Podcast: Pure Bracket Wisdom

Pure Bracket Wisdom is a daily podcast that gets you ready to win your pool in 2019.  Episodes are about 10 minutes and cover bracket strategies as well as preview top teams.

1. How to predict March Madness

If you want to win your pool, analytics can help, especially with the most important decision in your bracket. This is my story of how I started making tournament predictions.

2. The one thing you must get right

Analytics can help you win your pool, but not if you screw this up.  Steph Curry and a 3 point shooting contest serve as an analogy to understand this crucial point.

3. Michigan

John Beilein’s teams had traditionally featured brilliant offense. So why is this program now a defensive juggernaut, with questions about whether they have enough offense to make a deep run?

4. Virginia

Tony Bennett has another terrific team in 2019. One player in particular stands out. But does last year’s catastrophic upset as a 1 seed to a 16 seed matter?

5. Gonzaga

Gonzaga has the NBA level talent to compete with the best teams in the nation. But how does one account for their weak in-conference schedule?

6. How to think contrarian

To win larger pools, you need to go against the public and think contrarian.

7. Kentucky

Kentucky might not be the best team in the nation by the analytics. However, there is one predictor of tourney success that likes the Wildcats and has them ahead of Duke, Virginia and Gonzaga.

8. Three point shooting teams

Live by the three, die by the three. Should you avoid picking three point shooting teams as champion? The data behind this question.

9. Duke

Duke was the favorite to win the tournament. Then Zion destroyed his shoe and hurt his knee. How do we evaluate this talented group of freshmen?

10. Bracket analysis

Does any favorite have an easier path to the Final Four? Which region might be the most interesting?

Podcast: Adam Stanco on predicting March Madness, Part 2

This episode of The Football Analytics Show is the second of two with Adam Stanco of the Pac-12 Network. He’s a hoops expert and educates us on:

  • the player that makes Virginia a national title contender
  • whether Gonzaga can make a deep run in the tournament
  • the team with more NBA talent than any other college basketball team, even Duke

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

To listen on Apple Podcasts, click here.

Podcast: Adam Stanco on predicting March Madness, Part 1

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, Adam Stanco of the Pac-12 Network joins me to break down the top college basketball teams.  In this first of two episodes, we get into:

  • Duke, with and without Zion Williamson
  • Whether Michigan has enough offense to make a deep tourney run
  • Whether Michigan or Michigan State has a higher ceiling

Adam is a hoops expert and has an uncanny ability to catch things outside the numbers.  Remember, thirty some games is still a small sample size.

There’s also an announcement for my new March Madness audio project.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

To listen on Apple Podcasts, click here.

College basketball predictions for 2019

This season, I’m doing things different with my public college basketball predictions.

Usually, the public predictions page at The Power Rank has predictions based on team rankings, which take margin of victory in games and adjusts for strength of schedule.

If you check out this page in the fall, you get these points based predictions for college football and the NFL.

For college basketball, I’m offering a sample of predictions usually saved for members of The Power Rank. These predictions take the points based predictions and add components based on the markets and preseason expectations. This ensemble approach almost certainly leads to more accurate predictions.

On the public part of my site, you will find a prediction for any game with a top 30 team by my numbers, as well as a random sample of other games.

For example, here are some predictions for Tuesday, February 12th.

Michigan will beat Penn State by 5.3 points on the road.

Michigan has become a defensive juggernaut this season, as they rank 2nd when I take points per possession and adjust for schedule.

Maryland will beat Purdue by 0.1 points at home.

Purdue has won 8 straight games. But don’t count out Maryland, a talented team that ranks in the top 25 by both my points and market based metrics.

Duke will beat Louisville by 6.1 points at home.

Duke has shot 32% from three this season, but they almost doubled this rate (13 of 21) in beating Virginia Saturday night. They won’t shoot that well every game, but they should be the tourney favorite because of their future NBA talent.

To check out all of today’s predictions, click here.

Fresh predictions get posted every morning, so check out that link even if you’re reading this later.

