A Closer Look: Illinois

Previous editions: VanderbiltSyracuseGeorgetownCreighton, Butler

I was the first entry in the Bracket Matrix to include Illinois this season, and many others have joined since. However, their disappointing loss at Rutgers yesterday has moved the Illini down to my first team out (the Matrix has them as the 2nd to last team in as of this writing, which likely doesn’t factor in their loss yesterday for most entries). Let’s take a look at what else Illinois has to offer the committee this year:

BoW Strength of Schedule to date: 37th (out of 351)

Best wins: Northwestern twice (by 7 away and by 16 at home), VCU at a neutral site by 18, at Iowa by 4

Bad losses: Penn State at home, Winthrop at home, at Rutgers

Record: 18-13

Illinois probably needs two wins in the Big Ten tournament to make the committee forget about their dud at Rutgers yesterday and get some breathing room against potential bid-stealing in other conference tournaments this week. I’d project Illinois to be out if they go 0-1 in DC this week, in if they go 2-1 or better, and too close to call if they go 1-1 (leaning in if the win is over a team projected in the field, leaning out otherwise; margin of victory/defeat may also be a factor i.e. don’t get blown out).

A Closer Look: Vanderbilt

Previous editions: SyracuseGeorgetownCreighton, Butler


The Bracket Matrix currently has Vanderbilt as the 2nd team out while BoW has them as the 3rd to last team in. It’s possible that much of the Matrix hasn’t yet factored in their win yesterday over Florida, but let’s take a look at the rest of the Commodores’ season.

Best wins: Florida twice, at Arkansas, South Carolina, Iowa State

Worst losses: Tennessee at home, Bucknell at home, at Missouri (by 20!)

Record: 17-14

Is Vanderbilt really going to be the first at-large bid with 15 losses? That seems extremely unlikely. My bracket still has them in at the moment mostly by default. The bubble is incredibly weak this year, but I’m not sure it’ll be weak enough to see a 15 -loss team earn an at-large bid.

A Closer Look: Syracuse

Previous editions: GeorgetownCreighton, Butler

The majority of the Bracket Matrix (but not BoW) have Syracuse in the field today. This may be the most difficult team to project based on resume, though ultimately I believe they will be in the field so long as they enter Selection Sunday with 14 or fewer losses. Their current record is 17-13, with one game remaining (home vs Georgia Tech) before the ACC tournament. This game is essentially a must-win for Syracuse to land an at-large bid because no team has ever been selected as an at-large with more than 14 losses, and only a handful have gotten in with 14.

Syracuse doesn’t have much of a resume this year, with zero impressive out of conference wins, only two wins away from home (Clemson and NC State; neither of which will make the tournament) and they’re currently sitting in 9th place in the ACC. Plus Syracuse has a ton of losses, 8 of which were by double digits, including a horrible 33 point loss at home against a bad St John’s team. The Duke win last week was incredibly important; without it they’d already be out of the running for an at-large.

You may be wondering why I ultimately believe Syracuse will be in if they avoid a 15th loss after such an underwhelming season. Look no further than what they did in the tournament last year. They entered as a 10 seed at 19-13 (and were a bit questionable to be seeded that highly), but went on to make a run to the Final Four. The committee surely hasn’t forgotten that, and will point to it as a reason for including the Orange in this year’s field.

A Closer Look: Georgetown

Previous editions: Creighton, Butler

Only 10 brackets in the Bracket Matrix (including BoW) have Georgetown in the field. Georgetown’s record (14-12) suggests they definitely should not be in the tournament, but looking closer at who they’ve beaten may suggest otherwise. Georgetown has wins over Butler on the road, Oregon at a neutral site, and a 20 point win at home over Creighton. BoW rates their schedule as the 8th toughest in the country, as it includes games against Maryland and Wisconsin in addition to Oregon and their double round robin Big East schedule.

They’ll need a few more wins to maintain their position as a tourney contender, but they have enough signature wins behind them that they’ll be in the conversation the rest of the way.

A Closer Look: Butler

Previous editions: Creighton

The Bracket Matrix on February 9 lists Butler as a 5 seed, whereas BoW lists them as a 2 seed. Initially I suspected my formula was over-valuing the Big East and thus seeding everyone from the conference higher than was warranted. I’ve made a modification in my formula to remove the Conference Strength parameter which seems to have corrected this inconsistency (most notably, Creighton dropped from a 2 seed to a 4 seed after this revision). However, Butler only dropped from a 1 seed to a 2 seed.

Why is Butler rated so highly?

  • A lot of quality wins. Butler has a neutral site win over Arizona and Indiana, home wins over Villanova, Cincinnati, Xavier, and Northwestern, and 2 wins over Marquette.
  • Losses are always close (except against Creighton). Butler’s non-Creighton losses are by 1, 3, and 4 points. There appears to be a match-up problem with Creighton, where Butler has lost by 9 and 11 points in their season series, but it’s easy to look past that when only 1 team on the schedule has given them fits. The Indiana State loss is pretty bad, but it was by 1 on the road in what had to be the Sycamores biggest game of the year.
  • Very strong schedule. BoW rates Butler as the toughest schedule played so far in all of college basketball. A true round robin in a strong conference accompanied by a non-conference slate which included Arizona, Cincinnati, Utah, Northwestern, Indiana, and Vanderbilt; all of which Butler won.

A Closer Look: Creighton

In the final weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, I will profile teams that BoW views differently than the rest of the Bracket Matrix to explain where the discrepancy may be attributed.

First up has to be Creighton. The BoW bracket model has long held Creighton in highest regard, only slipping off the top line to a 2 seed after the conclusion of the February 7 slate of games (in which Creighton did not play, but Butler picked up a road win at Marquette which was just enough to leapfrog the Jays).

Why is Creighton rated so highly?

  • Big wins. Creighton has a road win against Xavier, two wins over Butler, and a home win over Wisconsin at the top of their resume.
  • No bad losses. Granted 3 of their 4 losses are at home, those 3 are all against teams comfortably in the field according to Bracket Matrix, and the 4th loss was on the road against Georgetown, whom the Matrix currently lists in its first four out.
  • Margin of victory. Creighton has the 20th ranked point differential from their opponents, cumulatively outscoring them by 292 points.
  • The Big East is strong and deep. The Matrix has 6 of the 10 Big East teams in the field, with a 7th in their next four out. With such a small conference and only a couple low-quality teams, there’s rarely a night off in the Big East.