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The sporting world has given us a veritable dictionary of terms that would never have entered our lexicon otherwise. Among the best: alley oop, slurve, Zamboni, fungo, yakker, brassie and schneid (as in “getting off the schneid,” a phrase whose origins are from the card game gin rummy, but we’re counting it).
For our money, however, the greatest creation was not only a word, but an entirely brand new scientific pursuit: bracketology.
Like all members of the science family, bracketology has its patron saint. As Galileo is to physics and Aristotle is to biology, Joe Lunardi is to bracketology. But while ESPN’s resident roundball researcher uses an esoteric amalgamation of rankings, computer models and the old-fashioned eyeball test, we prefer an approach that relies a little more on data.
OK, entirely on data.
We built our bracket the same way we performed our bubble breakdown a few weeks ago: by dissecting each team’s strength of schedule (home, away, neutral, conference and nonconference) and success rate vs. ranked opponents (MCBR top 10, 25, 50 and 100). Those numbers, which factor in games through Monday, 2/20/2012, added up to our predicted field. Click here to see our bracket.
And it just wouldn’t be one of our posts if we didn’t figure out some way to torture a couple teams. So let’s toss them on The Rack and see who cracks in the closing weeks of the season. And please note that this analysis also uses results through Monday’s games.
Last Four In
Iowa State: The Cyclones don’t have the most impressive record (19-8) or strength of schedule (SOS) (68), but they are sporting a 33.33% winning percentage against MCBR top 10 teams. They have the same winning percentage against MCBR top 50 teams and are only slightly better (40.00%) against MCBR top 100 teams. That’s probably why they’re sitting firmly on the bubble. Their three best wins are over Kansas, Kansas State and Texas and their worst loss came against Oklahoma State.
Northwestern: Yes, we have them finally getting to the NCAA Tournament, but they’re hanging on by a thread. And although the Wildcats lost to Michigan on Tuesday, at least they pushed the ranked Wolverines to overtime. Like Iowa State, they don’t have the most impressive record (16-10). What they do have is a strong SOS (8) and a 50.00% winning percentage against MCBR top 10 teams, although their winning percentage gets worse as we expand the groups. Against top 25, 50 and 100 teams, their winning percentage is 14.29%, 20.00% and 33.33%, respectively. Their three best wins came against Michigan State, Seton Hall and Minnesota. Their worst loss, which really isn’t too bad, came against Illinois.
St. Joseph’s (PA): St. Joe’s is squarely on the bubble—and almost falling off—as a result of an unimpressive record (18-10) and an underwhelming SOS (74). What’s keeping the Hawks in the tourney discussion is their 33.33% winning percentage against MCBR top 25 teams and wins over Creighton, a very good Drexel team and La Salle. Their worst loss came against Pennsylvania. If St. Joe’s wants to be called on Selection Sunday, they will need to finish strong—a win over Temple (MCBR #22, AP #22) on Feb. 25 certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Arizona: The Wildcats would be on more solid ground if the putrid Pac-12 wasn’t dragging down their SOS (86). Their nonconference SOS (35) is very respectable, their record isn’t terrible (19-10), and they have a 33.33% winning percentage against MCBR top 25 teams. Their three best wins are against California, Colorado and New Mexico State, which aren’t all that impressive. Their worst loss is against UCLA. Arizona is going to need to finish strong to make the tournament, but its schedule is set up nicely with only one road game remaining against awful Arizona State (8-19, 4-11 Pac-12).
First Four Out
BYU: The Jimmer-less Cougars (20-6) are in danger of missing the Dance this year as a result of a terrible SOS (160), a 20.00% winning percentage against MCBR top 50 teams and having their three best wins come against Gonzaga, Weber State and Nevada. These teams are decent but aren’t résumé-builders. Its worst loss came against Utah State. BYU still has a chance to climb back in, but it’s in need of a signature win, and only one of its remaining games comes close to fitting the bill—Feb. 23 at Gonzaga.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats find themselves, once again, on the outside looking in. Their record (19-8) won’t wow the selection committee, and neither will their SOS (90). They do have a 33.33% winning percentage against MCBR top 25 teams and wins against three solid opponents (Georgetown, Seton Hall and Notre Dame). Their worst loss, which is just terrible, came against Presbyterian. Hope is not lost for the Bearcats, who have a chance to build their résumé with upcoming games against Louisville and Marquette.
Miami (FL): The Hurricanes are NIT-bound as a result of an unimpressive record (16-10) and a 12.50% winning percentage against MCBR top 50 teams. While they do have a win over Duke and a good SOS (36), that’s about it. Their other decent wins came against UMass and Virginia Tech, and their worst loss was to Ole Miss. To have even an outside chance of making the field of 68, Miami will most likely need to win two of its last three games and win a game or two in the ACC Tournament.
Minnesota: The reason the Golden Gophers are even in this discussion is a result of the strength of the Big 10 or 11 or 12 or 36 or however many teams are actually in that conference. Their SOS (23) is pretty good, but their record (17-10) isn’t that strong, and they have winning percentages of only 20.00%, 28.57% and 42.86% against the MCBR top 25, 50 and 100, respectively. They have a win against Indiana, but wins over Northwestern and South Dakota State will not erase two losses against Iowa. Minnesota will need to go on a heck of a run and get some help from a few other teams if it's going to make the tournament.
Our Game of the Week
Missouri (MCBR #8, AP #3) at Kansas (MCBR #7, AP #4)
3 p.m. (Central Time) Saturday, Feb. 25
Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
Three weeks ago, Kansas (22-5, 12-2 Big 12) looked like it was going to take a big step toward the conference’s regular-season title when Tyshawn Taylor’s baseline dunk gave the Jayhawks an eight-point lead over Missouri with 3:24 to go. But not scoring for the next 204 seconds has a funny way of fouling up a team’s title hopes. Or at least waylaying them for a little while.
The Tigers (25-3, 12-3) rattled off the last 11 points of that game for their third win in a seven-game streak that ended with a home loss to Kansas State on Tuesday. So if Missouri’s league title hopes are going to remain in the land of the living, it better take care of a Kansas team that isn’t going to be challenged much the rest of the way (at Oklahoma State, home against Texas).
That might be possible if Missouri gets every part of its five-headed, seventh-ranked offense in gear. But having a quintet of contributors isn’t always better than a talented twosome—The Backstreet Boys vs. The Black Keys, for example. In this metaphor, the freewheeling rock duo is Kansas’ Taylor and Thomas Robinson, both of whom average more than 16 points per game.
With those two setting the pace, a virtual lock on the Big 12 regular-season title within reach and a chance to atone for their previous collapse, there are plenty of reasons why the Jayhawks should win this one—and they’re going to, 71-65.