Thursday, July 11, 2024

WAB Is Going To Be On NCAA Team Sheets!

The NCAA Team Sheets are going to have Wins Above Bubble! That was one of the excellent pieces of news that came out of the meetings of the NCAA's Men's Basketball Committee the past few days. Today it was announced that T-Rank (from Bart Torvik's excellent site) and Wins Above Bubble (apparently the NCAA's NET-based version) are going to be added to the NCAA Team Sheets, which will make them much more accessible for the NCAA's Selection Committee.

This is a big deal because Wins Above Bubble (WAB) often paints a different picture for teams that play a non-traditional power conference schedule (see mid-majors). It's especially valuable because it's so difficult for elite mid-majors to get certain types of games (home games against power conference teams for instance). Don't believe me? Here are the top teams to miss the NCAA Tournament according to T-Rank WAB the past five seasons (well minus 2020 because there was no tournament):
  • 2024: Indiana St. (28th), Princeton (42nd), Seton Hall (43rd)
  • 2023: Oklahoma St. (51st), Sam Houston St. (52nd), Santa Clara (53rd)
  • 2022: SMU (38th), Wake Forest (44th), Texas A&M (47th)
  • 2021: Arizona (37th), Louisville (39th), SMU (50th)
  • 2019: UNC Greensboro (35th), North Carolina St. (37th), TCU (42nd)
Last season's Indiana St. team is the prime example of the types of teams a WAB metric can benefit. The Sycamores were 28-6 when they lost to Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final. Three of those losses were to Alabama, Michigan St. and Drake on the road — games most bubble teams would be expected to lose. WAB properly contextualizes those losses and also just how difficult it is to go 10-0 in Q3 games, which is what ISU did while playing its MVC regular season schedule.

UNC Greensboro in 2019 is another perfect example. The Spartans under Wes Miller were 28-6 on Selection Sunday and eventually ended up with an NIT No. 1 seed despite being ranked 100th in T-Rank and 87th in KenPom. Why? Because none of those six losses came against a team ranked lower than 62nd (Furman) on T-Rank that season. While a 2-6 record against Quad 1 doesn't look that impressive it matters than five of those games were against Quad 1-A and that they went 24-0 against Q2 and above. Wins Above Bubble is able to normalize those types of resumes.

Hopefully this will lead to a bigger tent in at-large selection conversations. Teams that might not have the "traditional" resume can at least get a shot. (Note: For much of last season this would've included a team like Syracuse.) It will also help better sort out resumes as conferences continue to balloon and the traditional home-and-homes disappear from conference play. (Look how many ACC teams appear on that list above.)

It's not just mid-majors that will benefit from this change, but it's a good step towards equity.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

How ESPN Might Save The NIT

ESPN’s relationships with the NCAA, SEC and ACC might end up saving the NIT. At least that is my initial takeaway after reading a memo that the SEC’s Charlie Hussey, deputy commissioner/COO, and Garth Glissman, associate commissioner for men's basketball sent to SEC Athletic Directors on March 13, 2024.

The memo was sent in preparation for a meeting of SEC athletic directors on March 20. It outlines the pros and cons of signing on with the new unnamed (at the time) competing postseason tournament for 2025 and beyond. That tournament, announced on April 3 as the College Basketball Crown, will feature 16 non-NCAA Tournament teams in Las Vegas the week after the Elite 8.

I obtained a copy of that memo from the University of Mississippi through a FOIA request related to the NIT. The document was part of a 987-page production of email correspondence related to the NIT during the week of Selection Sunday.

The memo includes a lot of interesting information both about how the SEC’s main office was thinking about the College Basketball Crown and the NIT. Here are a few takeaways:

1. ESPN’s relationship with the NCAA (as the television broadcaster of the NIT) and the SEC and ACC (through their conference networks) is an important talking point.

