Last year, I was talking with my friend Don Ward. He’s a classic dude, living life on sports, beer and the San Francisco Giants’ last championship. Each year, he fills out a bracket in a fairly large pool. When I asked him whether he used The Power Rank, he said no. It took too much time. Well, Don, we’ve tried to make your life easier this year. Working with data visualization goddess Angi Chau, The Power Rank presents an interactive bracket with all 416 win probabilities for the entire tournament. Check it out. Hover over the circles to see the likelihood that a team wins a game. The probabilities are based on 100,000 simulations of the tournament using our rankings. Use it, Don.
What do these numbers say about the tournament?
1. Kentucky has a 16.5% chance of winning the tournament. Really? That small? For a team that would not have lost this season if not for a last second 3 against Indiana and 8 minute stretch without a field goal against Vanderbilt? Yes. I was a little surprised at this number, but it just shows how competitive college basketball is. kenpom.com, the most complete college basketball analytics site, gives Kentucky a 19.5% chance to win it all. If you want to play Nostradamus with your friends or a hot date, predict Kentucky will not win the tournament. The odds are in your favor.
2. The most deserving team that didn’t make the field is… Drexel? The Dragons finished the regular season 58th in The Power Rank. Seton Hall? 51st in the rankings. Actually, Middle Tennessee State at 44th was the most deserving team to not make the tourney. The Blue Raiders earned their rank by walloping UCLA (89) by 20 on the road, beating Belmont (29) at home and giving Vanderbilt (13) all they could handle. I didn’t hear much about Middle Tennessee State on ESPN yesterday.
3. Will a number 1 seed lose in the first round? A number 1 seed has never lost in the first round. Never. I think I have a bet with Jeremy Templeton that this will happen sometime soon. We may have made this bet 5 years ago, with a 8 year window for the unthinkable to occur. North Carolina Asheville has a 16.5% chance of upsetting Syracuse. That’s quite a bit larger than the 5.2% chance Syracuse has to win the entire tournament.
4. First round upsets. Each of the past two years, we’ve identified 6 games in which a double digit seeded team has about a 50-50 chance of pulling off an upset. Each year, 3 of these teams won. This year, The Power Rank identifies only 3 such games: Texas over Cincinnati (49.2%), North Carolina State over San Diego State (48.3%) and Belmont over Georgetown (44.5%).
5. Wichita State really is that good. The Shockers are 8th in our rankings, ahead of Duke. Against a very good Creighton team, they easily won despite the foul trouble of big guy Garrett Stutz. Creighton just couldn’t stop Joe Ragland. Wichita State won’t shoot that well every game, but they’re a serious threat. We give them a 40.0% chance of making the Sweet Sixteen and a 10.2% chance of the Final Four. These numbers are not biased by the willingness of @ShockerHoops to retweet our stuff.
Imagine if there were no NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The season just ended with an invitation tournament with a long tradition. No real champion would be crowned. Perhaps college football should turn towards the future and tap the excitement of a single elimination tournament. Andy Staples at SI.com suggests that the university presidents might finally be coming around.