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Class in session: Computer rankings worth studying

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Don’t make any Dance moves until you’ve studied the computer rankings that impact an analytics-driven market. Plus, stat previews for Tuesday’s play-in games plus NIT “market” Power Ratings as we hoop it up in VSiN City!

NCAA Tournament: Computer rankings from Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, and ESPN’s BPI for your handicapping exploits
If you’ve been reading our box score summaries this season, you know those are the three main sources we key on for team evaluation. Now that it’s time to win a National Championship, let’s run the numbers entering the week. 

To help you picture the tournament dynamics as a whole…we’ll run them by seeds, going from best to worst averages within each seed block.  

#1 Seeds (Pomeroy, Sagarin, ESPN-BPI)
Villanova: 2-1-1
Virginia: 1-2-2
Kansas: 9-6-8
Xavier: 14-12-13
As we mentioned during our look at “market” Power Ratings yesterday, Xavier sticks out like a sore thumb on the one line. The Musketeers don’t have the pedigree of a true #1 seed even if their won-lost record was impressive in a power conference. The computers largely agree that Kansas was a #2 seed, and Xavier a #3 or even #4 seed. 

#2 Seeds 
Duke: 3-3-3
Purdue: 5-5-4
Cincinnati: 4-7-5
North Carolina: 7-8-7
Sorry Duke haters, the computers agree that the Blue Devils should have been one of the four #1 seeds. Take your pick for the last one amidst Purdue, Cincinnati, and the team that got the nod…Kansas. All legitimate teams here…and all unanimously rated higher than Xavier. That’s why the West is so side open. Xavier actually rates below North Carolina, Michigan, and Gonzaga in that region.

#3 Seeds 
Michigan State: 6-4-6
Michigan: 10-11-14
Texas Tech: 12-13-12
Tennessee: 11-15-17
The computers have loved Michigan State this season a lot more than was justified by Sparty’s play down the stretch. You’ll remember that Michigan State barely got by lowly Wisconsin before losing to Michigan at MSG. For some reason, many ESPN pundits are still picking Michigan State to shine through the month. A great finish to the season launched the Wolverines up to this spot. Quality…but seemingly something missing from both Texas Tech and Tennessee in terms of title hopes. 

#4 Seeds 
Gonzaga: 8-10-9
Wichita State: 20-15-11
Arizona: 21-16-20
Auburn: 16-33-19
Gonzaga often gets hosed in the seeding process (like St. Mary’s and Wichita State, though not this year with the Shockers). Auburn was seeded more on what they looked like when healthy a few weeks ago rather than current form. Arizona’s a mystery…either better than those rankings…or a pretender from a soft conference. 

#5 Seeds 
West Virginia: 13-8-10
Kentucky: 18-14-21
Ohio State: 15-22-16
Clemson: 19-24-18
A crime that West Virginia is down here. As a twitter follower pointed out during our live selection show discussion, West Virginia was a neutral court favorite over an eventual #1 Dance seed the night before the brackets were announced! The computers would have the Mountaineers as a #3 seed. Kentucky’s like Michigan in terms of peaking at the right time (keyed by great defense in both cases). It’s been awhile since Ohio State felt dangerous. Maybe a long layoff will help with that (or make them upset fodder!).

#6 Seeds 
Houston: 17-20-17
TCU: 22-29-22
Florida: 23-28-24
Miami: 36-32-35
Miami looks to be over-seeded, confirmed by a point spread of just a bucket over #11 seed Loyola. Great finish for Houston, as long as the Cougars remembered to leave some gas in the tank. TCU is a nice floater, but defense is a concern with the Horned Frogs. Florida can play with anybody when the treys are falling. Treys are fickle. 

#7 Seeds 
Nevada: 24-39-31
Texas A&M: 30-27-38
Arkansas: 37-31-37
Rhode Island: 49-45-32
Nevada lost its point guard at the worst possible time, which played a big role in its Mountain West tournament disaster. This seed is based on “full health” rather than “current skill set.” Rhode Island looks to be over-seeded, one of a few teams from the Northeast quadrant of the country enjoying that perk. 