Under “Option 1 (NIT)” the memo states that: “ESPN is the NIT's broadcast partner through 2032. If the SEC continues to send its top non-NCAA Tournament teams to the NIT, ESPN is willing to broadcast some of the SEC teams' NIT games on the SEC Network. ESPN offered the same arrangement to the ACC and its network.” 
This is important because the College Basketball Crown will take place on the networks of FOX (FOX or FS1 according to the memo), which would mean losing games to networks outside of the conferences’ typical television footprint. 
In fact, under the “Analysis” headline the memo states: “ESPN Relationship: As part of ESPN's recently signed agreement with the NCAA to expand its coverage of NCAA championship events, ESPN acquired the rights to broadcast the NIT through 2032. The SEC's relationship with ESPN could be adversely impacted if the SEC opts to participate in the FOX Event and therefore diminishes the value of ESPN's rights to broadcast the NIT. Additionally, to incentivize SEC teams' continued participation in the NIT, the NIT and ESPN offered to broadcast NIT games involving SEC teams on the SEC Network.”

2. The decision to join the College Basketball Crown is not a small one.

The memo states that the competition was looking for a 5-year commitment from each conference. Conversely, the NIT was willing to continue with an annual commitment.

3. The NIT was prepared to offer incentives.

Last season the NIT added protected bids for the power conference teams in order to stave off the momentum of an event like the College Basketball Crown. At the same time, the NIT also apparently raised the honorarium it pays to host institutions from 15% to 20%. In order to remain competitive with the College Basketball Crown, the NIT was willing to offer power conference teams further incentives. The memos states: “To further incentivize the SEC to participate in the NIT in 2025 and beyond, the NIT is potentially willing to make the following accommodations to an SEC team participating in NIT: (i) increase the travel party size above 25, (ii) increase the per diem rate, (iii) increase the honorarium paid to host institutions, (iv) increase the travel stipend, (v) provide host team sponsors with a percentage of rotating signage, and (vi) provide charter flight accommodations to the site of the NIT semifinals and championship.”

Those incentives make sense given that the College Basketball Crown was apparently offering: “Covered expenses for each team's travel party (up to 30 individuals) include commercial airfare, hotel rooms, ground transportation, and meals.” The NIT’s incentives make the decision quite competitive for teams from conferences like the SEC that could potentially host multiple games.

4. It does appear the College Basketball Crown’s is a field of “power conference” teams.

The memo states that, “The FOX Event intends to distinguish itself from the NIT by fielding teams largely from "power" conferences (rather than teams from a broader group of NCAA Division I conferences) and providing a premium experience for student-athletes, coaches, and fans.” How the tournament is able to fill out a competitive 16-team field drawing from currently three power conferences remains to be seen.

Given all of that, why wouldn’t the SEC stick with the NIT? Well the “Analysis” portion of the memo highlights three key factors:

  1. “Watered Down” NIT: This is mainly a concern about what will happen to the NIT once the College Basketball Crown starts in 2025, but it does include this interesting sentence, “Further, the quality of teams participating in the NIT and its prestige already has diminished over time, culminating in the NIT's semifinal and championship games recently moving away from its longtime home, Madison Square Garden in New York.” It’s interesting that even the SEC’s office feels that moving away from MSG reduced the prestige of the NIT.
  2. Power Conference Opponents: All you need to know here is that it includes the statement that “participating in the FOX Event would enable SEC teams to avoid the "brand damage" associated with losing to a school from a non-power conference in the NIT”. If that’s really the concern
  3. Opportunity for Innovation: Basically, why not try something new?

Neither the SEC nor the ACC was mentioned in the initial press release that came out about the College Basketball Crown, so it appears that both conferences declined to sign 5-year contracts with the event. This of course does not preclude them from doing so in the future, but it does seem like the NIT has some potential ways to mitigate the damage done from this competing secondary postseason tournament.

Know more about the NIT or the College Basketball Crown? Send me tips at

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

On Dan Hurley and Close Games

Dan Hurley and the UConn Huskies are once again the champions of Division I men's college basketball. UConn is the first school to win back-to-back titles since Florida in 2006 and 2007. The way UConn did it though is also astounding. The Huskies have played 12 NCAA Tournament games in the past two seasons and the closest victory was by 13 points against Miami FL in last season's Final Four. It is as dominant a stretch as could be imagined.

That dominant run is also great for Hurley in particular, because he has historically struggled in close games. But if you never play in them — it doesn't matter.

The chatter about Hurley and close games died down a bit after the Huskies won their first title. This season UConn just didn't play many close games. The Huskies went 2-1 in games decided by four points or fewer. The loss was at Kansas on Dec. 1. (We'll get back to the Jayhawks and Bill Self in a minute.)

