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Playing For Seeds March 4, 2013

I’ve mentioned before how college sports, for me, has a junior high flavor.  When we miss a bowl game (and we always miss bowl games), it feels like everyone left lunch early to go play kickball in the gym but nobody asked me to play.  When we miss the tournament, Selection Sunday is pretty much me carrying my lunch tray past the Kansas/North Carolina table, not getting the wave-over invite, and sitting by myself in the corner, eventually to be joined by Stony Brook.  I mean, Stony Brook’s a nice guy and all, but Sarah Lawrence is never going to go to the movies with a guy who sits with Stony Brook at lunch.

As such, locking up a Tournament bid before the Big Ten tournament feels like a phone call from Kansas on Sunday, inviting me to sit with him and Syracuse at lunch that week.  It’s decided.  There will be no nerves when I grab my tray and turn.  Kansas has said it’s cool with him AND with Syracuse, so I don’t even have to worry about a funny look from Duke when I sit down.  Screw Duke.  He thinks he’s so much better than everyone.  Kansas, Syracuse, and especially North Carolina probably hate him.

We’re in.  It just feels so good to say it.  Yes, I know there’s still doubters – they tweet me.  “But what if every conference favorite loses in their tournament” people who have been Weber’d into expecting the worse.  Here, I’ll put you at ease.

The Bracket Project takes 96 different bracketologists and combines their brackets.  As of this moment, we’re a middle 7 seed (average of 7.48).  Let’s take our worst case scenario (lose two this week and then get upset by Northwestern/Nebraska/Purdue in the first round of the BTT).  That would make our resume look like this (and remember, RPI isn’t a used as a direct ranking – it’s used as a ranking of who you beat/who you lost to):

Record: 21-12 (with losses to Ohio State, Iowa, and let’s worst-case it and say we lose to Northwestern in the BTT)
Strength of Schedule: 9
vs RPI top-50: 5-8
vs RPI 50-100: 2-1
vs RPI 100-200: 8-3
Good wins: #28 Butler (neutral), #9 Gonzaga (road), #21 Ohio State (home), #7 Indiana (home), #16 Minnesota (road)
Bad losses: #117 Purdue (road), #142 Northwestern (home), #142 Northwestern (neutral)

Now let’s compare that, our absolute worst case scenario, to the current resumes of some real bubble teams. The Bracket Project puts Boise State right on the bubble. Here’s their resume:

Record: 18-8
Strength of Schedule: 67
vs RPI top-50: 3-5
vs RPI 50-100: 4-1
vs RPI 100-200: 7-2
Good wins: #36 Creighton (road), #14 UNLV (home), #17 Colorado State (home)
Bad losses: #187 Utah (road), #166 Nevada (road)

Remember, that’s the resume of a team that’s currently IN. But they’re not a big name. What about another bubble team like Kentucky (also listed as currently in)?

Record: 20-9
Strength of Schedule: 59
vs RPI top-50: 1-4
vs RPI 50-100: 5-5
vs RPI 100-200: 5-0
Good wins: #33 Missouri (home)
Bad losses: #84 Texas A&M (home), #80 Arkansas (road)

Or how about the first team out, Ole Miss:

Record: 21-9
Strength of Schedule: 132
vs RPI top-50: 1-3
vs RPI 50-100: 4-3
vs RPI 100-200: 5-0
vs. RPI 201+: 11-2
Good wins: #33 Missouri (home)
Bad losses: #204 South Carolina (road), #226 Mississippi State (road)

If any of these teams above go on a little run here at the end of the year (Kentucky beats Florida at home and then wins a few in the SEC tourney; Boise State wins at UNLV on Tuesday), they’re probably squarely in the tournament and no longer on the bubble. And we STILL have a better resume than all of them even if our worst-case scenario happens. Bubble teams just don’t have the wins that we have, and that’s what the committee looks at. You have to climb up to the three seeds to find a comparable list of wins. Yes, our Purdue and Northwestern losses knock us down, which is why I’m not talking about three-seeds right now. But our wins – especially our road wins at Gonzaga and Minnesota (and a little victory over this team called the Hoosiers) – just aren’t matched by three-quarters of the teams that will make the tournament.

So when your worst case scenario to close out the season is still better than 12-to-15 tournament teams’ best case scenario… you’re a lock for the tournament. The only people who haven’t locked us yet are those being paid to pimp the BPI. The committee cares about who you beat, who you lost to, and where those games took place.

