The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 17, 2014

PiRate Ratings NCAA Tournament Preview–Opening and Second Rounds

Welcome back to the PiRate Ratings’ March Madness Bracketnomics Edition.

 

We coined the term “Bracketnomics,” several years ago to refer to the analytic way of looking at picking teams in your brackets.  While we have never come close to picking every game correctly, we have had a lot of success picking the national champion and Final Four participants.

 

What do we look for when we pick our winners?  It is easier to tell you what we do not pick.  Many of you may be familiar or not at all familiar with something called “The Four Factors.”  This is a very accurate predictor of NBA Games both in the regular season and in the playoffs.  It works to a point in the NCAA regular season.  However, it has many drawbacks in the NCAA Tournament.

 

For various reasons, the NCAA Tournament is an entirely different type of game compared to the regular season.  First and foremost, all teams are playing on foreign hardwood.  Sure, some teams have an advantage of mileage over others, but the gymnasium they will play in leads to no real home court advantage.  If Kentucky has 10,000 fans screaming, “Go Big Blue!” at a crucial point in the second half, this might fire up the team for a possession or two, but the Rupp Arena floor means a lot more to the Wildcats than the cheer that they receive in every road game with all their thousands of followers.  The playing floor, backboards, rims, and sightlines are much more valuable to the home team than the screaming fans.

 

The timeouts in the games are longer than normal timeouts, so substitution patterns are different, even if teams stick to the regular format.  If a team sends in its top two subs at the 13-minute mark of the first half and then plays these subs for six minutes, the two starters will be out at least two minutes longer in actual time and may possible need more time getting their heads back into the game.  Just two extra minutes of rest can cause different reactions, both positive and negative.

 

The obvious difference in the NCAA Tournament games are the elimination fear.  Because the players know the next loss is the last game of the season, and in some cases the last of their career, nerves play a much bigger factor in these games.  It is different in the NBA Playoffs where one loss does not end a season.

 

We could go on and one, but by now you should realize the differences as well.  Thus, the so-called “Four Factors” do not fit into the standard box.  We must come up with Big Dance Steps, or the factors that give us an insight into picking winners.

 

Over the years, we have isolated statistical tendencies that have helped us select winners in the NCAA Tournament.  We have looked at statistics of past champions and Final Four participants and have found certain similarities in these teams.

 

 

1. First and foremost, we look for teams that played better than average schedules.  It is obvious that a team can play 20 patsies and run up some really gaudy stats.  We look for teams that played tough schedules and reward them for that, but we do not totally eliminate mid-major teams that performed excellently against a mid-major schedule.  The best team in the land may play an average schedule, but they would still be the best team.  We have a metric that factors in the SOS into an equation.

 

2. Second, we look for teams that can win away from home.  If a team goes 22-8, with a home record of 18-1 and a record away from home (away and neutral games) of 4-7, this team is not ready to win six consecutive games, or even four, away from home.

 

Once we have isolated the teams that have played an above average schedule and have enjoyed some success away from home, we look at these vital statistics:

 

3. Scoring Margin—anything that is 8 or more is important.  We really like a scoring margin at 10 or more, as all but one of the 21st Century champions have entered the Big Dance with a double digit scoring margin.  If a team has a 15-point or better scoring margin, and they satisfy the strength of schedule and road won-loss criteria, then watch out!  They are talented and have a killer attitude.

 

2. Field Goal Percentage Margin—this is a team’s offensive field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage times 100.  The key here is a margin of +7.5% or better.

 

3. Rebounding Margin—a team with a rebounding margin of 5.0 or more has a chance to overcome a bad shooting game or a turnover-prone game.  We use a metric that factors the type of rebounds, as an offensive rebound leads to more potential points in a possession than a defensive rebound.  Many offensive rebounds become put-back baskets.

 

4. Turnover Margin—similar to rebounding margin, but we have a weighted scale here.  If a team out-rebounds its opponents by 3.0 or more, then any positive turnover margin is sufficient.  If a team out-rebounds its opponents by 0.1 to 2.9, then a turnover margin of 3.0 or better is required.  And, if a team does not out-rebound its opponents, they must have a turnover margin of 5.0 or more.

 

5. Average Steals Per Game—if the rebound is gold, the steal is platinum.  We consider a steal to be worth more than a defensive rebound.  When a team steals the ball, chances are highest for a fast break score.   Any team that averages 7.5 or more steals per game will have several cheap basket opportunities.  Any team with double digit steals per game will be monsters in the tournament, if they can hold their own on the boards.

