numberFire Bracketology: 2/28/14

Is Louisville for real despite their lack of signature wins?

Saturday is the first day of March, a signal that March Madness is almost here. Selection Sunday is on March 16th, and college basketball’s regular season will be over after next weekend.

This week, ‘Cuse avoided losing their third straight, narrowly escaping Maryland with a win. The Orange appear to have lost their mojo and its very unclear if they will regain it come tournament time.

North Carolina just keeps winning, recently escaping in overtime against NC State for their 10th straight win. The Tar Heels seem to be peaking at just the right time and are arguably the hottest team.

As we have done the last few weeks, we, numberFire, ran our algorithms to determine what the numbers say the NCAA Tournament field of 68 should look like. Using typical selection criteria such as RPI, strength of schedule, and recent victories we’ve come up with what the bracket currently looks like. Then, with the use of our nERD metric and simulations, we projected what the field should look like entering conference tournaments.

The One Seeds

This week, all of the one seeds in the field remained the same.

For a fourth week in a row, the Kansas Jayhawks hold down the top overall spot in numberFire’s field of 68. After surviving at Texas Tech last week, the Jayhawks bounced back to crush the Texas Longhorns, all but assuring another Big 12 crown. On Monday they knocked off Oklahoma to clinch at least a share of the regular season title for a 10th straight season. The Jayhawks still lay claim to the top RPI rating and hardest schedule in the country, and they've climbed all the way to fourth in our nERD rating thanks to recent losses by teams such as Villanova and Iowa. The Jayhawks are expected to maintain a one seed, but lose the number one overall spot to Arizona

Speaking of Arizona, they took claim to the top rating in nERD thanks to an impressive week, in which the Wildcats finally looked like the nations’ top team even without Brandon Ashley. They crushed the Colorado Buffalo (50th in nERD) and California (53rd nERD), and they're now expected to surpass the Jayhawks for the top overall seed, but currently remain second overall.

The Florida Gators are the top ranked team in the country, yet the third overall seed in our bracket. They took the top spot in the AP rankings despite a lackluster week in which they barely survived against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, which in turn lowered their nERD from 11th to 14th. Still, the Gators haven’t lost since December 2nd, though lately their opponents have been fairly subpar. They should maintain a one seed and keep their third overall position come conference tournament time.

Villanova claims numberFire’s final top seed. They currently are seventh in nERD and are expected to hold off Wichita State, Wisconsin and Creighton to stay at their spot. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if any of the aforementioned teams pass them for it.


With few exceptions years, the Spartans have been one of the toughest matchups in the NCAA Tournament of the past decade. Led by Coach Tom Izzo, Michigan State is always a threat to make a run deep into March. At eighth in nERD, this year should be no exception and a three seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracket is a tribute to this. Yet, Michigan State has struggled due to injuries, and now are a five seed in the field of 68. The Spartans are a better squad than that, and could make a run to Arlington similar to in 2010 when they reached the Final Four the last time they were a five seed.

The Wichita State Shockers are the last undefeated team in basketball at 29-0. Yet, despite this they currently are on a three seed according to the computers, and simulated to finish as a two seed. Though they only rank 20th in nERD, if the Shockers manage to pull off a perfect pre-Tournament season( and the computers seem to like the odds) they will deserve a one seed.

Are the Orange Overhyped?

A couple of weeks ago, Syracuse was unbeaten, though by no means playing flawless basketball. They had survived a couple of scares including games against Duke and Pittsburgh, which was understandable since it's nearly impossible to go undefeated throughout an entire college basketball season, especially in a power conference.

But then the Orange inexplicably fell at home to Boston College, a team currently ranked 140th in nERD, a whopping 121 spots behind them. They then lost at Duke after a controversial call, but one that will go in home team’s favor nearly 100% of the time.

Earlier this week, the Orange nearly fell to a struggling Maryland squad, escaping with a two-point victory thanks to the Terps’ 18 turnovers and 35% shooting from the field. With the way they’ve been playing of late, their contest at Virginia will be rather anticlimactic. ‘Cuse’s nERD ranking is 15 spots behind their number four standing in the AP poll, making them one of the most overrated squads in the country analytically. Lunardi still has them a one seed, yet we have them currently as a two and slipping to a three seed.

What's With the Defending Champs?

The Cardinals just slipped to second in nERD this week, but their rating may not tell the entire story.

Entering last week’s matchup at Cincy, the Cardinals were 0-4 against ranked teams, while a perfect 22-0 against those outside the top 25. Well, they finally beat a top 25 team, which is very late in the season for a top 10 ranked squad.

Louisville’s offensive and defensive numbers for the season have generally been outstanding, yet when they take on top-tier competition, they have struggled. For the season they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 82 to 61, but against ranked teams they’ve been outscored by an average of 73-68. The Cardinals have only failed to break 70, four times this season, but they were all against top 25 competition.

Even still, they entered their recent contest against Temple ranked third in offensive rating and fourth in defensive rating, but as one can see on the table below, their play against inferior opponents is the main reason they’ve been statistically so dominant.

vs. Top 25vs. Non-Top 25
Times scoring < 7040
Times scoring 80+116
Average points scored6885
Times allowing 70+33
Times holding opponents under 60111
Average points allowed7359

Keep in mind that the Cardinals still rank second in nERD, so our numbers still like them despite a lack of wins against high-end teams.

On the Bubble

The Flyers haven’t played great in a conference that’s fairly weak according to nERD, yet Dayton looks like they very well could punch their ticket to the big dance, perhaps with a play-in game on their home floor. They rank 66th in nERD between Boise State and Texas Tech, yet are simulated as in the field at a 13 seed.

With their win over Kentucky on Thursday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks swept the season series and put themselves in good position to slip onto the right side of the bubble. They finally played up to their 29 nERD ranking and won a crucial road contest that they desperately needed. At 19-9, they will still need to take care of business to make the tournament, but have potential to be a much better team than the other SEC squads on the bubble (Tennessee, 40th nERD; Missouri, 58th nERD).