Eventually UConn will have to play another close game and what happens then is anyone's guess. Here's a look at Hurley's career coaching record by margin and school. A big thanks to Bart Torvik for the underlying data.
SchoolMarginWinsLossesWinning Pct.Pct. Games
Rhode Island1-4213140%27%
Rhode Island5-8172046%19%
Rhode Island9-15371670%28%
Rhode Island16+371374%26%

Hurley's teams at UConn have lost 72% of the 1-possession games they've played during his time there. It's almost unbelievable considering how good he's been in every other situation and even moreso considering how good UConn has been against elite competition. These should be 50/50 tossups and the only place that was almost ever true for Hurley was at Wagner.

Maybe though it's just that great coaches are: 1) Less likely to play close games or 2) Worse in them?

To test those theories I looked at five of Hurley's contemporaries: Bill Self at Kansas, John Calipari at Kentucky, Tom Izzo at Michigan St., Mark Few at Gonzaga, and Scott Drew at Baylor. Here are their results at their current (or most recent) school.
Coach / SchoolMarginWinsLossesWinning Pct.Pct. Games
Self / Kansas1-4762972%17%
Self / Kansas5-8833471%19%
Self / Kansas9-151312783%26%
Self / Kansas16+2062490%38%
Calipari / Kentucky1-4484552%17%
Calipari / Kentucky5-8743667%21%
Calipari / Kentucky9-151122880%26%
Calipari / Kentucky16+1751493%36%
Izzo / Michigan St.1-4684461%19%
Izzo / Michigan St.5-8734860%20%
Izzo / Michigan St.9-151245071%29%
Izzo / Michigan St.16+1603283%32%
Few / Gonzaga1-4512964%14%
Few / Gonzaga5-8492566%13%
Few / Gonzaga9-151122184%23%
Few / Gonzaga16+2831695%51%
Drew / Baylor1-4594756%19%
Drew / Baylor5-8725059%21%
Drew / Baylor9-151155368%29%
Drew / Baylor16+1502586%31%

I probably didn't need to make this table for it to be obvious, but Bill Self is an absolutely amazing in-game coach. The fact that his Kansas teams have won 72% of their games decided by four points or fewer is just unbelievable.

Most of these coaches though: Have coached in a similar percentage of close games (with the exception of Few) and have won more of those games than Hurley. Few is probably an outlier in terms of the percentage of close games because Gonzaga plays their conference season against the West Coast Conference, which doesn't lend itself to a ton of high-level competition. Self is by far the outlier in terms of close-game winning percentage, but the lowest otherwise is Calipari at 52% (Drew isn't far behind at 56%). 

While it hasn't mattered during the NCAA Tournament in either of the past two seasons. Hurley's close game results are still fascinating. Does anyone have a good explanation? I'm all ears.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Two Interesting NIT Developments

Tonight is the NIT Championship game. The tournament, which has had extremely strong ratings and engagement throughout its 32-game run this March and early April will conclude with Indiana St. and Seton Hall playing a dream matchup at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

There have been a few interesting developments to the side of the NIT, including two in particular that I would like to address, because they speak to the future of the tournament (and this site).

Development #1: ESPN ran a graphic that stated 17 teams declined to participate in the NIT.

ESPN ran a graphic during the first round games that showed all of the "Teams That Declined NIT Inviation", according to the graphic's header. [You can see it below.]

This graphic is misleading for a number of reasons, and I've already addressed many on Twitter, but I think it's worth separating these teams into a few categories for context.

Category 1: Teams That Were Clearly Going To Be Invited And Declined (7)
  • Washington
  • Pitt
  • St. John's
  • Syracuse
  • Memphis
  • Oklahoma
  • Ole Miss
Category 2: Pac-12 Teams The NIT Had To Ask (6)
  • Arizona St.
  • Cal
  • Oregon St.
  • Stanford
  • UCLA
  • USC
Category 3: Bubble Teams That Declined Or Asked Not To Be Considered (4)
  • Florida St.
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • St. Bonaventure
When you separate the teams into those three categories, things look a little different. Seven teams directly declined to participate in the NIT when they knew they were likely to receive a bid. There is no denying that's a lot of teams, but each had some reason for doing it. (Though only Washington with its pre-announced coaching change really made sense.)

Washington declining a bid forced the NIT to go down a list of Pac-12 teams that had already shut things down for the offseason by the time they were even being considered. College athletes from some of those teams had literally gone home by the time Selection Sunday rolled around.

