NCAA Tourney Notes: Sweet Sixteen

A few things to chew on as the NCAA Tournament kicks back into gear tonight:

Eight of the top ten and 13 of the top 16 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s final regular season rankings are still alive in the NCAA Tournament, which this year has been mostly devoid of upsets.  All of the 1-3 seeds remain, along with two 4-seeds, a five, and a familiar-looking 12.

Only UCLA and West Virginia are gone from Ken’s top 10, which means that the road to the championship is somewhat more challenging for Memphis, which had been rated as the tournament favorite with a 22% chance of claiming the title.  Today, expectations for the Tigers are slightly dimmer at 18%, while UConn, Louisville, and UNC have all risen above 1-in-10 odds to win it all.

I had intended to include some tables here with the updated probabilities, but Google Docs’ “more publishing options” feature isn’t working for me at the moment, and my HTML-fu isn’t good enough to crank out decent-looking tables before the games actually start tonight.  You’ll just have to open the table here in another tab and move back and forth as you read along.  You can ignore the columns to the right…I just wanted to see the numbers that way for sorting purposes.

The first table lists the current win probabilities (and Pythagorean win percentage) for each team based on KenPom’s rankings, which have been updated to reflect results from the first two rounds.  The second table (looking down the page) lists the original win probabilities for each team.  The third represents the differences between the two.

I would guess that the current numbers continue to overrate UConn after the loss of Jerome Dyson, while they don’t fully account for Ty Lawson’s missing time for the Tar Heels.

Comparing now to the original numbers:

Only six of these teams were less than an even-money bet to reach the Sweet 16 a week ago: Kansas, Syracuse, Purdue, Villanova, Xavier, and 12-seeded Arizona.  Only Arizona was less than a 1-in-3 shot to reach their regional semifinal, so to this point, the tournament has been virtually devoid of surprises.

Now, take a look at the differences between odds from last week:

Every team increased its chances of reaching the Elite 8 just by virtue of having made it this far already.  Some teams increased less than others, either because they were expected to make it (UNC, Gonzaga), or because their projected opponent didn’t get any easier (Purdue).

What’s more interesting is to look at the odds to reach the Final Four and beyond.  Kansas and UConn dramatically increased their Final Four odds because they successfully beat some stiff competition, while Memphis’ odds declined because the three next best teams all advanced out West.  Gonzaga sees the same effect when it comes to reaching the national final or winning the title.

Arizona, as the weakest of the remaining sixteen teams, didn’t significantly improve their odds of reaching the last few rounds.  They’re still a comparatively weak team with 275-to-1 odds of winning the championship.

Bracket Implications

If you filled out a mostly-chalk bracket, you’re probably winning your office pool at this point, just like last year.  (My bracket was only saved last year because I correctly picked Kansas to win it all.)  The Final Four in the ESPN national bracket looks pretty good, since Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, and UNC remain their region’s respective favorites.

I got 11 of the Sweet 16 correct, but most people probably got more.  I suppose I’ll be relying on strong performances from Gonzaga and Duke to carry me up the national rankings.  A Gonzaga upset of UNC and a Duke run to the title game would go a long way toward improving my standing, although that scenario only has about a 6% chance of actually happening.  On the bright side for Duke is that Villanova is still rated as the weakest 3-seed, and Xavier is the weakest team other than Arizona, if the Muskies can somehow upset Pitt.  ‘Nova has looked awfully good, though, and I’m less confident about Duke against them than I would have been last week.

Parity Rules?

With so many strong teams still alive, the potential is great for some exciting basketball this weekend.  No team is rated better than even money to reach the Final Four, and everyone but Purdue and Arizona has at least a 1-in-10 chance to get there.  Five teams have between a 20% and 28% chance to reach the title game, with none higher than that.

Memphis is still the KenPom favorite because of the nation’s best per-possession defense, but they’re going to have to earn it against the very best teams in the country.


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