Saturday, November 12, 2016

NCAA Tournament Bracket: Texas Tech "In"; Why?

I've already written about possible rationales for the Committee's not giving at large selections to Princeton, Iowa State, and DePaul; and giving selections to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.  So, what about Texas Tech, which got an at large selection?

Texas Tech

Texas Tech will be a good case for writing about a number of the Committee's criteria.  But first, here is Texas Tech's profile:

ARPI  .5838
ARPI Rank  42
ANCRPI  .6257
ANCRPI Rank  24
Top 60 Results Score  578
Top 60 Results Rank  34
Conference Standing  7.25 (average of regular season standing and conference tournament standing)
Conference ARPI  .6010
Conference Rank  1
Top 60 Head to Head Results  -0.50
Top 60 Common Opponent Results  -7.05
Top 60 Common Opponent Rank  60
Last 8 Games  -7

Texas Tech met 3 "yes" standards for getting an at large selection; and 1 "no" standard.  It thus presented the Committee with a profile the Committee hasn't had to decide on over the last 9 years.

"Yes" standards:

ARPI Rank <=42, and Conference ARPI >=.5867
ARPI Rank <=44, and Conference ARPI Rank =1
Conference ARPI Rank = 1, and Top 60 Head to Head Results >=-0.77

"No" standards:

ANCRPI Rank >=12, and Top 60 Common Opponent Results <=-6.95

It looks, from this analysis, like a major factor for the Committee, in giving Texas Tech an at large selection, was the strength of the Big 12, the #1 ARPI-ranked conference this year.  The strength of the Big 12 alone didn't do the trick, but rather contributed when paired with Texas Tech's ARPI rank and its head to head results against Top 60 teams.  At least, that's what it looks like to me.

Conversely, the Committee appears to have been willing to look past Texas Tech's comparative common opponent results in relation to other Top 60 teams, since those results were the poorest of the Top 60 teams, with no team having Texas Tech's profile on this issue having gotten an at large selection over the last 9 years.

NCAA Criteria.

There has been some discussion about why Texas Tech's results over its last eight games didn't outright disqualify it from an at large selection.  Before getting to that specific question, here's an overall review of the criteria the Committee is required to apply.

The NCAA has three primary criteria the Committee is required to apply.  In capsule form, they are the Adjusted RPI (which has a number of sub-criteria), head to head results, and results against common opponents.  It is left to each Committee member to decide how much weight he or she wants to give to each of these criteria.

For head to head results and results against common opponents, so far as I know the NCAA gives no further elaboration on exactly what those criteria mean.  For the Adjusted RPI criterion, on the other hand, the NCAA does elaborate.  That criterion includes:
  • overall record
  • Division I record
  • overall RPI rank
  • non-conference record and RPI rank
  • conference regular-season record and conference tournament results
If the Committee cannot make a decision based on the primary criteria, then there are two secondary criteria, both of which it must consider:
  • Results against teams already selected to participate in the field (including automatic qualifiers with RPI of 1-75)
  • Late season performance -- defined as the last eight games including conference tournaments (strength and results)
I've often wondered whether the Committee really follows the order of (1) see first if you can make a decision based on the primary criteria and then, only if you can't, (2) add the secondary criteria into the mix.  My experience in trying to do my own selections over the years was that it was almost always not possible to make decisions using only the primary criteria.

There have been some arguments, by DePaul advocates, that DePaul should have received an at large selection rather than Texas Tech.  Those arguments, in part, have focused on Texas Tech's last eight games, suggesting that Texas Tech's results in those games should have disqualified it, thus leaving a space for DePaul.  Looking at DePaul, however, may provide some insight into the Committee process, at least this year.  As my previous analysis of DePaul's profile indicates, it looks like their Non-Conference ARPI rank of #130 was the factor that cost them an at large position.  Since the ANCRPI as a factor applies when the Committee is considering the primary criteria, it is possible that the Committee had decided not to give an at large selection to DePaul before it even considered Texas Tech's last eight games.  If so, then a decision not to give Texas Tech an at large position probably would not have helped DePaul anyway.

In the balance of this post, I'll give some of my thoughts about the head to head results and results against common opponent criteria, as well as about the last eight games criterion.

Head to Head Results.

Using head to head results as a criterion is trickier than it might seem on first glance.  The easiest way to use it is to look to see if there was a head to head game where two teams are in contention with each other for one of the last at large positions.  Using one head to head game as a basis for choosing between two teams, however, leaves a lot to be desired.  This is because there always is the possibility of an A beat B, B beat C, and C beat A scenario, or of a comparable but more complicated scenario.  My conclusion, over the years, has been that this is too simplistic a use of this criterion -- although using it this way is within a Committee member's authority.

Rather than that approach, the approach my system takes for a team is to look at all its head to head results against Top 60 teams.  Essentially, this applies the Head to Head Results criterion to the entire field of potential at large teams.  My system assigns a value to each head to head result:  +2 for a win, -2 for a loss, +1 for an away tie, 0 for a neutral site tie, and -1 for a home tie.  The system then, after tallying a team's points for all of its head to head games, computes the average per game.  To me, this gives a good picture of where a team stands on this criterion against the field of the Top 60 teams.  For Texas Tech, this yielded a Head to Head Results score of -0.50.  Looking then at the standards, over the last 9 years, every team from the #1 ranked conference with a Head to Head Results score of -0.77 or better has gotten an at large selection.  In other words, Texas Tech's head to head results actually are pretty good given that it's from the #1 conference -- which means that a lot of its head to head games have been against very strong teams.  (Compare this to DePaul's Head to Head Results score of -0.60, with DePaul playing in a significantly weaker conference.)