 

6. The PiRate R+T Rating—if rebound margin is gold, and steals are platinum, then our R+T rating is rhodium.  This rating combines rebounding margin, turnover margin, and steals per game into one sabermetric-type rating, similar to any of several baseball ratings (like Wins Above Replacement).  The current formula uses an advanced formula, but you don’t have to bother with trying to figure these out for all 68 teams.  We have done that for you.  What we isolate are the teams with an R+T rating of 5.0 or better, paying extra attention to 10.0 or better.  If a team has a negative R+T rating, they are going home quickly even if they are a number 3 seed playing a number 14 seed, which is exactly what happened in 2010, when Georgetown had a negative R+T rating and not only was upset by Ohio U in the opening round, they were blown out of the gym.

 

The 2014 Field of 68

1. Which teams qualify on all of our stat requirements?

 

For the second consecutive season, none of the 68 teams qualify on all the statistical requirements that we look for in a clear cut national champion.  A couple teams came close this year.  Actually, the most perfect fits this year are a handful of mid-major and low-major teams missing in the all important strength of schedule criteria.  What does this tell us?  This could be another year where a team like George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, and Wichita St. crashes the party at the Final Four.  Butler came within a couple inches of beating Duke for the title not too many years ago.  Could a Cinderella break through and win it all this year?  We are not calling for it, but it would be no big surprise this year, because there are not many teams with the quality of past Final Four participants.

 

 

2. Which major conference teams appear vulnerable based negative R+T ratings?

 

This is another reason why some smaller teams may have better chances this year.  A record six major conference teams possess negative R+T ratings this year.  These six are very ripe for upset losses early in the tournament.  Keep an eye on: Arizona St., Connecticut, Nebraska, North Carolina St., Ohio St., and Oklahoma St.  Of these six, Oklahoma St. and Arizona St. have abnormally negative R+T numbers, both at -4.5.  Basically, their opponents are getting about 4 ½ extra opportunities to score points in high percentage situations.  In the Big Dance, that is usually lethal.

 

 

4. Which less famous teams have criteria that shows they could upset a single-digit seed in the second round?

 

As we have said already, there are many smaller teams capable of winning a second round game and some capable of getting to the Sweet 16.  It depends on your definition of smaller team to decide if you might go with one of these teams to make the Elite 8 and Final Four.  Is Wichita St. a smaller team?  They are undefeated and ranked number two as a #1-seed.  How about Gonzaga?  They have been among the chosen “Few” for so long, can we really consider their winning tournament games a surprise?

 

Of the teams we really consider to be sleeper teams, keep an eye out on these six teams:

Harvard, Mercer, New Mexico St., North Carolina-Central, North Dakota St., and Stephen F. Austin.  These half-dozen teams have the talent to get hot and knock off a favored opponent.  If their schedules were just a tad tougher, we might even select one of these six to sneak past the Sweet 16 into the Elite 8.

 

 

6. So, who do we pick for the National Champion?

We have been playing with this decision all day.  One team has the look of a National Champion more than any of the other 67, but their strength of schedule bothers us a little this year, unlike last year.

 

However, we are going to go with this team, because their statistical criteria is the closest thing to a perfect fit without being a perfect fit.

 

And that team is: LOUISVILLE!  Yes, we are going with the Cardinals to repeat.  The Midwest Region is ridiculously strong this year.  So many pundits believe this was done to get rid of Wichita St., before the Shockers can get to Arlington in April.  We see no roadblocks in UL’s march to the Sweet 16.  Neither Manhattan, St. Louis, NC St.,  or Xavier have the abilities to stop the Cards.

 

The Sweet 16 game could be the toughest one Rick Pitino’s troops must conquer, as they will most likely play Wichita St. or Kentucky.  I would guess UL would rather play UK than a WSU team looking for revenge from last year’s Final Four semifinal.  The other side of the Midwest bracket should provide little resistance for the Cards.  Michigan and Duke have glaring weaknesses the Cardinals can exploit.

 

Who else looks like Final Four participants to us?  Read on.

 

 

NCAA Tournament Schedule for Opening and Second Rounds

Time

Region

Seed

Team

Seed

Team

Network

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

6:40 PM

South

16

Albany

16

Mount St. Mary’s

truTV

9:10 PM

Midwest

12

North Carolina St.

12

Xavier

truTV

 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

6:40 PM

Midwest

16

Cal Poly

16

Texas Southern

truTV

9:10 PM

Midwest

11

Iowa

11

Tennessee

truTV

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

12:15 PM

South

6

Ohio St.

11

Dayton

CBS

12:40 PM

West

2

Wisconsin

15

American

truTV

1:40 PM

South

8

Colorado

9

Pittsburgh

TBS

2:10 PM

East

5

Cincinnati

12

Harvard

TNT

2:45 PM

South

3

Syracuse

14

Western Michigan

CBS

3:10 PM

West

7

Oregon

10

B Y U

truTV

4:10 PM

South

1

Florida

16

Albany/Mount St. Mary’s

TBS

4:40 PM

East

4

Michigan St.

