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’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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