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.”
South squads in Top 51
(26) San Diego St.
(28) North Carolina
The No. 1 and 2 seeds in the South have to be pretty frustrated with their draws. Although Kansas and Georgetown deserve their seeds based on actual win/loss, neither sports intimidating peripherals.
Kansas couldn’t have enjoyed the bracket reveal that saw them matching up with Roy Williams and North Carolina. The Jayhawks have been dominant at times this season but struggled badly with teams like UNC. One such similar foe was Baylor, a squad that hammered Kansas just a handful of days ago.
The final week in January saw Michigan and Kansas split the No. 1 ranking in the polls. A Sweet 16 matchup didn’t seem to be in the cards at that point, but Ben Brust’s half court heave sent the Wolverines into a late season tailspin. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. form the nation’s best backcourt, but they’ve recently fallen victim to their own successes. Here’s a strategy tip: stop shooting long 2-pointers! The Wolverines may be averaging the most shot length per point of any team in the country, but they’re almost 50-50 to take out the top seeds.
Should the Jayhawks catch a break and face Virginia Commonwealth instead, Shaka Smart’s troops figure to make that one interesting as well. Kansas struggles with ball handling, a weakness the Rams can exploit, and often fail to adjust when opponents attempt a high volume of threes. VCU ranks 29th in 3-pointers made per game.
The bottom half of the draw features the country’s best team as a 3-seed. Florida’s fall from grace reached its nadir after a humiliating loss to Ole Miss in the SEC title game (any loss to an SEC opponent is humiliating by definition). They’ve also lost four of their final nine, so they definitely don’t have that ephemeral force momentum on their side. Four of their seven losses were by four points or fewer. Some might say they’ve been unlucky – Pomeroy ranks them 337 in this category out of 347 teams – but true sports fans know the Gators just aren’t mentally tough.
Of course, when they weren’t choking, the Gators were hammering people. RotoViz expects that to be the trend in the NCAAs. Florida is projected to humiliate Georgetown and then slip by the Jayhawks. Due to overall team strength and a relatively easy draw, the Gators are the safest pick out of the South and a pretty good bet to win the whole thing. (If you use the App to simulate the whole tournament, the Gators fall to Duke in the championship game.)
Whatever you do, don’t buy the Bruins as a No. 6 seed. Their Pac-12 title was a fluke. Everyone receiving bonus points for picking a lower seed should automatically advance the admittedly underwhelming Gophers to Round 2-slash-3.
What’s good for Florida is bad for the Big East co-champions. Georgetown’s pace might be generously called plodding. Low possession games tend to favor underdogs, so Gulf Coast is a decent bet if you want to pick a No. 15 over a No. 2. Assuming the Hoyas advance, it doesn’t get any easier. RotoViz actually likes the Sooners to prevail against San Diego State, but should the Aztecs triumph, Georgetown is looking an upset in the face. The Round 32 matchup with Steve Fisher’s squad projects as a toss-up.
Upset Specials: North Carolina over Kansas, San Diego State over Georgetown
Final Four Pick: Florida