2009 NCAA Tournament Analysis
Most Likely Sub-10 Seeds to win in the first round: On average over the 24-year history of the 64-team NCAA Tournament, there have been 4.17 teams with a seed of 11-16 in the second round. Just last year, #12 seeds Villanova and Western Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16, while #13’s Siena and San Diego along with #11 Kansas State all moved to the second round. Looking at the tournament this season, who are the most likely teams to pull off a significant upset?
East #12 Wisconsin versus #5 Florida State – It might be hard to bet against ACC Defensive Player of the Year Toney Douglas, but according to the numbers, this game is actually a toss-up. Neither team really has a significant advantage in any regard thus Wisconsin should be able to effectively slow down the pace of the game (they have the 334 fastest pace with 59.9 possessions per 40 minutes. CHANCE OF UPSET: 49.02%
Midwest #12 Arizona versus #5 Utah – Arizona may have been the last team into the field of 65, but it certainly looks like they have a decent chance of upsetting the Mountain West champions out in Miami. Arizona has the #7 offensive efficiency in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy, and when future lottery picks Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger are both on the court they are a dangerous team. CHANCE OF UPSET: 42.97%
West #11 Utah State versus #6 Marquette – CHANCE OF UPSET: 42.75%
South #11 Temple versus #6 Arizona State – CHANCE OF UPSET: 36.62%
West #13 Mississippi State versus #4 Washington – CHANCE OF UPSET: 33.05%
East #11 Virginia Commonwealth versus #6 UCLA – CHANCE OF UPSET: 31.62%
Midwest #13 Cleveland State versus #4 Wake Forest – CHANCE OF UPSET: 31.15%
Midwest #11 Dayton versus #6 West Virginia – CHANCE OF UPSET: 29.25%
West #12 Northern Iowa versus #5 Purdue – CHANCE OF UPSET: 29.20%
Midwest #14 North Dakota State versus #3 Kansas – CHANCE OF UPSET: 28.06%
The definite locks for the Sweet 16: Last season, for the first time in NCAA Tournament history, all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final 4 (National Semifinals). This season, every single bracket projection agreed upon a consensus top eight teams in the country, and all time on average, only six of the top eight seeds advance to the Sweet 16 every year. In addition, approximately 9.7 of the top 16 seeds advance to the Regional Semifinals, while last season 6 of the top 8 seeds and 11 of the top 16 advanced to the Sweet 16. Which are the most likely top seeds to advance past the first weekend?
Midwest #1 Louisville – The overall #1 seed in the entire tournament is the regular season and tournament champion from the Big East. Louisville averaged a scoring margin of 12.6 throughout the season, a very impressive feat considering they played the #11 strength of schedule according to the RPI, and the #19 according to Ken Pomeroy. The Cardinals still have to be careful however, as five times in the last nine years the Big East tournament champion has failed to make it past the first weekend. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 67.46%
West #2 Memphis – The national runner-ups from a season ago come into the tournament with the best record in the nation at 31-3. Memphis fisted on a relatively weak strength of schedule, going 16-0 against teams with RPI’s 101+. They have the #1 defense in the country, as Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency has Memphis allowing only 79.4 points per 100 possessions on the year. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 66.64%
South #1 North Carolina – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 64.83%
West #1 Connecticut – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 61.48%
East #1 Pittsburgh – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 60.74%
East #2 Duke – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 60.13%
Midwest #2 Michigan State – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 55.70%
South #4 Gonzaga – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 54.58%
West #3 Missouri – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 52.93%
South #2 Oklahoma – CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 52.00%
Why Ohio teams got the raw end of the deal: For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, five teams from the state of Ohio advanced to the field. Midwest #8 Ohio State improved their bubble chances by advancing to the Big Ten Finals in Indianapolis while East #4 Xavier has been in the AP and Coaches top 25 for the last 17 weeks and South #13 Akron won the MAC Championship after losing in the finals each of the past two years. Midwest #11 Dayton was one of the last teams in the tournament as their semifinal loss to Duquesne made them sweat the weekend out a little bit and finally, Midwest #13 Cleveland State advanced to their first tournament since 1986 with an upset over Butler in the Horizon Championship. Yet in the end, it seems like none of these teams have a legitimate chance to advance to the Sweet 16. Here is how the Selection Committee put all these teams in a rough position:
