Friday, March 2, 2012

The Inaugural Bilas Invitational Tournament Bracket Watch

Jay Bilas is just that bad-ass that he doesn't have to follow anyone on Twitter. Even Chuck Norris envies that level of trillness.

Another sign of his badassery is that you have to pay to read just about anything he writes on This piece would probably raise a few more hackles if the general riffraff could read it. For those of you who are either broke, cheap, or have little interest in feeding His Royal Baldness's impenetrable swag, he advocates that the NCAA Tournament would be a better place if there were no automatic bids involved. The inevitable backlash from the Witty Handle Troll Brigade is predictably crucifying Bilas for trying to close the NCAA Tournament to all but the top half-dozen conferences (in other words, turning it into football).

No mid-major will ever make the tournament again, let alone make a run like Butler's runner-up finishes or VCU last year or George Mason in 2006. So sayeth Momsbasement69WTF or HoopsPimpDukeSuckit or whatever their "names" are.

Bilas's philosophy would be that those teams would have made the Tournament comfortably during the years they had their greatest successes, and it's quite likely that others would have joined them.

I have a hard time resisting the siren call of spreadsheets and rankings, so I've taken it upon myself to assemble a 68-team bracket where no one is automatically eligible, and some may in fact be automatically INeligible.

In honor of the tallest, whitest hip-hop wannabe in history, it shall henceforth be referred to as the Bilas Invitational Tournament, or BIT for short. (Could also be Back Iron Tournament, but Jay may need the ego stroke more than I do. That's saying something, because I like a good ego stroke hella more than the next guy.)

It may not be simple, but the formula's quite objective.

Teams are ranked by the averages of their ranks in nine of the top college basketball metrics going today:
  1. The NCAA's official RPI.
  2. RealTimeRPI.
  3. ESPN's InsideRPI. (Sorry, another Paywall Special.)
  4. ESPN's BPI (which is supposed to be "better than RPI.")
  5. Jay's own Bilas Index (yep, Insider, because Jay's pearls of wisdom don't come cheap.)
  6. The Massey ratings.
  7. The Sagarin ratings.
  8. The LRMC ratings.
  9. Finally, KenPom's ratings.
The Bilas Index only goes to 68, so once more teams get involved, the entire group is sorted by BPI, and the team with the best BPI ranking gets No. 69 in BI. Next best BPI gets No. 70 and so on.

Essentially, the list is populated not by every team in America, but by the top 68 teams in each metric, plus any remaining teams that Joe Lunardi has included as auto-bids. These come from the likes of the America East, Big South, and SWAC, aka The Leagues That Get Steamrolled By Duke and Kentucky In The First Round.

After all the averages are compiled (numbers current as of 1:00 AM Central on March 2), the S-Curve reads thusly:

Kentucky Syracuse Kansas Michigan St.
Wichita St. Duke Ohio State North Carolina
Missouri Baylor Georgetown Marquette
Memphis Florida Wisconsin Indiana
Vanderbilt Michigan UNLV St. Louis
New Mexico Temple Gonzaga Louisville
Creighton Alabama Kansas St. California
Murray St. Iowa St. Virginia Florida St.
St. Mary's Long Beach St. Purdue Texas
Southern Miss BYU Connecticut San Diego St.
Harvard Notre Dame Belmont Iona
Miami (FL) Middle Tenn. St. West Virginia Seton Hall
Arizona Cincinnati VCU Northwestern
Oral Roberts Xavier Washington South Florida
St. Joseph's NC State Drexel Colorado St.
Minnesota/Tennessee Davidson/New Mexico St. Mississippi St./Illinois Oregon/S. Dakota St.

Notice that all four play-in games are for #16 seeds, as opposed to the mishmash that comprises the current First Four. It still creates some highly charged potential first-round matchups, such as Davidson/Syracuse. We've already seen that the Wildcats can knock off a top seed this season (Kansas, in case you were asleep), so what could they do with the Boeheim Zone?

Now, let's take it just a bit further and indulge Joey Brackets for a moment. Similar to Bilas, he's demanding some changes of his own behind that impenetrable paywall. Lunardi's pet cause is ineligibility for any team that can't attain a winning record within its conference.

Who in our original 68 would find themselves "ineligible" for this reason? Just a few of your power conference also-rans: UConn, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, and Mississippi State.

