Bracket Matrix update

Yesterday, the NCAA announced that the selection committee would be revealing a preview of the top 16 seeds on February 11th, a month before Selection Sunday. I’ll write a follow-up at that time comparing their top 16 with my own. This preview will be helpful to those of us participating in the Bracket Matrix as it provides a little insight into what the committee views most favorably in their selection process. However, it is not all that helpful to fans since everyone will pretty much already know who are the top 16 teams, give or take a few. These teams are extremely likely to be in the field of 68 a month later as well, so it provides very little insight as to who is on the bubble.

I am hosting my most recent Bracket projections on a static page this year instead of as unique blog posts so they are easier to find. I am aiming to make updates twice weekly until March, at which point I will aim for daily updates. All of my projections are entirely formula-based; I am not interjecting my own opinion or making any adjustments to what the formula projects to be the current field. There will be one exception to this: my final entry for the Bracket Matrix will require some adjustments to account for shortest travel distance for top 16 seeds as well as prevention of intra-conference match-ups on the first weekend. My formula does not currently include this criteria; I hope to automate this for next season but won’t have the time to do so for this year’s tournament.

National Championship Win Probability

Updating for game results and injuries, I’ve run my model to generate a win probability for the National Championship game on Monday between Alabama and Clemson:

Projected winner Opponent  Win Prob.
Alabama Clemson 68.37%

This equates to a line of Alabama -7 (as of this writing the Las Vegas consensus line is Alabama -6.5).

The advantage for Alabama is largely from their roster value; coaching efficiency slightly favors Clemson in a weighted average over the past 4 seasons, despite an edge to Alabama for the 2016 season (coaching efficiency measures how well teams fare compared to expectations based on roster value differences. The higher mark for Clemson here implies that Clemson has performed better than expected against their opponents over the last 4 years when isolated to roster values compared to Alabama’s expectations. The edge in 2016 for Alabama is largely due to Clemson’s loss to a less talented roster compared to no losses for Alabama). Alabama’s season performance rates a little higher than Clemson’s (again, due to Clemson’s loss), and there is no tangible home-field advantage for either team.

What does this all mean?

Alabama is more likely to win, but it would not be shocking to see Clemson come out on top. For reference, my model had the line at Alabama – 16.5 against Washington (Alabama won by 17, covering by 0.5; nice), and Clemson +3 against Ohio State (Clemson won by 31, covering 34; not so nice).

Throughout the season Alabama rarely covered the spread my model set for them (only 4 out of 14), but the average spread was about -34 so that doesn’t really imply under-performance. In fact, this is the first spread my model has for Alabama that is not double digits (the next smallest was -14 against LSU).

Clemson followed a strikingly similar path, also covering only 4 of 14 with an average spread of about -31. My model had Clemson favored by double digits in all but two games: -7 against Florida State and +3 last week against Ohio State.

A few factors to consider in this game that are not accounted for in my model:

  • Lane Kiffin is no longer running the offense for Alabama. This will be Steve Sarkisian’s first time running the show for Bama; quite a stage for a debut. Perhaps Sark has been more involved behind the scenes all year? It’s hard to imagine Saban wasn’t prepared for this scenario.
  • Will Alabama be a little complacent? Clemson fell just short in this game last year, and the revenge-seeking emotional edge could be enough to overcome the slight talent disparity.
  • Going 15-0 is really hard to do. Clemson entered this game last year at 14-0 while Alabama was 13-1. In 2014, Florida State entered the playoff at 13-0 and was obliterated by a 1-loss Oregon team. Sometimes the experience of a loss helps later in the season. Small sample size caveats aside, is this Alabama team led by a freshman QB really going to be the first to go 15-0?