Which teams who were left out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament field might have deserved to get a bid? We look at the numbers to see who the snubs were.
Yesterday, I opened the post about number one seeds with a discussion of why defining a team’s “worthiness” for the NCAA Tournament by a resume is just sort of weird but that the selection committee generally gets these things right in any way that matters.
Then in an act of defiance, the committee chose South Carolina as a one seed after our only 6% of our readership felt they deserved it. It sort of works out ok in the end with South Carolina being paired with second-seeded Stanford in the Stanford region, so for now we’ll move on.
But with the field being set, it’s always interesting to look at the other end of things: how did teams on the so-called bubble perform? Who made it safely into the field and who was perhaps unfairly left out?
For this season, the big question – returning to that discussion about resumes vs. performance – was two-pronged: Do you want to include teams a) that scheduled well and didn’t really take bad losses or b) teams that played well and is capable of beating teams in the field? Of course things rarely come packaged in that neat a binary, but it helps to give us a set of things to look at in order to fairly evaluate performance.
As it turns out, I didn’t feel there were many major snubs so I just gathered up the statistics I could find published elsewhere.
The four I ended up looking at closely, were the following:
- SOS: While the line item resume probably isn’t everything, you have to know that a team was tested somehow.
- Sagarin predictor: This is a pretty reliable judge of quality that predicts outcomes quite well. We’ll use that as a single metric to easily see how one team might compare to another.
- Offensive and defensive rating: Points per possession – it’s generally a good idea to score more points per possession than one’s opponents.
- Good wins (lately): Scoring big wins against teams in the tournament is a pretty reasonable way to make an argument that a team belongs – if they’ve proven they can compete, they deserve another chance to do so.
- Four Factors: Actually, WBB State only publishes three of the four factors, but the two most significant ones for tournament success are almost always shooting efficiency and turnover rate differential – if you can shoot and control the ball better than your opponents, you have a good shot of competing in the tournament.
The numbers I’ve collected for teams mentioned by Charlie Creme and Steven Bell in addition to a few other teams that stood out to me as being close to the bubble are as follows:
Tov % diff
South Dakota State
Let’s take a look at the standouts.
Like many others, I’ve had my doubts about Oklahoma all season, but they have a combination of quality wins, close losses to second- and third-seeded teams, not one bad loss at home, and solid statistics. Some of their turnovers can easily be explained by playing fast, but they have solid ball handlers to lead their attack in transition and a shot blocker in Nicole Griffin to help defensively.
Sagarin actually has Oklahoma favored over DePaul in the Lincoln region, further justifying their inclusion in the field.
Florida is clearly suspect and got stuck playing at Penn State with the Nittany Lions likely laying in wait in the second round, as described by Andy Hutchins at SB Nation’s Alligator Army. Nothing about their numbers really leaps off the page, but five wins against tournament teams – including two against Kentucky – is enough to get in this season.
Georgia wasn’t really on anyone’s bubble list, but you’ll notice that their numbers are strikingly similar to Rutgers and South Florida. But the reason they’re in should be clear: seven wins against teams in the tournament.
Teams that probably deserved a bid but didn’t get one
This might surprise some people, but Bell had Rutgers in over both BYU and St. Joseph’s and really made the argument for me already:
BYU has a fairly good RPI (38) but several losses in games the Cougars should have won, including their rivalry game against Utah at home in Provo, and conference games against Pacific, St. Mary’s and San Diego. St. Joseph’s still has an absurdly good RPI (22) but lots and lots of Atlantic 10 conference losses. Rutgers has a bad RPI (51), but come in with the only non-conference win over an at-large team of the four teams I’ve mentioned (against Georgia).
The only thing I have to add is that, statistically, Rutgers has a much better turnover differential than BYU against a much better strength of schedule. I’m as big a proponent of the (West Coast) mid-major as anyone, but it’s difficult to make a case for BYU over Rutgers with a performance-based assessment.
Teams on the bubble that might have been a stretch had they gotten in
If Minnesota had even one win over a tournament-bound opponent to show for themselves, not only would I say they’re the biggest snub from this year’s tournament but I imagine they would’ve gotten in. And the problem is that they weren’t lacking for opportunities in the Big Ten.
