The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 30, 2018

PiRate Ratings Spreads For NCAA Tournament Final Four Games, Saturday, March 31

PiRate Rating  Picks–Final Four

Higher Seed Lower Seed Spread
Michigan Loyola-IL 4.8
Villanova Kansas 6.0

The PiRate March Madness Team Criteria

This has been an interesting NCAA Tournament, much different than many recent ones.  Yet, as we look on the eve of the Final Four, we look at our original criteria that we posted almost three weeks ago and look at our results.

We only correctly picked one of the Final Four teams, but this is not a real criticism of the system.  We just did a lousy job picking four of the 14 teams that this system showed having national title caliber analytics.

We looked the original stats of the 68 teams and stated that 14 shared the type of statistical resumes that showed them to be good enough to cut the nets in San Antonio.  Three of those 14 have made the Final Four–Villanova, Michigan, and Kansas.

What about Loyola?  We said that they were now the new Wichita State of this tournament.  We did not pick the Ramblers to make the Final Four, but we basically labelled them as the best of the Mid-major teams capable of repeating what Wichita State had done when the Shockers were in the Missouri Valley.

So, we give the new criteria a passing grade, and we give our human evaluation team of those analytics a D-grade for not properly selecting the correct three of the 14 teams that advanced to San Antonio.

For those of you that may have arrived at this page and did not see our previous March Madness posts, here is a brief tutorial.

Our criteria is based on a combination of analytic data and back-tested statistics that past Final Four and National Champion teams have produced.  We look for correlations that can separate the great from the good.

We came up with the following stats and data sets:

True Shooting Percentage Margin

There has been an evolution in shooting efficiency in recent seasons.  With the 30-second shot clock and the better use of analytics, teams know they should take certain three-point shots and certain high two-point shots without having to force low percentage shots at the end of the shot clock.  Whereas field goal% offense and defense used to be vital, in the current philosophy of college basketball teams, true shooting percentage matters most.

True Shooting Percentage tells you how efficient a team is at shooting the ball.  How many points do they get per shot taken, be it a two-point shot, a three-point shot, or shots from the foul line?

Our formula for college basketball true shooting percentage is: (100*Pts)/(2*(fga+(.475*fta))).  We say “our formula” not because we created it, which we did not, but because there are arbitrary differences in the calculations of different metrics specialists.  Some use .44 for free throws attempted, which is more accurate for the NBA, but there are different free throw shooting rules in the NBA, so we use .475, which is more accurate for college basketball.

The TS% margin is simply a team’s offensive TS% minus their defensive TS%.


R+T Rating

This is our created statistic.  R+T attempts to estimate additional scoring opportunities that a team may receive based on rebounding, steals, avoiding opponent steals, and additional turnovers not involving steals.  Since a steal is worth more than a dead-ball turnover, we give it more weight than all other turnovers.  A steal is precious because the stealing team is able to run the fast break much easier than any other type of gained possession.

The formula for R+T is: (R * 2) + (S * .5) + (6 – Opp S) + T,  where R is rebounding margin, S is steals, and T is turnover margin.

If one team has an R+T of 15.5, and the other team has an R+T of 5.5, then the 15.5 team should create 10 additional scoring opportunities in a game between the two teams.  That might be enough extra chances to overcome a significant disadvantage in true shooting perecentage.

Strength of Schedule

Obviously, it is easier to pad your team’s statistics if they have played a bunch of cup cakes rather than play 20 games against other teams in the NCAA Tournament.  So, strength of schedule is vitally important.  Through SOS, we normalize the TS% and R+T ratings to make the numbers on par with each other.  If a team has a TS% margin of 10% and an R+T of 15 with a SOS of 50 (exactly average of 351 Division 1 teams), and their opponents has a TS% of 5% and an R+T of 5 with a SOS of 60 (10 points better than average per game), the team with a SOS of 60 would be the better team based on the analytics.  The exact algorithm for determining par values is a bit too difficult to explain, and we do not care to share this proprietary information, as it is all that separates our formula from others.

Other Contributing Factors

We look at how a team has performed in its most recent dozen games.  Obviously, at this point, every team has a minimum of a four-game winning streak.  We look at each team’s two longest winning streaks of the season.  We don’t expect a team with a longest winning streak of three or four games being able to win six in a row against top-flight competition, while if we see a team with a double-digit winning streak or two in excess of six games, then this team has what it takes to win six in a row after March 15.

