Friday, February 15, 2008

Mocking the Media

I’ve read a lot of the articles on the NCAA mock bracketing exercise from last week. Generally, I was surprised at how little new information came out. The best recap is probably from the NCAA’s own blog. (Here is a live blog of Day One. Here is a live blog of Day Two.) And as expected, many of the media members that attended wrote columns as well. Here are some of the “free” ones. Here is Clark Kellogg. Here is Andy Katz. Here is Steve Wieberg of USA Today. Here is Marlen Garcia of USA Today. Here is Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News. Here is Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Here is Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic. Here is Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News. Here is Steve Carp of the Las-Vegas Review-Journal. Here is Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard.

A few things stood out to me:

1) The committee mentioned the “last 12 games” in its discussions instead of the “last 10 games”. The AP also had a story suggesting that the NCAA has adopted “last 12” as its new standard since exempt tournaments have expanded the length of the season.

Washington St. cannot be pleased. Washington St. had lost 5 games all year, and the recent 3 game losing streak appeared to be mostly outside the last 10, but now it is smack dab at the start of the last 12. On the flip side, there are plenty of other teams that won games and are happy to start counting early.

I keep track of teams records starting with the 11th to last regular season game (since teams will play at least one conference tournament game). Looking at the at large candidates from the BCS leagues and high majors, here are the teams with good and bad starts to the final stretch:

Undefeated in the final 12 (so far)
Texas A&M
Wright St.
All of these teams are 4-0 or better.

4 losses in the final 12
Boston College

3 losses in the final 12
Washington St.
Ole Miss
NC State

It is always important to win at the end of the year, but it is critical for these teams that have started the home stretch on a bad note.

2) Don’t obsess too much about seeding. Michigan St. was seeded as a 2 in one mock bracket, and using essentially the same data, they were seeded as a 4 in another mock bracket. Pitt was a 3 in one bracket, and a 7 in the other bracket. These are huge differences. The average 2 seed wins one more game than the average 4 seed. The average 3 seed wins one more game than the average 7 seed. Differences like this can also mean the difference between earning a near-home game or playing half-way across the continent, so fans have a reason to obsess. But why fill a message board attacking Seth Davis or Joe Lunardi or any other seed predictor when it is obvious that different groups of people putting a different weight on the same numbers can come to starkly different conclusions.

3) The committee specifically said that they do not take margin of victory into consideration. (And neither does the BCS officially.) But one astute comment at the end of the NCAA’s live blog stated it well:

“Because the BCS uses human polls in its ranking, margin of victory is a factor - although not a direct factor. For the same reason, the basketball committee likely uses margin of victory indirectly. When you boil it all down, it's simply the opinion of people, which has to be influenced by margin of victory.”

While the committee may not put Sagarin predictor, or Pomeroy’s Ratings, or Gasaway’s PPP up on the screen in the selection room, to say the committee is unaware of team performance is unrealistic. That’s one the great things about having a committee of people instead of a formula.