Your viewer’s guide for Selection Sunday 2018


(L.E. Baskow – AP photo)

The reason the mock brackets gathered together at are so valuable collectively is that the people making those brackets are doing precisely what the committee does.

Unlike my good friends doing games on TV or talking about a given game from the studio, a person who goes to the trouble of building one entire bracket isn’t simply covering one game, pointing at a team, and saying, “They should be in.” Instead, they’re dealing with a finite number of spots, just like the committee. They have to make tough decisions regarding Arizona State versus Louisville, just like the committee. And they have exactly 36 at-large bids to hand out, just like the committee.

Then again, the reason why the cumulative consensus that results isn’t infallible is that even such a “bracket of brackets” is, in the end, just one bracket — and so too is the committee’s. Going 68-for-68 is entirely possible, but it entails luck as well as skill.

At root, then, the cardinal value of the consensus bracket is that it defines just how idiosyncratic the real bracket might eventually be. Here’s what the consensus bracket is telling us this afternoon (remembering always that I’m merely passing along what said consensus is saying, and that I’m not endorsing it even empirically much less normatively)….

Consensus says stop talking about St. Bonaventure and Oklahoma. They’re in.
I get that some people, for various reasons they plainly find highly persuasive as they state them at length in my mentions, don’t like the idea of the Bonnies and/or the Sooners getting bids. You make some very good points, and, alas, they are all for naught. (Side note: I am not on the committee.) SBU and OU appear on 223 of the 228 brackets in the matrix population. Consensus says they’re in, and, if the NCAA differs there, it will be surprising (though hardly unprecedented).

If you’re really still wondering, everyone else above St. Bonaventure and Oklahoma that looked shaky just 72 hours ago is of course also seen as being in: USC, UCLA, Texas, Florida State, Alabama (duh), Providence (ditto), etc.

Consensus thinks Saint Mary’s is in, and that Davidson just killed a very interesting Arizona State versus Louisville discussion.
If Oklahoma and St. Bonaventure are in, and everyone above them is too, that right there absorbs 35 at-large spots.

That number is a 35 instead of a 33, of course, because of Nevada and Rhode Island. Ideally, from a bubble team’s perspective, the Wolf Pack and the Rams would have both freed up their presumptive at-large bids by winning the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 tournaments, respectively.

Instead, Nevada lost in rather spectacular fashion to San Diego State, and Rhode Island was taken down in a thrilling one-point contest by Davidson. With those two bid thieves in the field, fully 35 out of 36 at-large spots are already spoken for. (Again, we think.) Who gets the last bid?

Saint Mary’s is no Oklahoma or St. Bonaventure in terms of “level of consensus bid confidence” (I dub thee LCBC!), but the Gaels do rate out as better on that metric than either Arizona State or Louisville. The consensus view, then, is that SMC is in, barely, and that the Sun-Devils-or-Cardinals decision would have been a true pick-em if not for Davidson’s bid thievery.  So, according to the consensus, both ASU and the Cards are out, as well as other bubble types: Syracuse, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Baylor, Nebraska, etc.

Still, once you get down to the last at-large in the field, these are very fine distinctions that are being drawn. The best bet is to bring this list with you to the selection show:

Three bubble teams, one spot
Saint Mary’s
Arizona State

The most likely scenario is that there’s only one spot available for those three teams. When you hear any of the above names called this evening, cross the other two off the list.

Notre Dame may turn out to be a less fascinating selection case than we thought.
The Fighting Irish are or were supposed to be a wild card here. Certainly there has been no shortage of speculation that the committee could, in effect, give Mike Brey’s team a break for having played without Bonzie Colson for the balance of the ACC season. (Yes, Matt Farrell missed five games too, but with Colson we’re discussing someone who may have won the 2018 Wooden Award had he stayed healthy.) The consensus bracket doesn’t see that happening, however, and it’s possible that ND simply lost one game too early in the ACC tournament to either: a) truly get that discussion off the ground, or, better still; b) render it a moot point by beating Duke. Still, the Irish might qualify as the least surprising possible surprise for the evening.

Could the sacrificial example of Oklahoma State be what it takes to finally bury the RPI?
If the consensus is correct, the Cowboys are coming nowhere near a bid. Assuming events do indeed play out that way, the committee will really, really want to be prepared for the following line of questioning. (Trust me, I know. I’ve heard it nonstop for the past four days.)

How can you possibly take Oklahoma, at 18-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big 12, when OSU went 19-14 and 8-10 and just beat the Sooners by 11 points on a neutral floor four days ago?

The committee will hem and haw and pay tribute to OU’s quality wins at Wichita State and TCU and on a neutral floor against USC, which is half-correct. Those are indeed the reasons why Oklahoma is being included, but those games can hardly be the reason that Oklahoma State is being excluded.

No, the answer to that question is instead the fact that the Cowboys look historically terrible as an at-large candidate according to the RPI’s lights. The committee can’t say that, of course, because even the NCAA itself, much less the membership of a volunteer committee, knows by 2018 that the RPI is a capricious travesty. (The initial NCAA announcement introducing the new quadrant system didn’t refer to “RPI” one time. Nope, these are just “top-30” teams, where the “30” arrives ex nihilo.)

Nevertheless, there is no other basis to exclude the ‘Pokes except the fact that their non-conference schedule was weak. Put even more simply, it was a bad statistical year to play a discretionary game against Pittsburgh.

That’s neither fair as selection practice (why on earth do we care which teams you schedule?) nor sound as basketball analysis, but it is the way this sausage has long been made. Who knows, maybe the example of Oklahoma State 2018, with its accidental but useful contrast to Trae Young and his crew, will be what finally spells the end of the line for the three-letter antique. We can hope.

Did the annual committee hand grenade go extinct?
As awareness of more accurate basketball information and of the collective bracket hive mind both increased dramatically in the last decade, the committee has evinced an apparent willingness to rebel, after a fashion, against both. As a result, UCLA got a bid in 2015, when no one thought they would, and then Tulsa got a bid in 2016, when no one thought they would.

It was almost as if the committee was doing this on purpose, possibly to mark their territory and remind all those smart-aleck mock bracketeers and their ilk who’s really in charge. But then last year came and went with zero selection hand grenades. It’s unclear if that was a hiccup or a change in practice.

Will there be a hand grenade this year? Boise State? (Three-bid MWC!) Oregon? Illinois? (Hey, I can dream.) We can only wait and see.