In addition to Strength of Schedule, we look to those teams that come from a “power conference.”  In our definition, a power conference is one with a league RPI in the Top 12.  For what it’s worth, all four teams remaining in the field come from power conferences, as did all Elite 8 teams and all Sweet 16 teams.

Scoring margin is also important to us.  The minimum scoring margin of a national champion in the last 30 years is eight points per game, while the majority of champions having double-digit scoring margins.  It is next-to-impossible to win the title with a scoring margin under 8.  When Villanova upset Georgetown in 1985, their scoring margin was just 4.8 points per game.  North Carolina State’s scoring margin was 4.6 points per game in 1983.  In fact in the last 65 seasons where we have complete stats (1943 to 2017), the eventual national champion had a double-digit scoring margin 62 times!

Okay, so there you have our criteria.  Basically, we look for teams that can shoot better than their opponents, create more scoring opportunities than their opponents, and do so against a difficult schedule.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  It might be, but then so many people overlook the obvious in favor of emotional factors.  And, then there is the case of trying to choose four teams from among 14 of the 68 teams that possessed the qualities necessary to win the title.

We have one party-crasher in the Final Four.  Loyola has earned their trip to San Antonio by playing excellent team ball and limiting mistakes, but they have also had a perfect route with little interference, getting weaker than typical Nevada and Kansas State teams to make it here.  Because the Ramblers do not share the approved criteria numbers to win the title, we are predicting Loyola to end their Cinderella bid Saturday afternoon.  Of course, if Loyola wins, they buck a trend and completely re-write the analytic philosophy.

In case you were wondering, when Loyola won the title back in 1963, the Ramblers were more like Villanova today.  That 1963 team led the nation in scoring margin at 24 points per game.  That team was an offense first team that played at supersonic speed.  They averaged in excess of 90 possessions per game.  The Ramblers defeated a two-time defending champion Cincinnati squad that was more of a patient, defense first team that averaged around 65 possessions per game.  There was a 2018 Loyola type team in that 1963 Final Four, and that was Oregon State.  That Beaver team played patient basketball, relied on defense to stop opponents, because they were not able to score points in spurts, and they only had to beat one ranked team to earn a trip to Louisville for the Final Four.

What happened to that Oregon State team in the semifinals?  They lost to Cincinnati by 34 points.  Another big Cinderella team lost by 34 points in the 1979 Final Four when Penn fell to eventual champion Michigan State.  George Mason lost by 11 points to eventual champion Florida in 2006.  VCU lost by eight to Butler in 2011.  Wichita State lost by just four to Louisville in 2013.

In fact, if you go back all the way to the beginning of the NCAA Tournament in 1939, in the 79 prior tournaments, only one real Cinderella won the national title.  In 1947, Holy Cross had a relatively perfect draw to win an eight-team tournament.  The Crusaders edged Navy and City College of New York to make the title game against Oklahoma, where they dismissed the Sooners by 11 points.  Of course that HCU team had the best guard in the history of the game up to that point in Bob Cousy and an All-American pivot man in George Kaftan, who disproved the theory that brought you the movie, “White Men Can’t Jump.”

Let us now look at the numbers for the remaining four teams now that we have done what we can to convince you that three of the four teams can cut the nets, and it will take a hire authority than Sister Jean to pull off a miracle of this proportion for Loyola to win.

Note: In response to Lexie89’s question to us earlier in the season, the colors shown for each team are the official colors of each team.  We have a list of all team official Pantone colors and then convert from Pantone to Hex Color.  If you are not seeing what looks like the authentic colors, it is your monitor.