Midwest #8 Ohio State – The Buckeyes cannot really complain since they are the second-most likely 8 seed to advance to the second round, but if it were not for this game being played in Dayton, I would have to seriously consider picking the #9 Siena Saints. Siena is #16 in the nation with 71.9 possessions per 40 minutes, which definitely will cause trouble for Ohio State, a team that ranks #203 in the nation at turnovers per possession. After this game, however, the Buckeyes then have the extreme pleasure of playing the overall #1 seed in the tournament. Good luck troops, there is your award for exceeding expectations in Indianapolis last weekend. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 18.81%
East #4 Xavier – While Xavier should be able to hold off #13 Portland State in the first round, a very difficult meeting awaits them in the second round. The winner between #5 Florida State (beat #1 seed North Carolina and #7 seeds Clemson and California) and #12 Wisconsin (best team seed 11+, and fourth best seed 8+) will be a tough match-up for the Musketeers who lost in the Atlantic-10 semifinals last week to Temple. I have Xavier’s odds of beating the Seminoles at only 54.5% and of beating the Badgers at 55.4%, making them the most balanced 5/12 match-up in the tournament. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 42.75%
South #13 Akron – After back-to-back MAC Championship defeats, the Zips and Coach Keith Dambrot have finally advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, Dambrot and his line-up that only features two seniors, the Zips are travelling to Portland, OR to face the #4 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga University, which is located in Spokane, WA, is only 291 miles away from Portland, while the Zips have to travel almost 2,500 miles. That, along with the fact that Gonzaga is the sixth best team in the tournament according to my formula spells bad news for Akron. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 6.34%
Midwest #11 Dayton – Let me get this straight first, a few weeks back I showed how the statistical rankings have not been too high on the Flyers all year. While they do have quality wins over Auburn and Marquette on neutral courts, and Xavier and Temple at home, their bad losses against Massachusetts, Charlotte and St. Louis make them the #83 team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, which is much closer to teams like Cincinnati and Vermont than #10 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are one of the more under-rated teams in the tournament, along with Gonzaga, and I have them as the thirteenth best team in the tournament despite only being a six seed. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 9.75%
Midwest #13 Cleveland State – This is an appropriate seed for the Vikings of Cleveland State, but much like the Xavier Musketeers, they have a very difficult weekend slate of games in order to make the Sweet Sixteen for the second team in two trips to the tournament. Cleveland State’s weaknesses as a team are their weak shooting and poor rebounding, and against #4 Wake Forest, they will face a tough test in both categories. Wake Forest plays the tenth fastest pace in the country, and their number fourteen defense should create many opportunities for their young and opportunistic offense. As much as I would like to see Gary Waters excel in the tournament, I just do not think this is the year. CHANCE OF MAKING SWEET SIXTEEN: 12.42%
Intriguing second round match-ups: Did you know that #2 seeds only win 65% of their second game games? How about the fact that #12 seeds win their second round games 52% of the time, which is a greater percentage than any seed 7 plus? Here is a look at the potential second round match-ups that look the most intriguing to me, while keeping an eye out only for the most likely match-ups:
East #1 Pittsburgh versus #8 Oklahoma State – Let it be known that this game probably will not be that close, but it will mean a whole lot for the Panthers in their goal of making the Final Four. Only four times ever in the history of the 64-team format have the Panthers advanced past the second round, and never have they made it past the Sweet Sixteen. CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 30.80%