#8 Seeds 
Creighton: 27-21-23
Seton Hall: 26-26-27
Virginia Tech: 32-37-29
Missouri: 38-43-45
Missouri has a chance to perform better than those computer rankings with the return of an NBA-bound star. Though, that didn’t help the Tigers in the SEC tournament. Creighton and Seton Hall recently hung tough with Villanova, which means they won’t be afraid of any Dance challenges. 

#9 Seeds 
Florida State: 35-34-39
Kansas State: 44-41-46
NC State: 42-48-47
Alabama: 51-46-54
Everyone below FSU here looks to be over-seeded based on the computer rankings. Though, things get pretty tight in the major conference parity range. 

#10 Seeds 
Butler: 25-28-25
Texas: 39-29-40
Oklahoma: 47-36-42
Providence: 63-56-67
The computers loved Butler in unison, basically rating them even with Creighton and Seton Hall a couple of rungs higher. Oklahoma would have made it into the brackets if the computers or “Vegas” had been in charge…so outrage aimed at the committee may be out of line. Providence grades out as an NIT team in the wrong tournament. Friars took Villanova to overtime this past Saturday night, though. 

#11 Seeds 
UCLA: 48-44-55
Arizona State: 45-59-44
Loyola-Chicago: 41-62-50
San Diego State: 50-52-51
Syracuse: 54-60-53
St. Bonaventure: 69-60-57
Two extra teams here because of the play-in games. St. Bonaventure is another Northeast team that didn’t impress the computers at all. So’s Syracuse for that matter. Two Pac 12 teams have to play their way into the field of 64, both unfair according to the computers. 

#12 Seeds 
Davidson: 43-53-33
New Mexico State: 55-67-69
Murray State: 59-82-62
South Dakota State: 75-81-86
Interesting that Davidson had to win the A10 tournament to get in, despite having more impressive computer credentials than teams like Providence, St. Bonny, and Syracuse. Looks like the class of this seed line, in advance of a much-anticipated opener against also-hot Kentucky. Though #12’s are known for upsetting #5’s on a fairly regular basis…this isn’t really a power group compared to past seasons. Upsets are still possible. 

#13 Seeds 
Buffalo: 77-73-81
NC Greensboro: 82-103-87
Coll-Charleston: 120-112-117
Marshall: 114-125-124
Some really weak #13’s this year. Buffalo had the misfortune of drawing hot Arizona. You’ll see momentarily that both Marshall and Charleston would have made more sense at #14 with those rankings. 

#14 Seeds 
Bucknell: 100-91-83
Montana: 71-98-105
Stephen F. Austin: 111-120-108
Wright State: 135-133-134
Bad luck for Montana to get snubbed to this degree, and to draw a hot finisher like Michigan instead of somebody more vulnerable like Michigan State or Purdue (or tired Tennessee). Not the best we’ve seen in recent seasons from SFA. 

#15 Seeds 
Georgia State: 96-110-95
Iona: 134-126-114
Lipscomb: 165-168-171
Cal-Fullerton: 153-171-182
Georgia State deserved better. The rest largely set up the “why is Penn a #16 seed” storyline that is fast approaching. 

#16 Seeds 
Pennsylvania: 127-118-100
Radford: 170-191-164
Maryland-Balt County: 184-189-170
Texas Southern: 249-242-235
LIU-Brooklyn: 251-256-239
NC Central: 309-295-268
Here it is. Why is Penn a #16 seed? The Quakers are obviously well clear of this pack, while also grading out better than three of the four #15 seeds, Wright State on the #14 line, basically equal to two teams on the #13 line. Was the Ivy League punished for finishing on a Sunday? There’s a real chance that a #16 upsets a #1 this season because of a seeding error…not because the sport is shrinking. Virginia and Villanova will still be favored in the low 20’s in their 1-16 games. 

Feel free to print those rankings out, and use them to guide your final betting or office pool decisions this week. 

