Before we look at the NCAA tournament through the lens of the RotoViz March Madness Simulator, a couple of quick notes:
1) As Frank points out in his introduction to the app, college basketball is high variance. All predictions should be understood in that light and represent a great reason to experiment with the app itself.
2) Before breaking down the region using the Simulator, I’ve included a summary of competitive teams by Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. These rankings are far more predictive than the seeds and help provide a framework for understanding the app’s projections.
3) There won’t be much discussion of 13-16 seeds because the app doesn’t like their chances. That doesn’t mean they can’t win or that they won’t eventually generate the best storylines of the tournament.
4) When I refer to measures of efficiency, I’m also referring to Pomeroy’s pace-neutral stats on offense, defense, tempo, and luck.
5) The app seems to favor offensively-oriented teams. This applies to both efficiency and tempo. And that means history tends to favor those teams. Regardless of one’s personal aesthetics, dominant strategies tend to work better. As Bill Walton loves to say, “offense wins championships.”
Midwest squads in Top 50
(10) Michigan St.
(16) St. Louis
(20) Oklahoma St.
(22) St. Mary’s
(24) Colorado St.
(32) Middle Tennessee
As you can tell, the Midwest is loaded. The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed is the highest rated No. 1 according to KenPom, and they also have the top No. 2 seed. Moreover, they have a 7-seed lurking who comes in at No. 15 in the country. While Gonzaga was given the benefit of the doubt and earned a No. 1 seed in the West, fellow WCC member St. Mary’s bore the full brunt of SOS dissatisfaction. They must compete in the play-in game against potentially salty Middle Tennessee just to make the real bracket.
If you play every game out according to the app, Duke wins the tournament. For a variety of reasons, that significantly overstates their chances. They might have to defeat three top 15 teams consecutively just to make the Final Four. Creighton represents a forbidding matchup in the Round of 32. The Missouri Valley champions rank sixth in offensive efficiency and sixth in three-point makes per game. Doug McDermott shot 56% from the field, 86% from the line, and 50% from behind the arc to finish second in the nation in scoring. Duke has a lot of talent, but McDermott will be the best player on the floor.
After getting bounced in the semifinals of the Big 10 tournament, Tom Izzo suggested he’d rather play the Lakers than another conference game. The NCAA draw doesn’t do them any favors. Despite an apparently significant efficiency advantage, RotoViz is projecting the Spartans to bow out against Memphis. Should the Gaels advance instead, they would only be a slight underdog against the Spartans. Moreover, even if Creighton upsets Duke, Michigan State would only be favored in that game by a point and a half.
Those familiar with advanced college basketball stats won’t be shocked, but Louisville figures to struggle more with Missouri than the St. Louis-Oklahoma State winner. Rebounding is a potential concern for the No. 1 seed. The Tigers rank third in the country in rebound margin compared to Louisville at 70th. (And should Colorado State prevail in the first round, they rank No. 1 in the country.) As a result, Missouri is actually projected to be a tougher opponent than hypothetical Elite Eight opponent Michigan State.
Upset Special: Missouri over Louisville
Final Four Pick: Duke