3 insights into Michigan vs Villanova

Michigan faces off against Villanova tonight in the championship game of the 2018 tournament. Villanova has a 81% win probability by my numbers, and a 75% implied chance according to the markets.

However, this game fascinates beyond analytics and markets. I follow this Michigan basketball team and watch most of their games. It’s an opportunity to combine numbers with basketball insight.

Here are 3 key insights into Michigan versus Villanova.

How Michigan and Villanova play defense

Jay Wright’s teams always play great defense. Based on my points per possession adjusted for schedule, Villanova hasn’t ranked worse than 11th the past 3 seasons.

Heading into the 2018 tournament, Villanova ranked 19th on defense. I thought this might be a flaw, as their biggest player Omari Spellman stands only 6’8″. However, their defense rank has risen to 12th heading into this championship game.

Despite their lack of size, Villanova has athletic, long wing players like Mikal Bridges. Michigan will see flying limbs when they shoot, much like their Elite Eight game against Florida State.

In contrast, John Beilein isn’t known for defense. When Michigan made the championship game against Louisville in the 2013 tournament, they finished 39th on defense that season. Michigan played their best defense towards the end of the season as they entered the tournament 59th in the nation.

However, Michigan’s defense has improved dramatically over the past two seasons. Heading into tonight’s championship games, they rank 4th in defense. When the offense sputtered against Florida State and Loyola Chicago, Michigan’s defense carried them to victory.

Michigan is particularly good at not allowing opponents to shoot 3 pointers. Opponents take 29.8% of their field goal attempts from 3, which makes Michigan 5th best in the nation at preventing 3 point shots.

In addition, Ken Pomeroy has shown that 3 point field goal rate is useful in predicting future games. This means Michigan should be able to limit Villanova’s 3 point attempts.

Jalen Brunson vs Zavier Simpson

Point guard Jalen Brunson runs Villanova’s high powered offense, ranked 1st by my points per possession adjusted for opponent. However, he will face a tough test in Michigan’s Zavier Simpson, an elite defender.

My guess is that Simpson will get close to Brunson so he can’t shoot a jump shot. In addition, Brunson is left handed, so Simpson can shade him to his right. Simpson will trust his quickness to recover should Brunson drive to his right.

Simpson won’t be able to shut down Brunson. However, slowing down the leader of the Wildcats is key to pulling off the upset.

3 point shooting

Villanova has a much better offense (1st) than Michigan (25th) by my points per possession adjusted for opponent. A big part of this edge is three point shooting, as Villanova has made 40.1% compared to 35.7% for Michigan.

However, these 3 point shooting rates have inherent error. For a Michigan team that has taken 988 attempts, their true 3 point percentage has a two in three chance to be between 34.4% and 36.9%.

To guess whether a team’s shooting percentage is higher or lower than their true skill, we can look at how a player’s rate compares with previous seasons.

For Michigan, Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman have shot the same percentage from 3 as last year. However, Duncan Robinson’s 38.7% this season is down from his 42.4% and 45.2% the past two seasons.

Some of this change comes from better defense, as every opponent knows Robinson can shoot. However, he has missed his share of wide open 3 point shots this year. I don’t think he’s a worse shooter now than the past two season. Robinson is most likely better than this 38.7% this season, and Michigan will need this shooting against Villanova.

For Villanova, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo have all shot career highs from the 3 point range. And they probably didn’t just get lucky with their shooting this season. Players can improve their shot with practice in the gym during the off season.

However, whenever a team is top 10 in the nation from 3, you can expect regression. In addition, Brunson, Bridges and DiVincenzo played big roles on last year’s Villanova team that shot 36.9% from 3. They will especially difficult against a Michigan defense designed to not allow open 3 point shots.

Michigan and Villanova shoot a ton of 3 point shots, as they take 43.2% and 47.5% of their field goal attempts from 3 respectively. The shots will fly, and we will see a small sample size of the results.

If Michigan can get fortunate with the 3 point lottery, it will help their efforts to pull off the upset.