowling Green for now)

Southern Cal (bracket churn)

Southern Miss (the only team in Conference USA to beat Middle Tennessee this year)

North Dakota (back in solo first place in the Big Sky)

Cal State Northridge (now in solo first place in the Big West)

Now out:
Central Michigan (first conference loss of the season)

UTEP (their loss to North Texas on Wednesday was their first sub-200 RPI loss of the season)

Florida State (the Seminoles are at Iowa State-levels of freefall at this point.  They are 3-8 in their last eleven games)

Montana (lost to sub-300 RPI Weber State, truly an awful loss)

Cal Poly (fallen into a 3-game slide)

ACC Teams:
(1) Notre Dame
(2) Duke
(3) Maryland
(4) North Carolina State
(4) North Carolina
(5) Syracuse
(10) Georgia Tech

AAC Teams:
(1) Connecticut
(2) Louisville
(10) Rutgers

Atlantic 10 Teams:
(8) Dayton
(9) St. Joseph's

Big East Teams:
(7) St. John's
(9) DePaul

Big Ten Teams:
(2) Penn State
(4) Iowa
(4) Purdue
(5) Nebraska
(7) Michigan State

Big 12 Teams:
(3) Baylor
(3) West Virginia
(6) Oklahoma State
(9) Texas

PAC 12 Teams:
(1) Stanford
(6) Arizona State
(6) California
(11) Oregon State
(11) Southern Cal

SEC Teams:
(1) South Carolina
(2) Tennessee
(3) Texas A&M
(5) Kentucky
(5) Vanderbilt
(7) LSU
(8) Georgia
(11) Florida

West Coast Teams:
(6) Gonzaga
(7) BYU
(10) San Diego*
(10) St. Mary's*

*I should just replace these two spots with "Boomer" and "Sooner".

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