Our resident statistics and ratings expert, Evan Dorey, tells us how the tournament will play our according to the numbers..
16s – Don’t pick a 16. If you feel an inexplicable need to, still don’t. But if you ignore this advice, pick East Tennessee St., which is clearly better than the other bottom seeds.
15s – Robert Morris has the best chance of any of the 15s, but that’s not saying much. There’s not a lot of difference between the odds for the 15s and 16s, which are pretty slim.
14s – The absolute lowest seed you should pick to win (and even then it’s iffy at best). The best 14 seed you could pick is North Dakota St., which faces a difficult matchup with Kansas, but playing in Minneapolis with a team laden with Minnesotans, and with a lot of senior experience, could take advantage of a young Jayhawk team. If Syracuse do end up feeling fatigued (which I somewhat doubt), it could suffer against a Stephen F. Austin team that can defend extremely well, but will struggled to compete with the Orange on the offensive end.
13s – Not an uncommon upset, we saw two of these teams win last season, and there are a couple with legitimate chances this season. Both Cleveland St. and Mississippi St. are quality teams that can cause opponents a lot of trouble, and with Wake Forest and Washington not too highly heralded, there will be hope for both of these underdogs.
12s – The classic upset pick. While this ‘feels’ like it should be a mid-major over a major, the best bets are clearly the two major teams. Wisconsin is nearly dead even with Florida St., and while I may not agree with Arizona’s inclusion, they definitely have a good chance against Utah. Of the remaining two, I’d take Western Kentucky, which has a somewhat weaker opponent in Illinois than Northern Iowa does in Purdue.
11s – The 11s actually don’t have chances as good as the 12s, a bit of an odd coincidence of the draw, as Arizona St., West Virginia and UCLA are all highly regarded by efficiency standards. This leaves a strong-shooting Utah St. team as the best hope, matched-up against a slumping Marquette. Dayton has some ability, but lacks the offensive acumen to convince me it should go through, while A-10 counterpart Temple has a great player in Dionte Christmas, but, as mentioned, a bad draw. VCU does have what it takes to be UCLA, and this would be my second choice for an upset on this line.
10s – We now get to the point where the question is as much about making the Sweet Sixteen as the second round. The team to watch is USC, which is coming off a great week, and is beginning to act like the team we expected in November. An overrated Boston College team is actually the underdog in the first round match, and beating Michigan St. is not out of the question. Maryland shouldn’t be picked against either Cal or Memphis, while Michigan and Minnesota both have what it takes to win one game, but don’t necessarily look like great challengers to win a second.
9s – Two #9 seeds, Tennessee and Butler, are favorites in their games, though only narrowly. When it comes to the second round, though, their chances are somewhat weaker. Tennessee has the best hope, but if Pitt can slow the game down and disrupt the Vols’ offensive flow, the Panthers should still be solid favorites. Butler is a team that could have made some Sweet Sixteen noise from a different position, but its hard to see them staying with the Tar Heels. Texas A&M and Siena would be heavily out-matched in the 2nd round, and neither looks great to even escape the opening round game.
8s – Ohio St. plays its first weekend games in Dayton, a city not too far from Columbus, so while getting past Louisville would be a tough task, the Buckeyes have a solid shot of surviving the first weekend. The best chance though, belongs to an underrated BYU team. The Cougars haven’t beaten a power conference team this season, but could change that by the end of the week. Asking for an upset of UConn seems a little much. I wouldn’t expect too much from LSU or Oklahoma St., with the Cowboys having the better chances of those two teams.
7s – As mentioned above, Boston College is an underdog in the opening round game, let alone further rounds, and shouldn’t figure prominently in your bracket. The more likely #7 to advance to the second week is Clemson, which hasn’t played well of late. The Tigers are favourites against an inconsistent Michigan team, while Oklahoma is in poor form. Cal should be favored against Maryland, but Memphis will probably be a bridge too far, while the same can be said in Texas’ case about Minnesota and Duke.