It's important to note that my system for applying this criterion does not distinguish opponents based on their ranks.  A head to head win against a Top 60 opponent has the same value, no matter the opponent's rank.  On the other hand, when I get to the secondary criterion of "results against teams already selected," I do value results in relation the opponent's rank.

Results Against Common Opponents.

How to apply this criterion raises the same questions as the Head to Head Results criterion.  And likewise, rather than simply looking at two teams' results against their common opponents, I do a "Top 60" analysis for each team.  My system compares each Top 60 team to each other Top 60 team, looking at the results those two teams had against common opponents, and assigning values to those results using the 2, 1, 0, -1, -2 point system I described for valuing head to head results.  If I'm evaluating Team A in comparison to Team B, I then add up each teams' cumulative points related to their common opponent results.  This leaves the two teams either tied in their common opponent points, in which case their common opponent score in relation to each other is 0; or one has a net positive score and the other has a net negative score.  I go through the same process for Team A in relation to Team C, then Team D, and so on.  Once I've done this for all Top 60 teams with which Team A had common opponents, I determine Team A's total net common opponent score.  I then divide that score by the number of common opponent games Team A had with other Top 60 teams, to get an average score per common opponent game.  I do this for each Top 60 team, so I end with a table of average common opponent scores for all 60 teams.  (Actually, my computer does all of this.)

Although I'm pretty confident no Committee member does it this way, it provides me with a basis for evaluating Committee decisions, and looking for Committee patterns in relation to the Common Opponent Scores my system has produced.  These patterns then define the Common Opponent standards, which I then apply to determine whether the Committee's current decisions follow the same patterns as their decisions over the last 9 years.

Last Eight Games.

One of the arguments against Texas Tech getting an at large selection has been that it lost 7 of its last 8 games and that the Committee therefore failed to properly apply this criterion.

I have to say that this criterion, to me, is odd.  The criterion doesn't explicitly say what it's looking for -- good results, poor results, ...?  I always have interpreted the other secondary criterion, Results Against Teams Already Selected, as looking for positive results -- good wins and good ties.  And, my experience in applying it that way myself, in attempting to predict what the Committee will do, has suggested to me that's how the Committee uses it.  So, for the Last Eight Games criterion, I've doubted it is looking for good results, since that largely would duplicate what the Results Against Teams Already Selected is looking for.  My alternative has been to treat the Last Eight Games Criterion as looking for poor results.

There was a period of a few years when my system actually looked at teams' last eight games.  When I did that, I found two things:  (2) I couldn't find evidence of the Committee ever making a decision based on the last eight games; and (2) the process was very labor intensive from a programming perspective.  Given those two things, and not wanting to abandon the criterion altogether, I decided to create a surrogate for it:  poor results over the entire season.  That system assigns negative values to poor results, with the amounts of the values related to the rankings of the opponents.  I still find little evidence of the Committee making decisions based on this criterion surrogate, but I do find some; and the surrogate doesn't have the labor intensity demand.  Besides which, if there's a particular question about a team's actual last eight games, we always simply can get the team's record and look at it.

Using my system's surrogate criterion, Texas Tech came out with a -7 score for this criterion.  DePaul, on the other hand, came out with a -12.  In other words, DePaul's poor results were worse than Texas Tech's.  (On the other hand, Texas A&M, which got an at large selection, came out with -17.)

However you look at a team's poor results, an important point is that whether you're looking at the entire system or looking only at a team's last eight games, you need to be looking not only at the team's W-L-T record, but at the opponents the team was playing -- as the criterion says, "strength and results."  This is something the arguments against Texas Tech, due to their 1-7 record over their last 8 games, have not said much about -- the strength of its opponents in those games.

Looking at Texas Tech's last 8 games, they were:

  • W Iowa State #48
  • L Oklahoma State #56
  • L Baylor #65
  • L West Virginia #2
  • L Texas #78
  • L TCU #34
  • W Oklahoma #13
  • L West Virginia #2
If I'm a Committee member, and we've gotten to the secondary criteria (which I assume happened with Texas Tech), I'm asking myself, "Is this record sufficient to exclude Texas Tech from further consideration?"  And, from a disinterested outsider's perspective, I ask myself, "Is it clear that the Committee, by not disqualifying Texas Tech, failed to consider this criterion?"  From my perspective, the Committee could have considered the criterion and simply concluded that given the level of Texas Tech's opponents over the last 8 games, its record wasn't poor enough to disqualify it from getting an at large selection.  In fact, the Committee might have included that this record indicated Texas Tech legitimately was in the at large consideration mix.  This is not to say that the Committee made the right or wrong choice, only that I don't see that their decision on Texas Tech indicates there was something fundamentally wrong with how they did their job.

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