Tourney Talk with Andy Cox of Crashing the Dance

Dylan Burkhardt

Andy Cox, the man behind Crashing the Dance, agreed to answer a couple questions about Michigan’s tournament chances and what he does over on his website. I’m a big fan of Crashing the Dance because it is a new take on bracketology and the model seems to work quite well. CTD got 32 of 34 at large teams correct and seeded 82% of them within 1 seed of their actual spot on the bracket. There are also plenty of other cool features like sparklines (Michigan: sparklinerpi163) which detail a team’s season in just a few pixels or the bubble grid which provides a daily rundown of every bubble team’s measurables. Thanks again to Andy for taking the time to answer these questions.

For people unfamiliar with the site, how exactly does Crashing the Dance work?

Glad you asked. Crashing the Dance learns from past brackets how the NCAA selection committee selects and seeds teams with certain kinds of profiles. Like the real committee, CTD handles at-large selection and seeding separately. First, it predicts whether each team would be in or out and how confident that prediction is by examining teams with similar profiles from previous years and whether those teams were selected (or conference champions that would have been selected). The top 34 at-large teams are chosen after ranking the at-large candidates by the prediction confidence. After determining the 65 teams in the field (34 at-large plus 31 conference champions), each team is assigned a most likely seed by again comparing its profile with similar teams (and their seeds) from past brackets. The full 1 to 65 seed list (called the S-Curve) is generated by ranking the teams by this most likely seed.

Let’s look at Michigan (through Monday’s games) as an example for each step. CTD thinks Michigan will be selected at large with 99.9% confidence based on how teams with similar profiles were handled in previous years. Michigan ranks 29th in at-large selection confidence out of all at-large candidates, so they are the sixth to last at-large team selected. After putting the Wolverines in the field, CTD gives them 8.80 seed points (16 seed points = #1 seed, 1 seed point = #16 seed), again based on past comps. In other words, teams with similar profiles in the past have generally been placed somewhere between a #8 and #9 seed (slightly closer to #8 here). When we rank all 65 teams by their seed points, this puts Michigan at #37 on the S-Curve, which results in a #10 seed. Note that the most likely seed is not always the same as the final seed, because more than four teams on each seed line could be given the same most likely seed. This is true here, as 7 teams have between 9.23 and 8.80 seed points (i.e., the model’s best guess is about an #8 seed). A tight cluster like this also means big jumps are possible.

What do you think of Michigan’s resume right now? The question on everybody’s mind is whether they need to beat Iowa in round 1 of the Big Ten Tournament.

I wouldn’t say they’re out if they lose, but it’s a lot like dealing with bad calls by officials. Bad calls happen, but if you take care of business the bad calls won’t make the difference between winning and losing. It’s the same thing with the selection committee. Win as many games as you can to make their decision easy. Too much can still happen this week for this game to be the decider, but the win at Minnesota certainly helped.

Also, Butler’s loss tonight kills one more available bubble slot, so the Iowa game becomes more important. I’m still not willing to say it’s a must win, because that depends on what the other bubble teams do, but as I said take care of business and don’t leave it up to others.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of U-M’s resume? We talk a lot about the top 50 wins and the road record, are there other subtle attributes that we need to pay attention to?

Top 50 wins are definitely important, and “good” road wins are probably as important as overall road record. Last year, the committee chair said that Oregon was selected in large part because of three “really good” RPI Top 100 road wins. Granted, one of those those was against #92 Cal, but the committee does like road performance. Also, going 3-1 against Minnesota and Penn State can’t hurt if it comes down to a head to head discussion.

How many teams do you see making the field from the Big Ten? By my untrained eye I feel like there are eight teams that have resumes that look “tournament worthy”.

Much of the criticism I’ve heard of the Big 10 is that there are a lot of good but not great teams (seven in the RPI Top 50), somehow inflating the profiles of mediocre teams (seven teams finished between 11-7 and 9-9) with all of the opportunities for top 50 wins. Of course, part of the reason for so many top 50 teams is good non-conference performance, at least according to the RPI’s standards. That said, while there are eight teams in now, the conference tourney is sure to cause some attrition and at least one will probably fall out. That’s another good reason why it would be good for Michigan to take care of business against Iowa.

Right now you have the Big Ten bubble teams ranked in this order: Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State. Is Minnesota really ahead of Michigan despite the fact that Michigan has more top 50 wins, a better out of conference resume, the same in conference record, and swept Minnesota?

