Over the month of March, The Diff has been all about college basketball. First, it was the bubble odds, then an update of said bubble odds, and most recently, initial tournament odds. With the Buckeyes tipping off in the Sweet 16 tomorrow night in Los Angeles, I’m back with another round of updates today.
On one side of the argument, it was an exciting weekend for upsets and the average college basketball fan. 15 Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world and their jump into the spotlight almost seems like it has to be a Hollywood script. The success of 9 Wichita State, 12 Oregon and 13 La Salle also has been a fun surprise for many, even if their brackets were busted. Which then brings me to the other side of the argument — the success of stat predictions. I warned last week that I’ve never been very good at brackets. And thus far, the stats have been way off.
Personally, I’m still doing OK in my brackets. In my two separate pools, I’ve got 7/8 of my Elite 8 teams remaining and all of my Final 4 squads. So I’m looking pretty decent, even if I had mediocre luck with the second round of games. Mostly, however, it’s because I went with my gut in a tiebreaker over the stats when it dealt with a few intriguing underdogs.
Last week, I broke down the West Region as well as the top-12 overall in championship odds. If you were paying very close attention to my numbers, you should have noticed the following three teams as stat-loving underdogs compared to their seed:
South 3 Florida — 42.6% Final 4 odds; other 3 seeds on average = 8.5%; historically = 12.1%
West 5 Wisconsin — 20.9% Elite 8 odds; other 5 seeds on average = 7.9%; historically = 6.9%
West 8 Pittsburgh — 25.3% Sweet 16 odds; other 8 seeds on average = 12.1%; historically = 8.6%
I wrote more about Florida last week, as they have happened to be loved by statistical sites such as Ken Pomeroy’s all season. They’re still alive in the Sweet 16, with a lucky date with Cinderella herself, FGCU, on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, two other top-10 teams per Pomeroy, both lost in the first round. For Wisconsin, it was a disappointing exit as Bo Ryan had advanced to the round of 32 in 10/11 years with the team. For Pittsburgh, they never were close to beating the Wichita State Shockers, who eventually got the huge upset themselves of No. 1 Gonzaga.
This is why the tournament is so tough to predict. While statistical efficiency measurements might say one thing and make you want to believe in a certain team, crazy stuff always happens. Crazy stuff like MARSHALL HENDERSON happens. And then, your bracket is in flames.
Now, here is a breakdown of the top 16 teams remaining, as sorted by region and seed. Again, I’m using an average of the odds from Ken Pomeroy and Nate Silver, along with a boost from the folks at Wages of Wins:
This is the only region that maintained its 1-2-3-4 order heading into the Sweet 16. For historical purposes, this had occurred in 14/116 (12.1%) regions heading into 2013, so it is fairly rare for all things to go in order through the first two rounds. It happens about every two years.
In terms of Elite 8 odds, 1 Indiana (#3) is similarly favored over 4 Syracuse (#12) as 2 Miami (#13) is over 3 Marquette (#28). But that’s a bit deceiving. The Pomeroy rankings for those respective teams are listed next to those teams in parenthesis to give you a hint about why.
These rankings explains that even though the Sweet 16 odds are pretty similar, there’s actually a near 70% chance that the Indiana-Syracuse winner will be the East’s representative in the Final 4. Marquette is clearly then the weakest link, as they struggled to get through both wins so far.
Overall, the Hoosiers are still the clear favorite in this region. They are the second overall seed in the tournament and received a relatively favorable draw in terms of the statistical measurements. Assuming they can get through the Orange, the second matchup will be a bit easier.
The story of the Midwest so far has been 12 Oregon, which is a story of a classic under-seed. Technically speaking, the Ducks should have been closer to a 7-10 seed in the tournament. Thus, instead of facing up against a possible No. 4 and No. 5, they’d wind up against a No. 1 or No. 2 in the second round and likely bow out before the Sweet 16. But, after two great games, they took down 5 Oklahoma State and 4 Saint Louis to advance to Indianapolis.
But now the Ducks must play the top overall seed in the tournament: 1 Louisville. The odds are now way against yet another upset into the Elite 8. Because of this easier game, the Cardinals fittingly have the highest odds to reach the Final 4.
The other matchup, 2 Duke against 3 Michigan State, should be a defensive classic. The Coach K and Izzo angle is tremendous, and this is the second-closest prediction out of the eight Sweet 16 games. Both teams are ranked in Pomeroy’s top 7, so the main reason for Louisville’s high odds is their easy early game, not their easy second one.
According to these averages, the closest predictions for a Sweet 16 contest is the game between 1 Kansas and 4 Michigan. Personally, my brackets are depending upon TD’s Jayhawks to hold the course and keep advancing. I’ve got them in the Final 4 in both of my brackets.
But, overall, despite an impressive second half against 8 North Carolina, Kansas just hasn’t been its usual dominant “Self” since starting the season 19-1. They then had a three-game losing streak and outside of some blowouts of rival Kansas State, have failed to put other mediocre teams away. That’s why Pomeroy actually has them as slight underdogs for this game against the Wolverines, who looked as good as ever against 5 VCU.
The other matchup is the one everyone’s been talking about: 3 Florida and 15 Florida Gulf Coast. As fun as a story it has been for #DunkCity, this is their first true Goliath. 2 Georgetown was a relatively susceptible 2-seed; they had the lowest Final 4 odds of any in the tournament (mostly because of Florida, but still). The Gators, meanwhile, have ranked No. 1 in Pomeroy’s formula since mid January.
The knock on the Gators: They’re 0-6 in their only games decided by single-digits this season. So if this one is close, it could get very exciting. But more likely than not, UF will dominate early and hold on for a convincing win just like usual.
Now, the 2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Personally, I was a bit surprised right after the West bracket implosion to not see OSU with higher Final 4 odds. I would have thought, of course, since they’re the only top-5 seed remaining, that they would be the clear favorite and whatnot. Not exactly.
In fact, 9 Wichita State has better odds to beat 13 La Salle than OSU does over 6 Arizona. But this is a similar situation as the East; per the odds, the OSU-UA winner has slightly over 70% chance to be be the West’s representative in the Final 4.
Arizona enters the game as the No. 15 team in the Pomeroy rankings. They are a big, complete team that rebounds well and shoots efficiently. Remember, despite three losses to UCLA, this team also beat Florida and Miami in non-conference play. Senior transfer guard Mark Lyons is the enforcer, so it will come down to Aaron Craft to see if he can keep him frustrated.
Ohio State’s last loss to a non-top-10 Pomeroy team was the blowout at #38 Illinois on Jan. 5. They’ve been a much different team during their current 10-game winning streak, bullying teams with stout defense and getting scoring from lots of complementary players. It should be a fun and exciting game, not a cakewalk.
Overall, the Buckeyes are indeed the favorite to emerge from the West and advance to the Final 4. But, their odds are actually shockingly similar to Indiana’s in the 1-2-3-4 East bracket. Arizona still should be a tough matchup and it would behoove fans and the team to look past them toward the next weekend.
The region I’m most intrigued about is the South. Not only because of FGCU and to see if they can continue to make history, but also because of Florida’s statistical success and the Kansas-Michigan matchup. Those are the top two storylines in my book on Friday night and Sunday.
Yet, Louisville and Indiana also are on pace to fulfill their destiny as the top two overall seeds. Louisville’s toughest challenge will come in the Elite 8, while Indiana’s comes up first against Syracuse. So every night, there should be something close to watch as fans keep the hope alive that this might be OSU’s year.