Which means we’re playing for seeds right now. It’s never this simple – it’s never as easy as “lose this game we’re a 7 but win it we’re a 6″ – but that’s never stopped me from putting together charts like the one below.  Using “if the season ended today” as my BTT guide (we’d be the 6-seed playing Northwestern and then facing Wisconsin in the second round), here’s my seed chart:

Lose @ Iowa, lose @ Ohio State, lose to Northwestern: 8 or 9
Win one of the road games, lose to Northwestern: 7
Lose both road games, beat Northwestern (maybe Purdue at that point), lose to Wisconsin: 7
Win both road games, lose to Northwestern: 6, chance at a 5.
Split the road games, beat Northwestern, lose to Wisconsin: 6 – chance at 5 if the win is Ohio State
Win both road games, beat Northwestern, lose to Wisconsin: 5, slight chance of 4.

After that we’re completely past best-case-scenario, so I’ll just say that a split this week followed by a 2-1 BTT is a solid 5 and probably a 4. Actually, that scenario would mean we could possibly count Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State (twice), Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as victims. That’s a 4.

Man, with our wins, Selection Sunday is going to be lots of fun…

“Joe, were you surprised to see Illinois as a five seed?”

“Yes, that was quite surprising, especially with 11 losses. But when you see that they beat two of the #1 seeds, plus a 4-seed and a 5-seed and a 6-seed…”

Screw Duke. We’re sitting down at this table. Because we belong.

IlliNYC March 4th, 2013

THIS team COULD win it all this year.

They won’t. Of course they won’t.

But this is such a weird year for College Basketball–and this team is capable of beating anyone in the country when we’re hitting shots. Punchers chance against anyone. Remember how easily we handled Gonzaga?

At the least, we’ll absolutely be one of the scariest teams in the country for the high seeds.

SouthernIllini March 4th, 2013

Robert, I really just can’t say enough how entertaining you are as a writer. Bravo, my friend!

Excellent writing, good analasys, and a good jab at Duke?! What else could I ask for. Especially since we all secretly wish we could BE Duke.

SouthernIllini March 4th, 2013

And +1 IlliNYC. There are a lot of really good teams out there hoping Illinois goes on a little hot streak. No number 2 seed wants to see Illinois in a potential second round matchup.

BexleyIllini March 4th, 2013

Thank you, Robert. This post definitely makes me feel better. In the back of my head I really fear that an 8-10 conf record (if it happens) just won’t cut it for the tournament. The turnaround sparked by the Indiana win has been remarkable.

Lou-a-villini March 4th, 2013

It seems we’ll need to get a heartier whiff of the Top 25 again before we get too excited about a 4-5 seed, even if we win a game or two in the B1G.

BTW, I’ve never been exactly sure what Duke ever did to Illinois to earn such disdain. And I’m not bringing this up because I may or may not currently be affiliated with the institution. (Notice I used “we” quite a bit in the opening, so please go easy on ol’ Lou.)

Robert March 4th, 2013

Just deleted three Joe John comments. Wanted to delete others in the last post (but not Joe John’s – people going after Joe). So I figure I probably need a policy here.
Please talk about the topic, not each other. I realize that it’s a bit Pollyanna to think that this is possible, but that’s what I’m going with.
Joe’s latest comment was fine. He thinks we’ll be a 10 seed if we lose both this week. I’m perfectly OK with that opinion. But the “I guess I’m the Paul Harvey of this blog and have to tell people the real story” comment that he added is not OK.
That’s the line. Make it about me, I’ll delete it. Make it about Joe, I’ll delete it.
Which means comments on ALE will effectively come to a screeching halt.
P.S. I hate this.

OWWDig March 4th, 2013

Reasonable policy, Robert. It should be about ideas – not about people.
I am so excited for the next couple of weeks. We are playing with house money, for sure. I think it all starts with Iowa tomorrow; beat them and the sky’s the limit. Lose and we may limp in. Either way, after watching last year’s debacle, struggling with the coaching search, being predicted 9th in conference which essentially is saying ‘out’ of the tourney, and our 2-7 conference start – playing with house money is a awesome.
Very happy for the team. Not sure if you had a chance to speak to any of them after the game Saturday. They were really gracious with their time after the game, excited to go take on Iowa. Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate stuck around a long time after the game and were very warmly greeted and hugged by Coach Groce.
Thanks for the laughs with this post. Perfect metaphor for a struggling college hoops team. Glad to be sitting at the table. Good Times!

thegoah March 4th, 2013

Holy crap. 2-7. We were 2-7?? Wow.

We’ve had a nice little run. Let’s keep it going.


(Can I make negative personal comments about BFP?)

Illinigrad March 5th, 2013

Great article today Robert. I agree that you are the best. I have said that before. In fact this is the most interesting and sane blog about Illini sports in existence. I hate for the posting to deteriorate to the point where there actually has to be some “policing” for the lack of a better term. I would hope that the level of interaction among those who follow this blog is as sophisticated as Robert’s writing and ideas and thus above reproach.

illiniranger March 5th, 2013

so, uh, jim bridge just left. on the day we started Spring Fball. Not. Good.

Joe John March 5th, 2013

Horrible performance vs a bad Iowa team tonight. That game was there to be had.

