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February 6, 2012
How to End Bubble Speculation
In Eight Words

by Drew Cannon

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Want to figure out which bubble teams will make the NCAA tournament? You don't need to parse through every team's resume and try to understand the inner workings of the selection committee. Just follow this eight-word set of instructions:

Add a team's KenPom rank to their RPI.

I've chosen to call the resulting number the Easiest Bubble Solver, or EBS. Here's how the EBS has performed over the past five years:

2007: 62 of 65 (Old Dominion, Texas Tech, and Stanford instead of Air Force, Clemson, and Missouri State)

2008: 62 of 65 (Villanova, South Alabama, and Kentucky instead of Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Illinois State)

2009: 63 of 65 (Maryland and Dayton instead of San Diego State and Florida)

2010: 64 of 65 (Florida instead of Virginia Tech)

2011: 66 of 68 (USC and VCU instead of Virginia Tech and Saint Mary's)

Based on information compiled by The Bracket Project, this success rate looks to be about par for the course among reputable and nationally visible bracket forecasters, ones who actually go to the trouble of "following" all the "teams." EBS gets you to roughly this same level of accuracy with very little effort.

Here are this year's EBS rankings, from No. 41 to 60:

41. Purdue (KP 36, RPI 50)
42. Texas (KP 20, RPI 66)
43. Seton Hall (KP 53, RPI 35)
44. Middle Tennessee (KP 41, RPI 48)
45. Murray State (KP 54, RPI 36)
46. Mississippi State (KP 59, RPI 33)
47. Minnesota (KP 47, RPI 52)
48. Saint Joseph's (KP 65, RPI 44)
49. Arkansas (KP 70, RPI 41)
50. Xavier (KP 58, RPI 53)
51. Miami FL (KP 58, RPI 51)
52. South Dakota State (KP 55, RPI 58)
53. Northwestern (KP 69, RPI 46)
54. La Salle (KP 45, RPI 71)
55. Iona (KP 56, RPI 64)
56. Arizona (KP 42, RPI 79)
57. Belmont (KP 32, RPI 89)
58. NC State (KP 61, RPI 60)
59. Akron (KP 67, RPI 56)
60. Colorado State (KP 106, RPI 18)

Assuming the EBS leader wins every conference's automatic bid, right now the In/Out at-large line would be drawn under Northwestern. But of course the EBS leader most likely will not win every auto-bid, and that's the biggest reason the bubble line is so hard to draw. If Murray State loses in the OVC tournament, someone else gets eliminated, regardless of their own quality. It's awfully tough to predict those events from here.

As for other teams widely considered to be on the bubble, in EBS terms some rank above the teams shown here. See for instance: Saint Louis (EBS rank No. 21), New Mexico (22), Southern Miss (27), and Iowa State (38). Other bubble teams, however, rank below the Nos. 41 to 60 seen above -- teams like: Notre Dame (EBS rank No. 61), Marshall (65), Washington (68), Stanford (69), Cincinnati (70), Wyoming (71), Dayton (78), Ole Miss (79), and UCF (91).

Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.

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Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Drew by clicking here or click here to see Drew's other articles.

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