Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brackets, Brackets, Brackets!

The State of the Game

Monday, I asked the somewhat rhetorical question, “Just how important, EXACTLY, is a Number 1 seed in today’s NCAA Tournament?”  I mean, I get that the number 1 seed has traditionally been the hallmark of the great teams and a reward for a season well played.  But in the “modern” NCAA, does the number 1 seeding really mean that much for a capable and upset minded team with a 2-3 or 4 seed?  And even higher than that?
Is there any way to analyze the numbers from previous tournaments and determine how often a #1 seed makes the final game and wins the whole enchilada?  There’s some simple things we can look at initially and then get deeper into the information as we go along up to the tournament.

Let’s look at the last 10 seasons’ Final 4 Teams and eventual winners:
2013 (1 Seeds:  Kansas, Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville):

1 Seeds to make it to the Sweet 16: Louisville, Kansas, Indiana.  (Indiana and Kansas lost Sweet 16 games)
Final Four:  MW1:  Louisville  W9:  Wichita State   S4: MICHIGAN   E4: Syracuse

Champion:  Louisville over Michigan.
Comment: Nobody had Mark Few’s Zags going that deep last year and many picker’s had Kansas going down early as well.  And Wichita State rode a 9 seed slot all the way to the Final 4, albeit some have argued that it was the easiest bracket. The surprise loser was Indiana as many thought Syracuse lacked the defense to play with the B1G teams.  Louisville wins it all as 1 Seed over an upset minded and determined 4 seed from Michigan.

2012 1 Seeds:  Michigan State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse
1 Seeds to make it to the Sweet 16:  Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, Sparty

Final Four:    S1:  Kentucky    W4: Louisville   E2: Ohio State   MW2:  Kansas
Champion:  Kentucky…..

Comment:  This was a year that if you DIDN’T take Kentucky, your bracket was only part of the overall 4% in the country that didn’t have the Wildcats winning it all….  Meaning you are probably a Suckeye, sparty, Dookie, Tar Heel, Cardinal, or Jayhawk with delirious hopes….So, it skews the data somewhat…
2011  1 Seeds:  Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh

1 Seeds that made the Sweet 16:  Kansas, Duke (barely), Ohio State.  Pitt was CLEARLY the early disappointment this year….
Final Four:   E4: Kentucky   W3: U-Conn   SW11: VCU   SE8: Butler

Champion:  U-Conn over Butler
Comment:  This was an upset picker’s DREAM season with respect to the brackets.  All 1 seeds eliminated prior to the Final Four.  This is the kind of season we’re currently in the middle of with no real domination of any team at present.  VCU and Butler were both huge surprises and U-Conn and Kentucky had some stumbles mid-season that cost them 1-Seeds.  But it didn’t matter!

2010   1 Seeds:  Syracuse, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas
1 Seeds that made the Sweet 16:  Syracuse, Kentucky, Duke

Final Four:   M5:  Sparty  W5:  Butler  E2:  West Virginia  S1:  Duke
Champion:  Duke over Butler

Comment:  Long live the 5 Seed!  This was a season that was again marred by tough inter-conference play that knocked great teams out of the 1 seeding.  But that didn’t hinder them into making a deep run.  Unfortunately, the two 5 Seeds went head to head in the semi’s, making a 5 vs. 5 match-up in the final impossible…but Butler almost did pull off the upset Championship win after handily beating sparty….
2009  1 Seeds: UNC, Pitt, U-Conn, Louisville..(Can anyone say “Big East OVERATED???)

1 Seeds that Made Sweet 16:  Everyone…Nuts…
Final Four:  MW2:  Sparty  W1:  U-Conn  E3:  Villanova   S1:  UNC

Champion:  UNC over Sparty
Comment:  Another year where the favorites and the chalk picks were the way to go.  In fact, in this particular tournament, the only real upsets were a 10-7 by Michigan and a 12-5 by Wiscy and Cleveland State over Wake Forest (13-4).  Again, a bad year to use for any kind of argument for “A #1 Seed ain’t EVERYTHING!”

2008  1 Seeds: Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, UNC
1 Seeds that made the Sweet 16:  ALL

Final Four  E1: North Carolina  S1:  Memphis  M1:  Kansas  W1:  UCLA
Champion:  Kansas over Memphis

Comment:  This year REALLY SUCKED for the lower seeds as several top seeds made it into the Elite 8 but couldn’t knock off the #1 seeds.  Every #1 made the Final 4.  PHHHHHTTTT!!!!
2007:  1 Seeds:  Florida, Kansas, Ohio State, UNC

1 Seeds that didn’t make the Sweet 16:  NONE – All made Sweet 16!!!
Final Four:  M1:  Florida  W2:  UCLA  E2:  Georgetown  S1:  Ohio State

Champion:  Florida over Ohio State
Comment:  Okay, this is really starting to look like a bad exercise.  Two #1 seeds make it to the final game. 

