Ahhh, life on the NCAA Tournament bubble--where a game between VCU and Richmond can impact whether Florida State and Cal put on dancing shoes.
Coming into the season, most of the national media and your TN writers pegged FSU as roughly a bubble team, with NCAA seed predictions most commonly being found in the 7 to 11 seed range. (Keep in mind this was all prior to losing Michael Ojo, Phil Cofer, and Robbie Berwick for the season). The Seminoles overachieved a tad in the non-conference, going 10-2, and entering the Pitt game seemed to be in position to really start to put together a solid NCAAT resume. Unfortunately, the home loss to the Panthers happened.
Now, FSU finds themselves right where most people predicted them to be--sitting precariously on the bubble.
Surf around the web and you can find dozens, if not hundreds of bracket predictions. Some currently have Florida State in the bracket (CBS' 1/25 version has the Noles as a 10 seed) and some have the Noles just out (ESPN lists FSU in the First Four Out). Ultimately, where the garnet and gold fall at this moment is not near as important as where they end up on March 13th.
This article--and soon to be running feature--isn't trying to predict what would happen if Selection Sunday was today, but rather analyze what needs to happen between now and Selection Sunday in order for FSU to go dancin'.
First, let's set a couple of ground rules:
A. Florida State does not play basketball in a vacuum. Yes, losing to Pitt was a huge missed opportunity. But the Noles weren't the only team to lose on Sunday. What happens to other teams is nearly as important (and maybe in some specific circumstances, more important) as what happens to FSU. So if you're going to follow this, you need to jump in with two feet and follow more than just Seminole basketball. For you football first, spring football second fans, think of it like following the CFP rankings on massive amounts of steroids. Literally dozens of games matter a week, sometimes a day.
2. This is a moving target. Because so many factors are involved, what might be true today could no longer be the case tomorrow. As such, don't just assume that because a goal has been met or missed, FSU's place is set.
Alright, with those rules in place let's look at some of the basics:
When talking about team strength, Ken Pomeroy is a much better indicator. The RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is a crude tool that essentially only factors in 4 things: 1) Did you win or lose; 2) Did your opponents win or lose; 3) Did your opponents' opponents win or lose; 4) Where did these wins and losses occur.
However, despite it being an outdated way to rank teams, to this date the selection committee still relies upon it heavily. FSU's own RPI matters (oversimplifying here, but 0-39 is good, 40-60 is danger, 61-75 is red alert, 76 and above is try again next year) as well as the RPI of the team's FSU beat AND lost to. Top 100 wins are good, particularly out of conference, and losses to teams outside the top 100 are bad, particularly at home.
Total wins matter...but not as much as you think:
In general, winning more games is good. But teams make it with 18 wins nearly every year (Oklahoma State entered at 18-13 last season), while teams get left out with over 20 wins (Miami with 21 last season). For bubble teams, who you beat and where you beat them is often more important than how many teams did you beat.
Road/Neutral games are HUGE:
As indicated above, where you beat teams is a big deal. First, winning on the road and neutral sites literally gives you more credit in the RPI than winning at home. Second, the NCAAT is played away from home, and the committee values how you play in non-home environments.
Conference record is one part, but not the biggest factor:
Losing 10 conference games sucks, because you lost 10 games. But in the day and age of unbalanced schedules, the committee has been very willing to invite a team that finished below a non-tourney team in the conference standings (9-9 NC State danced in 2014, while 10-8 Clemson sat home).
Bad losses are crushing:
All bubble teams are flawed. It's why they are bubble teams. But losing to teams outside the top 150, or heaven forbid the top 200, is severely frowned upon and must be offset by several great wins.
Strong SOS are highly valued:
One of my biggest pet peeves is how SOS are evaluated and weighed. Nonetheless, a high SOS--particularly non-con SOS--will go a long way toward the committee including you, while poor SOS are a great reason to pop a bubble. So every win by an opponent is gold (doesn't matter if it's UVA or FAU) and every loss hurts.
Okay, so where does FSU currently stand?
RPI - 52 (was 41 prior to home loss to Pitt)
SOS - 43; Non-con SOS: 222
Record against RPI top 25: 2-4
101 and above: 8-0
The RPI, largely being weighed down by a couple of anchors from the non-con schedule, is in the danger zone. The SOS is solid, but non-con SOS, again, is not good. However, wins against UF and VCU in the non-con--both away from home--are real feathers in a bubble team's cap. And the zero losses to teams outside the top 100 is outstanding.
Now, into the fun stuff. What does FSU need to do and/or have happen moving forward in order for you to pick them all the way in your office bracket pool? Keeping in mind the moving target rule, as of today it looks like this:
1. CANNOT lose to BC. Not only would this take away a road win, it would be a loss to a team that will almost surely finish outside the top 200. It's bad enough on the SOS that FSU even has to play this game, a loss would be devastating.
2. At least split with Syracuse. Syracuse is a fellow bubble team who currently sits at 54 in the RPI. Bubble teams can't get swept by fellow bubble teams, and a win would be another top 100 win.
3. Get one more top 25 win. Three top 25 wins is quite good for a bubble team. A win over Miami would do the trick, and beating Duke would potentially cover this as well. Maybe ND (currently 34) could make a run as well, though doubtful. Or perhaps the Noles catch the inside straight on the river and VCU, winners of 10 straight and up to 47 in the RPI, sneaks in?
4. Have OOC opponents keep winning games. When you're a bubble team, literally every game matters. FSU played some real dogs OOC, and any win by Charleston Southern or DePaul helps the SOS. If Ohio can win enough games to get back into the top 100, even better. By the same token, Hofstra needs to keep winning to avoid being counted as a bad loss.
5. Have fellow bubble teams lose. This list changes by the day, but teams like St. Joe's, UConn, UF, Gonzaga, UCLA, Washington, Cincinnati, Clemson, George Washington, Seton Hall, and others all will have an impact on FSU's chances. Just find your favorite bracket prediction and root against all teams between the 9 seed and Next Four Out. Any bad losses for those teams are great, and big road wins are terrible. The one exception might be VCU, since they are a top 50 win for us. UF is too, but I don't need an excuse to root against UF.
6. Finish with 9 ACC wins. I know, I know, total wins don't matter aren't everything. But based on who we still play, FSU can't lose more than 4 more games without running the risk of piling up some bad losses, missing out on good wins, or both. I went over to RPI Forecast, a cool website to play around on, and input the following results for the remainder of the season:
Wins: @BC, Clemson, NC State, GT, @VT, ND, Cuse
Losses: @Wake, @Syracuse, Miami, @Duke
This 19-11 (9-9) record spit out an RPI of 48 with a SOS of 52. Square on the bubble. Of course, the ACCT would be factored in as well, so I added a neutral court win against Georgia Tech and a loss to UNC. This brought the RPI to 45 and the SOS to 45. Factor in that in such a scenario FSU would have roughly 9 or 10 top 100 wins and at most 1 bad loss...I would like our chances on Selection Sunday.
Just how much does every game matter? If you keep the exact same scenario presented above, but simply drop the Nicholls State game--literally just pretend it was never played--FSU's RPI jumps to 39 and the SOS is 28. Those numbers would put the Noles safely in the field.
Let the madness begin.