Midwest #3 Kansas versus #6 West Virginia – I mentioned above that West Virginia is one of the more under-rated teams in the tournament, which makes this potential second round match-up in Minneapolis even more exciting. The Jayhawks are the tenth youngest team in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy, and the Mountaineers are in a tie for second with 22 games versus the RPI top 100. CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 47.51%
South #2 Oklahoma versus #7 Clemson – I mentioned above that you should expect two top 1-2 seeds to lose in the first weekend, and here is one great upset pick. The Clemson Tigers are #22 in the Pomeroy ratings, and their efficient shooting (51.4% from twos and 37.9% from threes) is a big reason why. This should be an exciting game to watch as both teams are among the top twelve efficient offenses in the country. CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 43.12%
West #4 Washington versus #5 Purdue – Watch out for the Boilermakers: the Big Ten tournament champions have history on their side as Big Ten champions have made the Elite 8 nine of the 24 years in the current format and have only lost in the first round once. In addition, they are 23-6 with sophomore forward Robbie Hummel in the lineup, including victories over Boston College and Michigan State, along with close losses to Duke and Oklahoma. CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 49.76%
East #3 Villanova versus #6 UCLA – CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 52.75%
South #3 Syracuse versus #6 Arizona State – CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 49.74%
Midwest #2 Michigan St versus #10 Southern Cal – CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 37.18%
West #1 Connecticut versus #8 Brigham Young – CHANCE OF LOWER SEED VICTORY: 38.32%
Breakdown of the East Region: #1 Pittsburgh and #2 Duke are the favorites for a final showdown in Boston, but there are also several other very good teams that could easily make a lot of noise. To formulate my winning percentages throughout the tournament, I used information from Ken Pomeroy, Warren Nolan’s RPI numbers, Jeff Sagarin, and the Entropy ratings, just as I used in my breakdown a few weeks ago. In the entire tournament, there are 35 teams with a final adjusted winning percentage greater than 0.800. Ten of those teams belong to the East Region, which features six of the top 17 teams with a seed lower than four. #3 Villanova and #4 Xavier have played difficult games throughout the year, and could be a mismatch nightmare for these teams in the tournament. #6 UCLA is very under-rated, along with #12 Wisconsin as I mentioned earlier, and both have the chance to upset #1-5 seeds in the first weekend.
Favorite: #1Pittsburgh with 25.32% chance of winning the region
Surprise Team: #6 UCLA has a 40.12% chance of making the Sweet 16
Intriguing 7+ Seed: #12 Wisconsin has a 25.03% chance of making the Sweet 16
Breakdown of the South Region: #1 North Carolina is one of the clear tournament favorites, but #3 Syracuse and #4 Gonzaga have shown a tendency to tangle with the top teams in the nation this season. In addition, this could be an interesting Saturday and Sunday for the South, as #2 Oklahoma is the most likely top seed to lose in the first weekend, and #10 Michigan has a chance of pulling off the upset in their first tournament appearance in ten years. #5 Illinois has the fourth best efficiency defense in the country, making the chances of #12 Western Kentucky advancing to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row very remote. Despite the parity in the East, I really like the top seeds in the South and that is a big reason why they win the Final 4 match-up 50.88% of the time.
Favorite: #1 North Carolina with 25.36% chance of winning the region
Surprise Team: #4 Gonzaga is the second-best team, and have a 46.17% chance of beating North Carolina
Intriguing 7+ Seed: #7 Clemson has a 60.31% chance of beating #10 Michigan and playing Oklahoma
Breakdown of the Midwest Region: #1 Louisville, #2 Michigan State, and #3 Kansas all were major-conference regular season champions, while #5 Utah and #10 Southern California made it count with tournament championships. The Cardinals from Kentucky are the overall #1 seed in the tournament, and it is no surprise when you consider their ability to beat some of the top teams in the nation. They are 16-5 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, and have several NBA caliber players under head coach Rick Pitino. In addition to these powerful top seeds, the Midwest also features some of the more inspirational stories of the tournament such as #14 North Dakota State (led by senior Ben Woodside) being the first team from the Dakotas ever to make the NCAA Tournament, in their very first year of Division 1 eligibility.
