Bracketology: Cougs sitting firmly on the 6 line

The second win over Arizona is doing a lot of heavy lifting!

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Continuing their rise

As fans, it’s easy to fixate on the sour taste from Saturday’s loss to Arizona State. We tend to be prisoners of the moment, and a bad moment can blot out the light from a good moment — like, for example, Thursday’s monumental win over Arizona in Tucson.

Folks who are not prisoners of the moment are the people who spend way too much time poring over resumés to bring us bracketology updates. They look at teams holistically, every time. And when they look at WSU, what they see (as we figured they would) is a team that is in better shape today than it was a week ago, despite the loss to the Sun Devils.

That’s because these bracketology folks have studied the committee that will do the actual selecting, and one thing we know about the committee is that they love big wins. They love them way more than they hate bad losses. And beating Arizona for a second time gives us not just another Quad 1 win, but Quad “1A” win — an informal measure of the best wins.

You can find the Cougs’ “Nitty Gritty” sheet that the selection committee looks at here if you want to peruse their resume yourself. I’ll point out that Boise State becomes a Quad 1A win for us if the Broncos get into the top 25 of NET.

With that, let’s check in and see how the Cougs’ seeding is looking. Two of the sources we’ll look at are familiar — the Bracket Matrix and The third will be a new addition. They’re all pretty much in agreement, but interesting in their own ways.

Bracket Matrix

The Bracket Matrix is (currently) a compilation of 115 updated bracket predictions. Everyone counts the same — the dude with a Google Sites setup is weighted the same as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. And every year on Selection Sunday, Bracket Matrix’s composite field is the most reliable predictor of both the field and seed lines — no surprise to those of us who believe in the wisdom of crowds.

Right now, the crowd has the Cougs as the second No. 6 seed in the bracket:

That 6 seed is significant because I think that’s probably where you have to at least be in order to have a shot at playing in Spokane. On the high end, there are about a half dozen folks who have us on the 5 line, including Lunardi — who gives us this gem:

After playing Baylor in a “neutral” site game in Texas last year, it sure would be fun to repay the favor in Spokane in the NCAA tournament!

Again, if we can get to a 4 seed — and there are currently six teams between us and that — we are virtually guaranteed to play in Spokane. Feel free to root against Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Dayton, Clemson, and BYU this weekend.


I want to zoom in on one of those 115 brackets at the Matrix: Bracketometry by Dominic Lese, aka @BracketDom on Twitter. Over the past four years, no individual has been better at predicting the field and their seeds. He’s actually been quite a bit better — the distance in accuracy (as measured by the Matrix rankings) from 1st to 2nd is the same as the distance from 2nd to 5th.1 

So, I figured I’d check with him, specifically. And he’s also got us as a 6 seed … with an extremely curious (potential) first round opponent:

I definitely would not put it past the script writers at the NCAA tournament committee to do this. The storylines would be too delicious to pass up.

Bart Torvik

OK, one more. We’ve referenced Torvik’s work a ton, and it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind here.

One is that his “seed” is generated through an algorithm that combines the ranking metrics most correlated with selection to the NCAA tournament, including NET and some other stuff. Every team’s probability of earning an at-large bid is calculated, then they are ordered in that way for seeding. No tweaking based on bracketing or seeding principles or anything like that. The way Torvik puts it, “In retroactive investigations, T-Ranketology does ‘pretty good’ … but overall it's safe to say that you should consider any T-Ranketology forecast to have at least a +/- one-seed margin of error.”

Second is that his system is a forecast. While bracketologists are looking at the resumés as they stand right now and stacking them up — basically, “what would the field look like if the season ended today?” — torvik’s machine is definitely trying to give you a peek into the future.

His system forecasts WSU to finish 2-1 down the stretch.2 Given those probable results the rest of the way for WSU (and everyone else), here’s where he predicts the Cougs will land:

As we’ve already seen, that’s pretty much in line with everyone else. Of course, the fun of Torvik’s site isn’t this — it’s that you can play around with results. So let’s do that!

If WSU wins out (as we expect), it actually doesn’t move the needle much, only bumping them up a couple of spots. At first blush, I was surprised, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it actually tracks, logically — these are Quad 2 and Quad 3 games you’re expected to win. Maybe if you blow them all out, it makes a dent? I’m not sold on that idea, though.

Now, this is without a conference tournament. That could make a difference! What if we add in a conference tournament simulation using Torvik’s projected records and T-Rank system for measuring team quality?

The Cougs would be the No. 2 seed, and they’d play the winner of the 7-10 game — projected to be Stanford and ASU. Stanford would be favored against the Sun Devils, so we’ll move them on through. The Cougs would then play either the 3, 6, or 11 seed. The 3 seed is currently Oregon; let’s move them through, too. Of course, the 1 seed is Arizona, who we expect to move through to the championship.

That’s all chalk, and we know it doesn’t usually happen that way. But it’s still useful in this thought exercise, and also gives them their three most difficult opponents — theoretically the way they could improve their resume the most.

This set of results based on the favored team winning each time …

Gets you this:

That’s not much of a change! To really make a difference, you gotta add a third win over Arizona and win the Pac-12 Tournament:

To be honest, that’s not as much of a change as I figured. BUT … I’ll add this: I think if WSU ends up as the conference tournament champs — regardless of who they beat to do it — they actually end up on the 4 line. I think that’s their ceiling at this point, and I have a hard time imagining the Pac-12’s regular season second place team and conference tournament champion being anything lower than a 4 seed.


1 If you click on the link that takes you to the Matrix rankings, you’ll note that all the people who are objectively very good at this are not the folks you see at the major media outlets. For example, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi ranks 98th; Jerry Palm of CBS is 142nd. Of course, you’ll also note that the final Bracket Matrix — the composite of everyone’s final prediction — vastly outperforms any individual. Wisdom of crowds!

2  The Cougs have win probabilities of 81%, 80%, and 74% in their final three. That looks like 3-0 to us, but in probability terms, it adds up to a predicted 2.35 wins.

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