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Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Sheet Update: The Cushion Is Gone

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Villanova is still one of the country’s top teams, but there’s no more room for error

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats had an amazing start to the season this year. Any time you have the best record in school history through January, that’s a good season. But the separation that the Wildcats had built up from the rest of the #1 Seed hopefuls is now gone after dropping games to St. John’s and Providence. And that puts a lot of pressure on Saturday.

Let’s be clear, there are a lot of reasons why this weekend’s trip to face the Xavier Musketeers is a “must win”. A loss would almost guarantee the end of Villanova’s reign over the Big East, leaving them two losses behind their Cincinnati foe. It would also be the first time in almost five years that the Wildcats lost back to back games, something no one wants.

However, the Xavier game is not a “must win” for Villanova to get a #1 Seed in the tournament. Now if they lost, they would probably have to win every other game, including the Big East Tournament, in which they’d have to beat Xavier. But they still could lose at the Cintas Center and wind up with the #1 Seed in the East.

To understand how that’s possible, we take another look at Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Report Card, or Team Sheet. We’ve talked about the new quad system before, but there’s a few other new features to the sheet that the committee seems to be factoring in. Predictive rankings, such as KenPom, BPI, and Sagarin are now listed on the sheet. Based on the selection committees preview show, non-conference strength of schedule also seems to be a significant factor. All of this is combined to determine seeding, so lets start by looking at Villanova’s full sheet.

Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Team Sheet

Villanova is still in good position despite picking up their third loss of the season. Here’s a few things that stand out to me from the sheet above:

  • Despite their recent poor play, Villanova is still the best team in the country according to the predictive rankings. If Nova can find the swagger they’ve had most of the season, they’re capable of a Final Four run.
  • While the “Season on the Road” has helped Villanova in the Quad system, their Non-Conference SOS is 52nd. While that may not be the biggest factor, it is one of the metrics used as a tie breaker between similar teams. Of the 16 teams I looked at below, that ranks 6th.
  • We’d all rather have that St. John’s loss back, but the Johnnies are at least doing their best to make it look better. They’re currently on a four game winning streak during which their RPI has jumped almost 20 spots. That move bumped both Villanova’s away win and their home loss up a quadrant.
  • Games that are within 10 spots of jumping a Quad Level: Q2 home win vs Providence (34), Q2 neutral win vs Western Kentucky (58), Q4 home win vs Nicholls St. (165)
  • Games that are within 10 spots of dropping a Quad Level: Q1 home win vs Creighton (23), Q1 home win vs Seton Hall (25), Q1 away win at Marquette (68), Q2 home win vs Marquette (68), Q2 away win at Georgetown (126), Q3 home win vs Penn (152)

Now that we’ve got a good idea of where the Wildcats stand, I pulled together some data from the sheets of the other top contenders. While the AP Poll doesn’t factor into NCAA Seeds, I used their top sixteen teams to determine the pool from which I’d compare and contrast. Here’s who Nova’s competing with:

NCAA Tournament Team Sheets For Top Seed Contenders

AP Poll Top 16 RPI Rank Quad 1 Quad 2 Quad 3 Quad 4 Pred. Rank Non-Con SOS
AP Poll Top 16 RPI Rank Quad 1 Quad 2 Quad 3 Quad 4 Pred. Rank Non-Con SOS
Virginia 1 8-1 5-1 6-0 5-0 1.67 53
Michigan St. 15 3-2 6-1 8-0 8-0 4.67 236
Villanova 3 8-2 6-1 5-0 4-0 1.33 52
Xavier 2 8-3 7-0 5-0 4-0 12.33 34
Cincinnati 9 5-1 7-1 3-0 8-0 4 145
Purdue 12 5-3 6-1 6-0 6-0 3.33 110
Texas Tech 11 5-3 6-1 4-0 7-0 9 218
Ohio State 16 2-4 6-0 9-1 5-0 13.33 54
Gonzaga 36 4-2 2-2 5-0 12-0 8.33 154
Auburn 4 6-3 5-0 7-0 5-0 13.67 88
Clemson 6 3-5 7-0 4-0 6-0 19.67 65
Duke 7 2-4 7-1 9-0 3-0 6.67 15
Kansas 10 9-4 6-1 3-1 2-0 9.33 16
North Carolina 8 7-5 4-1 6-1 3-0 9.33 9
Saint Mary's 28 2-0 2-2 10-1 10-0 28.33 211
Rhode Island 5 1-3 5-0 7-0 8-0 28 2