Team Power W-L Score TS% Diff R+T * SOS
Kansas Y 31-7 81-71 8.15 5.7 61.78
Loyola (Chi.) Y 32-5 72-62 10.27 6.8 52.35
Michigan Y 32-7 74-63 5.86 9.6 59.94
Villanova Y 34-4 87-70 10.29 13.1 60.82
Team W1 W2 L12 Reb Stl Opp Stl TO
Kansas 7 7 11-1 0.45 6.55 5.61 1.16
Loyola (Chi.) 14 7 12-0 1.84 6.38 6.54 0.49
Michigan 13 7 12-0 0.49 6.28 4.15 3.67
Villanova 13 9 11-1 3.11 6.61 4.79 2.34
Offense Defense
Team Pts FGA FTA TS%  Pts FGA FTA TS% 
Kansas 3095 2304 619 59.6 2708 2354 588 51.4
Loyola (Chi.) 2664 1912 612 60.5 2308 2059 505 50.2
Michigan 2888 2221 681 56.8 2460 2118 629 50.9
Villanova 3289 2318 691 62.1 2666 2284 603 51.9

Times listed are Eastern Daylight

Both Games on TBS

The Semifinal Games

Michigan vs. Loyola of Chicago

Tip Time: 6:09 PM

Strength of Schedule

Michigan has a considerable advantage here by an average of 7.59 points per game.

True Shooting % Margin

Due to schedule strength, Michigan has a decided advantage here.

R+T Rating

Michigan has a considerable advantage and should obtain 5 or 6 extra scoring opportunities in this game, which should allow the Wolverines to enjoy at least one scoring spurt of better than 8 points.


Michigan will win the rebounding war as Loyola will not crash the offensive boards.  The Ramblers will look to stop Wolverine fast breaks, so if Michigan can guard well enough to limit open shots, especially from the outside, Loyola will have little chance to score enough points to win this game.  The Ramblers will have to be very hot from outside and hope that Cameron Krutwig can play longer than 22 minutes.

We expect Michigan to commit single-digit turnovers in this game, as Loyola will have to concentrate its efforts on limiting high-percentage shots inside and open three-point shots against quicker players.  The Wolverines have been a much better rebounding team in the second half of the season, and their overall defense has been improving for the last month.


We see this game having two possible outcomes, neither of which is good for the Cinderella team.  In the first scenario, Michigan will open up a comfortable lead in the first five to eight minutes of the game and then keep the lead safe for the duration of the game, winning by double digits.

In the second possibility, Loyola might keep the game close for a half, but Michigan will go on a scoring spurt at some point in the second half to gain a double-digit lead and hang on to win by six to 15 points.

Either way, we see the Maize and Blue of Coach John Beilein earning the school’s sixth National Championship Game appearance, and Beilein’s second in Ann Arbor.



Villanova vs. Kansas

Tip Time: Approximately 8:49 PM

Strength of Schedule

This is basically a wash with both teams having a top 5% SOS.  Kansas has a minimal advantage of less than one point per game.

True Shooting % Margin

Villanova has a miniscule advantage here that reveals very little due to the standard deviation of shooting percentages per game.  All this says is that Villanova has maybe a 52 to 53% chance of having the better true shooting percentage in this game.

R+T Rating

Villanova has a decided advantage here of 7.4, and when you combine it with the SOS of the two teams, the Wildcats are expected to receive about six to seven additional scoring opportunities in this game.  Villanova has the best ability of the four remaining teams to capitalize on extra scoring opportunities with game-deciding scoring spurts.


This game has the potential to turn into a 75-possession game per team, and it is possible that the loser could top 80 points.  The team that gets better open looks from behind the arc should win this game, as long as that team doesn’t come out so flat that they cannot hit at least 35% from behind the arc.

This game is not necessarily a toss-up, but the advantage of our favorite is not insurmountable.

However, the overall most dangerous player in this entire tournament of 68 teams is still alive and leading the team that is now the odds-on favorite to win the national title for the second time in three years.  Jay Wright has given the City of Brotherly Love a possible second champion of the season.


Villanova has the near perfect statistical resume of past national champions.  Their 17 point scoring margin is on par with 80% of past national champions and typical of about 90% of all past champions.

Of the four teams remaining, the Wildcats are most apt to enjoy a 10-point scoring spurt more than once in a game.  Wright’s team reminds us of Denny Crum’s 1980 Louisville team and in some ways like the 1970 and 1971 UCLA teams that won titles.  The perimeter players can score inside, and the inside players can score from the outside.  Six players are capable of carrying the team for a half, and if you attempt to concentrate on stopping one or two players, the other four or five will exploit your defense and burn you.



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