Category three is pretty interesting. Florida St., Indiana and Maryland are all power conference programs that probably consider participating in the NIT (especially as a road team) beneath them. St. Bonaventure is a completely different institution with a rich history in the NIT. The fallout from pre-emptively declining an NIT bid that would've most likely been offered has (partly) cost the Athletic Director their job.

That desire to play in the NIT is especially strong amongst fan bases outside of the power conferences. I saw that this season in my bracketology and from the discussions I had with numerous people on X and other places. The NIT represents a chance to compete against a group of teams that schools from the tier of conference starting at the A-10 and Missouri Valley on down don't often get the chance to match up with (especially towards the end of the season once rosters have gelled).

Which brings me to Development #2 and what if that all gets taken away?

Development #2: The College Basketball Crown is announced.

If it had been announced on Monday, I think most people would've assumed that the College Basketball Crown was an April Fools joke. The tournament, which is brought to you by FOX Sports, is a 16-team tournament for teams that don't make the NCAA Tournament that will be played in Las Vegas from Monday, March 31 to Sunday, April 6, 2025.

The tournament appears to have the backing of FOX's major television contract partners: the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East. Much like what was supposed to happen for this season's NIT, there will be two automatic bids from each conference into the tournament.

Beyond that, extremely little is known about what other teams will want to play in this tournament.

Theoretically though this is the can of worms that the NIT was trying to avoid when it changed its selection process to hand out automatic bids to power conference teams. It doesn't seem to have worked.

There are definitely enough good basketball teams to have a 48-team postseason beyond the NCAA Tournament. (At least when we have 68 teams in there.) I don't doubt that both the NIT and the College Basketball Crown will be able to fill their tournaments next season.

But if both tournaments are trying to attract schools that are big television draws, such as say Ohio St. this season, where will teams like the Buckeyes end up? It's hard to say. Can CBC automatic bids be turned down? There's a lot we don't know, but I thought The Barking Crow did a good job thinking through a lot of the implications.

One knock on effect though might be that the College Basketball Crown threatens the viability of the College Basketball Invitational. The tournament has run an awesome event that past few years in Daytona Beach, FL but I wonder if teams that might've played in that will now go to the CBC? [Seattle beat High Point for the title this season.] It'll be interesting how teams are redistributed.

I will continue trying to learn more about the landscape as we move into next season so that I can continue to deliver the best NIT Bracketology possible. But come Selection Sunday 2025 things might get even weirder.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Quick Reactions to the NIT Bracket

Five quick thoughts:

1. Oklahoma opting out after missing the NCAA Tournament gave UCF a home game again. It's probably for the best. It also opened up a spot that was given to either North Texas, Xavier or Cornell.

2. Washington opting out created a conspicuous absence in the NIT bracket: A second Pac-12 team. The league only used one their automatic NIT bids. My guess is that what happened is that after Washington declined none of the other teams were ready to play again after finishing under .500. USC closed strong, but even they were probably finished. It's a pretty bad look though for the NCAA that in the first year of the automatic bids a league failed to use theirs. Though I guess that league will cease to exist soon.

3. The biggest shock to me in the bracket reveal was Xavier getting an at-large bid at 16-17 overall. My guess is that the NIT knew the Musketeers wanted to play in the NIT, because they had to have been talking to them in case they were needed in a scenario where too many Big East teams opted out. When Oklahoma opted out that created an opportunity, which Xavier seemed willing to fill. Good for them.

4. The second biggest shock as Bradley getting a three seed and a home game. Every other home game went to a team I had as a 5-seed or higher in my s-curve.  Bradley's NET is 57, which probably carried the day, but it was still a bit surprising. It seemed like the committee trusted the NET even with mid-majors this season (see Princeton's 2 seed), which is unusual.

5. I would really like to know what happened to Syracuse. The Orange had a better NET than some of the teams in the field, so it seems to me that it's likely they opted out, but 'Cuse is a team that's fanatically covered and there hasn't been any reporting to that point. Syracuse's Strength of Record was amongst the best in the NIT field. If North Texas or Cornell got a bid over them... That's questionable. Update (3/18): Syracuse opted out of the NIT. Their statement said: "We respect the NIT but our only post-season goal was to play in the NCAA tournament. Therefore, we communicated to the ACC we would not participate in the NIT."