Who would get to take their places? Try LaSalle, Dayton, Northern Iowa, Akron, Ohio, Nevada, and St. Bonaventure. Not a BCS conference team in the bunch, although the Atlantic 10 certainly gets some major representation.

The only other stipulation is that teams from the same conference cannot meet each other in the first round. With that taken care of, the new S-Curve looks like this:

Kentucky Syracuse Kansas Michigan St.
Wichita St. Duke Ohio State North Carolina
Missouri Baylor Georgetown Marquette
Memphis Florida Wisconsin Indiana
Vanderbilt Michigan UNLV St. Louis
New Mexico Temple Gonzaga Louisville
Creighton Alabama Kansas St. California
Murray St. Iowa St. Virginia Florida St.
St. Mary's Long Beach St. Purdue Texas
Harvard Southern Miss BYU San Diego St.
Notre Dame Belmont Iona Middle Tenn. St.
VCU Cincinnati Arizona Miami (FL)
South Florida Washington Xavier Oral Roberts
Colorado St. Drexel NC State St. Joseph's
Oregon S. Dakota St. Davidson New Mexico St.
Nevada/St. Bonaventure N. Iowa/Ohio Dayton/Akron Tennessee/LaSalle

The link to your finished bracket is here.

Now, there is a little bit of collateral damage from Bilas's "no auto bids" decree. At this moment, that would be the champions of the following conferences:

America East (Stony Brook, 139.11 ranking avg.)
Big Sky (Montana, 91.89)
Big South (UNC Asheville, 123.11)
Horizon (Valparaiso, 113.44)
MEAC (Savannah State, 175.33)
Northeast (LIU Brooklyn, 132.56)
Patriot (Bucknell, 94.33)
Southland (Texas Arlington, 93.33)
SWAC (Mississippi Valley State, 180.56)

Our last team in, St. Bonaventure, had a ranking average of 77.89. Show me a piece of data that indicates Montana or Bucknell or UTA are among the 68 best teams in America, and I'll gladly investigate. In the meantime, even though I like the scrappy underdog stories as much as the next guy, I think I'd rather investigate a potential first-round game between Kentucky and St. Bonnie (Anthony Davis v. Andrew Nicholson? Hmmm...) than one between Kentucky and MVSU.

In case you didn't notice the power conference carnage that ensued with the ".500 conference record" rule, let's break it down by leagues.

Big East: 7 bids
Atlantic 10: 7 bids (!)
ACC: 6
Big Ten: 6
Big 12: 6
SEC: 5
Pac-12: 4
Mountain West: 4
Missouri Valley: 3
West Coast: 3
Conference USA: 2
Colonial: 2
MAC: 2
Summit: 2
WAC: 2
Atlantic Sun, Big West, Ivy, MAAC, OVC, Southern, Sun Belt: 1 each

That's 34 from the Power Six, and 34 from everywhere else. In comparison, Lunardi's most current bracket has 35 bids for the top six leagues.

If I'd stopped at removing the automatic bids, then some of the complainers and Trillas Bilas haters would have had a point. The major conferences would have had 40 bids.

Mandating a winning conference record, though, levels the playing field substantially. In a nutshell, what a rule like that would do would be to cap the number of schools that can make the tournament from a single conference. After all, simple math tells us it's hard to have nine or 10 teams with winning records in a 12-team conference.

Conference tournaments would count toward that record, though, so if a team finished 7-9 and then went on an insane UConn-style run through its conference tourney, by all means, they would be welcome to the Dance.

Of the seven teams that lost their spots in the BIT, only Minnesota and their 5-12 Big Ten record would have no chance of redeeming themselves and making the tournament. Illinois could win their final game at Wisconsin on Sunday and then sweep four in a row for a miracle rally to finish 11-11. (It could happen. Right about the time Britney Spears headlines La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera, but still.)

For those who are serious about getting more mid-major representation, feeling that a team like Xavier may have a better chance to win the national championship than a team like Mississippi State, Lunardi's got your back. If you don't mind the idea of a Tennessee, competing hard in a major conference, taking a spot away from an America East or Southland school, Bilas's idea has some merit.

Either way, I'll be updating this piece several times between now and Selection Sunday, so we get an evolving picture of who's moving up and down...or in and out.

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