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Examining bubble teams: Where does Kentucky stand?

In a lot of ways comparing teams across seasons does not work. Rosters change dramatically, schedules are always different, traveling is not the same, home crowds care more or less, and myriad other variables come into play as well. But I wanted to take a simple approach — for better or worse — to see where Kentucky stands among bubble teams from years past.

It’s an unfamiliar position for Kentucky fans. Being on or near the bubble is not something the Wildcats are accustomed to dancing around. By the final week or two of the season, Big Blue Nation is typically looking ahead to possible Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight match-ups  But now it’s all about a potential play-in game.

But there is good news. In doing my research, it appears Kentucky is in good shape as we head into March. If the previous two season’s worth of numbers hold true, UK will have no trouble finding their way into the Big Dance.


I took the 15 most talked about bubble teams from 2011 and 2012 and threw them in a spreadsheet. Plugged in the RPI, Pomeroy, and Sagarin ratings each team had at the last week of February, and averaged out the data. I also considered win-loss record, but did not include that data because it all averaged out to be very similar and was indistinguishable of any patterns.

As it stands, Kentucky checks in like this

RPI: 46
Pomeroy: 32
Sagarin: 22

Now compare it to the 2011 averages of 15 bubble teams

RPI: 45.9
Pomeroy: 42.1
Sagarin: 43.8

Of those 15 bubble teams in 2011, 11 of them made the tournament with these numbers

RPI: 43.2
Pomeroy: 37.
Sagarin: 38.5

Moving into 2012 now, the 15 bubble teams looked like this

RPI: 53.2
Pomeroy: 56.4
Sagarin: 55.6

But only seven of those bubble teams made the tournament with these numbers

RPI: 44.0
Pomeroy: 50.0
Sagarin: 48.7

In total, 2011 and 2012 teams who made the tournament had numbers that averaged out to this

RPI: 43.3
Pomeroy: 42.4
Sagarin: 42.5

And compare that to the teams who missed the tournament with much worse numbers

RPI: 60.2
Pomeroy: 59.6
Sagarin: 60.5

There are a lot of variables not included in this breakdown, including strength of schedule, and how close teams came to winning their conference. But this is a simple look at how teams shake out on the bubble. Comparing the ratings for Kentucky, just about any way you break it down the Cats are better than year’s past bubble teams; the numbers are a lot closer to the teams who made it than the teams who missed it.

And when you consider how wild and crazy college basketball has been this season, every team’s resume has a few bumps and nicks in it. As long as Kentucky take’s care of business in the next three games, the bubble talk should fade away completely.

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR

8 Comments for Examining bubble teams: Where does Kentucky stand?

  1. Mr Obvious
    5:13 pm February 27, 2013 Permalink

    I hear sportscasters proclaim a team is “squarely on the bubble”. If a bubble is round how can something be “squarely” on it? Makes me scratch my head.

  2. Bird in Kentucky
    5:23 pm February 27, 2013 Permalink

    Someone else going to write about on the bubble again in an hour?

  3. jeremy
    6:26 pm February 27, 2013 Permalink

    2, Thinking same thing. This is ad nauseum. No one knows. Let’s just play (and win) these upcoming games and look at the bubble in a couple of weeks. The subject bores me. Total subjecture.

  4. Bluebloodtoo
    6:52 pm February 27, 2013 Permalink

    Do these “average” numbers for each past tourney include only the “at large” bids or do they include the entire tournament field? Or some other combination?

  5. MathHurtsMyBrain
    10:23 pm February 27, 2013 Permalink

    How can you say “any way you break it down the Cats are better than year’s past bubble teams” when there is one glaring exception to this statement. RPI. Kentucky’s RPI is higher than the average of any of the bubble teams who made the tournament. I know it’s not by much, but considering that RPI is the only ratings system I hear mentioned come selection day, this would seem to be pretty significant. I like your spin, but that’s all it is.

  6. bart edwards
    12:49 am February 28, 2013 Permalink

    Dude, the Pomeroy numbers DO take strength of schedule into consideration. It’s part and parcel of the ranking.
    #5 — The Selection Committee doesn’t even use the RPI, and Matt clearly pointed out in his earlier article about the Selection Committee’s M.O.

  7. lou
    8:16 am February 28, 2013 Permalink

    This discusssion about whether UK will make the tourney (NCAA) is baloney. HOW could the committee NOT invite the second or third place finisher in the conference with 20 wins!!!!???

  8. lou
    8:18 am February 28, 2013 Permalink

    SEC will have Florida, UK, UT, Missouri, Ole Miss and at least one more team…write it down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!