Checkmate

It started off so well. 29 of 32 in Round 1 with all of the Sweet 16 still intact. Then Wisconsin knocked out my national champion pick and my entire bracket is worthless. So, what went wrong?

  • Don’t ignore the immeasurables. I was so immersed in the numbers from this season in the week leading up to the tournament that I completely ignored the factors that are either not quantifiable or difficult to objectively quantify. Villanova was the defending champ, and thus had a high likelihood of complacency in this year’s tournament. Unless a defending champion is returning an absurd amount of talent (like Florida in the 2007 tournament or Duke in the 1992 tournament), they are unlikely to pull off the repeat. In fact, history shows they’re much more likely to have an early exit than to make a deep run. Wisconsin, on the other hand, was wildly under-seeded and likely ticked off about it. They were set out to show the committee that they were wrong, and did so emphatically by handling Virginia Tech with relative ease in Round 1, followed by the biggest upset of the tournament in Round 2 by knocking off the defending champs.
  • Protect the king! As I mentioned in my Bracket Guidelines last week, the early rounds don’t mean a thing if your champion gets knocked out early. It is vitally important to pick a viable champion; a safe champion. Villanova, despite what my formula proclaimed about their regular season successes, was not a safe pick. Their roster wasn’t nearly strong enough to justify a repeat championship, and their coach’s tournament history outside of last year is very underwhelming. Last year’s run was a historical anomaly for Jay Wright; this year was par for the course.

Aside from the wacky East region, the rest of my bracket turned out just fine, with 12 of my Sweet 16 advancing and 6 of the Elite 8 remaining. That one missing piece though is an absolute crater. I’ll be sure to make mention of the non-quantifiable factors next year prior to the start of the tournament.

I may post a tournament recap in a couple weeks if there is an interesting conclusion but otherwise will be shifting into off-season mode, which means a much lower frequency of posts. I do have a few off-season features in the works that aim to answer some misunderstood statistical claims:

  • Is it really that difficult to beat a team for a 3rd time in a season?
  • Just how significant is home-court advantage, and how much of it is attributable to officiating deference to the home team?

I’ll also update standings on my Best Dual Sports schools and shift data tables (such as the Best Dual Sports and college football win probabilities) to a Google Sheets format going forward. Follow me on Twitter for notifications on my latest posts.

 

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My 2017 Bracket Picks

My bracket, along with explanations of upset picks and Final Four games:

2017 Bracket

Round 1

UNC-Wilmington over Virginia: Regular season champion with a strong record away from home as well as in close games against one of the slowest paced teams in the field. The pace will keep it close enough for UNCW to have a chance to eke out a win.

USC over SMU: The play-in game is often more beneficial to the participant than the awaiting team for the first round, as there has been a play-in game winner every year since the field expanded to 68 in 2011. I like USC more than Kansas State as this year’s version.

Wichita St over Dayton: Vegas doesn’t even consider this an upset. Horrible seeding by the committee gives Dayton a brutal round 1 draw.

Middle Tennessee over Minnesota: Again, Vegas doesn’t see this as an upset. This year’s version of MTSU is even better than the one that knocked off 2 seed Michigan State last year

Rhode Island over Creighton: Rhode Island is one of the hottest teams in the field coming in.

Vermont over Purdue: Vermont has to be considered the hottest team in the field coming in, as they haven’t lost a game since December.

Michigan St over Miami FL: 9 over 8 isn’t much of an upset, but it’s really hard to see an Izzo team getting bounced in round 1 two years in a row. They’ll find a way to get the W.

 

Round 2

Michigan over Louisville: This year’s greatest story, winning 4 games in 4 days after a plane crash. Their run continues just a little longer as they avenge their 2013 title game defeat against the Cardinals.

Sweet 16:

Michigan over Oregon: Oregon can only go so far without Chris Boucher. His loss will be felt in a big way in this match-up.

Elite 8:

Arizona over Gonzaga: Avenging an early-season loss, the Wildcats were identified in my ratings as one of the four strongest teams this season.

Kentucky over North Carolina: Another upset featuring a rematch, but this time the same team advances. North Carolina’s resume was a bit inflated due to fortunate scheduling in conference play, and this was validated in a disappointing ACC tournament showing. Meanwhile, Kentucky went out of their way to play everyone in the non-conference, and while they didn’t win all of them they are certainly battle-tested despite cruising through the SEC this year.

Final Four:

Villanova over Arizona: Last year’s champion is back with very strong team. It’ll be tough in a pseudo road game, but the extensive tournament experience will pay off on the biggest stage.

Kansas over Kentucky: Talent vs. Talent. There’s just a little bit more on the Kansas side this year.

