Black & Gold Standard Bracketology: The 2016 debut

The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following Vanderbilt men’s basketball games and throughout the year. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball as the team looks to build on the success of last season’s NIT appearance. Check out The Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule. All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

After a much-needed break for the month of December and the start of January, The Black & Gold Standard is back. As I’ve done in the past, I’m bringing back my Bracketology now that teams have played what I deem to be an acceptable number of conference games. My success with Bracketology is admittedly mixed, as I produced one of the most accurate brackets in the entire country two years ago before bombing last season. Based on the many criticisms of 2015 NCAA Tournament Committee chair Scott Barnes and the abrupt change in selection criteria, I’m confident in my ability to adjust this season and I believe my bracket will be closer to my 2014 one than the 2015 edition. First, however, here’s how I see the SEC landscape after this weekend.

SEC Power Rankings (who I think would win >50% of the time on a neutral court right now)

1 Texas A&M

2 LSU

3 Kentucky

4 Florida

5 Vanderbilt

6 South Carolina

7 Arkansas

8 Georgia

9 Alabama

10 Ole Miss

11 Tennessee

12 Auburn

13 Mississippi State

14 Missouri

As you can see, I’m low on South Carolina and relatively high on LSU. Vanderbilt faces a pair of tough tests this week as they travel to road games against my third and 11th ranked teams, but they probably need at least one win out of those two to stay within striking distance of an at-large bid. Two losses would really box the Commodores into a corner going forward. Here’s my Tournament S-curve, with explanation at the bottom as to how Vanderbilt fits in. Auto-bids are in all-caps.

-1-

1 OKLAHOMA

2 Kansas

3 VILLANOVA

4 Xavier

-2-

5 IOWA

6 Michigan State

7 NORTH CAROLINA

8 TEXAS A&M

-3-

9 West Virginia

10 Purdue

11 Miami FL

12 Virginia

-4-

13 Iowa State

14 Usc

15 Providence

16 Oregon

-5-

17 Maryland

18 Kentucky

19 Duke

20 Dayton

-6-

21 Utah

22 Arizona

23 Butler

24 Baylor

-7-

25 Colorado

26 Louisville

27 Pitt

28 South Carolina

-8-

29 Seton Hall

30 Notre Dame

31 Michigan

32 Texas

-9-

33 Indiana

34 California

35 WICHITA STATE

36 UConn

-10-

37 Texas Tech

38 Gonzaga

39 Florida (First Four)

40 Oregon State (First Four)

-11-

41 MONMOUTH

42 George Washington (First Four)

43 Ucla (First Four)

44 VALPARAISO

45 WASHINGTON

46 VCU

-12-

47 ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK

48 ST. MARY’S

49 SAN DIEGO STATE

50 BELMONT

-13-

51 STONY BROOK

52 CHATTANOOGA

53 WILLIAM & MARY

54 HAWAII

-14-

55 UAB

56 UNC-ASHEVILLE

57 NORTHERN ILLINOIS

58 IPFW

-15-

59 MEMPHIS

60 YALE

61 NORTH FLORIDA

62 MONTANA

-16-

63 NAVY

64 CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD

65 HAMPTON

66 MOUNT ST MARY’S

67 HOUSTON BAPTIST

68 TEXAS SOUTHERN

OUT: Cincinnati, Saint Joe’s, Alabama, Stanford, Vanderbilt

There are a lot of surprise conference “champions” right now that are taking up extra bids, and this makes for a very thin bubble. Memphis, Washington, VCU, and St. Mary’s are all leading their respective conferences that have at least one team projected to receive an at-large bid, so that represents four fewer spots than what one would normally expect at this point in the season when each conference’s first place team gets designated as the auto-bid. A couple of at-large bids get “stolen” like this every year, with Wyoming representing the only such case last season. Allowing for about two of these stolen bids as opposed to four, Vanderbilt would actually be two spots closer to the Tournament.

A few aspects of Vanderbilt’s résumé stuck out to me after doing this exercise. First of all, the Commodores’ 0-4 away record is really hurting them right now, although the 2-1 neutral site record does help. With four road games over its next six total, Vanderbilt realistically needs to win at least two of the four games away from Memorial Gym. Trips to Tennessee, Texas, and Ole Miss seem to be the most likely candidates, and a win in Austin over a Texas team that I currently have as an 8 seed could go quite a ways toward boosting VU’s profile.

On another note, losses outside the RPI top 100 to LSU and Arkansas look bad at first, but the committee will see through this and use some qualitative analysis to acknowledge that these losses aren’t so bad after all. The Tigers and Razorbacks rank 61 and 50 in KenPom, so I would argue that the Commodores don’t have a true bad loss on their résumé right now. The win over Alabama on Saturday doesn’t move the needle much by itself, but a loss needed to be avoided.

Vanderbilt’s strength of schedule (13 according to RPI and 35 according to KenPom) helps the Commodores’ case, and the team’s strong KenPom rating of 28 could lead the committee to give VU the benefit of the doubt if the Commodores can’t avoid the bubble.

A win at UT on Wednesday would not move Vanderbilt at all right now without bad losses from one of the teams directly ahead of them. This is because there is a pretty solid gap between VU and Stanford at the moment, although there’s also a solid gap between the Commodores and the next team up (probably St. Bonaventure or Ole Miss).

Take a look at how I'm projected the rest of the regular season. Although I think a better finish is possible, I made sure to allow for some weird losses along the way. (RPI Wizard)
Take a look at how I’m projected the rest of the regular season. Although I think a better finish is possible, I made sure to allow for some weird losses along the way. (RPI Wizard)

Looking forward, a 10-8 SEC finish allowing for one semi-unexpected home loss combined with (generously) assuming a win at Texas puts Vanderbilt at 19-12 for the regular season with an RPI of 39 and an SOS of 28 according to RPI Wizard, at least according to how I projected results. I thought this was fair based on what we’ve seen so far, although I’m assuming that the team does make some strides toward finding consistency.

A 10-8 conference record would likely be good for the SEC’s sixth of seventh seed, providing a first-round SEC Tournament game against likely either Georgia, Ole Miss, or Alabama at Bridgestone Arena. A win would represent a top-100 RPI victory at a neutral site and would set Vanderbilt up with the 2 seed (LSU, Kentucky, and South Carolina seem to be the most likely candidates to me) in what would be yet another winnable game in a friendly environment that would nevertheless count as a neutral site game according to most measurement systems.

Ultimately, it’s easy to see that the Commodores have life after a pair of wins this past week. There’s a lot of work to be done, but there will be plenty of opportunities to impress the committee over the rest of SEC play.

Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.

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