Favorite: #1 Louisville with 28.10% chance of winning the region
Surprise Team: #6 West Virginia is fourth in the region with a 10.20% chance of making the Final 4
Intriguing 7+ Seed: #10 Southern Cal has a 25.38% chance of making the Sweet 16
Breakdown of the West Region: The best region in the tournament has a 28.94% chance of eventually hosting the NCAA Tournament champion. #1 Connecticut is a vulnerable one seed because of the recent injury to junior Jerome Dyson, while #2 Memphis is 31-3 and without a doubt one of the top teams in the entire nation. Just like in the South Region, there is a good chance that one of the #4 or #5 seeds could pull off the major upset of the #1 seed in the Sweet 16. #4 Washington and #5 Purdue are both excellent defensive teams, and they feature some stellar underclassmen (5-8 freshman guard Isaiah Thomas is the real deal). #8 Brigham Young, #11 Utah State and #12 Northern Iowa are some of the better mid-majors in the entire tournament, and could be some of America’s favorite underdogs if they can win their first game on Thursday or Friday.
Favorite: #2 Memphis with 28.43% chance of winning the region
Surprise Team: #8 Brigham Young is sixth in the region with a 26.03% chance of making the Sweet 16
Intriguing 7+ Seed: #11 Utah State is 31-4, and they have a 16.4% chance of making the Sweet 16
Random NCAA Tournament History Information: Here is a random sampling of information from my mega database on the entire 24-year history of the 64-team format of the NCAA Tournament:
As everyone should know, no 16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. In addition, #1 seeds win 88% of their second round games, but on average only 1.75 number one seeds make the Final 4. While last year all four #1 seeds made the National Semifinals, the historical average of the sum of the seeds in the final weekend is ten.
While 2008 was abnormal from the perspective of the #1 seeds in the Final 4, 2007 was odd because of the lack of first round upsets. In 2007, only two 11-16 seeds won their first round game, while the historical average is 8.2. The average over the last six years is only 6.3, however, possibly signaling that the Selection Committee is getting better at the seeding process.
This is the first time in history that any less than six mid-major at-large teams made the NCAA Tournament. Xavier, Dayton, Brigham Young and Butler were the only teams chosen by the Selection Committee, as RPI #34 San Diego State, #40 Creighton, #46 UAB, #47 Illinois State, #48 St. Mary’s and #50 Niagara were all left at home. The main reason why: #10 seed Southern Cal won the Pac-10 tournament and #13 Mississippi State won the SEC.
Speaking of Southern Cal and Mississippi State, they infamously joined the ranks of the lowest seeded major conference tournament champions of all-time. SEC champions Auburn and Arkansas were 11 seeds in 1985 and 2000, respectively, ACC champion North Carolina State was an 11 in 1987, and just last year, Georgia was a #14 seed out of the SEC. This speaks volumes to the parity of major conferences, and the reasons why mid-majors have not been getting their usual at-large bids the last two seasons.
Memphis became the first mid-major to get a one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive seasons. The record for most consecutive 1-4 seeds as a mid-major belongs to UNLV, who was either a one or a four for seven consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1991. Under Head Coach John Calipari, the Memphis basketball program is one of the best mid-majors in NCAA history, and they are now 73-1 in conference play over the last four years.
Cheer on those #10 seeds! While #10 seeds have only beaten #7 seeds 36 out of 96 times in the history of the current format (37.5%), they have had great success once they make it past that first round. Eighteen of those 36 teams lost in the second round, eleven lost in the Sweet 16, and then seven lost in the Elite 8. They have a much easier path to the Regional Finals than do either #8 or #9 seeds, and I would not be surprised if #10 Southern Cal continues that this season.
On average, there is only one team per season with a seed of #7 or below that advances all the way to the Elite 8, otherwise known as the Regional Finals. While teams such as #11 George Mason in 2006, and #8 Villanova back in 1985 have had some of the more memorable tournament runs in NCAA history, do not expect there to be too many Cinderellas all of a sudden. In fact, over the last five seasons, the 41 teams seeded #7 through #16 have averaged only 16.2 total victories per season (not including the play-in-game).