I'll have more to say, especially about St. John's, but for now let's enjoy the games.

Final NIT Bracket

Indiana St., Pittsburgh, Oklahoma and Seton Hall are your NIT No. 1 seeds after being the First Four Out of the NCAA Tournament. I swapped South Florida and UCF because UCF is no longer an automatic bid. It's possible that Princeton could get a home game now, but it works better geographically if the Tigers are sent on the road (and it wouldn't be the first time the NIT committee did something like it). 

9 pm addendum: This NIT bracket was updated after I learned that St. John's, Pittsburgh and Washington were opting out of playing in the tournament. Oklahoma might also decline a bid. If that's the case then UCF would once again get a home game, probably hosting South Florida. It would also mean that another team would make the NIT. There are a lot of candidates for that final slot but either North Texas, St. Bonaventure, or Cornell makes the most sense in my opinion.

Also, Oregon's run to the NCAA Tournament, Colorado's at-large selection, and Washington declining means that the second Pac-12 bid would go to USC. I have no idea if they would take it because I haven't talked to anyone around the school because I had no idea they'd get that far down the list.

The NIT Selection Show is at 9:30 pm. Should be interesting!

NIT Bracket

1. Indiana St.
U. Loyola Chicago
4. Kansas St.
U. Minnesota
3. Utah (Pac-12 1)
U. UC Irvine
2. Ohio St. (Big Ten 1)

1. Seton Hall
U. Syracuse
4. LSU (SEC 1)
3. Virginia Tech (ACC 2)
U. Saint Joseph's
2. Villanova (Big East 1)
U. Bradley

1. Oklahoma (Big 12 2)
4. USC (Pac-12 2)
U. San Francisco
3. Iowa (Big Ten 2)
U. Butler
2. Cincinnati (Big 12 1)
U. South Florida

1. Providence (Big East 2)
U. Boston College
4. Georgia (SEC 2)
3. Princeton
U. Richmond
2. Wake Forest (ACC 1)
U. Appalachian St.

NIT Bracketology, March 17

There was chaos last night. This bracket is the result of that chaos. Oregon and NC State both moved out of the NIT and into the NCAA Tournament via upsets that secured them automatic bids. That forced two more bubble teams into the NIT and also moved seeds around a ton.

Where I'm at at this point is that no one really knows anything. The bubble is historically strong and historically squeezed. I've never felt like I could be more off. And that matters in NIT bracketology now because of the automatic bids. This bracket would look a lot different if say Texas A&M or Mississippi St. miss the tournament instead.

Also, we've never watched the NIT Committee select the bottom of the bubble like this. So who knows what they'll actually do.

The NCAA Selection Show is at 6 pm. I'll have a new bracket after that reveal. If Yale or VCU lose I'll update the bracket accordingly. The NIT Selection Show is tonight at 9:30 pm on ESPN2. So we'll have a nice gap in between to wait and wonder. Good luck to everyone.

Last NCAA Tournament: TCU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Mississippi St., Colorado St., Colorado

NIT Bracket:

1. Indiana St.
U. Butler
4. Washington (Pac-12 2)
U. San Francisco
3. Ohio St. (Big Ten 1)
U. Kansas St.
2. Providence
U. Boston College

1. Pittsburgh (ACC 1)
U. Duquesne
4. LSU (SEC 1)
U. UC Irvine
3. Iowa (Big Ten 2)
U. Bradley
2. Villanova (Big East 2)
U. Syracuse

1. Virginia
U. Richmond
4. UCF (Big 12 2)
U. South Florida
3. Cincinnati (Big 12 1)
2. Wake Forest (ACC 2)
U. Appalachian St.

1. St. John's (Big East 1)
U. Loyola Chicago
4. Georgia (SEC 2)
U. Virginia Tech
3. Utah (Pac-12 1)
2. Seton Hall
U. Princeton

Others Considered: Xavier (for NET reasons), Saint Joseph's, VCU (in NCAA Tournament), St. Bonaventure, Cornell, Yale (in NCAA Tournament), Florida St.

Said They'll Decline: Memphis, Indiana, Ole Miss

WAB Is Going To Be On NCAA Team Sheets!

The NCAA Team Sheets are going to have Wins Above Bubble! That was one of the excellent pieces of news that came out of the meetings of the ...