Derek Stevens’ Big Bet Challenge: The official list of picks 
We hope you caught the second attempt by Derek Stevens, owner of “The D” Las Vegas hotel and casino, to beat the bookmakers by playing the early Dance card. Just like last year, Derek bet $11K to win $10K on the first 32 games posted. Though, this year, he accidentally double-bet Loyola of Chicago to add to his risk/reward. If you didn’t watch our live broadcast with Brent Musburger Sunday, click here for a recap from the Las Vegas Review-Journal

If you’d like to grade along as the week progresses, here are the picks in session order. 

Tuesday
Radford -3, UCLA -3.5.

Wednesday
NC Central plus 6, Syracuse plus 1.

Thursday Early Session
Rhode Island pick-em, Duke -19, Penn plus 15, NC State plus 2, Wright State plus 13.5, Loyola-Chicago plus 2.5 (double bet), Gonzaga -12, South Dakota State plus 8. 

Thursday Late Session
Alabama plus 2.5, San Diego State plus 4, Michigan -11, Stephen F. Austin plus 11, Kentucky -5.5, Arizona -8.

Friday Early Session
Providence plus 4, Lipscomb plus 19.5, Purdue -20, Butler -1, Cincinnati -15.5, Texas plus 1.5, Marshall plus 12, Murray State plus 10.

Friday Late Session
Kansas State plus 2.5, Virginia -22, Michigan State -13, Missouri pick-em, College of Charleston plus 10.5, Clemson -4.5. 

A year ago, Derek finished 10-19-3 for a net loss of $109,000. Best of luck for the pendulum swinging the other direction in 2018.

Something like this can be a lot of fun for a big event like the NCAA Tournament. Should YOU give yourself betting challenges like this?

NO!

First, playing the board isn’t a good idea because oddsmakers don’t make THAT many mistakes. Even if you think oddsmakers are horrible (which they’re not) and make a lot of mistakes (which they don’t), they’re not going to post bad numbers on every single game. As you’ve heard Gill Alexander say often on “A Numbers Game,” your biggest edge over the oddsmaker is the ability to pass. Betting into a good number while laying 11/10 means you’ll lose money on all the coin flip games over time. 

Secondly, money management involves varying your bet sizes to reflect your advantage. Pro wagerers use The Kelly Criterion (or fractional variations) because that’s the best way to invest when you have an advantage. For the sake of example…over 32 games, imagine that Chris Andrews, Jimmy Vaccaro, and the full South Point brain trust had 20 openers exactly right, 8 that were off slightly, and 4 that were off by a lot. Should you bet all of those the same? Or, should you pass the first 20, bet conservative amounts on the near-misses, then bet aggressively on the four clear mistakes. Sharp bettors link their investment amounts to the size of their perceived edge. 

Third, sharps don’t bet all at once because that limits their ability to exploit dramatic line moves influenced by ill-informed public betting. The parameters of Derek’s challenge have him only betting early, while missing out on advantages that might be created later in the process. 

Finally, sharps follow their sports closely, knowing team skill sets and other tendencies inside and out. Tough to do that when you’re a casino impresario that’s revitalized downtown Las Vegas! That takes a lot of your time already! It’s very tough for a casual fan to know what’s going on with Wright State, Marshall, or Montana to the degree required to make bets that will beat the market. 

As studio guests discussed Sunday night, Derek was very smart to include betting options from the Golden Nugget this year. That allowed him to shop for the best number. There was also time this year to monitor early money coming in from other bettors, which is information worth considering as you make your choices. Having access to multiple outlets and studying early betting are hallmarks of sharp sports investors. 

Long story short…don’t try something like this at home! Best of luck to Derek and all of you with your NCAA tournament bets this week. 

Tuesday Play-Ins: Handicapping using the “Holy Trinity” of defense, rebounding, and guard play
This week we’re going to focus on statistical analysis involving the key areas most associated with success in the NCAA tournament. You’ve probably heard variations of “defense wins championships, “defense and rebounding win championships,” and “you can’t win in the Dance without great guard play” since you started enjoying this spectacle. 