Through Monday’s games, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are ranked 35-37 on the S-Curve separated by 0.24 seed points. A difference this small can change quickly, often by things outside a team’s control (e.g. an opponent dropping out of the RPI Top 50 which affects the number of Top 50 wins). Unfortunately, we don’t consider head-to-head games, but I suspect the committee only tends to use those a tiebreakers because of the sheer number of possible head-to-head comparisons over 5000+ games.

Minnesota has a slightly better non-conference RPI (partly because Michigan has four games against RPI 300+ opponents) even though Michigan has the stronger schedule. I don’t like looking only at strength of schedule (in fact, I don’t use SOS explicitly for either selection or seeding) because there has to be a balance between playing tough games and winning them. Michigan’s two top 50 non-conference wins are better than Minnesota’s one, and the loss at Maryland doesn’t look so bad after North Carolina also lost there. My guess is that to the human eye Michigan’s profile is slightly above Minnesota’s. However, as a wise man once said, all bubble teams have some warts – that’s why they’re on the bubble.

Make sure to check out Crashing The Dance at

  • Avery Queen

    once again quality material dylan.

  • JimC

    Hey here’s one more predictive site to spend time on when you’re bored at work/school:

  • Adam

    Quality read. Thanks Dylan and Andy!

  • Ken in Vegas

    Well, I guess I keep hoping to hear “Michigan will be in regardless”, but we keep getting the same consensus. Please don’t put me through another bubble ball buster, Michigan.

  • Manny is coming back

    Manny Harris is coming back next year…. Here is a good article about manny and manny himself saying he will be back next year…

  • How on earth could Minnesota have a higher out of conference RPI than UM? Obviously we should schedule 10 games against pathetic competition(150-200)range, as opposed to Dukex2, UCLA, Maryland, and Uconn. Apparently if you play these 300+ RPI teams it kills you. Just schedule a bunch of middle of the pack teams from the mid-majors if its just as effective.

  • The key is definitely scheduling teams in the 100-200 level as well as some quality competition.

    Michigan played 3 games against the 100-200 range. 2 of them were against Iowa. A team like MSU for example played games against temas like Idaho, Wichita State, The Citadel, and Oakland… All in that range. 2 of MSU’s 4 200+ games were Indiana.

    NCC, Norfolk, FGCU were awful teams. There is no denying it. Minnesota also was undefeated out of conference which helps their non conference RPI because 1/4 of it is just your record.

  • AG2

    I am pleased to hear that Manny will be back next year.

  • Well, DePaul has an early 14-11 lead against Providence. Come on Darty, help out your home state school on the bubble. Dar already has 10 points too.

  • Giddings

    Even if Providence wins this game today, there’s no way they should be in the Tournament unless they beat Louisville tomorrow. The only reason some people have them “in” is because they went 10-8 in the Big East and beat Pitt… but I think the Committee will do a good job of breaking down their schedule and realizing how weak it was compared to the other Big East teams.

  • Giddings

    Just looked at Providence’s schedule and this is what I mean:

    Games vs. Big East Top 7: 8 (2-6 record)
    Games vs. Big East Bottom 8: 10 (8-2 record)

    For Michigan:

    Games vs. Big Ten Top 5: 9 (3-6 record)
    Games vs. Big Ten Bottom 5: 9 (6-3 record)

  • Avery Queen

    so what do you guys think about seeding? 8-10 if we beat iowa?

    two or three wins in the BTT could we get to a 7 seed?

    gotta hope we either get 10+ or 7-

  • Tom Too

    Win the Big Ten Tourney and we won’t have anything to worry about…probably get a 6 Seed Somewhere…

  • Blanchard

    How slow and slopppy is this Providence game?

  • DePaul is awful. Yikes. This win certainly isn’t going to help Providence at all.

  • Adam

    It would’ve been nice if Depaul could’ve hung on for the upset. It definitely won’t help Providence though. I think they need to beat Louisville to get in. Go Louisville!

  • Mith

    As far as seeding, I think maybe:

    #12(or possibly none) if we lose to Iowa
    #10 beat Iowa, lose the next one
    #8-9 win 2 or 3 BTT games
    #6 – win BTT tournament

    It seems crazy to get them all the way to a 6, but to win the BTT would improve the record to 23-12 and possibly include wins over Illinois, Purdue and MSU. That’s a big change from the current profile.

    I’m not saying they’ll win the BTT, of course. I just want a win over Iowa, everything else is gravy.

  • AG2

    I have a feeling that Michigan can beat not just Iowa but Illinois as well.