2006   1 Seeds:  Dook, Memphis, Villanova, U-Conn
1 Seeds that made the Sweet 16:  All

Final Four:  AT4:  LSU  OA2:  UCLA  MI3:  Florida  WA11:  George Mason
Champion:  Florida over UCLA

Comment:  This is where the NCAA finally stopped with the “Atlanta Region” or “Washington Region” and went back to the old fashioned identifiers.  And Long live the 11 Seed and George Mason!  This season had an upstart 4 Seed get all the way to the Final 4 with LSU dominating teams until they played UCLA.  And finally, there are NO 1 SEEDS in this Final 4!  A 2, 3 and 4 seed rounded out the field after George Mason with most of the 1 seeds losing in the Sweet 16 of elite 8.
2005  1 Seeds:  Illinois (Yes – the last time they were relevant in basketball), UNC, Washington (????),  Dook

1 Seeds that made the Sweet 16:  ALL
Final 4:  CH1:  Illinois  AL4:  Louisville  SY1:  North Carolina  AU5:  Sparty

Champion:  UNC over Illinois
Comment:  Once again, the 1 seeds made impressive runs, but upstarts Louisville as a 4 seed and Sparty as a 5 made the Final 4. 

2004   1 Seeds:  St. Joseph’s, Kentucky, Dook, Stanford
#1 Seeds in the Sweet 16:  Dook, St. Joseph’s

Final Four:  ER2:  Okie State  SL3:  Georgia Tech  AT1:  Dook  PH2:  U-Conn
Champion:  U-Conn over GT

Comment:  The year where 1 seeds dropped like flies in the first weekend.  For anyone that picked it right, it was sweet as you were probably collecting your winnings prior to the Elite 8 completing.  And again, we see that the eventual champion is a 2 seed. 
So, what does it all mean?

1 Seed Champions in the last 10 years:  7
2 Seed Champions: 1
3 Seed Champions: 2
Better yet, what is the “composition” of the Final 4 based on Seeding?

1 Seeds:  14
2 Seeds:  9

3 Seeds:  4
4 Seeds:  6

5 Seeds: 3
6 Seeds:  0

7 Seeds:  0
8 Seeds:  1

9 Seeds: 1
10 Seeds: 0

11 Seeds: 2!!!! VCU and George Mason
Above 11 Seed:  0

What’s interesting:  1 Seeds represent less than HALF of the last 40 Final 4 TEAMS!  If you have more than two 1 Seeds in your bracket, you better know something!  Of course, in years where there’s an overly obvious 1 Seed, I think it’s easier to take that team and another 1 Seed.  This year…not so much.
And, using the last 10 years as an example, if you can’t be a 1 seed, the next best seed to be is a 2 Seed followed by a 4 Seed (but NO NCAA CHAMPIONS from the 4 spot!), and then finally the 3.  In fact, I’ve made the argument in the past that due to “conference” toughness and tough in conference opponents, the better teams often end up as 3 or 4 seeds with the 2 Seeds getting that nod only because the committee doesn’t want “conference match-ups” occurring too soon in the brackets and moves unworthy teams up in the seeding.  And, finally, if there’s an 11 Seed you’re in love with…Ride ‘em DEEP! (Can anyone say Nebraska???)
Also, based on the up and down “wave” we’ve seen with respect to 1 Seeds making or not making the FF, this might be the season/tournament where the upset plays a big role in who makes the Final 4.  Could this be one of those “boring” years in the tournament?  Time will tell…

Bracket Science
If you haven’t heeded my advice and read a few of Pete’s Blog entries at “Bracket Science”,(see the link above) I will do you a favor and reproduce a couple of his more pertinent items here.  One of the ones I really love is this:  The Championship Criteria.  Pete has more or less figured out 8 critical factors that every (REPEAT – EVERY) National Champion in the last 13 years has had in the modern 64 team era.  So, while all the top seeds are obviously in here, seeing this information may help you make that final determination on who is going to be in your FF (final four) and you overall championship pick.


(HT:  Bracket Science)

Also, another chart that I absolutely love is this one:  Tourney Advance Rates By Seed.  If you’re considering whether or not to take that 13-4 upset, you can get a better idea by looking at this chart and making an informed decision. 

So, what's interesting?  When in doubt on the coin flip in the 8-9 match-up, pick the 9!  What's also interesting is that a 10 seed is only a 3-2 dog vs. a 7 seed...not that big of a surprise, but should help out with the 7-10 picks.  The high second round success of the high sees #10 and #12 is also interesting - meaning that if you're going to tempt fate in Round 1....Well, you might as well go ahead and ride them into Round 2.  5 Seeds, by nature of the success of the 12 Seeds, don't fare as well in Round 1, and even if they make Round 2, their success wanes...I'm not sure how far I would take any particular 5 Seed no matter what they looked like early.  It would need to be a compelling argument. 
Again, Bracket Science has a wealth of information and analysis and Pete will provide (for a fee, of course!) what a PASE (That’s Performance Against Seeded Expectation) bracket for the 2014 NCAA’s once it comes out on Sunday. 
It’s getting exciting!  

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