Talk to the Palm: Bracketology mailbag answers how the NCAA committee evaluates teams with key injuries

Welcome to another edition of the Talk to the Palm Bracketology mailbag. Readers came through with some pretty good questions this week. As we get closer to the end of the season, people want to know specifically about the own team and want me to analyze them in a vacuum. Again, that is rarely possible. It is almost never just about what your team does.

On to this week’s questions.

Q: Essentially, how does the committee consider the games we lost without a key player? – @stroup_ben and @DrewMarshall717

A: They are losses. The committee does not pretend your team would have won at full strength. They do not treat the game as if it never happened. 

In Arkansas’ case, the Razorbacks need to put together a resume that will earn them selection, regardless of roster issues. For Penn State, the issue is about seeding instead of selection. 

The committee puts a little – emphasis on little – more weight on what a team did with the roster it is taking into the tournament than otherwise. Most noticeable seeding differences in the past though have been negative. Purdue was seeded lower than its resume would have indicated when the lost Robbie Hummel to a knee injury in 2010. Cincinnati was on its way to the overall No. 1 seed in 20oo until national player of the year Kenyon Martin was injured in the Conference USA Tournament. They were a No. 2 seed in that year’s field. Those are the most notable examples.

Q: At this point of the season, how fluid are quadrants? – @nschweitz1

A: Well, the definition of the quadrants never changes, but you can still see teams moving up and down that are near the cut line of those definitions. There is typically less movement as the season goes on, but some is always possible. The committee will have an opinion of the quality of the loss to Wake Forest that most likely will not be overly influenced by the Demon Deacons being barely on one side or the other of a line.

Q: Is it possible for teams in the same conference to play each other in the First Four? – @talanshinn

A: While that hasn’t happened yet, it could. In the example in the tweet, where three teams from one conference end up in the First Four, it would be unavoidable. However, even if were just such that the last two teams in the tournament were from the same league, I believe they would play each other. Conference separation rules do not apply to the First Four. However, they may try to avoid regular season rematches of non-conference games.

Q: (What is Purdue’s) hope of reaching the NCAA tourney if they win out the rest of the season and make the B10 tourney final? – @SenatorFuzz

A: This is a great example of the kind of question I normally cannot answer with any degree of certainty. Fans of at least Arkansas, Michigan and Saint Louis asked similar questions. However, I chose this one because I can answer it.

Purdue’s primary problem is overall record. The Boilermakers sit right at .500 with a 14-14 record. In order to reach the final of the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue would have to win three games there or four if it is seeded low enough. Along with the three to end the regular season, plus the loss in the Big Ten championship game, the Boilers would finish 20-15. That would get them in the field. I have not seen the Purdue team this season capable of pulling that off.

Q: What is the No. 1 thing you look for when evaluating teams? – @RonaldF50944193

A: There really isn’t a No. 1. I look at all kinds of things. Records vs the quadrants, but also keeping in mind that not all Q1 opponents are the same. Strength of schedule, overall and non-conference. Performance away from home. If comparing two teams, head-to-head and record against common opponents. Record vs teams comfortably into or contending for spots in the field. Sometimes, I am just looking for what stands out, good or bad, and that varies from team to team.

That is not necessarily a complete list. I do not pay much attention to analytics. Until the committee starts using them decisively, which they do not, I find that they are not overly informative. When you see things like Wichita State in 2017 finish in the top 10 of predictive analytics and end up a No. 10 seed, you get the idea of how important they really are.

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