March Madness – The Strength of a Team
As sports fans prepare for arguably the most exciting time in sports, the NCAA committee will prepare to be the most criticized group over their decisions in setting the field. Every year there are fans and analysts giving their opinions on which teams deserve to make the tournament and what their seed should have been. With the so-called “Mid-Major” conferences improving their level of talent and competition over the years, it will draw even more attention to the committee and the teams themselves. A Mid-Major is the number one team in the country for only the third time in the last ten seasons and it was Gonzaga’s first number one ranking in school history. In addition to individual team success, the Mountain West conference has battled the mighty Big 10 for top spot in conference RPI all season.
So the real question is, just how important are all of these rankings and formulas when comparing the strength of teams? You cannot watch college basketball without hearing the terms RPI or Strength of Schedule (SOS). I always thought these formulas were put in place to determine the strength between teams no matter the conference affiliation and award teams for challenging themselves during the season and winning tough games. There has been a backlash on these this year among the media and analysts in college basketball. They claim the formulas do not prove the true strength of teams and that the system is just being worked by the smaller conferences. RPI and SOS are just a small measurement on a large scale of determining how good a team is and that the “eye test” still accounts for a major portion of committee selections and seeds. The eye test is always a popular answer when a final decision needs to be made, especially when the formulas put in place to assist, makes deciding between two teams even more difficult.
In reality there is no silver bullet for determining the strength of a team and numerous elements must be accounted for. On March 19th when the games begin, we won’t have to crunch anymore numbers or give subjective opinions because the teams will get to decide who is better. The only way to shut the fans and analysts up is by going out and winning when the stage is the biggest. Before last year’s top heavy Final Four, Butler and VCU both had excellent runs in the tournament. To erase the stigma of the “non-Big 6″, the Mid-Majors will need to be consistent not only through the regular season but come tournament time.
Throughout the entire tournament I will track the results of the games and compare the two teams involved based on their SOS, BPI , KenPom, Sagarin, and RPI. I will copy these ratings after Selection Sunday, before the tournament starts and will not update them throughout. They will remain the same for consistency purposes and tracking of results based on pre-tournament ratings. After every round I will document what each formula produced both against the spread and straight up. I did a similar experiment last year, but only tracked the KenPom record. Documenting every game using the KenPom rating on Selection Sunday he had some good success, with his higher rated team going 44-19 straight up and 34-28-1 against the spread.
Check back next Sunday where I will release a full breakdown of all the teams in the field and see if we can make any sense out of all these numbers.