Title game:

Villanova over Kansas: My ratings identify these as the two best teams this year, with Villanova receiving the edge as the top team. Will this be vindication for BoW after another bad score in the Bracket Matrix? We’ll find out in about 3 weeks.

Enjoy the madness, everyone!

 

 

Bracket Guidelines

I thought about writing a full preview of the bracket, complete with match-up breakdowns and identifying the most likely contenders. Upon researching however, I found that everything I planned to include is already out there for consumption; I would not be adding any value by piling on with yet another opinion. Instead, the goal of this preview is to provide a guide on how to set up your bracket to put it in position to win an office pool. Will this guarantee that your bracket will win? Absolutely not. The idea is to get out of your own way and focus on the important aspect of the bracket: identify teams which are most likely to advance. I have a few rules I like to keep in mind when filling out a bracket, and I only go against them when I have a really good reason for it.

  • First, set up your bracket with the 1 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 and the 2,3, and 4 seeds advancing to round 2. Historically, these seeds have had at least an 80% success rate in these games, and there is a considerable drop-off from the 4 seed to 5 seed in round 1. If you have a good reason to go against a couple of these, go for it. Otherwise leave these as they are and move on.
  • Protect the king. Think of each round of the bracket like a group of chess pieces. The king is the most important; you must protect it at all costs. This is your eventual champion, and it is important to not voluntarily drop a potential champion in the first weekend. Historically, there is a 91% chance that the eventual champion is a 1,2,3 or 4 seed, which is why the first rule is to keep all of them at least one round. Similarly, think of all the latest rounds as the more valuable chess pieces and the 1-win teams as pawns. Upsets are fun to pick, but if you only have that team getting to the round of 32 at the expense of a team that could make a deep run it isn’t worth it.
  • A coach shouldn’t be picked to go more than 2 rounds further than their current best round. For example, if a coach has never taken a team to a Final Four, his current team should not be picked as a national champion. Similarly, if this is a coach’s first tournament appearance, his team should not be picked beyond the 2nd round (ignore play-in games). This is not a cover-all-scenarios rule; there certainly have been exceptions. But in general, it’s a good idea to keep a coach’s track record in tournaments in mind.
  • Be aware of recent injuries to key players. If a team has gone through most/all of the regular season with injuries, then this can be ignored as we have a good sense of what that team is already. A player who has been sidelined since early February or later should be factored in.
  • Superstar players can take over a game. Look at the list of Naismith semifinalists and all-conference 1st team players from the power conferences. Teams with multiple players on these lists are more likely to advance than teams with no players on these lists.
  • Veteran players with tournament experience. Teams with a lot of players who have played in tournament games will tend to perform more consistently to or even above their expectations. The first-timers are more likely to falter under the brighter lights.
  • High win percentage away from home. Teams that struggled on the road or at neutral sites during the season won’t all of a sudden figure it out at tournament time.
  • Capability to blow out teams. If a team struggled to put away bad teams during the season, they are ripe for an upset in the tournament. Look for upsets of teams who weren’t able to crush anybody during the regular season.
  • Strong record in close games. The tournament is full of them, so pick teams who tend to fare well in a tight match-up.

Metrics are important, but I’d tend to shy away from them unless they have a proven success rate over time. If you have something that you think is time-proof, test it out on the Algebracket over multiple years.

I’ll post my own bracket as soon as it is complete. Good luck out there!

 

 

A Closer Look: Illinois

Previous editions: VanderbiltSyracuseGeorgetownCreighton, Butler

I was the first entry in the Bracket Matrix to include Illinois this season, and many others have joined since. However, their disappointing loss at Rutgers yesterday has moved the Illini down to my first team out (the Matrix has them as the 2nd to last team in as of this writing, which likely doesn’t factor in their loss yesterday for most entries). Let’s take a look at what else Illinois has to offer the committee this year:

BoW Strength of Schedule to date: 37th (out of 351)

Best wins: Northwestern twice (by 7 away and by 16 at home), VCU at a neutral site by 18, at Iowa by 4

Bad losses: Penn State at home, Winthrop at home, at Rutgers

Record: 18-13

Illinois probably needs two wins in the Big Ten tournament to make the committee forget about their dud at Rutgers yesterday and get some breathing room against potential bid-stealing in other conference tournaments this week. I’d project Illinois to be out if they go 0-1 in DC this week, in if they go 2-1 or better, and too close to call if they go 1-1 (leaning in if the win is over a team projected in the field, leaning out otherwise; margin of victory/defeat may also be a factor i.e. don’t get blown out).