Our focus on those will involve:
*Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rankings from Ken Pomeroy’s website
*Rebound Rate as calculated by teamrankings.com
*Turnover Avoidance as calculated by teamrankings.com

As we discuss in a special article in VSiN’s “March Madness Guide,” the essence of what’s meant by strong guard play is having a quarterback who doesn’t waste possessions so his offense can best use its weaponry. Looking at “turnover avoidance” will help us paint that picture. 

Let’s try it out for Tuesday’s play-in games. 

Radford (-4.5/138.5) vs. LIU-Brooklyn (6:40 p.m. ET on truTV)
Radford: #133 defense, #92 rebounding, #179 TO avoidance
LIU-Brooklyn: #294 defense, #127 rebounding, #253 TO avoidance

You can see why Radford is favored. It’s better at all three categories in the Holy Trinity. And, that defensive edge is particularly big because it de-pollutes the impact of pace. Let’s see if Radford performs to the picture that’s painted in those numbers. Horrible fundamentals from the dog.

UCLA (-3.5/155) vs. St. Bonaventure (9:10 p.m. ET on truTV)
UCLA: #110 defense, #82 rebounding, #39 TO avoidance
St. Bonaventure: #94 defense, #135 rebounding, #40 TO avoidance

Tougher call here. Both do a good job of avoiding turnovers on offense. St. Bonaventure has the better defense (though not a “good” defense by Dance standards), UCLA the better rebounders. UCLA is getting respect from taking Arizona to overtime at the T-Mobile Arena last week. You saw earlier that St. Bonny had the much worse computer pedigree. Can’t forget that.

We’ll play more with these through the weekend. If the effort proves fruitful, the Holy Trinity will be the centerpiece of our previews throughout the month. 

NIT: Estimated “market” Power Ratings posted from early NIT point spreads 
Last time we ran the matchups for you just after they were announced. Now, we can add in the point spreads and create estimated “market” Power Ratings for the second most entertaining college basketball tournament getting started Tuesday night. Definitely potential for great matchups down the road if early favorites can avoid upsets. 

NOTRE DAME BRACKET
Notre Dame (1) vs. Hampton (8) (Notre Dame -22)
Penn State (4) vs. Temple (5) (Penn State -10)
Marquette (2) vs. Harvard (7) (Marquette -11.5)
Oregon (3) vs. Rider (6) (Oregon -11)

Estimated “market” Power Ratings: Notre Dame 80, Oregon 78, Penn State 77, Marquette 76, Temple 70, Rider 70, Harvard 67, Hampton 61.

BAYLOR BRACKET
Baylor (1) vs. Wagner (8) (Baylor -15)
Mississippi State (4) vs. Nebraska (5) (Mississippi State -4)
Louisville (2) vs. Northern Kentucky (7) (Louisville -7.5)
Middle Tennessee (3) vs. Vermont (6) (Middle Tennessee -6)

Estimated “market” Power Ratings: Louisville 79, Baylor 78, Mississippi State 76, Nebraska 75, Middle Tennessee 75, Vermont 72, Northern Kentucky 71, Wagner 66.

ST. MARY’S BRACKET
St. Mary’s (1) vs. SE Louisiana (8) (St. Mary’s -15)
Boise State (4) vs. Washington (5) (Boise State -6.5)
Utah (2) vs. Cal Davis (7) (Utah -12.5)
LSU (3) vs. Louisiana (6) (LSU -4.5)

Estimated “market” Power Ratings: St. Mary’s 79, Utah 77, Boise State 75, LSU 75, Louisiana 73, Washington 72, SE Louisiana 67, Cal-Davis 66

USC BRACKET
USC (1) vs. North Carolina Asheville (8) (USC -18)
Western Kentucky (4) vs. Boston College (5) (Western Kentucky -5)
Oklahoma State (2) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (7) (Okie State -10.5)
Stanford (3) vs. BYU (6) (Stanford -3)

Estimated “market” Power Ratings: USC 80, Oklahoma State 79, Western Kentucky 76, Stanford 74, BYU 74, Boston College 74, Florida-Gulf Coast 71, UNC-Asheville 65

Back with you Wednesday for Tuesday stat summaries, and our “Holy Trinity” analysis for the final two play-in games. 

VSiN Business Center
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