numberFire Bracketology: 2/15/14

Tyler Ennis kept Syracuse undefeated with a prayer this past week.

With Selection Sunday approaching, drama was in the air as teams try to make a strong final push to the NCAA Tournament.

On Monday, we saw Kansas State hold on in overtime to knock off the Kansas Jayhawks and move into being a near lock for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. On Tuesday, San Diego State was unable to rally against Wyoming, snapping their 20-game winning streak. Wednesday brought the postponement of the latest edition of Duke vs. North Carolina, just as both teams were rolling through their schedules. And then, of course, we saw Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis hit the shot of the year to date, breaking the hearts of Pitt fans as ‘Cuse stayed undefeated.

Using typical selection criteria, our algorithms have updated our current field of 68. And because math can help predict the future, we've also simulated games up until conference-tournament time, giving you an idea of what the tournament could look like.

The One Seeds

Despite falling to Kansas State on Monday night, the Kansas Jayhawks remain numberFire’s top seed at this point in time thanks to being ranked first in the RPI and having the hardest schedule. The Jayhawks are up to seventh in the nERD statistic (read more about nERD), and despite having six losses, they seemed destined for a number one seed.

The Syracuse Orange survived thanks to a miracle shot at Pittsburgh this past week, allowing them to claim a number one seed, as they rightfully deserve. The Orange are third in the RPI, but are hurt by only having the 53rd-most difficult schedule at this point in the season. They rank 17th in nERD, and with a rough stretch coming up including traveling to Duke, a team that ranks second according to our efficiency score, they'll likely drop several games to end the regular season. Even still, they're projected to lock up a one seed.

Since Brandon Ashley's injury, Arizona is 2-2 and have dropped both road contests. They also barely beat Oregon at home. This isn't the same team as it was with Ashley, though the Wildcats still hold the top spot in our nERD rankings. For now Zona remains a number one seed, but if their struggles without Ashley continue, they may open up the door for some other teams, especially Villanova or undefeated Wichita State.

The Florida Gators haven’t lost in over two months, good enough for the final top seed in the field of 68. The Gators play Kentucky twice in their last seven contests, which will be their chance to prove their worth against our 15th-best team according to our nERD statistic. They are currently fourth in RPI and are simulated to finish that way, too.

Big 12 vs. Big Ten: Which League is Best?

Any way you slice it, the debate for the nation’s top conference is between the oddly named Big 12 and Big Ten. Five of the Big Ten’s 12 teams rank in the nERD top 16, while the Big 12 lays claim to three of their 10 in the top 10. In addition, the Big 12 has eight in the top 45, whereas only six squads from the Big Ten occupy the top 45.

Winning on the road is very difficult in both leagues, which has resulted in four teams within three games of first in the Big Ten and six within three games in the Big 12. The Big 12’s round-robin format means every team plays every team home and away, which increases the importance of holding home court advantage.

The Big 12 currently lays claim to the number one overall seed, as well as a three seed, a six seed, two eight seeds, and a 10 seed. Meanwhile, the Big Ten holds a two, a three, a four, a five, a seven and an 11. The Big 12 is tops in conference RPI, while the Big Ten held its own at number two. The Big 12 Won 79.03% of its non-conference games, the best in the nation, while the Big 10 took second winning 78.95% of games

That's a whole lot of comparisons - and a lot to digest. Perhaps the table below will help explain this further.

TeamnERD rankCurrent seedSimulated SeedCurrent Conference RecordCurrent Overall Record
Michigan State6th3310-221-4
Oklahoma State9th10104-716-8
Iowa State10th3460518-5
Ohio State13th566-619-6
West Virginia35thOutOut7-515-10
Kansas State40th897-417-7

Numbers as of Friday February 14th.

Surprise Teams

The Louisville Cardinals are number 13 in the AP Poll and No. 21 in nERD, but are only projected as a nine seed at this point in the season. They currently ranked 34th in the RPI and are simulated to finish 24th in that respect due to being expected to finish with the 84th-hardest schedule. Louisville is simulated to finish as a seven seed, well below their current ranking in the polls.

When considering its 15-9 record in a weak conference, it's no surprise that the Arkansas Razorbacks are way outside of the field of 68. What's surprising is that this squad is the 27th-best team according to the nERD-statistic, yet have very little hope of making the NCAA Tournament. They rank ahead of tournament locks Memphis, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas, but have struggled to win in a weak conference.

On the Bubble

Barring an upset in the SEC Tournament, the conference could very well end up with only Kentucky and Florida in the field of 68. Currently Tennessee and Missouri are in as 12 and 11 seeds respectively, but both are simulated to finish amongst the last group into the field of 68 as 12 seeds.

If upsets occur in traditional one bid leagues, and both the Tigers and Vols falter down the stretch, both could easily find themselves on the outside looking in.

Georgetown is currently outside of the field, and are expected to miss the dance, but only by two spots. They’ve won four in a row including a victory over Michigan State, and if they keep playing as they have recently, they could find themselves in the tourney, this time having the chance to pull an upset.

West Virginia dropped five non-conference contests, but have won five of their last seven to enter the bubble conversation again. The Mountaineers are coming off their best game of the season in a rout of Iowa State, led by Juwan Staten who has played incredible of late. Though the Mountaineers are currently far outside of our field of 68 and are simulated to stay that way, don’t be surprised if they continue to roll en route to the NCAA Tournament. With showdowns at Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and against Kansas, they'll have opportunities to claim an at large bid.

Lastly, the Flyers of Dayton sit on the outside currently, but are expected to claim the final spot in the tournament as a 12 seed. If they can do that, they will likely play in the first round, which takes place at Dayton.