A Closer Look: Vanderbilt

Previous editions: SyracuseGeorgetownCreighton, Butler

 

The Bracket Matrix currently has Vanderbilt as the 2nd team out while BoW has them as the 3rd to last team in. It’s possible that much of the Matrix hasn’t yet factored in their win yesterday over Florida, but let’s take a look at the rest of the Commodores’ season.

Best wins: Florida twice, at Arkansas, South Carolina, Iowa State

Worst losses: Tennessee at home, Bucknell at home, at Missouri (by 20!)

Record: 17-14

Is Vanderbilt really going to be the first at-large bid with 15 losses? That seems extremely unlikely. My bracket still has them in at the moment mostly by default. The bubble is incredibly weak this year, but I’m not sure it’ll be weak enough to see a 15 -loss team earn an at-large bid.

Bracket Assessment: 10 Days left

We are starting to gain some clarity on which teams will be in the field. Some conference tournaments have begun and auto-bids will begin to be claimed this weekend.

Tournament Locks

These teams are in the tournament, regardless of what happens the rest of the way

1 Villanova Big East
2 Kansas Big 12
3 Gonzaga West Coast
4 Kentucky Southeastern
5 Oregon Pacific-12
6 Butler Big East
7 UCLA Pacific-12
8 Florida Southeastern
9 Arizona Pacific-12
10 Louisville Atlantic Coast
11 North Carolina Atlantic Coast
12 Baylor Big 12
13 Purdue Big Ten
14 SMU American
15 Duke Atlantic Coast
16 Cincinnati American
17 Florida St Atlantic Coast
18 St Mary’s CA West Coast
19 Creighton Big East
20 Minnesota Big Ten
21 West Virginia Big 12
22 Virginia Atlantic Coast
23 Wisconsin Big Ten
24 Wichita St Missouri Valley
25 Maryland Big Ten
26 Notre Dame Atlantic Coast
27 Iowa St Big 12
28 Oklahoma St Big 12
29 South Carolina Southeastern
30 Dayton Atlantic 10
31 Arkansas Southeastern
32 MTSU Conference USA
33 VA Commonwealth Atlantic 10

1 Win Away

These teams are super close to punching their ticket, one more win should do it. Bid stealing may become a concern without getting another win

34 Illinois St Missouri Valley
35 Virginia Tech Atlantic Coast
36 Miami FL Atlantic Coast
37 Xavier Big East
38 Michigan Big Ten
39 Michigan St Big Ten
40 Nevada Mountain West
41 USC Pacific-12
42 Northwestern Big Ten

Remaining Contenders

These teams can still get an at-large bid, but they’ll need a few more wins and hope for minimal bid stealing in conference tournaments. The teams further down this list need to make the deepest conference tournament runs to secure a bid, and those not in a power conference very likely need to earn an auto bid to truly feel safe.

43 Seton Hall Big East
44 Providence Big East
45 Houston American
46 Marquette Big East
47 California Pacific-12
48 Illinois Big Ten
49 Valparaiso Horizon
50 Vanderbilt Southeastern
51 Rhode Island Atlantic 10
52 Georgia Southeastern
53 Kansas St Big 12
54 Mississippi Southeastern
55 UNC Wilmington Colonial
56 Ohio St Big Ten
57 BYU West Coast
58 Colorado St Mountain West
59 Wake Forest Atlantic Coast
60 UCF American
61 Akron Mid-American
62 Boise St Mountain West
63 Syracuse Atlantic Coast

 

A Closer Look: Syracuse

Previous editions: GeorgetownCreighton, Butler

The majority of the Bracket Matrix (but not BoW) have Syracuse in the field today. This may be the most difficult team to project based on resume, though ultimately I believe they will be in the field so long as they enter Selection Sunday with 14 or fewer losses. Their current record is 17-13, with one game remaining (home vs Georgia Tech) before the ACC tournament. This game is essentially a must-win for Syracuse to land an at-large bid because no team has ever been selected as an at-large with more than 14 losses, and only a handful have gotten in with 14.

Syracuse doesn’t have much of a resume this year, with zero impressive out of conference wins, only two wins away from home (Clemson and NC State; neither of which will make the tournament) and they’re currently sitting in 9th place in the ACC. Plus Syracuse has a ton of losses, 8 of which were by double digits, including a horrible 33 point loss at home against a bad St John’s team. The Duke win last week was incredibly important; without it they’d already be out of the running for an at-large.

You may be wondering why I ultimately believe Syracuse will be in if they avoid a 15th loss after such an underwhelming season. Look no further than what they did in the tournament last year. They entered as a 10 seed at 19-13 (and were a bit questionable to be seeded that highly), but went on to make a run to the Final Four. The committee surely hasn’t forgotten that, and will point to it as a reason for including the Orange in this year’s field.