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Why Vanderbilt's At-Large Case Is Better Than People Think

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Actual committee behavior is often quite different from the way bracketologists perceive it to be, or think it should be.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

While we sweat out the next 24 hours or so waiting to see if Vanderbilt's name is called on Selection Sunday, I have some thoughts to chew on about a comment that SBN's resident bracketologist Chris Dobbertean made in his Saturday morning bracket:

Michigan...

also is now 4-11 against the Top 50, while Monmouth is 2-2. By percentage, the Hawks did better in the opportunities they received, which all came in the non-conference, meaning they controlled the scheduling of those games.

The three 200+ losses are indeed a worry, but (and this is something I will expand upon in my Monday post) there’s a bit of a double-standard when it comes to bad losses relative to conference strength, especially when a team has to play a 20-game conference schedule (full double round-robin) with a target on its back.

Now, obviously Chris was referencing Michigan in this comment, but perhaps you could apply this logic equally to Vanderbilt.  The implication is that while Michigan has more quality wins than Monmouth (based on an arbitrary definition of "quality wins" that wouldn't include Vanderbilt's two wins over Florida -- RPI #52 -- as quality), Michigan also had more opportunities for quality wins than Monmouth, and the fact that they have more quality wins than Monmouth is a reflection of a greater opportunity for quality wins.

But there's evidence that the Selection Committee doesn't actually think like this.  Last year, UCLA was widely assumed to be out of the NCAA Tournament because while the Bruins did have a couple of quality wins, they had a 2-8 record against the RPI Top 50 and ergo, their quality wins were a reflection of having so many opportunities for them, so they should be out.  Wrong.  Not only did the Bruins get in the tournament, they avoided the First Four.  Similar logic was employed regarding Texas last year, a team that got in the tournament with a 3-12 record against the RPI Top 50 (though most bracketologists did think the Longhorns would get in, if barely, and they ultimately did -- and like UCLA avoided Dayton.)

On the other hand, who had a profile similar to Monmouth's last year?  Colorado State.  Colorado State went 26-6 against an okay non-conference schedule (and a better conference than Monmouth's), but went 2-3 against the RPI top 50.  Also like Monmouth, Colorado State was a team that possession-based metrics did not think that much of (Colorado State finished the season ranked #76 in KenPom; Monmouth is currently #67.)

Colorado State, you'll recall, did not make the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Seemingly every year, many people trying to predict the NCAA Tournament bracket will overinflate good teams from mid-major conferences that played a handful of games against good teams and won a couple of them, while talking down power-conference teams that played a lot of games against good competition and lost more than they won, but didn't embarrass themselves in the process.  But there's ample evidence that the selection committee rewards the latter rather than the former.

In short, while many mock brackets don't have Vanderbilt in the tournament as of this afternoon, there is a far greater chance that at approximately 6 PM Central time tomorrow, somebody will be yelling about the travesty of Vanderbilt, Florida, and Michigan being included rather than Monmouth, St. Mary's, and Valparaiso, than there is of the reverse.  Because it's unpopular to suggest that maybe if Monmouth had played Vanderbilt's schedule, they'd have done worse than Vanderbilt actually did.