6s –There are three interesting and 6 seeds: West Virginia, UCLA and Arizona St. I keep waiting on something big from the Mountaineers, and they could provide it against a young Kansas team and a Michigan St. team that I just haven’t bought into. UCLA really got a tough draw by having to travel to Philadelphia and face Villanova in the second round, and its a credit to how highly efficiency margin ranks the Bruins that they still have a solid chance to advance. Arizona St. is a team that could potentially make a lot of noise; if it survives a fascinating game with Syracuse, whoever comes out of the bottom quarter of the South could also fall to the Sun Devils. Marquette is the only of the #6s I don’t rate too well; the Eagles are in terrible form, and would face a really good Missouri team in round two (if they even get there).
5s – The Big Ten champions from Purdue will have a decent chance to bust brackets in the West; the Boilermakers should be favored to advance from their section, and will challenge Connecticut if they get the chance. The others are a little more iffy; if Florida St. survives Wisconsin, it’ll have a good chance at a Sweet Sixteen spot, but that’s a big if, while Illinois would have a tough matchup in Gonzaga and Utah could have trouble surviving the opening weekend, looking vulnerable in both its games.
4s – Gonzaga looks like a serious threat to make a very long run, and easily look like the class of its Portland sub-regional. The other four seeds are all very close in their odds, and aren’t a particularly imposing lot. Wake and Xavier are the weakest two, though Wake benefits from a questionable group of teams in its section. Pac-10 champion Washington faces a tough matchup with a hot Mississippi St. team, but the real tough spot for it will be Purdue in the next round.
3s – This is where the NCAA Tournament is, in my opinion, weakest, and why you’ll see a lot of projections with pretty boring Final Four teams. None of the threes really capture your attention, and its hard when filling out your brackets to put any of these teams through to the Final Four. The exception by efficiency odds would be Missouri, which has a relatively weak sub-regional, and could potentially survive a game with Memphis, though it would be the clear underdog. Syracuse is on a great run, but I’m not sold on the Orange as major threats, and could easily see them out after the first weekend. Villanova will probably clear the weekend with its home advantage, but Duke should prove to outmatch the Wildcats, while Kansas is a very interesting team that I could see finishing anywhere from the first round to the final four.
2s – Memphis and Duke are the class of the 2s, then Michigan St., and then Oklahoma. I wasn’t a big fan of the Sooners when they were 25-1, so now, at 27-5, I’m awfully bearish about their chances . Surviving the first weekend could be a challenge, and I don’t see them making it all the way to Detroit. Tom Izzo always seems to screw me in bracket picks, losing when I think he’s well placed, and winning when I think he’s somewhat weak. So maybe it’s good news for Spartans fans that I don’t like them much, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them fall short. Memphis are my national championship pick, its defense is really frightening, and while it could be destined for a fun game with Missouri in the Sweet Sixteen, the real question will be a potential Elite Eight game with UConn. Duke also has a legitimate national title chance, and it’s hard to pick anyone from the bottom half of the East besides the Blue Devils to make the Elite Eight.
1s –Its worth noting that the numbers give only a 33% chance that all #1 seeds will survive the first weekend, but it’s hard to pick out one you think would lose right now. North Carolina looks to be the class of the South; its potential battle against Gonzaga will be its most difficult challenge on the road to Detroit. Pitt can always find itself in some danger if DeJuan Blair gets in foul trouble; if he can stay out of it, the Panthers should be favored in the East, but if not they could fall at any point after the first game. Dayton is closer to Columbus than Louisville, and the Cardinals could face a tough challenge from Ohio St. The advantage for them is that no team in the bottom half really looks like it will make a serious run. Connecticut is the weakest of the #1s, and while that’s still pretty good, Washington or Purdue could make life difficult for the Huskies, and a potential game against Memphis looms large on the bracket.
More Specific Efficiency Rating Projections