Nevertheless, I don’t think they’re without merit, especially when compared to some of the smaller front lines that did make it in: 6-foot-5 freshman center Amanda Zahui B – fourth in the nation in rebounding percentage – would give some of these small conference programs fits; the fact that she seemingly learned how not to foul out in late-January was also quite a significant development. And that’s before they contend with trying to defend both her on the interior and Wooden Award finalist Rachel Banham on the perimeter.
They should’ve been a matchup nightmare this season – 6-foot-2 senior Michaella Riche gave them a nice trio of players – but just don’t have the wins to show for it and enough bad losses to raise questions about whether they’ve figured out how to utilize their talent well enough to start winning.
The same SOS argument as Rutgers has vis a vis BYU applies here, but just didn’t beat a team in the field of 64 and had a negative turnover differential. But they’re far more battle-tested than BYU in terms of facing teams in the field – and playing some close games against them – and, again, putting up a better turnover differential against that stronger schedule.
Again, coming back to the notion of turnovers Villanova had the lowest turnover rate in the nation and the best turnover differential of anyone in the standard group of bubble teams. They weren’t otherwise spectacular this season, but not just throwing away possessions via turnovers helped them become one of the more efficient offenses in the nation. But here’s a fun stat: although they’ve only shot a mediocre 32% from the three point line this season, they’re undefeated when they shoot over that mark and a whopping 19-1 when they just shoot over 27% from the 3-point line.
They’re a team with the personnel that absolutely can get hot from beyond the arc: they have five players shooting over 32% from three for the season, including 6-foot-2 junior post Emily Leer. Reality is that they just didn’t give themselves many opportunities to beat a quality opponent – and that one loss mentioned above was to St. Joe’s – but all it takes is one game’s worthy of threes to manufacture an upset.
Teams with interesting profiles on nobody’s bubble
Alabama has among the highest strength of schedules of any team left out (we’ll get to a few others shortly) and has a number of really strong wins to go with it, most notably beating Kentucky and Vanderbilt on the road. They also have a number of bad losses and less-than-impressive numbers, but again: beating good teams is hard to ignore when considering how a team might do going forward. What really hurt them was a poor showing in November and December while adjusting to their new coach – whether that should actually have been held against them might be more of an open question than it’s given credit for.
I’m sure this happens every year, but I’m going to extend the argument against some of these teams that have only a single win against teams in the field: is it really fair that they make it in over teams that might have some bad losses but also have multiple great wins?
Washington State has beaten four teams in the field of 64, including Cal in the Pac-12 tournament and Nebraska. Virginia has only beaten two tournament teams, but one of them was Alyssa Thomas and fourth-seeded Maryland. Let’s be clear that I’m not saying either was a snub, but we have plenty of evidence that they’re capable of competing.
Nobody was talking about Virginia as even a bubble team – and they won’t even be in the WNIT – but consider a few things that might have worked in their favor:
They have a stronger Sagarin rating than Florida, St. Joe’s, and BYU.
Their biggest strength is their turnover differential, which is what helped them beat Maryland.
They shot 35.2% from the 3-point line in conference play – which is a top-40 caliber success rate relative to the national numbers – against ACC competition. They have the capacity to catch fire from beyond the arc, which is how they beat FSU.
Do both UVA and WSU have (major) blemishes in terms of “bad losses”? Sure. But they’ve also proven that they can win against the best 64 teams in the nation on a couple of occasions, which is what can sometimes make this process bewildering and extremely complex to please everyone.
Just plain bad luck
Bell already mentioned Stetson too, but I have to take the time to extend my condolences as well.
Remember that, um, controversial call in overtime at the end of the A-Sun season that cost Stetson first place and home court advantage in the conference’s tournament? Well, in the tournament championship game at FGCU, Stetson lost in overtime by two points (though in less dramatic fashion).
It feels like a terribly cruel way to end the season as a team whose SOS was way too low to warrant at-large consideration, but such is life in March – it’s the joy and pain that makes it the best month in sports.