Initial 2008 bracket thoughts and analysis

Even though I follow Harding basketball pretty closely, the excitement of the D-II Selection Show still doesn’t match that of its D-I counterpart. I spent last night reviewing the matchups for what many would consider the “real” NCAA tournament, and I at least have some initial thoughts to share.

At last count, there are still 14 games that are giving me trouble in picking my own bracket, so I’m not quite ready to unleash that on everyone. I’m sure I’ll think I have it all figured out by Wednesday night, just in time to have my hopes dashed by midday Thursday.

First, let’s go ahead and start with the Log5 probabilities by region. I thought Basketball Prospectus would have this covered by now, but I’ll go ahead and post it all here. If you want to reproduce this yourself, I suggest using Ken Pomeroy’s stats and the Log5 formula as described here. Click the tab below the table to switch regions.


Seeding Notes

  • East #2 Tennessee got a tough break in a couple of ways. By not winning the SEC Tournament, they got a 2-seed, and then they were put in the same region #1 overall seed Carolina. On top of that, they drew a difficult second-round matchup against Butler, which is under-seeded as a 7.
  • What’s with the committee pairing off the good mid-major teams against one another in the first round? Butler-South Alabama as a 7-10, UNLV-Kent State as an 8-9, Drake-Western KY as a 5-12, and if you still want to call Gonzaga a mid-major, Gonzaga-Davidson as a 7-10. Meanwhile, there are 8-9 games between Indiana and Arkansas, Mississippi State and Oregon, and a 7-10 game between West Virginia and Arizona. I suppose it does guarantee that some mid-majors advance, but it removes some of the intrigue of a possible power conference vs. small conference matchup.
  • The politics-over-basketball seeding of Mississippi Valley State has to be somewhat frustrating to Mount St. Mary’s, which deserved at least a regular 16-seed. When faced with what would have been the correct decision to send two HBCUs (MVSU and Coppin St.) to the play-in game, the committee balked and sent MSM instead of MVSU. At least MSM will get the pleasure of winning an NCAA tourney game, though.

Intriguing Matchups

  • The committee outdid themselves in a couple of spots, matching up USC and Kansas State in the NBA prep game and Stanford and Cornell in the all-brains game. Wisconsin gets to look forward to either Mayo or Beasley in the second round, thanks to the former.
  • Wisconsin vs. Cal State-Fullerton will be fun to watch if for no other reason than to see which team can control the pace of the game. Fullerton prefers to play at a very fast pace (only UNC and Duke play faster among tourney teams), while the Badgers rank in the 300s as one of the slowest tournament teams. Tennessee vs. American will be a similar battle, except that lower-seed American is the team that tends to slow things down in that matchup.
  • Winthrop-Washington State will be a grind-it-out kind of game, with both teams ranking in the bottom six of all tournament teams in pace (WSU being the very last). Washington St. is a much better team, of course, but the fewer possessions you have to demonstrate that, the greater the chances are that you’ll be upset.
  • Miami and St. Mary’s are ranked next to one another in Pomeroy’s ratings, making for the closest matchup of the first round. However, if UNC and Duke were to play for the national title, that would be the closest potential matchup. The Tobacco Road rivals have identical Pythagorean ratings to 4 decimal places.

Matchup Strength

One of the more interesting exercises to me is seeing which sub-region and region is the strongest by using the Log5 expectations. If you weight teams’ Pythagorean records by their Log5 probabilities of reaching each round, you can come up with a sort of “strength of matchup” rating that combines the strengths of each team. In effect, this tells us, “What is the expected Pythagorean record of the team that wins this game or set of games?”

Overall, this year’s bracket is slightly stronger than last year’s. The aggregate rating of last year’s teams heading into the tournament was .9797, while this year’s teams total .9808.

  • Most pundits are in agreement that the East is the toughest region, with both UNC and Tennessee in the region and some fairly strong lower seeds. However, Kansas’ superior rating in Ken Pomeroy’s system, along with the relative weakness of their half of the regional bracket, gives their region the edge in overall strength. That’s almost entirely based on Kansas’ strong likelihood to advance to at least the regional final (which is the highest of any team by about 17%). As long as Wisconsin and Georgetown stay in the tournament, that probability will gradually decrease.
  • The worst first-round pairing, in terms of both aggregate team strength and probability of winning, is the Vanderbilt-Siena 4-13 game in the Midwest region. Only 5 games fall below a 90% Pythagorean rating, and this one’s is 84.11%.
  • The three “best” matchups are all 1-vs-16 because the top seeds are so heavily favored. Log5 only gives MVSU a 1-in-654 shot to beat UCLA, so Ben Howland’s team has to be pleased. The Bruins can probably start preparing for the BYU-Texas A&M winner in practice today.

I’ll probably have more throughout the week, so keep checking back here for my inevitably futile winner projections.


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