Every year around this time, amateur and expert “Bracketologists” alike try to accurately predict the annual NCAA Tournament field of 68. Some, like USA Today’s Eric Prisbell, are tremendously accurate, while others, like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, are very average at prognosticating the bracket. While most Bracketologists extensively study the tournament hopefuls and subjectively select teams, very little attention is paid to mathematical methods of selecting the field, that is, until now. Jeff Nusser of CougCenter.com (formerly with Basketball Prospectus) has continued a numerically based method of selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament called the “Easy Bubble Solver.” The EBS was created by Drew Cannon, a former Basketball Prospectus writer and current member Brad Stevens’ Butler Basketball staff. Since Cannon is no longer able to run the system, Nusser picked up the slack.
While most computer ranking systems are devilishly complicated, this one is actually simple to comprehend as it only uses two numbers to rank teams. Those numbers are RPI rank and KenPom rank. Surprisingly, by averaging these two numbers, one can get a very accurate reading on how secure a team should feel while on the bubble. How accurate? Very, actually. Over the past six seasons, this methodology has selected 94.2% (198/210) of tournament participants. Last season, it correctly selected 36/37 at-large selections, only missing on South Florida.
So what about this season? Where do bubble teams like Kentucky stand? Fortunately for our Cats, “Easy Bubble Solver” says we’re “safely in” the tournament field. However, Cal and his squad are dangerously close to falling into the “last four in” category. How close? Currently, Kentucky is tied for 39th out of 44 in this metric, alongside Boise State, Denver, and Illinois. Only Cincinnati and Virginia fall below the Cats in the “safely in” category. The general consensus of computers and humans at the current juncture seems to be that Kentucky is barely in the tournament, but work remains to be done. While these metrics and opinions are assuring, they don’t prevent a potentially critical loss to Vanderbilt or Arkansas. As previously stated, this metric is assuring, but in order to feel truly secure about the tournament, Kentucky must keep winning.
(h/t Jeff Nusser)
If you’re interested in reading the entirety of Nusser’s article, it can be found here.