13

Delaware

TNT

6:55 PM

East

7

Connecticut

10

St. Joseph’s

TBS

7:10 PM

Midwest

2

Michigan

15

Wofford

CBS

7:20 PM

Midwest

5

Saint Louis

12

North Carolina St./Xavier

TNT

7:27 PM

West

5

Oklahoma

12

North Dakota St.

truTV

9:25 PM

East

3

Villanova

14

Milwaukee

TBS

9:40 PM

Midwest

7

Texas

10

Arizona St.

CBS

9:50 PM

Midwest

4

Louisville

13

Manhattan

TNT

9:57 PM

West

4

San Diego St.

13

New Mexico St.

truTV

 

Friday, March 21, 2014

12:15 PM

Midwest

3

Duke

14

Mercer

CBS

12:40 PM

West

6

Baylor

11

Nebraska

truTV

1:40 PM

South

7

New Mexico

10

Stanford

TBS

2:10 PM

West

1

Arizona

16

Weber St.

TNT

2:45 PM

Midwest

6

Massachusetts

11

Iowa/Tennessee

CBS

3:10 PM

West

3

Creighton

14

UL-Lafayette

truTV

4:10 PM

South

2

Kansas

15

Eastern Kentucky

TBS

4:40 PM

West

8

Gonzaga

9

Oklahoma St.

TNT

6:55 PM

East

8

Memphis

9

George Washington

TBS

7:10 PM

Midwest

1

Wichita St.

16

Cal Poly/Texas Southern

CBS

7:20 PM

East

6

North Carolina

11

Providence

TNT

7:27 PM

South

5

V C U

12

Stephen F. Austin

truTV

9:25 PM

East

1

Virginia

16

Coastal Carolina

TBS

9:40 PM

Midwest

8

Kentucky

9

Kansas St.

CBS

9:50 PM

East

3

Iowa St.

14

North Carolina-Central

TNT

9:57 PM

South

4

U C L A

13

Tulsa

truTV

 

Here are our picks for the first two rounds.  Of course, we will update the ratings and pick anew after round two with picks for Saturday on Friday night and picks for Sunday on Saturday night.

 

The spreads given here are devised from our PiRate Scores using our analytic formula that combines all our statistical criteria into a number.  The bigger the spread between the two teams, the more certain we are about the winner of a game.

 

***** These are not point spread predictions *****

They are criteria spread differences.  A difference of 1-3 represents a probable single-digit victory.  Be weary of a spread of just one point, as this is close to a tossup game.  A spread difference of 4 to 6 is on par with a 10-15 point victory.  A spread difference of 7 to 9 indicates a 15-22 point victory, and a spread difference of 10 or more indicates a blowout is possible.

 

Opening Round ( @ Dayton)

Albany  over  Mount St. Mary’s  by 4

Xavier  over  North Carolina St. by 3

Cal Poly over Texas Southern by 2

Tennessee over Iowa by 3

 

Second Round

 

East Region

Virginia over Coastal Carolina by 10

Memphis over George Washington by 1

Harvard over Cincinnati by less than 1

Michigan St. over Delaware by 7

North Carolina over Providence by 7

North Carolina Central over Iowa St. by 1 (Upset)

Connecticut over St. Joseph’s by 2

Villanova over Milwaukee by 11

 

South Region

Florida over Albany by 13

Pittsburgh over Colorado by 1

Virginia Commonwealth over Stephen F. Austin by 1

U C L A over Tulsa by 1

Ohio St. over Dayton by 3

Syracuse over Western Michigan by 2 (could be much closer than expected)

New Mexico over Stanford by 5

Kansas over Eastern Kentucky by 12

 

Midwest Region

Wichita St. over Cal Poly by 13

Kentucky over Kansas St. by 9

Saint Louis over Xavier by 2

Louisville over Manhattan by 9

Tennessee over Massachusetts by 3

Duke over Mercer by 2 (Could be similar to Duke-Belmont from the past)

Texas over Arizona St. by less than 1 (almost dead even)

Michigan over Wofford by 3

 

West Region

Arizona over Weber St. by 7

Gonzaga over Oklahoma St. by 3

North Dakota St. over Oklahoma by 3 (Upset)

San Diego St. over New Mexico St. by less than 1 (close to even)

Baylor over Nebraska by 6

Creighton over UL-Lafayette by 5

B Y U over Oregon by 2 (maybe the most exciting 2nd round game)

Wisconsin over American by 8

 

For those that are filling out the entire bracket, here are our picks as of tonight

 

Advancing to the Sweet 16

Virginia

Michigan St.

North Carolina

Villanova

Florida

U C L A

Syracuse

Kansas

Wichita St.

Louisville

Duke

Texas

Arizona

San Diego St.

Baylor

Wisconsin

 

The Elite 8

Michigan St.

Villanova

Florida

Syracuse

Louisville

Duke

San Diego St.

Wisconsin

 

The Final 4

Michigan St.

Florida

Louisville

San Diego St. (our sleeper Final Four team)

 

Championship Game

Michigan St.

Louisville

 

Champion

Louisville

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