The top 10 college basketball teams in 2015 by Sweet 16 appearances

tom_izzoWhich school has the best college basketball program?

It’s an easy question to answer with only analytics. We could take an average rating from computer rankings over the past 10 years to find the best programs.

However, college basketball is a sport that almost entirely relies on the postseason for its popularity. Any legitimate ranking must consider success in the NCAA tournament.

To balance analytics with post season success, I propose ranking programs by Sweet 16 appearances over the past 10 years. With such a long time period, it’s difficult for a non-elite team by the numbers to have enough tournament success to make this list. The top 10 below includes all the traditional college basketball powers.

In addition, the Sweet 16 seems like an appropriate balance between making the tournament and winning the entire contest. It’s not enough to just make the field every year, but there’s too much randomness in winning the tourney. In the past 10 years, only two programs have won more than one tournament (Florida and Connecticut), and neither made the tournament in 2015.

To break ties among programs with the same number of Sweet 16 appearances over the last 10 years, I looked at appearances in the past 9 seasons. If this didn’t break the tie, I looked at successively shorter time periods until one program came out ahead.

The rankings below show the top 10 college basketball programs by Sweet 16 appearances. Only one program had 7 appearances over 10 years, which shows the parity in college basketball. Even the best programs have years in which they lose before the second weekend of the tournament.

Teams that missed the cut

Gonzaga has made the tournament each of the past 10 years but did not make this list. While they have become a brand name program in college basketball, Gonzaga has struggled in the tournament with only 3 Sweet 16 appearances.

Ohio State and UCLA have 5 Sweet 16 appearances each but lost out to the teams below based on the tie breaker method. Ohio State hasn’t make the second weekend of the tournament the last two years, while UCLA had 3 straight appearances early in the 10 year window.

10. Xavier

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008

Xavier is the only program in the top 10 not from a power conference. Sean Miller led the Musketeers to the first two Sweet 16 appearances, while Chris Mack has reached the Sweet 16 in half of his 6 seasons.

9. Wisconsin

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2008

Bo Ryan has made the NCAA tournament in each of his 14 years as Wisconsin’s coach. They have made the Sweet 16 in half of the past 10 years, and the 2015 team led by Frank Kaminsky might be the best of all these teams.

8. Arizona

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2009

Sean Miller coached Arizona for the last 4 Sweet 16 appearances. However, Arizona only had 1 appearance between 2006 and 2010 as the program transitioned from long time coach Lute Olsen to Miller.

Arizona has a great team in 2015, and I think they have the best chance of beating Kentucky should they play in the Final Four.

7. Kentucky

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010

With their undefeated season so far in 2014-2015, one might expect Kentucky to be higher on this list. However, the Wildcats struggled in the early years of this 10 year period as they transitioned from Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie (whoa, remember him?) to John Calipari.

Even within the last 5 years, Kentucky had a down year in 2013 when they lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Even the best programs can’t escape the vagaries of luck in this era of one and done players.

6. Florida

6 Sweet 16’s: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2006

Billy Donovan has had tremendous success at Florida, winning back to back championships in 2006 and 2007. However, it doesn’t always run smoothly in Gainesville. Florida didn’t make the tournament in 2008 and 2009 when the stars from the championship teams left. They also didn’t make the tournament this year.

5. Duke

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2006

Back in the Christian Laettner years, Duke made four straight Final Four appearances and won two championships. Even Mike Krzyzewski can’t duplicate that success in this era of parity and one and done players.

Duke has fallen victim to two of the biggest Round of 64 upsets recently, as they lost to 15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and 14 seed Mercer in 2014.

4. Kansas

6 Sweet 16’s: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007

Bill Self has an incredible streak of 11 straight Big 12 regular season championships. He also hasn’t made the Sweet 16 the past two seasons. In 2015, Kansas lost Wichita State, a program in their own state they refuse to schedule during the regular season.

3. North Carolina

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007

I thought North Carolina would be lower on this list, as Roy Williams has had some subpar teams in recent memory. North Carolina didn’t make the tournament in 2010, and they didn’t make the Sweet 16 in 2013 and 2014. However, they still have 6 appearances over the last 10 years and squeak ahead of Kansas with their Sweet 16 appearance in 2015.

2. Louisville

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009, 2008

Rick Pitino has the Louisville program in great shape, as they almost always feature a top 10 defense by adjusted points per possession. However, their offense has been the problem in 2015. If they can find enough offense in the soft East Region this year, they could make another Final Four appearance.

1. Michigan State

7 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008

Tom Izzo’s teams continue to perform well in March. In 2015, Michigan State beat Virginia to make the Sweet 16 for the 7th time over the last 10 years, tops in the country. I doubt Michigan State would have the highest rating averaged over the past 10 seasons, but they continue to have success in the tournament.

Tigers, Indians in dead heat for AL Central in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.32.18 AMWho will win the AL Central in 2015?