GMAW March 5th, 2013

Joe John:

Are you going to pay your bet with abuck75?


Joe John March 6th, 2013

I think I’ve come up with a way for Illinois to not make the NCAA tourney and it has nothing to do with what happens outside the conference.

Here’s how: Purdue needs to win their final 2 games (Michigan, Minnesota). That gets them to 9-9. They would then be tied with Minnesota/Iowa (assuming both those teams beat Nebraska). Purdue would win a 3 way tiebreaker and land all the way up at 6th. The 7th/8th would need to then go Minnesota/Iowa. Basically, Iowa would have to match up with Illinois again in the 8/9 game. Then, if Iowa wins that game, I dont see how the NCAA tournament would still take Illinois over Iowa (having lost to them twice in a week and finishing below them in the conference). So if Iowa makes it, for Illinois to get in that means the NCAA would have to take 8 Big 10 teams. That could still happen, but thats the bubble of all bubbles. Does Illinois make it over Minnesota? Probably depends on how each does in the BTT, but in this scenario Illinois loses its game, and Minny probably beats NW.

So tonight’s Purdue-Michigan game is key. If Michigan wins, then I’ll say Illinois is a lock to make the NCAA tourney even though its going to be a 9-12 seed. But, if Purdue pulls off the shocker, then all bets are off because I definitely can see the above scenario playing out.

bkenny March 6th, 2013

“Then, if Iowa wins that game, I dont see how the NCAA tournament would still take Illinois over Iowa (having lost to them twice in a week and finishing below them in the conference).”
It’s pretty easy to see how. You realize the committee doesn’t even look at conference record, right? Line up Iowa’s resume next to ours, even if your scenario plays out. They still aren’t close. Iowa has beat nobody all year, most of their wins are RPI 150+. You’re way too obsessed with order of finish in the conference, when it doesn’t really make a difference.

Joe John March 6th, 2013

I choose to not believe the NCAA committee when they say that they dont look at conference standings. I definitely think they do, and I think they began to look at more closely in recent years with the mid major teams (and associated analysts) crying foul about passing over good mid majors to take 7th thru 9th place teams of BCS conferences. I guarantee if Illinois finishes 9th in the Big 10 and makes the tourney, the pundits will have a field day with that and the NCAA tournament committee does/CBS etc do not like negative publicity. Plus, you never know if they might start using this BPI measure or KenPom. RPI is a traditional metric that Illinois is strong at, but there’s been teams with better RPI than 35 (which probably will end up around 40) that have been left out.

bkenny March 6th, 2013

Having one extra win during the BT season, which could be the difference between 6th and 9th, doesn’t make up for a resume not being equal. If they are in over an Iowa, none of the talking heads will say a word about it. They will say “Yeah, Illinois should be in, look at the great wins they have, one of the top 5 set of wins in the country. They beat good competition.”
Again, who has Iowa beaten? Go look at their schedule, especially the non conference schedule.
Again, way too much emphasis on order of finish.
Who’d you play, who’d you beat, simple as that.

GMAW March 6th, 2013

Only one team from a big 6 conference has had a top 40 RPI and missed the NCAA tournament: Cincy in 2006 (#40). Also, as conferences have gotten bigger, and schedules more unbalanced, it is likely the committee cares less about conference record, not more.

Iowa’s one plays this year were OSU, Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois.

As much as you want them to miss the tournament, they are a mortal lock at this point.

What should I tell abuck75 about when you will pay your bet?

Hoppy March 6th, 2013

Well there you go Joe John. Purdue didn’t beat Michigan. It was close…but no cigar.
Also, I find it sad that you spent time weaving and wandering through which path would keep Illinois out of the tournament. That’s pretty much on par with a Purdue fan telling everyone there is still a way for them to get in.
Although, in a Purdue fan’s case, at least they would be supporting their team as an ultimate fanatic. I’m not exactly sure what to call your approach other than sad.

Joe John March 6th, 2013

I think Illinois is safely in at an 11 or 12.
The only way IMO that they could have been left out is if Iowa took their spot, but now it appears there is no way Iowa can play Illinois in the BTT so Iowa wont be able to make that argument, unless they go on a run in the BTT which i dont think they can.

GMAW March 6th, 2013

You’re wrong yet again. UI won’t be worse than a 10. What do you want me to tell abuck about paying your bet, Cabana Joe (John)?

Joe John March 6th, 2013

I dont know who the idiot is above me that is posting, but at least it clearly illustrates that Robert doesnt abide by his own rules. He bongs my posts for any hint of “getting personal”, but he allows some blabbering idiot like GMAW to muck up threads. Here’s a message to GMAW – i dont know who you are, and I dont care. But thank you for providing an example that Robert is biased against me. Please keep doing it. It will only provide clear evidence that Robert does not back up what he says are the posting rules.