Barely a week before the field for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is announced, the pressure is mounting for those teams on the margins of the projected tournament field.
Debate about which teams should make the field and how they will do in the tournament is rampant this time of the season.
We’ll do our part to fuel the arguments. The chart below features the top 76 teams in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology (the 68 tournament teams, the first four out and the next four out) alongside ESPN’s rankings: the Basketball Power Index and Strength of Record.
As a reminder: BPI uses game results to produce a projection of team strength.
Strength of Record, developed this season by ESPN’s Sports Analytics Team, is a résumé rating that measures how difficult it is to achieve a team’s record, given its schedule to date. Strength of Record takes into account the opponents a team has played as well as where the game was played.
Remember, Strength of Record and BPI are not designed to predict which teams will make the tournament field. Rather, Strength of Record can be used to analyze the field: identify possible snubs, undeserved bids or over- or under-seeded teams based on their résumés. Given the tournament field, BPI can be used to determine which teams might make a deep run, outperform their seeds or are ripe for an upset.
Based on Lunardi’s latest Bracket Math, the highest-ranked team in BPI that is eligible for the NCAA tournament is Georgia Tech, which is 46th in BPI.
The Yellow Jackets are 17-13, having faced the fourth-hardest schedule in Division I. Six of their losses have been by five points or fewer, including both of their games against BPI No. 5 Louisville. Against BPI top-100 teams, Georgia Tech is 8-12.
The most-deserving tournament-eligible team not in Lunardi's projected field remains Princeton, at 48th. The Tigers are well-ahead of current Ivy League leader Yale (67th) in Strength of Record, but they are a half-game behind in the Ivy standings. If each team wins out, there would be a one-game playoff for the league’s automatic NCAA tournament berth.