After running some of my own analysis and calculations, I’ve grouped these teams into seeds. This isn’t necessarily how I think everything will shake out, just where I’d put them if the season ended today:

#1 Seeds: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, Cincinnati

Virginia and Xavier each have cases for the #1 overall seed right now. Virginia only has two losses all season, and they hold wins over four of the Top 10 RPI teams. Xavier is tied with Kansas for the most combined Quad 1 & 2 wins, they have no losses outside of Quad 1, and no home losses on the season. I still give the edge to Virginia, but it’s close.

Villanova has dropped back down to earth, but they’re still holding onto that #1 Seed. They have just as many Quad 1 wins as Virginia and Xavier, so the top overall seed is still a possibility. This team just needs to find its stride again, and maybe its three point stroke.

Cincinnati edges out Auburn for the fourth #1 seed right now, but it’s close. At the end of the day, Cincy has more Quad 1 & 2 wins, fewer losses, and better predictive rankings. It’s just barely enough though, so a win at Houston tonight could help a lot.

#2 Seeds: Auburn, Kansas, Michigan State, Purdue

Auburn has a strong case to jump to the top line, just not as good as four other teams. Their predictive rankings are in the teens, and of this group of 16 teams their Non-Con SOS ranks 11th. But there’s still time for them to make that jump if they keep winning.

Kansas has the most Quad 1 wins and is tied for the most Quad 1 & 2 wins. They have Top 10 predictive rankings and they have the nation’s 16th best Non-Con Schedule. The problem is that they also have six losses, including a Quad 3 loss to Oklahoma State at home. They’ll be a dangerous tournament team, but they likely won’t make it to the one line this season unless they win out.

Michigan State and Purdue are suffering from a REALLY down year in the Big Ten. These are good teams (both Top 5 in predictive metrics) that unfortunately have fewer than ten Quad 1 wins combined. The good news is that they also have Ohio State and Michigan in the conference, so a run through the Big Ten Tourney will likely include two more Quad 1 wins. It’s entirely possible for one of these teams to jump back onto the one line, but there’s still work to be done.

#3 Seeds: Texas Tech, Duke, Clemson, Rhode Island

Texas Tech would be the team I’d pick to have the best chance to jump to the top line from this group. The conference tournament will be full of Quad 1 wins for the taking, and they could end up winning both the Big 12 Regular Season and Tourney Titles. It’d be hard to deny them at that point.

Duke and Clemson have similar Quad numbers, even though Duke holds all the tie breakers. But just because they are neck and neck, doesn’t mean they look like any more than three seeds. Both teams combined have just five Quad 1 victories. Unless one of them wins the ACC tournament, and does it by beating Virginia, they’re going to be stuck on the three line.

Rhode Island on the other hand, is going to be thrilled to be this high. I’m actually shocked I’d even consider putting them here with only one Quad 1 victory. But I’m putting them here because I’m hopeful the committee starts penalizing teams for bad losses. The Rams get the nod because they have none.

#4 Seeds: North Carolina, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

North Carolina has so many losses, and more than a few bad losses, that I’d be more than slightly perturbed if they landed any higher than this. Some good wins, a Top 10 predictive ranking and a decent Non-Con SOS shouldn’t be able to save you from seven losses, including at home to Wofford.

Ohio State could easily climb the ladder, but for now the weak Big Ten and a home loss to Penn State are keeping them on the four line. They still play at Michigan and have the Big Ten Tournament to pump up their resume, but this team may end up being the perfect test case for how the conferences decision to play their tournament a week early effects seeding.

Gonzaga has earned its way into the Top 16, and they have the resume to stay there through selection Sunday. Saint Mary’s on the other hand, does not. They only have two Quad 1 wins, and they’re record in Quad 1 & 2 is only 4-2. Unless you’re going to run the table, you have to play better competition to have a chance at snagging a top four seed from the WCC.