To answer this question, I aggregated win total predictions in my first article for the Detroit News. I’ll bring a numbers based perspective on the Tigers all season (every other week early in the season, once a month when college football picks up in August).

The model combines the markets with 6 different predictions based on analytics. The ensemble predicts a dead heat between the Tigers and Indians atop the AL Central, as their win totals differ by less than half a run.

I’ll say more about this ensemble model in a few weeks, but here are the results for all 30 MLB teams.

1. Washington, 93.4.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers, 92.7.
3. St. Louis, 88.5.
4. Los Angeles Angels, 87.6.
5. Seattle, 87.2.
6. Boston, 86.2.
7. Pittsburgh, 84.2.
8. Cleveland, 83.9.
9. Detroit, 83.6.
10. Chicago Cubs, 83.4.
11. San Diego, 83.3.
12. San Francisco, 83.2.
13. Oakland, 82.9.
14. Toronto, 82.3.
15. Baltimore, 81.9.
16. New York Yankees, 81.3.
17. New York Mets, 81.2.
18. Tampa Bay, 80.7.
19. Miami, 80.7.
20. Kansas City, 80.3.
21. Chicago White Sox, 79.5.
22. Milwaukee, 78.8.
23. Cincinnati, 77.2.
24. Houston, 75.9.
25. Texas, 75.8.
26. Colorado, 72.5.
27. Atlanta, 72.3.
28. Minnesota, 72.3.
29. Arizona, 72.0.
30. Philadelphia, 68.5.

Check out the live March Madness analytics from Numberfire

My friends at Numberfire have provided these live analytics for the NCAA tournament. Numbers can only make the best two days in sports even better.

Check out the latest NCAA tournament predictions for 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.24.43 PMWhile everyone else is trying to predict which teams make the tourney, I like to know which teams might win.

I know bracketology is fun for fans. I don’t pay attention at all. I just take Joe Lunardi’s projection and calculate win probabilities for each team. To see the interactive bracket with win probabilities, click here.

However, I messed with his field of 68.

Wisconsin keeps landing as the 2 seed in Kentucky’s region. The Badgers are one of 5 teams clustered within a point of each other behind Kentucky in my team rankings. With this field, Kentucky has a 31.9% to win the tournament.

Kansas is not one of those 5 teams ranked behind Kentucky. The Jayhawks are 9th in my rankings and got clobbered by Kentucky earlier this season. However, Kansas is projected as a 2 seed.

The interactive bracket shows results with Kansas as the 2 seed in Kentucky’s region. Kentucky’s win probability for the tournament increases from 31.9% to 35.5%.

We shall see what the actual committee gives us on Sunday.

What is Kentucky’s win probability for the 2015 tourney?

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 8.43.07 AMYou know Kentucky can ball. They’re threatening to become the first undefeated college basketball team since Indiana in 1975-1976.

Coach John Calipari has coaxed this team into playing lights out defense. They’re not just first in my defense rankings by points per possession adjusted for strength of schedule. Kentucky is more than 3 points per 100 possessions better than second ranked Arizona.

It’s hard to poke holes at this team. They don’t shoot well from the outside except for reserve Devin Booker? Karl Anthony Towns isn’t quite as athletic as his competition for the first pick of the NBA draft, Jahlil Okafor of Duke?

I wasn’t always a believer in this Kentucky team. After they thrashed Kansas early this season, some of my friends had them as a Final Four lock. I disagreed, thinking that almost no team has better than a 50% chance to make the Final Four. Now I’m not so sure.

Let’s put some numbers behind Kentucky’s chance to make the Final Four and win the NCAA tourney.

Tourney win probabilities

I took Joe Lunardi’s projected bracket from Thursday, February 19th and used my college basketball rankings to calculate tourney win probabilities for each team.

I’ve made some modifications from last season. The rankings provide a margin of victory between any two teams, and this spread implies a win probability. This year, I’m taking a data driven approach to translating the spread into win probability.

This change has led to a higher win probability for the favorites. For example, Arizona would have had a 17.9% chance to win last year’s tourney, higher than the 9.5% I showed last season.

Check out the interactive visual for tourney

This interactive visual shows the probability for each team to advance to each round. Hover over a team to view its chance to advance, or hover over a circle to see the odds that each team wins that game.

Kentucky has a 34.1% chance to win the tourney. And this estimate is probably low, as this bracket puts a strong Wisconsin team as the two seed in Kentucky’s region. If a Villanova or Kansas were that two seed, Kentucky’s win probability would be even higher.

Since the 2002, only North Carolina in 2007 had a higher win probability before the tourney. This team, which featured Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansborough, had a 37.8% to win the tourney but lost in the Elite 8 to Georgetown. Florida won that tourney for their second straight title.

The visual also shows Kentucky has a 61.4% chance to make the Final Four.

How to win your tourney pool

I’ve been digging into data from past seasons as part of my research into optimal bracket strategies. To learn when my short ebook on how to win your pool becomes available, sign up for my free email newsletter.

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