An Early Look At Postseason Basketball

The big question is whether or not the Sooners' unexpected performance in conference play will put them in contention for a postseason tournament. I have to say it's unlikely. They currently stand at 11-9, and would probably need something like a 9-1 or 8-2 finish to make the NCAA Tournament. I think that we can all agree that scenario is fairly unlikely. 

What about the NIT? According to Wikipedia:

The goal of the NIT was to sustain the MIBA financially. Therefore, schools selected to play in the NIT were often major conference teams with records near .500 that had large television fan bases and would likely have a respectable attendance for tournament games on their home court. The latter is one reason why New Mexico was invited virtually every year the Lobos had a winning season but failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

In 2006, the NIT instituted new rules that allow teams with sub-0.500 records to qualify. However, despite this rule change, no team has ever finished with a sub-0.500 record and qualified. In fact, if you look at historical brackets, the worst records tend to be teams that finish with 17 wins from one of the major conferences and have a notable upset or two to their name.

Basically, OU would probably not get selected if they only won a few more conference games; instead, they would probably need around 6 more victories to get themselves in contention for the NIT. Is that possible? Well if you look at the KenPom profile for OU (which utilizes tempo neutral stats), they aren't favored to win any of their remaining games. However, they do have 20% or better odds in 5 of their 10 remaining games, so there's an outside chance they could make it work. The loss against Chaminade looks really ugly too. Let's just say that the odds of reaching the NIT aren't high either.

There is one more tournament, which was added in the 2007-2008 season: the CBI Tournament. It doesn't have a whole lot of national respect, but sub-0.500 teams have qualified for it. In the most recent version, a 14-17 Oregon State squad with an 8-10 Pac 10 record qualified. Of course, they got smoked by Boston University 96-78 on their home floor, begging the question why they were in a tournament to begin with. It could have been because they won the tournament in 2009 with a 13-17 record, the same year 16-17 St. John's also qualified from the Big East.

Basically the Sooners have a lot of work to do, and upsets to pull, if they want to get into the NIT or the NCAA Tournament.

And what about the Big Dance? Who are the favorites this year? As I point out the highlights, I'll be referring to some stuff that I discussed in previous bracketology posts back in 2008 herehere, and here. So if any of the terms confuse you, those would be the articles to reference.

The favorite right now, in my opinion, has got to be Ohio State. They are undefeated despite playing 6 games against the RPI Top 50, and they meet a lot of the benchmarks laid out in those bracketology articles that I wrote. They have an experienced coach. They have a good mix of young talent and junior/senior leadership. Senior Jon Diebler has the second highest offensive efficiency rating in the country as a 3-point specialist because he shoots a blistering 47.6% beyond the arc. They are #1 in the KenPom ratings, which is a good place to be as five of the last seven national champs had that honor (the other two were #2). Finally, Ohio State is also basically in a statistical tie with Duke and Kansas at the top of the adjusted scoring margin (ASM) rankings. We'll see how they close out conference play, but they are my early favorites for when I fill out my bracket.

I'm going to single out some other teams to focus on when you watch ESPN in the coming weeks. See how they perform, because these other teams are currently exhibiting the traits of teams that make it past the first weekend in the tournament.

A good place to start is scoring margin. As Pete Tiernan points out in a quote on my 2nd bracketology post, scoring margin is very important in predicting tournament success, and teams that average scoring margins upwards of +12 ppg tend to far outperform their seed expectations:

That only begins to explain the importance of victory margin in foretelling tourney overachievement. Consider this: of the top eight attributes I studied, four of them related to scoring margin. Teams that beat opponents by more than 14, 13 and 12 points all had impressive PASE values that would have landed them in the chart above.

An even better metric to examine is adjusted scoring margin, which adjusts for how well you scored versus a particular team's averages, but ASM and traditional scoring margin can often yield similar results. For instance, Duke, Kansas, and Ohio State are also the Top 3 for traditional scoring margin. So, you may want to keep your eye on the Blue Devils and Jayhawks as well.

A good sleeper team to watch is BYU. They are 10th in ASM, 6th in traditional scoring margin, 10th in the KenPom ratings, and they've played the 7th hardest schedule according to ESPN. They made the tournament last year as a similarly efficient team, and gave Kansas State a run for their money in the second round after beating Florida in the 7-10 matchup. The good news is that they have a year of experience under their belts. Last but not least, they have the not-so-secret weapon: Jimmer Fredette. He's a scoring machine who is averaging 27.6 ppg, and he only seems to be getting more ruthlessly efficient - dropping 47, 42, 43, and 32 in four of his last five games.

If you're looking for potential Cinderellas, teams from less reputable conferences that wind up in the Top 50 in the KenPom ratings are a good place to start. Last year Northern Iowa made some noise - making the Sweet 16 as a 9 seed from the Missouri Valley Conference. They were 29th. St. Mary's made the Sweet 16 as a 10 seed - they were 42nd. Even Washington was an 11 seed (despite being from the Pac 10) and made it to the Sweet 16 being ranked 30th. Dayton didn't make the tournament (a notable snub), but they won the whole NIT - they were ranked 26th. 

The teams that fit that bill this year are St. Mary's (24), George Mason (26), Belmont (35), Utah State (36), Cleveland State (48), and Wichita State (49). Belmont and St. Mary's are actually both in the top 7 nationally in scoring margin. We'll see if all those teams manage to hang on to their spots, or even qualify for the tournament. But, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on those teams as we near conference tournament time.

Make sure to watch the Big East. They have a ridiculous 9 of the top 25 teams in the KenPom ratings, and 8 of the top 25 in ASM. Seven, count 'em, seven teams have lost only 4 or less times. The teams that make all three of those lists are: Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova, and Syracuse. The quality in the top half of that conference is insane. The teams that get hot in conference play, and make a run in the Big East tournament, should have a good shot at advancing far in the Big Dance. 

To sum it all up, right now I think the front runners are Ohio State, Duke, and Kansas in that order. Some dark horses that I didn't discuss, but are very efficient and have good scoring margins include: Texas (as much as it pains me to say it), Washington, Purdue, and Wisconsin. BYU may be able to make a run, but I'm not sure they have the horses to get to the Final Four. And keep an eye on the Big East - there are a ton of good teams in that conference.

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