  • JRose5

    Less than 24 hours! I continue to be haunted by TA’s failures as a coach as we approach a big game. I feel much better with Coach B and feel that the guys will come our fired up. I really like the draw and think that we could make some noise. I think we need Zach Gibson and KG to give us quality minutes. Let’s hope that LLP’s performance was not a one game fluck and he continues to hit open shots. I will have to say I have been a UM fan since ’92 and other than the Fab 5 this is the most excited I have been about a Um team. Any thoughts/predictions on the BTT?
    I like:
    1st Round
    NW over Minn
    UM over Iowa
    PSU over IU

    2nd Round
    MSU over NW
    O$U over Wiscky
    UM over IL
    PU over PSU

    MSU over O$U
    UM over PU

    UM over MSU

    That is my most optimistic prediction!
    Go Blue

  • Avery Queen

    i expect to see minutes from shepherd, wright, and kg to keep legs fresh especially if we win a couple

  • Kevin

    I really liked that Free Press article. I thought it gave a good perspective on the maturity of Manny.

  • Manny is coming back

    I agree Kevin…. Im glad that he made up his mind already about staying… Who knows how well he ends the season (could pull off a stephen curry preformance) in the tourney’s… I think next year is going to be a special season…

  • raiderfan

    I just keep seeing Balwinkle (sp?) hitting those three’s from the baseline against the 1-3-1. That is what kept them in the game. Our bottom guy, Merritt killed us last time vs. Iowa, has to rotate to the ball faster. Whoever it is they have to fight thru the picks. I think the key is to get out early. Iowa is not deep and do not play well coming from behind. JB will have the boys ready, no doubt about that, but we will have to play with the intensity all game like Minny or Purdue. I saw someone else say this, but do you guys think JB will really let Shep and A Wright try to guard Kelly? He can just shoot over the top of any of our pg’s so it would make sense. Or maybe Manny? I have not been this excited for a Michigan game since the OSU football game in ’07 when they were #1 and we were #2. I like the way we are playing now and I like the way we match up with Iowa. I think we stay hot and get huge games from Stu and LLP.
    BLUE 67
    Iowa 54

  • jgunnip

    It’s not easy scheduling OOC games against teams consistently in the 100-100 RPI range because most of those teams are looking for some sorta of home and home or 2 for 1 sort of scenario to get big games at home. A lot of BCS schools aren’t willing to do this.

    Also, some of it is luck. For example, Idaho’s RPI finished at 299, 305, and 301 the last three years. Citadel was 334, 301, 317. You could say they got lucky in that these teams were much better than expected. MSU also scheduled a Bradley team (99 RPI) that some argue was worse than expected.

    I would love to play more teams like Bradley, Houston, and Northeastern and I’d also like to see us play more than one true road game before conference play starts. But say we go on the road to play a George Mason or Cleveland St. Those are quality wins or losses that don’t hurt that much.

    I know a lot of the scheduling this year was geared towards getting a team coming off one of the worst season in school history some confidence by playing some guarantee games. At WVU, Beilein had a good track record of challenging his teams OOC.

    Tournament in Orlando: Montana, WMU, Arkansas
    @ NC State, @Duquesne, vs UCLA

    Tournament in KC: Texas, Kentucky
    St. Bonaventure(in Rochester NY), Oklahoma (in OKC), @UCLA

    @Duquesne, @LSU, @NC State, vs George Washington

    vs St. Louis, George Washington(in DC), Maryland (in DC), Florida (in Miami)

  • I agree jgunnip. It is definitely not easy, but if you do a good job at it the rewards are large.

    Wisconsin beat Virginia Tech and Wisconsin GB out of conference and lost to UConn, Texas, and Marquette. Their non conference RPI was about equal with Michigan’s (37 and 38) despite no top 50 wins.

  • Avery Queen

    how often do they tweak the rpi system? seems like it would make sense to have some sort of limit on the spread between teams.

    say #20 RPI plays #300 instead of a margin of 280 being used in the formula, they could just set a maximum to 200 so that it doesn’t matter if you play team #220 RPI vs. #300. because really it shouldn’t.

  • Ken in Vegas

    All this just goes to show how misleading and irrelevant RPI can be. Hence, why the selection committee doesn’t look at it. Although they do look at our records against the RPI, so that nullifies some of their logic. I guess there is just no perfect way to do it.

  • FL Wolve

    JB may or may not have challenged his WVU teams in the OOC but RPI-wise, his OOC strength of scheduling was weak and that’s putting it nice.

    His OOC RPIs for 2003-2007 were

    2003 193
    2004 121
    2005 141
    2006 61
    2007 217

  • The Old Spice next year should be good for the RPI/SOS though. Some solid competition and three games at a neutral site I believe.

  • JimC

    Hey wait a minute about Manny. I skimmed that article and thought he said something like I “think” I’ll be back.

  • Tom Too

    Yep…he said “I think”