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WBB Review: Bracketology check-in

Wherein we go into waaaaaay too much detail into a confusing process that will be forgotten next Monday.

The game ended poorly, but I love this picture.
The game ended poorly, but I love this picture.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The women's basketball schedule is jerked around to accommodate men's basketball weird. Cal last played on Sunday night, and will go 12 or 13 days without playing a game, depending on their tournament draw. This is done, ostensibly, to avoid the men's and women's  Pac-12 tournaments from conflicting.

This is probably important to people who work for the Pac-12 Network. I suppose it's also nice for spirit groups and extreme hard core fans who can afford to spend the time and money to attend both tournaments. From my perspective all it does is add a weird week off the in middle of the season and causes Cal and Stanford to play back-to-back games. Oh well, it ain't changing because of anything I could say.


So we can spend this week obsessing over bracketology! There are, to the best of my knowledge, two organizations that attempt WBB brackets: ESPN and College Sports Madness*. Cal is a 4 seed in both! Hooray! Ironclad consensus!

RealtimeRPI also has a bracket, but it's just auto-filled in based on RPI rankings, and thus has bizarro things like UConn getting a 2 seed. It can be safely ignored.

What I would like to look at today is how safe Cal can feel about hosting first and second round games. What I'm going to do is look closely at the resumes of various teams generally considered to be in the 3-4-5 seed range along with Cal. How well do our Bears stack up?

Likely 1/2 seeds: UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Maryland, Baylor, Florida State, Louisville

Teams with resumes similar to Cal: Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Iowa, Duke, Kentucky, George Washington, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Princeton, North Carolina

Record vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 26-50 Schedule Strength RPI 101+ losses
California 23-9 2-5 2-1 21 1 (Kansas)
Oregon St. 26-4 4-2 1-1 59 None
Arizona St. 27-5 3-4 2-1 39 None
Stanford 24-9 5-7 2-0 13 2 (Oregon, Arizona)
Iowa 24-7 1-2 9-4 12 1 (Illinois)
Duke 21-10 5-5 2-2 4 1 (Boston College)
Kentucky 23-9 5-5 3-1 2 1 (N. Illinois)
George Washington 29-3 3-2 1-0 56 1 (St. Louis)
Mississippi St. 26-6 0-4 4-0 82 None
Ohio St. 23-10 3-3 5-3 19 2 (Illinois, Virginia)
Princeton 30-0 0-0 2-0 125 None
North Carolina 24-8 2-6 2-2 11 None

This is where it gets hard, right? How do you go about ordering these teams? What do you value? Do you prefer a team that has proven they can beat the best? Then you want to see a team with multiple top 25 wins, like Stanford. Do you want a team that plays with consistency? Then you want a team that doesn't have multiple bad losses, like Stanford. How much should strength of schedule matter? Is playing a team with an RPI at about 150 really that different from a team in the 300s?

To keep things simple, here's my attempting-to-be-unbiased opinion about which teams have a better or weaker resume as compared to Cal:

Better (7): Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Iowa, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina

Worse (4): Mississippi St., Ohio St., Princeton, George Washington

If the committee happens to have the same opinion as me, they will peg Cal's resume as the 16th best in the nation, and thus grant Cal the very last hosting position available. As you can tell, it's damned close. Also, if Cal had beaten Stanford in the Pac-12 championship, I'd say that Cal's resume would definitely jumped ahead of Stanford and North Carolina, and potentially Iowa and Arizona. We would be spending this week wondering if Cal would be getting a 3 or a 4 seed, rather than a 4 or a 5.

Bracket Considerations

If Cal does indeed get a 4 seed, who might be coming to Berkeley to visit? Cal would be facing a 13 seed to start the tournament. I'm not going to spend too much time speculating on who that might be, in part because most small conference tournaments aren't over yet and thus we don't even know which teams might be getting automatic bids.

But we do know that Cal will presumably be a 4 or 5 seed, and thus will be paired with another 4 or 5 seed. Most of the teams I listed above could potentially be in the same pod as Cal.

If Cal is a 4 seed in Berkeley

Best case: Not in UConn's region, with 5 seed Ohio St. (Or Texas/Oklahoma)

Of the likely 5 seeds, Ohio St. is probably the weakest of the bunch. But it's also possible the committee surprises and puts a team most have projected as a 6 up a seed. An injury weakened Texas or an up-and-down Oklahoma wouldn't be too bad. Honestly, all of the potential 5 seeds scare me, but that's kind of the nature of the whole damned tournament.

If you asked me to pick which 1 seed I'd like to have assigned to Cal's region I'd pick Maryland. Why? Because they lost to Washington State, and that's pretty much the only reason.

Worst case: Cal gets assigned to the same region as 1 seed UConn, and 5 seed Princeton assigned to Berkeley.

Looking too far down the bracket is generally a fool's errand, because so many dominoes have to fall for it to even matter. But nobody wants to know they have to go through UConn to even have a chance at the Final Four. Princeton, however, is an interesting case. They aren't going to get a high seed because they played such a weak schedule. But they dominated that schedule, and every metric that takes into account margin of victory and efficiency says that they are a top 10 team roughly equivalent to a Louisville or Oregon State.

If Cal is a 5 seed on the road

Best case: A trip to Washington D.C.

If Cal does get a 5 seed, they'll be travelling a long distance regardless. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, or perhaps George Washington. The Colonials are certainly good (you might recall they beat Cal last year) but they're not an overwhelming matchup. Cal would likely have a decent athletic/physical advantage.

Worst case: Duke

Almost certainly the best team Cal could conceivably have to face in a hypothetical 2nd round game. Also not particularly likely, because Duke will probably be a 3 seed and Cal will probably be a 4. But for the paranoid, this is the outcome to fear.

Now that I've spilled so much digital blood, watch a scenario completely different from anything I've written here come to pass. Precisely predicted what the selection committee does is typically a fool's errand. But I find it strangely fun to contemplate and write about. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about it too!

On Monday all of this speculation will disappear and we can actually talk about the specific match-ups. Cal will either play Friday/Sunday or Saturday/Month the week after. Happy March everybody!